Posts Tagged ‘David Straiton’

Defying Gravity’s Paula Garces – Act Of Faith

September 27, 2009
Paula Garces as Paula Morales on Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Paula Garces as Paula Morales on Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

If you have to go to work, it helps if you like your job, and that is definitely true of Defying Gravity‘s Paula Garces. It is only the middle of what looks to be a long day on the show’s Vancouver set, but the actess is still full of energy and eager to talk about her involvement in the series. Her character of Paula Morales is part of an international team of eight astronauts who, after five years of intense training, set off in 2052 on a six-year journey to explore our solar system onboard the spaceship Antares. Besides her duties as mission payload specialist, Paula is also transmitting daily status reports back to school classrooms on Earth. It goes without saying that she wears a lot of proverbial hats, and Morales could not wait to try on every single one of them.

“My character is obviously of Latin descent, although we haven’t specified exactly from where,” notes the actress, who is back in her trailer after a quick visit to make-up in preparation for her next scene. “Paula is also a scientist and a pilot as well as extremely religious and conservative, so she’s constantly having to deal with conflicts between her faith and science as well as religion. On top of that, Paula is experiencing the various difficulties that I think anyone in real life would be faced with if they were travelling in space and separated from their family and friends for an extended period of time. She’s in charge of a space classroom as well, and when you lump all that together, Paula can occasionally be a little bit off-putting because she’s quite misunderstood by those around her.

“So she needs to be a number of different people at the same time. Paula has to be bubbly and smart along with cute and charming so that the kids back on Earth will listen and actually learn something from her. At the same time, she has some dark issues to deal with and, again, is conflicted, which sometimes ticks off the people she works with. So it’s been really interesting to see her develop, and I’ve been very lucky as far as the writing. The show’s producers/writers have given me a great storyline that I can wrap myself around and lose myself in. It’s a lot to do, but I love it and I hope I’m doing a good job.

“This part is full of layers and, again, I’m thrilled with the fact that my character is not only a scientist and astronaut, but also someone of faith. At the beginning I was wondering how that would work, but in researching the role I discovered that several astronauts are religious, specifically Catholic, and have even taken communion up in space and things of that nature. There is so much I can play with as Paula, including the fact that she’s petite and cute and sometimes doesn’t get taken very seriously. Yes, there are still stereotypes that she has to fight against, even in the not-so-distant future. It only goes to show that everything changes, and yet some things remain the same.”

Paula Morales holding "virtual class" with her students back on Earth. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Paula Morales holding "virtual class" with her students back on Earth. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Like most acting opportunities, Garces was sent the pilot script for Defying Gravity by her manager, and as soon as she began reading it, she became enamored of the Paula Morales character. “That can sometimes be the kiss of death for an actor,” she says. “We get sent so many scripts, a lot of which aren’t very good. So when a good script does come along, you fall in love with it, but you don’t want to deal with the heartbreak in case things don’t work out.

“I actually flew to Toronto to audition for the role with Michael Edelstein [series executive producer] and David Straiton, who directed our first episode. I was very nervous, but David read with me and said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re totally rocking it.’ As soon as I heard that, it kind of gave me the confidence that I think the role needed. I also feel that was something that James Parriott [series creator/executive producer] needed to subsequently see from me in-person, too, because prior to this they had just watched a tape of my work. Once that saw that confidence, though, I think that’s what made them decide, ‘OK, maybe we should give Paula Garces a shot at this role.’ So I really have to thank David for saying what he did to me during my audition, which is not typical. You usually don’t know that early on whether or not they like you. Sometimes I think I’m totally awesome during an audition, but I guess I stink because I don’t get the job,” jokes the actress. “Other times, I think I blew it and I get hired. It’s a crazy business, but in this case I’m delighted that things worked out the way they did.”

Although Garces’ audition jitters soon became a distant memory, those butterflies in her stomach returned, albeit briefly, when filming began on Defying Gravity‘s opening episode. “I think we were all terrified because it’s such a big show,” she says. “We had to establish the ship and the outer space elements as well as our characters’ training and them being astronauts and so forth. Then there were the technical elements, including getting to know the sets, dealing with green screen and the wire work, the latter of which is necessary with any scene where there is zero gravity and our characters have to ‘float.’

“So that was all pretty daunting simply because there was so much foundation for us to lay, and if you don’t do it right away and grab your audience’s attention, then they won’t give the series a chance. Having said that, I think our first episode stands on its own and hooks you into our story and all its wonder, which includes hope for the future and finding answers to the unknown.

All smiles inside the Antares' lab. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

All smiles inside the Antares' lab. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“The thing is, I see this show as being less Science Fiction and more Science Fact. It deals with things that are happening now in the real world with regard to space travel and how it’s likely to change or improve over the next 40 or 50 years. That’s a huge undertaking because you have to keep things real. You can’t be like, ‘OK, we’re going to magically teleport ourselves to that planet.’ Everything has to be thought out and make sense. So our first story really gives you a taste of what the relationships between these people are like and what they’ll be facing in their next six years together on this extraordinary mission that I believe humankind would one day want to take.”

When it comes to relationships, perhaps the oddest one onboard the Antares is between Paula and theoretical physicist Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor). The two formed an unexpected bond during training, specifically during medical training when a man under the influence of an unusual drug died in front of them. Since leaving Earth orbit, “Wass” has taken pot shots at Paula’s religious beliefs, and at one point even accidentally injured her, but despite this there remains a connection between them.

“Now that I’ve watched some of the footage, I find Paula and Wass to be the ‘youth vote’ on the ship if you will,” muses Garces. “As for the actual reason why she feels connected to him, I believe it’s because she finds Wass brilliant. At first he comes across as a slacker, and I think Paula sees him as a waste of talent. My character is someone who works hard and is very disciplined, so she doesn’t quite get the whole slacker mentality. However, what Paula eventually comes to realize is that this is just Wass’ way of dealing with the isolation of space and being on this mission, which is actually a pretty smart way of looking at things.

“As these two characters have their conversations and debates, because they have quite a few debates on science and religion, Paula sees that underneath all that information and ‘I don’t care’ attitude, Wass has a huge heart. And I think vice versa, he admires how disciplined she is. He begins to realize that maybe he should worry about Paula and try to give her certain [scientific] information that perhaps she’s a little too stubborn to see because of her faith.”

Moments before an unfortunate accident that nearly ended Paula's involvement in the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Moments before an unfortunate accident that nearly ended Paula's involvement in the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Coincidentally, one of Garces’ favorite Defying Gravity moments is with her and Dylan Taylor. “I love doing wire work, and there’s a scene between Paula and Wass where a section of the ship loses gravity,” says the actress. “As tricky as it was doing the wire work, there was a great deal of humor in that scene. I don’t want to spoil it for those who might not have seen the episode yet, but one of these two characters isn’t a very good astronaut when it comes to floating, but I’m not going to tell you who,” she teases.

“That scene was so funny and realistic, because if you stop and think about it, astronauts are human beings, right, and not robots. Once they finish whatever tasks they’re supposed to do in a day when they’re up there in space, they have to live their lives. So they’re working out, eating, sleeping, reading, acting silly, whatever, and I think this particular scene with Paula and Wass helped bring out the human side of what could happen to someone up in space who’s not accustomed to being in zero gravity. The special effects in the scene are incredible and how we shot it was really cool. It was done in a very different style and we used a bunch of tricks that I didn’t even know about, so it was a great learning experience as well.”

The eldest of two sisters, Garces grew up in New York’s Spanish Harlem and was raised by her mother, who encouraged her interest in the arts. “I had braces when I was 12, and by coincidence I met this agent at a dinner party that my mom gave,” recalls the actress. “She thought I was cute and said to me, ‘Come see me when you get your braces off because I think you can make some money doing TV commercials.’

“A year later that same agent came to our house again and she asked me, ‘Why didn’t you come see me?’ Later on, my mom asked me to at least make an effort to go see this woman because she was her friend, so I did and ended up getting five auditions, including one with [producer/writer/director] Martin Scorsese. Of course, I had no idea who he was, and when I got home from the audition my mom asked how it went. I told her it was OK and that I spoke with some guy whose last name sounded like Spacey. My mom called her friend to find out more, and this woman told her, ‘Well, first of all, your daughter was auditioning for Martin Scorcese, who is directing a public service announcement about drugs, alcohol, teenage sex and AIDS. It’s going to be shown in theaters nationwide and, oh, by the way, she got the job. Paula is super-funny, down-to-Earth and was the only one who was completely honest and kind of told him [Martin] off.’

Having previously worked together on another series, Paula Garces and Malik Yoba (Ted Shaw) are reunited on Defying Gravity. Photo be Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Having previously worked together on another series, Paula Garces and Malik Yoba (Ted Shaw) are reunited on Defying Gravity. Photo be Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“My mom was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ and after hanging up the phone she immediately educated me on who Martin Scorsese was,” laughs Garces. “He’s the reason I got my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] card, and from there I was lucky enough to get work on most of the New York-based TV series including Law and Order as well as New York Undercover with Malik Yoba [Ted Shaw on Defying Gravity], Oz and The Sopranos. I got my big break when Jerry Bruckheimer cast me in Dangerous Minds starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Following that I did a soap opera [The Guiding Light] for three years, then [the feature films] Clockstoppers and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, and I just carried on from there.”

On TV, the actress is perhaps best known for her performance as Officer Tina Hanlon on the crticially-acclaimed FX series The Shield. “Every single day on the The Shield was a wonderful challenge,” she says. “I was only supposed to do one episode. From what I remember, the producers were auditioning very muscular women for this particular role, and here I was this tiny little thing. However, I thought, ‘The easy route for a female cop would be a big, muscular, in-shape, tough looking woman. But what about the female cops out there who don’t necessarily look intimidating, but who are still street-smart, know they can kick ass, and have an intuition about them that would be an asset on the streets as far as fighting crime.’

“So that’s how I spun it, and I think they saw in my audition that I would be good next to this big guy, Michael Jace [Officer Julian Lowe], who ended up being my partner on the show, and the dynamic worked. After that first episode, they asked me if I would continue as a recurring character, and the next season they invited me to be part of the regular cast. It was a fantastic program to work on and, of course, after they established my character, they took great pleasure in having this cute little girl run through the streets, beating up bad guys with a baton, and cuffing them,” laughs Garces. “They gave me all this nasty, gritty material, and I think the show’s writers enjoyed seeing the expression on my face when I’d first read the scripts. It’s that quality and high standard of writing that keeps you on your toes and interested in your job. It’s the same on Defying Gravity.”

As the actress approaches her 20th year in the business, Garces has not become at all jaded about the work, and has no intensions of falling into that trap. “I still get a thrill out of booking a job,” she enthuses. “You study your lines, go into the audition room, bear your soul and hope that they like you. I don’t know what it is about us actors, but we’re desperate for other people to like us and reward us for just memorizing our lines. So when I get that phone call from my agent or my manager saying I got the job, it’s such a high for me. It’s the best phone call you can get as an actor.”

Steve Eramo

Defying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and OmniFilm Productions in association with the BBC, Canada’s CTV and Germany’s ProSieben. As noted above, all photos by Sergei Bachlakov or Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!


Defying Gravity’s Ty Olsson – Daydream Believer

August 16, 2009
Ty Olsson as Defying Gravity's Rollie Crane. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Ty Olsson as Defying Gravity's Rollie Crane. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

International Space Organization (ISO) Astronaut Rollie Crane was a man on top of the world. After five years of training, he was ready to command a team of three other men and four women, including his wife, biologist Jen Crane, on a six-year mission to explore the other planets sharing Earth’s solar system. Then, suddenly, Rollie’s dream was snatched away from him and his long-anticipated journey to the stars was over before it even began. While he could not dispute the reason behind this,it was no less discouraging and heartbreaking, especially having to be separated from Jen. However, as he later tells a colleague, Rollie has to follow his own advice to “suck it up” and get on with his job. Sharing his burden is Ty Olsson, who plays Rollie in Defying Gravity, and while both the character and the actor suit one another, things could have turned out much differently.

“When my manager and I first got wind of this project, I put myself on tape because I wasn’t available for the actual audition,” says Olsson. “From that tape, the show’s casting people brought me in for a live audition, and I ended up trying out for three different roles. I think I put Maddux Donner on tape first [a role that ultimately went to Ron Livingston], then I read for Ted Shaw [Malik Yoba], and twice for Rollie. My last audition was for Ted, and it’s funny because I remember [executive producer] Michael Edelstein saying, ‘Oh, I think the Ted character is perfect for you.’ Then, of course, Rollie was the one that came down the pike, which, honestly, I think is a perfect fit.”

In Defying Gravity‘s first season opener, Rollie and a fellow member of the Antares crew are called back to Earth prior to the actual start of the mission. Both men are found to have a previously undiagnosed heart condition and there is no other recourse but to ground them. Ted Shaw is chosen as the Antares’ new commander, while Rollie is reassigned as capsule communicator. Rather than experiencing the mission in-person, he must watch it unfold from in front of a monitor in ISO’s Mission Control. Like his fellow actors, Olsson was suitably impressed when he saw Rollie’s working digs for the first time.

“I think you get a feel for the creative minds behind a project when you walk onto the sets for the first time, and when I saw Mission Control I thought it looked like a movie set,” recalls the actor. “I was just blown away by its level of detail and that of the Antares set. It’s comforting to look around and think, ‘OK, they put the money in the right place. This is a really good set to play on.’ That’s easily my first memory of working on Defying Gravity. I’m sitting in the [production office] board room right now and looking at the dozens of drawings and pictures on the wall of the Antares bio lab, the medical bay, the flight deck, Mission Control, etc. It’s unbelievable the amount of work and creativity that has gone into preparing this series, and it shows on the screen.

“Besides the sets, I can’t talk about our first episode without mentioning [director] David Straiton. He is the wackiest and funniest dude and he has such a cool creative energy about him. When you start a new show you don’t know what the people who are running the ship will be like. And from David, you get a sense that he’s a guy who allows you to play as well as make bold [acting] choices and doesn’t pigeonhole you into his idea only of how a scene should go. So I felt like everyone from the bottom up had the same type of creative energy that flows together. Our camera crew is the same one that worked on Battlestar Galactica and in my mind are some of the best in the business.

“When I saw those guys were signed up, and I got to meet David, and I’d already met Michael Edelstein, I knew I’d be very happy working in this place for the next five or six months. I’m very critical of the stuff I’m in, but I have no qualms about saying that this is a top-notch show and one that came together quite well. I mean, you look at the first episodes of some shows, even huge hits, and think, ‘Wow, they weren’t really gelled there.’ Some first episodes never look as good as the ones that follow, but I have to say that ours looks really tight.”

Fans of Defying Gravity know that its story is told in present day/Mission Control time as well as in flashbacks. So besides seeing Rollie at work, you also get to see him during training for the Antares mission, which is when he and Jen (Christina Cox) first met. As one of “the boys,” Rollie joined his fellow astronauts for beers at the local watering hole, and even took part in a bet with their female colleagues that he and the other male astronauts could overcome the effects of a libido-inhibitor patch designed for use during their mission. While he is still just as good-natured, loyal and kind, Rollie has grown since his training days, which has allowed Olsson to show more facets of his character.

Rollie Crane at his post in Mission Control. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Rollie Crane at his post in Mission Control. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

“When I originally auditioned for Rollie, I was told that they [the show’s producers/writers] were going to go a different way with the character and make him a little goofier and a bit of a nerd,” he notes. “I gave them a version of that when I read for the part, but later on when I got the job and read the first script. I realized that Rollie wasn’t really like that. So I decided to kind of go against that and made him somewhat stoic, very professional and, for lack of a better word, a quarterback. I wanted him to be the high school quarterback/all-American type of guy who is always above-board and could be relied on to get the job done. The character read to me like someone who should be commanding a multi-billion dollar space mission.

“So that was an acting challenge because I was coming in with something performance-wise that I hadn’t really shown them. Luckily, an episode or two into shooting, Michael said to me, ‘We really like what you’ve done with your character.’ I thought, ‘Whew,’ because you’re never sure how something like that is going to turn out.

“The other thing I’ve tried to layer into Rollie, in particular during the flashback sequences, is to make it seem that he was much more easygoing and a bit wilder in his younger days. I think he experiences a lot in the five years heading up to the mission that kind of change him. Again, you never know how it’s all going to play out, but in my mind Rollie is much goofier and younger in behavior in the flashbacks than he is in present-day as the former commander of the Antares. So that’s been tricky, to kind kind of keep that in my back pocket and not make my character one level all the time. You don’t want anyone to come across as one-dimensional, so it’s a matter of trying to keep him all those things that I’ve talked about, but also make him a real person with flaws and who occasionally has chinks taken out of his ‘armor.’ Also, we haven’t pinpointed 100% when Rollie found out about Beta, but I’m guessing it was fairly late in the preparation leading up to the mission, and something like that has to change your outlook on life a little bit.”

The aforementioned “Beta” that the actor referred to is, in fact, an unseen enigma that appears to be manipulating events regarding the Antares mission. It is inferred that Beta is responsible for the medical condition that led to Rollie and Chief Engineer Ajay Sharma (Zahf Paroo) being removed from the mission. This also meant that Rollie’s and Jen’s outer space “honeymoon” would not take place. Instead, they spent some time alone together on the Antares observation deck before Rollie returned home to Earth.

“I think Rollie had a crush on Jen from day one,” says Olsson. “When it comes to relationships with the opposite sex, that’s one area where he’s not the star quarterback who whisks women off their feet. He’s not a great pick-up artist. I think he’s slightly shell-shocked by Jen as well as a little love struck in the early days and slow to take action. Part of that could have been that he was a superior officer within the [mission] program at the time. Rollie is hopelessly in love with her, though, and falls for Jen early on. The chemistry between them is fun to play, and Christina Cox is terrific to work opposite. She’s very giving and listens as an actor, and the two of us have had a great time exploring who these two characters are as a couple.

“Christina and I have had some wonderful scenes via video conferencing between Jen on the Antares and Rollie back on Earth, and the funny thing is we don’t actually do the scenes together. I don’t remember which episode it was, but I was doing one of these calls with Christina on the other end and, of course, they hadn’t shot her portion of it yet. We did it a few times, and one of the great things about [director] Peter Howitt is that he has this belief that an actor should be able to do one take for himself – even if it’s terrible, even if it’s stupid, even if it’s in another language – which is awesome.

“We did the scene as scripted and then I asked Peter if I could do one [take] for myself and he said, ‘Sure.’ So I just let it rip, and I’m sure it was my best take of the day. That’s something I truly appreciate as an actor. When a director trusts you enough to say, ‘Have a freebie. This one’s for you. Do whatever you want,’ that, as an actor, is gold for me.”

Rollie onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Rollie onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

A husband, father and actor, Olsson was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and, like many people in the business, never imagined that he would one day make this his career. “I actually went to a performing arts high school, and from grade nine onwards I did two hours of drama a day. So I had the [acting] bug, but because I was never one to think what tomorrow might bring, I never considered this as a possible profession,” explains the actor.

“It wasn’t until my final year of high school, when I still had no idea what I was going to do with my life, that it dawned on me that everyone else was trying out for theater schools and I thought, ‘Wow, people can actually make a living at this. That’s awesome. I’m going to try it, too.’ I’ve lived a somewhat blessed life in that way, having been pushed and nudged in the right direction and I’m very grateful for that.”

The actor chuckles when asked about his on-camera debut. “My wife loves to tell this story. My first paying job ever for movies or TV was The X-Files [season five’s Kitsunegari] when the program was at the height of its popularity. I came home from work and my wife asked, ‘How was it?’ And all I could say was, ‘The catering was amazing! They had steak, prawns, salads, fruit, desserts…’ My very first professional day as an actor and the biggest thing I had to talk about was the food,” jokes Olsson.

“Daniel Sackheim directed this episode, and he’s a super-intense guy. I told him years later when I worked with him again that I thought he was going to have a heart attack on The X-Files. I remember doing a scene where I was supposed to grab a doorknob and open the door as part of a spooky X-Files storyline. We did 14 takes, and I began to sweat and get really nervous. I wondered, ‘Why do we keep doing this over and over? What the hell am I screwing up?’

“I think it was one of the crew who finally noticed that I was starting to sweat, and he leaned over to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not you. He [the director] thinks he’s shooting a feature [film].’ I was like, ‘Thank God,’ because I was going crazy trying to figure out how I could get something like that wrong. Those were the glory days, though. I was on that set for five days shooting the opening teaser and I had a blast.”

Olsson has since appeared in several made-for-TV movies as well as miniseries and guest-starred on dozens of other shows such as Dead Man’s Gun, Cold Squad, The Outer Limits, Tru Calling, The L Word and Eureka. The actor also played the recurring roles of Captain Aaron Kelly in Battlestar Galactica and Danny in the Stephen King miniseries Kingdom Hospital.

“I was a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica and all the people who worked on it, so I was thrilled whenever I got a call from the producers telling me that they were bringing Captain Kelly back,” he says. “It was a fun show to work on and a bit stressful as well. This was a group of people who worked together for years and shot dozens of episodes, and I’d come back and have to remember how to pronounce some of the technical terms. I loved the challenge, though, and when I did the show, I also did my homework to make sure I was up to speed on everything.

Mission Control Flight Director Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie) and Rollie. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Mission Control Flight Director Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie) and Rollie. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Kingdom Hospital was a great show to work on as well,” continues Olsson. “It was weird as well as creepy and creatively really on the edge in a lot of ways. My character of Danny was a paramedic and most of my scenes were with Ben Ratner, who is terrific to work with. I first met him during, I believe, a second callback for the part. The casting people were pairing actors up to read and they put us together. Ben and I chatted in the hall for 30 seconds, went into the audition room, did the scene, and the director looked at us and asked, ‘How long have you two been working together?’ It was one of those instant chemistry things where Ben and I just hit it off really well, and that’s always a bonus.”

On the big screen, Olsson’s credits include Lake Placid, Missing in America, Elektra, The Day the Earth Stood Still and X2: X-Men United as Mitchell Laurio. “A job like that is a dream come true insofar as getting to work with all those people with such amazing careers,” says the actor. “I was telling someone not too long ago that I put on 35 pounds in three weeks for this role. When I was hired, I was told, ‘Hey, we want you to go on a beer and pizza diet.’ Well, you don’t have to tell me twice. I already admitted how much I love the catering at work.

“Wardrobe took my measurements three days after I got the job and I told them that I was going to put on some weight. When I went for my first costume fitting there was something like a three-inch gap between the button and buttonhole of my pants. I came back three weeks later and there was still a gap because I’d gotten that much bigger, so they had to switch pants. On the first day of filming, there was another three-inch gap, so they had to let the pants out again. After Ian McKellen [Eric Lensherr/Magneto] found out I’d put all that weight on, he would come over to me every day, pat my stomach and ask if I needed anything from craft services,” laughs the actor.

Around the world, there are people who begrudgingly get up every morning and go to work, but Olsson is not one of them. “I’m so lucky to be doing something that makes me happy,” he enthuses. “I like to audition, I like to work, I like to be on-set and I love the creative process and problem solving. I also enjoy surprising people and being the guy who doesn’t look like an actor but who has a great deal to offer.

“Growing up, I was a daydreamer, and my daughter is the same. It makes me so happy when she says, ‘I’m going to bed early because I would like to daydream before I go to sleep.’ That was me to a tee. I used to love to lay in bed and daydream, and now I get to make those daydreams my career. I should have been born in a different time, too. I’ve always felt I was in the wrong time-line, and this [acting] is my way of finding those alternate realities that I fit into.”

Steve Eramo

Defying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and OmniFilm Productions, in association with the BBC, Canada’s CTV and Germany’s ProSieben. As noted above, all photos by Kharen Hill or Sergei Bachlakov, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!

Defying Gravity’s Andrew Airlie – In Control

August 9, 2009
Andrew Airlie as Mission Control Flight Director Mike Goss in Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Andrew Airlie as Mission Control Flight Director Mike Goss in Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

What if your job required you to go away for a very, very, long time, say six years? And what if that journey would take you far, far, away from your loved ones and all else that is familiar to you, say, eight billion miles? You would want someone who was on the ball and with plenty of experience watching your back, right? On ABC’s new Sci-Fi drama Defying Gravity, that person is Mike Goss. As flight director of the spaceship Antares, his post is Earth’s Mission Control where he oversees a team of eight astronauts on a journey to explore Venus as well as other planets in our solar system. Production-wise it was almost down to the wire when the show’s producers offered actor Andrew Airlie the chance to step into the shoes of the calm, cool, collected and by-the-book Goss.

“I came into the [casting] process a bit late into the game,” notes Airlie. “I don’t think the casting directors had suggested me to [executive producers] Michael Edelstein and Jim Parriott because at the time I was under contract to another series and wasn’t really available to audition. However, it was getting, I believe,down to the wire and they still hadn’t nailed down anyone for Goss. So casting directors Heike [Brandstatter] and Corren [Mayrs] suggested me to the producers and brought me in to audition.

“So it came up quite suddenly, and I didn’t know much about the show other than the ‘DNA’ of it, which was that Michael Edelstein and Jim Parriott were two of the executive producers and I was familiar with their work and reputation. I also knew that Ron Livingston [Chief Engineer Maddux Donner] was attached to the project, and I’m a huge fan of his work. I thought, ‘Well, all that’s a pretty good start.’

“When I went in to audition I hadn’t read the full script, only the two audition scenes, but I thought the writing was terrific and I really liked the character. He’s so different from most of the roles I play. Very often I’m cast as the nice guy, and Mike Goss isn’t especially worried about being a nice guy. He has an enormous mission to run and he’s not interested in making friends or having others think favorably of him. He’s a get-the-job-done-type of guy and that intrigued me. So I went in and had what I thought was a good audition, and Jim and Michael must have felt the same way because they said, ‘OK, get him. ‘ As it turned out, the other series I was working on didn’t get renewed, so I was able to come over to Defying Gravity and I couldn’t have been happier.”

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Airlie was around nine or ten years old when he began thinking about what he would like to do when he grew up. Acting was on the list, only not at the top. “I always had it in my mind that I was going to be a professional soccer player until I turned 30 – which when you’re 10 years old means you’re an old man and pretty much done as a player – and then immediately become an actor,” he recalls. “Both my parents loved the cinema and as a child they took me to films a lot. And as so many children sitting in a dark movie theater and looking up at the screen, it was magical and I wanted to be up there, too.

Mike Goss tries to work out a solution to a problem threatening the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Mike Goss tries to work out a solution to a problem threatening the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

“I kicked around on the edges of professional soccer and player semi-pro for a couple of years, but then I realized that I was a dime-a-dozen kind of central defender player and decided instead to pursue an education. I went on to get my undergraduate degree and a Masters in international relations and was accepted to Columbia University to begin a PhD. I was 26 or 27, and the summer before going to Columbia, I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to give acting a shot, otherwise 20 years or so from now I’m going to regret it.’

“I wrote to Columbia to ask for a year’s deferral, and then naively went out, got some headshots taken and wrote a very scholarly-sounding letter to all the agents in Toronto saying that I wanted to pursue acting. I had three meetings and two of the agencies offered to take me on. I chose one and the next day they sent me to audition for a beer commercial. I got the job as well as the next two I went out for. I thought, ‘This is a lark. It’s like falling off a horse,'” jokes the actor. “Of course, there were lean patches after that, but I got off to a pretty good start. My third job was a campaign for Cathay Pacific Airlines and I went to Hong Kong for a month and it was so much fun. From there I began to make contacts and found out who I should study with. So I took classes and then started to climb the ladder with bit parts, then small principle roles, followed by principle roles and worked my way up that way.”

No stranger to moviegoers and TV watchers, the actor has appeared in such feature films as The Freshman, Fear, Final Destination 2, Fantastic Four and the upcoming Dear Mr. Gacy. On TV, Airlie has appeared on dozens of series including The Commish, The X-Files, The 4400, DaVinci’s Inquest and Mysterious Ways.

The actor makes his Defying Gravity debut in the show’s first season opener. His character of Mike Goss is seen prepping the crew of the Antares for its mission. Audiences also see his involvement in a prior expedition to Mars where he ordered Maddux Donner and Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) to leave their fellow astronauts behind. This has led to a somewhat strained professional relationship between him and Donner, and in the first episode, both men have a heated verbal exchange, and later on, Goss is on the receiving end of Donner’s fist. All this proved immensely satisfying for Airlie to play.

“That first episode remains one of my favorites,” he says. “My character was involved quite heavily in it, and when we were filming it there was all this new energy. This project was new for everyone, and everyone wants to set the bar really high with their first episode, so I just remember everyone bringing their best work to the table. Not that that hasn’t continued since, but you can really feel it when everyone is on the same page and you’re not in the dog days of filming and the cast and crew are tired. The energy was just extraordinary, and also everyone was trying to find the tone of the show in a collaborative way, so it was fantastic.

Mike Goss at his post in Mission Control. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Mike Goss at his post in Mission Control. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

“I also had the opportunity to do a number of scenes with Ron in the series opener, more so than in later ones because his character is up in space and mine is back on Earth. The only other opportunity is in flashbacks, and Mike Goss tends to be slightly less involved in the flashbacks, so having those early scenes with Ron was a fantastic experience because he’s just gold to work with. The scene where Donner punches Goss was great to shoot, as was the one where my character chews Donner out after he jumps the British reporter. That’s one of my favorite scenes, and I remember thinking on the day we shot it, ‘Wow, I hope we got all that,’ because we did it at the end of the day and it was kind of a crushed and compressed scene. However, when I saw it in the final cut, I loved it. The way [director] David Straiton composed it and the way our camera guys shot it through some of the steel railings and from a lower angle worked so well. Everything that scene needed was there, so hats off to those guys.”

While Mike Goss may not worry if people like him or not, he still has to carry himself in a professional manner while on the Mission Control floor as well as maintain a certain rapport with those around him. “Mike is someone who is married to the space program – it comes before everything else, so friendships aren’t especially important to him or on the forefront of his mind,” explains Airlie. “That said, his relationship with Karen LeBlanc’s character of Eve Shaw has certainly warmed up a little bit. In the beginning, especially in the flashbacks, he is quite resentful of the fact that someone with no scientific or astronaut training or other serious professional credentials is assigned as sort of his equal. On some levels, Eve may have higher security access than Mike’s, or certainly as high as his, and I think it annoys him that he has to work with an individual who he doesn’t respect on a professional level.

“Mike’s other primary relationship is with Maddux Donner, and I’ve really enjoyed exploring that, especially in the flashbacks where we’ve tried to show that Mike isn’t a hard-ass for no reason. He doesn’t personally dislike Donner and, in fact, I’ve tried to make it clear that Mike does acknowledge that Donner is one of the best astronauts he’s ever worked with. It’s one of those things where when someone rubs you the wrong way, quite often it’s because of a characteristic you wish you had, or had more of, you know? With Mike and Donner, it’s the fact that Donner is a maverick, and Mike probably resents as well as envies that.

“So he may not ultimately respect Donner the way that he should, but Mike knows that Donner is as good, if not better, an astronaut than he was, and it’s probably that maverick sense and his ability to follow his gut that bothers Mike. My character won’t make the gut instinct call. He knows what the procedure is and what the book says you should do every step of the way. Mike won’t deviate from the book, and Donner will. So that’s been a real pleasure to play with Ron, and in a couple of scenes I’ve tried to make Goss push Donner to a couple of cliffs to try to get him to step over the line. Hopefully it will come across that my character isn’t doing that just to be a jerk, but rather that he’s testing Donner and trying to make him an even better astronaut.”

It is revealed in the first two episodes of Defying Gravity that there is a mysterious presence – referred to as “Beta” – that is the real guiding force behind the Antares mission. However, only Mike Goss, Eve Shaw, her husband Ted, who is in command of the Antares, and a few select others are aware of this. As the first season unfolds, this unseen force pushes events in a specific direction, and Mike has to roll with the punches.

Mike Goss and Eve Shaw (Karen LeBlanc) watch as events unfold onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Mike Goss and Eve Shaw (Karen LeBlanc) watch as events unfold onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

“What I’ve come to realize with Mike as we go along in these first 13 episodes is that he’s coming to grips with the fact that he’s a control freak, but he’s not going to be able to hold onto that control the way he always thought he could,” says Airlie. “He’s not going to be able to manage every moment of this mission the way he wants, but he’s never going to give up on the hope that he can. Early on, I think my character was a little more frustrated in his experiences, especially having to work with Eve and the role she plays in the mission. In some of the latter episodes, though, he’s been slightly more collaborative with her and more accepting of the fact that you simply cannot micromanage a project of this scope and size. So I’m trying to find those moments just to show added shades of this character and make him a little more accepting of that reality.”

Prior to Defying Gravity, Airlie appeared on Reaper. He played John Oliver, who, together with his wife (played by Allison Hossack) sold their son Sam’s (Bret Harrison) soul to the Devil in order to save John, who was gravely ill at the time. “I have a warm place in my heart for Reaper,” says the actor. “I truly loved my time on that show. When I originally asked my agent to pursue the role of John Oliver, the [script] specs on him were rather vague. He was more or less described as a 50-ish Dad who doesn’t quite get it.

“I had my first audition with the producers, who had several callbacks for the role, and they ended up casting me. When we shot the pilot, the very first scene is where Sam wakes up on his 21st birthday and his parents are having a conspiratorial argument of sorts at the bottom of the stairs. When they see Sam, John says to him, ‘Hey, Sam, you look great. I’ll be there in a minute.’ We rehearsed the scene, locked the cameras and the director, Kevin Smith, walked over to me at the last minute and said, ‘Dude, they told you about this guy, right?’ I said, ‘No, not really,’ and Kevin said, ‘I love what you’re doing, I really do, but I just thought I would give you one other thing to think about – Dad is probably not human.’ Then he turned to the crew and said, ‘OK, roll sound! Action!’

“So for me, that remained one of the challenges, certainly in the first season, where from an acting standpoint I was never really told what my character’s background was. I knew he sold his first-born son’s soul to the Devil, but it was never confirmed to me until literally the end of season one that he’d probably been here [on Earth] before. They also didn’t quite go so far as to tell me that Dad was going to be a demon. That was something [series creators/executive producers] Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters intended to delve into in year two, but for whatever reason, we didn’t get to do that. Again, that presented an acting challenge for me, but overall I absolutely loved my time on the show.”

In the first season Reaper finale Cancun, Sam and Mr. Oliver look to be headed for a one-way ticket to you-know-where when they are buried alive by a group of disgruntled demons. “Working on this episode and, in particular, the burial scene was much more enjoyable than I thought at first,” says Airlie. “I was slightly anxious going into that scene and wondered how we were going to do it right and not make it look chintzy, but the director and everyone involved walked me through it. The day before, they showed me the mixture of dirt and very soft peat moss they’d be using. And you can only rehearse something like that so much because it’s a big deal to dump that much dirt, then gather it back up and dump it again. We’d have to get by with maybe two takes at the most.

Mike Goss and Eve Shaw agree to disagree. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Mike Goss and Eve Shaw agree to disagree. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

“So they ran two cameras and Bret and I had a blast having dirt dumped on us. It was one of those scenes where half your job is done for you because you don’t have to act much. Dad had taken a large spade to the back of the head, so I’m supposed to be unconscious, and for Bret, his character was fighting to keep him and his Dad from being buried alive. I was pleased in the end when I saw the scene. It did look quite believable.”

Lucky for Sam, he is saved by two of his ex-neighbors-turned-demons, while Mrs. Oliver comes to her husband’s rescue and digs him up. Because Mr. Oliver is a demon he cannot die, and in Reaper‘s second season he reappears as a zombie. That allowed Airlie to reinvent his character, with a little help. “The make-up process was slightly daunting at first,” he says. “Initially, it took three-and-a-half hours, and in subsequent episodes, they refined the process and got it down to two-and-a-half hours and then an hour and a bit to remove it all.

“The other sort of big physical challenge with playing zombie Dad, certainly in the first couple of season two episodes, were the contacts that I had to wear. Once I popped them in, I couldn’t see where I was going. I could see lights, but not people or objects. So in those first two episodes I had to somewhat limit my movements, but after that, they left the pupil in my left eye clear so I could see where I was going.

“Acting-wise, the trickiest thing in season two was trying to find the right tone for Dad, and we kept receiving mixed notes about what that should be. You want your character to hang together and be coherent, and there was a lot of comedic opportunity with that particular storyline, but, unfortunately, I don’t think we got to explore all of it. Just the same, though, I had a ball playing a zombie. Reaper was a pleasure to be a part of and I was sad when I found out that it wouldn’t be continuing.”

In the summer network TV doldrums of inane reality series and reruns, Defying Gravity is a welcome oasis and one that Airlie hopes proves popular with viewers. “Jim Parriott has a fantastic, long-term story arc planned that you wouldn’t believe,” he enthuses. “I don’t want to give anything away, but what I was really impressed with and jazzed about was the pace at which things move along, especially after episode five. There’s always the danger that you can draw things out, like a mystery or a secret, and play on the patience of audiences, but Jim doesn’t do that. Wait until you see the second half of these first 13 episodes. Things just gallop along, and it doesn’t feel forced or too fast, either. It’s a fantastic story and I hope we get the chance to tell more of it.”

Steve Eramo

Defying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and OmniFilmProductions, in association with the BBC, Canada’s CTV and Germany’s ProSieben. As noted above, all photos by Kharen Hill or Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC , so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!