Defiance: The Show’s Stars and Showrunner Tease Tonight’s Premiere

Photo by: Joe Pugliese/Syfy“It feels like we’re doing a feature film every week,” remarked talented actress Julie Benz in one of three conference-calls Syfy recently hosted to address questions regarding their dazzling new show Defiance, debuting tonight. Leading up to its premiere Kevin Murphy and Trion Worlds‘ Nathan Richardson talked about the marriage between the TV show and video game, Grant Bowler (Jeb Nolan) & Stephanie Leonidas (Irisa) discussed their characters and their perspectives on the war-torn series, and, lovely genre-fave Julie Benz answered questions about her approach and take on playing Amanda Rosewater, the town’s strong and capable new Mayor. Presented here are highlights from all three press events comprehensively covering as wide an array of topics as possible.

“The show is on an epic scope and the special efx are truly amazing and very cinematic. Nothing like you’ve ever seen in a television show before,” Benz proudly and playfully added, “and I think Jaime Murray‘s performance as Stahma Tarr is absolutely brilliant and definitely worth tuning in to see, especially the bathing scenes.”

Pondering her ongoing success in the field of genre television Julie thoughtfully shared, “It’s interesting because I got into this business thinking I’d only do comedy and it wasn’t until I met Joss Whedon that all of that changed for me. I’ve discovered over the years that sci-fi material offers better female roles and allows me to be more creative as an actor. The givens that you have to bring to life and make believable are so extreme that it really challenges your imagination and forces you to bring your A-game every day. I still love to do comedy but what I love about genre material is that I get to experience acting on a different level. It pushes me into other areas, forces me to think about things in a different way and forces my creativity to be stronger. The female characters are also just written better. Defiance was one of the few scripts that I saw during pilot season that had very dynamic female characters that were very complex and interesting. Every woman on the show has a very complicated backstory, a very rich character and is not like any other character you’ve seen. And for me it was really important to find a badass female to play and that’s exactly what Amanda Rosewater is. The older you get as a woman and as an actress you see less and less strong female characters and I feel fortunate that the sci-fi genre still offers the opportunity to be a badass at forty. ”

Following a savvy investment in the Trion Worlds video game company Syfy set out to break new ground with an immersive trans-media project that, years later, evolved into the staggeringly ambitious Defiance. Showrunner Kevin Murphy explained, “It took five years of development to get the video game up and running which is not unusual for a video game. I came on board the project about two years ago and kind of got us over the finish line, in terms of figuring out how the shared world would work as a television show. The big idea was really about how to create a big universe with two distinct portals that would allow you to enter that world.”

The TV show and game exist in the same time frame but take place in two different locations on Earth. The series is set in what used to be St. Louis, now renamed Defiance in 2046, while the video game transpires in San Francisco. Trion’s VP of Development Nathan Richardson noted the advantage of using separate locales, “Setting it in two different geographical locations helps us avoid the usual lead-time restrictions that occur with licensed games and most shows. The different locations allow both parties to be quite free in telling compelling stories.” Murphy agreed, “What’s really special about this is that, unlike an adaptation, the game and the show are equals and because they were developed together the mythology is seamless. Whenever there’s something that serves the needs of the game we work it into the mythology of the show, and if there’s something that’s important for the show the game works it into their mythology. I think that allows for a better gaming experience and a better, hopefully, television viewing experience. We actually created the position of Mythology Coordinator to serve as kind of an editor between what goes into the game and what goes into the television show and to help define those connections and make sure nothing we do in the show contradicts the reality of the game. When we do an episode with Hell Bugs in the television show our Mythology Coordinator makes sure that we’re being exactly accurate as to the biology and what they look like and how they breed and what the various subclasses of Hell Bug are. So when gamers watch the show they really have a feeling of recognition that this is the same monster they’ve been having fun fighting and killing in the game world.”

The action in Defiance is by no means limited to the video game side alone. Grant Bowler, Stephanie Leonidas and Julie Benz all received extensive weapons training in preparation for the show. “Automatic weapons training was pretty awesome,” exclaimed Benz. “Mia (Kirshner) and I both had to learn how to use machine guns and I really loved it. I love learning about that kind of stuff and learning different things when I take on a character. Learning how to use a machine gun was probably one of the most badass experiences I’ve had and I really enjoyed it. I love doing action stuff.” For Bowler it was familiar territory, “I’ve done all this gun stuff before. I think I’ve played three Special Forces soldiers and every time for each new project they want to train you again, so, I’ve been trained up and down on weapons and all that kind of stuff. I taught Stephanie how to run n’ gun which my old ranger mates would be really, really happy with.”

Action fans would likely do anything to get behind the wheel of the show’s modified Dodge Charger. On driving the 2046 muscle car Grant confessed, “It’s a joy because I don’t really care whether I break it or not. It’s a rare thing that the more you bang up a car, the better. That’s certainly not the case with mine. The Charger’s really fantastic and Dodge has been amazing since the beginning, I mean, the moment they gave us the car our guys were like, “This is far too nice. How do we destroy this vehicle.” They started on the outside and worked their way in.”

Leonidas is lucky that Bowler’s as good of a driver as he is because her life was literally in his hands from the start. “On our very first day together we were thrown into the Roller and Grant had to drive us right to the end of a cliff. He literally had to stop about a meter before the edge and I remember thinking, “Okay, well I’ve just got to trust this guy.” And from there we just had a laugh, we really did, and I think that shows in scenes like the Johnny Cash singing scene” said Leonidas. “We’ve been scared and challenged together,” Grant admitted, “it was also on our first day together that we had to bloody sing on camera, which is terrifying. It was a big risk but we’re so happy we took it. Steph’s right, I’ve driven her to the cliff a number of times and we’ve just had to put our faith in one another and march forward in hope.”

Pressed to comment on working in front of a green screen Stephanie confided, “The green screen days were always the longest to shoot. They were the days you really have to be with it for. I was lucky because I’ve done some green screen before Defiance which really helped, I didn’t feel like I’d been thrown completely into the deep end with it. And we were really lucky with all the storyboards and everyone around that giving us a great idea of what it’s gonna look like in the end but I guess they can do anything they want with it once we’re done. They could put The Muppets in there for all we know. [laughing] Those were long days but I think they’ll definitely be worth it in the end.”

Photo by: Joe Pugliese/SyfyBowler and Leonidas’ Father-Daughter dynamic is endearingly engaging and unsurprisingly extends off-screen. Grant’s fatherly protectiveness of Stephanie is clearly loving and genuinely heartfelt. Asked about their characters’ deeply profound bond Grant contemplated, “The beauty of their relationship, for me, is that it’s the heart of both characters. Deprive either of those characters of that relationship and they lose a dimension, it really is the beating heart and soul of each of them. It’s also the coolest father-daughter dynamic that I’ve seen around. Our very first scene together when we started shooting the pilot was a falling out. That scene has fifteen years of shared father-daughter history to it, choosing each other over everything. But if they weren’t quasi-related she’d probably stab him, he’d shoot her, they’d both be dead in the street and you’d wonder why. I kind of love that. There’s always that element of a bit of danger between them and neither of them is shy about pulling a gun or a knife. It’s just their way.”

Leonidas steadfastly concurred, “I completely agree with Grant. Their line is that they live or die together and that kind of sums them up because they really would. I don’t think they could live without each other, like Grant said, I don’t think they’d know what to do with themselves. I mean it’s literally like they’re part of one and they’re just fiercely, fiercely loyal to each other and would do anything for each other. But at the same time it’s kind of this typical father-daughter relationship as well. Kind of like what you’d see with any human daughter, they have their sort of ups and downs. Nolan has to watch this young girl from some ten years old grow up and start developing into a woman and that’s scary for any father. For Irisa, being an alien as well, she’s got all this other stuff going on and it’s kind of a double whammy for Nolan. It’s a beautiful relationship but it has its complete rocky moments. And these two carry weapons so it’s never gonna be that easy. I don’t know of anything else out there that’s got that kind of father-daughter relationship. It’s such an amazing thing that Kevin Murphy’s created.”

It was Defiance‘s thematic uniqueness that won Bowler over to it in the first place. He detailed, “It’s funny because I’m very well known amongst my representatives to not be terribly interested in receiving sci-fi scripts. The first time the script crossed my agent’s desk she didn’t send it to me because she thought I’d get angry if she did. About a month later the casting agent asked me why I never responded since they’d sent it to me deliberately because they thought I’d love it. Defiance is different from 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 before. Ninety-nine novels, ninety-nine movies out of a hundred you’ve read or seen before and Defiance was a world that I hadn’t seen before; it was a genre that I hadn’t exactly seen before. The dynamics, in terms of character, the kind of grizzled scavenger with an alien adopted step daughter and the setup of the Capulets and the Montagues with the Tarrs and McCawleys, the Lady Macbethness of Datak’s missus, there were just some fantastic dynamics set up right at the beginning that kind of grabbed me. In terms of our mythology, visually and viscerally, Defiance is an island in an ocean of destruction and chaos with an incredibly strong, epic Shakespearean dynamic.”

One thing Bowler winces at is the description of Defiance as a Sci-fi Western. “I think that’s a really easy thing to grab ahold of and I actually think it has a lot to do with the fact that I wear brown. People look for quick labels and “sci-fi western” is a really, really quick one line sound bite but it’s not really accurate. You could almost describe the social structure as Western within the world of sci-fi and get away with that, but the themes of the show are Shakespearean and the nature of the show is of an immigrant drama. That’s what I mean when I say I haven’t seen this story before. This genre hasn’t existed before.”

Julie Benz agreed that Defiance is more than the sum of its obvious parts. “There’s so many elements going on in the show. You have the angle of trying to see if aliens and humans can live peacefully together in this one town, and there are also these outside factions trying to take over the town who don’t believe aliens and humans can live peacefully. Defiance is about the struggle to keep your independence, and I think every episode reveals another element of that. Through every episode we learn more about what the town and its name stand for.”

Concluded on next page…

A proud member of NBCUniversal's and A+E Television Networks’ Digital Media Teams, Nightfly routinely interviews producers, creators and stars of various network programs and films with a concentrated emphasis on Syfy and the History Channel. Formally educated in Communications, Computer Science and Music, his résumé reflects more than a decade broadcasting in the fields of television and radio. With pieces frequently published at TV Over Mind, The Outhouse and more recently NerdSpan and Press Pass L.A., his primary areas of interest include TV, action films, music, web series, comic books, fashion, pen 'n paper RPG gaming as well as various other pop-culture multimedia topics. An avid twitter user and GetGlue guru, Nightfly supports the arts, the entertainment community, numerous charities and crowdfunding projects through his journalistic netizenship and non-partisan, multicultural-centric activism. Follow him via twitter @Nightfly_69.
More articles by