[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
The Season 2 finale of Van Helsing left everyone precariously perched, which is where we find them still when Season 3 begins Friday night on Syfy. In pretty short order, Vanessa (Kelly Overton) and the (human/re-humaned) team–the entire cast of Jonathan Scarfe, Missy Peregrym, Rukiya Bernard, Aleks Paunovic, Christopher Heyerdahl, Trezzo Mahoro, and Vincent Gale return–do what they need to do to keep moving forward, toward a new mission and on a slightly adjusted path. Yesterday, I jumped on the phone with Scarfe, who’s in the Dominican Republic to produce and direct the just-announced upcoming Netflix series The I-Land, which re-teams him with Van Helsing showrunner, Neil LaBute.
Scarfe was my hook into Van Helsing, and he’s been one of our favorites for his turns on Hell on Wheels, Ties That Bind, and Hallmark Channel and UP Television romcoms. If you’ve read us a while, you know he’s been one of mine for roles going way, way back. Van Helsing marked the first time Scarfe moved behind the camera, and this season, he continues right out of the gate, directing the season premiere, where’s also heavily featured onscreen.
When the opportunity to direct first came his way last season, Scarfe was thrilled to be asked. “I got lucky enough to start off with [“Be True“], an episode primarily anchored by Chris Heyerdahl, who’s one of the greatest actors of all time, which made my job easy,” he recalls.
“Things went well and they let me do [it again]. It was a huge, huge honor to get to do the opening block [of two episodes] this year. It allowed us to do some new things. There is an action set piece in the middle of [Episode 301] that is a bit of a departure.”
“It was an idea I had with our stunt coordinator, Kimani Smith, and cinematographer, Ron Richard. We had this idea to pull off this [one fluid scene]. We had tons of fun. Once Syfy and Netflix saw it, they encouraged us to do more of it, which you’ll see this season.”
Season 3 also marked a departure for where the show filmed. “We were almost always on location or some version of a built set. We did very little studio work,” Scarfe explains. “We went from back alleys in Chinatown to every square inch of Riverview.”
Riverview is the iconic asylum that’s been used for years in Vancouver-filmed genre shows, and it’s front and center in next week’s episode. “We had a freak snow storm that delayed us two days. [Once we started], it was sort of in a state of decay [and we were there] at night with it all misted up and raining. That was really fun,” shares Scarfe.
Last season saw Axel flip from human to vampire to human, and this season, Scarfe says his character will run the gamut again, as evidenced by that SDCC trailer. “It gets pretty operatic by the end of the season,” he laughs.
“We explore more of the relationship with Scarlett and expand that. One of the big stories later in the season [in episode 3.11, “Been Away”] deals with Axel’s backstory and he gets to go home again and discover some things. That was really fun to learn more about old Axel. He also gets to the point where he’s torn between two loyalties [for a little while].”
“I think this season is for sure my favorite as far as what Axel gets to do. I like the first season a lot. The second one was interesting with the vampire thing, but I’ve got to admit, I was happy to be turned human again.”
The show is fairly hard-core gore, and Scarfe says they do their best to navigate the tricky balance of too little and too much. “We never seem to get pulled too far back [by the networks]. We’re happy to deliver it. The show has to walk a fine line between camp and…morbid and serious. It’s kinds of like that action sequence in the premiere,” he explains.
“We ride the line between the two to keep the drama and also hang onto the fun, and that involves the gore as well. If the gore is gratuitous, torturous, and relentless and just nastiness, I don’t think the audience is going to stick around for it. But if it’s used judiciously, it’s part of the fun of the show.”
Last winter, Scarfe switched gears to re-team with Kelli Williams, his onscreen wife in Ties That Bind for the very sweet Christmas Solo, and had a blast working with her and that show’s creator again.
“That was 100% Sheryl Anderson putting that project together from the beginning,” he says. “I think she’d written it with us in mind and it was a treat to get back together with Kelli. That was a no-brainer.”
We also saw Scarfe earlier this year in The Equalizer 2, and as much fun as it was to smart off to Denzel Washington, Scarfe was delighted to watch director Antoine Fuqua. “Honestly the bigger treat was working with [him]. I spent three months in Boston and got to train so I didn’t look like a goofball running around,” he says.
“I had a ton of time to watch him work. To be on a big budget film like that and watch him [manage] setups involving ten cameras and multiple crane arms and a lot of people…it was pretty crazy.”
Netflix’s upcoming The I-Land was just announced last week, but Scarfe has already been in the Dominican Republic for a month a prepping the series, which begins its three-month shoot later this month. “This is Neil LaBute’s brain child,” he says.
“He brought me in after the fact as a guy he trusted to direct, given the circumstances and remote location. It’s an ensemble cast. The entire show takes place theoretically on a deserted island. It’s tons of fun. I’m directing four of the seven episodes.”
Van Helsing airs Fridays at 10 pm/9c on Syfy. The first two seasons are available now on Netflix. Here are a few sneak peeks of the upcoming season.
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