Sci-Fi Storm

Defiance: A talk with Grant Bowler and Stephanie Leonidas, and a funny commercial

by on Apr.14, 2013, under Television

One day to Arkfall!

Stars Grant Bowler and Stephanie Leonidas took the time to speak with the press to answer some more questions ahead of the debut of the show. Catch what they had to say. Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow night at 9/8c on Syfy for the two hour premiere!

And scroll all the way to the end to see the funny mock commercial by star and “teen sensation” Jesse Rath done for Spanish-language network mun2, advertising a “learn Castithan” book and CD set…what’s funny is I think David J. Peterson, who created the language, could probably make a learning series that big…


You’re both obviously are in the game, can you kind of talk about that whole process and how it’s obviously different from acting for television?

Stephanie: 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.

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

Grant: 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.

At least you don’t have to do take after take if that got that many cameras, right?

Grant: That’s right, no it’s only a few takes. And when you’re happy they’re happy and they go away and they make up the scene.

Have you two played it or are you going to play it?

Stephanie: 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:I’m less productive as a human being than Steph. I have the game on PC, PlayStation and X Box, and yes I’ve been playing it. 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.

Special effects – what’s it like for you both to kind of act to things that aren’t there?

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

Stephanie: Thanks, Grant. Am I that bad?

Grant: 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…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: 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.

What attracted each of you most to the project in the first place and did that change as production continued?

Stephanie: 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: 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.

Was there instant chemistry when the two of you began working together? Did you have to go take a little time to bond first?

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

Grant : Chemistry would be very awkward. Chemistry I think is illegal between us to 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 [Williams, who plays Tommy] 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: That’s me eating the orange crisps that I’m munching on all day.

Grant: 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. 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: He does.

Grant: 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: Yes I mean 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. 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.

If you had to explain your characters in one word what word would it be and why?

Stephanie: 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: Nice word. I’m going to call you thorough from now on. And now I have an excuse. For me 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…We wander into Defiance and defy their laws.

Defiance has a number of languages created by David J. Peterson who I had a chance to interview 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: 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.

Grant: 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.

And 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.

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.

Does it help having such like an immersive set?

Grant: Absolutely, look the back lot is another stroke of genius. We shoot pretty much — and remember we shot Defiance in a seven-day turnaround, seven main shoot days with maybe one or two second-unit days.

So as on the scale of this thing is amazing for a turnaround. We shoot about 1/3 green screen, 1/3 location and 1/3 back lot is it’s like a seesaw. The back lot completely grounds the green screen. The green screen gives us our size and our scale and our scope and we absolutely need that.

But the fact that Syfy went ahead and built the town for us what that allows us is the town’s real and it’s eminently real and we shoot, you know, our sets inside out. So you can start in the cell in the low keeper’s office in one shot.

You know, look through the low keeper’s office out into the street then across into the main ones, so we get to ground the show. Not only for us as actors but for the audience we get to ground it. It’s real, you see the people walking pass out front.

You see aliens wondering down the street while you’re in Doc Yewll’s office and that’s – that kind of is a beautiful counterpoint on a production level to what we’re trying to do with a visual effects.

As an actor yes it’s fantastic. I sit on the porch of the low keeper’s office and glare at people all day. I call it character building.

Stephanie : And also there are market stores that they’ve set up and down to the finest details like…

Grant: I’ve had to stop Stephanie from shopping at them.

Stephanie: I do. I think that was one of the best – that was one of the best things I said to Grant. I think I wish, you know, I’d actually buy some of this stuff, you know. It was kind of cool stuff. So yes, and very detailed.

Grant: She also said in the first week we’re in the back lot where she says, “Do you think is that a market, is any of that real? Do you think I could get some of that?” And I’m saying, “No love, it’s all fake.” “Oh, they’re fake”. And she goes, “Oh.” And then she’d look at the big scene store, you know, the giant aliens who have like moving places. And every day without fail she’d say to me, “Grant, he looks sad. Why don’t you ask him if he’s all right if he has a twinkle or something.” And I said, “Honey, it’s prosthetics, it’s a mask. He’s not, it’s not him.” “But he looks so depressed, I mean should I go talk to him and see if he’s all right.”

Stephanie: It’s so true.

Grant: You did, didn’t you?

Stephanie: I did, I did.

Grant: I’m not kidding you. I had to get Kevin who plays Asentos to take his mask off and show her that he was smiling so we don’t have to deal with the… So yes, our back lot has been incredibly amazing, yes and that’s great fun.


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