Last Monday, Steven Maeda, showrunner of Syfy’s Helix (Mondays, 10/9C), and Kyra Zagorsky, one of the two female leads, talked with a group of journalists/bloggers about the 13-episode series and how it might appear to be an ‘outbreak’ show on the surface but there’s much more to it than that. As Maeda puts it, at some point, ‘what you thought the show was going to be about is not what the show is about…’
We also got an insight into Zagorsky’s process; a candidate for the eventual home video’s gag reel, and a hint or two about Helix’s ick-factor. All in all it was a very entertaining call.
Steve, the setting of being up in the Arctic really seems to work well for this kind of thing. It makes you think of, like, “The Thing,” and stuff like that. Kind of talk philosophically about why a setting like this works so well visually and emotionally for this kind of story.
Steve Maeda: Sure. It’s a setting that is great for us because it takes – it’s not that – the newest setting under the sun. It seems familiar enough but I think we’re doing a pretty interesting spin on it.
And what works for us really well is that it’s a very – it lends itself to a very claustrophobic environment because you can go outside but only for brief periods of time. It’s really dangerous. The weather is horrible as I’m sure people who are in the Midwest and the East Coast right now can relate to.
And what it does is it forces you to be inside most of the time and that’s how we really saw this. That’s how Cameron, who wrote the pilot script, really envisioned the thing to begin with, which was a contained environment, someplace, you know, it’s almost like being set on a spaceship where you’re trapped inside with, you know, unseen horrors and then there’re all sorts of human problems as well that develop from that. So it really lends itself to the series as a whole.
Okay, cool. And I sympathize with you there. I’ve got 14 inches of new snow outside right now, so I’m never going to get out of my house again.
Maeda: Yes, you’re trapped.
Yes. Hey, just one other thing. And it looks like this is maybe an entirely studio show. In other words, I was thinking that even the outdoor scenes you probably shot in a studio. Is it entirely a studio shot and is – are you shooting in Montreal or where are you shooting at?
Maeda: We are shooting in Montreal. We – the writers were all in Los Angeles where it’s actually kind of balmy right now. But Kyra and the rest of the gang, we’re up in Montreal. It is – we’re pretty much all studio shots because we started in the summer. And there wasn’t the opportunity to, you know, I wish we had the budget to be able to go to the Arctic and really do it.
But I though the group up there – the crew and all our production people – did a phenomenal job and maybe that’s something, Kyra, maybe you can talk more about that because you were there having to deal with our snow and all that stuff.
Kyra Zagorsky: Yes, it was pretty incredible. We had a room that we called the freezer. If you were shooting in the freezer that day, that was sort of a joke. But the fake snow and how they would do it, they’d get the fans going, and it was – it looks incredible and the only thing that was tricky is it was supposed to be freezing, we had these huge arctic, you know, coats on.
But there were a couple of times that we did end up moving the set outside to shoot some of the outside scenes just because we needed a bit more space and that ended up being a little bit more helpful and easier to breathe, too, when you’re dealing with some of the fake snow stuff. But it was a lot of fun and it looks amazing.
Maeda: It’s pretty incredible what they managed to do up in Montreal getting it to look like, you know, a blizzard in the Arctic.
And I’ll just ask one other thing. Kyra, you grew up in the mountains of Colorado I’m told. So did you grow up liking snow and have you changed your mind since seeing the horrors of the Arctic in this thing?
Zagorsky: I love the snow. I love it. I think that because I grew up in that environment, it’s just – it’s almost nostalgic for me. I just get so excited to see it. I prefer being in the snow than the rain in the winter for sure. So that’s the one thing about being in Vancouver sometimes in the winter. It’s a bit tricky.
But yes, I absolutely love the snow. I do. I know right now you’re not enjoying it but – you’re trapped in your house. But there’s just something about the snow (scords) and how beautiful it is. And there’s something – it just kind of wipes the earth clean for a second. You know, it’s just – I love it. It’s beautiful.
I watched the pilot. I really enjoyed it and I thought it was smart and really suspenseful. I (kind of) wonder, though, or think that there’s going to be some misguided critic out there who says it’s just another zombie show. What would you say to someone like that? What makes the show so much more than that?
Maeda: Yes, our watch word over the season or some of our watch words were not zombies. There is certainly a human element to the show and a science fiction kind of trope that we’re, you know, sure to get compared to and that’s okay.
I don’t mind that but we’re really trying to not make it a zombie show. I would say the main difference about our vectors, as we call them, is that they are not kind of mindless sort of, you know, eating machines.
And that’s something that you’ll see in later episodes. They’re very scary and they’re human and they look horrible. But they’re also – there is – there’re ways around – our team will discover teams into and kind of around the virus and also what we’re going to find out about the vectors is that they’re incredibly smart and so they retain a lot of their intelligence, if not their humanity, so which I think makes them very different from zombies.
And you know what? If – the comparisons will come and that’s okay. But we’re really trying to do something that feels different than the typical zombie show.
Right. And Kyra…
Zagorsky: I think also since – sorry, but I think also since the show is based in real science, there’re real life epidemic scares out there, since you know, throughout history where there’re these huge viruses that have wiped out huge populations and so we’re dealing with something that the CDC hasn’t seen before but it comes from a virus.
And so that’s something that’s based in reality. And then you put the science fiction on that and it’s a really interesting combination. I think that’s another thing that makes it unique.
Maeda: That was great. That’s a good way to put it.
Yes, good point. Kyra, I’m wondering, you, Billy and Hiroyuki are both so intense on screen. What’s it like working with them in person? What do they bring to the table?
Zagorsky: Oh my gosh. Well, working with Billy is incredible. I mean, he’s technically amazing. He’s been doing this for a long time. He’s a master at what he does. He’s very emotionally connected and full and always available and powerful.
And so it’s kind of an interesting combination. And the other thing about him is that he’s a blast to work with. He’s so funny. The show is a psycholo- for me, the thing that I love about the show is the psychological thriller aspect of it.
And it’s frightening and it’s scary and there’re all these things that happen. You have these really dramatic scenes and then you get in a scene with him and I can’t tell you how many times I would start cracking up. And Steve was there for some of that.
Zagorsky: But he is just so funny and so – there’s – he’s just a blast to work with. And Hiro is somebody that I’ve always admired since I saw him in The Last Samurai. I think he’s an incredible person and artist and he is always right there for you and he’s always supporting the story to its fullest.
He was amazing. I learned so much from just being in the room with him. So I think, for me, they just kind of raised the bar for me and it feels like, as an actor, you’re only as good as your scene partner and I feel like anything that I do well on this show is probably from being in scenes with those two. So it was a pretty exceptional experience.
Maeda: And I feel like we’ve really got a pretty incredible cast chemistry as well. I mean, considering that you’re, you know, we have some of our actors who have been doing this for years and years and years and, you know, some that are, you know, like, Billy who are household names and then others who you may not have seen before.
And I think everybody really kind of elevated and brought their A game to this and I’m hoping that, in addition to the folks you recognize, there’s going to be some real breakouts in this as well.
Zagorsky: Yes, absolutely.
I was really looking forward to this series since I first heard about it and I loved the set tour back in October and I had such high hopes so now that I’ve seen the first three episodes, wow, do I love this series. I loved it. You (SciFied) it. It’s well written. It’s so well acted. I could go on and on.
Maeda: Oh, thank you.
But what – sure. What is it that each of you likes best about the series?
Maeda: Kyra, you want to go or do you want…
Zagorsky: I love the psychological thriller piece of it. I think that because we are trapped in this isolated environment with a deadly virus, what’s really interesting is that everyone’s darkness comes out because we’ve got these life and death stakes going on and then there’s these interesting relationships going on but we can’t quite deal with the relationship right now because we’ve got something better to do which is survive.
But it takes some of the characters to some very dark places and they start doing things that they might not do if they were in regular circumstances. And so their true humanity comes out, the good and the bad. And I think that’s what’s so interesting about the show and for me, the unique part of it, the psychological side of it.
Maeda: Yes, I would absolutely agree with that. And for me, on top of that, I would say the main thing for me, as I stand back now and look back at the season that we just, you know, that we’re kind of finishing up, now for us, is Syfy in particular – both Sony and Syfy – but Syfy really wanted us to kind of get out of the box of a typical outbreak show.
And from the very beginning, you know, the pilot was a great template and really set the stage for us. But then Syfy just gave us free reign and said, you know, between, you know, studio network, (run more) and everybody, Ron Moore, everybody, we all tried to put our heads together and say what can we do?
Where can we take this show where it starts in one place and then goes someplace hopefully really unexpected where you – you know, we want the audience to play along and say, “Hey, I know what’s going to happen here. Of course, it’s going to be this,” and then have it be something completely different.
And we tried to do that with creative choices we made, with story ideas, with some casting choices, with you know, whether characters live or die, with music choices, with how we edited the show. And so that was really fun to have the creative freedom to be able to get outside of the typical show box.
Zagorsky: And something else that was fun, off of what you said, Steve, is that because we had the 13 episodes right away, every director would come in so excited to go with their own creativity. So, you know, sometimes directors get hired into TV shows and it’s so formulaic and they’re kind of a slave to whatever everybody wants them to do.
But everyone came in with their own style and it blends together with the Helix style that was set. But at the same time, they’re bringing their own ideas and their own input. And so they were so pumped to be there. And it was really fun working with all of them.
I also loved seeing the set and I really love this series so far. I can’t wait to see beyond the screeners. But one of the things you mentioned about kind of the different music and that – I was curious kind of who came up with the idea to use the kind of upbeat music that plays in different areas because I really thought that that fit really great. It just works really well.
Maeda: Oh, thank you. It was sort of a group effort in a way but really it was Ron who sort of came to our first editing session and said, “Hey, you know what? Let’s try to do some different things here. Let’s cut it up and let’s kind of, you know, really have fun with this.”
And then as we were thinking, you know, we had the idea to try to, you know, do something different musically. And initially we weren’t thinking about doing a lot of songs. And then it just sort of came to us and really with kind of following his lead.
And I think it was one of our producers who actually came up with the old Burt Bacharach song and the Dionne Warwick version and we’re like, “Yes, that would be awesome.”
And so what we tried to do is take that through the series and – not all the time – but every once in a while, we’re going to pull out an old chestnut and have some fun with the musical parts of the show. And that was something – that – I’ve got to say that’s one of my favorite parts of the entire series.
One thing I think at the very end – and I won’t say what happens – but with the end of the – I guess it’s actually the end of the pilot, at the very end and kind of that big thing happens that (unintelligible).
Maeda: Yes, the big thing.
Zagorsky: Oh yes.
The big thing. Also, I was curious, can you talk about – because I’m not sure who all else is going to be in it, but I know that mostly it’s kind of a closed cast because you have kind of this nit group. Can you talk about how you’re kind of working with the same people? I mean, does that make it different, like, from I guess an acting standpoint? You do have a big ensemble, but you can’t bring in a bunch of, you know, guest cast.
Zagorsky: You know, we actually do have a lot of guest cast. That’s the fun surprise about the show.
Zagorsky: Because when you think about – how many was it, Steve? There’s 103 scientists on the base?
Maeda: There’re 106 scientists – yes, 106 scientists on the base and a bunch of support staff. And then we have people – there are some other people that we won’t mention, but just to know that there are – excuse me – other cast members who kind of come and go. But it also…
Zagorsky: Yes, and what’s interesting about – there’re a lot of surprise characters that you just would never expect and that’s what’s kind of fun about it, is it’s not – there’s a huge element of surprise that starts to happen pretty soon in the series that there’re some pieces where I have a whole episode where I’m not working with any of the core cast but just other interesting characters. So it was – it’s pretty fun. It kept it interesting.
Maeda: Yes, that was part of the challenge, too, with the show, I think. This is sort of – the claustrophobia plus the cast, in a sense here, which is how do we open the show up? And that was something that we were very conscience of in sitting down and trying to plot out stories.
You know, what can we do? How can we open up this base and make it – make the world larger? And part of it was getting outside when we could. And the other part of it was actually going deeper and kind of unpeeling – literally going deeper and unpeeling the layers of the onion and finding that the surface level of this base is just the beginning and that there’s much more going on in and around and underneath.
My first question is for Steve. I’m a longtime fan of show you’ve worked on since The X Files and Lost and CSI Miami.
Maeda: Well, thanks.
And it seems your experience on Lie To Me, though, may be most applicable to Helix, considering the amount of dishonesty and duplicitousness that plays among its principle players. Can you talk a bit about the abundant amount of withholding that goes on…
Maeda: Oh sure. Yes, I mean, that’s – it’s kind of a dramatic staple but, yes, we absolutely came to this with the idea that the series plays out in a pretty tight time period. We’re doing this idea of having one each episode be a day.
And so the idea was to bring – and not to flash back and not to kind of show what people were doing before the show started. We really wanted to keep it as contained as possible as far as keeping the timeline tight and the jeopardy up.
And so it really was loading characters up. We had a lot of discussions before we even started talking about what the second episode was going to be, in loading characters up with enough back story that would allow things to spill over and play out over the course of the 13 episodes of the season.
So yes, we really, really wanted to make sure that everybody had enough going on with them that once the situation started to really – once the tension increased, once things were going really poorly, which happens really fast, that we had characters who their personal situations could spill over.
And so everyone’s got an agenda. Everyone’s got secrets, every single character. And some of them are big and, you know, giant, you know, things that will impact the plot some are smaller but just as important character secrets.
And we just really tried to load everybody up as much as possible in a way that felt credible but also gave them lots to play once things started to go down the toilet. So we were very conscience of that.
And just a quick follow up for you, Steve, I was wondering, did Ron Moore personally handpick you for the job of show runner or if not, can you tell us about how you came to that job?
Maeda: I mean, Ron was definitely one of the main draws about the job. And I met with Ron and I met with Cameron who was the – who had created and sold the pilot and also with Lynda Obst who was one of our producers.
And it just came from – we had a nice meeting of minds and, you know, that was that. And I’m sure they met with some other people as well but we had, you know, a nice rapport and seems like they’d be good people to work with and they were. It was – we had a really good experience and Ron was tremendous. I mean, just, you know, he’s got a lot of stuff going on. We was very busy but also was very available for us and, you know, had huge input in the show.
Okay, and for Kyra, I’m a big fan of yours and especially your role here as well. I thought you were excellent in the first three episodes. I’m wondering, did you get a show bible initially revealing your character’s outcome or did you have to discover it episode by episode?
Zagorsky: I had to discover it. I had to discover everything and that was, I think, part of the fun in being on the show. It was so exciting. You could not wait to get your next script to see what was going to happen to you.
But there were a couple of things. The only information I got was that I had a history with Billy, with Alan, and with his brother Peter, who’s played by Neil. So that was the only information that I was given.
So that was kind of – it was interesting. And then as – I think it was basically because I guess you guys have all seen the first three episodes there, but by the time I got through the third – working through the third episode, that was the piece when I really felt I’d gotten myself kind of grounded into the character.
I feel like when I find the character’s darkness, when everything kind of opens up emotionally, that’s when I started going, “Okay, now I’m starting to really feel like I’ve got a handle on her.”
And what was great is, when I first got up to Montreal and I met with Cameron and Jeffrey Reiner, we had a talk and I just realized this is my role. This is it, you know. So I have no idea what’s to come but I have to just trust that I’m her and whatever I bring to the table and start working with her.
And then as episodes go on – and Steve was great to work with, too, when a new script would come out and I had questions about things, I would always write to him and I’d have a dialogue with him about things, just figuring out what her character is made of. So it became a really interesting team collaboration. It was pretty incredible. But it was all a big surprise for me, so.
Maeda: That’s pretty typical, too, for a serialized show. And even though you have certain things figured out, you don’t have all the pieces when you begin. We had a pretty solid idea of where we were heading for, you know, through the 13 but it’s – I’ve heard it described before, which I think is a pretty apt analogy of, you know, okay, we know that we’re starting off in Los Angeles and we’re heading toward New York.
But along the way, you may not know, okay, we’re going to stop at Omaha and then, you know, three episodes in, you’re like, Omaha sounds pretty great. And so you can take that left turn or right turn still heading toward your same place at the end, but you can discover things along the way.
And what’s great about that is you can discover things in the show story-wise, but then you also discover, as you see your actors, you discover what’s, you know, who they are and they bring things to the character that you may not have seen before.
And that’s really wonderful, to start watching the dailies and start seeing the cuts and to see what our actors were bringing. Then we went, “Oh, well hey, how about this?” And it gives us, you know, more ideas, which is really nice.
Zagorsky: …because you guys took me for a great ride in this series. I had the best time and, yes, Walker goes through some amazing things.
Zagorsky: It’s pretty incredible. Every episode was pretty dynamic.
Maeda: It’s a pretty tough 13 days for Walker.
Zagorsky: Yes, for sure.
Actually I was on the set tour as well, and Steve, you were on my roundtable in San Diego.
Maeda: Oh, great.
Yes. What’s neat is – can you say a little bit more about Dr. Walker and Dr. Farragut’s relationship and how it maybe developed a little bit? Was anything added when you were cast, Kyra, or anything like that?
Maeda: I mean, from our point of view, the characters always had a relationship even in the very early drafts of the pilot script. We deepened that a little bit. We complicated it up some in – as we were conceptualizing the show very early on.
And that was part of just trying to, again, load up the show with a lot of potential drama to play out because we knew we were going to be stuck up at our base for the 13 days and so for us, it was trying to really make that character sing and have a lot of really interesting things to go through.
And I would say, in a lot of ways, Walker, at least you know, as the show progresses, becomes very central, without giving too much away. It’s a pretty important role and it’s a pretty interesting character. And we’ve got some, you know, good ratings willing, we’ve got some interesting places to take her.
Zagorsky: Yes. And I think something that – when – just coming into the series and, again, as I was mentioning, I didn’t know where the show was going to go, but just knowing that this character is my ex-husband and then we’re here to do this job.
And some of the things that would start to come out and just kind of playing with Billy and a new episode would come and you see some interesting little dialogue between them or what’s going on.
But they had marital problems, you know. It’s one of those things that you just kind of bring relationship history and see that there is definitely a personality thing that happened between these two.
I think Walker’s character is something that I discovered from the information of just things that would happen in the show, that she’s the type of scientist that I think that really likes to be in the field. She really – she’s very accomplished.
She’d already, you know, she’s won an award. She’s gotten herself to the top of the field in her work. And I think that what she’s about, you know, at this point in her life was about trying to really be out there helping people. Like, go to these countries and get right in the middle of the virus and get hands on and be there.
And I think there is a difference in their personalities and that maybe he was a little bit more in the lab kind of thing. And so you just start to see some of these interesting personality clashes of where they’re going to start having some issues with each other.
And it comes out in some pretty cool ways in some of the episodes. I particularly had some fun working with him when we had (Jeremiah) to direct because he’s got such an interesting style. I mean, he directed Christmas Vacation, and that’s just one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies.
My brother and I would watch it every year without fail. It’s so good. And so he’s got such a great, quirky way about him already that he really pulled out some of the interesting marital stuff between us that was really – it was fun.
And so that’s what would kind of happen, is like I said, I would discover it as we would go and then Billy and I would play with each other and it’s just – you’re just bringing human relationships to the table, you know, and seeing where it goes.
Maeda: Yes, and part of what we try to do, as well, is make them all – all of our CDC scientists are incredibly accomplished and incredibly good at their jobs but also very flawed characters who have maybe not handled things so well in their personal lives. And that usually brings some pretty rich drama forward.
Well, having been on the set and touring everything, I think you guys really are – you know, what I’ve seen so far, you’ve used him very well. You know, using all the technology that’s available with some (green) screen here and there, and I’ve been in that cold room and it is cold.
And so it’s amazing what that room is and what I’ve seen already, it’s really used well. And then having that one facility that used to be a research facility, I understand it, so this way you had, like, all the labs almost set up for you. So you guys are really using everything that you have at your disposal to make this work.
Maeda: Oh, thank you.
I’m really, really excited about this series. I know we mentioned that it’s not zombies. But if you could describe the series to somebody who has no preconceptions about what it’s about, how would you describe it?
Maeda: Oh, that’s a good question. I would say it – the way that we’ve been describing the series both in, you know, in press and then just in talking about it in breaking stories, it is an outbreak show, at least at the beginning.
And it starts off as a show about this terrible outbreak that happens in this very remote and dangerous location. And our team has to go up and deal with that.
What then happens, though, is hard to describe because it’s – we don’t want to give too much away but it becomes a mystery and it becomes, you know, it gets very deeply into science fiction and it gets very much into kind of thriller and mystery elements.
And what you thought the show was going to be about is not what the show is about any more, which I think is great, and that’s, you know, as I was talking about earlier, the freedom that Syfy gave us to kind of go out and say, “Hey, it starts as this, then it becomes that,” you know, go, see what direction that takes you in, that was pretty incredible and allows us to have the show be – you think it’s one thing and then it turns out well, wait, it’s also about this. And – but wait a second. It’s also about that, too, and that’s a lot of fun.
Yes, it sounds like it. Kyra, how would you describe Dr. Julia Walker and what is it about the character that really drew you to want to play her?
Zagorsky: Well, I would describe her as a very intelligent, accomplished woman in her field. She’s one of the top (unintelligible) with the CDC. And the thing that I loved about this character is that she was incredibly ambitious and got herself to where she is in this line of work but she exists for purposes outside of her relationships which I think is a really important thing for female characters in film and TV.
And so although I am the ex-wife of Dr. Alan Farragut, that’s not at all what my purpose is in the series. I’m there because I’m trying to, you know, deal with this virus. I’m there to do my work as a scientist. I’m passionate about my work.
But she’s an independent woman and she does have her flaws in her relationships. She’s just a very full human character and I think that’s what I really loved about her. Because sometimes when we’re creating strong females, we give them a weapon and, you know, turn them into something macho or, you know, or often it has to be a superhero character or else, you know, she has to be a full on business person and has to be cruel or something.
And there is something about this character that I just thought she’s just a full-bodied human character. You know and – but she’s got a lot of purpose outside of her ex-husband and I think that’s what keeps her active and interesting.
Maeda: Yes, that’s what we were very conscious of, I think, when we were trying to talk about the characters and really round them out. And we got a lot of – we had many, many discussions about the female characters and how to really make them feel, you know, as real as possible to have to be credible as scientists, to have them be really smart, to not have them just be defined by their relationships.
And, you know, it’s easy to fall into those kinds of tropes. We try very hard not to do that and to, then, of course, you see what your actor or actress brings and it’s like, okay, good. We can do that as well. Oh, look, you know, they’re very good at this type of thing or this type of scene and let’s play into that.
Let’s actually embrace – you know, initially the – I can tell you that the Dr. Jordan character, who’s played by Jordan Hayes initially was a character that we thought was going to be very backstabbing and was going to be kind of an Eve Harrington character from All About Eve.
And when we actually got our actress and watched Jordan and we’re like, well, we could kind of play that but that’s not really who she is and not who she’s playing so let’s try and steer the boat in that direction and it worked great. I think she was wonderful.
And with Kyra, she, I think for me anyway, Kyra really inhabited the role as it was written and then brought extra depth to it as well and we just kind of ran with it and she was really wonderful.
Zagorsky: It’s a kind of a dream role. There’s so much that I have to go through emotionally, physically, intellectually. It’s the whole package. So yes, I couldn’t be happier being able to work on this show.
Sorry I missed the set tour around up in Montreal and, you know, I wish I’d been up there because I hear it was a really cool set. But knowing that and seeing the first three episodes in the set and I know that this base is supposed to get bigger and bigger, you know, probably as we go.
But, I mean, are you still worried about a little bit of, like, story claustrophobia? You know, because, you know, on the Starship you usually can get off the ship and you go to, you know, the planets and other defined spaces, like, Lost, like, you had flashbacks that took you back to the main, you know, where everybody lives. But how do you kind of get around that and not get claustrophobic when it comes to what you’re doing with the story?
Maeda: Well, it’s a really good question and it’s something we talked about at length when we were initially, you know, kind of developing and talking about the series.
And the idea was, one of the things that was really important to us is to get outside whenever we could. And, of course, outside means, you know, either in our refrigerated room or, you know, out on the green screen, you know, exterior, but at least we were outside and didn’t have four walls around us.
And then the other thing we did was just think of ways that we could open up the show. And one thing we’re doing – I don’t think I’m giving too much away on this – is, while we’re not doing flashbacks, part of what the virus does is it makes you hallucinate.
And so hallucinations play a fairly good sized piece of certain episodes. And what they allow you to do is go to places you wouldn’t otherwise be able to go. And I’ll leave it at that.
Zagorsky: Yes, and I think the other side of that is embracing the claustrophobia and that’s kind of what a huge piece of this show is, just watching people go through having to be stuck in that.
And so I think the audience is going to feel some of that. It might not be comfortable but it’s really cool to just kind of be experiencing that along with the characters that you’re watching.
So yes, you’re in that same room again. There they are. They’re stuck right there and you’re right there with them empathizing for what they’re going through. And so I think that’s what can help the audience connect to the humanity and, again, the good and the bad of each character, of what happens.
Maeda: Yes, and the challenge for us was to figure out how to use those rooms again and again and again, those locations, and we are a combination of some sets that we built, of some labs that we actually repurposed for, you know, in a building, a big, giant laboratory structure in Montreal and then some – a fair amount of green screen and, you know, exterior and interior green screen work.
So the idea was to, you know, try to keep it as real as possible, use whatever we could, try to get different looks at it, put people in different types of situations and then also to, again, open the show up as much as we could by going a place you wouldn’t expect to go outside, by going to a place you wouldn’t expect to go inside.
And then, even though it’s still – you’re still, like, in this very inhospitable place that’s kind of closed in, it’s a pretty big base and I feel like we got good use out of our sets and you shouldn’t feel like, oh, we’re back there again. It feels like we – I think, anyway, like we use things the right amount.
That’s excellent. And, you know, and it’s a very talented group of people. I mean, it’s something that they, you know, just (the cast of this) and also the people behind the scenes but yet, it seems like, the media, at least – you know, we’ll take the blame for that – you know, a lot of people they, you know, talk about Ronald E. Moore attached to this.
And, of course, that might be a blessing in a way because a lot of people get excited about his work, but is it also kind of adding pressure to what you guys are doing because now you kind of have to, not just live up to being a new series, but living up to being a series like Battlestar Galactica, for instance, or something like that. I mean, does that kind of add to the pressure?
Maeda: It’s a huge, high bar to hit and so, yes, there is pressure but it’s fantastic. I’ve got to say. Not just with, you know, the fact that Battlestar, kind of came before and that Ron has a lot of that, you know, attached to him.
It – but he was great. I mean, just as a partner, as a producer on the show, as someone to, you know, come in and talk about ideas and to weigh in, he was fantastic. I couldn’t ask for better.
And so, you know, sometimes you work with someone and the relationship doesn’t go well. Sometimes it does. He was really tremendous and his producing partner, (Meryl Davis), as well. I mean, they were there for us. They were doing another show at the same time and still were there for us and were able to, you know, give us as much time as we needed from them.
And so it was really – it was just sort of this whole, like, sense of Ron that kind of pervaded the entire show from start to finish. And so, yes, the pressure is tremendous.
And we – certainly we want to be, you know, that was what we said in the beginning, is hey, let’s, you know, look at, Battlestar, and say, wow, there are really things that we loved about that show. Let’s try to make this show, you know, let’s try to rise to that level and get as close as we can.
Zagorsky: …the cast just has to jump in and do their best right from the beginning because in some ways it’s great because there’s already attention to the show because of Ron Moore, because of his legacy. So then we all just have to come in and do our absolute best and it kind of – it opens up the freedom, I think, for the cast to bring everything they’ve got.
I’ve been really excited about this show since I got to take the tour and see you all up there up in Montreal. And so I was wondering, Kyra, how this role or this project is different from other projects that you’ve done in the past.
Zagorsky: How’s it different? Well, most of the time, what I’ve done in the past is come in and do these really cool guest stars. And so being in a show where you are the core – one of the core cast members, that’s going to be one thing that’s going to be a hugely different experience.
And you’re kind of creating – when I’ve come in to do guest stars for shows, there’s a sense of being in somebody else’s playground. And usually it’s a great experience but you come in, you know, ready to go and prepared and you have this amazing experience and then that’s it.
And sometimes, like, for certain shows, especially in the SciFi world or Supernatural, the Stargate, those things that I’ve done, there’s a sense of your character kind of lives on with certain people and that’s kind of fun about how SciFi works but with this, it’s – you’re creating a playground, you know, as far as the cast goes.
So it’s great because it gives me a lot more ownership of my craft and of where I go with it and being able to bring my full experience to the part just because I’m there from the beginning.
Maeda: Yes, I think that’s a really good way to put it and also, I mean, for us, it’s a great opportunity as opposed to, you know, the feature version of this which would be, you know, 2-1/2 hours long and you’d start – you’d introduce a character and you’d meet them and spend time with them and then resolve it and you’d be done.
This is the 13 hour version of it and so it really allows you to spend some time with these people, really let the relationships play out. Somebody that you thought was, you know, this horrible, horrible person in the beginning ends up not being quite so horrible or at least you understand where they’re coming from and you have time.
You can go for episodes thinking one thing about a character or a relationship and then find out six episodes down the road that wait a second, there’s more to this than I thought. And so that was our challenge, is you know, getting that – making sure that that stuff happened and still felt credible.
Yes, and also that we’ve mentioned before that this is a really impressive cast and it’s an ensemble cast. So are there any funny or interesting stories that you would like to share about what happened while filming?
Zagorsky: While filming. Oh, my gosh, well…
Maeda: Yes, you probably have a (unintelligible).
Maeda: When you’re spending, you know, 12, 13 hours a day, five days a week, sometimes six days a week with (those) people.
Zagorsky: Well, there is something that was really hilarious and it was during the pilot and it was one of my (favorite) moments because it was such a pressure day, it was such an intense day and the working conditions were kind of crazy because we were in those suits that you see and sometimes they’re a bit tricky to work in because you can’t really hear everyone outside.
And so they had to figure out ways to rig the mikes into the helmets so that you could at least hear the person in the scene with you and sometimes that was tricky.
Or if you move a certain way and your air get shut off – so there were certain things that we had to work around with the suits. And there was just this one day that was just so intense all day long. And then we get into doing some of the dialogue in the scenes and Billy has to talk to Neil’s character and Billy’s character’s name is Alan and his brother’s name is Peter.
But, you know, I guess he just didn’t have the registered in there yet. He’s trying to start the scene and I’m completely connected emotionally and I’m right there and then he starts looking at Neil’s face and starts going, “Alan, Alan,” calling him his character’s name.
And it – he didn’t register. So instead of, you know, I thought the more he says it then it’s going to wake him up and he’s going to stop and he’s going to realize what he’s done. And he just didn’t. He just kept going deeper.
And I lost it. It was just so funny because the tension was so high and then, you know, we’re in these really dramatic close ups and he just had no idea that he was even doing it. So there were things like that that would happen that were just so funny that if the audience knew what was going on with some of these really intense scenes, they would just, you know, they’d be amazed.
And then there was one really interesting day. It’s a very cool scene. I can’t wait for you all to see it. I think it’s in Episode 6 maybe. But Jordan’s sitting there and at one point, Hiro kind of is a hero. He just is. He’s just magic.
Like, he kind of happens to be in the right place at the right time. He’s kind of, like, the secret little ninja. And I won’t tell you how it happened but somehow Jordan’s hair started to catch on fire. And Hiro’s (unintelligible), grabbed it, gets it out and it was just a split second and it was just – no words were spoken. He just kind of handled it and everybody else was starting to freak out.
And I thought this guy really is a ninja. Like, what is going on here? Yes, I mean, we had so much fun. And there’s – I mean, there’s so much that happened. It’s like a big mess of crazy experiences but yes, that first thing was always calling Neil his character, it was just was so funny, because the thing is, he did it two days in a row.
Zagorsky: Yes, and I thought, this is great. I will never forget this. It was so funny, but yes, there were lots of good times on set.
Steve, I know you said no zombies. I hate to ask you that but I haven’t seen the pilot and I don’t like zombies whatsoever.
I watch a lot of science fiction.
Maeda: Then you’ll like our show. No zombies.
Well, that’s what I was going to ask you. I watch a lot of science fiction but I do not watch, “The Walking Dead,” because everybody I know loves it but I – they gross me out and they creep me out. So how gross will these guys be? Will I be grossed out?
Maeda: Well, we’re a little gross. I have to be honest.
Zagorsky: Yes, they’re gross.
Maeda: There’s some gross going on. We definitely wanted to have our infected people, our vectors, as we call them, play that something was wrong with them so that they didn’t just look like everybody else. It’s – can be a very horrific transformation.
And so, yes, there is definitely, you know, there are horror elements in there that we did not shy away from. That being said, it’s not a gore fest at all. And while there is gross stuff that happens, we were not trying to come up with, like, the coolest way to do something really vile. I mean, it’s not – it’s – there are gross things. It’s not a gore fest. That’s the best way I can put it.
Yes, I don’t know why it bothers me. It’s zombies. I can watch, you know, the grossest scenes on Supernatural or Bones, or any of those because I know it’s fake. But, you know, zombies just creep out and they’re gross.
Maeda: Yes, yes, yes. They’re pretty gross and I like to watch gross zombies but we really were very conscience about trying to steer away from that as much as possible. So our guys are gross but they’re gross in a different way.
Zagorsky: I love how you say I can watch that stuff because I know it’s fake. (Unintelligible).
Well, I guess because – you’re right. You are so right. But I guess because I heard that Walking Dead was very, you know, like, realistic in a way, that they try to make it look real so maybe that’s what – I can watch The Night of the Living Dead because that’s not gross at all. They had the one scene where they eat the people but it’s kind of implied, so the old ones I don’t mind.
Maeda: Yes, we – I mean, we’re – we do – there definitely are some horror moments in the episodes. There are scares and there is gross stuff that happens. We really, though, I think that was not where we tried to lean into. It’s not our strength.
We don’t have the budget or the time to be able to, you know, out-gross or, you know, out-action a lot of the shows that are out there. So with us, it was much more about, okay, what’s the understandable character element that’s going on that we can relate to with the emotion in a scene that we can try to find?
What’s the really cool reveal that we can come up with where you’re going to, like, oh, no way, I didn’t see that coming? And so that’s where I hope our strength is.
Zagorsky: If anything it was more scary or disturbing than it is gross.
Maeda: Disturbing, yes. I would say sometimes uneasy, unsettling, yes.
Zagorsky: Especially when you were at lunch and you had to sit across from the (unintelligible) the makeup. That was one of the things where we thought, okay, this – I don’t want to sit – just sit next to me at lunch next time when you’re in that makeup instead of across from me.
Well, I imagine it’s much worse when it’s real life right in front of you.
Zagorsky: Yes, yes. And they’re eating with you as if there’s nothing wrong.
Well, they can’t see it, right?
Maeda: That’s right.
Oh, Kyra, you haven’t been – you’ve done mostly guest starring roles, safe to say, and so this is your first big role. What would you say was the most challenging or difficult thing about doing this role?
Zagorsky: The most difficult or challenging. I would say there’s a certain piece in the middle of the series that there’s a huge mystery that happens to my character that’s just – it’s just kind of incredible and we were shooting quite fast.
And I would say that was the most challenging piece because emotionally I was connected, like, all day over and over again and it was just every day there was so much going that kept just getting worse and worse and more insane for her.
And it was so much fun and I really had to rise to the occasion but it was incredibly challenging because we were moving so fast and it was day in and day out for, you know, a few days in a row there.
So that was a big challenging piece but it was, like, I was mentioning before, it was – that was the piece in the series where I had to kind of bring everything about myself to the table at all times. So it was definitely fun but it’s, like, you know, if you’re an athlete, it’s like, leave it all on the field. That was just where I was at for a while with this role.
Maeda: And definitely, you know, it’s a challenge for the actors because not only, you know, are they having to, you know, come every day and bring it for six months but also, you know, you’re shooting out of sequence and one of the things that we did this year was we shot in blocks, so we do two episodes at the same time.
So sometimes they were, you know, going between episodes, like, okay, now you remember that thing that you just shot that happened, well, that hasn’t happened yet, so get your mind wrapped around that it was incredibly challenging.
Zagorsky: Yes, yes.
I am so excited about this show and thank you for taking the time out for us. I watched the promos, the first 15 minutes and the way it’s shot and the whole virus, this scares the liver out of you. And it just gets worse and worse. So was there ever a time during filming where it just freaked you out, the virus itself, what it does?
Zagorsky: Yes. I think when you’re – especially with the first couple of episodes, I mean, as Steve mentioned before that there’re a lot of twists and turns that happen where the series starts as one thing and it starts to become something much bigger and much darker and, you know, more interesting.
But in the beginning when you’re looking at this and you’re thinking about you go – the CDC gets brought up to this place to deal with this virus and it’s something that they’ve never seen and that, in itself, is quite frightening in a story because this is something that happens all the time, a real life epidemic scare, you know.
I mean, I think there was just a couple reported cases this last week in Vancouver of some deaths of people passed away with H1N1. You know, it’s something that’s really out there for people. People are trying to make decisions about whether they should vaccinate their children or not is still a big debate, you know.
It’s something that it’s a true fear for people. So when we were getting into the story in these first few episodes and you’re seeing these people who are at the top of the CDC, they should have every answer. It’s almost like a God complex.
And they don’t know what to do. I think that’s pretty terrifying and, you know, and when we didn’t know what was going to be happening next as an actor, with where the story was going to go, that’s an interesting thing because you just think I have no idea where this – what I can do.
How much (worse can it) get, yes.
Zagorsky: Any issues – how much worse can it get and I have no handle on it. And now, at some point, this is going to get (all the VR sick) and we don’t have any answers. And that’s pretty frightening because that’s, you know, total annihilation of the whole planet. So what do you do there?
Maeda: Yes, that’s one of the things that really…
Zagorsky: And it’s not a nice way to go.
Maeda: Right. It’s one of the things we really played with, is this notion that we have to keep this thing contained and we have to solve it or figure it out or at least keep it here in this place because if it gets out, it’s going to be a calamity.
And so that’s the thing that, you know, our folks, our CDC scientists and the other scientists are not only scared for their own lives but scared of what might happens if this thing gets out.
And so we really play with that and kept that very much alive throughout the course of the series. It’s scary. It’s an invisible villain who is – you know, you can’t see it. You can’t, you know, touch it. You can’t taste it but it’s there.
And one of the things that was really – these types of stories I really like and I had done research on them before just because I was interested in them. But the kind of outbreak and epidemic stories not only are they, you know, it’s something that people can really relate to but also it tends to either bring out the best or the worst in people and sometimes both because people get so terrified, they’re so scared of what’s going to happen, that they don’t know how to deal with the situation.
And that’s something that we really, really tried to play a great deal is, does this bring out the best in you or is this going to bring out, you know, the shellfish kind of side that is, you know, more just concerned with self-preservation? And that’s – that is just automatic drama which was great.
Zagorsky: And then also is after – you’re getting this information that you want to study and you want to sound educated when you’re in the scene and know what it is that you’re talking about, what it is that we’re working from, that we’re doing.
So for those of us that were working on that stuff in the show, we’re doing a lot of research so it’s kind of fun. It’s kind of like going back to science class, you know, and I spent a lot of time with You Tube trying to discover, okay, how does this thing work when you’re dealing with this type of microscope and blah, blah, blah.
Zagorsky: But then suddenly you start seeing all these interesting articles and you’re researching, oh, okay, so Spanish Flu. Let me get back to this, you know. I haven’t studied about the Spanish Flu since I was in school, you know what I mean?
But then you start really reading up on things and I think there was some article that had come out around when I was working on Episode 9, I think, and I think it actually came from the CDC but it was something about are antibiotics becoming obsolete?
And that’s kind of frightening, you know, when you’re thinking about, wow, in this day and age, so what does that mean, then? People just have to deal with whatever happens? So there’s a lot of real life things that were coming up while you’re just researching the Sci-Fi stuff along with things based in facts that start to make you a little bit more aware of how dangerous things can be.
Well, thank you so much. I think that’s kind of the heart of it, is just you can’t get away and escape and it does bring out the worst or the best and I’m so excited to see it. Wish you all the best. Thank you.
Maeda: Thank you very much.
Zagorsky: Thank you.
Photos by Philippe Bosse/Courtesy of Syfy