Helix Q&A: Jeri Ryan and Steve Maeda Talk Forthcoming Answers, Upping the Gore, Season 2, and Lots More
Syfy hosted a Q&A with “Helix” guest star Jeri Ryan and exec producer/showrunner Steve Maeda last week, and they revealed quite a bit about what’s ahead now that Constance Sutton (Ryan) has arrived in the Arctic.
Things kick off with some discussion about Sutton, who she really is and her motives, and then we hear about topics ranging from the likelihood of a second season, Jeri’s love of gore, how long they can keep up the series’ intensity, Hatake’s obsession with Walker, the current state of genre TV, and much, much more.
If you’re a fan of the show and/or Ryan (whose appearance as Ilaria’s corporate “face” first occurred this past Friday night in Episode 1.07, “Survivor Zero,” and will continue in future eps), you’ll want to grab your morning coffee or tea and settle in for a bit.
It’s President’s Day; you don’t have to work anyway, right? There’s a lot of good stuff here!
Q: When we first see Sutton, she pretends to be this nice woman who’s there to help, and we learn pretty quickly that’s not true. Can you talk about playing the more cold, calculated side of the character?
Jeri Ryan: She was just fun. This was a really fun role to play because it’s… she’s kind of out there. You know, she’s not subtle, which I love. So it was fun to just sort of let go and just really play and let her go to those places… that was a treat as an actor.
Steve Maeda: Sutton for us was someone who put on a very sort of benign and corporate face, which is why she does a lot of corporate speak, but then underneath there’s obviously a lot more going on, and Jeri just ate it up. It was fantastic.
Q: This is more for clarification. We see obviously that Julia has the silver eyes, and now your character has the silver eyes. Does that mean possibly she’s had the virus, or is it something else completely, entirely different that has nothing to do with the virus or the cure? Or can you not tell us that?
Maeda: You’re asking all the right questions.
Ryan: Well, that’s part of the mystery, isn’t it?
Maeda: Yes. You’re asking all the right questions, and answers will be forthcoming, I promise. It’s going to be answered really quickly. But, yes, those are the questions we want you to be wondering about.
Q: Steve, are you completely done with Season 1? Is it totally out of your hands now?
Maeda: Not totally. We are locking our last episode, Episode 13, today [February 10th], and then we are actually on the mix stage right now. We are watching a playback – a sound playback of Episode 8, which is the second episode that Jeri is in, and we’re working through those. So that’ll be going on almost until… a couple weeks before we air this last episode.
Q: Are you waiting to finalize this finale until after you hear about a Season 2 pickup?
Maeda: You know what? We’re locked into our finale. We don’t have the luxury. So we are cautiously optimistic on a Season 2 pickup, and [Episode] 13 is going to lock today, so we’re crossing our fingers and toes.
Ryan: I’m not cautious. I’m not cautious. I’m going out there. They’re picked up… I’m making the prediction right now.
Q: Whose idea was it to have Constance have to file her teeth down? And is that a hint that maybe she has to keep doing that or otherwise they’ll grow longer and longer?
Maeda: That’s absolutely the hint, and that idea… I think that was something that came from Cameron [Porsandeh]’s original script. It may have actually been in the original pilot. I don’t remember, but it’s something that we always liked because it was so freaking weird. And we just had to put it in. It’s just the best so yes, it was there originally. It was something that fell out of the pilot I think, and then we ended up finding a nice place for it.
Q: This show can be very tension-filled, but you guys always break it up. Either with Alan and Sarah being unsure of themselves after having sex in this Friday’s episode or the music. The music has been really great. Like “Fever” being used in this episode. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Maeda: We decided from the get-go that we wanted to do some things a little bit differently and be unsettling not only in, you know, storytelling and how we were shooting the show, but also in post and in how we cut the show and in music… “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?,” which started the whole thing, came from Ron [Moore] when we were sitting in post on the pilot. And… one of our other producers… we bought it on iTunes and watched it just kind of temped in, and it was like, “Wow. That works really well.” So it was something we had talked about. When we saw it, we thought it was great, and so that’s why we continued to do it. And “Fever” is the perfect one. That’s probably the best song we’re using in the entire show.
Q: Jeri, how would you best describe Constance and what motivates her?
Ryan: She’s kind of a ball-buster. I think that’s the best way to describe her, which I love. What motivates her? Well, I can’t – see, I can’t really tell you exactly what motivates her. That you sort of find out.
Maeda: She’s a company employee, and so I would say she is trying to be loyal to the corporation and to the folks that she has been working with and been developing this whole plan with. And once she finds out that Hatake has since been working on his own agenda, she gets pretty damn angry about that. And it’s an interesting thing… I thought Jeri walked that line really well, that line between the corporate kind of niceties and the polite things that you say versus the things that you actually do. And once the fangs came out, it’s all over. So it was a lot of fun to watch.
Ryan: It was a lot of fun to play. And I also love, as you’ll see without trying to give too much away, she’s definitely, as Steve said, in the corporate world and very much looking out for the best interests of Ilaria, but you find out that there’s a little more personal issue for her at stake as well, which I really loved…
Maeda: We tried to do with characters, even if they seem to be – both with Hatake and with Sutton – even if they seem to be very kind of on point and you know their agenda comes first, we try to infuse them with some emotion down the road so you understand where they’re coming from, and it’s not just about money. It’s not just about greed or this sci-fi illness of the show, but there’s an emotional component as well.
Ryan: And I love that.
Q: Jeri, what was it like to work on a series that’s sometimes kind of gory and gross?
Ryan: Oh, I love the gore. Are you kidding me? Oh, God, more gore. I love it. The goo and the guts and all of it. I love it. So much fun. Come on. I observed autopsies when I was on “Body of Proof”! I love this stuff. I love the science of it. I love the gore. I love all of it.
Q: Steve, “The X-Files” was very dark [Ed. Note: Maeda served as writer, story editor, and executive story editor on the show] and certainly a pioneer in that sort of vibe, and “Helix” has a really dark edge. But “The X-Files” had at least a little humor with the interplay between Scully and Mulder, but this one is just relentless. Do you plan to keep up this intensity, or are you going to maybe let us breathe every now and then somewhere in the series?
Maeda: No. We want to keep up the intensity. There are light moments coming, but they tend to be kind of in the service of… it’s black humor definitely, and they tend to be in service of keeping everything moving. and just sometimes you find those moments in the worst situations. So yes, we have 13 episodes and we really want to… our mantra was to keep the show moving, and so we want to have down time, we want to have character time, but we definitely want to keep everything twisting and turning and keep you coming back for more hopefully.
Q: You got to kind of get rough with Hatake there when you were mad at him. Would you like to maybe explore some more action and physical roles after getting a little taste of that?
Ryan: Oh, yes. It’s not my first taste of it either. I did Mortal Combat, and I’ve done some other roles with a little bit of action here and there. Yes, it’s a lot of fun. I always enjoy those scenes. But I have to tell you, I have to brag about Hiro [Sanada] for a minute. That man is unbelievable. I was in awe of him. I still am in awe of him. He’s… the man is a ninja. The scene where I had to throw the book at his head, and I have to throw it directly at his face…it’s on me. I can’t like pretend to throw it. I have to wail it at him, and he’s standing like six feet away from me. And I was a wreck shooting the scene. I was so nervous. I was like, “Dude, I have no aim. I can’t.” He was like, “Just throw it. Just do it. Just right at my face. Just go.” And there’s cameras set up right behind him, and so he has to knock the book away, and we’re worried about hitting the lens and all this expensive equipment. He never even blinked. Never flinched. Never breathed heavy. Nothing. Every take, he just batted it out of the way like it was nothing in the exact spot that it was supposed to land so it didn’t hit any equipment. He is amazing. He is amazing.
Maeda: Yes, he pretty much didn’t flinch for the entire series… everything he was asked to do, yes. He really is amazing. And just… Was he dancing on set at all?
Ryan: No, I didn’t see the dancing.
Maeda: Because the last time I was there, he’s also really graceful. I mean, he can dance and sing. It’s unbelievable. He’s really talented.
Q: Jeri, could you tell us who is this character? How would you describe Constance for those people who have just met her for the first time?
Ryan: I’m not trying to tiptoe the line about not giving too much away, but she’s certainly driven, and she definitely has an agenda that she is there to do. Hatake has gone off the rails. He is supposed to be finding them a virus and a cure, and he’s screwed up. He’s messing around and doing his own thing, and that’s not okay so she’s there to fix it, and whatever she has to do to make that happen is what has to happen.
Maeda: Yes. She’s a fixer. She comes in and she takes care of things. And you know under the guise of corporate benevolence, she really has this very, very clear agenda, and you know if Hatake has gone off the rails a little bit, Sutton has not gone off the rails of this. Firmly on the rails and is trying to make sure that everything happens the way it’s supposed to be happening and try to figure out what Hatake’s game is.
Q: Steve, what can you tell us about Ilaria?
Maeda: Well, they’re a pharmaceutical giant. They are – you know, they do good work and they make lots of drugs…their public face is actually benevolent. But behind the scenes there’s a lot more going on than what you might expect. And I can’t tell too much more than that, but the foundation of Ilaria, the origin story and how all that happened and how the company became what it is, is something that we’re going to see over the back half of the season.
Q: Do you know exactly where Constance’s arc is going?
Maeda: Oh, yes. We know where she’s going. We know exactly… Sutton was a character who we knew very early on that we wanted to get into the show, that we wanted to have someone come from the corporation. And then the idea of Sutton was something that we talked about very early on. And then the rest of it just sort of came in kind of discussing and breaking stories with her.
Q: Steve, do you see what gets posted to “Helix’s” Access Granted website? And how consequential or crucial do you think the content of that site is to understanding what’s going on with the show?
Maeda: It’s not critical to understand the show, but we do try to add some value to that experience… I did not do all that material myself, but I certainly saw all of it and approved it all. But it’s something that if you watch the show, if you really like the show, the Access Granted stuff is something that can add a little more insight… it’s planting clues and little things. If you don’t watch it, you’re still going to enjoy the show I think, but if you do, you’ll get other little hints of things and get a little more background. [But] the answers will all be in the show.
Q: Answers like why Hatake’s so obsessed with Walker? Will that be fully explained this season, or is it a mystery that might carry over until the next season if there is one?
Maeda: It will be fully explained this season.
Q: How do the other characters react to Sutton’s arrival?
Maeda: Oh, gosh… I think that they are all sort of dismayed… for their own reasons because I think very quickly, very early on you discover that Sutton is putting on a performance for the gang. And so Hatake certainly knows who she is and where she’s coming from. I think that Daniel has an idea. And I think that Alan and company learn very quickly what’s going on… what appears to be, you know, “Oh good, help is here,” is really not help at all. Look, she arrives with gun-toting soldiers, too. She comes loaded for bear.
Q: And will this also kind of shift some of the bad guy image away from Hatake? So far he’s seemed like our villain, but will he be teaming up with the CDC now?
Maeda: Absolutely. One of the things we wanted to do was take our characters who seemed to be villains and try to humanize them and create some kind of unlikely pairings. And also take our characters who seem to be on the side of the angels and turn them a little bit and twist them and give them some unsavory motives perhaps. And so yes, we’re trying to find those balances, and I think you’ll see them.
Q: Steve, obviously “The X-Files” was iconic for the 1990’s, and here we are in 2014. How has the state of genre TV changed in your opinion? It seems to have almost gotten to the point where it’s now the mainstream.
Maeda: Yes. I think it definitely has gone more mainstream, and there’s so much good stuff out there I think both in TV and movies. It’s so great… I’ve done genre shows and shows that are not genre, and I just love these because of the storytelling; you get to first off come up with whatever you can imagine and put it out there. But then also when you do want to get a theme in, it’s so much easier to couch that in science-fiction or in genre because for some reason it just doesn’t feel as heavy-handed, and you can tell stories that are much more… you can layer in something without feeling preachy because you have the genre kind of as your shield and still do a really entertaining [show] but have something to say. So it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy it.
Q: The themes of “Helix” are very much a cautionary tale about where we’re going with genetic research and medicine and pharmaceuticals. Where do you mine the science for the show? Do you have science advisors?
Maeda: We do, and we’ve done a lot of research ourselves. We do have an advisor who reads all of our scripts. We have an advisor on set as well, but we have a CDC doctor who reads all our scripts and then comes back to us with, “You know what? It would really be this way, guys, and not that way,” and we try to take those cues when we can. Dramatically, we’re always trying to tell the best story, but we also want to be as grounded as possible. And yes, sometimes we take flights of fancy, but in doing so… it’s something I actually learned on “X-Files,” which is the more you tie your fantastic story, your science-fiction story, into actual science, the easier it is to buy. And so, that’s what we’re trying to do. You know, we may not hit it all the time, but it’s something we certainly are mindful of.
Q: Dr. Hatake stabbing himself was one of the many shocking things that have happened on the show, and the idea of this virus being a delivery system or something genetic leads us to wonder what that has to do with Hatake’s ability to heal quickly and his own chromosomes and what experiments he’s been doing on himself. Can you shed some light?
Maeda: I would say it very much has something to do with that, without giving too much away. It’s part of just who he is and what will be revealed in later episodes. But yes, we delved as deeply as we could into [the] research and into trying to take a lot of really arcane science and make it understandable to us, understandable to the audience. And without dumbing it down too much, to get in as much real stuff as we could.
Q: Jeri, any chance you’ll be out hitting the convention circuit again?
Ryan: I have been. I wasn’t able to do them for a few years because I have stalkers, and so I had security issues. And then Creation Entertainment, who organizes most of the “Star Trek” conventions, got a really great security detail for me, and so I was able to start doing them again, and it’s a lot of fun. That’s a great way to see the fans and to meet them. It’s fun… it’s a great treat to get to meet the fans. They’re a very enthusiastic, very loyal, very passionate group of people, and they’re amazing. And you know, none of us would be anywhere without the fans. It’s another reason why I love social media so much now. It’s another way to safely interact with your fans.
Maeda: Yes. I would second that. The sci-fi fans are so passionate. I mean, that’s the really great thing, too, about the response we’re getting. Science-fiction fans either love you or hate you, but very, very passionate. And you know, going after those fans is… it’s a great fan base.
Q: Lastly, can you tease how many episodes Constance will be appearing in? Will there be a chance for the character to return in future episodes or seasons?
Maeda: This is Syfy; there’s always a chance. Yes. Without giving too much away, she’s… I don’t want to say how many episodes or the why or the why not; all that will come to bear, but we love having Jeri. She’s in a number of episodes, and we’ll just leave it at that.
Our thanks to Jeri and Steve for their time, moderator Stephen Cox, Garrott Smith, and everyone at Syfy.
“Helix” is executive produced by Ron Moore, creator of “Battlestar Galactica.” The 13-episode series stars Billy Campbell, Kyra Zagorsky, Jordan Hayes, Catherine Lemieux, Hiroyuki Sanada, Meegwun Fairbrother, Mark Ghanimé, and Neil Napier.
“Helix” Episode 1.08 – “Bloodline” (airs 2/21/14)
The vectors attack and take Peter’s (Napier) body; Walker (Zagorsky) is held prisoner by Sutton (Ryan) after the true nature of Sutton’s relationship with Hatake (Sanada) is revealed. Meanwhile, Daniel (Fairbrother) gets closer to the truth about his past.
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