THIS Friday, June 26th (8 p.m. – 1o p.m. EST/PST), Fox will broadcast Virtuality. Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation) wrote and executive produced with Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Voyager) this two-hour movie (and backdoor pilot) in which a space crew sets out on a 10-year journey through outer space in order to save an unsustainable Earth, their actions being telecast to a worldwide audience as part of a reality TV show. To help pass the time on their long journey, their ship is equipped with virtual reality modules, but tensions soon mount as a glitch in the system unleashes a virus onto the ship.
Earlier this week, myself and several other journalists spoke via a conference call with actresses Sienna Guillory and Clea DuVall, who play exo-biologist Rika Goddard and ship’s pilot Sue Parsons, respectively, in Virtuality, about their work in the movie. The following is an edited version of that Q & A session.
Clea, you’ve been in so many different genre projects and played a variety of characters; what type of preparation do you do in order to get into the various roles. And how do you approach each of these different types of characters, where you always seem to be able to put it all together and knock it [your performance] out of the ball park?
CLEA DuVALL – That’s very sweet of you to say, thank you. I approach each role differently. On Virtuality, for me, it was about getting to know the people that I was working with and becoming comfortable with improv, which is something I’d never done before. However, [director] Peter Berg likes to work that way; he just sort of lets scenes run and watches what happens. So it was a lot of on-the-job training with this one, and any preparation I did had to be thrown out the window if you will, and it was a matter of putting my trust in Peter and my fellow actors.
Sienna, I know that a lot of the work that you guys did, especially when your characters were in the virtual environments, was green screen-type work. What were some of the challenges of that?
SIENNA GUILLORY – I think in a way, when you’re working with green screen, it’s hugely enabling. In this case, it was the whole thing that Ron Moore came up with. By that I mean in Virtuality, he gives our characters lives with no limitations, so you have to use that green screen as a plus. The fact that there’s nothing there to limit your imagination or where you see yourself or how you see the scene unfolding can be a helpful thing. So you just imagine it exactly the way you want it to be, rather than kind of being held back by the physical limitations of a set.
Each of the crew on the ship has his or her own virtual reality – what was each of yours?
CD – My character was very much into outdoor sports, so bike-riding, surfing, etc.
SG – My character is actually an exo-biologist, which is kind of extreme gardening on a molecular level. But she’s trapped in this passionless marriage to the ship’s psychologist, so she uses her virtual module to fantasize about sex and intimacy.
Given that our world seems to be increasingly moving towards one that is dominated by virtual reality, how do you think that will impact our emotional and psychological well-being as reflected in your characters in the movie?
SG – In terms of how it worked in the show, we’re geeks, but we’re still people, we’re still humans. So anything that happens to us in our own personal movies happens to all of us, because we’re stuck together. Again, the whole point of it is that Ron Moore is providing these characters with a life without limitations, so I think it’s tremendously healthy to be able to explore your inner cravings and all the things that you dream of and be able to realize your fantasies without necessarily hurting other people. At the same time, you also need to realize that when you do experience something emotionally, it does affect who you are, and I think that’s the backbone of what we’re doing. What happens in our virtual modules affects everyone around us, even though we think our experiences are private.
Given that this story was meant to be an ongoing one, were there any details that you were given or that you asked for going forward about your characters?
CD – There were little bits and pieces that we were given because I think we all had the hopes that it would continue. But they, Michael and Ron, didn’t really give away much. I think that we were all under such pressure to just do what we were doing, that thinking into the future was overwhelming at the time. However, there is definitely a lot more to the story that, fingers crossed, we may be able to tell.
SG – We had times where we’d all gather around and discuss these kinds of “mad” notions that maybe our characters aren’t actually on the ship. Maybe they’re in these little pods being fed these ideas. That the whole thing is a virtual simulation and one day they’ll all wake up and find that they’re actually not where they think they are.
Going back to the improvisation mentioned earlier, having done genre, effect-heavy type work before, what difference does the improvisation make in that [type of] environment?
CD – I think for me, whenever I’m doing any kind of genre, it’s all improvisation, because you don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen until I get there, so in that way I guess it [Virtuality] was similar to other things I’ve done. But with this, I’ve never had so much freedom with the script. I mean, of course I said everything that was in the script, but being able to then build on it and create more and find things that I didn’t even know were there until we were doing it was very exciting. Everyone was so good at that, and it really shows onscreen.
SG– I agree. The creative imaginative geniuses that are Ron Moore and Mike Taylor are so infectiously enthusiastic as well as so brave. They assumed that the audience was intelligent and demanding, which made us as an ensemble want to rise up and meet the challenge. So when we were actually filming, they lent us that bravery and allowed us to inhabit these roles and just let rip with whatever crazy idea came into our minds, with the safety net of knowing that they were going to take out the bad bits. So that was the freedom and the great thing about working on this.
CD – And also them trusting us so much and being people that we, in turn, respected and trusted. I think that also gave us the confidence to trust ourselves and sort of go with whatever our instincts were telling us.
Can you tell us how you first became involved in this project and about the audition process for your role?
SG – I read the script and thought it was one of the best things I’d ever read. I put myself on tape – I was in London at the time – and then they said they liked it. So I flew over to the U.S., did the studio test that night, and then the next morning I did the network test and that was it.
CD – I received the script and thought it was one of the best scripts I’d ever read as well. I had to go on the audition the very next day and it was terrible. I couldn’t remember my lines, I was stuttering. It wasn’t cute. However, they asked me to come back the next day and try again, which I did. This time I went in with a little more focus, and then they had me test for the role. I ended up getting the job and I was very excited.
Sienna Guillory – Named one of the “100 Sexiest Women” by Maxium Magazine, Sienna Guillory transcends physical beauty as a British-born actress of broad range and nuance. She is beginning production on Gunless, which is slated for release in March 2010. Guillory plays Jane opposite Paul Gross and Dustin Milligan. Her latest film is Inkheart starring Helen Mirren, Brendan Fraser and Paul Bettany. In 2006, the actress starred in the Fox 2000 film Eragon as Princess Arya opposite Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich. Also recognized for her role in the romantic comedy Love Actually starring Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson, Guillory first grabbed the attention of audiences with her breakout role in the 2002 Science Fiction film The Time Machine opposite Guy Pearce. On the small screen, the actress was recently seen on Criminal Minds. She also made an impression on critics and audiences as the star of the 2003 miniseries Helen of Troy. Originally from Kettering, a small town outside London, Guillory began her career as a model, landing campaigns for brands such as Hugo Boss, before making the transition to acting.
Clea DuVall – In a relatively short span of time, Clea DuVall has burst onto the scene and quickly become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after talents. One of the few actors working successfully and simultaneously in film and TV, her resume is both extensive and versatile. DuVall first gained recognition in the independent feature How to Make the Cruelest Month, which was one of 16 films in dramatic competition at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. Later that same year, her starring role as the rebellious loner Stokely in The Faculty garnered her Blockbuster and Teen Choice Award nominations for Breakout Performance. DuVall was most recently seen in Jonathan Liebesman’s The Killing Room, which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Prior to that, she could be seen in Passengers, directed by Rodrigo Garcia with Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson. Her additional film credits include Zodiac, the American remake of The Grudge, Girl Interrupted and The Astronaut’s Wife. On TV, DuVall’s credits include Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, Carnivale, ER and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she first became interested in acting while attending the Los Angeles High School of the Arts. During her time there, the actress performed in the theater and also took acting classes outside of school. Upon graduating, she quickly landed an agent as well as a manager and has been working nonstop ever since.