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Sci-fi series 'Extinct' puts BYU-grad in alien landscape — southern Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — For Matthew Bellows, acting in BYUtv’s post-apocalyptic series “Extinct" is as fun as it gets.

The show, which premiered Oct. 1, marks BYUtv’s second scripted series and was co-written by “Ender’s Game” author Orson Scott Card and New York Times best-selling author Aaron Johnston. The fifth episode of the 10-episode season airs Sunday, Oct. 22. Bellows spoke with the Deseret News about his role in the TV series.

Extinct” picks up 400 years after the extinction of the human race, when a small group of humans are given the chance to restart their lives.

Known as Reborns, these humans have been restored to the prime of their lives by an alien civilization called Originators. The Reborns quickly discover they are not alone; that another group known as Skin Riders — humans infected with an alien parasite — poses a serious threat to the ultimate goal of restoring the human race.

Enter Jax (Bellows) — a Skin Rider leader who hates everything that it means to be human.

“There’s a speech that he gives in episode two where he explains all the horrible things that humans do to each other,” Bellows said. “(He asks) ‘Why would this species that’s capable of so much be given the opportunity to exist in this world when they screw it up and they hurt each other over and over and over again?’ So his entire mission is to bring (humans) into his tribe (and) save them from their own imperfection and give them the opportunity to be better than they are by infecting them with this parasite.”

Although it’s admittedly twisted, Bellows finds Jax’s motive benevolent. But it’s when Jax’s human side comes out that acting gets really fun.

“The human body isn’t meant to be taken over; it’s meant to be autonomous,” Bellows said. “There’s a conflict within Jax as a human and as a Skin Rider; there’s conflict in him between the idea of love and the idea of destroying humanity. … How those things fight against each other is a big part of Jax’s journey in the story and a blast to explore as an actor. It doesn’t get more fun than that — it’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of stuff.”

But “Extinct” has also been fun for the actor because it gave him a chance to return home.

A South Jordan native, the actor attended Bingham High School before continuing on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Brigham Young University. While there, the actor formed connections with the Utah film community, leading to roles in "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration” (2005), “Forever Strong” (2008) and “Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold” (2011).

“By the time I got out of BYU, I had a really really strong foundation in the craft,” Bellows said. “The disadvantage of that, is that a lot of people have predisposed ideas about what it means to go to BYU, unfortunately. And I admittedly did, too. I never thought that I would end up there, but I got in on an acting scholarship — I wouldn’t have been there otherwise.”

Bellows, who is now based in Los Angeles, has more recent credits to his name, including TV shows “Grimm,” “Nashville” and “Fuller House.”

Even though the actor was familiar with “Ender’s Game” and Orson Scott Card, he was initially apprehensive when approached about “Extinct” last summer.

“I didn’t really know what kind of network I was getting all involved in,” he said. “I was worried it was too niche. I didn’t watch ‘Granite Flats,’ so I didn’t have a reference point for what (BYUtv) was attempting to do. But it seemed that with this project — and it still seems that way — that it’s sort of their bid to be taken seriously as a source for scripted content.”

Bellows hopped on board after reading the script for the pilot episode. That decision took him to locations in central and southern Utah, where most of “Extinct” was filmed. It allowed him to not only revisit places that were important to him growing up, but to also discover new places that gave him greater appreciation for his home state.

“In one state, you can be in a snow-capped mountain, in the sand, in the desert, in a lava tube mere hours from each other,” he said. “People have been using Southern Utah to tell science fiction stories since the dawn of the medium. So it’s cool to kind of be a part of that in our own way. Utah, it’s one-of-a-kind, and for me, it sort of felt like coming home.”

Bellows was surprised to learn that a few of his Los Angeles-based peers had recently watched “Extinct” and found upliftment in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting and other recent tragedies.

“I know that BYUtv’s mission is to see the good in the world, and a lot of people would maybe think a science fiction series wouldn’t do that,” he said. “But it was cool to talk to people who have nothing to do with BYUtv, (and for them to say), ‘It’s interesting, it’s entertaining and it doesn’t make us feel sad at the end of the day' — I was really impressed by that. Because I would expect that kind of response maybe from the LDS community in Utah, so to hear that from other people was pretty cool.”

Note: "Extinct" airs Sundays, at 7 p.m. MT, and the series will conclude with a two-hour finale on Nov. 19. The first eight episodes are currently available on all BYUtv digital platforms.