Like many science-fiction fans, Matt Lanter’s love of the genre dates back to his childhood, when he was introduced to ET and Jurassic Park. He’s one of the lucky few, however, also to experience the surreal thrill of starring in his own sci-fi TV series.
An actor who endured five seasons of high school angst in the CW’s 90210, Lanter is now playing a heartthrob extraterrestrial in Star-Crossed. The series, featuring the story of members of an alien race of Atrians that integrate into a human high school, premieres at 7 p.m. Monday on the CW.
“It’s so cool to be in the sci-fi world, where you can lose yourself and let your imagination be free,” Lanter says.
He’s enthusiastic about Star-Crossed because the “what if?” premise approaches storytelling on multiple levels, as most great sci-fi tales do.
“It’s a Romeo and Juliet-type romance, it’s an action-adventure and it’s social commentary all balled up into one show,” Lanter says. “It really encompasses all of that and more.”
The initial marketing push has emphasized the love story element. Emery (played by Aimee Teegarden, formerly of Friday Night Lights) is the cute human teen girl who has a taboo connection to an Atrian boy named Roman, Lanter’s character.
“It’s a beautiful story,” Lanter says. “Romeo and Juliet is a tried-and-true classic. Of course, we’re hoping our version doesn’t end in tragedy like the original.”
Viewers will quickly learn that the Atrians crash-landed on Earth 10 years ago and were promptly placed in a heavily guarded internment camp. They were denied contact with the rest of the world until this social experiment, which buses a half-dozen alien kids to a human high school.
The newcomers, easily identifiable by the tattoo-like birthmarks on their faces, aren’t received with open arms by most of the student body.
This is the element of the show that allows Star-Crossed to address such issues as racism, bullying and social injustice. Yet the sci-fi premise helps keep the moralizing from tasting like medicine.
“It’s about all of us learning to get along, despite our differences,” Lanter says. “That’s a beautiful message.”
Lanter already has quite a bit of experience in the genre of sci-fi. He had a recurring role during the first and best season of Heroes. His character, a beloved high school quarterback, revealed a dark side (and ultimately paid the price) when he tried to rape cheerleader-turned-superhero Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere).
Lanter also provides the voice for Anakin Skywalker in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series and video games. And he does voices for several characters for the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series. But CW viewers will know him best from 90210, in which he played rebellious Liam Court.
“I can’t seem to get out of high school,” says Lanter, who will be 31 in April.
Not that he minds. “It’s hard to forget high school,” he notes. “It’s a time when changes are happening and you’re getting a grasp on your place in the world around you. It doesn’t matter how old you get. You never forget it.”
Roman is likely to be a breakthrough role for Lanter. He and Teegarden have such great chemistry together that they’re certain to become new CW fan favorites.
“She’s fantastic,” Lanter says of his leading lady. “She’s one of the main reasons I signed on. We had met one time at an audition before this show came up and I was impressed with her then. But now that we’re working together, I couldn’t ask for anyone better. I love her creativity and her quirks. She makes a great Emery.”