TV Goodness Q&A: Kyra Zagorsky and EP Steve Maeda Discuss Syfy’s Helix [INTERVIEW + VIDEO]
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
There is something inherently terrifying about an outbreak. And if it becomes a life and death situation, things really start to get out of hand. In Helix, a team of CDC scientists travel to a high-tech research facility to investigate a disease outbreak and find themselves pulled into a terrifying life-and-death struggle that may hold the key to mankindâ€™s salvation or total annihilation. But the threat is just the tip of the iceberg. As the virus evolves, the chilling truth begins to unravel.
TV Goodness participated in a press call with series star Kyra Zagorsky and Executive Producer Steve Maeda. They discussed why Helix isn’t just another zombie show, working with a large ensemble cast and the Ron Moore effect.
What would you say to someone who thinks this is just another zombie show? What makes this show more than that?
Steve Maeda: â€œThere is certainly a human element to the show and a science fiction kind of trope that weâ€™re sure to get compared to and thatâ€™s okay. I donâ€™t mind that, but weâ€™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 mindless eating machines. Thatâ€™s something that youâ€™ll see in later episodes. Theyâ€™re very scary and theyâ€™re human and they look horrible. What weâ€™re going to find out about the vectors is that theyâ€™re incredibly smart so they retain a lot of their intelligence, if not their humanity, which I think makes them very different from zombies. And you know what? The comparisons will come and thatâ€™s okay. But weâ€™re really trying to do something that feels different than the typical zombie show.â€
Kyra Zagorsky: â€œThe show is based in real science. Thereâ€™re real life epidemic scares out there throughout history where thereâ€™re these huge viruses that have wiped out huge populations Weâ€™re dealing with something that the CDC hasnâ€™t seen before, but it comes from a virus. So thatâ€™s something thatâ€™s based in reality. Then you put the science fiction on that and itâ€™s a really interesting combination. I think thatâ€™s another thing that makes it unique.â€
Steve: â€œThat was great. Thatâ€™s a good way to put it.â€
If you could describe the series to somebody who has no preconceptions about the show, how would you describe it?
Steve: “Oh, thatâ€™s a good question. I would say- the way that weâ€™ve been describing the series both in press and then in talking about it in breaking stories- it is an outbreak show, at least at the beginning. It starts off as a show about this terrible outbreak that happens in this very remote and dangerous location. Our team has to go up and deal with that. What then happens, though – itâ€™s hard to describe because we donâ€™t want to give too much away – but it becomes a mystery and it gets very deeply into science fiction and it gets very much into thriller and mystery elements. What you thought the show was going to be about is not what the show is about any more, which I think is great. The freedom that Syfy gave us to kind of go out and say, â€˜Hey, it starts as this, then it becomes that,â€™ you know, go, see what direction that takes you in, that was pretty incredible. You think itâ€™s one thing and then it turns out well, wait, itâ€™s also about this. But wait a second. Itâ€™s also about that, too, and thatâ€™s a lot of fun.â€
Were you worried about story claustrophobia considering the series is set in one place?
Steve: â€œWell, itâ€™s something we talked about at length when we were initially developing and talking about the series. The idea was, one of the things that was really important to us is to get outside whenever we could. Of course, outside means either in our refrigerated room or out on the green screen exterior, but at least we were outside and didnâ€™t have four walls around us. Then the other thing we did was just think of ways that we could open up the show. One thing weâ€™re doing – I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m giving too much away on this – is, while weâ€™re not doing flashbacks, part of what the virus does is it makes you hallucinate. So hallucinations play a fairly good-sized piece of certain episodes. What they allow you to do is go to places you wouldnâ€™t otherwise be able to go. Iâ€™ll leave it at that.”
Kyra: â€œI think the other side of that is embracing the claustrophobia and thatâ€™s kind of what a huge piece of this show is, just watching people go through having to be stuck in that. so I think the audience is going to feel some of that. It might not be comfortable but itâ€™s really cool to just kind of be experiencing that along with the characters that youâ€™re watching. So yes, youâ€™re in that same room again. There they are. Theyâ€™re stuck right there and youâ€™re right there with them empathizing for what theyâ€™re going through. I think thatâ€™s what can help the audience connect to the humanity and, again, the good and the bad of each character, of what happens.â€
Steve: â€œThe challenge for us was to figure out how to use those rooms again and again and again. So the idea was to 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 wouldnâ€™t expect to go outside, by going to a place you wouldnâ€™t expect to go inside. Then, even though youâ€™re still in this very inhospitable place thatâ€™s kind of closed in, itâ€™s a pretty big base and I feel like we got good use out of our sets and you shouldnâ€™t feel like, oh, weâ€™re back there again. It feels like we – I think, anyway, like we use things the right amount.â€
What do you like most about this series?
Kyra: â€œI love the psychological thriller piece of it. Because we are trapped in this isolated environment with a deadly virus, whatâ€™s really interesting is that everyoneâ€™s darkness comes out because weâ€™ve got these life and death stakes going on. Then thereâ€™re these interesting relationships going on but we canâ€™t quite deal with the relationship right now because weâ€™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. Their true humanity comes out, the good and the bad. I think thatâ€™s whatâ€™s so interesting about the show and for me, the unique part of it.”
Steve: â€œI would absolutely agree with that. On top of that, I would say the main thing for me, as I stand back now and look back at the season that weâ€™re finishing up, is Syfy in particular – both Sony and Syfy – but Syfy really wanted us to get out of the box of a typical outbreak show. From the very beginning, the pilot was a great template and really set the stage for us. But then Syfy just gave us free rein and between studio networks, Ron Moore, and 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. We want the audience to play along and say, â€˜Hey, I know whatâ€™s going to happen here. Of course, itâ€™s going to be this,â€™ and then have it be something completely different. We tried to do that with creative choices we made, with story ideas, with some casting choices, whether characters live or die, with music choices, with how we edited the show. So that was really fun to have the creative freedom to be able to get outside of the typical show box.â€
Kyra: â€œAnd 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 sometimes directors get hired into TV shows and itâ€™s so formulaic and theyâ€™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. At the same time, theyâ€™re bringing their own ideas and their own input. So they were so pumped to be there. It was really fun working with all of them.â€
Kyra: â€œWorking with Billy is incredible. I mean, heâ€™s technically amazing. Heâ€™s been doing this for a long time. Heâ€™s a master at what he does. Heâ€™s very emotionally connected and full and always available and powerful. So itâ€™s an interesting combination. The other thing about him is that heâ€™s a blast to work with. Heâ€™s so funny. For me, the thing I love about the show is the psychological thriller aspect of it. Itâ€™s frightening and itâ€™s scary and thereâ€™re all these things that happen. You have these really dramatic scenes and then you get in a scene with him and I canâ€™t tell you how many times I would start cracking up. And Steve was there for some of that.â€
Kyra: â€œHiro is somebody Iâ€™ve always admired since I saw him in The Last Samurai. I think heâ€™s an incredible person and artist and he is always right there for you and 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 raised the bar and it feels like, as an actor, youâ€™re only as good as your scene partner. 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.â€
Steve: â€œI feel like weâ€™ve really got a pretty incredible cast chemistry as well. I mean, considering that we have some of our actors who have been doing this for years and years and years, some that are like Billy, who are household names, and then others who you may not have seen before. I think everybody really elevated and brought their A-game to this and Iâ€™m hoping that, in addition to the folks you recognize, thereâ€™s going to be some real breakouts in this as well.â€
Can you talk about working withÂ this group of people? With such a large ensemble, did you bring in any guest cast?Â
Kyra: â€œWe actually do have a lot of guest cast. Thatâ€™s the fun surprise about the show. Because when you think about – how many was it, Steve? Thereâ€™s 103 scientists on the base?â€
Steve: â€œThereâ€™re 106 scientists on the base and a bunch of support staff. Then we have people – there are some other people that we wonâ€™t mention, but just know that there are other cast members who kind of come and go.”
Kyra: â€œThereâ€™re a lot of surprise characters that you just would never expect and thatâ€™s whatâ€™s kind of fun about it. Thereâ€™s a huge element of surprise that starts to happen pretty soon in the series. Thereâ€™re some pieces where I have a whole episode where Iâ€™m not working with any of the core cast but just other interesting characters. So itâ€™s pretty fun. It kept it interesting.â€
Steve: â€œThat was part of the challenge, too, with the show, I think. The claustrophobia plus the cast, in a sense here, which is how do we open the show up? That was something that we were very conscious of in sitting down and trying to plot out stories. What can we do? How can we open up this base and make the world larger? Part of it was getting outside when we could. The other part of it was actually, literally going deeper and un-peeling the layers of the onion and finding that the surface level of this base is just the beginning and that thereâ€™s much more going on in and around and underneath.â€
There is so much dishonesty and duplicitousness that plays out among the principal players. Can you talk a bit about the abundant amount of withholding that goes on?
Steve: â€œItâ€™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. Weâ€™re doing this idea of having each episode be a day. So the idea was not to flash back and not to 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. 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 tension increased, once things were going really poorly, which happens really fast, that we had characters who had their personal situations which could spill over. Everyoneâ€™s got an agenda. Everyoneâ€™s got secrets, every single character. Some of them are big â€“ giant â€“ things that will impact the plot some are smaller, but just as important character secrets. 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. We were very conscious of that.â€
Did Ron Moore personally handpick you for the job of show runner? How did you come to this job?
Steve: â€œRon was definitely one of the main draws about the job. I met with Ron and I met with CameronÂ Porsandeh,Â who had created and sold the pilot and also with Lynda Obst who was one of our producers. We had a nice meeting of minds and that was that. Iâ€™m sure they met with some other people as well but we had a nice rapport and it seemed like theyâ€™d be good people to work with, and they were. We had a really good experience and Ron was tremendous. Heâ€™s got a lot of stuff going on. He was very busy, but also was very available for us and had huge input in the show.â€
Does having a name like Ron Moore add to the pressure to make this show great?
Steve: â€œItâ€™s a huge, high bar to hit and so, yes, there is pressure, but itâ€™s fantastic. Iâ€™ve got to say. Not just with the fact that Battlestar, kind of came before and that Ron has a lot of that attached to him. But he was great. I mean, just as a partner, as a producer on the show, as someone to come in and talk about ideas and to weigh in, he was fantastic. I couldnâ€™t ask for better. Sometimes you work with someone and the relationship doesnâ€™t go well. Sometimes it does. He was really tremendous and his producing partner was as well. They were there for us. They were doing another show at the same time and still were there for us and were able to give us as much time as we needed from them. It was just sort of this whole sense of Ron that kind of pervaded the entire show from start to finish. So, yes, the pressure is tremendous. Certainly, that was what we said in the beginning, â€˜Hey, letâ€™s look at Battlestar,â€™ and said, â€˜Wow, there are really things that we loved about that show. Letâ€™s try to rise to that level and get as close as we can.â€™â€
Kyra: â€œThe cast just has to jump in and do their best right from the beginning because in some ways itâ€™s great because thereâ€™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 opens up the freedom, I think, for the cast to bring everything theyâ€™ve got.â€
Did you get a show bible initially revealing your characterâ€™s outcome or did you have to discover it episode by episode?
Kyra: â€œI 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. The only information I got was that I had a history with Billyâ€”with â€˜Alanâ€™â€”and with his brother, â€˜Peter,â€™ whoâ€™s played by Neil [Napier]. So, that was the only information that I was given. By the time I was working through the third episode, that was the piece when I really felt Iâ€™d gotten myself kind of grounded into the character. I feel like when I find the characterâ€™s darkness, when everything opens up emotionally, thatâ€™s when I started going, â€˜Okay, now Iâ€™m starting to really feel like Iâ€™ve got a handle on her.â€™ 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. I have no idea whatâ€™s to come, but I have to just trust that Iâ€™m her and start working with her. 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 Iâ€™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.â€
Steve: â€œThatâ€™s pretty typical, too, for a serialized show. Even though you have certain things figured out, you donâ€™t have all the pieces when you begin. We had a pretty solid idea of where we were heading through the 13 but Iâ€™ve heard it described before, which I think is a pretty apt analogy of, we know that weâ€™re starting off in Los Angeles and weâ€™re heading toward New York. But along the way, you may not know that weâ€™re going to stop at Omaha and then, three episodes in, youâ€™re like, â€˜Omaha sounds pretty great.â€™ 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. You can discover things in the show story-wise, but then you also discover, as you see your actors, you discover who they are and they bring things to the character that you may not have seen before. Thatâ€™s really wonderful, to start watching the dailies and start seeing the cuts and to see what our actors were bringing. Then we went, â€˜Oh, well hey, how about this?â€™ It gives us more ideas, which is really nice.”
Kyra: â€œYou guys took me for a great ride in this series. I had the best time and, yes, Walker goes through some amazing things. Itâ€™s pretty incredible. Every episode was pretty dynamic.â€
Steve: â€œItâ€™s a pretty tough 13 days for Walker.â€
Can you say a little bit more about Dr. Walker and Dr. Farragutâ€™s relationship and how it developed? Was anything added when Krya was cast?
Steve: â€œFrom 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 as we were conceptualizing the show very early on. 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. I would say, in a lot of ways, Walker, as the show progresses, becomes very central, without giving too much away. Itâ€™s a pretty important role and itâ€™s a pretty interesting character. Weâ€™ve got some, good-ratings willing, weâ€™ve got some interesting places to take her.â€
Kyra: â€œJust coming into the series and, again, as I was mentioning, I didnâ€™t know where the show was going to go, but just knowing that this character is my ex-husband and then weâ€™re here to do this job. Just kind of playing with Billy and a new episode would come and you see some interesting little dialogue between them or whatâ€™s going on. But they had marital problems, you know. Itâ€™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 Walkerâ€™s character is something that I discovered from things that would happen in the show. Sheâ€™s the type of scientist that really likes to be in the field. Sheâ€™s very accomplished. Sheâ€™s won an award. Sheâ€™s gotten herself to the top of the field in her work. I think that what sheâ€™s about 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. There is a difference in their personalities and that maybe he was a little bit more in the lab kind of thing. So you just start to see some of these interesting personality clashes of where theyâ€™re going to start having some issues with each other. 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 [Chechik] to direct because heâ€™s got such an interesting style. I mean, he directed Christmas Vacation, and thatâ€™s just one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. My brother and I would watch it every year without fail. Itâ€™s so good. And so heâ€™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. Like I said, I would discover it as we would go and then Billy and I would play with each other and itâ€™s just- youâ€™re just bringing human relationships to the table, you know, and seeing where it goes.â€
Steve: â€œPart 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. That usually brings some pretty rich drama forward.â€
How would you describe Dr. Julia Walker and what is it about the character that really drew you to want to play her?
Kyra: â€œI would describe her as a very intelligent, accomplished woman in her field. Sheâ€™s one of the top scientists with the CDC. 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. So although I am the ex-wife of Dr. Alan Farragut, thatâ€™s not at all what my purpose is in the series. Iâ€™m there because Iâ€™m trying to deal with this virus. Iâ€™m there to do my work as a scientist. Iâ€™m passionate about my work. But sheâ€™s an independent woman and she does have her flaws in her relationships. Sheâ€™s just a very full human character and I think thatâ€™s what I really loved about her. Because sometimes when weâ€™re creating strong females, we give them a weapon and turn them into something macho or often it has to be a superhero character or else she has to be a full on business person and has to be cruel or something. There is something about this character that I just thought sheâ€™s just a full-bodied human character. Sheâ€™s got a lot of purpose outside of her ex-husband and I think thatâ€™s what keeps her active and interesting.â€
Steve: â€œThatâ€™s what we were very conscious of, I think, when we were trying to talk about the characters and really round them out. We had many, many discussions about the female characters and how to really make them feel 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. Itâ€™s easy to fall into those kinds of tropes. We try very hard not to do that and then, of course, you see what your actor or actress brings and itâ€™s like, okay, good. We can do that as well. Oh look, theyâ€™re very good at this type of thing or this type of scene and letâ€™s play into that. I can tell you that the Dr. Jordan, whoâ€™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. When we actually got our actress and watched Jordan weâ€™re like, well, we could play that but thatâ€™s not really who she is and not who sheâ€™s playing so letâ€™s try and steer the boat in that direction and it worked great. I think she was wonderful. With Kyra, 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.â€
Kyra: â€œItâ€™s a kind of a dream role. Thereâ€™s so much that I have to go through emotionally, physically, intellectually. Itâ€™s the whole package. So yes, I couldnâ€™t be happier being able to work on this show.â€
How is this role or this project different from other projects that youâ€™ve done in the past?
Kyra: â€œWhat Iâ€™ve done in the past is come in and do these really cool guest stars. So being in a show where you are one of the core cast members, thatâ€™s going to be one thing thatâ€™s going to be a hugely different experience. Youâ€™re kind of creating. When Iâ€™ve come in to do guest stars for shows, thereâ€™s a sense of being in somebody elseâ€™s playground. Usually itâ€™s a great experience but you come in ready to go and prepared and you have this amazing experience and then thatâ€™s it. For certain shows, especially in the SciFi world or Supernatural, like the Stargate, those things that Iâ€™ve done, thereâ€™s a sense your character kind of lives on with certain people and thatâ€™s fun about how SciFi works. But with this youâ€™re creating a playground, as far as the cast goes. So itâ€™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 Iâ€™m there from the beginning.â€
Steve: â€œI think thatâ€™s a really good way to put it and also, for us, itâ€™s a great opportunity as opposed to the feature version of this which would be two and a half hours long and youâ€™d introduce a character and youâ€™d meet them and spend time with them and then resolve it and youâ€™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 this horrible, horrible person in the beginning ends up not being quite so horrible or at least you understand where theyâ€™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, thereâ€™s more to this than I thought. So that was our challenge is making sure that that stuff happened and still felt credible.â€
What would you say was the most challenging or difficult thing about this role?
Kyra: “Thereâ€™s a certain piece in the middle of the series. Thereâ€™s a huge mystery that happens to my character thatâ€™s just – itâ€™s just kind of incredible and we were shooting quite fast. 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. It was so much fun and I really had to rise to the occasion but it was incredibly challenging. It was day in and day out for 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 itâ€™s, like if youâ€™re an athlete, itâ€™s like, leave it all on the field. That was just where I was at for a while with this role.”
Steve: “Definitely itâ€™s a challenge for the actors because not only are they having to come every day and bring it for six months, but also youâ€™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 going between episodes, like, okay, now you remember that thing that you just shot that happened, well, that hasnâ€™t happened yet, so get your mind wrapped around that it was incredibly challenging.”
Any funny stories to share about filming?
Steve: “When youâ€™re spending, you know, 12, 13 hours a day, five days a week, sometimes six days a week, with those peopleâ€¦”
Kyra: “There is something that was really hilarious and it was during the pilot. It was one of my favorite moments because it was such a pressure day, it was such an intense day. The working conditions were kind of crazy because we were in those suits that you see and sometimes theyâ€™re a bit tricky to work in because you canâ€™t really hear everyone outside. So they had to figure out ways to rig the mics 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 gets shut off – so there were certain things that we had to work around with the suits. There was this one day that was just so intense all day long. Then we get into doing some of the dialogue in the scenes and Billy has to talk to Neilâ€™s character and Billyâ€™s characterâ€™s name is Alan and his brotherâ€™s name is Peter. Heâ€™s trying to start the scene and Iâ€™m completely connected emotionally and Iâ€™m right there and then he starts looking at Neilâ€™s face and starts going, â€œAlan, Alan,â€ calling him his characterâ€™s name. He didnâ€™t register. I thought the more he says it then itâ€™s going to wake him up and heâ€™s going to stop and heâ€™s going to realize what heâ€™s done. He just didnâ€™t. He just kept going deeper. I lost it. It was just so funny because the tension was so high and then weâ€™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 that were just so funny. If the audience knew what was going on with some of these really intense scenes, they would just be amazed. Then there was one really interesting day. Itâ€™s a very cool scene. I canâ€™t wait for you all to see it. I think itâ€™s in Episode 6 maybe. But Jordanâ€™s sitting there and at one point, and Hiro is a heroâ€”He just is. Heâ€™s just magic. He kind of happens to be in the right place at the right time. Heâ€™s kind of like the secret little ninja. I wonâ€™t tell you how it happened but somehow Jordanâ€™s hair started to catch on fire. Hiro 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. Thereâ€™s so much that happened. Itâ€™s like a big mess of crazy experiences. I will never forget this. There were lots of good times on set.”
How gross will this show be?
Steve: “Well, weâ€™re a little gross. I have to be honest.”
Kyra: “Yes, theyâ€™re gross.”
Steve: “Thereâ€™s some gross going on. We definitely wanted to have our infected people, our vectors, play that something was wrong with them so that they didnâ€™t just look like everybody else. It can be a very horrific transformation. So, yes, there are horror elements in there that we did not shy away from. That being said, itâ€™s not a gore fest at all. While there is gross stuff that happens, we were not trying to come up with, like, the coolest way to do something really vile. We really were very conscious about trying to steer away from that as much as possible. There are scares and there is gross stuff that happens. We really, though, I think that was not where we tried to lean into. Itâ€™s not our strength. We donâ€™t have the budget or the time to be able to out-gross or out-action a lot of the shows that are out there. So with us, it was much more about, okay, whatâ€™s the understandable character element thatâ€™s going on that we can relate to with the emotion in a scene that we can try to find? Whatâ€™s the really cool reveal that we can come up with where youâ€™re going to, like, oh, no way, I didnâ€™t see that coming? And so thatâ€™s where I hope our strength is.”
Kyra: “If anything, it was more scary or disturbing than it is gross.”
Steve: “Disturbing, yes. I would say sometimes uneasy, unsettling, yes.”
Kyra: “Especially when you were at lunch and you had to sit across from the vector in the makeup. That was one of the things where we thought, okay, I donâ€™t want you to just sit next to me at lunch when youâ€™re in that makeup. And theyâ€™re eating with you as if thereâ€™s nothing wrong.”
Was there ever a time during filming where it just freaked you out, the virus itself, what it does?
Kyra: “Yes. Especially with the first couple of episodes. As Steve mentioned before thereâ€™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 more interesting. But in the beginning when youâ€™re looking at this and youâ€™re thinking about it, the CDC gets brought up to this place to deal with this virus and itâ€™s something that theyâ€™ve never seen and that, in itself, is quite frightening in a story. This is something that happens all the time, a real life epidemic scare, you know. 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, itâ€™s something thatâ€™s really out there for people. People are trying to make decisions about whether they should vaccinate their children or not, which is still a big debate. Itâ€™s something that is a true fear for people. So when we were getting into the story in these first few episodes and youâ€™re seeing these people who are at the top of the CDC, they should have every answer. Itâ€™s almost like a God complex. They donâ€™t know what to do. I think thatâ€™s pretty terrifying and when we didnâ€™t know what was going to be happening next as an actor, with where the story was going to go, thatâ€™s an interesting thing because you just think I have no idea what I can do. How much worse can it get and I have no handle on it. Now, at some point, this is going to get everyone sick and we donâ€™t have any answers. Thatâ€™s pretty frightening because thatâ€™s total annihilation of the whole planet. So what do you do there?”
Steve: “Thatâ€™s one of the things we really played with, 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, itâ€™s going to be a calamity. So thatâ€™s the thing that our CDC scientists and the other scientists are not only scared for their own lives but scared of what might happen if this thing gets out. We really play with that and kept that very much alive throughout the course of the series. Itâ€™s scary. Itâ€™s an invisible villain. You canâ€™t touch it. You canâ€™t taste it, but itâ€™s there. 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 something that people can really relate to, but also it tends to either bring out the best or the worst in people – sometimes both because people get so terrified, theyâ€™re so scared of whatâ€™s going to happen, that they donâ€™t know how to deal with the situation. Thatâ€™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 the selfish kind of side that is more just concerned with self-preservation? That is just automatic drama which was great.”
Kyra: “Also youâ€™re getting this information that you want to study and you want to sound educated when youâ€™re in the scene and know what it is that youâ€™re talking about, what it is that weâ€™re working from, that weâ€™re doing. For those of us that were working on that stuff in the show, weâ€™re doing a lot of research so itâ€™s kind of fun. Itâ€™s like going back to science class. I spent a lot of time with You Tube trying to discover, okay, how does this thing work when youâ€™re dealing with this type of microscope and blah, blah, blah.”
Kyra: “But then suddenly you start seeing all these interesting articles and youâ€™re researching, oh, okay, so Spanish Flu. Let me get back to this. I havenâ€™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, and I think it actually came from the CDC but it was something about are antibiotics becoming obsolete? Thatâ€™s kind of frightening when youâ€™re thinking about, wow, in this day and age, so what does that mean, then? People just have to deal with whatever happens? So thereâ€™s a lot of real life things that were coming up while youâ€™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.”
Why does a setting like this works so well visually and emotionally for this kind of story?
Steve: â€œItâ€™s a setting that is great for us because itâ€™s not the newest setting under the sun. It seems familiar enough, but I think weâ€™re doing a pretty interesting spin on it. What works for us really well is that it lends itself to a very claustrophobic environment because you can go outside but only for brief periods of time. Itâ€™s really dangerous. The weather is horrible, as Iâ€™m sure people who are in the Midwest and the East Coast right now can relate to. What it does is it forces you to be inside most of the time and thatâ€™s how we really saw this. Thatâ€™s how Cameron, who wrote the pilot script, really envisioned the thing to begin with, which was a contained environment. Itâ€™s almost like being set on a spaceship where youâ€™re trapped inside with unseen horrors and then thereâ€™re all sorts of human problems as well that develop from that. So it really lends itself to the series as a whole.
Who came up with the idea to use the upbeat music in different areas? It works really well.
Steve: â€œOh, thank you. It was sort of a group effort in a way but really it was Ron who came to our first editing session and said, â€˜Hey, you know what? Letâ€™s try to do some different things here. Letâ€™s cut it up and letâ€™s really have fun with this.â€™ Then as we were thinking, we had the idea to try to do something different musically. Initially we werenâ€™t thinking about doing a lot of songs. I think it was one of our producers, who actually came up with the old Burt Bacharach song and the Dionne Warwick version and weâ€™re like, â€˜Yes, that would be awesome.â€™ So what we tried to do is take that through the series and – not all the time – but every once in a while, weâ€™re going to pull out an old chestnut and have some fun with the musical parts of the show. That was something that Iâ€™ve got to say thatâ€™s one of my favorite parts of the entire series.â€
Edited for space and content.
HelixÂ premieres Friday, January 10th at 10/9c on Syfy.
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