Michael O’Neill On ‘Extant’ Exit: “It Was A Surprise”

Michael O'Neill (FT)

It was in early January 2014 that, after years of toiling away in guest starring roles, that Michael O’Neill got the news that so many character actors long to hear: he had landed his first series regular role on a prime-time television series on a major network.

That series, of course, was the CBS summer thriller Extant, which was being executive produced by none other than Steven Spielberg and had Halle Berry attached as the lead. Michael O’Neill played Alan Sparks, Molly’s (Berry) boss at the ISEA. Not too long after being cast, O’Neill spoke about how thrilled he was to have landed his first regular role.

Extant S1 (Alt)“This is home now. I have a home”, Michael O’Neill said in an interview with TVWise promoting the launch of Extant on Amazon Prime Instant Video UK last year. “I smile when I get in the car in the morning and I don’t stop smiling until I get home at night, even if the character feels otherwise. It certainly makes a difference”.

In that same interview, O’Neill also expressed his gratitude for getting a chance to play “more complex” characters after playing “good guys” for much of the past two decades – a change in his career for which he credited Shonda Rhimes after she handpicked him to play Gary Clark on Grey’s Anatomy.

Since then, has played similarly darker – or as Michael put it “more complex” – characters, such as Nick Ford on Bates Motel and Roland Foulkes on SundanceTV’s southern drama Rectify. His Extant character was an extension of that, with Alan Sparks proving himself to be plenty complex by the time the thirteen episode first season had come to a close in September 2014.

Michael O'Neill - ExtantUnfortunately, while CBS execs, citing decent ratings and the fact that the show was already in profit due to a unique streaming deal with Amazon, chose to renew the show, the second season order mandated a change in creative direction for Extant. That change in direction meant that the Alan Sparks character had run its course and Michael O’Neill was out of a job.

“It was a surprise. I think it’s always a surprise when you stop being part of the storytelling, even if you know that it’s closed-ended”, Michael O’Neill told TVWise. “I expected Spark’s journey to be open longer but at the same time it was a bit inevitable. I killed a lot of people on [Extant] and you could see it [coming]. I was going into a corner that it was going to be virtually impossible to get me out of”.

Even though Michael did not return for the second season of Extant, he is not exactly hurting for work. He has a recurring role as Senator Roland Foulkes on the SundanceTV original series Rectify, which returns for a fourth season next year; and TVWise can reveal that he has also been cast in guest starring roles on the second season of WGN America’s Manhattan and J.J. Abrams upcoming Hulu series 11/22/63.