Last year, NBC canceled the drama Manifest after three seasons, calling an abrupt and unfinished end to its ongoing saga about airline passengers who discover upon landing that five and a half years have passed since they took off. And so cast member Josh Dallas, who played math-professor and Flight 828 traveler Ben Stone, did what many newly-unemployed people do: He started growing a beard. But he never could have predicted that his “grief beard” would essentially become its own crucial character on the show’s improbable resurrection by Netflix. After NBC’s episodes of Manifest became a huge hit on the streamer, Netflix brought the show back for a fourth and final 20-episode season. (The first ten episodes went live last week, and promptly became Netflix’s number-one show worldwide, with fans streaming 57 million hours in three days.),
“When we came back and [creator Jeff Rake] and I were talking about where the story was going to go, we were like, ‘That beard’s going to come in handy,’” says Dallas, whose much more freshly-shaven face can’t hide his constant ear-to-ear smile.
(Spoilers follow for season 4.) The new episodes pick up two years after season 3’s cliffhanger finale, in which Angelina gutted viewers and the Stone family by killing Grace and kidnapping Eden. . Ben (Dallas) is still mourning his wife (hence the sad, hairy new accessory), searching for his daughter, and struggling to forgive his similarly cosmically-aged son, Cal, for his role in allowingAngelina back into their home. By the midseason break, Eden has been found and Ben and Cal are moving forward together, only for a scorching new problem to emerge: A literal apocalypse. It turns out that their plane’s original disappearance was caused by divine consciousness, and the Flight 828 passengers’s death date—which is when a resurrected person will die for the second and final time—of June 2, 2024 is actually the end for all of mankind. With the midseason finale concluding with Angelina and the Omega Sapphire causing the world to burn, Dallas says to prepare for a fiery—but beautiful—goodbye.
GQ: It’s been a week since the new episodes of Manifest premiered, so how high are you flying right now?
Josh Dallas: It’s been crazy. We went No. 1 worldwide on Netflix the other day, and that’s so cool and humbling and gratifying. I don’t exactly know what [the numbers] all mean, but 57 million hours seems like a lot to me.
And with that popularity comes the memes. Have you seen the Instagram reel from Netflix that is just a video of all the times Ben has said “daddy” on the show?
[Laughs.] I actually saw it this morning for the first time, and I was like, “Oh my god, did I say ‘daddy’ that much?” You forget from episode to episode. So yeah, I guess I’m a daddy. I mean, I am a daddy; we have two boys, so it’s not wrong!
How surprised were you by the initial Netflix boom when the first two seasons began streaming just days before NBC canceled the series?
It was so surprising. I mean, we finished season 3, we were canceled, and that was devastating and upsetting, I started growing that beard. And then we appeared on Netflix, and none of us even knew that we were going to be on Netflix, including our creator, Jeff. And it just started taking off like this rocket. A lot of people had no idea we were on NBC, they thought we were a new Netflix show. And it’s not like Netflix did any press or PR, they just released us on their platform. Luckily, people found us, and we just started growing and growing and growing. We were just so grateful that Netflix came in to rescue it and give us these last 20 episodes so we can finish the story for the fans—and for ourselves. Because the idea of finishing where we left off at the end of season 3 would’ve been just super cruel.
Stephen King and the rest of the Manifesters are very thankful!
Isn’t that wild? One of our greatest writers ever and he’s a Manifester! The fact that he’s digging it, it’s mind-blowing.
Considering what happened in the season 3 finale, the new episodes, understandably, find Ben in a very dark space. How quickly did you go from being pumped that the show was being saved to realizing you were about to be really depressed?
As an actor, I was so excited about that challenge and the idea of almost reinventing the character. It’s satisfying to the actor’s ego. Of course, having to live in that space for 14 hours a day, for months on end, is not fun at all. But I’m able to brush it off and go home at the end of the day. What I love so much about being in television is the possibility of story and character that you have if you’re lucky enough to be on something long-running. If it’s great writing and a great story, those characters are going to evolve and change over time.
I will say, as someone who has never been able to grow significant facial hair, I was very jealous of your grief beard. It might deserve its own awards recognition.
It was like a second character! And it had so many colors in it—mostly white, which I was shocked about. But it was like this calico cat and had every color in the rainbow in it. ” Although, it held up production, because we have a lot of flashbacks in the first part of season 4, so we had to wait until I shaved it in the present story in order to go back. So production wasn’t too pleased with my beard. I think it added so much to his mental state of where we see him at the beginning, but it was a hostage situation.
The Ben and Cal relationship was always going to be a tricky one this season, with Ben holding his son somewhat responsible for Grace’s death and Eden’s kidnapping. But then you had another wrinkle in that a new actor, Ty Doran, took over the role of Cal now that he’s suddenly five years older. What was it like working through that fractured and heartbreaking dynamic with Ty?
It was a heartbreaking dynamic and super complicated. And my God, we got lucky with Ty. He really rose to the challenge of coming into this wild show and playing this character who is such a big mythological piece, as well as the heartbeat to so many of the characters. Ty made it easily heartbreaking to play opposite. Ben has something deep within him that blames Cal for Grace’s murder and Eden’s kidnapping, and that’s a really difficult place to be in as a father looking at your son. And he also grew in age. All of them always wrestled with those five years that they lost, and Ben missed out on Cal’s childhood when they disappeared, and now that he’s the age that he’s supposed to be, Ben missed out on those years. So it’s complicated, but I think they gradually start finding their way back to one another and understanding each other more.
The midseason finale brings Athena back as Grace, kind of. Having just left at the end of season 3, Athena wasn’t gone that long in the grand scheme of things, but, as Ben was already in the midst of an emotionally draining stretch, what was it like playing that heavy reunion?
It was beautiful to have Athena back. And all that history between those two characters coming back in that moment was so beautiful, and then, ultimately, heartbreaking when we find out that it’s Angelina. That was a super emotional day. I tried not to see Athena when she arrived at the studio, because I just wanted to be able to look at her for the first time in the scene. So the first time I saw her that day was when she walked onto that set. And so there was not a lot of acting required, it just sort of happened.
As if enough wasn’t already on your plate this season, you made your directorial debut.
Yeah, just pile it all on! [Laughs.] What else? Let’s produce, let’s write an episode at the same time!
Was stepping behind the camera something you were determined to do before the series was over?
It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’ve been trying to put in my 10,000 hours on a set and just soak in everything that I possibly could over this last decade of working in television. Jeff and I had talked about it for season 3, but then COVID happened and none of us knew how anything was going to work. I wanted to make sure that I had a full arsenal at my disposal to help and support me. And then we came back and decided that this season would be the time for me to do that. I loved being able to have a more 360-degree view of a story that means so much to me.
Part 1 of season 4 essentially leaves us in a full blown apocalypse, which I would never have guessed is where we were headed when Manifest began. Did you have any inkling? Over the years, how much of the endgame were you talking about with Jeff? Or did you prefer to just wait and see when the time arrived?
In the first two seasons, I didn’t want to know anything, I wanted to discover it in the moment. But, as we started going through season 3, I wanted to know more and more and more. Although, I never wanted to know the ultimate answer. Jeff would drop me little things here and there that would sort of feed me and satiate my curiosity about what the hell was going on, but he would never fill in the whole picture with all the colors.
Well, what would you tease about the final episodes that will satiate the curiosity of the Manifesters?
As we end episode 10, we see that this idea of a death date is now not only just passengers, it’s the entire world; there is something happening to everyone. So the stakes have become much bigger and much wider, and I think we open part 2 in a completely different environment than we started the first half of the season off with. But these characters are going to be pushed into situations that are going to challenge them in new ways, harder ways. It’s still as compelling and as twisty-turny, but I think it’s going to be hugely satisfying for our fans. They’re going to love where we end up.
Maybe this will help you with the challenge of not giving too much away: In five words or less, how would you describe the series finale?
Surprising. Beautiful. Hopeful. How many words is that? [Laughs.] Yeah, that’s where I’m going to leave it.
Let’s wrap up by talking about when you finally wrapped Manifest. What was it like walking off that set for the final time?
It was really emotional. More emotional than I thought it would be, because we’re not only saying goodbye to these characters but we’re saying goodbye to this TV family that we’ve built, and that’s always a hard thing. We spend more hours with these people than with our real families, so you create these bonds that will last forever. And once you see the finale, you’re going to understand why it’s so emotional.
While we wait to see what happens on the show when we reach the death date of June 2, 2024, have you started prepping your own real-life plans for that day?
I definitely won’t take a flight that day, that’s for sure. I’ll probably stay in a locked, padded room in my home.