While the stories in each episode of Tales from the Loop have a sci-fi twist, whether with time travel or parallel universes or mysterious machines, they are mostly grounded in life in the town of Mercer, Ohio. The Willard family is center stage much of the time, but even then Paul Schneider’s character George Willard is often at the periphery, and that’s kind of the point. Russ Willard may be the founder of the Center for Experimental Physics that houses the loop, but George, as we found out when we spoke to Schneider about his role, is anything but the heir apparent.
In fact, it might seem at first like George’s mechanical arm is his most interesting characteristic, but an undercurrent of resentment lies beneath his awkward exterior. “I love the fact that George has a robot arm, but the thing that I was most attracted to in terms of his character is he’s desperate to become a father he’s never had,” says Schneider. “He works at the Loop [as] a physicist, and in many ways he’s following in his father’s footsteps. And that was absolutely the wrong decision. He’s like the dutiful son who realizes too late that he was following the wrong master.”
Part of the troubled father-son relationship has to do with seeing Russ be a better grandfather to George’s son Cole than he was a father, and the sci-fi framework is merely an entry point to these intimate stories. “It’s those kinds of extremely relative human emotions, human desires, and human experiences that I think lock people to Tales from the Loop. And I think it was very smart of [executive producer Nathaniel Halpern] to use science fiction to get us there and open the door,” says Schneider. “Once we’re in the room, then we’re just sitting and talking about things that we all can relate to like family or jealousy or wondering if your life has meaning… We all want to do something or be something. George wants to be something, and he doesn’t know quite what it is.”
Schneider was not familiar with the Simon Stålenhag paintings that inspired Tales from the Loop, but his understanding came quickly even before he started working on the show. “I had a few friends that are graphics artists, and when I mentioned that I was doing the show, a couple guys asked me, ‘Oh, are these based on the paintings?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ and they fucking bugged out! So I had some catch up on the paintings,” he shared. “I really like how the paintings are really a snapshot. Each painting is really pregnant with possibility that really ask you to think about what’s going to happen next or what just happened. It gets the painting to this specific moment that’s frozen.”
Just like the paintings, Tales from the Loop embeds the science fiction elements in the landscape of everyday life. “My favorite elements in movies or television shows are those moments you know are extremely expensive to film but we really casually view them, and they’re not elements that are trying to sell you on themselves,” Schneider observes. “You see it a lot in the woods when the kids are walking and because it’s not shoved in your face, you’re giving the audience a moment to say, ‘Was that a robot? Hold on a second…’ I like the attitude that Nathaniel’s writing has about these scattered artifacts of science fiction and the attitude he has about George’s robot arm.”
Now that the eight-episode series has been out on Amazon for a few days, Schneider hopes the viewers will be able to relate to Tales from the Loop on a deeper level than just enjoying a sci-fi anthology. “To me the real surprises in the series are going to be not surprises about science fiction, although those are beautiful and sort of set the stage,” Schneider admits. “The real surprises for the audience are the ways that they’re going to find moments where they look at the show and go, ‘Wow, that’s just like me!’ or ‘Oh my god, I feel that and I’ve never said it…’ That might be your relationship with your mother or father or siblings or what you do for a living or all the things that actually matter to everyone on a Monday to Friday kind of way.”
Tales from the Loop is in fact just as much about the people of the Midwestern town going to work at the local factory as it is about what happens in the particle accelerator that causes all of the strange happenings to appear above ground. Schneider’s character may feel out of place within his own family, but the hope is that the viewers will feel right at home even as they dream about the fantastical possibilities the show presents.