Netflix's 'Sense8' details and a new comic from J. Michael Straczynski

j-michael-straczynski-sense8-netflix.jpg J. Michael Straczynski, the man behind the trailblazing science fiction series "Babylon 5," has a new project in the works for Netflix. He and Andy and Lana Wachowski, the siblings behind "The Matrix" movies, are currently in pre-production for "Sense8," which Straczynski tells Zap2it is something that's never been done before on TV.

Zap2it: What can you tell us about "Sense8"?
J. Michael Straczynski: [We thought] let's tell a story on a planetary scale. That's never been done before because you'd have to be crazy to try it. We came up with [an idea] that allows us to see all those different places as one continuous story by virtue of having eight characters who are empathically connected to each other, so they can see each other as if they're in the same room, talk to each other, and there's an entity hunting them down.

They're exhibiting these powers for the first time and we track their process as they try to figure out what's going on -- "Am I losing my mind? Who is this person? I can't understand the language" -- to gradually understanding each other, making larger groups within the group and communication webs and dealing with the reality of someone is trying to kill them.

You have a person literally in Seoul, South Korea talking with someone face-to-face who is in Nairobi talking with a person face-to-face who is in Chicago and it's all the same scene and they all appear with each other in the same shot, so you have to really schedule this thing appropriately so you have your actors available to do all these different scenes. It's a huge, huge story.

How far along are you in the process?

We're playing a lot of it very close to the vest, so we can't talk about a lot of it. In broad strokes, at this moment, we are almost done with all the scripts and the long process of refining all the different cultures we're going to be using in the course of the show and making sure the scripts are just tight and really refined. The last scripts should be finalized by the end of [February].

We start shooting in late June, early July, starting with San Francisco. We'll be shooting in a number of different countries -- the U.S.; London; Berlin; Seoul, South Korea; Iceland; Mexico City; Nairobi and Mumbai, which is amazing.

We're in the process of prepping now, we have location scouts working overtime to find really good places locations for the shoot. We have a casting director doing a bunch of casting now, holding auditions, narrowing down our possibilities. It's going to be a big show and the cool thing about it is no one's ever done this kind of thing before.

Will the eight characters eventually wind up together, as in physically together in the same place?
Not in the first season. I don't want to talk about the future too much, but if that were to happen, it would have to happen well down the road.

There is one episode in the first season where they will see each other as the entire group, as the eight, the cluster. Part of the fun of the show is using these characters to explore other cultures, to see things about Korea and India that we have never seen before. ... We want to be able to keep those characters in their cultures and explore in a respectful what those cultures are, whereas if we take everyone out, we kind of lose that.

You sort of answered this, but "Sense8" isn't designed to be a stand-alone 10 episodes, then? It's meant to have more seasons, if that's what Netflix wants?
We pitched it as a five-year story. We've mapped out five seasons of this thing, our actor deals are being made for five seasons, five or six depending on the breaks. So we imagined this over the long, long haul. The first season is the origin story for our characters and then we kind of go from there.

Obviously the characters are different races and ethnicities, but are they all the same age?
They're all exactly the same age and the reason we'll get into in the story. If possible, we are trying to cast out of these countries. We aren't casting an American to play an Indian character. We're trying to cast out of India, we're casting out of Africa for Nairobi, we're casting out of Korea, so we're looking at actors that are pretty much the same age and the characters themselves are exactly the same age, all in their mid- to late-20s.

Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun.
I'll be directing the London sequences and the Iceland sequences. ... I'll be flying to London the first week or so of July, prepping there for about a week or so, I fly out to Iceland for a week or two there to draft exteriors, come back to London, shoot there for the last part of July. And I go back to Iceland in October so I can get winter and the Aurora.

This is set to debut in late 2014?

They're still working on the exact dates. It could be late 2014, could be early 2015, depending on what their programming needs are.

the-adventures-of-apocalypse-al-j-michael-straczynski-comic.jpgIn addition to "Sense8," Straczynski, as if he doesn't have enough going on, is debuting a new comic book series this week. It's called "The Adventures of Apocalypse Al," and it sounds like something "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fans are going to enjoy.

"It's a smart-a**, sarcastic, smart, funny, powerful female character who goes after the denizens of Hell and dangers and minions coming at us," says Straczynski, who has published several comic books, including the popular "Midnight Nation" and writing for "The Amazing Spider-Man" from 2001-2007.

He tells us that while "Apocalypse Al" would maybe make a good TV show, that's not the end goal. "If I want to do a TV show, I'll just do a TV show. ... I'm a comic fan and I've had many offers over the years to adapt 'Midnight Nation' and I've always said, 'No, that's a perfect comic book, leave it alone.'

"I wouldn't be averse to someone wanting to talk about 'Apocalypse Al' for TV or movies, but by the same token, I'd be perfectly happy if it never happens. It has to be a good book first and foremost."

The first issue of "Apocalypse Al" is being released Wednesday, Feb. 5. More information is available at Straczynski's official website.
Photo/Video credit: Getty Images, JMS Studios