Grant Bowler and Stephanie Leonidas chat ‘Defiance’

One show were all excited about is ‘Defiance’ and having seen the pilot episode I for one cannot wait to see more. Recently scifipulse were invited to a phone...

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One show were all excited about is ‘Defiance’ and having seen the pilot episode I for one cannot wait to see more.

Recently scifipulse were invited to a phone conference with Grant Bowler and Stephanie Leonidas who play Jeb and Irisa, who are the two character that introduce viewers to the world of Defiance.

Below are some of the highlights from the chat.

SciFiPulse: Both your character also have the destination of being in the video game as well as in the television series. Can you maybe explain how that whole process differs from playing your roles in the TV show?

Stephanie Leonidas: Yes I guess for me it was just there were some shots after a scene from the green screen where they would take body images of the character and the way I’d move and stuff to use that in the game and also some voice ADR. I mean Irisa doesn’t talk too much so it was just kind of mumbles in the game.

But Grant did a lot more so I’ll let Grant continue.

Grant Bowler: Yes sure, I did a bunch of – I did end up being recorded in terms of general moves, you know, how I pick things up, how I put things down, how I walk, how I talk, that sort of thing in the game which is completely different than acting in front of a camera in the sense that what they’re doing is they’re building a library of your physicality so that they can then go away and they do your performance. That side of it was a bit fascinating to me.

But the one that I really enjoyed was the actual motion capture sessions doing cut scene stuff for the game which I did a few of. I did a number of scenes where we actually – they hired a couple of actors and we did the scenes for the game.

And what’s different there between motion capture and filming is that they have in a motion capture studio you were the funny scuba suit with glowy balls all over it which is the world’s most unattractive wardrobe you could ever put on.

Stephanie Leonidas: I was sad I didn’t get to do that.

Grant Bowler: You will; don’t worry, I’ll take the photo. And the studio itself has something like 400, 500 cameras surrounding the space that you’re working in so when you do a scene I’d say to them what’s your frame and they’d say oh we don’t know what the frame is, you act the scene and then we’ll create frames around what you’re doing.

And that was completely new to me. The idea of being able to have a complete and utter sandbox where you just do whatever performance comes into your mind and then they’ll punch in for a close up here, they’ll cut there, they’ll go into a two shot there and they’ll decide all of that after seeing what you do, is completely counter to the filmmaking process. So it’s exactly the opposite. And again a bit nerve-wracking and new because you actually don’t know how they’re going to cut it. You have no idea as an actor how it’s going to cut which is quite intimidating at times unless you trust them of course and then it’s incredibly freeing.

SFP: Have either of you had chance to play the game?

Stephanie Leonidas: I had a little go. I crashed into a wall and couldn’t reverse so I wasn’t very good. But I’m actually really excited to start playing. I got one of the games today so I’m definitely as soon as I get back to London go straight on.

Grant Bowler: I’m less productive as a human being than Steph. I have the game on PC, PlayStation and X Box. I played it the first time oh well before the beta at E3 last year and I’ve played it at every stage of development all the way through. I was on the alpha when it was testing and I was on the beta and I was on it in the prerelease a few hours before it actually launched. So I’ve been there since the thing was up and running.

SFP: How did you guys find acting with all the green screens and FX?

Grant Bowler: Well you know sometimes you have that experience anyway with people that are there.

Stephanie Leonidas: Thanks, Grant. Am I that bad?

Grant Bowler: You know, acting’s a process of – as a professional actor you don’t say to the other actor okay now you have to create a performance that I believe so that then I can just stand there and react to you. As an actor what you do is you believe the other person no matter what they say. If Stephanie’s there with a rubber forehead and a bunch of paint and a clown wig — sorry Steph…

Stephanie Leonidas: That’s a bit harsh.

Grant Bowler: It’s a bit harsh. But hey listen it’s nothing nowhere near as ugly as what’s on the other side.

Stephanie Leonidas: Very true, very true.

Grant Bowler: It’s my job to believe it, just go okay she’s an alien and vice versa with her, you know?

So the green screen stuff which I think is what you’re getting at, the key to green screen and this is where Gary Hutzel and his team have been phenomenal, is that it’s one thing to believe what’s in front of you it’s another thing when there’s nothing there to have something to believe in.

And those guys have been great. They’re exhaustive in they provide a storyboard. They generally do rough renders of the scene for us with 3D animation so that we have some idea what these things are going to look like, what the vista is going to be.

And then it’s a process of all of us getting together and going okay well there’s a tall tower, where’s that and someone sticks a tennis ball where the tall tower is, and where’s the nuclear, I don’t know, main nuclear power plant and where’s the park and where’s the horrid alien and how tall is the horrid alien and how fast it coming towards us. And then once we map all of that out then it’s kind of like being a kid again, you’re just playing make believe.

I find it kind of gorgeous as long as we’re all looking in the same direction. When you’re not looking in the same direction it gets very awkward very fast. Steph?

Stephanie Leonidas: Yes I agree. I mean the green screen were always the longest days to shoot. They were kind of the days you had to really kind of be with it before. But like Grant said we had the storyboard were incredible so it wasn’t like we didn’t have any idea what they were going to do with it afterwards.

And I guess I was kind of lucky I’ve done some green screen before Defiance which really helped so I didn’t feel like I’d been thrown completely into the deep end with it. But yes I feel yes we’re really lucky with all the storyboards and kind of everyone around that. It’s just yes given us a great idea of what it’s all going to look like in the end. I mean I guess they could do anything. They could put the Muppets in there for all we know but yes it was – they were long days but I think they’ll be worth it in the end definitely.

SFP: What attracted you both to ‘Defiance’ in the first place?

Stephanie Leonidas: I think the thing that first attracted me to the script was the fact that it wasn’t kind of just this apocalypse story with aliens kind of fighting each other. It was kind of a real human drama to the piece and it felt like there was real heart to it and the characters had stuff that people could relate to I guess even though they were these aliens with prosthetics on their head.

So I think that’s what really attracted me to it that there was real drama to it and those are always kind of my favorite scenes to play like those scenes with Grant in the car and stuff with Tommy and the other Irathients. There was some really nice stuff there so that’s what yes initially got me really into the script.

And yes so I think that’s what’s continued to kind of throughout the series maintain that and so of course Irisa loves getting her knives out and kind of – and all of that stuff but equally there’s a lot of layers to it which I love.

Grant Bowler: For me it was all the way from its inception. The first thing that attracted me was it’s funny because like I’m kind of very well known let’s just say amongst my representatives to not be terribly interested in receiving sci-fi scripts and the first time that the script went across my agent’s desk she didn’t send it to me because she thought I’d get angry at her.

But the casting agents asked me about a month later. They said why didn’t you respond to that script? We sent it to you deliberately because we thought you’d love it and I kind of double checked on it. Defiance is different than anything I’ve ever read and I guess that’s the key.

Ultimately as an actor and as a storyteller you’re looking for a story that hasn’t been told and 99 out of 100 pilots that you receive you’ve seen it before, 99 novels, 99 movies out of 100 you’re read or you’ve seen before and Defiance was a world that I hadn’t seen before. It was a genre that I hadn’t exactly seen before.

And the dynamics in terms of the characters, this kind of grizzled kind of scavenger and an alien adopted stepdaughter, all of these – the setup of the Capulets and the Montagues with the Tarrs and the McCawleys, with a Lady Macbeth-ness of Datak’s missus, you know, the Romeo and Juliet story. They’re fantastic dynamics that were set up right at the beginning and that was what kind of grabbed me was a world I hadn’t seen before, a story I hadn’t seen before and these incredibly kind of strong, epic Shakespearean dynamics.

SFP: It’ interesting that you say shakespearian given that a lot of people myself included have said it has a very western vibe to it. Would you agree with that characterization?

Grant Bowler: I think that’s a really easy thing to grab a hold of. I actually think it’s got a lot to do with the fact that I wear brown.

Stephanie Leonidas: The way you’re pulling it off.

Grant Bowler: It’s funny because I rolled with it for a little while and then I kind of went I’m bored of this. But it’s interesting, I think there are – people look for quick labels and sci-fi western is a really, really quick one line sound bite. It’s not really.

You could probably almost describe the social structure as western, the world is sci-fi and get away with that. But the themes of the show are Shakespearean the nature of the show is an immigrant drama. So that’s what I mean when I say I haven’t seen the story before. This genre hasn’t existed before. So you know, people are going to want to throw a name on it so they can communicate the idea of it but yes probably in two to five years time they’ll be going it’s a cross between Defiance and Flashdance and stuff like that.

SFP: Could you talk about some of the acting challenges you both faced in taking on these roles, and perhaps tell us what sticks out in your minds about shooting the pilot episode?

Stephanie Leonidas: Well, well challenges I guess I have a lot of plastic on my face. Yes I am half in prosthetics to that was kind of the first challenge for me I guess. I’ve never had a prosthetic like that at all so yes that was the first hurdle I guess.

In shooting the first episode I think it was we were thrown completely into the deep end. I mean it was the – the first scene of the day was this scene where Nolan and I are arguing and it’s quite an emotional scene and the weather was against it. It was freezing cold, it started to snow, it felt like a big mess actually. So yes it was kind of – I remember just looking at Kevin Murphy going oh my God, oh my God.

So yes it was – yes we’re really thrown into the deep end. But I’m kind of thankful of that really because yes it made everything feel a little easier as we went along. So yes we were in the middle of quarry, it was kind of out in Oxbridge in Toronto so yes it was yes quite an epic first day. But yes a good challenge.

Grant Bowler: I second that. The fact that they were so exacting on our wardrobe and the wardrobe design is just stunning on Defiance, but the results of all of these arguments and conversations in creating this wardrobe meant that our gear and my jacket and I’m certain Stephanie’s stuff were like finished being made in Toronto at about 5 o’clock a.m. the morning we were shooting. We were on a 5 a.m. call so we were through makeup, dress and rehearsing before the wardrobe arrived. And as a result of that nobody thought about the sudden shift in the weather overnight.

So there’s a whole sequence of stuff where Steph and I are meant to be cold and miserable in the Badlands, especially the stuff where we’re running from the spirit riders and have a little confrontation with the crazy alien timber wolves and there was no acting in any of those scenes. We didn’t actually – it was we were soaking wet and it was snowing so we were freezing to death.

And that was kind of good. Steph talks about the madness of it and that’s absolutely right. But it’s going to be mad. You’re jumping into a new world all of a sudden and its’ going to be nuts.

In terms of acting challenges for me it’s really – you’re playing a role that is an archetype. The antihero is an archetype now and there’s been so many great ones. So for me the whole challenge is if you look updating and rebooting an archetype and trying to figure out, A, what new can be done, how can I tell this story of this archetype in a different way that I haven’t seen before that I’d love to watch.

And also the other aspect of updating is what’s changed, you know, like you look at say an archetype of Dirty Harry. Now that character then everything Harry does is incredibly shocking and there were whole articles and theses written about Harry Callahan in psychology. But if you look at Harry Callahan today and measure him against Denzel Washington’s character in Man on Fire, Callahan’s tame because society’s changed, social mores have changed.

So every time we reinvent a story, every time we reinvent an archetype, it’s interesting to look at okay what’s different, how do I update this archetype, this character to move into 2013 and hopefully hold for as long as possible so that it stays relevant and doesn’t date. That would be mine.

SFP: Could you both also talk about how your characters relationships develop in the series?

Grant Bowler: The relationship, well you know, like Stephanie said our very first scene that we shot when we started to shoot the pilot was a falling out. It’s a scene in front a roller in the Badlands where she sang I want to get out of here. It’s been in every teaser of the show. And I say this is different, this time we’ve really got to stay.

And that scene has 15 years of shared history and choosing each other over everything and a father/daughter relationship to it. And of course we’d met 12 days earlier and had some light conversations over tea about what we’re going to do.

As the season goes along our relationship gets better. Our trust in each other is as actors develops and we start to see more clearly what works in the dynamics between the two characters and that feeds back through the directors and the producers to the writer’s coach. And they start filling in the blanks for us and start to write to the dynamics of what is going on.

So the beauty of that Nolan and Irisa relationship for me is it’s the heart of both characters. You take each of those characters and deprive them of that relationship and they lose a dimension. It really is the beating heart and soul of each of them and it’s also the coolest father/daughter dynamic I think is around that’s I’ve seen.

They’re kind of two people that if they were quasi related they probably she’d stab him, he’d shoot her, they’d both be dead in the street and you’d wonder why.

Stephanie Leonidas: Yes that’s so true.

Grant Bowler: So I kind of love that that there’s always that element of like there’s a bit of danger between them. Neither of them are shy about pulling a gun, a knife or putting their hands up.

Stephanie Leonidas: It’s just their way.

Grant Bowler: Yes so that would be my take. Steph?

Stephanie Leonidas: Yes no that was well said. I completely agree with Grant. I mean they like their line is they live or die together and that kind of sums them up. I mean they really would. And also they couldn’t live with each other. Like Grant said I don’t think they know what to do with themselves. It’s literally like they they’re sort of part of one. I mean they’re just fiercely, fiercely loyal towards each other and would do anything and yes I mean, but yes.

Also it’s kind of this typical father/daughter relationship as well. It’s kind of like you would see with any human daughter. They have their kind of ups and downs and Nolan has to kind of watch this young girl from sort of ten years old grow up and start developing into a woman and kind of that’s scary for any father. And also for Irisa kind of being this alien as well she’s got all that other stuff going on and it’s kind of – yes it’s double whammy for Nolan.

So yes it’s a beautiful relationship but it has its complete rocky moments. And these two carry weapons so it’s never going to be that easy. But yes like Grant was saying, I don’t know anything else out there that that’s kind of father/daughter relationship at the moment either and I think yes it’s such sort of an amazing thing that Kevin’s created there.

SFP: You both have a lot of scenes together with you both being pretty much our introduction to the world of Defiance. Could you talk a little about how the chemistry between you developed. Was it an instant chemistry or did you have to work at it?

Stephanie Leonidas: We hate each other. We’re in separate rooms right now.

Grant Bowler: Chemistry would be very awkward. Chemistry I think is illegal between us two in 49 states of the United States of America. I don’t want to mention the other two states where it’s not.

It’s funny, look I don’t know whether Steph – I’m not quite sure whether we had that dynamic when we met or it’s just come about. It’s very, very good casting. I mean I’m a dad and I’ve got a daughter and Steph for whatever reason I feel very protective about and I’m not sure whether it’s acting like her father for a long time. But when she does the relationship stuff with Dewshane I actually do want to inflict bodily harm on Dewshane. It’s not a character thing. I want to hurt him.

And it’s just been something that’s come about. And it’s lovely because like she’s rottenly hopeless, she won’t look after herself and she doesn’t take care of herself and she doesn’t eat right and she doesn’t do anything to take care of herself as well as I’d like so I’m always ragging her up and making her sit down and telling her what to do and I boss her. And she’s gorgeous, she listens to everything very, very…

Stephanie Leonidas: That’s me eating the orange crisps that I’m munching on all day.

Grant Bowler: And stop all eating all the Doritos and turn orange for real. I’ve never seen – by the way I’ve never seen an actor in my life eat as much junk from craft services and stay as skinny as whip. It’s ridiculous.

Stephanie Leonidas: It’s the worms, it’s the worms.

Grant Bowler: So yes we’ve just fallen into this and it’s impossible to get out of now. Like I actually will boss her by e-mail.

Stephanie Leonidas: He does.

Grant Bowler: And she’ll e-mail me whenever we’re doing something new and go oh my God, we’re going to do this, is it all right or what’s going happen, are we going to be okay. It’s just the way we roll now. I think I’m stuck with her.

Stephanie Leonidas: Grant summed it up perfectly. It’s yes I think right from the start we were just so lucky. I mean yes I remember the very first day and we were kind of thrown into the- it wasn’t a Dodge Charger at first – it was that small buggy.

Grant Bowler: It was the roller.

Stephanie Leonidas: The roller. Grant had to drive us right to the end of a cliff basically and from that moment he literally had to stop about a meter before the edge and I just remember thinking okay well I’ve got to trust this guy. And yes it was – from there we just had a laugh, we really did. And I think that shows in scenes like the Johnny Cash scene so yes.

Grant Bowler: Well we’ve always been scared and challenged together too. You know, we shot the first day together of the show. We had to bloody sing on camera together which was terrifying.

Steph’s right, I’ve driven over the cliff a number of times. And we’ve had to. We’ve just had to kind of put our faith in one another and march forward and hope.

Stephanie Leonidas: Yes definitely.

SFP: Did either of you bring something to your characters that wasn’t in the script?

Stephanie Leonidas: I think with the Irathients I know who plays – (Sucar) was very good with this, just kind of creating some of their kind of more tribal elements and kind of that kind of history for them. And yes he I mean he was brilliant at taking that and kind of running with it. And the rest of us Irathients just kind of fell into it and it felt so right.

And so I think that along kind – also some of the more animal instincts of Irisa. She’s very kind of wolf-like and those kind of moments have come out sometimes as well as – she’s been brought up by Nolan who’s a human so she’s got – that’s what she knows but then deep down there’s this kind of Irathient beast under there, this feral creature so that was kind of interesting discovering those parts of Irisa through the series.

Grant Bowler: For me the only thing I brought to Nolan was my emotional immaturity which I’m determined to capitalize on as long as I can. I guess I don’t know, that’s a hard question.

I kind of came on board Defiance before Kevin had written the script so I don’t know what’s me and what’s Kevin. I don’t think either of us know what’s me and what’s Kevin writing for me or Kevin writing or what Kevin had in mind before. We kind of – it’s actually funny.

It’s the most beautiful relationship I’ve ever had with a show runner and I think it’s because we have never sat down and dissected where the creation lies and I think we’re going to get long beautifully as long as we never do.

SFP: If you had just one word to describe with. What would it be?

Grant Bowler: Stephanie?

Stephanie Leonidas: Well, my one word would be thorough. I think that sums the rest of it. Yes, and why? I guess of the Irathients, some of the Irathients also and they’re — you never know how they’re going to react and they’re creatures of the land. They’re kind of yes, fierce kind of creatures but at the same time she’d bought up by Nolan. So he’s – he’s grounded her in a very kind of different way and so I don’t know if grounded is actually a good word for Irisa but thorough, there’s my word.

Grant Bowler: Nice word. I’m going to call you thorough from now on. And now I have an excuse. For me friendly enough it would be defiant and it’s always been a little ironic to me.

He’s, you know, the character’s meant to be one of the defiant few who – who the town and every other thing on the face of the planet apparently is named after.

And, you know, he begins the series by, you know, defying vast and stealing the gym. And we defy the spirit riders and handing it over then we wander into Defiance and defy their laws.

And he gets – he defies the earth republic, basically if you’ve got authority, thank you, that gives him something to defy. And that’s just the character. He’s – he is so miss trustful of – of authority and social structures that he’s just looking for something to oppose, if you like and absolutely determined to be self-determining.

Grant Bowler: It goes against the town. It goes against the mayor. He has a sense of right and wrong. It’s cut and dried and black and white and it’s one of those things I like about him the most. And he — yes, he just went shift from his own true north.

SFP: Now Defiance has a number of languages created by David J. Peterson who we had interviewed a couple months ago. How much of the alien languages do your characters ever have to speak and was it a challenge to do so?

Stephanie Leonidas: Yes, I mean quite – quite a lot really. I — most of my Irathient staff was obviously with the other Irathients but Irisa suddenly kind of finds her tongue with it once she gets into (Jes) with (Sucar) and some other Irathient through the series.

When she’s with Nolan obviously, you know, she hasn’t been brought up speaking Irathient. She’s been brought in and they’ve have left her roots behind really.

But yes once she starts speaking with them I think that’s when she starts, you know, kind of feeding to who she is again and kind of figuring out her – her past and who she is.

But I’m — yes learning the language is incredible and I feel like it’s become my second world. It will become my second language. So yes, it’s – yes, it was pretty amazing.

SFP: So you had the double challenge, you didn’t just learn alien language you had to learn it with a bad accent.

Stephanie Leonidas: Yes, exactly.

Grant Bowler: Well, post-Stephanie – Steph as you know she’s speaking of accent she’s already, you know, working in dialect when she works as American and then doing the alien on top is a double whammy.

For me I didn’t — see Stephanie has the problem of having to speak something like a natural and David’s amazing by the way. We have to give an in- a shout out to David.

You know, he had to clear the language with Game of Thrones and he did it beautifully and then we came along and said seven. We have seven and they all need to be different. And so far he’s fully created four I think and has two partial and we’re working on the last.

That’s an incredible effort for anybody especially for seven existed in the same world. Because you have to differentiate them from each other, so David is just one out of the box. We love him.

For me my character has to speak all of them which sucks, that was a surprise to me. I didn’t think about that when I took the job on. I just knew I does the prosthetics and the wigs and makeup. I thought I was really, really clever.

But Nolan and Amanda, you know, those characters seem to have a rudimentary grasp of all of them. What I did right away as soon as I got David’s first MP3 scripts was to say my character speaks them all badly.

I kind of built it into character that like he just threw that kind of natural yes whatever I’m not going to, you know, cater to you. He doesn’t really bother getting too right like, you know, in terms of, you know, you want to speak polite French in Paris.

Nolan’s the kind of guy who go in and go, you know, you know, “Un ne cafe, por favor, pena.” You know, that’s just the guy he is and he’ll probably do it deliberately just to see if they’re going to bite, you know.

Stephanie Leonidas: So true.

Grant Bowler: So for me it’s all of them but badly. Since Steph fits one but beautifully and she does sometimes entire scenes where every character in the scene is speaking Irathient and they’re beautiful things to watch.

Stephanie Leonidas: They were an advantage, yes. Although I remember you having chunks of dial- I remember at the very beginning I didn’t have very much Irathient. And I remember looking at the script and going, “Ah ha, Grant, you got all this stuff.”

Grant Bowler: Yes, you were dancing around.

Stephanie Leonidas: I was like, “Look at you and all this stuff.”

Grant Bowler: Yes, you were dancing around earlier.

Stephanie Leonidas: And then suddenly as the episode turned on I was like, “I can’t go for dinner tonight guys, I’ve got to learn the voice of Irathient.” So yes.

Grant Bowler: Karma baby.

‘Defiance’ premiers in the USA tonight on Syfy Channel as part of Syfy Monday’s and tomorrow evening on the UK Syfy Channel at 9PM.

Ian Cullen is the founder of scifipulse.net and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth.

In the past few years he has written for ‘Star Trek’ Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: www.scifipulseradio.com

When he is not writing for scifipulse.net Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics.

Ian is both the founder and owner of scifipulse.net

You can contact ian at: [email protected]

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