Posts Tagged ‘Ron Livingston’

Defying Gravity’s Stephen Geaghan – Future By Design

April 3, 2010

Defying Gravity's spaceship Antares in Earth orbit.

If you talk with someone about his or her work, it usually does not take long to figure out whether or not they like whatever it is they do. When it comes to Stephen Geaghan, he loves his job. Having earned two university degrees in theatrical scenic design, Geaghan spent several months last year working as production designer on the Canadian-made Science Fiction TV drama Defying Gravity. A fan of Sci-fi since childhood, he could not resist the chance to design the earthbound elements along with the deep space environment that the crew of the spaceship Antares would be living as well as working in.  

“I had done six years as principal designer on The Outer Limits, and in that time I’d become quite familiar with the idiom,” explains Geaghan, during an interview at the Defying Gravity offices last June. “I went on to do other Science Fiction shows, and then one day I got a phone call to come to Omni Films here in Vancouver to interview for Defying Gravity. I checked out the guys who wanted to see me [series creator/executive producer] Jim Parriott and [executive producer] Michael Edelstein, both of whom have pretty significant Hollywood TV credentials. They had sent me the [pilot] script, which was only a first draft, but it was excellent and a compelling as well as moving statement of intent.  

“So I went in for the interview and brought along my portfolio as well as [demo] reel, quite a bit of which features the Science Fiction work I did not only on The Outer Limits but also other shows like Babylon 5, Sliders and Jeremiah. I ended up getting the job on Defying Gravity, and I think I got it, not because of any particular confidence, but because I was just so darn enthusiastic,” says the production designer smiling. “I was like, ‘I want to do this! I want to work with you guys!’ You can’t ignore that kind of childlike enthusiasm for the genre, and lo and behold they gave me the job.”  

Production artwork depicting the Antares.

Another shot of the Antares.

A week after booking Defying Gravity, Geaghan was in his new office at Bridge Studios in Vancouver and raring to go. “After my initial meetings with Jim and Michael, I sat down to come up with a floor plan of the basic environments that would be necessary and how they would work,” he says. “We knew that the ship itself was going to be linear. The Antares started off as a mile in length, but when I began doing my calculations it was, on a human scale as well as TV scale, too big of an environment to comprehend.  

“So we cut it back to half-a-mile, and still, a human being on the surface looks like an ant compared to the size of the ship. It’s a gigantic ship with a sun shield on the front that measures 600 meters. Each compartment is a cylinder that is 28 feet wide and 50 feet long. We calculated the look of the ship on what we believed NASA could lift in the year 2030, given the Aries heavy lifters that they’re coming up with now. We advanced it though Aries A, B and C, and we figured that the diameter of the cylinder that they could lift would likely increase, say, a couple of feet every generation. So we decided that by 2050 [the decade in which Defying Gravity is set], they could lift a cylinder 48 to 50 feet long and 26 to 28 feet wide, and each component would be two levels. So the entire ship is constructed on that basis.  

“There are rotating arms on the outside of the Antares, and these cylinders, which are where the crew lives, are the gravity environments. In some areas of the ship there’s artificial gravity, and in other places there’s what’s called nano-teched gravity. In those areas, the suits worn by our characters pull to an arbitrary north or south, so it allows them to walk normally even though it’s a non-gravity environment. Organics will float, but anything that is engineered for the ship will have an arbitrary up or down.  

Crew cabin concept art.

Crew cabin concept art #2.

Crew quarters level production art.

Interior of crew quarters set.

Crew quarters/galley set.

“This was actually Jim Parriott’s idea, which I thought was terribly clever. He’s the creator of this entire world; all I do is interpret his visions. As I said, though, we started off with a very powerful, well thought out script that he produced, and that carried  on with the rest of the scripts. Jim’s overview of the show is spectacular. It encompasses a five- to six-year span, and, again, my job is to basically create the environments that elucidate what he has in mind, as well as keep the technology, not so much Science Fiction, but closer to Science Fact. And that’s been tough. We’ve had a lot of interaction with NASA as well as NASA technology and we try not to stray too far from that, even though we’re dealing with the discovery of other life forms in the show, which we have to in this genre.”  

Sitting in one of the chairs on the Antares flight deck, you cannot help but fiddle with the various controls and “play” astronaut. Connected to the flight deck is the ship’s observation deck, a retro-like domed area where the characters can enjoy a little downtime. Both these sets were among the most challenging for the production designer to come up with.  

“They were the last two sets we designed before going into production, and there were a lot of changes that occurred with them,” recalls Geaghan. “Originally, the observation deck was small, and Michael looked at it and said, ‘It has to be bigger.’ So that’s one instance where we departed from NASA technology. By that I mean eight-by-eight foot sheets of glass don’t work in the reality of space, but this was something that we had to do and say we could do in 2052.  

Welcome aboard the Antares' flight deck.

Another view of the flight deck.

A view out into space on the observation deck.

“That was difficult to justify, and also very difficult to engineer within that environment. These are large sheets of heavy, tempered glass that don’t move easily or well. So we had to redesign the set several times, including getting the panels at the proper angle so they reflected the floor and not one another or the crew, since the entire set is virtually 360 degrees of glass. There were sound problems, too, because this set is very ‘live’ inside; you get into the center and it forms a beautiful echo. So when shooting scenes we have to keep the actors out of the center of the set. There was also the fact that we had to incorporate both green screen and black [screens] – green screen when the actor walks in front of elements, and black when we’re showing a star field through the windows.  

“So this was the toughest set to actually get a handle on, and then at the last minute when we were building it in another section of the soundstage, it was determined that it had to connect to the flight deck. In retrospect, it was a terrific idea that, again, Jim Parriott came up with. He’s visualizing down the line how we’re going to use these sets, and we are in service to the script. When Jim looks at something and says, ‘Nah, we won’t be doing that, we’ll be doing this,’ you listen closely because it’s going to happen that way, and he doesn’t change his mind. Jim is extremely clear about what he needs and wants.”  

When the Antares and its crew departs for their six-year exploration of the solar system, their mission is being watched back home by the ISO (International Space Organization) and the men and women in charge of Mission Control. That locale was another one created under Geaghan’s watchful eye. “The Mission Control set had a really interesting development because when I first walked onto the set it was in its final days of being used for Stargate Atlantis and a bit of a dog’s breakfast,” notes the production designer. “I remembered vaguely what it looked like in [the feature film] Blade, but at this point, it didn’t look anything like that.  

The impressive ISO Mission Control set.

The candidates for the Antares' mission meet in Mission Control.

The men and women of Mission Control monitor every step of our heroes' mission.

“I went rummaging around for the original drawings, which were very difficult to locate, in order to find where the steelwork was. When we eventually got control of the stage, my construction coordinator, Henry Griffin-Beale, asked me what I wanted him to do, and I told him to gut the set and strip it all down. So we threw out everything – ceilings, walls, we took the floors right down to the concrete along with every piece of scenery that was attached to the steel – and then I knew what we were dealing with.  

“At that point we built a complete staircase, put in a conference room on the second floor, and added offices as well as a corridor where there were none. I also decided to use glass and open up the set up to make it much more transparent for cameras in order to create depth. We re-clad all the beams and pillars as well to give the set a more contemporary feel so it didn’t look like a turn of the century, or turn of the 20th century, industrial environment. We brought in new lighting and carpeted the floor as well as added acoustic materials in ways that look decorative, but are actually very functional and deaden sound because it’s an extremely ‘live’ environment. So all of this was a huge development and a very expensive set.”  

The production designer chuckles when asked about the bathrooms on the Antares set. “We have two working bathrooms in the crew quarters as well as one functional shower, and all these things are used in the show,” says Geaghan. “We see the characters going in and out of them. In one episode, the toilet gets plugged up and our lead actor, Ron Livingston, who plays Maddox Donner, has to unplug it. It’s a very intrinsic part of the episode, where he pulls out the seat, followed by the next piece, and reveals all these tubes, plugs and pressure chambers.  

“There was a great deal of research done to try to find out how a zero-G toilet works and we duplicated it rather closely, right down to the seat belts and stirrups. We literally detailed things right down to that level. I think we did a calculation of exactly how much toilet paper our characters would actually need to take with them on the ship for a six-year voyage. And it’s a lot of toilet paper,” jokes the production designer. “We even have a whole water recycling area as well that’s shown in one of the episodes.  

The Antares' water filtration system.

Major Tom's bar, the ISO team's favorite "watering hole."

Another shot of Major Tom's.

“We tend to be very thoughtful about how we come up with and design things for this show, and I think each and every person in this art department has a love of outer space. We’re all children of the 60s and 70s – I’m actually a child of the 50s, but we’ll leave that alone,” he says with a laugh. “I remember things like Sputnik and Telstar, so I grew up with space and Science Fiction, and when I got this show I was like, ‘I can do this. I can render this.’  

“The other thing is we’ve all been influenced by the classics. Everyone here has in the back of their minds that marvelous quality of design that was in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even though we don’t have a feature film budget here on Defying Gravity, we can get pretty darn close.”  

For Geaghan, working on Defying Gravity has been like being a kid in a candy store, and he has high praise for the creative people in his department who have helped bring this story to life.  

Paula Morales (Paula Garces) receives medical treatment in the ship's hyperbaric chamber.

The Antares' crew is enlightened as to the mysterious contents of one of the ship's pods.

Maddox Donner (Ron Livingston) tests out one of the EVA (extra-vehicular activity) suits.

“It’s an amazing crew,” he says. “There’s Suki Parker, our art director; John Gallagher, our principal illustrator, who has been with us right from the very beginning; Clyde Klotz, our secondary illustrator, who’s another talented man; Tim Joyce, our draftsman, and Krista Strofe, graphics. There’s also our set decorator Jonathan Lancaster and his crew, who have done a terrific job in maintaining the visual integrity and detail that this show needs and requires.  

“This band of little merry men and women come in here every day and bust their guts to give the program the visual reality that it has, and we all love doing it,” he enthuses.  

Steve Eramo  

All photos courtesy of and copyright of Stephen Geaghan, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!


Defying Gravity’s Laura Harris – Starry Eyed

October 21, 2009
Laura Harris as Zoe Barnes in Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

Laura Harris as Zoe Barnes in Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

For as long as she can remember, Zoe Barnes has always been the type of person who has identified a goal and then worked hard and done everything in her power to obtain it. She was determined to be one of eight astronauts selected for the Antares mission – a six-year journey to explore Venus as well as other planets orbiting Earth’s sun. Zoe succeeded in turning her dream into a reality, but in order to do so she had to abort her pregnancy, the result of a one-night stand with fellow astronaut and Antares crew member Maddox Donner. As the Antares travels deeper into space, this dark secret begins to weigh heavily on her mind, giving Defying Gravity‘s Laura Harris, who plays Zoe, the chance to deliver a multi-layered performance.

“Zoe is very confident in the way her life is going and what that path is going to look like, so much so that it verges on hubris,” explains Harris. “So what happens when you’re overconfident, crap happens, and that’s definitely the case with her, but in a way it’s good. By that I mean Zoe rediscovers her true confidence in order to get back on her path. What’s interesting about our show is that we see our characters in the past as well as present, so you have an idea of what’s going to happen with them. I like that because you don’t have to explain back story, but at the same time we as actors discover more and more about our characters as well as have more questions with each new script. That helps keep things fresh for us and the audience.

“One of the biggest challenges I had stepping into this role was getting into science mode. As soon as I got the job, I planned a trip to NASA [Goddard Space Center] in Maryland. A friend of mine who works there showed me around, which was awesome, especially from a day-to-day standpoint. There’s quite a bit of archive footage and stories about the dramatic and exciting part of space travel, but there are also the everyday jobs that have to be done. I got to meet with a lot of extraordinary scientists as well as engineers and one astronaut, who also happens to be my next-door neighbor and an engineer.

Zoe in ISO's (International Space Organization) Mission Control. Photo by Sergei Backlakov and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

Zoe in ISO's (International Space Organization) Mission Control. Photo by Sergei Backlakov and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

“So that helped get me in the right mindset. Zoe is a lot like Jodie Foster’s character in [the feature film] Contact, a strong woman who has her own ideas about her life, all of which revolve around the space program and geology. My character is done with Earth rocks. Zoe wants space rocks now, and that’s all she cares about,” jokes the actress.

In the first episode of Defying Gravity, Zoe and the other prospective candidates for the Antares mission undergo a series of grueling physical tests to determine who will be able to endure their outer space adventure. This includes a ride in the centrifugal force chair, an experience that left Harris a little shaken but none the worse for wear.

“They strapped me into the chair, started to shake it and me, and said, ‘It’ll be all right,’ and it was,” she recalls. “Thank God for YouTube because it’s totally changed the way an actor can prepare for a scene like this because you can actually see the effects of things like centrifugal force and nitrogen narcosis on the human body. There’s tons of footage showing pilots experiencing such things and what you’re supposed to do, including this little breathing exercise that sort of tenses up your whole body. So that’s what I did and I think the scene turned out good, especially considering the way it was shot, which was guerilla-style.”

At work in the Antares' lab. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

At work in the Antares' lab. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

From simulated events to practical ones, the Antares crew experiences firsthand what it is like to work as well as live in zero gravity and float among the stars. That required some wire work along with green screen work for the cast of Defying Gravity, something that was both fun and taken seriously by all those involved.

“You want to be able to show a person experiencing the cosmos when they’re actually in it,” says Harris. “It’s a very human thing to just look up at the sky and experience the cosmos, but to tangibly be in it, I don’t know, I just think it must be pretty miraculous. So you don’t want to milk it, and in a show like this it’s easy to overdo something like that, especially me. I’m someone who’s into experiencing nature in all its grandeur, and I’ll admit that over the years I’ve sometimes looked kind of goofy standing in front of a green screen trying to imagine what experiencing the cosmos would be like,” laughs the actress. “I’m hoping they edited any such moments out of Defying Gravity, but I tried my best to appear believable and sincere when imagining and reacting to such situations as Zoe. I feel like we have a responsibility to the audience, and that makes the work all the more challenging.”

During their five years of training leading up to the mission, Zoe and her fellow crewmates develop relationships of varying levels and dynamics with one another. In the present, those bonds become valuable lifelines as the astronauts learn to adapt to and interact with each other onboard the Antares.

Zoe and Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor) watch intently as a situation unfolds onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

Zoe and Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor) watch intently as a situation unfolds onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

“There is a great deal of growth with all our characters’ relationships, a lot of which isn’t what you might be expecting to see, and I think that’s pretty cool,” notes Harris. “Jen Crane [Christina Cox] and Zoe are best friends, whereas Zoe and Nadia Schilling [Florentine Lahme] have this sort of modern-day love triangle between them and Donner [Ron Livingston]. Neither woman, however, is outwardly jealous of one another. Zoe and Nadia have their own rules and ideas about how they run their lives, and Donner is something that they both share, which is rather interesting. As for Zoe and Donner, they’re connected in some way. I don’t think either of them is clued into why or how, but there’s a definite connection between them that’s beyond their control.

“I have to say that working with this cast is such a delight, and that’s true of every single person. I’ve had some really awesome scenes with Paula Garces [Paula Morales]. I love her character and everything that goes on with it. It’s amazing to watch her drop into character because she does it just like that,” says the actress, snapping her fingers. “For whatever magical reason, everyone has it in their heart when it comes to playing these roles, but there is also a major and very real transformation that takes place when we’re in front of the camera. And that’s something you don’t always see. It’s very much a wow-type moment of watching your castmate deliver his or her lines, and then stepping up to the plate and trying to match what it is that they’re giving you,” she enthuses.

A familiar face to TV watchers, Harris has guest-starred on numerous series including The X-Files, Stargate Atlantis and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation as well as had recurring or regular roles on 24, The Dead ZoneWoman’s Murder Club and Dead Like Me. In the latter, she played Daisy Adair, an actress from the 40’s who died but was then reborn as one of a group of “grim reapers” who collect the souls of others just before death and help them cross over to the other side. 

A contemplative moment for Zoe in the Antares' observation room. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

A contemplative moment for Zoe in the Antares' observation room. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of ABC/Fox TV Studios

“I loved doing Dead Like Me because I got to be girly, and the thing is, I don’t think I’m really a girly girl at all,” says the actress. “Daisy was so different from who I am, so it was a true acting adventure. And as a cast, we had so much ridiculous fun together. We had such raw creative energy and everything we did was full of love. The show was truly a gift and I’m so glad I had the chance to do it.”

For Harris, it is who she works with that makes her job so rewarding. “You can’t beat experiencing creative teamwork with really special, interesting people,” she muses. “I love people anyway, and acting makes you go to places that you might not necessarily want to. In the process, you end up loving and appreciating people even more, because things that may seem unapproachable as qualities in others, all of a sudden aren’t so unapproachable, do you know what  I mean? And that sort of realization makes anything in this world seem possible.”

Steve Eramo

Defying Gravity is produced by Fox TV 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 ABC TV and Fox TV Studios, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Defying Gravity’s Eyal Podell – Physician Heal Thy Self

August 30, 2009
Defying Gravity's Dr. Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell). Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC.

Defying Gravity's Dr. Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell). Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC.

On the surface, Dr. Evram Mintz appears ready to take his first step into the unknown. As a member of the International Space Organization (ISO), he participated in a five-year program in preparation for six-year mission onboard the spaceship Antares to explore the other planets in our solar system. However, like his fellow shipmates, Evram brings with him some emotional and psychological baggage that could compromise his ability to care for the physical and mental well-being of those around him. Facing his inner demons is not easy for Evram, but for the actor who plays him on Defying Gravity, Eyal Podell, it is part of discovering just who his character is.

“Evram is the Antares crew physician, psychiatrist, resident drunk and in many ways voice of reality,” says Podell, who is dressed in his character’s flight suit and waiting in his trailer to be called to set. “The greatest [acting] challenge with him came, I think, when my conception of the character changed. Once all the roles were cast and everyone came together, we realized that between Zahf [Paroo], who plays Ajay Sharma, Florentine [Lahme], who plays Nadia, and Peter Howitt [who plays Trevor Williams], we already had three or four different accents on the show.

“So [executive producers] Jim Parriott and Michael Edelstein said, ‘Let’s strip the accent away from your character.’ That immediately sent me right back to ground zero because I felt in many ways that one of Evram’s defining characteristics was his foreign personality [Israeli] and point of view. So having to kind of start from the ground up again was a bit of a challenge, and then in the first few scripts there wasn’t much character revelation or backstory with Evram. However, as episodes four, five, six, seven and eight came along, more and more of Evram’s history began coming through,” enthuses the actor, “so that allowed me to piece him together.

“In general, astronauts have to be terribly brave, visionary and optimistic people, and part of my challenge was figuring out what the hell was Evram doing here. That meant talking with Jim and Michael about exactly why he wanted to be part of this mission, other than the grandeur of being one of the first humans to travel to these other planets. There must have been something else behind it, and answering that question helped me form a clearer picture of my character. Evram has a dim view of humanity and he’s experienced the trauma of war. He has been involved in some of the big Middle Eastern conflicts that have taken place in the future, and those experiences obviously shaped his outlook on life as well as humankind.

Evram ponders what situation might unfold next onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Evram ponders what situation might unfold next onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“Maybe it was a subconscious choice of Evram’s to get on a spaceship and get as far away as possible from his own flaws, including his issues with alcohol and war. If he’s billions of miles away, he doesn’t have to be drafted, or read on the Internet or watch on the news the non-stop footage of bombings, killings and murders – the atrocities that man commits against man.”

Was it destiny that led Podell to his role on Defying Gravity? Ironically, when he was in 10th grade, the actor wrote a term paper about being a doctor. “Then, though, I realized I didn’t have the stomach to go to medical school and spend however long it would take with internships, residencies and all that other stuff,” he recalls.

“However, my parents raised me with the idea that an education is your ticket in life. One of the really important things they did for me was make sure I went to a good college [Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire] so that I would have the proper foundation and tools to pursue whatever [career] I wanted. So I actually came into this business thinking, ‘OK, I’ll try this for a little while and see what happens,’ but I soon found that it was almost like a drug. You get a little bit of the joy early on and become hooked. From there, I chipped away at it [acting] and built a resume role-by-role. Just a few years ago I booked my first regular job on a soap opera [The Young and the Restless] and landing Defying Gravity is my first big break.”

The pilot episode of Defying Gravity establishes that the story is told in present day (2052) and in space with the Antares crew – four men and four women – as well as in flashbacks where the astronauts first meet and start their mission training. Audiences also see that despite Evram Mintz’s rather dark and grim view of the human race, he has not scared away someone who truly cares about him.

Dr. Evram Mintz during training for the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Dr. Evram Mintz during training for the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“In the first episode we’re introduced to my character’s love interest, Dr. Claire Dereux, played by Maxine Roy, and it would appear that she and Evram have been in a relationship for a number of years,” notes Podell. “And it’s been interesting to find out through the flashback element of the show how they came to be in that relationship. It’s also a little strange because in the flashbacks we’re all just meeting as a crew, so we don’t quite know each other that well yet. However, in the present day, we’ve already been through five years of training, so what does that mean in terms of our relationships? Which of our strengths as well as weaknesses did we reveal to each other during training? What personal struggles have we seen one another experience? Have we been there for each other as shoulders to cry on? Have we picked one another up off the ground and said, ‘Come on, get back on the horse.’ Have we had fist-fights? Who knows?

“So there’s a while lot of history to be filled in. However, what we do sort of assume is that we’ve reached a point where we can look around at each other and say, ‘I trust you with my life.’ There’s a camaraderie among the crew. They’re a family, and they have to be because they’re going to be together for a very long time. That being said, even with your brothers and sisters, you feel like ‘killing them’ sometimes, which I think is a compelling aspect of our show, especially in that these people are essentially locked under one roof.”

Acting-wise, has it been difficult for Podell jockeying between flashbacks and present day? “It’s not so much the bouncing back and forth as to who we [the characters] are, but more how we relate to one another,” he says. “With relationships in general, you come into them being neutral. So as our characters come into the [training] program, they look at one another and think, ‘Oh, there’s a guy, and there’s a girl.’ The exceptions to that are those who have reputations, like Maddux Donner [Ron Livingston], Ted Shaw [Malik Yoba] and some of the other astronauts who have done some incredible things. However, the rest of these people look at each other and they don’t know one another from a hole in the wall, so they don’t have any preconceived notions.

“As the series begins to unfold, we see our characters in the flashbacks start to uncover pieces about each other. They then gather all this ‘evidence’ up and we sort of see how that affects their perception of one another. So the flashback elements are fascinating in that our characters are still trying to pull things out of each other and fill in the gaps. It’s a strange dynamic, and in some ways I feel like those scenes are much more fun to play when it comes to character development.”

Evram on-duty in the Antares' sickbay. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Evram on-duty in the Antares' sickbay. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

As far as a favorite Defying Gravity episode, one immediately comes to the actor’s mind. “Part of our characters’ training involves having to back each other up job-wise if necessary,” explains Podell. “So as a physician, Evram has to teach the other astronaut candidates something about medicine. So that was a fun episode where I really got to play doctor and ‘perform’ surgeries and things of that nature. As an actor, I’d never had to do scenes like that before involving medical jargon, special effects, blood and guts and cool equipment like you see on TV. Evram also gets to share some of his backstory with the other characters, which I was pleased about.

“Funnily enough, my wife went in for surgery not too long ago to have her appendix removed. I wanted to make her feel at ease, so I was trying to make light of the moment and asked the surgeons, ‘Do you want me to scrub up? I’ve had some experience.’ I started throwing words around that I’d used in the show and the doctors were looking at me as if to say, ‘Hey, you know your stuff.’ I had a photo taken on my cell phone of me on-set, which I showed to the surgeon and said, ‘See, I’ve been there.’ Meanwhile, my wife is rolling her eyes and saying, ‘He just plays a doctor on TV. Don’t let him near me,'” chuckles the actor.

While Sci-Fi drama is nothing new to TV, Podell is hoping that audiences look deeper into Defying Gravity and discover what makes it different. “Michael Edelstein and Jim Parriott refer to this as Science Fact, and I think that’s very interesting given that we’re right on the cusp of these [real world] advancements with the European Space Agency as well as China and a whole new space race that’s being launched,” muses the actor. “All these things are relevant because our show looks at what’s going to happen with the space program 30 or 40 years from now. Although the series is set in the future, it’s not so far ahead that you can’t comprehend it. I think audiences will be curious to see what our technology might be capable of and where humanity might be headed as far as working together to explore the universe.

“There is also the fact that the stakes with space travel are quite high from a very real perspective because our characters don’t have transporters or any of the typical Sci-Fi devices. For example, they’re still vulnerable to the affects of exposure to space on the human body. I think it’s in the pilot where Donner says something like, ‘When exposed to the vacuum of space, humans are like pinatas. We just explode, burst, freeze, die, etc.’ So it’s a fine line between life and death, which is always intriguing. And then there is the mystery element to our story, in that what are we going to find when we get out there in the universe.

Evram Mintz standing in one of the Antares corridors. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Evram Mintz standing in one of the Antares corridors. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“Jim and Michael have some really cool stuff planned when it comes to planting things along the way and piquing the audience’s interest to make people wonder what’s going to happen next.”

In addition to Defying Gravity, the actor’s other TV credits include CSI: NY, ER, The West Wing, House and Without A Trace as well as recurring roles on 24 and The Game. On the big screen, Podell made his debut playing Al Pacino’s son in The Insider, and has since appeared in such movies as Unconditional Love, Blowing Smoke and the independent feature Hard Scrambled. His fans perhaps best know him for his two-year stint on the aforementioned The Young and the Restless, as well as his multiple episode arc as Ryan Burnett in season seven of 24.

24 was a lot of fun,” says Podell. “It was great to be back on-set with Kurtwood Smith, who played my boss [Senator Blaine Mayer] in the show. He also played my boss in a little independent film we both worked on. Kurtwood tortured me in that, and here I was getting tortured by Kiefer Sutherland [Jack Bauer] in 24,” jokes the actor. “It was awesome getting to watch Kiefer at work. I’m always looking to learn from people who have been in this business longer than I have and have endured. Kiefer gave 150% of himself. he was the hardest working guy on-set and totally dedicated and committed to making the best product possible. Not one ounce of him was phoning it in, and I thought that was amazing.

“The response I received from people about my being in the show was terrific. The second they saw me on it, they started saying, ‘You’re going to die, right? He’s going to kill you. That’s what happens. If you’re with Jack Bauer, you’re dead.’ So that was tough having to keep my mouth shut about it for a few months. Of course, my character got tortured and then had his throat slit. I don’t know why, but I tend to get killed a lot on TV. Hopefully that won’t happen here,” he says laughing.

No matter where his career takes him, Podell will never forget something Gene Hackman said to him and a group of other actors during a break on the set of Behind Enemy Lines. “One day we were all sitting around – these young actors playing sailors and naval airmen – and nervously pretending to do something else other than stare at Gene Hackman while he was sitting there reading a book,” says the actor.

Evram monitors a situation while on-duty on the Antares flight deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Evram monitors a situation while on-duty on the Antares flight deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“Gene could sense that we were all hoping that he would say something, so he looked up and asked, ‘Do you guys still audition?’ It was a totally redundant question,which he knew, and we were all like, ‘Sure.’ And he said, ‘Man, I used to love to audition.’ At first I thought, ‘Why?’ and then it dawned on me that he got to be the success he is because there was nothing else he’d rather do than walk into a roomful of strangers and put on a ‘show’ for two minutes. It wasn’t about being in Yugoslavia and filming a multi-million dollar feature for Fox Studios. It was about the bare minimum of that moment in the audition room, and that for two minutes a day, a week, twice a week, whatever, you get to entertain people. Learning little lessons like that early on in my career is what continues to serve me well in this business.”

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, photos by Kharen Hill or Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Defying Gravity’s Florentine Lahme – In The Pilot’s Seat

August 26, 2009
Florentine Lahme as Nadia Schilling in Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Florentine Lahme as Nadia Schilling in Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Come on, be honest. There has been at least one birthday when you didn’t get exactly what you wanted. That was not the case, however, for German-born actress Florentine Lahme, who, on her last birthday, received what she calls a “very nice present” when auditioning for the role of Nadia Schilling on Defying Gravity.

“My first audition actually was on my birthday, and it was pretty exciting because it led to a callback for the role of Nadia,” says Lahme. “The second time around I did a video conference with the show’s producers, who were in Los Angeles and watching me in Germany. That was exciting, too, and a bit scary. I was doing a night shoot that evening for a film in Germany and my head was so full of lines and information that I couldn’t really concentrate on the audition. Fortunately, it was the same scene that I did for my first audition, so I did it once again. Then a month or two later I received a phone call asking me, ‘Would you like to come to Vancouver and join the series,’ and I told them, ‘Sure,” she says smiling.

“The funny thing is when I was a child, my Mom asked me, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and I said, ‘Maybe an astronaut.’ I don’t think I’d like to be one now in real life, but being one on TV is good.”

On Defying Gravity, Lahme portrays Nadia Schilling, an ace pilot who graduated at the top of her class at the International Space Organization (ISO). Highly intelligent and a striking beauty, she is not afraid to put her sex appeal or keen mathematical/scientific mind to good use, depending on what the situation requires. Nadia demands nothing less than perfection from herself and expects the same from her fellow astronauts onboard the Antares when they set off into outer space to explore Earth’s solar system. Jetting across the Atlantic, Lahme was anxious to step into Nadia’s shoes and begin work on the first of 13 season one episodes, but first she had to find her space legs as it were.

Nadia at the controls on the Antares flight deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Nadia at the controls on the Antares flight deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

“I always have huge problems with jet-lag,” admits the actress. “So I was still pretty jet-lagged my first day of work. However, beyond that, the first thing I was impressed with were the sets, which are very expensive. On top of that, and more importantly, I felt like I was in good hands because of everyone working on the show.

“We had a great deal of green screen work to do in the first episode, so we constantly had to imagine what was going on out there in space. I also had to get used to wearing a wig, which I wear during the flashbacks. In the first episode, I had a love scene with Ron Livingston [Maddux Donner], too. Its always difficult when you don’t know each other and have to do a love scene. I get sweaty palms just thinking about it,” she jokes. “So I don’t love doing love scenes, but I do love David Straiton, who directed this episode. I really enjoyed working with him and he made it fun and really easy for me.”

Although she is not afraid to speak her mind, Nadia does not wear her emotions on her sleeve, so it took the actress a little time to figure her out. “Nadia is a funny character,” notes Lahme. “When I first read the script I thought, ‘Is she really human, or maybe she’s a robot? I don’t know.’ Nadia is very much focused on her job. She’s quite ambitious as well as earnest and always wants to be number one.

“You don’t get the feeling that Nadia is a terribly emotional person. She’s on her own most of the time and isn’t really interested in getting too close to her coworkers, except for Donner, of course, because he’s her lover. But the thing is, she treats him like a sex toy or tool. I like to describe her as a combination of the Terminator and Barbie, because you cannot look into her at all. She’s pretty icy. However, as the episodes go on, you actually get some insight into her emotionally and I get to reveal her vulnerable side, which I was very pleased about.”

Antares Commander Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) and Nadia. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Antares Commander Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) and Nadia. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Given that she is on a six-year mission with seven other astronauts, Nadia does make the effort to behave in a professional and cordial fashion towards her colleagues. Unfortunately, she has difficulty doing so when it comes to dealing with one particular member of the crew. “I enjoy working with Dylan [Taylor], who plays Steve Wassenfelder. His character and Nadia have a special relationship – she can’t stand him,” chuckles the actress. “My character likes to complain to him, ‘You eat too much and behave like a 12-year-old boy.’

“She doesn’t understand why Wassenfelder has been chosen for this mission, and I love the scenes with the two of them because they always butt heads. That makes for an acting challenge because in real life I like Dylan, but on TV I have to dislike him. Whenever a scene makes me feel uncomfortable I think it’s great because, again, it provides me with an acting challenge.”

While her character may feel uncomfortable relating to her crewmates, Lahme has no such problems with her Defying Gravity castmates. “The last show I did in Germany [GSG 9, an action series about an elite team of crime fighters] had a large cast, too,” she says. “So I’m used to working with a lot of actors, and I think it’s terrific that we have such a variety of nationalities – the Latina, the Israeli, the Indian, the German – and everyone is so nice. Sometimes you have the problem where someone is very arrogant, but that’s not true here. Everyone is very friendly. If, for example, there’s a word in the script that I don’t understand and it’s not in my [German/English] dictionary, they’ll help me figure it out. So it truly is a pleasure working with them.”

A native of Berlin, Lahme was 16 years old when she began modeling part-time to earn some extra money to help pay for her studies in economics and Japanese at the University of Berlin. That eventually led to her being invited to audition for TV shows. “It was really by accident that I got into this business,” recalls the actress. “My first TV job was a German soap opera set in a hospital, and I played a nurse. I was familiar with working in front of a camera because of my modeling, but it still felt a bit weird. Very soon, though, I began to feel like it was ‘my thing,’ and suddenly I knew I had to do this for a living.”

Nadia during training for the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Nadia during training for the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Along with Defying Gravity, the actress recently appeared with David James Elliott and James Cromwell in the Sci-Fi miniseries Impact. She has also worked on a variety of made-for-TV movies and German TV series, among the latter is the aforementioned GSG 9. “In that show I did pretty much what Nadia does in Defying Gravity as far as looking at a screen and giving advice,” explains Lahme.

“My character [Petra Helmholtz] was the brains on this particular show, and oh, God, the technobabble and all the monologues. I remember one day I had three pages of monologue and we didn’t have time to rehearse. So I just did it and it worked. I’m a very lucky girl in that I have a photographic memory, so if I have to do tech-talk, and even if I don’t understand it, it doesn’t matter. I can just picture the words in my mind and say them. That’s a great gift for an actor.”

Feature film-wise, Lahme starred in one of the most successful German movies ever, the romantic comedy Keinohrhasen (Rabbit With Ears). Other big screen credits include Fire, Maximum and the horror thriller Metamorphosis starring Christopher Lambert (Highlander). “I loved Highlander and I fell in love with Duncan MacLeod [Christopher Lambert],” says Lahme. “When I was cast in Metamorphosis I thought, ‘Oh, boy, I get to work with Christopher Lambert.’ He is so cute and down-to-Earth. I really haven’t had bad luck in my career so far. I always end up working with great people, thank goodness.”

Like all actors, whatever the part, Lahme wants her character to come across as believable. If she can achieve that, then it is a good day’s work for her. “When I watch myself onscreen, if I can feel it [the moment], if I get goosebumps, then I find that truly satisfying,” says the actress. “What I also enjoy about this job is that you can be anyone you ever wanted to, but cannot be in real life. That’s why I enjoyed modeling. I don’t want to wear fancy dresses all the time, but just for one day to take some nice pictures. Otherwise, I like to be comfortable. What I’m wearing right now, it’s casual, and that’s me. So being any character you want in front of the camera and playing her convincingly are the biggest [acting] rewards for me.”

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, 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 Christina Cox – Scientific Method

August 14, 2009
Defying Gravity's Christina Cox as Jen Crane. Photo by Kharem Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Defying Gravity's Christina Cox as Jen Crane. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

It is far from an ordinary day onboard the spaceship Antares for Defying Gravity‘s biologist Jen Crane. Rather than running experiments on plant samples or reviewing the progress of frozen animal embryos, she is standing on the ship’s observation deck and helping deal with a life and death situation unfolding before her eyes. It is an emotional scene and one that actress Christina Cox, who plays Jen, is obviously relishing. Having fought aliens as Major Anne Teldy on Stargate Atlantis, chased demons as Vicki Nelson on Blood Ties, and hunted down Vin Diesel’s Riddick as mercenary soldier Eve Logan in The Chronicles of Riddick, blasting off into outer space seems the next logical step for Cox. However, while Defying Gravity may be set among the stars, it was the story’s more down-to-Earth elements that initially attracted her to the part.

“I’d heard about Fox Studio’s plan this year for different shows, including one being shot in Vancouver involving eight astronauts – four women and four men – and I thought, “Hmm, Vancouver, plus Sci-Fi or spatial, and Christina; perhaps there’s something there. What are the odds that I might be going into space?'” says a smiling Cox during a break in filming on the Defying Gravity set. “I asked my manager to keep an eye out for this show because I always like coming home and the idea really intrigued me, which is the exploration of human relationships n such an extreme situation and the types of personalities that wind up in these kinds of jobs. Obviously they’re going to be pretty extraordinary people, and yet human beings with flaws, issues, baggage, damage and all that, which we learn about as we go along.

Jen Crane in ISO's (International Space Organization) Mission Control prior to leaving on her mission of exploration. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Jen Crane in ISO's (International Space Organization) Mission Control prior to leaving on her mission of exploration. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

“When I eventually read the script I thought it was fantastic, and contrary to what some people are going to think when they see that we’re astronauts on a spaceship, it never read to me like a Sci-Fi show whatsoever. I’m often asked why do I do so much Sci-Fi, and I really don’t have an answer. It’s just a coincidence. It’s not like I look at a script and go, ‘Ah, ha, oh, no, it’s not Sci-Fi. Forget it.’ It just so happens that I’ve done a lot of Sci-Fi, but, again, this never read to me like a ‘space show.’ On the contrary, it read to me like a relationship drama with a light touch and a fair degree of humor and sensibility, and that’s something I was interested in exploring. I’ve had a great time doing straight Sci-Fi shows and firing 50 clips with my P90. I love that training and all that action, but I was really looking forward to getting my teeth into a character-driven show, and that, to me, is what this is.

“Probably more than anything else, Defying Gravity is about the alien within all of us and that we’re trying to get to know,” continues the actress. “We only learn to understand that [alien] self through experience, and this is such an extreme experience. Everyone’s issues are going to rise to the top and they’ll be forced to confront them. I think that’s what a situation like this does, and one of the issues that we’re dealing with right now [in the real world] as far as trying to plan long-term space missions, is what will something like that do to the human psyche? How will we cope if we’re out there longer than six months? On our show, these people are facing six years of isolation from their family, friends, social network, etc., and it’s going to have an effect on their psyches. Will they lose it? Will the ship come back empty with a bunch of blood smears on it? That’s not Science Fiction, that’s hardcore reality, and as human beings are we equipped to survive that?

“Acting-wise, I liked that the character of Jen that I’ve been give the opportunity to play has some real issues that are actually going to be confronted. Why is she so messed up? We’re going to find out, and I was really looking forward to playing someone a little more flawed, a little darker and a little more sympathetic. There are so many great characters on this show, and one of the things I enjoy about Jen is that she can be slightly less together than, say, Vicki [from Blood Ties] was. Although in truth, Vicki was not truly together at all. She was just better at putting on a front.”

Jen senses that something is not quite right onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Jen senses that something is not quite right onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

In Defying Gravity, the straight-talking yet compassionate biologist Jen Crane is part of a team of astronauts who, in the near future, are chosen for a six-year mission to explore Venus and other planets in our solar system. Although she had plenty of scientific credentials required for such a task, Jen still had to undergo an intensive physical and mental training program with the rest of the prospective Antares crewmembers. Like her TV counterpart, Cox did her own “training” before going in front of the cameras to play Jen.

“In my research for this series I was lucky enough to speak with the psychiatrist who is on the selection committee for the Canadian Space Program, and, in fact, had been my neighbor from the time I was around eight years old,” she notes. “His current job is helping pick candidates for the Canadian Space Program, and the thing is they really don’t know what the long-term effects of this kind of isolation might be. Their studies include profiling for the personality types best suited for the sort of mission that we’re seeing on our show. One of the big questions is will they be able to have social interaction among a small group of people for six months, a year, two years, six years? Also, are they media savvy Do they put on a good front? They have to be able to communicate with the public and be sympathetic to them because the space program relies so much on public funding.

“On our show we have two groups on the ship – the engineers and the scientists – and they have very different objectives in the way they process information and search for answers. As an actor, this is my first time being on the science side of things, which is the ‘what if?’ as opposed to, ‘OK, how do I handle this? How do I fix this? How do I contain it and make it function in a reasonable and tangible way?’ which is more the engineering side. I’ve played law enforcement types, lawyers, federal agents and other people who need solutions. They’re a little bit more linear in their thinking. They don’t want things to keep extrapolating beyond the realm of their knowledge, and the thing is, Jen is looking for evidence of life outside of Earth. It’s her belief that we’re not the only sentient beings in the universe, so she’s hoping to prove that. And in the process, she’s also trying to figure out if we as human beings can survive out of our [familiar] environment for extended periods of time.”

A bit of downtime for Jen in the Antares galley. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

A bit of downtime for Jen in the Antares galley. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

During the Antares training program, Jen befriends geologist Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), who, after a one-night stand with astronaut Maddux Donner (Ron Livingston), ends up pregnant. Meanwhile, Jen becomes romantically involved with astronaut Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba), but later falls in love with astronaut Rollie Crane (Ty Olsson). The couple marry two years before being assigned to the mission, but when Rollie and a second crewmember are subsequently grounded due to a medical condition, Donner and Shaw are ordered to replace them. Needless to say, all these prior relationships make for plenty of riveting space drama.

“It turns out that Jen’s primary relationship is not with her husband, but her best friend Zoe,” says Cox. “It’s an interesting journey personally because at the beginning of the series, Zoe and Jen meet during training, so their friendship is new, just like the friendship between me and Laura Harris. So it’s been evolving and developing story by story, and the more information that Laura and I get, and the more shared experiences our characters have, only helps further inform us when it comes to our performances.

“Jen believes that she’s going on this mission with her husband and her best friend, but by the end of our first episode, complications arise and now she is going to spend the next six years with her ex-boyfriend and her best friend, while her husband Rollie is back on Earth. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be trapped anywhere with an ex-boyfriend for six years,” chuckles the actress. “Can you imagine, your ex and six other folks onboard a spaceship. Never go on a cruise or get into any type of vehicle where you may be stuck somewhere for a long period of time with an ex. This is my advice. After all my years of life experience, that’s what I’ve come up with.

L-R (front row) - On the Antares observation deck: Maddox Donner, Zoe Barnes and Jen Crane; (back row) Dr. Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell) and Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme). Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

L-R (front row) - On the Antares observation deck: Maddox Donner, Zoe Barnes and Jen Crane; (back row) Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme) and Dr. Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell). Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

“With Ted and Jen, it depends on how long they were together and how difficult their break-up was. We’re still discovering as we go along on the series exactly what happened with them as well as Rollie and Jen. So it could get a little awkward up there in space, and maybe a little weird, too, but it’s all good. Again, there are human issues being dealt with in a heightened situation involving these characters, and there are secrets that they’re discovering. It’s like the Lost world. People describe this show as Grey’s Anatomy in space with a touch of Lost. I have to say that I like the idea of secrets in the story. It makes it more compelling and it’s definitely going to be quite a trip for audiences to follow. The secrets are causing our characters to reflect on their own issues and life experiences, which I think is fantastic. It’s done with a light touch as well, and I don’t mean in a shallow or insubstantial way, but rather not hitting you on the head.”

When asked about her work filming the first episode of Defying Gravity, one word immediately comes to Cox’s mind. “Terror,” she recalls. “It’s such a big show, and my first ensemble show, and everyone blew me away because they’re so flippin’ talented. You’re surrounded by this group of people, each of whom are very special and bring so many different things to the table, and suddenly you realize that you’re in a situation to create something quite special and interesting. The casting process for this program was a long one, but the result has been a particular type of alchemy that’s needed for a TV series to work.

“A studio can cast a movie by numbers, bring in blockbuster stars and then hope it works, but there are films where that’s been done and they fall flat because the chemistry isn’t there. Of course, I’d like Defying Gravity to be a huge hit and have a long and lovely life, but ultimately what I’ll get to take away from it is an extraordinary experience with an incredible group of actors. When we shot our first episode we could feel that alchemy coming together. When you see the work that everyone around you is doing, you want to match it and hope you are, but you don’t know. I don’t watch dailies. I can’t stand watching myself, so you have to trust your directors, and that if it [a scene] doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, so you have to figure out how to make it right.”

Jen suits up for a bit of space walk. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Jen suits up for a bit of space walk. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Unlike most new shows that film a pilot, which may or may not then be picked up by a network, Defying Gravity shot a 13-episode first season which is airing Sunday nights in the States on ABC. Cox’s previous series, Blood Ties, also had that same distinction, having made 26 episodes that then aired on the Lifetime Network. It is a rare creative situation that the actress is incredibly grateful for.

“This business is so up and down and I’m really fortunate to be able to do 13 episodes of something,” she says. “I’ve done a bunch of pilots and it can be heartbreaking. You grow attached to the people as well as the premise and the story that you want to tell, and then you sit on your butt for 10 months while the network decides whether or not they want to move forward with it. If they decide not to, then it’s back to the drawing board. So this [Defying Gravity] was like winning the lottery. Now that we have the 13 episodes, we’ll just have to wait and see where that takes us.”

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 and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC, 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!

Defying Gravity’s Ron Livingston – Reach For The Stars

August 7, 2009
Ron Livingston as Defying Gravity's Maddux Donner. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Ron Livingston as Defying Gravity's Maddux Donner. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

When he was growing up, Ron Livingston wanted, like many children, to one day become an astronaut. It has taken a while, but that dream has finally come true for him, albeit in a fictional way. The handsome and affable actor leads an international cast in the Canadian-made space drama Defying Gravity, which airs Sunday nights on ABC. As Chief Engineer Maddux Donner onboard the spaceship Antares, his character is one of eight astronauts (four men and four women) on a six-year mission to explore Earth’s solar system. Given the recent anniversary of man’s first landing on the Moon, this seems the ideal time for this type of story, and Livingston could not agree more.

“I can’t remember since I Dream of Jeannie the last time we had a TV show about astronauts,” says the actor, sitting in his trailer on the Vancouver studio lot where season one of Defying Gravity was filmed. “I think part of that is because it’s something that has always been too technically difficult to pull off. You can occasionally do it for a movie, like Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff, and HBO had that fantastic [miniseries] From Earth to the Moon, but it’s not usually done for long-format fictional storytelling. If it is, it’s typically in a Star Trek world or some version of that, and takes place on an advanced spaceship in the distant future and involves aliens.

Defying Gravity, to me, kind of harkens back to a lot of the Science Fiction I grew up with, including works by Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, where it was still about the exploration of space in its infancy. If the Sixties Apollo missions were the infancy of space travel, then this [program] is where toddlers go, do you see what I mean? This is in our own backyard. We grew up in school learning about the planets – this is Mercury and it takes so many days to go around the sun, and it rotates on this angle, and it’s composed of these substances, etc. We also have a history of associating the planets with gods – Mars, the God of War, Venus, the Goddess of Love, Mercury, the messenger, etc.

“So I thought this show was a great opportunity science-wise to go, OK, what will it be like to explore these planets with pretty much the technology we have today plus a couple of things that we’d need to get there in the next 30 or 40 years. And then on another level, to tell a bigger mythological story, but one that feels like an old one as opposed to something made up.”

In Mission Control, Donner tries to assess a situation unfolding onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

In Mission Control, Donner tries to assess a situation unfolding onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

A veteran astronaut, Maddux Donner is a man struggling with a demon from his past. He and fellow astronaut Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) were ordered to leave two fellow astronauts behind on Mars during a previous mission, and that decision continues to haunt him to this day. Much to Donner’s surprise, he and Ted are chosen to replace two Antares crewmembers who, in the eleventh hour, are diagnosed with a mysterious heart condition. After an altercation during a press conference, which leads to words between him and Mission Control Flight Control Director Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie), Donner prepares for a journey he will never forget. For Livingston, his first day on the Defying Gravity set is equally memorable.

“First of all, the sets are spectacular,” he notes. “Mission Control is not to be believed. It’s three levels and I don’t think quite as long as a football field, but it’s probably half of one, and it photographs beautifully. We did the press conference scenes the first day, and first days are always interesting because you’re getting your legs underneath it all and are sort of thrust into this world that until now you’ve only imagined. Suddenly you’re in it, and you have to try to make it look like you’ve been living in this world forever, so that always takes a little time.

“The other thing I remember from day one is that it was the first time we tried out some of the floating in zero-G moves, and it took us a couple of times to get it right. There was a combination of techniques that we used to try to make it look like our characters were floating, and it was a little trickier than we first thought. We knew it was going to be tough, though, and we knew that a number of Sci-Fi shows out there seems to balk at it. They go, yes, it’s space, but there is still gravity. Sometimes you have to do that, but in this case I think they [the producers] wanted to see the zero-G stuff and wanted to make it work. To me, it really helps make the show by giving it an added level of familiarity. We all have those images in our heads of astronauts floating in space. They’re really specific and connected to what we’ve seen from NASA, so it ties our world to this [fictional] one.”

In the opening episode of Defying Gravity, viewers are made privy to the ill-fated Mars mission involving Donner. There is also a surreal space-walk sequence involving him and another member of the Antares crew. Both scenes are among those that the actor especially enjoyed shooting. “It was very cool because we had to pull all sorts of elements together, including the EVA [extra-vehicular activity] suits along with wire-work and a lot of green screen,” recalls Livingston. “What was really fun was trying to do something that you’ve never quite experienced before and making it look like you have.”

Donner, Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) and Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris) onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Donner, Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) and Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris) onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

“On top of that, we were dealing with the various technical aspects. For example, if you have a strand of hair that falls or a tool that’s clipped onto your belt and moves, well, that’s gravity. Anything with a pendulum motion is a dead giveaway. So it was trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t work and how do we sell this to an audience. The lighting is different, too. On Earth, almost everything we look at is filtered through an atmosphere, so things are softer and shadows have almost sculptured edges to them. In space, however, there’s a great contrast. Something is either lit or it’s not, and that was kind of a challenge for our DOP [director of photography] and the lighting guys as far as if it’s not lit, then we can’t see it. Is it totally dark? How do we make it look like it does in space, but also in a way that we can still tell our stories?

“The entire process reminded me a little bit of working on [the 2001 miniseries] Band of Brothers where, on one hand,  you’re going to work and making a show, but on the other hand, it’s an opportunity to learn and explore.”

Has it been difficult for Livingston to get used to performing while wearing the EVA suits? “It’s definitely one of the more challenging things we do, but I guarantee you that our suits are not as cumbersome as the real thing,” he says with a smile. “So I always try to remember that and it has given me a new-found respect for people who wear them in real life.

“That said, they [the costume department] have done a fantastic job of building these things and have made the suits very wearable. Of course, there are small technical things that you have to deal with. For example, the suits need to be ventilated a little bit so you’re able to breathe in them, but if you do that, then you have sound issues because you hear the ventilation. So you have to turn the ventilation off in-between takes. The suits also have to be built in such a way that they can be cleaned. How do you build a spacesuit that’s machine-washable? Also, when you go to lunch you need to be able to get out of your suit and back into it relatively easily and quickly. So there’s all that stuff, but, again, they’ve really done a phenomenal job with everything.”

Maddux Donner, all suited up for action. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Maddux Donner, all suited up and ready for action. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

While most of us go our separate ways when we leave work for home every night, the Antares crew in Defying Gravity work and live with one another. Over six years, that type of arrangement could wear on your nerves. For Donner, it is even more complicated; he had a one-night stand during training with the ship’s geologist, Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), resulting in a pregnancy she kept secret, and he has also been involved in a long-term sex-only relationship with Antares pilot Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme). There is a third woman who Donner has feelings for as well. All this is grist for the dramatic mill, as Livingston explains.

“Without giving anything away, we tell this story simultaneously in what I call mission time [present day] and training time [flashbacks], which is five years in the past when this group of candidates started training for this mission. What’s great about how that works is that we’re seeing two stories at once. We’re seeing where these relationships have come to, how they’re unfolding, and where they’re going. We also get to go back and learn how these relationships began and what the backstory is. And what’s neat is that a great deal of the time, the backstory informs the present day story and vice versa.

“Donner has a history with not one but two of the women on the ship, so right away there are a couple of different triangles going on, and that just adds to the relationship drama on the show. Donner actually has three women in his life. He’s got Sharon who’s the ghost from his past; she’s one of the two people he lost on Mars. He’s got Nadia, the sort of fire-breathing fighter pilot who is definitely his match, but they’re both a little emotionally shut-off and enjoy a very physical/sexy type of relationship. Then there’s Zoe, the kind of girl next door who he fell in love with and who he can’t quite wrap his head around.

“So for both me and my character, the show is a lot about trying to juggle these three women and find a way through that [emotional] minefield. Most of the [real life] space missions we’re familiar with last anywhere from 12 to 14 days, and every once in a while someone went up to the Mir space station, or now the ISS, and hung out for a couple of months. On Defying Gravity, this is a six-year tour of duty. There’s no place to go, so there’s also an element of it being kind of a reality show from hell in that you’re stuck on a ship and you’d better like it, or at least be able to deal with it. I think a lot of the drama comes from that. There’s an old playwright adage that says the first thing you have to come up with is the reason why your characters can’t leave, and I think they’ve come up with a pretty good reason on this show.”

Donner and Zoe on the Antares observation deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

Donner and Zoe on the Antares observation deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC

At that moment there is a knock on the actor’s trailer door. He has to change into his flight suit in preparation to block the next scene. Walking back to set, Livingston is happy to share a bit about his own past, including how and why he became an actor.

“I had all types of different professions in mind,” he says, “but by the time I was actually old enough to get a real job, this is the one I wanted. However, as a kid, I don’t think I was ever under the impression that this is how I would be making a living. I started doing plays in high school and when it came time to stop, I didn’t and just kept going.”

Livingston’s credits include the feature films Office Space, The Cooler and The Time Traveler’s Wife as well as regular/recurring roles on such TV series as The Practice, Sex and the City, Standoff and the aforementioned Band of Brothers, in which he played Captain Lewis Nixon. “Band of Brothers was an incredible project to be a part of,” says the actor. “It was almost like being part of living history. I can really understand a lot of the modern-day war reenactors because I felt like that’s what we did; we basically reenacted World War II, only we got to do it on a really nice playground.”

Listening to the actor speak and watching him at work, there is no doubt that he is in the right profession. “Nobody comes into this business because they want [job] stability or they’re afraid of what might happen down the road,” says Livingston. “Everyone here is of like [creative] minds, and this cast and crew, in particular, are great guys. We have work to do, but it’s fun. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t do it because the days are just too long,” he laughs. “Believe me, we’re having a good time.”

Steve Eramo

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

Defying Gravity’s James Parriott And Michael Edelstein – Up, Up And Away

August 1, 2009

What do TV shows like The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Forever Knight, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty all have in common? If you said James Parriott, you are right. The veteran executive producer/writer has lent his considerable talents to these and countless other TV series over the years. In 2003, he and executive producer Michael Edelstein, whose credits include Hope and Faith and the hugely popular Desperate Housewives, worked together on the short-lived series Threat Matrix. More recently, they teamed up again to exec produce Defying Gravity, a Canadian-made space thriller that makes its Stateside premiere this Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on ABC.

Set in the not-so-distant future, Defying Gravity was inspired by Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets – a fictional docudrama produced by Impossible Pictures (the same creative minds behind Walking With Dinosaurs) for the BBC. It follows the crew of the spaceship Antares, an international team of eight astronauts (four woman and four men) who embark on a six-year mission to explore Venus as well as other planets in the solar system. Their journey is being monitored closely by Mission Control back on Earth, but only a handful of those involved are aware of the very real dangers and mystery surrounding this mission. Defying Gravity is not so much Sci-Fi as Sci-Fact and served up with a large helping of human drama, all of which is part of Parriott’s and Edelstein’s original blueprint for the series.

“Michael saw Voyage to the Planets on the Discovery Channel, and I then happened to see a rebroadcast on the Science Channel and thought, ‘This is extremely well-made and cool. There’s something here,'” recalls Parriott, who, along with Edelstein, took time out from their day to talk about Defying Gravity on the show’s Vancouver-based set. “In this business you’re always looking for a new arena for a drama. I mean, there are thousands of law shows and thousands of medical dramas, a lot of which are very, very good, but you’re always thinking, ‘What’s the next arena?’

“So after watching Voyage to the Planets I got really excited and, right after the [2007] holidays, I ran down the hall to Michael’s office – we were both working at Disney at the time – and said, ‘What do you think? If we throw in a little Grey’s Anatomy along with a little Lost, this could actually work.’ Because it has an international crew, it felt like an international show and, therefore, would have a broad appeal. It would appeal to Sci-Fi fans, but the drama part of it would appeal to those who have no interest in Sci-Fi. Michael and I looked at each other and said, ‘This could be the one that really works.'”

Ron Livingston (as Maddux Donner) and Malik Yoba (as Ted Shaw) in Defying Gravity. Photo copyright of ABC Television

Ron Livingston (as Maddux Donner) and Malik Yoba (as Ted Shaw) in Defying Gravity. Photo copyright of ABC Television

Continues Edelstein, “What appeals to me about working with Jim is that he’s all about the characters, and I just thought if someone was going to tackle this, give it to him. So Jim took this idea, put it to his brain and months later Defying Gravity came out of that. It was somewhat different from our early conversations, but I think it’s richer and more compelling, not to mention addictive. We’ve been very selective about who we’ve shown the pilot to. Recently, I had an older female friend from London visiting me and I didn’t think she was our demographic at all. However, she watched the pilot, got hooked and wanted to watch more and more late into the night. We’re hearing stories like this from everyone who has seen the pilot.

“To Jim’s credit and that of the other writers, they’ve come up with, once again, an addictive show. There’s just layer upon layer of mystery, and the amazing thing about the characters they’ve created is that you can go to any one of them for a story and you can fall into their world and find those multiple layers. So that’s been a thrill, and I get really excited when I read the scripts. I think the challenge, obviously, is to build a show of this complexity, and from day one Jim told me, ‘Michael, this is a space show. Space shows are incredibly hard to produce.'”

Says Parriott, “I started out doing The Bionic Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man and other Sci-Fi and complicated shows with [visual/special] effects. And I told Michael, ‘This isn’t a medical show. This isn’t Desperate Housewives. This is [outer] space we’re getting into. Aren’t you scared of getting into space, and on a budget?'”

Says Edelstein, “I came up here in early November [2008] and since then I’ve been back home less than ten days in seven months. Initially, Jim was going to be up here a week or two, maybe a month, and he’s been here at least three weeks a month, but it’s been a ton of fun. Vancouver is a beautiful city and it has a great film community. We’ve inherited a wonderful group of people to work with and are settling into a nice groove.”

Paula Garces (as Paula Morales) and Christina Cox (as Jen Crane) in Defying Gravity. Photo copyright of ABC Television

Paula Garces (as Paula Morales) and Christina Cox (as Jen Crane) in Defying Gravity. Photo copyright of ABC Television

Defying Gravity‘s international cast is led by Ron Livingston (Antares flight engineer Maddux Donner), Laura Harris (geologist Zoe Barnes), Malik Yoba (Antares commander Ted Shaw), Christina Cox (biologist Jen Crane), Florentine Lahme (pilot Nadia Schilling), Paula Garces (pilot, scientist and onboard documentary producer Paula Morales), Eyal Podell (psychiatrist and medical officer Evram Mintz) and Dylan Taylor (theoretical physicist Steve Wassenfelder).

Overseeing the entire operation back on Earth are Andrew Airlie (Mission Control Commander Mike Goss), Karen LeBlanc (scientist Eve Shaw), Zahf Paroo (flight engineer Ajay Sharma), Maxim Roy (flight surgeon Claire Dereux), Ty Olsson (capsule communicator a.k.a. cap comm Rollie Crane) and William Vaughn (assistant cap comm Arnel Poe). Episodic director Peter Howitt also plays BBC journalist Trevor Williams. In creating such a large and diverse group of characters, Parriott took a page out of his Gray’s Anatomy days. Once the onscreen players had been named, he and Edelstein then began casting the roles.

“We wanted to create characters who are sort of archetypes,” explains Parriott. “On Grey’s Anatomy you can point to those characters and say, ‘That’s the pretty one who was the model,’ or, ‘That’s the Asian girl who’s the hard-ass,’ or, ‘That’s the guy who is…,’ etc. You create characters who, at first, the audience might not necessarily identify with, but at least they know who they are. I tried to do that with Defying Gravity in order that the characters would be very specific, and even a little bit stereotypical at the start, so you’d think, ‘Oh, I recognize him, or her.’ As the series goes on, you then give your characters different dimensions and continue to expand upon all that as the viewers get to know them.”

Says Edelstein, “In terms of casting, we went through an exhaustive process. That really was a luxury, and I think it took us five months to cast the show. We cast out of Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and even Germany. Jim and I were up at five in the morning to audition actresses via teleconferencing and it was great. That’s when we found Florentine and she’s been fantastic. The funny thing is Jim and I have very different tastes in things, and we found that the right person for a part would be the one where we both overlapped. There are actors who Jim zeroed in on right away and it took me a while, and vice versa. It’s been terrific casting this series together because we both looked for different things, and I think I speak for Jim and myself when I say that we’re both thrilled with who we have on the show.”

Mission Control Commander Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie) and scientist Eve Shaw (Karen LeBlanc) watch intently back on Earth as the Antares mission unfolds before their eyes. Photo copyright of ABC Television

Mission Control Commander Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie) and scientist Eve Shaw (Karen LeBlanc) watch intently back on Earth as the Antares mission unfolds before their eyes. Photo copyright of ABC Television

As the actors were being auditioned and cast, the cosmetic elements of Defying Gravity, including sets and costumes, were also being designed and built. “We were fortunate to find some incredible department heads, including our production designer, Stephen Geaghan,” notes Parriott. “He has a tremendous amount of Sci-Fi experience and is also meticulous as well as wildly knowledgeable about [outer] space, and he brought his enthusiasm to the job. By the time we met, Stephen said we were already two weeks behind. We didn’t start construction on the sets until mid-October [2008] and we began shooting mid-January [2009]. So it was a Herculean effort, and there was a Christmas holiday right in the middle of it all as well.”

Continues Edelstein, “There was very little stage space in Vancouver when I initially came up and scouted around. This [a portion of Bridge Studios] was, I think, the only stage really available, so we took it. Unbeknownst to all of us, Stargate Atlantis has left this massive steel cage-type set behind. Lucky for us, Stephen had the good sense to say, ‘Hey, let’s keep this. We can strip it down and turn it into something else.’ So he built Mission Control around it, which was fantastic because on our budget I don’t believe we could have achieved the same results from scratch.

“We were also lucky to get Monique Prudhomme, our costume designer, who has a wonderful background in feature films. She received rave reviews for her last movie, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. We just thought that Monique had a great vision and she jumped headlong into research for the show. For example, with our EVA [extra-vehicular activity] suits, our white spacesuits, she looked at the new direction that MIT believes NASA will be going in next with their pressure suits. So Monique did some hardcore research and then she had to figure out how to make the suits ‘work.’ In real life they cost something like a million dollars apiece. Obviously we couldn’t do that, but Monique figured out a way to make something that looks great on-camera.

“Our whole idea going into prep was, ‘This needs to feel real and be believable.’ One of the things that Jim and I learned at NASA is that the space shuttle, which had its first launch, I believe, in 1981, was built using solid-state technology. It was technology from the late 60’s and 70’s. The thing is, NASA has a great deal of redundancy in their systems. Once they lock into something they don’t necessarily update as new technology comes along. The International Space Station is run by 46 computer chips, because when NASA first designed it, they knew peoples’ lives were at stake, and that meant its systems had to be very reliable. So early on, Jim figured out that if Defying Gravity is set in 2055, the technology would probably be from the late 2020’s to 2030.”

Says Parriott, “We looked out to 2020 and decided that that’s what we were going to do. Of course, everything on the show is from what we think will happen looking forward. I actually think some of our technology is behind 2020. It could be better in [the real world] 2020. In our case, though, what you see on-screen all depends on our budget and how much money we can put into the show.”

Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor) and Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme) on the Antares observation deck. Photo copyright of ABC Television

Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor) and Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme) on the Antares observation deck. Photo copyright of ABC Television

Adds Edelstein, “Budget-wise you don’t get all the money in one lump. We had to take our episodic budget and use it to chip away at [building] the sets. The sets that you see now were not that evolved when we began shooting. However, we’ve slowly been able to put it all together and, fortunately, the studio has been very supportive of our vision. That’s what’s made this whole thing possible. It’s a lot of hard work and people solving one problem at a time. Every day we’ve continuing to learn about the show. At the moment [late May] we’re shooting episodes 12 and 13 and we’re still learning things insofar as what we’d like to do in season two as well as ways to improve the show.”

Story-wise, the 13-part first season of Defying Gravity is divided between the present day, as the Antares travels towards Venus, and the past, with flashbacks to when the astronauts were in the gruelling selection and training process. Although the show’s characters are not aware of what lies ahead. Parriott has a definite plan for where this story is headed.

“Before we started filming, we had outlines for all 13 episodes,'” says the executive producer. “I’d basically arced out the entire season, which helped us a lot of terms of production and knowing what we needed to build. Beyond that, I wanted to do two things. One, in our ninth episode we have a major reveal, and it’s a cool one that catapults you into the next part of the season. Also, having started in Sci-Fi, I know Sci-Fi audiences are demanding and I wanted to be demanding of myself, which meant I needed to know where the series was going. I didn’t want to jump the shark; that was very important to me. So I know the ending to the show. I know season by season where it’s going and the big [story] beats along the way. That’s crucial for the Sci-Fi audience, in particular, and audiences in general.”

Continues Edelstein, “My time is valuable as is everyone else’s. There are only so many hours in the day to watch TV, and if someone wants to look at our series, then I feel extremely flattered that he or she wants to spend their time watching something that I’m a part of. You have to take that commitment to your audience seriously. It’s sort of a covenant that you make – you give us an hour of your time and we’re going to entertain you, we’re going to move you, and we’re going to keep your interest.”

Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell) and Nadina Schilling (front) along with Zoe Barnes and Jen Crane (back) sit through yet another training course. Photo copyright of ABC Television

Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell) and Nadina Schilling (front) along with Zoe Barnes and Jen Crane (back) sit through yet another training course. Photo copyright of ABC Television

Says Parriott, “It has to be a show that I want to watch, too. I think that’s also part of the criteria. If you’re making a program that you wouldn’t want to watch, then you’re kind of a cynic who’s just out for the buck. We started out in a very calculated, dare I say cynical place of, ‘OK, [outer] space, that will have a broad appeal.’ But then as you start to write it, you fall in love with it and your characters, and you become passionate about it. We’ve very passionate about this project now, and I think all the actors and the crew feel the same way.”

Adds Edelstein, “Episodes eight and nine changed everyone. After eight, everyone was like, ‘What happens next?’ And after nine it’s just been a mad sprint to the end of these first 13 episodes. It’s a very cool show and certainly not like anything else on TV. I feel the same way about Defying Gravity as I did about Desperate Housewives. When we first came out with Desperate Housewives there were no drama/comedies on the air and people didn’t know how to react to it. Some people said that men would never watch a show called Desperate Housewives and there were those who wanted to change the title. With Defying Gravity we’ve made a show that’s interesting and unique as well as compelling, and we’re hoping it finds an audience.”

Says Parriott, “I always say keep your eye on the ball. Make the shows as good as you can make them, and make the scripts as good as you can make them. That’s the joy of something like this. I find I’m the happiest when I’m in the cutting room or when I’m writing. The time just flies by because you’re doing what you love. The true reward is in the actual doing. And then in the larger sense, it’s in the relationships that you build making a show. These last two episodes have been bittersweet. It’s kind of sad and the cast as well as the crew are feeling it,too. They’re like, ‘Why does this have to end? Do we have to go home?’ It really has become a very happy family and one of the tightest-knit groups I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”

Steve Eramo

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