Fallout TV show creators drew inspiration from New Zealand

One of the most-anticipated TV shows of 2024 has been released and Aotearoa is at the core of a lot of what inspired it.

The eight-episode first season of Fallout, based on the popular gaming franchise, has strong Kiwi connections.

Showrunner Geneva Robertson-Dworet holds dual citizenship (New Zealand and the US), and its actors have had entanglements with Aotearoa, meaning the show seems to have a subversive element of New Zealand DNA coursing through its veins.

The show follows three different primary characters who collide in a post-apocalyptic world 219 years after the nuclear bombs have wiped out much of the cities and infrastructure of America.

There's naive vault-dweller Lucy MacLean (Yellowjackets star Ella Purnell) who's forced out from underground on a dangerous mission; Maximus (The Night Of star Aaron Moten) a runt who's fighting for survival in the Brotherhood of Steel, a group of Arthurian-like Knights who operate in high powered metal suits; and finally there's Walton Goggins' The Ghoul, an irradiated creature that roams the wastelands trying to survive.

Prior to the show's launch, Robertson-Dworet told Collider New Zealand's international image inspired her approach to co-writing the show.

"We often talk about how those are countries that are sort of celebrated as these wonderful, peaceful utopias, and 'What if everyone was like there,' and the reality is not everywhere is like those countries," she said.

It's something Newshub was keen to expand on during an interview with show co-writer and Canadian resident Graham Wagner, who has been playing the Fallout games since their launch in 1997.

"In Canada, they're that naive," he jokes. "Just kidding. No, I do think it's more about the image of Canada for me, anyway, of, 'hey, everything's cozy and nice up here'. It's sort of this funny bubble. I don't think Canada's actually like that. It can be quite a hard scrabble. 

"I grew up in northern Alberta. It's not the Canada that gets portrayed internationally. You know, [Roberston-Dworet and I] started writing the show before COVID-19 and then it hit.

"We sort of realised that we were vault dwellers, patting ourselves on the back for doing such great work by sheltering in place while braver souls or less fortunate souls than us were out there working in meat plants or wherever, jobs you have to do to actually keep the world going. We felt a little clownish about ourselves during that period. 

Ella Purnell plays naive vault-dweller Lucy MacLean.
Ella Purnell plays naive vault-dweller Lucy MacLean. Photo credit: Prime Video

"We used the vault dwellers to sort of poke fun at how we felt about ourselves at that time. I do think Canadians and New Zealanders have self-deprecation in common."

Walton Goggins, who plays the Ghoul, told Newshub it was his friend Roberston-Dworet's pitch about the show that got him intrigued.

"We did Tomb Raider together, and I've been a fan of Graham Wagner, our other executive producer for a very long time. Then you get past that, and I read the scripts, and I was doing a job in North Carolina at the time when they sent them. They were like page turners - I couldn't get enough of them!" he laughs gently.

"I read the first two and I didn't know how they were going to make it. It was so big in scope, so epic in scope. And I thought, 'oh wow, we're going to be looking at great screens for a very long time'. As it turns out, it was their intention was to create this tactile experience. But it was the story ultimately that made me want to jump in. It was a great opportunity to play this guy at two very different points in his life. With every great experience, you just take it a day at a time and do the best job you can."

Walton Goggins is the Ghoul in Fallout.
Walton Goggins is the Ghoul in Fallout. Photo credit: Prime Video

For Kyle MacLachlan, known to legions of fans as Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks, it was a no-brainer as well - he told Newshub he was all in to play Lucy's father Hank from the moment he found out that Westworld's creator was involved. 

"I'm just a big fan of Jonathan Nolan, creator and director, and was a Westworld acolyte. I came to it with a lot of excitement. I liked the idea that Hank is a character who on the surface is who he appears to be, very confident, forward thinking. But, of course, there are other things that are lurking behind that facade and that's something that I think I've made my stock in trade, playing characters like that. But I really enjoy them. So I was looking forward to being able to expose two sides of this very interesting man."

Not all of the cast were familiar with the show's source material, a highly successful franchise of critically-acclaimed video games.

Aaron Moten, who plays Maximus, laughs when talking to Ella Purnell about the first time she played it.

"I was absolutely horrific and not good at it. I ended up doing what Aaron did and watching people play it instead because we didn't have that much time to prepare," she told Newshub.

"I wanted to do it much faster than my thumbs would allow me!"

Kyle MacLachlan has a significant and mysterious role in Fallout.
Kyle MacLachlan has a significant and mysterious role in Fallout. Photo credit: Prime Video

Moten couldn't resist gently ribbing his co-star, stating that while he watched others play the game for research, he feels he would have benefited from watching one particular person.

"I wish I could have watched Ella playing," he said before she interrupted: "No you wouldn't, no you don't, it would make you angry."

"...Walking into walls, I'd be like 'wow this is really beautiful game design here, Ella's tour of Fallout'," he joked.

"One day I'll show people my version of it," Purnell added.

With its mix of humour and 1950s musical needle drops, Moten believes the series has a wider appeal than just to fans of the game.

"It is something that is going to be a surprise, to have such humour and such spectacle in among the violence; there's so much being pushed together and it really does a lot."

However, Goggins feels the show has a timely message for a society already on a brink.

"The world that we live in today is a scary place, man. You know, it's been scary throughout time and in some ways, it's just sped up. So who do you trust? Are you farming out the end of the world to a corporation? And what does that really look like when you give over your own autonomy? Is that something that happens in an instant or is it gradual? It deals with a lot of those things. But it does it with comedy, so there's something really for everybody."

The Fallout TV series has nods to the games.
The Fallout TV series has nods to the games. Photo credit: Prime Video

The show has already been commissioned for a second season, in news announced just hours before the first season was released on Thursday (NZT).

While the cast is keen to head back into the wasteland and into the vaults of the Fallout world again, it seems they've got their eye on Aotearoa - particularly Purnell who spent time in Wellington several years ago.

"It would be so fun," she said, before turning to Moten and asking: "Have you ever been  to New Zealand?"

"No, my best friend just moved there. He was working on farms when we first graduated high school, and then he came back to the States. And then he met his wife, and she's from New Zealand, so they're back out there. They've just bought their home. I'll have to text him. I'll have to find out," Moten reveals before an energised Purnell suggests: "We should come - I can't wait."

And it seems they won't be alone on the plane journey over.

A second season of Fallout has been confirmed.
A second season of Fallout has been confirmed. Photo credit: Prime Video

Despite filming the Anthony Hopkins-led Burt Munro story The World's Fastest Indian back in 2005, Goggins, like MacLachlan, has never been to Aotearoa. 

Yet both have worked with Kiwis.

Goggins has recently completed working on the third season of The White Lotus with New Zealand actress Morgana O'Reilly in Thailand.

"I just saw her a couple of days ago. What a lovely, lovely actor. She's just fantastic," he said.

MacLachlan got into a social interaction with the "extraordinary, extraordinary artist" Lorde when she announced her new album late last year and he recreated her viral pictures to launch his own podcast.

"We're going to both rectify that," Goggins said as MacLachlan nodded about visiting Aotearoa. 

"Because, yeah, we're going to come to New Zealand together. We're moving to New Zealand - please, just send us a real estate agent!" Goggins laughed.

Fallout season one is streaming now on Prime Video.