One of the most interesting shows of the summer is Syfy’s Alphas, a series about ordinary people with extraordinary abilities – and the underfunded government agency for which they work. Co-created by Zak Penn [X2, X-Men: Last Stand], the series could be described as X-Men without the glitz, glamor and recognition – but with, as Penn has said in interviews, a steady paycheck and a great dental plan.
I had the opportunity to take part in a Q&A session with Alphas’ showrunner, Ira Steven Behr [The 4400] and two of the show’s stars – Ryan Cartwright [Bones’ late, lamented Mr. Nigel-Murray], who plays autistic transducer Gary Bell, and Azita Ghanizada [How I Met Your Mother], plays synesthete, Rachel Pirzad. Don’t worry, these terms will be explained below.
Hi. Good morning. Thanks for joining us today.
So let me ask you how did both of you become involved with Alphas?
Ira Steven Behr: Ryan, go ahead. You were there before me.
Ryan Cartwright: Okay. Yes. I think I was the first actor on board. I was having another fun horrible pilot season in LA running around doing my monkey showings trying to get a job and then this really good script turned up and I just wanted to be a part of it immediately.
And went into the audition and it was a tricky role for me because the character has autism and it was a bit intimidating. But then once I’d signed on one good piece after another fell into place and everyone that got on board after that and that was already on board that I met was fantastic and smart. So I was super happy to get it.
Behr: I had taken a year off actually to finish up a novel I had started a couple years ago and decided to finish it. And I just turned down TV work for a year, which did not make my agents happy or my wife.
She wanted me out of the house and as soon as I was done I called my agents and said let’s see what’s out there. And one of the first jobs I went on was Alphas and I saw the pilot, which I thought was really interesting and I really liked the characters, which is what I really look for in a pilot.
I met with Zak and Michael Karnow because it’s really important you know, if you’re going to be the show runner it’s always nice if you can get along with the guys who thought up the project so there’s not going to be any kind of tension.
We got along really well and I just thought the possibilities for a really good show were there. So and I had been doing a dance with the Syfy Network for about ten years of them offering projects and me turning them down or me going to them and it not working out. So I figured you know what, let’s just end this once and for all and let me do something for Syfy. And here we are.
For both of you, you have both done several different projects on television. What was it particularly about Alphas that attracted you?
Cartwright: For me, I was actually excited by a lot of the good humor in it because you know, I love comedy and been in really good comedies and stuff. And a lot of the pilots that I was going up for were comedies (and good comedies).
But they didn’t compare because the comedy was kind of just a lot wetter and not as real. And the humor in Alphas from the people like trying to rub along I’ve realized is actually a lot funnier and drier and more real and comedy is best when it comes from a real place. So that really excited me. Yes, I really liked the comic element of the characters’ relationships with each other.
Behr: My answer is pretty much in line with Ryan’s. I’ve done a lot of genre television and it’s always been a struggle, one that I have kept fighting sometimes when fighting will seem to be the most ridiculous thing to do.
And I wish I would have just stopped fighting but I was always fighting to try to get humor into the shows. And it wasn’t always easy and sometimes it was impossible. And here was a chance, I mean like right there on the plate to do honest, real character driven humor in a show that had enough other elements in terms of you know, drama and mythology that the humor was going to be woven into that fabric in such a way that it could not be pulled out.
And I thought yes, finally, you know, they can cut this, they can cut that but they can’t cut it all, you know, in each episode. So and as it turned out much to my shock, everyone was really serious about the humor and they were not you know, turning around and saying you know what, second thought, screw the humor.
They actually have supported the humor and as long as it stays as Ryan said, as long as it’s real I think it will remain a really important part of the series and a really true and unique part of the series.
First of all Ryan, rest in peace Mr. Nigel-Murray.
Cartwright: Thank you very much.
I was sad to see him go but here you are now.
Cartwright: Thank you.
But bringing that up, I kind of see a little bit of similarity between him and Gary in that they sort of are able to retain a lot of information and have this you know, have sort of extra abilities to do that sort of thing. Could you sort of give me your take on Gary and how you approach the character and what fun things you’re going to be doing this season?
Cartwright: Yes. Sure. He – well, obviously the first thing that came up was the fact that he is autistic. And I’m not sure Nigel-Murray was. I think he was just a bit mad, see? I think he was a little bit just eccentric. But this guy is like 32 on the Karr scale and that was the first thing that I had to tackle just because you know, if you’re playing anything like that you have to you know, go in with a lot of respect and I just – it was fascinating actually just getting to research that. I just read a load of books on the subject and saw a lot of documentaries and stuff and spoke to advisors.
It was really good actually. It got me thoroughly interested in like neuroscience and stuff, which is great for this job because it’s like every week it’s like there’s a new kind of extreme neuro condition that we get to investigate. So what was lovely was like once I had researched the condition/syndrome part of it, it was really good piecing together Gary to the point where I could actually you know, give him a good sense of humor and lift him like all actors say, you want to lift the guy off the page and not have him.
You don’t want to play the syndrome, you want to play the character and the person. And the way it was written as well was really good. He had a voice already there. So yes, it was a really good challenge but a fun challenge and now he’s up and running it’s really good to be Gary every day.
So for Ira I wanted to talk a little bit about the themes of the show. It seems that there are a lot of little things like the gifts are not really a problem but some people perceive them as problems.
There is sort of that ‘be all you can be’ thing. And also even some of these Alpha gifts I guess are sort of run of the mill, day to day capabilities but they are to the tenth power so to speak. So is there some sort of you know, is that some sort of thing – you know, work hard and be an alpha type of thing going on?
Behr: Well, as Ryan said, we certainly you know, use neuroscience as a basis for a lot of the jumping off points for the tales that we tell. You know, if you go on YouTube you’ll see the most amazing things that people can do.
I mean growing up it was always he’s a savant, he’s a savant. Now instead of being a savant you’re an alpha, you know? And maybe the skills are pushed up a little bit beyond the savant scale but I don’t know if you’ve seen the gentleman who they take up in a helicopter and fly him over a major city like Rome for 45 minutes in a helicopter.
Then when they land they put him in a room, which is filled with white drawing paper covered every wall and they leave him in there for five days. Obviously they feed him and let him sleep and he draws the entire city, every window to scale, every pillar, every post. It’s an amazing thing to watch, you know? And if that isn’t an alpha ability, you know, I don’t know what is.
So yes, I think the thing that dramatically we like is that every ability comes with a down side and how true is that? You know, so that you know, the – I mean look at Gary is a perfect example. He’s this incredible transducer who can pick signals out of the air. But obviously his down side is very apparent with his autism.
Or you have someone like Hicks who is hyperkinetic and you know, has the most amazing ability and control over his body and yet at the same time he has certain psychological problems that you know, have put him in AA, he’s divorced. So all these abilities come with a down side and I think that’s an interesting thing.
But I think you know, if you’re talking about themes, we could talk until the sun goes down and the stars come out. I mean there are a lot of themes and obviously we’re only in the first season so we’re getting close at least in the writing towards finishing the first season. And you know, a lot of the ideas are only going and themes are only going to get deeper and richer as the show continues on its 14-year stay on the Syfy Network.
So, Ryan, you know, I’ve heard stories of Tom Welling sort of getting teased on the Smallville set for his facial mannerisms and the things that sort of went into playing Superman. So, I’m wondering for you and for your cast mates from an acting standpoint what are some of the challenges of playing out super powers?
Cartwright: I mean apart from on a technical level like every now and again when you have to do your certain skill you know, sometimes the shot is a little bit tricky and you know, everyone has to stop and wait for you to kind of look very serious.
But to be honest, it’s actually I think a lot of the crew are jealous of our powers because they’re like because they’re quite real; it’s not that crazy. So they all like at the end of the day you’ll just hear them murmuring and wandering off set saying man, I wish I could just do that. Man, I’d give that guy what for.
And apparently like some of the people they said that their wives are telling them not to do Gary when they’re on the telephone. They’re like I know, I can tell that your hands are waving in the air and you’re trying to open windows while you’re talking to me. So just stop it. So no, I think they’re quite fun. I think they’re going to imitate in a nice way.
Ira, what do you like about this cast?
Behr: Oh man, Ryan is on the phone. I hate all this self congratulatory stuff. But you know, the cast is phenomenal. I mean the cast is one of the things that drew me to the project.
I mean David is David, you know? I mean I’ve enjoyed his work all the way back to Matewan. He’s one of those actors who you know, when I look back at people I’ve written for it’s like that’s the guy I’m really proud to know he’s read lines that I’ve written. Malik is really focused and powerful and knows his stuff and is a pro and just plays the truth to the scenes, you know?
Warren is you know – he’s our loner. He’s – I always try to find some kind of a McQueen character right, that I can play with, the guy who doesn’t say a lot but is able to communicate a lot without a lot of dialogue at times. And Warren is able to do that. The funny thing about Warren is he’s a really sweet guy, a really nice guy.
And you know, when I was up there in Toronto it was like you’ve got to play against that nice guy at times, you know? You’ve got to do the mystery thing and he’s doing that now completely. And Azita is a riot in the fact that she is the absolute antithesis of her character Rachel. In real life Azita, if she was on this call I don’t think any of us would get a word in edgewise.
She just has the life spirit in her let’s say and obviously she’s playing this really conservative, really uptight, really quiet girl searching for her identity. And Azita has like seven identities in ten minutes so it’s she’s great and Laura’s terrific. She has that she is able to do the push as we call it when she’s able to get her victims to do what she wants if they are indeed victims.
But she does this thing with her eyes and it’s pretty damn cool to watch. And obviously you know, she has a really interesting physical presence. I mean she’s kind of magnetic on screen and Gary you know, Ryan’s character – what’d you say?
Cartwright: (Unintelligible) – you can skip me.
Behr: Yes. No, I’ll do that in the script. But no, I mean it is amazing. I mean I’ve said this already in other interviews. I’m sure I’m going to say it to death but you know, I’m shocked at the level of work that Ryan has done with this character.
I mean we keep talking amongst ourselves whenever we’re not sure whether Gary would do something or someone with autism would do something it’s like we should just call Ryan because he’ll tell us. He’ll know. He has done a ton of research. He everyone – you know a character is successful and I’ve been on a lot of writing staffs.
You know a character or an idea is successful if everyone on staff wants to write for it or for that person. And you know, everyone wants to write Gary’s scenes. Everyone wants to come up with Gary’s scenes and that really is the highest praise you know, you can give to a character or to an actor is when everyone is just jazzed to sit down at a computer and think up stuff for that person to say and do.
The first episode was awesome. So Ryan, tell me what kind of journey would you say that Gary is on this first season?
Cartwright: Well, he’s gone straight into the deep end now that the team has suddenly like properly stepped into the arena. Obviously they’re still having therapy and it’s an ongoing process helping.
Dr. Rosen is helping everyone with the down sides to their abilities and stuff and their own neuroses and everyone getting along. But also now there’s just a ton of action and it’s gotten seriously dangerous and it’s at a certain point now for Gary where he is having to decide himself and also those around him are having to decide whether it’s even right to put a person like Gary in these dangerous, life threatening situations.
It’s very interesting because it seems like it actually is the best thing for him in a way because he is his own person. And even though he is making decisions within a limited capacity it’s still his decision. So it’s a very trying time I guess for little old Gary but he seems to be having fun so let him get shot at.
Ira, where is this first season going to take us?
Behr: Yes, that’s the question. Well, oddly enough in about 3-1/2 hours I will be going into the network and pitching the final episodes of the season and telling the network where the series is going.
I’m going to be very interested to see if they agree with us. One of the things that really appeals to me about the show is you know, in line with some of the other stuff that I’ve done is that this is a show that is going to evolve and is always evolving and is not a cookie cutter kind of series where every episode is exactly the same and plays out basically as the episode the week before and the episode the week after.
This show is evolving. It evolves in five episodes and it’ll evolve more when we get to the tenth episode. And so I think what’s obviously going to happen without giving anything away is this is a group of people who are not really your first choice to be an investigative unit or to be going out into the field and getting shot at as Ryan said.
They are kind of working for the government but the government doesn’t totally know whether to trust them, they don’t know whether to trust the government. They’re working against this organization of alphas called Red Flag and Red Flag keeps telling them that they’re on the wrong side. And it’s a very precarious position to be in.
As we like to say in the writers office, the center cannot hold. Eventually you know, things are going to start cracking. You know cracks are going to appear on the surface and I think by the end of season one there will be cracks appearing all over the surface.
Stephen Cox [Syfy]: And I’d like to announce we have great news. Azita Ghanizada has been able to join us for the rest of the call. She plays Rachel on Alphas.
Azita Ghanizada: Hi guys. I actually don’t know that I’ll be able. I think we’re just about to block. We’re shooting a very action packed scene in this distillery and (Laura) is chasing Alpha right now and I might have to jump off real quick for blocking. But hi.
Ghanizada: Hi guys. I’m going to get yelled at by our director in two minutes.
Cartwright: You troublemaker.
Ghanizada: I am. I know.
In the process of understanding Gary’s ability can you talk about what you unexpectedly learned about yourself and what you’re capable of?
Cartwright: On a personal level or the character?
Just on a personal level and understanding his abilities, what you learned about yourself.
Cartwright: Crikey. I mean I guess just on like a neurological level it was amazing how just learning about how I and I guess most people as well, just how we think and the fact that we don’t always think literally.
You know, we don’t always go to pictures in our minds, how we kind of fill in the blanks a lot of the time. Our brains do this wonderful job of making us socially aware of the minutiae of what people are actually saying and just we live a lot more – we get by a lot more living on the gist. Like we just take little clues of what people are saying and just run with them.
Also, the eye contact thing was quite bizarre because it’s quite relaxing sometimes when you play Gary, when I play Gary on set because I realized that apart from when you’re having a conversation with someone there are two conversations going on. There are the words that you’re saying to each other.
But then when you’re looking in someone’s eyes there is a whole other conversation going on, not just a body language thing but this back and forth in your eyes. You can understand people’s intent a lot more and it’s quite relaxing to play Gary and just to deal with language during the day. And then sometimes when you finish filming it’s kind of difficult to go back to looking people in the eye.
It’s kind of exhausting. Sometimes people will just look me in the eye and I’ll go not now. I don’t want to talk about it. So that was interesting.
Ira, since there are so many projects out there with superheroes, what are some of the keys to making the show work beyond the super abilities?
Behr: Well, I do think that you know, there are a couple of major ones. One is we are kind of dealing with you know, neuroscience and brain chemistry and we’re trying to keep the show.
You know, we don’t consider ourselves a superhero show by any means. We’re trying to take what’s already going on or what can already go on within the human brain and just kind of up it a little bit more extreme science I guess. So I think that is interesting. I think the fact that the characters themselves are not exactly suited to the position that they’re in.
These are not as I’ve said before; these are not your typical heroes if I dare use that word. So I think that is really interesting. And I think there is a real honest and true humor to the show and humor to the situations these people find themselves in. I mean the stories can get extremely dark. Don’t get me wrong. They can be dark.
They can be violent at times but we try to remain true to what would ordinary people, how would they react to being in those situations? And there is a lot of humor in extreme situations as protection just to get through them because people yearn for the normal. And to get them there they will depend at times on their relationships and the humor within those relationships.
I guess the first question I have both I guess related to Gary and Azita both, with both of your characters with Gary’s autism and Azita, essentially when you’re using one sense you’re disabled in terms of others.
I was wondering if there is any I guess concern for hypersensitivity of people worried that however you play the character, however much sensitivity you try to bring to it, that you might do something or say something that somebody takes offense at as to how a disabled person would function (with other people)? Have you thought about that?
Ghanizada: Well, I mean for Rachel at least you know, going into something that is so special and it’s so unique because when she goes into any of her senses the rest of her entire body shuts down.
So every other sense is asleep and kind of finding that we kind of found it and we rooted it in as much humanity as possible. So it’s as honest as possible. And in that way we’re kind of if we keep it as real and as close to the bone as possible I don’t really think that there would be anything in there that would offend anybody hoping, knock on wood.
That’s definitely not the goal. I think the goal is just to communicate how much it affects her emotionally to have these special abilities and how vulnerable it makes her both physically and emotionally. And I think kind of conveying those emotional and physical things, I think that will affect the audience more than insulting anybody for sure.
Cartwright: You know, I think with Gary I think everyone was very sensitive to the portrayal of him from day one. And everyone has been – we’ve been very careful but then once we knew we had the character we have been careful to make sure that we actually utilize him and make sure he’s a real person who will do big, old things.
Because I think the main things a lot of the time when people, when they create roles like this is to mollycoddle the character and to try to play it too safe with regard to what you end up doing is just patronizing the character and the condition. And you want the person to be a real person and I think once we knew that we had this guy and that he was real and that he was off the page, we all felt confident enough to just run with him.
And I’m supersensitive to the idea of anyone being offended by it and I feel completely confident that he’s fine. He’s a real person now. He’s his own person so I think everyone will be very happy. I’ve only heard nice things so far. So I mean we’ll see.
Cartwright: I’m sure someone will be like, what? But.
Ghanizada: And just to add on to that I think what’s so great about our characters actually work from a position that could be considered disabled is truthfully they are so special because of their disabilities.
I think that’s really a key element is that what would be considered a disability is really their gifts and it makes them unique and it makes them an alpha and that makes them special. So if anything we’re really applauding the fact that you know, this thing that could be considered odd, which is why they’re a band of misfits that come together and need each other really to work together in this unique way, it’s really special.
If anything it’s more special than just the disability that other people would see them as having and other people have seen them as having a condition or whatever it is, is really what makes them so unique and gives them the ability to be alphas.
Ira, I wanted to say I was so happy when I saw that you were attached to this. There is nothing you’ve done that I haven’t just absolutely loved. And when I first saw this show when I first saw the premise, one of the reasons I was really attracted to it was because I was such a big fan of The 4400.
I wondered if you could talk about I think you’re probably going to have a cross over from that audience coming over and how is this show going to appeal to those fans of The 4400?
Behr: Well, hopefully it’ll appeal to them because it’ll be another quality show with interesting characters, a different but equally fascinating mythology. Obviously the major difference is that we were unable to add much in the sense of humor to The 4400 even though you know, USA turned into the Blue Skies Network and it was all Monk all the time.
And we were always being called the dark, apocalyptic show on their lineup, which is why ultimately we were off their lineup. But every time we’d try to put humor in the show they would yank it out. And so you know, the simple way I guess of saying it is this is The 4400 with a sense of humor.
And just one more real quick follow up, I was wondering since you came in after the pilot was already done, is the pilot that we’re going to see that you’re going to premiere with, did you go back at all and change anything? Or is that as it was shot, as you saw it I guess?
Behr: Yes. It’s as it was shot. I mean things were picked up that they might not have gotten but I mean I started work on some of the post with Zak and Michael. The pilot is the pilot. The pilot is theirs.
I mean the pilot is what got me to agree to do the show. I just thought that the characters were really interesting and I saw a lot of potential where the series could go. And there were a lot of things up in the air of where the series was going to go from the pilot and those are the situations I look for because if it’s all written in stone what the fuck do they need me for? So I just you know, felt there was a lot of potential to be tapped.
What I wanted to know is if you could choose to have an alpha power like would you choose what your character has or would you choose one of the other characters’? And Ira, you can pick any.
Ghanizada: Well, here’s the thing. Rachel has sensory overload. So when she like even kisses somebody it’s a good time. So I don’t know. I think it would stick to Rachel’s powers.
No. I’m kidding. No, I’m dead serious. I think what she does is super cool, the fact that she can hear and see. I think it also makes her extremely sensitive and human and I love all those aspects. It makes her precious here in a way that I think is really interesting and can’t always happen in real life because we build up all these barriers to deal with the world and to shut ourselves down from certain things.
She feels everything and I think that that’s kind of a very special thing to have, kind of walk around and have to see and hear and taste and touch everything and really feel it to 150,000%. So I would kind of stick with that. I mean I think that what Nina does, Nina Theroux played by Laura Mennell, her ability to push people, kind of just to be able to look at people and tell them what to do and they do it.
I would like to maybe have that ability at some moments in my life. I’d like to be able to look at people and I don’t know, tell them to take their pants off or something like that and just see if they would do it. I mean I would just kind of walk around all day and just make people do random, crazy shit. I think that would be awesome. And Laura does it really well and so that could be a lot of fun.
Cartwright: I guess I have – I wish I had a better memory, long-term memory and short-term as well. I wish I could learn dialogue a lot quicker. I mean well, I have a British accent, which is kind of a super power when you’re not at home.
And I don’t know. I’m pretty good. I think I’m pretty good. I’m doing pretty well without super powers I think. As I’m seeing, they all have horrendous down sides. So I’m not going to do the monkey’s paw thing. I think I’m just going to plod along and giggle my way into eternity.
Behr: I need so much help I cannot even think where to begin. Yes. You know, it’s best not to go there. I mean I do have an alpha ability I suppose I can turn gold into shit. But even that – you know, I kind of gravitate I guess in a way where it just shows I guess where my ego is at.
But I kind of gravitate to Rosen because you know, if I have any ability besides a writing ability I can kind of galvanize a team and kind of move a small team into 13 episodes. So I don’t know if I’d want his ability but I might want to be Rosen. He’s a hell of a lot smarter than I am.
I was just going to say Azita since you weren’t here earlier, can you tell us how you got connected to the show?
Ghanizada: You know, I was the last person cast. I think they had a hard time finding Rachel. She was originally written as somebody kind of very different than what she has become now that Ira and Zak and Michael and everyone else in the writers room have really dug their teeth into her.
So you know, I think in my real life I’m a little bit more ballsy and courageous than Rachel is and so I think people had a hard time originally seeing me as that. But I kind of went in and rearranged bits and pieces of myself and understood very quickly what it was like to live in a conservative home.
I’m a child from Afghanistan and grew up with very strict parents in the United States and that was part of Rachel’s journey from the pilot, kind of not fitting in at home was something I responded to. And I just kind of went in and did it and they hired me, those silly bastards. And I got on a plane, I went to Canada and we really you know, kind of found it on the day.
It was like building a play every day when we were shooting the pilot. We really kind of found all the nuances and it was such a new experience and I really credit Zak Penn and (Jack Bender) and everybody that was there that just really kind of helped you know, fill her out flesh and bone. And now even so even after the pilot meeting Ira and everybody else in the writers room, kind of took a step back and just saw the character and decided to kind of build so much more of a story for her that I respond to even more so.
It’s been really interesting. I mean if you liked the pilot Jamie, you’re going to love the series. Just I think all the characters get faster and sharper and I think the writing, the stories that they’ve been breaking are just so cool. And the concepts are just so awesome. It’s just from the pilot it only goes up and that’s just a really cool feeling because the pilot was cool to me.
And the series has just become even cooler. So I’m lucky that they were foolish enough to cast me in the first place. You know, so that’s how I got involved. I lied. I acted my way into this job.
Ryan, was it hard to get rid of your accent for the show?
Cartwright: I mean not so much now because I’m kind of up and running because I’ve been in LA for so long during pilot season now. And 90% of the auditions that I have to go in for are with the American accent.
I can kind of turn it on and off now like at bars and stuff until the ladies try and leave and I say no no, not really. I’m actually British and then they return.
Ghanizada: Yes. That’s the case.
Well, I’ll hit up Azita first since she might disappear on us at any moment.
What kind of research or reading did you do to prepare yourself to play Rachel?
Ghanizada: Wow. You know, because I got the part last and everybody was already up here and god, I was scared shitless. So I read the script I don’t know, a dozen times between the day I got it on the plane and the first day of shooting.
I think I was really up the second day was Rachel’s entire introduction. And I kind of started to look online for different things in regards to people that actually have the ability to super see and hear. I did a little bit of work on echolocation.
Ghanizada: Yes. And kind of saw how people’s bodies physically passed out as they were hearing/seeing with their ears and then kind of tweaked that into Rachel as much as possible as far as trying to find her abilities and how to do that as honest and human as possible.
So I just kind of looked at all that stuff online and really kind of tried to look at the news and documentaries and things that were, people that actually had abilities or are really known for things like being able to hear really well or see microscopic pieces of writing on microscopic pieces of rice and all that stuff and how they just did it really honestly.
Then I watched a bunch of sci-fi stuff like Scanners and all those things and just tried to tap into you know, what other people were doing in the past and what’s been done before and just kind of have a general understanding of it.
This next question can go to Ryan and Ira. What I found interesting about Gary in the first episode was when he’s at home he seems to be very insular and non-communicative.
Yet when he’s with this other group that’s when he kind of turns into a smart ass and talks a whole lot more. Is that a contrast we’ll see continue to play out for Gary?
Cartwright: Yes. Definitely. It definitely goes that way. That’s his play group.
And because like I think what happened with Gary was he was a lot more insular before. As his ability grew he would just like sit on his own and rock in corners and keep his eyes closed and play with these lights not fully understanding what was going on with his brain.
And it’s I’m sure that was a hell of a time for his mother because she didn’t understand the neuroscience behind it and how to bring him out of this world whereas Dr. Rosen saw exactly what was happening here and created a system with Gary and for Gary, which helped him blend the real world as we know it and Gary’s world and to kind of mesh the two.
Whereby he would be able to look at these signals and read them with his eyes open and while walking around instead of just sitting all curled up in a ball living in this world in his head. So yes, as the series progresses he’s definitely trying to be a bit of a cock of the walk in the office as well because it’s the first time he’s been appreciated for what he would have been taken the piss out of for most of his life and would have got strange looks for.
And now all of a sudden he’s with a group of people that really appreciate him. So you know, he’ll probably be cocky for a while and then everyone will smack him down and yes, it’s a good growing process for Gary.
I think any of you guys can answer this. I was wondering what kind of audience you think that Alphas will appeal to. Do you think that people who are really big sci-fi fans are going to watch it or do you think that anyone who is just looking for a new TV series would like it?
Ghanizada: I think it fills a big void in summer television but I mean Ira, please you take the lead.
Behr: No. I just think that obviously we want the science fiction audience to come to the table. But there is definitely room for the cross over audience as well. That’s what happened when I did The 4400. We were shocked at the cross over audience at the time.
It really felt good to meet people who were not your usual run of the mill you know, fan boys who really dug the show. And I think this can happen with Alphas as well. I think there are plenty of stories, drama, humor to go with the science fiction elements that will attract a wide range of you know, discriminating viewers.
Also do you think that because we know that the characters have their unique supernatural powers and unique capabilities. Do you think that viewers will be able to relate at all to the characters or do you think that they’re too different (and non-human)?
Cartwright: No. I think people will relate entirely. I think that’s a huge part of the show that all of the characters like we say, have their down sides and stuff and these powers.
And you know, not to get too twee about it but everyone has you know, their own abilities and it’s just in more of a looking at it through a macro lens, a lot of it is about you know, just trying to accomplish what you can with the gifts that you have in the face of all the obstacles that you know, get thrown at you because of your situation in life.
Alphas premieres Monday, July 11, 2011 at 10:00 pm part of Syfy’s all new scripted summer Mondays. So I got that in.
[Azita] after watching the pilot I kind of think Rachel is becoming my favorite character.
Ghanizada: You’re my favorite person.
Well, I feel like she’s sort of the heart of this group maybe and she’s also kind of a workhorse, she does most of the work in the first episode it seems like.
I also love her conflict that she’s really shy and everything but she has this big gift, her family doesn’t think it’s a gift. I was wondering if you could talk just about her, talk about your character and how you see her and where she could go.
Ghanizada: Well, I think Rachel is all heart. I think she’s extremely emotional and very sensitive and she’s also – here finally in the pilot you see her being the authority on so many things because she has the ability to track all of this you know, the evidence and all of the cases.
She can discover all that so you find her discovering a lot of things. But in the pilot you see her, she’s not very confident in that fact because she has been told her whole life that this is a condition, if anything it’s a disease, it’s a curse. And it’s created a lot of fear for her to be able to communicate you know, that she has these abilities and she’s seen them as nothing but a curse for her, her entire life.
She hasn’t been able to date, she hasn’t been accepted at home. She hasn’t been accepted out in public. People look at her like she’s weird. I mean if you could imagine being a little person and all of a sudden going into supersensory mode when you’re playing with kids, you would panic. You wouldn’t understand why you were feeling that way. And if you didn’t get this type of support from your family you would really be confused. And I think therefore she has a lot of heart and you definitely feel her struggle the most with her family as the series progresses and kind of try to make these choices to become confident and to become the authority. She’s extremely bright and with Dr. Rosen and the rest of the alphas she really learns that she’s an integral part in kind of solving these cases.
She becomes proud of her abilities and you see her kind of blossom as a young woman and I think that any young girl who has had conflict especially growing up in a conservative home, just coming into their own and trying to balance how to be the person they want to be out in the world and the person they want to be in their home and their expectations both at work and their expectations in the home.
You see her kind of finding her balance and finding her way through that stuff and blossoming and becoming more confident and becoming more eager to be utilized and becoming proud of herself and it’s a really awesome journey. And they have done a really good job in kind of giving her this arc to kind of break free. And she’s just so special you know? She’s really pure. There’s a purity to her heart and I’m really privileged to be playing her.
All right. Cool. And I’m totally with you about being able to convince people to take their clothes off.
Ghanizada: You know, I kind of have that charm in my real life. Oh wait, no, that’s Ryan Cartwright. No, I’m kidding. That’s me.
I’ll start with Ira. I’m also a long-time fan. I loved The 4400. I’ve been grieved at it leaving USA like you did and Dark Angel as well.
You seem to be drawn to ensemble shows and wondered what it was about ensemble shows that really clicks for you.
Behr: Well, you are definitely correct. I much prefer ensemble shows. There are a number of reasons, on the most practical one, when you have you know, a show that’s wrapped around one actor or two actors they tend to suffer from burnout after a couple of years.
And it just becomes difficult for them, it becomes difficult for the show. And plus, you’re just kind of mining the same characters over and over again. When you’re dealing with an ensemble show you know, it just seems like you have a bigger canvas. If characters are about relationships and you want to be able to build relationships over you know, time and over arcs and you know, it’s hard to do that with guest cast members all the time.
So when you have an ensemble show you just have all the elements there at your fingertips to create you know, interesting characters and interesting relationships. Plus with ensemble shows the network usually is a little more comfortable about bringing on recurring characters and just bringing the family even bigger. And that’s how I like to work.
Great. Well, thank you. Will we see any familiar faces from your other shows visiting Alphas? Or can you say?
Behr: I’m expecting that’s pretty much a guarantee at this point.
Ghanizada: Hey you guys, I need to jump off. We’ve got to shoot.
Behr: Bye Azita.
Cartwright: Bye Azita.
Ghanizada: So thank you. Bye you guys. Thank you so much for your time and you guys are going to love the show. Thank you for caring enough to call and talk to us.
Behr: She’s so good.
If you’re familiar, I don’t know if either of you are familiar with Eureka and Warehouse 13, you know, your warm up acts on Monday night. But do you think that your show is kind of similar in feel to those or how might it be different in the general tone?
Behr: Well, I’m not totally familiar. I have seen a couple of episodes of each. I think they’re both lighter in tone. We have a lot of humor in our shows but our shows do tend at times to get dark in their plotlines.
I think we’re the 10:00 show and we deserve to be the 10:00 show. That said, I do think we all share this kind of character driven humor and obviously we’re all ensemble shows. So we have similarities and some strong differences.
Do you feel like, I know you talked about the show is evolving, it’s not just the same kind of episode every week. Has the tone of the show itself changed as the episodes have progressed? And have you had to make any adjustments just based on a whole lot of outside elements or because the characters are playing out differently than you thought or anything like that?
Behr: Yes. Well, the show evolves every week and the show is different every week. I mean we could have a really kind of tense you know, like I said, dark episode.
And then we do an episode which has the title Bill & Gary’s Excellent Adventure, which gives you an idea that it might not be the darkest show in the history of television where Bill and Gary go off on an assignment or not even an assignment and get to work together. So you know, I think that the episodes are a little different from week to week.
The show is evolving you know, at a pace that you know, I had hoped for and expected it to. In terms of the actors, actors always impact on characters and you find relationships that work. Certainly since I’ve already mentioned it, the Bill and Gary relationship has kind of sparked all the writers. There is a nice give and take there that we’re kind of writing toward and enjoying.
You know, but actors always impact on how you view the characters and what an actor brings to the character is so real compared to what you have in your imagination. It’s suddenly there and they’re doing it and you start seeing things that you might not have expected and that’s part of the fun of the process.
I love what you said that it’s darker because I love Warehouse 13 and Eureka but really Syfy could use something that’s a little bit edgier especially like you said, at the 10:00 hour. And I was really pleased to hear what you both said about the humor because my favorite comedies right now are not comedies. They’re the dramas that incorporate some humor like you’re saying. So I’m really looking forward to the show. But real quick, will you be at ComiCon?
Behr: We will be at ComiCon.
Saw the pilot, loved it. Ira, if you distill the series down to its most basic components to put it in a single line for a network executive it would be something like it’s a hybrid of procedural and superhero shows with a blue collar sensibility.
Now, doing that kind of a show on a TV budget must be difficult and I was just wondering what some of the challenges were and how you faced [them] and what kind of ingenuity you need to produce some of the episodes when they’re maybe power heavy and you know, some of your experiences with that.
Behr: Well, you know, for the most part the history of television is there is never enough time and there’s never enough money. But that’s okay, you know, especially when you’re a character driven show because at the end of the day it’s the characters that drive the show and it’s the characters that the audience bonds with and returns to see.
You know, the fact is I have no complaints about the budget. The budget is fine. We can do a lot of stuff on the budget. The problem is time. We’re a seven day show. I haven’t done a seven day show in about 12 years or more, maybe even more than that. You know, to get it all in seven days, that’s a trick.
Clearly, we’re discovering how much action you know – I’d rather have less action well done than lots of action not as well done. But you know, we’re also into suspense and tension, which I think we can do very well. And we have to pick and choose, you know. It’s a business and you fight for more money when you can get it.
But the idea is to make the best possible show that you can make and you know, action is part of that. And like I said, the stuff that we do I think we’ll do well. But we’re not dependent on you know, just bang for the buck. We have a lot of other great elements. We have great actors, we have great themes, we have interesting plots. So I think we’re all good.
Cool. Have you done a bottle show this season?
Behr: Oh man. Some guy who knows his business. Have we done a bottle show this season? You are so right mo’fo. We did a bottle show. You got it.
I just want you to know in fact we’re doing it, we’re filming it in about a week and even though it is a bottle show in that the whole show takes place in the office, we do have guest cast so that officially means it’s not an actual bottle show because in a real bottle show you would not have guest cast even.
And we also tend to blow up the office, which they’re all looking at us like you don’t blow up your office, your standing sets in a – well, not blow them up but set them on fire and stuff. So it’s a bottle show plus.
Ryan, earlier Ira was mentioning that you had done a lot of research to play Gary and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that and if there was maybe a key element to the character that opened the door for you to get right into the guy and feel comfortable in the role?
Cartwright: Yes. Sure. Well, I read. Zak had told me that they’d – some of the inspiration for the character was this guy (Daniel Tammet) who was a (synesthesia was the word) – he was like a bit of a savant in England who would experience like numbers via (synesthesia) and could do these amazing things with his mind.
He’d written a book called Born on a Blue Day that was very interesting. And although apparently now he’s a bit of a fake, apparently, from this new book that I read but his autism is still real it’s just his memory stuff might have been a bit of a trick. The Temple Grandin book, Thinking In Pitches, was really good.
That really helped a lot. And some of the (Oliver Sacks) books just about general neuroscience and stuff and I think one thing that really helped me is actually coming from the literature first because I think it would have been an easy thing to do to go to like footage of people and just go straight to mimicry. And I think the problem with that is you do end up just mimicking like certain mannerisms that people would have as opposed to actually knowing the reason behind why they’re doing everything.
The beauty of that is that we could then create a new kind of – we had the brushes in our hands and we could create new things for Gary based on the deep science behind it. And it also helped me kind of conjure up like Gary’s little short hand, like the way that he controls his world and the little mannerisms and ticks that he has.
It just felt a lot better. I felt a lot more confident and rock solid coming at it having just researched it from a literature point of view. But then there was one guy in particular. There was a clip on YouTube of this guy who has autism and he was just really funny. It was like a fly on the wall documentary, just him like with his dad and going to group. And he was just hilarious. He was just really like you could tell he had this great sense of humor behind his eyes and he was like teasing and ribbing people and it was just nice to see that because I have said and Ira as well that you want the guy to have this good sense of humor and not just be so kind of automaton playing syndrome.
So I think reading about it, books win on this one for me. That’s what helped me get in there.
For all of you, what’s your favorite part about working on the series?
Behr: Go ahead Ryan.
Cartwright: I like the set. I love the character. It’s a little holiday playing him every day. He’s just kind of got a very kind of cheeky sense of humor and it’s getting more and more fun each day just going up.
You can see, like, you can actually see the crew have completely warmed to this character because I think first day you turn up and people are a bit is he all right? Is that kid all right? It was funny actually we were shooting this episode the other day in a high school and like none of the kids obviously knew the show and what we were doing.
And there is this scene where I’m walking down the hallway just in my own world doing Gary’s autism thing and going through my windows and this little kid came up to me and he obviously didn’t know what I was doing and he was like is this the first day you’ve ever acted?