One of the most anticipated news shows this Fall is ABC’s blast-from-the-past series PAN AM, which invites audiences to reacquaint themselves with an era long gone, but not forgotten. In the hey-days of the early 1960’s Pan American World Airways was the luxury airlines to fly and the experience was world-renown. Its signature stewardesses were the vision of the future and women were admired around the globe. In an attempt to revisit a time when America was on the cusp of a cultural change and was embracing the worldwide theater allowing air travel to the most exotic and amazing places, this new series introduces viewers to a special group of pilots and flight attendants whose stories will captivate and enthrall. Embedding a very clever espionage thread throughout the series elevates it from just the slice-of-life adventures into a tale that you will want to take time for and share in for awhile.
To preview a bit about their roles on this fun new series, the cast of PAN AM talked with the press while attending the ABC presentation day at the Television Critic’s Association in Beverly Hills last month.
Kelli Garner & Margot Robbie
Which characters do each of you portray on the show?
KELLI: I play Kate, and Margot plays my sister Laura, and we’re both stewardesses in PAN AM.
MARGOT: My character is the newest recruit to Pan Am’s forces.
The look of the show is just perfect. How do you think clothes make a difference in helping with that?
KELLI: I wouldn’t say the clothes — I would say the undergarments!
MARGO: It makes all the difference. It helps you create the character because we wear the actual underwear and all that, which is obviously extremely confining and it really does affect the way you hold yourself and walk. So it changes your look and helps you create your character. With the long hours, it is not very comfortable, but it really does help.
What do you think it is about that era that holds such appeal?
KELLI: Gosh, so much. On a surface level: the aesthetic, the clothing, the makeup, the curves accentuating a full-figured woman. And I think just where we were at in history — on the cusp of woman’s liberation and civil rights. It’s been so cool considering I come from non-traditional schooling and to read each script and learning the most fascinating things in more detail that I was not even aware of.
Were you aware that stewardesses during that time were objectified as much as actresses?
MARGOT: It was part of the marketing prepared by the airlines. The stewardesses had to very put together and they were very fit. But they were also the representatives of the country, so they had to look the part. But it was all so sophisticated — though it is true that they were seen as sex objects.
And were you aware that during the Cold War that civilians were employed as spies?
KELLI: Well, now I do! It was all fascinating to me. It’s just such a beautiful world they have created for the show.
MARGOT: It was fascinating to learn just how many stewardesses were working with the government.
Michael Mosley and Karine Vanasse
Can you state which characters you portray on the show?
MICHAEL: I play Ted, a pilot, in PAN AM.
KARINE: I play Collete, one of the stewardesses.
The show looks great. How did it feel working on film sets and in clothes from that era?
MICHAEL: It’s a blast! But I can’t believe people wore their pants that high. I’m not used to that. But I definitely believe that the physical elements can speak to the acting — how you sit, how you stand, how you wear your clothes. It speaks to who you are inside.
KARINE: And I think it makes us interact somewhat differently — less relaxed. You realize that people had so much more respect for each other because of how you stand and everything. It makes you all put together. So you can easily imagine how it would affect the relationships. With just more respect and dignity.
MICHAEL: It was a big deal. I mean, you wore a suit when you were getting on a plane and now people go in their pajamas when they get on a plane. It was a different thing during that time.
The show is set in a time when we were on the verge of the woman’s liberation movement, and consequently men treated women very differently than they do now. Do you find yourself ever saying something so politically incorrect by today’s standards that you are kind of uncomfortable with on the show?
MICHAEL: Sure. Just in the last interview, we were talking about using the terms stewardesses versus flight attendants. That’s just a little thing, but that’s it. There was some disrespect in that and yet there wasn’t anything wrong with it at the time.
KARINE: It wasn’t only about the words that people were using, but also how they looked at women in general and the way that they were behaving with them and what was expected from them. It seems so crazy for me as I’m only 27 and, while I know about women’s lib, I wasn’t there. So I’m learning so much right now, but I have no idea what it was really like. So I’m impressed how these women really wanted to be independent and it made them so different. But I can only imagine it.
Do you film in a built to scale airplane or is there a larger set?
MICHAEL: The only part that is real is the cockpit, which is from an actual Pan Am plane. But for the he fuselage, our wonderful set designers have built that. So I can’t speak to whether it is officially built to the parameters, but we do have headroom.
KARINE: We do, and for the mics and everything. What’s really impressive is when I first started, it felt so much bigger than any airplane than I had been on. But back then air travel was more a luxury.
MICHAEL: And they did such a good job making sure everything is the way it was.
What is one aspect you have found interesting about the show so far?
KARINE: Colette, being French/European, her background is a bit different than the other girls on the show. So it’s interesting that the writers want to respect the fact that Pan Am would have stewardesses from around the world because they wanted the world to appear smaller.
MICHAEL: The president of Pan Am at the time wanted to shrink the world and by doing so he hoped it would make the world a more peaceful place — by making it so that people could see for themselves what was out there.
KARINE: So he hired stewardesses from everywhere who would be able to speak different languages with all the passengers. I’m really very lucky that the show respects that.
Christina Ricci and Mike Vogel
Can you briefly state which characters you play on the show?
CHRISTINA: I play Maggie, one of the stewardesses.
MIKE: And I play Dean, one of the pilots.
How would you describe each of your characters?
CHRISTINA: I think originally in the pilot, the way we see Maggie is that she lives in a crash-pad with a bunch of bohemian/beatnik types and so we get a feeling that her life is very different than the more conservative requirements of her job and that she lives life a little bit more loosely than people would accept from her stewardess persona. I think we understand that while she’s the sort of grounded that she’s sort of a trouble-maker. With each episode I see that she’s bohemian, but it is more that she’s sort of somebody who’s a little bit more of a trouble-maker, definitely not someone who will follow the rules. She gets in fights and starts fights, and really questioning why she should have to do these things and why are these rules in place. She’s trying to get where she wants to be in life and does what she wants to, but gets in trouble for it sometimes. And she has a very keen sense of what is right and what is wrong, which I kind of relate to.
MIKE: Dean finds himself thrust into the captainship easily 10 years ahead of schedule and, in our story, we’re revamping the look which is true to the time as air travel was changing. Pan Am wanted it to be an amazing dream-filled experience for everyone. So there were these phenomenal WWII veteran pilots, but they were aging and they were not the young, hip, slick new face of the airline that they were trying to build. So Dean is a hot-shot pilot who grew up on a farm and learned flying with crop dusters and in the military, but he is from the first group of pilots presumably without war time experience.
What are your thoughts on the current wave of nostalgia in television?
CHRISTINA: I think people are looking for things that are safe right now and this was a period of time when the country was very hopeful. The country was coming to a boiling-point, but right at the point where our show picks up, there was this sort of magical moment, and I think right now this show and time period is representing hope and excitement and young people traveling and seeing the world. It was opening their eyes to excitement and adventure. So it’s nostalgic and it’s a great escape.
To see the premiere of PAN AM as it visits one of the golden eras of U.S. history, be sure to tune in on Sunday, September 25th at 10:00 p.m. on ABC.
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