'For All Mankind' actor lauds alternative-history show's family feel

For All Mankind
(Image credit: Apple TV+)

"For All Mankind" has been presenting viewers with an alternative history of NASA's human spaceflight programs, from Apollo through the space shuttle age. But for actor Casey W. Johnson, one of the most enjoyable things about being on the show is something much closer to home — "the family dynamic."

Johnson is one of the new actors on Season 2 of the Apple TV+ series, playing Danny Stevens, the college-aged son of the astronaut couple Tracy and Gordo Stevens. Johnson told Space.com that, at first, he was nervous about joining a cast whose members knew each other well from Season 1. But his worries quickly dissipated after meeting everyone.

"They just made it a point that we were going to be family and accepted me with open arms, which was something big," he said of the cast and production team, which includes showrunner Ronald Moore of "Battlestar Galactica." 

"Not knowing everyone when I came in, having that acceptance from the beginning was huge," added Johnson.

Video: Take an astronaut-led tour of the 'For All Mankind' moon base

In Season 1, viewers probably remember, Johnson's character Danny (then played by the younger Mason Thames, since Danny was a child) was best friends with Shane Baldwin. The boys perpetually got into trouble together at school and frustrated their astronaut parents, until something happened that changed Danny's relationship with Shane forever.

Season 1 began in 1969. Season 2 shows a much more mature Danny visiting Houston in the 1980s as  a student at the U.S. Naval Academy. 

However, as Season 2 is still going — there are two more episodes, which premiere on April 16 and April 23 — there's not much more that Johnson can disclose about his role or about what his fictional astronaut parents are doing. 

Johnson said that prior to joining "For All Mankind," he didn't really follow the space program, although he did stumble on content he enjoyed from time to time. 

"Honestly, [I didn't know] more than the average Joe," he said. He immersed himself, therefore, in researching the space program and tapping into an occasional past interest in checking out new content from NASA.

"I would see what NASA would post on YouTube, whenever they came out with some new crazy thing that was happening," he said.

Previous to "For All Mankind", Johnson played teenage pizza delivery driver Billy Offal on another 1980s-focused series, "GLOW," which first aired on Netflix from 2017 to 2019. He also is known for his performances in the one-season TV series "Rise" (2018) and the movie "A Killer Walks Among Us" (2016).

"I definitely want to take on roles that are interesting and also challenging; it's something that's attractive to me," Johnson said. "But also, at the end of the day, you've got to work. It's about managing what you can get and what you can shoot."

"For All Mankind" started shooting Season 3 in late March, with the cast members individually isolating between takes to ensure that production runs as smoothly as possible during the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson said he feels fortunate to be working, even under difficult circumstances facing actors from stage to screen.

Johnson said he's looked at feedback online from "For All Mankind" fans and appreciates the intense interest. "People have been really positive and cheering me on, just saying positive things," he said. "It feels so nice."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace