Advanced Television

Prime Video readies for Fallout premiere

April 3, 2024

Based on one of the greatest video game series of all time, Fallout is the story of haves and have-nots in a world in which there’s almost nothing left to have.

Two-hundred years after the apocalypse, the gentle denizens of luxury fallout shelters are forced to return to the irradiated hellscape their ancestors left behind—and are shocked to discover an incredibly complex, gleefully weird, and highly violent universe waiting for them.

Project summary:

From the executive producers of Westworld and the writers behind The Office and Captain Marvel, comes an original story set within the vast universe of the hugely-popular Fallout video game franchise. The series is a dazzling, cinematic adventure that subversively explores humanity’s survival post-nuclear apocalypse. With turns of dark-humor and visually striking, high-octane action, Fallout follows three distinct character-led narratives that converge in this gleefully-weird and immersive world.

Los Angeles, 2296: 219 years after a nuclear apocalypse decimated the planet. For a small, privileged portion of the diminished population dwelling in luxury underground vaults (fallout shelters), life is comfortable, orderly and mostly normal. For those who live on the irradiated surface, survival is a daily, violent struggle in a lawless landscape with constant fighting over limited resources.

The series is executive produced by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (Westworld), and created by executive producers and co-showrunners Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Captain Marvel) and Graham Wagner (The Office, Silicon Valley). Nolan also directed the first three episodes. Fallout is an all-new, original series based on the immersive, exploratory world introduced by the groundbreaking and beloved video game franchise.

The story revolves around three individuals navigating the complexities of the irradiated new world from above and below ground. Lucy (Ella Purnell, Yellowjackets), is a dynamic, capable and slightly naive young vault dweller shocked by what she encounters on her first trip to the surface. Soldier in training Maximus (Aaron Moten, Emancipation) dutifully pledged to serve the Brotherhood of Steel’s militaristic agenda, until he sees their misguided actions in practice and

questions his purpose. And finally, the Ghoul (Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight) is a mutated outlaw who exists in the terrifying shell of a once honorable man who cares only about his continued survival and kills any and all who get in the way of it.

In addition to Goggins, Purnell and Moten, the all-star ensemble includes: Kyle MacLachlan, Sarita Choudary, Michael Emerson and Moises Arias. Nolan directed the first three episodes of the eight-episode first season. He led an innovative team of artists committed to faithfully adapting the source material in all its expansive and occasionally absurd glory. Additional directors from the season include Daniel Gray Longino, Claire Kilner, Frederick E.O. Toye, and Wayne Yip.


Bold beginnings: Fallout’s origin story

Long before adapting the series was even a glimmer of a possibility or a blip on their radar, executive producers Jonathan Nolan, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner were captivated by the immersive open world and incredibly unique storytelling they experienced while playing Fallout.

“Fallout 3 was the entry point for me,” says Nolan, who jokes that the award-winning 2008 game is the reason he didn’t write any movies for two years. “I didn’t know much about it and I was in the mood for a distraction. I think [director/brother] Chris had tasked me with writing The Dark Knight Rises and so if that movie was slightly delayed, it was probably in part because of Fallout 3.”

The Westworld creator was struck by the game’s massive scope, unique tone and its surprising twists and turns. “Working in this business, we watch a lot of movies and TV. It’s hard to be surprised by anything, and those games just continually surprise you. It’s dark, violent, but it’s also satirical and in some places almost goofy. It’s all these amazing things in one. It’s a really ambitious game, and I’ve never really experienced anything quite like it.”

Roughly ten years later, Nolan met with Fallout 3 game developer and Executive Producer, Bethesda Game Studios’ Todd Howard, to talk about adapting Fallout to series. “He liked my

work, I liked his, it was just one of those great encounters,” recalls Nolan. “We walked away from it saying, ‘Okay, well, we’re definitely going to work together on this and figure it out.'” “When I first talked to Jonah, honestly, he seemed like someone I had known for a long time,” recalls Howard. “He’d obviously played the games a ton, and right from the get-go, his approach was in sync with what I was thinking.”

Nolan then hired co-showrunners Robertson-Dworet and Wagner, all of whom agreed that the only way to approach the adaptation was to tell an original story that exists within the Fallout universe. “We’re not interested in rehashing something that has been done beautifully as a game,” says Nolan. “Then, the question became how ambitious could we get with that story, which is where Geneva and Graham took over.”

Robertson-Dworet had been trying to collaborate on a project with Nolan and Wagner separately for years, and Fallout presented them with the perfect creative opportunity. The Captain Marvel writer and Nolan brought their sci-fi and world-building expertise and Wagner, his years creating what he calls “boutique comedy” as a writer/producer on Portlandia, The Office and Silicon Valley. So you’ve survived a nuclear apocalypse… As the series title suggests, Fallout begins with the end of the world: a nuclear apocalypse, and then jumps forward 219 years into the future and the aftermath. The story centers around three survivors with completely different life experiences above and below the irradiated surface.

“We’re introduced to what society has been reduced to,” explains star Kyle MacLachlan. “There are survivors living in vaults underground, away from radiation, doing the best that they can with a can-do American attitude. The rest of the world has been banished to the surface of the planet, which is full of strange creatures, horrendous destruction and survivors are forced to do horrible things just to stay alive.” “It’s a story of have and have-nots,” says Robertson-Dworet. “I’ve always really liked that the games are such an elegant metaphor for that.”

The disparity is especially apparent when the action moves to the surface where the population is fighting for survival in what’s known as the Wasteland. Two other components of the games that the creative team wanted to translate for the series were the vast, immersive landscapes players wander through endlessly and the ability to connect with the characters guiding the audience through the story. “Usually when you’re adapting something, like a novel, you’re adding to it,” says Nolan. “You lose some things, but you’re largely adding light, picture, persona and humanity. With a video game, you’re taking things away, like the audience’s sense of freedom. The whole premise of a game like Fallout, it’s open world and you can go any direction you want. You can’t do that in a

series, we’re taking that ability away from you. The biggest challenge for us was, how do you convey the freedom of the games, both in terms of the world, but also in terms of your character?”

Their solution? Telling the story through three different character POVs: Lucy, Maximus and The Ghoul. “This is a familiar concept in the land of prestige television, but is largely unfamiliar in the gaming space,” says Nolan. “We’re able to do it on a level that I think did a really good job of conveying the moral complexity of the game, where you can be a good guy, you can be a bad guy, you can be something in between and you can switch it up.”

Finding Fallout’s main players

As is the case with any ambitious project, this series needed a talented ensemble capable of handling the characters’ emotionally and physically-charged personas. Enter casting director John Papsidera.

“Casting is the part of the process that I’m most excited about and it’s also the scariest, but most rewarding part of this,” Nolan admits. “The writing, even when it’s collaborative, working with writers, that’s all very intimate, and then suddenly you open it up to casting and you wait to be surprised. We got very lucky here with Ella, Aaron and Walton.”

Lucy and Hank welcome you to Vault 33 “In most of the games, you start with a vault character,” Wagner explains. “It is good storytelling to start with a character who you’re on the journey with. Lucy starts out with her morality perfectly intact; she grew up in a sealed Ziploc bag essentially.” Lucy’s morality is a privilege. She’s never had to question anything, until she travels to the surface and feels desperation for the first time. “So much was riding on finding someone who could convey this sort of gentle naivete and wonder about the world, but also a moral uprightness,” says Nolan. “And then she faces the horror of realizing what the world has become and what she’s gotten herself roped into. And Ella delivered all of that and more. She’s a terrific actor.”

“I knew of the Fallout games because everybody did. My friends had played it, my brothers had played it,” says Ella Purnell of her entry point. “When I met with Jonah, Geneva and Graham and they explained their approach to the world, the game and then the character – she’s basically someone who would star in a toothpaste commercial but could also kill you, I was like, ‘I’m in. I am 100 percent in. Sign me up,'” she recalls with a laugh. “They described her as a Leslie Knope/Ned Flanders-type, but with something kind of dangerous lurking there. I felt like, ‘Okay, I could do this, I could do this.’ Sometimes you just know, you kind of feel it in your body. But even so, it was such a surprise that I got the part. I couldn’t believe how lucky I got.”

The EP’s were equally thrilled that veteran actor Kyle MacLachlan agreed to come onboard to play the patriarchal ideal that is Hank. “Twin Peaks was probably the most formative television experience of my childhood,” says Nolan. “It kind of grabbed you by the collar and hurled you

across the floor, and Kyle is central to all of that. [Twin Peaks and Dune director] David Lynch always cast him as the outsider, but by his own admission, Kyle is this very All-American kind of [guy] perfect for Lucy’s dad, perfect for this.”

MacLachlan is no stranger to fan-loved properties and appreciated Nolan, Robertson-Dworet and Wagner’s enthusiasm and vision for Fallout. “I’d read the script and I thought, ‘This really sounds like a fun adventure, and they seem to know what they’re talking about,'” he recalls. “The role of Hank, he’s kind of a gung-ho leader of Vault 33 and is a bit of an evangelist, holding the community together by the force of his personality.”

The father-daughter duo happily leaned into their characters’ connection and developed a real-life familial bond. Purnell jokes that she plans on calling MacLachlan with all future dad questions. “I’m like, ‘Kyle, how do you change a tire? I need assistance.’ He’s just such a generous and kind person,” she says. “It’s been so great to be able to work with him.”

Maximus and the Brotherhood of Steel Up-and-coming actor Aaron Moten plays Maximus, a surface-dweller and dutiful member of the military faction called the Brotherhood of Steel, which is “a militaristic cult that grew out of the remains of the United States military after the world ended,” explains Robertson-Dworet. “The mission of the Brotherhood is to stop violence from happening by restoring order to the surface and taking power for themselves. Maximus is someone with a traumatic past who was rescued by the Brotherhood and so he idolizes them. He is a lowly squire when we meet him, but will do anything to further their cause.” Moten was not familiar with the games, but awestruck by the story’s originality. “The script is so rigidly detailed, I was filled with joy to be reading something that I’ve never seen before,” he says. “Maximus is a person who I think a lot of people hopefully find relatable, I do myself. He’s struggling with these ideals in his head. There’s a pure force driving him in his desire to help people, but he’s caught in-between, in this world of wanting to do the honorable thing, but knowing that to reach some status or glory requires action by any means necessary – especially in a world like the Wasteland where you’re often put at odds of kill or be killed.”

The tragedy of Cooper Howard and The Ghoul

The opportunity to take on two very different, pivotal roles in this series was an offer that Walton Goggins could not refuse. Not only because it presented an incredible challenge for him as an actor, but “both Geneva and Graham were kind enough to say that they wrote this with me in mind and it’s so humbling,” he says.

The first chapter of Fallout opens and closes with Goggins, with audiences first introduced to a dashing yet down on his luck former movie star Cooper Howard, and then, 219 years after the bombs drop, we meet a terrifying, decaying shell of a man in The Ghoul.

“It was important to us that we dramatize the life of the least fortunate of the surface dwellers in the game, which are the Ghouls,” says Robertson-Dworet. “We’ve always thought it was fascinating that they are often quite miserable as their bodies decay, but they have these incredibly long lifespans and so they know the history of the wasteland to a large extent. That was the inspiration for the character.”

Goggins loved digging into the duality of the two characters. “I’ve played a lot of bad-asses over the course of my career, none as badass as The Ghoul,” he says. “He’s a pretty intimidating guy, but I had never played someone like Cooper Howard, so I watched a lot of Gary Cooper, a lot of John Wayne, a lot of Gunsmoke and I watched a lot of interviews,” explains Goggins. “The video that we have from that time, people that populated the screen were well-spoken and gregarious, but also reserved and a little conservative, not just politically, but just the way in which they expressed themselves, they were regal. And I thought, ‘Okay, yeah, that’s Cooper. He’s part of the greatest generation.'”

Goggins’ transition into The Ghoul, involved a many hours-long prosthetic application process. “I had to wear a whole mask,” he says. We wanted people to lean into The Ghoul and to not look away from him when he’s on screen, but to study him,” says Goggins. “He’s got a little swagger to him like the Marlboro man, if he had been smoking in a radiated world for 200 years. He has a similar swagger and charisma as Cooper and they’re both funny as shit, but Cooper doesn’t carry the pain around the way that the Ghoul does.” “Walton is just such a professional and a trooper as well,” says Purnell. “He had to wear all these prosthetics and then he’s got so much stunt stuff and action stuff. He had such a hard job and he showed up every day and nailed his performance. We had some really challenging scenes together and they came out great.” Location, location, location(s)

As part of the producers’ ambitious goal to faithfully adapt the expansive landscapes introduced in the games, production spanned multiple continents. Cast and crew traveled from the chilly vault sets on sound stages in New York to a breathtaking, coastline of Namibia where filming took place in and around the famous ghost town and once-bustling diamond mining village Kolmanskop, as well as on the beaches of the Skeleton Coast. *maybe say including some parts of the coastline that have never been filmed.

“On the second day, we were shooting at this abandoned diamond refinery right on the coast, and someone wandered over and told us, no one’s ever shot there before” recalls Nolan. “That was a unique experience for us. I’ve never shot somewhere so remote, where literally the only things there are hyenas. It’s an incredibly beautiful and strange place.”

Adds Moten: “It’s beautiful. I’ve never been to a place where the desert meets the ocean and being able to see a bombed diamond mine that is now a hyenas den.”

Purnell had a “magical experience” on the abandoned ship in question. “Jonah wanted to film this amazing abandoned shipwreck that had never been filmed. No one had touched it in hundreds and hundreds of years,” she says. “We took a bare bones crew of eight – my makeup artist Mike Harvey, he did my makeup, my hair, props and costume that day. Eight of us took two helicopters, we flew five hours to film on the shipwreck and it was unbelievable. I think I will remember that for as long as I live, it was truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.”

Picture your post-apocalyptic retrofuture In order to achieve the right balance of eye-popping and irradiated, production designer Howard Cummings and his team watched a lot of fan-made videos about the game and used real “junk” for Wasteland set pieces.

“We got really into the look of the games and knew we had to adhere to the established history the game created,” says Cummings. “We talked about the importance of giving everything a sense of scale, and we shot in distant locations like Africa for the wastelands and we used digital stages to create some of the massive rooms for the vaults and other post-apocalyptic structures.”

The designer is especially proud of a junkyard-like set built with real raw materials. “The biggest and most fun set piece was a town made of junk and scrap metal called Filly,” he says. “The set was 48 feet high. We employed a large and talented team of welders to create a steel structure that looked like it was all falling down, but built safely. Set decorator Regina Graves actually got all the real scrap metal we used — doors, windows, signs, jet fuselage and rubbish. Using the real deal really sold the look.”

Cummings’ efforts are a creative feat that also wowed the cast. “When you walked on set, you looked around and you really felt like everything was absolutely practical and real, and you were there,” adds MacLachlan. “As an actor, you appreciate that because it just helps with the performance because you’re able to place yourself in the given circumstances of that moment. You don’t have to use your imagination. It is all right there. When I saw the attention to detail, from the smallest thing in the wardrobe through the look of the vault and what was going on there, it’s something that I love,” he continues.

Creature features Of the series’ many memorable creations, the variety of inventive (and also terrifying) mutated creatures that pop up throughout the season is a particular point of pride. Once again taking inspiration from fan-loved creatures in the game, Nolan and his team had great fun with their version of the Gulper, a giant mutated salamander.

“The Gulper is a feature of Fallout 4; this kind of grotesque newt kind of amphibian thing and my contribution to it was we wanted to build that practically,” he says. “My addition was an idea that I sort of came up with looking at the Gulper’s rows of weird-looking teeth. I thought, what if the teeth were actually fingers and the way that it eats is it just kind of wriggles things down and gulps them down? I brought something into the world that should be erased because it’s so disgusting, but I’m also perversely very proud of it.”

Nolan’s cast also appreciated the practical monster’s upsetting effect in that it made their reactions to it very realistic. “What I loved about working with Jonah is he likes to do things as real as possible, so there’s not that much green screen,” says Purnell. “So with the Gulper, I had this actual physical animal that was being thrown around and shoved towards me… that’s genuinely terrifying. Also Walton had all the prosthetics on that is genuinely terrifying. There wasn’t very much I had to fake. And that is such a treat for an actor, especially doing something within the sort of action sci-fi genre.”

Suiting up for the end of the world: post-apocalypse attire

Given the many different spaces, locations and time periods covered in the series, costume designer Amy Westcott had her own unique challenges in fashioning appropriate clothing for the variety of characters and climates on display.

“So much went into making every character original and right. I’ve never had a more creative experience,” says Westcott. “I am very proud of how the vault suit came out. And of how many we made – hundreds! Also, we made a lot of wearable art from pieces of trash – recycled and reworked items that were given a new life as an accessory or garment, with the idea that everything in the wasteland is collected and salvaged. One of my favorites was a very stylish hat made from a metal strainer with twisted forks.” “Amy did an amazing job,” says Moten. “Everything is just so detailed.” Purnell and MacLachlan lucked out with the most comfortable costumes, comparatively speaking. “The moment I first tried on the vault suit, it really hit me like a ton of bricks that I was really doing this, we were really making Fallout,” says Purnell. “I really felt the weight and the gravitas of what we were trying to accomplish and also the responsibility of bringing to life a concept and IP, a character that was so beloved and meant so much to so many people, the honor of having been given this opportunity that was not lost on me at all.” “What was really comfortable was the footwear,” adds MacLachlan. “We had some kind of a boot thing that was very cushiony. Having to stand around on a concrete slab for eight to 12 hours, I was very grateful for those boots,” he says. “They were very comfy, cozy. We were also filming in the middle of winter in New York out in [Long Island], and the stages were so cold. But I felt good, we were well-heated in our little outfits.”

Trial by fire and flight: aka most memorable moments on set

In addition to the thrill of bringing this dynamic, subversive story to life, the actors often found themselves doing things they’d never done before. “Jonah Nolan loves giving people crazy first days on set,” Moten says with a laugh. “My first day on set was a 14-15-hour day. I was strapped in a harness, jumping in and out of a helicopter and being tossed and turned around. A lot of things were easy after that day.” Purnell also received an action-packed welcome to Fallout early on in filming when she got to put some intricate fight choreography to work. “We filmed the entire fight sequence in 16 hours one day,” she recalls. “I was so tired. I woke up the next day, and I was so sore and it was like, ‘Damn, this is Fallout.’ It was my second or third day and it was really, really fun. I could probably still do that fight sequence if I wanted to, I practiced it so much in my bedroom.”

Despite the fact that writers and executive producers Robertson-Dworet and Wagner literally wrote the words that led to what was later happening on set, they were both dazzled by what each department and their actors managed to pull off.

“The power armor has turned out pretty damn magnificently,” says Robertson-Dworet. Wagner wholeheartedly agrees. “I’ve been working in lower budget television for a long time, and there was no part of me that thought we’d have a practical suit,” he says. “Jonah was just so diligent about not taking the easy roads. A great example is that we have the power armor suit flying and landing in the Filly town square. Thanks to the people that he knows, we got a real guy in a jetpack flying around. It was amazing.” Goggins admits he didn’t think what was originally in the script could actually be filmed. “It just didn’t make sense, I thought, “This is fucking impossible.” But Jonah did it. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. “Second to that, he hires actors that he knows can do the job, and therefore you have a lot of latitude. He works very quickly and shoots a lot of different angles, which gives him options and ways in which to tell the story. That’s really been the best part of this whole experience.”

Notes on a theme: unpacking Fallout’s big ideas and pure absurdity

Fallout packs a punch – in each episode and over the course of the season. The series explores big questions about humanity’s ability to survive and endure in the face of extinction, but also delivers balls to the wall, all-out entertainment and laugh out loud absurdity.

“I love a story where you think you know what someone is going to be capable of or not capable of, and then they surprise you,” says MacLachlan of one of the series’ main themes. “And that’s the case with Lucy. She’s plucky, she’s capable, but can she survive the heavy-duty stuff? We all want to believe when we watch a show that we will be the survivors too, which I think Fallout does really well.”

Purnell appreciates the exploration of morality and identity. “I think for me, playing Lucy as lawfully good as possible at the beginning gives me so much to play with throughout the season. When she meets Maximus and when she meets the Ghoul, that allows her to consider and really think about what made them that way and if she will allow herself to become like them.”

For Goggins, he dug the subversive yet very timely social commentary. “We live in a very, very chaotic time. We’re seeing an erosion of morality and an erosion of optimism. And it’s really unfortunate, but [Fallout] is reflecting in some ways the world that is developing around us. I hope we don’t go any further than that, and we just stick to where we are, but that’s what’s so interesting to me about the show, the questions that it poses. And so, I’m just so curious how the rebuilding of society happens in this game and in this story as it goes forward.”

Getting the Bethesda stamp of approval:

Nolan and his team set out to make an interesting, entertaining story for a brand-new audience as well as fans of the games. They also hoped to do the games justice, by crafting an original story that pays homage to Fallout, and directly involved the makers of the games in their adaptation. “It’s been a great collaboration and creative endeavor having partners you trust,” says Howard. “For someone like me and the team here at Bethesda, it’s just a real blessing to see what they’ve done with it.”

“They were the best collaborators you could possibly dream of,” Nolan says of the executive producer, Bethesda Studios and James Altman from Bethesda Softworks. Howard and Altman were invited to visit set as often as they could, where the creative team kept their eyes peeled for what Robertson-Dworet calls “Christmas morning-face”-style approval.

“It was shocking for us, but reassuring when we watched Todd Howard walk on the set and start noticing things,” recalls Wagner. “He was sort of rubbing his hands on a wall and said, ‘They got the texture right!’ We both know the games pretty darn well, but not like Todd, and him paying attention to these little touches and how accurate they were was really rewarding.”

Conclusions or to be continued?

Wherever audiences happen to find Fallout, via word-of-mouth recommendation, anticipation as a fan of the games, or via any other channel, the cast and creative teams promise a uniquely thrilling ride over the course of the season’s eight episodes.

“It’s extremely faithful to the video game IP, but it really is different,” says Moten. “I think people will hopefully get the same spark of joy that I have watching the show, which is finally something I haven’t seen [before].”

The actors are also attached to their characters. Purnell is still wondering and worrying about Lucy’s fate. “By the end of season she is a changed woman,” she says. “And I suppose I am excited to explore two things: Number one, will Lucy ever be the same? Will she ever be able to go back to the vault? It’s kind of like the red pill vs. blue pill thing, once you have seen can you ever unsee? The second thing is I think her heart has been shattered and her moral goodness is decaying. She has had to do things that are unthinkable, and I don’t know if she’s going to be okay or if she’s ever going to return to the Lucy we knew. What happens when you break the unbreakable? That’s when something really dangerous occurs, I think. I have so many more questions!”

The show premieres on Prime Video on April 11th.

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