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Wingman Wednesday

Marama Corlett

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SyFy’s “Blood Drive” has introduced us to a great many things. Cars that run on human blood. F bombs on basic cable. And the fact that Heart Industries is up to some seriously dark sh… poop. But we’re most grateful to the grindhouse gorefest for introducing us to Marama Corlett, the scene-stealing Malta-born actress who takes dark business to a whole new level as AKI, the robotic interrogator with a closet full of dominatrix clothing. Everything about her performance is frighteningly exquisite, from her detached dialogue delivery to her mechanized movements. She is uniquely original in a series brimming with originality. She is mesmerizing and scary all at the same time.

We recently sat down with Corlett to discuss adjusting to AKI’s vision-altering contacts, how she’d like to start an 80s style signal hijacking, and why her parents think she’s currently starring on “Black Sails.”

TrunkSpace: We have been asking this of every “Blood Drive” cast member we speak with because, well, it just seems like an obvious first question. (Laughter) Did you ever wonder if the material you were working on in “Blood Drive” would make it to air?
Corlett: NO WAY.

TrunkSpace: It is amazing what a pair of contacts can do to change someone’s appearance as a whole. What were your initial thoughts when you first saw yourself through AKI’s eyes?
Corlett: My initial thoughts… I couldn’t see a bloody thing.

Those contacts got me where I needed to be mentally and emotionally. First day on set I couldn’t even hit my mark. Not the best first impression. It took a while getting used to looking through tunnel vision, but looking back, I couldn’t have been AKI without them.

TrunSpace: Your movements and physical personification of AKI are fantastic. It almost feels like she’s the female version of Max Headroom come to life! (We’re dating ourselves with that reference!) Where did you look to for inspiration in terms of how to physically bring AKI to life?
Corlett: Let’s start an AKI broadcast signal hijacking!

I love that. (Laughter) Thank you, TrunkSpace.

Essentially it’s Christopher that brings AKI to life, so a huge part of the process was working closely as a team with my leading man and I couldn’t have asked for a more humble and generous actor than Thomas Dominique. Our first director and executive producer, David Straiton, was a huge part of the casting process so he was there from the start. He cared and believed in the project and encouraged me to find a certain confidence needed for the role. David had a clear vision but was also very open for all of us to experiment, which made it all the more fun. He gave me a long list of films and characters to watch for inspiration, which also included Hal 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I had long chats with David and our creator James Roland about costume and hair/makeup even down to her specific walk and eye blinks. I found my ballet training gave me so much to work with on the physicality. What was most important for me was to have a clear arc. Starting off as an emotionless, calculated machine gave me places to go later on.

Corlett and Colin Cunningham in “Blood Drive”

TrunkSpace: Another aspect of the character that sort of brings her to her own little slice of unique life is wardrobe. Was there a moment where a particular piece of clothing was presented to you and you thought to yourself, “OH, HELL NO!” because frankly, they don’t look exceptionally comfortable? (Laughter)
Corlett: Nothing about this show was “comfortable”. (Laughter) Our costume designer Danielle Knox did a remarkable job with all of us… pretty much all of AKI’s outfits were designed and made from scratch so they fit like a glove. The tighter the corset and the more ridged and uncomfortable the outfit, it made it easier for me to play the part somehow.

TrunkSpace: “Blood Drive” is so very unlike anything else on television. That statement is said a lot about a great number of shows, but usually it’s just said for the sake of saying it. It truly is the case with your show. Does that make being involved with it feel all the more special?
Corlett: It’s been a crazy, cool ride for me and whatever the outcome, I’m proud to be a part of it. As mad as it is, it’s really not far off from what our world seems to be heading towards and what us humans are truly capable of doing to each other. James Roland is a genius and knew exactly what he was doing creating this. There is a brain and a beating heart. It’s not all just bloody cars.

TrunkSpace: Given the crazy, bloody, “anything is possible” vibe of the show, did you second guess sharing it with any family members or loved ones?
Corlett: The parents think I was working on “Black Sails” and I said I was the one with the mask and wig on. Its gonna take them a while to get through all the seasons.

TrunkSpace: Now that the show has been out for a few weeks and a buzz has been building around it, how has it changed your life/career the most?
Corlett: Apart from some weird inbox messages on Twitter after episode 4, it’s all the same. It was a wonderful experience and I met some very special people.

TrunkSpace: A short film you starred in called “A Girl goes for Dinner” is currently touring the festival circuit. Whereas “Blood Drive” is full of dark humor, this particular piece is just straight up dark, right?
Corlett: It’s written and directed by Jack Ethan Perry, an exciting young British director. It’s definitely a dark piece but I’m somehow attracted to that genre. It’s like watching a fawn floating about through a rifle scope, then you hear the gun shot but the fawn isn’t the one shot. Lots of hidden messages in the dialogue and in the silences between the two characters. I had already worked with actor Adrian Schiller on “The Crucible” at London’s The Old Vic theatre beforehand, another dark one, but so the chemistry was already there.

TrunkSpace: And from what we read, you’ll also be returning to “Sick Note” for season 2. That seems like a hell of a cast to be sharing scenes with.
Corlett: Yes, our first season hasn’t aired yet so It’s exciting for all of us to be going again so soon and also to work with the same crew again who have become like a little family. Watching actors such as Nick Frost, Rupert Grint, Karl Theobald, Dustin Demri-Burns and Daniel Rigby work… these guys hone their craft and it’s fascinating watching them play. I’ve never laughed so much on a job. Credit to our fantastic writers Nat Saunders and James Serafinowicz who have created this hilarious show and our director Matt Lipsey who has worked on some of Britain’s most cherished comedy. He has this wonderful ability to allow actors to have fun and be brave.

TrunkSpace: What can we expect from your “Sick Note” character Linda?
Corlett: Well, I haven’t been killed off yet. Let’s just say that.

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items that you want to check off in your career?
Corlett: I just want to do good work with good people.

“Blood Drive” airs Wednesdays on SyFy.

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Wingman Wednesday

Colin Cunningham

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In this the Golden Age of Television, we challenge anybody to find a more interesting and dynamic performance than the one being delivered week after week by Colin Cunningham in SyFy’s grindhouse series “Blood Drive.” As the eccentric ringleader of the high stakes race, Julian Slink feeds on the spotlight just as the gore-guzzling cars feed on the innocent. In a show that is unlike anything you have ever seen before, the former “Falling Skies” standout is pressing his foot to the floor of the performance pedal, stealing scenes and setting the bar high for all actors-to-be in future roles.

We recently sat down with Cunningham to discuss how Julian Slink couldn’t exist in any other show, hitting impossible performance beats, and why he prefers to go unrecognized in real life.

TrunkSpace: Did you ever question if the material you were working on in “Blood Drive” would ever make it to air? It certainly has surprised viewers so we’re curious if it surprised you at any point?
Cunningham: Ha! Yes, we questioned it. We questioned, “How the hell did this scene even make it into the script?” Then, we waited for revisions that never came. Then after the, “There’s no way we’re actually going to shoot this?” it became, “There’s no way they’re going to leave that in.” to “There’s no way they are going to put that on the air!” I don’t know whether SYFY deserves the credit, or the curse. (Laughter)

We all knew we were doing something special. And that the circumstances we found ourselves in would probably never happen again. It was a once in a lifetime thing. “Blood Drive” wasn’t a gig, it was a whispered invitation to meet at the top of Devils Tower, Wyoming.

TrunkSpace: How much of who Julian Slink is existed on the page and how much of him became performance choices?
Cunningham: The character of Julian Slink would simply not be possible with a larger, more insane show to hold it. The show is so incredibly bat shit crazy that Slink has the kind of latitude simply not possible on any other show.

Without a doubt, he is the single most insane and complex character I’ve ever read. James Roland created an absolute giant and the credit is entirely his. If he tells you anything different, he’s nuts. Strike that… James is nuts. But it really was all right there on the page. All of it.

My job on “Blood Drive” really wasn’t to create anything “off” of the page. Instead, it was the weight of the world to see if I could bring life to even half of what these wonderful writers had given me.

TrunkSpace: Your performance as Slink is downright masterful and the beats you take as the character are just as powerful as your delivery. Did the outrageous nature of the content itself allow you to go to places that you wouldn’t normally attempt under different circumstance?
Cunningham: The challenge for me was to see if I could actually hit some of these almost impossible beats. To get into the most intense, emotional spaces, then pull full-throttle 180s. A world within a world within a world within a world. And all a hair’s breadth from each other. To attempt Slink in any format would have been a massive challenge, but to do it in a “crank ’em out,” “one/two take” TV schedule? I didn’t know if it was possible.

So, for inspiration, I went back. Not to grindhouse, but to kinescope, absorbing every live teleplay from the early 50s I could get my eyes on. All the Playhouse 90s. All the Studio One stuff. Back when the actors had to do it all live, in one take. “Requiem For a Heavyweight,” “The Comedian,” “A Town Has Turned To Dust.” Everything Rod Serling, pre “Twilight Zone.” Mind blowing performances. And all done live, in one take. Slink was going to shoot for the heavens, but he was to be grounded firmly in the discipline of the theater.

The work completely absorbed me. Here we were in one of the most exquisite locations on the face of the earth, Cape Town, South Africa, and I spent most of the time in my apartment or in cafes. Breaking the scenes down. Breaking them down again. No discos, no safaris.

And all for a show about cars that eat people. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: It sounds like the entire cast was given complete creative freedom on the performance side?
Cunningham: The creativity in “Blood Drive” wasn’t suppressed, it was celebrated. Never in my career have I seen so many given such complete and total freedom to do what they do. (Greg Beeman on “Falling Skies” would be a close second.)

TrunkSpace: In the early going of the series, Slink is presented as this really interesting carnival barker meets haunted house cast member, but by episode 2 we really start to see some previously unseen aspects of his personality, including insecurity, which we found very interesting. In a lot of ways it feels like Colin Cunningham is playing a man playing Julian Slink.
Cunningham: There is a different side of Slink for every context. It’s what makes him so complex. On stage, backstage, with Grace, with Rasher, as an “employee” of Heart. There are so many layers, and a specific history with each. That’s what made it so damned hard. Also, in that first episode we were still working it all out. The relationship with Rasher wasn’t discovered until I met the exceptional Carel Nel (who’d practically come in as a day player, but stayed for 13 episodes). Basically, nothing like “Blood Drive” had ever been made before. Also, in that first episode, I had both food poisoning and the Cape Town flu and was sick as a dog!

TrunkSpace: Is Julian Slink the kind of character you seek out and because he’s so interesting, does it also mean that every actor is seeking the same thing?
Cunningham: I’m not really a character actor, I am an actor that plays characters. I’m honestly not very good at doing the boilerplate TV Cop/Dad/Lawyer stuff. Well, its not that I’m not any good at it, its just that so many other actors can play those roles. And so, when I go out for those auditions, there are a thousand guys to compete against. But when it comes to a character like Julian Slink, that room gets much, much smaller. My odds then become 1 in 5. And I swear it’s not a “talent” thing. There are some tremendously talented actors out there. It’s an “understanding” thing. And I don’t think there are anymore than maybe 5 actors on the planet that would have known what to do with James Roland’s little monster. (Also, note: I was the network’s “3rd” choice. The first two actors they offered it to “passed.”)

But again, none of it would be possible without having David Straiton and James Roland right there. Not to keep me “on track,” but to remind me that there were no rails. I was absolutely free to work, explore, create. But it really was a team effort and I could call or knock on their doors anytime, day or night.

TrunkSpace: There is a LOT of blood in “Blood Drive.” Is it the stickiest job you’ve ever had?
Cunningham: The amount of blood on the show? With the exception of Slink murdering Skuttle in the lobby of Heart Enterprises, I was pretty lucky. Whereas, Alan and Christina were covered in quite a variety of fluids.

TrunkSpace: You’re never afraid to alter your appearance when taking on a new role. How important is that physical transformation of a character for you personally?
Cunningham: It may sound nuts, but I’m not a big fan of being recognized. It’s certainly nice to be acknowledged for the work you do, but I really don’t want the special table at the restaurant. So, I tend to gravitate to roles where I can disappear. All that said, there would be no Slink without the unbelievably gifted Danielle Knox (Wardrobe) and Kerry Skelton (Makeup). These two women and their teams were the best I’ve ever worked with. The entire wardrobe and makeup departments were beyond belief. The garments Danielle created were absolutely astonishing. And Kerry is one of the best because she works with the actor to help create the character. So many TV makeup artists are often little more than overpaid sponge jockeys. Not Kerry Skelton. She and her team were exceptional.

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items that you want to check off in your career?
Cunningham: Bucket list? Hell, that’s easy. What any big star wants… to buy his mother a shiny, pink Cadillac.

“Blood Drive” airs Wednesdays on SyFy.

Featured Images By: Arthur Albert

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Deep Focus

James Roland

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In our new column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers, and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

In the second part of our interview with James Roland, creator, writer, and producer of the SyFy series “Blood Drive,” we’re discussing budgets, crews, and season twos!

(Read the first part of our James Roland interview here.)

TrunkSpace: Another one of the great things about “Blood Drive” is the direction. A great example of this is when Fat Elvis is being butchered in the episode “Welcome to Pixie Swallow.”
Roland: Yeah. That was the brain child of writer, Marc Halsey. He wrote that episode and came up with that. That was very specifically scripted and then David Straiton, our executive producer who directed some of the episodes, just nailed it. That was the goal. We didn’t want to just shoot a standard show that happened to have grosser moments in it and then slap a fake 15mm filter over the top. Because if you notice, we don’t do that. The trailer and the promos did that, but we were more interested in being true to the spirit than just the aesthetics.

What we challenged our directors to do, what David supervised all of the directors and challenged all the other directors to do, was to dig into the specific genres for each episode. Rather than just choosing color, really get into having a frame, why they were edited that way, and why they were effective. I think a lot of shows say, “Hey, we gave our directors creative freedom.” We give our directors A LOT of fucking freedom. That whole episode 6 where Christopher goes into the secret room?

TrunkSpace: Where he meets Julian in the hallway?
Roland: Yeah. And the room is spinning. Not scripted. That was the director and the production designer going, “This is a cool room. How can we make this even more interesting? How do we get it to the next level?” Somebody came up with idea of, “What if there’s throw-up on the floor, the cement, and all over because it makes it all look cooler?”

Then we had an amazing camera operator and he had this rig where you could rotate the camera completely around. We didn’t have enough money to get a gimbal, and for people who don’t know what that is, it’s where the whole room rotates upside down. It’s how they did the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” stuff where she’s on the ceiling. We didn’t have that, so that was our cheap, Grindhousey way of doing it and it turned into a really cool, sci-fi driven moment.

It was difficult to trust because with a basic, normal scene I can walk on set and say, “I can see what you’re doing. I see how that will come together. Make sure you get the close-up. Make sure you run that character moment.” But for a scene like that it’s like, “Is this going to make any fucking sense?” (Laughter) We took that risk. Every time we had that question, we took that risk and I felt like it paid off and made the show so much more interesting than it would have been, which is saying something given the scripts are so crazy.

TrunkSpace: It’s interesting hearing you mention the budgetary issues because it doesn’t look like a show that was hampered by budgetary constraints.
Roland: We’re in the SyFy channel low-budget model. The show runner is John Hlavin is a mad genius. He also runs “Shooter” for USA. We were going in, before we had officially sold the series, and he cracked a joke. He said, “When we’re up there in the office…” we call it the dark tower on the Universal lot. It’s this big, giant black tower that is very ominous. Anyway, he was like, “When we’re up in that dark tower, what do you do if we’ve got to make this show below our number? Who’s gonna be the first one to jump out the window?”

So we sit down and they hand us a sheet of paper and we see the number that they’re pitching for the budget and it’s barely above the joke number. I mean, barely. I’m the least experienced in the room. I was there with John Hlavin who is a pro. He wrote for “The Shield” and he’s got a long career. And David Straiton who’s this long term producer/director on shows like “Hemlock Grove” and all the Marvel shows. Experienced guys. They just go pale. I’m like, “Uh oh, this is bad.” (Laughter)

Normally shows will have a larger budget pilot and then the rest of the episodes are less, but this is per episode. The pilot was no more expensive than any other episode. The number that I’m quoting is about half of “The Magicians.” This is a lower budget number. What do you do? Do you say, “No, no thank you. I don’t want to make 13 episodes of my own show.” You just say yes and then you figure out how the hell you’re gonna do it.

We’re building this bigger world that we have in our head in a way that we can’t afford. Obviously on a script level, we reduce the amount of racing scenes to every other episode in these concentrated, little moments so that over the course of four to six episodes, people feel like they’re getting a lot of racing. But if you actually go back and look at the show, you don’t get racing every episode. We just couldn’t afford it. You have to get pit stops, which is fine as long as it has that adrenaline feel and we keep the energy up in the pacing of the plotting. It’s still going to feel like we have the momentum so that’s how we get away with that.

And then it’s, “Okay, we cannot afford all of these actors every episode.” If you listen to Slink, he talks about how the race goes on different paths every day, so that explains why you can’t have The Gentleman and The Scholar in every episode. They go out and they come back in and out of the story, so you can go a couple of episodes without seeing them and then seeing them again. It’s like revisiting old friends. Otherwise the only other answer was to cut out Domi and Cliff and just have The Gentleman and The Scholar or something like that. Even though you’re gonna get more of The Gentleman and The Scholar, you’re also gonna shrink the scope of your world.

I think it’s weirdly both a blessing and a curse because from the very first daily of the show, I don’t think the network had any idea how good it was going to look. We were all kind of really blown away, but the curse of that is that they forget that it’s a low budget show.

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) And when you get a second season, you get the same budgets!
Roland: Exactly!

I’m glad that you saw that that. I have worked with a lot of crews. My first career was as an assistant director. I did that for seven years. I worked with damn good crews and non-union crews. As an executive assistant, I worked with some of the best television crews. The South African team rivaled all of them. We would walk onto the sets and my jaw would drop at how intricate the set was.

When I saw what the costume department was doing with Slink and Aki… all of those costumes are handmade, handcrafted, and fitted. The rule was that they never dress the same way twice. Slink never dresses the same way twice, within reason. I think after six or seven episodes, you might see a recycle here or there, but it needs to feel different every time and they pulled that off. If you watch, his top hat is always changing. Those are all made by hand.

TrunkSpace: You hear this a lot in the horror/indie worlds, but sometimes when you’re forced to rethink your budgets and think outside-the-box, that’s when the magic happens.
Roland: Yeah, it’s true. Please don’t let the people with the paycheck hear that, but it’s true. (Laughter)

We talked a lot about that. I love the “Grindhouse” double feature. I love it, but their budget was 40 million dollars. That means that one of those movies, either “Planet Terror” or “Death Proof,” has the budget of our entire season. It kind of forced us to be little bit more grindhouse, for real. There are times when it shows, but those are the moments where we distract you with something shiny, so you’re not looking at the part that didn’t work. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: How have you guys avoided more conservative groups protesting the show, because it seems like “Blood Drive” would be right up their alley as far as saving us from moral brainwashing?
Roland: Yeah, you know, there’s one, but I expected more. There was one website that said advertisers need to pull their ads from the show. I was like, “Yeah, let’s get it started.” I was excited for it.

TrunkSpace: Usually those kinds of protests just bring in more viewers.
Roland: It always helps it. Maybe if we’d gotten more of that, it would’ve been even better for us. My gut tells me it’s because most people get it because we have a sense of humor about it. We don’t consider ourselves a spoof. We never wanted to do spoof. We technically get meta because of the show within a show aspect with Slink. All of it, even with the meta, we always make sure that what Slink says could be true for both the show you’re watching and the show he’s creating within the show.

TrunkSpace: Any word on a season 2 yet?
Roland: We haven’t heard yet. We’re waiting on pins and needles. We’ll see. We’re waiting for the official word, but I hope so. I’m dying, man. We have game plans for season 2 that kind of ups the anti to a new level. It would be amazing to get to do it.

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Deep Focus

James Roland

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In our new column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers, and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with James Roland, creator, writer, and producer of the SyFy series “Blood Drive.” We recently sat down with Roland to discuss the psychology of the series, how he was able to shoot the show as a hard R, and why Arthur Bailey is a Frank Capra character stuck in a Roger Corman world.

TrunkSpace: The characters you have created for “Blood Drive” really help build out the world. Each one is a layer to a very tasty cake.
Roland: We got lucky with that, man. It wasn’t lucky, I should say. We had casting directors working their asses off. We had a hell of a cast. It was impressive.

TrunkSpace: And that cast is so diverse in terms of backgrounds.
Roland: Yeah. Marama is from Malta. I have never met another human being from Malta.

TrunkSpace: She has a very unique accent.
Roland: It’s amazing. We met Marama over tape because we were already in South Africa prepping by the time she was cast. So we were looking at these video submissions online and her video submission popped up with, “Hi, I’m Marama Corlett, and I’m over 18 years old.” We were like, “Whoa! What is that about?” We were a little weirded out. (Laughter) She gave a great audition and she ended up getting the part. I learned through this experience that actors are supposed to give their measurements, like their height, their weight, and all that comes with it. She shows up on set and she doesn’t even come to my shoulder. She’s so tiny and she has kind of a baby face, so she looks like she’s 10 years old. I’m like, “Oh, that’s why! We just thought you were kooky!” (Laughter) Of course, she’s all paranoid because she’s like, “I’m so much shorter than Thomas.” And I was like, “This is the one show where that doesn’t matter, and actually helps.”

TrunkSpace: There’s that one scene where she’s kneeling down near his foot and it’s as big as her head.
Roland: Yes! I know. It allowed for these amazing shot dynamics and forced directors into more interesting framing, actually. The code is that you’re supposed to get them within a reasonable distance of height of each other so that you can do over-the-shoulders very easily and move quickly. We just didn’t have that. It was pretty cool.

I can’t remember what episode it is where he picks her up, but it was amazing to watch on set because it was like she might as well not have been there. He’s so ripped. It was like, TINK… like putting a little teacup on the counter.

TrunkSpace: The size difference really works because she is the one in control, which gives it this crazy, “Blood Drive” dynamic.
Roland: Yeah, it actually is pretty cool. It brought a lot of psychology, I think, to the forefront of that dynamic because you start to go, “Why isn’t he…? Why can’t he…?” I’m sure she’s got all these super powers and stuff like that, but you start to really go, “Oh, this guy wants this on a certain level.”

I had a scene written that we never got to shoot that really hit that kind of on the head. We ran out of time, but it would have been amazing because it really was something that we saw on the page. We talked a lot about the psychology, about why he lets these things happen, and, of course, at a certain point he can’t get out. It’s because he’s physically trapped.

They brought it out in their performance, in their dynamic, and using their body types as part of that too. It was really amazing. It’s been cool to see people dig into that storyline like I kind of knew they would. At first they’re like, “What the hell is this about?” And then you start to see it unfold over time. It’s one of my favorite parts of the show.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned stuff that was on the page that didn’t make it in. That being said, how the hell did you get the stuff in that was on the page?!?!
Roland: (Laughter) SyFy held true to their word. They said, “We want you to push it.” But I don’t think when they said that they knew what they were getting into. (Laughter) Obviously stuff is censored with the censor bars and stuff, but we went into it saying, “I don’t want to shoot the PG-13 version and we don’t have time to because that doubles your amount of shooting time on certain things and it’s confusing, it’s a pain in the ass, and we don’t have time to edit two different versions.” Time is money and we were so low-budget and so fast-paced there was just no way.

So it was like, “We’re going to shoot the hard R version,” and even though technically we put the black bars on ourselves, because that was the cheaper option than farming it out to some company that is on the network side, we would just literally say, “You tell us what we absolutely have to have black bars over.” We’d get into a little debate with them, back and forth versions, and stuff like that, because that way it wasn’t self-censorship, right? It was the network telling us. I feel like if we self-censor, if we do a PG-13 cut, I think the fans and the audience just smell bullshit. I know I would. I’d be like, “Well, you’re saying this is Grindhouse…”

TrunkSpace: There’s also the shock value of it that makes viewers want to come back in order to see what you will attempt next.
Roland: Yeah, exactly. We treated the shock value and the craziness as… in the writers’ room we always called it a safety net, but not a crutch. And what we meant by that is that if we fuck up and don’t do our jobs to make the scenes interesting, to make the characters interesting, or we just fuck up and it just doesn’t quite meet expectations, we’ve got that craziness there as something that is interesting. But never, never did we just write a scene just to be crazy.

TrunkSpace: And we touched on this earlier, but the characters have so many layers. They’re not two-dimensional, which is another pleasant surprise for viewers who came in expecting one thing and got something else.
Roland: That was by design because when I pitched it, I pitched it on a whim as a joke. It was meant to be a silly, fake Grindhouse trailer back in 2011. I almost did it for a contest, but I couldn’t figure out how to do the blood engines, so I did something else instead, which obviously did not win. But this idea of the “Blood Drive” concept, cars that run on blood and a cross country race, all of my friends kept asking me about it. I could tell it sparked interest in people. And then when I pitched it, my manager said, “Yeah, write that, write that!” He got really excited. And then it was like, “Okay, but how do you turn it into a story?” Because it’s a “Saturday Night Live” skit. It doesn’t have legs. It doesn’t have, terrible pun intended, an engine that really keeps it going in a television format. And then I hit upon the idea of Arthur Bailey.

We named him Bailey because of George Bailey… because I wanted it to be like what happens when a Frank Capra character gets thrown into a Roger Corman movie. And then that cracked open the world, because then that set the bar. He’s a good guy, so what happens when you’re in a bad race? What does it do to you? What does it reveal about you, because everybody has dark secrets. We’re about to go on a three or four episode arc that really digs into Arthur and gets into a lot of that.

Keep in mind, Grindhouse isn’t actually a genre. If you’re going to be specific, Grindhouse is just a theater that played exploitation movies. When the movie “Grindhouse” came out, the Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature, it kind of shifted into a genre, or at least an aesthetic. So within that there are some great frickin’ movies! “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” gets thrown into that category. It’s a masterpiece. The Blood Trilogy by Herschell Gordon Lewis is not a masterpiece. (Laughter) It couldn’t be any further from it, although I love those movies for what they are. Roger Corman is considered a shock-meister and yet his pro movies are really heartfelt. “The Intruder” is just a bold, at the time, counter cultural kind of soapbox movie. In a good way! It deals with race relations, but he doesn’t get remembered for that. He gets remembered for “Death Race 2000,” which as cheesy as it is, it’s a brilliant social commentary. So yeah, that was always the goal. Just because it’s crazy doesn’t mean it can’t have dramatic value or even meaning. I don’t think that we’re a profound show. Of course not. But every episode we did say, “What is the episode about?” If we are going to be so brash and ridiculous and kind of have this ability to say things when people are not even going to realize we are saying them because they are too busy laughing or puking or whatever it is they’re doing, then let’s do it. Let’s say something.

The second part of our James Roland can be read here.

 

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Blood Drive

Blood Drive

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TrunkSpace is looking to rev the engines of “Blood Drive” fans. We’ve made it our mission to feature every actor and actress who has appeared on the series, and in doing so, has left a mark on the grindhouse gorefest.

Let the race begin…

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Wingman Wednesday

Thomas Dominique

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Photo By: Khris Modeste

In a world filled with maniacs, lunatics, and sex-starved zombies, Thomas Dominique’s Christopher is the straight man of SyFy’s “Blood Drive.” Often seen buck naked, strapped to a table, and systematically tortured by the terrifyingly mesmerizing AKI (played by Marama Corlett), the West London-native is a pensive and patient actor. On screen he and Corlett are the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of psychosexual suffering, a dance they perform that is equal parts spellbinding and cringe-worthy.

We recently sat down with Dominique to discuss how the series was even more brutal on the page, what it’s like working with a wardrobe that is added in post production, and how he would navigate the fictional “Blood Drive” world if it were our reality.

TrunkSpace: We have been asking this of every “Blood Drive” cast member we speak with because, well, it just seems like an obvious first question. (Laughter) Did you ever wonder if the material you were working on in “Blood Drive” would ever make it to air?
Dominique: (Laughter) Of course! There were more than a few times after a take where I’d think to myself, “They might not show this part. Is this too much for cable TV?” But 99 percent of the stuff we shot made it in. After that I knew the execs were going all out on this one.

TrunkSpace: How did “Blood Drive” come into your life and where has it changed your life most since you landed the part?
Dominique: My agent sent me the script and casting brief. I remember reading the first episode and thinking, “This is a TV show? How is this ever going to get made?” And then feeling nervous about the role because this was totally new ground and out of my comfort zone. The stuff that happens to Christopher is insane! Also the script was a lot more brutal. They actually toned it down when they shot it. But, I knew to grow as an actor you have to throw yourself into roles, so I just went for it.

I’d forgotten about the audition because I was recalled for something else, so three weeks later my agent said they wanted to see me again for the role of Christopher. I went in for the recall and two days later my agent came to me with an offer.

At this point, it hasn’t really changed my life, apart from a lot more people interviewing me and wanting to talk about the project. But my lifestyle and everything else is exactly the same.

TrunkSpace: To many of us here in the States, “Blood Drive” is our first introduction to you and your acting abilities. Do you feel pressure taking the reigns of the series as a lead in the US when most of your previous work was shot and seen in the UK?
Dominique: Oh yeah! At first it was daunting. I’m playing a lead in one of the craziest shows on TV! For most actors coming up in the UK that want to do screen work, the US is like the gold standard of TV and film, so I felt overwhelming pressure to deliver. But I had a Skype conversation with James Roland before I flew out to South Africa where we discussed the character and project in depth and all the pressure and reservations just went away.

TrunkSpace: With what we have seen of the series thus far, much of your wardrobe is added in post because much of your wardrobe has been little more than a censor bar. How does one find his comfort zone while strapped naked to a table? Was there a lot anxious scene shooting in the early going?
Dominique: (Laughter) Just before the first take, when your lying there naked and they’re doing the final checks around you, you feel really exposed. Then you do the first take and you totally forget that you’re naked. Sometimes I would get so in the moment, I’d only remember I was naked when I’d see someone from costume running in with a dressing gown after each take. So you find your comfort zone, over time.

TrunkSpace: We see Christopher go through a lot of different emotions throughout the course of his capture and porn-like torture (pornture?) but what scene stretched you most as an actor? Where did you go that you didn’t think you could?
Dominique: (Laughter) “Pornture!” I like that. I mean the word, not the act. Errrrm…

I think I would have to say the hand insertion scene and tear collection scene. I didn’t know if I could go there, but Marama was giving me so much to work with, and we had the amazing James Roday directing us, so I managed to go to places I didn’t think I could.

TrunkSpace: Most of your scenes thus far have been opposite Marama’s AKI. How long did it take for you two to establish that great chemistry together?
Dominique: The chemistry grew quite naturally. The second day after we arrived in Cape Town, Marama called me and asked if I wanted to get a drink and talk about the show and our scenes. We met and clicked straight away. After that we were together most of the time along with some of the other cast.

TrunkSpace: We read in a previous interview where you stated that Marama was the best actress you have ever worked with. What was it about Marama that brought you to that conclusion and would your performance as Christopher have been as strong if they were shot with a different scene partner?
Dominique: She’s amazing! She brought so much to her character that was not in the script. I was blown away. Marama has no ego, she listens to ideas, and has amazing instincts and input. She wants to make the scene and the overall project the best it possibly can be. To work with an actress like that is an unbelievable blessing, and I honestly don’t think I would’ve had the same outcome with a different scene partner.

TrunkSpace: Christopher is one of a small handful of characters in “Blood Drive” who isn’t a psychopath, moral-free maniac, and yet, he’s not a goody-goody either. Is it easier or more difficult playing the straight man in a world where so many of the characters are on the completely opposite end of the spectrum?
Dominique: I had a meeting with David Straiton, one of the show’s executive producers and overall series director, before we started shooting. He said, “Just play it straight.” And I agreed with him. At times it was difficult. I would find myself trying to heighten my performance to fit in with the insanity of the show. But there’s so much going on, playing it straight adds to the insanity because you relate with the character more and you’re as confused as he is.

TrunkSpace: “Blood Drive” is so very unlike anything else on television. That statement is said a lot about a great number of shows, but usually it’s just said for the sake of saying it. It truly is the case with your show. Does that make being involved with it feel all the more special?
Dominique: It’s funny, I was having this very same conversation recently, and even spoke about it in another interview. You guys at TrunkSpace are the first to actually speak on that directly! (Laughter) I’ve even used it when previously promoting a show, because there were aspects of that show that the UK public hadn’t seen before. But this!?!? 1000 percent there is no show like this, or has there been. We are definitely not crying wolf on this one. The wolf is here and it’s eating people, ferociously!

TrunkSpace: The series takes place in an alternative version of 1999. What were you doing in 1999? Anything interesting?
Dominique: 1999? I had a job at a Go-Karting track. (Laughter) It was rubbish. You had to stand around an indoor track waiting to pull people out of barriers if they crashed, breathing in exhaust fumes for 8 to 10 hours a shift. Nice!

When I wasn’t there, I was with my boys running around the streets of West London, causing mischief and waiting for the Y2K bug to end the world.

TrunkSpace: If Thomas Dominique was living in the alternate timeline that “Blood Drive” takes place in, how would he navigate that world. Would you be a racer? Would he be a viewer?
Dominique: I think Thomas Dominique would be dead quite quickly in this world, to be honest with you. I like to think I would be as strong as Christopher, but he’s super human to survive the stuff he has.

Okay, I love driving, so I definitely think I would be a racer. But I would probably get killed by one of the many jacked up creatures around the country, or over some gasoline or water dispute before I even got to the “Blood Drive.” There are six million and one ways to die in this world.

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items you want to check off in your career?
Dominique: There are so many things I would like to accomplish in my career. There are lots of different characters and projects I’d like to work on, so many people I want to work with, and so many people I’d like to work with again. My bucket list is endless. Fortunately I’ve been able to tick off a few items from some of the shows I’ve worked on, but I have a hell of a lot more to do.

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Wingman Wednesday

Sean Cameron Michael

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In this, the golden age of television, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find original content in a sea of “original” content. With so many quality productions showing up on the small screen, it’s hard to get excited for every new series because, frankly, there’s only so many hours in a day. So, when a concept comes along that oozes inventiveness and cleverness, it’s hard not to take notice.

Enter Syfy’s upcoming grindhouse series “Blood Drive.” While clearly not developed for every television viewer in mind, those who harbor a love for horror and comedy are revving their engines in anticipation.

We recently sat down with the series star Sean Cameron Michael to discuss his South African roots, the wondrous absurdity of “Blood Drive,” and how his character will kill anybody who gets in his way.

TrunkSpace: You’re a chameleon in the roles you take on in that you’re never afraid to change your appearance. Is that something you always strive to do when you step into the body of a new character?
SCM: That’s very kind of you to say. Thank you. I think with every project that I take on, even before I start working on it… in the audition or in the casting… I really try to figure out who the character is. So I’m quite method in that sense. So once I figure out who that character is… what they look like, what they sound like, what they walk like… then it sort of makes it easier for me to sort of climb inside of their heads and their emotions. I don’t think I specifically go out and say, “For this job the character needs to have a mustache and for the next one he needs to have a wig.” I think it just happens that I’m like that because over the years I’ve been fortunate to work in so many different kinds of projects, which happen to be with different kinds of looks and accents.

TrunkSpace: You mention figuring out the physical movement of the characters. Does that internal search stem from your theater roots?
SCM: I think theater is always a good place for actors to start when you’re young. It was always sort of taught to me that with a theater background it’s really sort of putting down your roots and then sort of building up from there. But, specifically for TV and film work, it’s a case of… because I’m originally from South Africa and really sort of started out when I was 12 years old and I’m now 47… it’s a case of a lot of TV and film productions were being shot in South Africa and I got to play sort of, you know, smaller roles. Little cameo roles or costar roles. And when you play in these small supporting roles, if you’re only going to be on screen for a few minutes, your look and your feel needs to be 100 percent convincing and believable and authentic. So, I think it’s really that. That’s where it started.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned growing up in South Africa and starting your career there. How is a career in acting perceived in South Africa and is it different than here in the States where actors are often held in a high regard?
SCM: South Africa has got a very small, local entertainment industry where they do TV and film with very, very low… sometimes nonexistent… budgets. With a result that the majority of the time, unfortunately, something is only as good as the amount of time and money that you put into it. South Africa has really, over the past 15 to 20 years, has been a really big servicing industry… servicing a lot of big productions coming from the States and the UK and Europe. So as an actor in South Africa, it’s certainly a great place when you’re starting out… to get the opportunity to work on so many different productions and sometimes really big productions from around the world. But, because we don’t have any actors unions in South Africa, which I suppose is another incentive to film in South Africa… there’s the result that today you can play the lead role in a film and tomorrow you’re playing Doctor #3 who has one line of dialogue. There’s no real ladder that one can climb in South Africa whereas over the last few years that I’ve now been working in the States, it’s great because over here you can really start at the bottom doing background work and then you go to TV and do costar work and then guest star roles and recurring roles and eventually series regulars and leads. So that’s really exciting for me about the States, that there is this ladder and that there is this sort of respect for actors and that they do have the ability to really add something to a production.

TrunkSpace: So having lived in different places and experienced different cultures, does that make it easier to tap into different roles and characters when an actor has global exposure?
SCM: Absolutely. When I first moved to the States and got an agent and manager over here… I was working in the industry for two or three decades already… and I spoke to my manager and was like, “Do I need to maybe go to a couple acting classes over here and just sort of get a feel for the industry over here and maybe work more on my American accent and all that?” And my manager said to me, he said, “Sean, you’re in your 40s and you’ve been living in South Africa all your life. You were in the South African Defence Force for two years. You have had such a rich life and such wonderful experience of living in South Africa during the years of Apartheid and then seeing the fall of Apartheid and seeing Nelson Mandela released from prison. And because you’ve worked on so many different productions playing so many different characters with different accents… you’re this amazing international actor, so why would you want to change that and become another stereotypical American actor?”

So, to answer your question, absolutely. Growing up in South Africa and working with all of those different experiences and having sort of experienced some of the things in that country, I think has certainly helped me whenever it comes to playing different roles and climbing inside the head space.

TrunkSpace: One of your next projects and one that we’re very excited about is called “Blood Drive.” This is the official premise we read online.

Los Angeles in the near future: where water is a scarce as oil, and climate change keeps the temperature at a cool 115 in the shade. It’s a place where crime is so rampant that only the worst violence is punished, and where Arthur Bailey — the city’s last good cop — runs afoul of the dirtiest and meanest underground car rally in the world, Blood Drive. The master of ceremonies is a vaudevillian nightmare, The drivers are homocidal deviants, and the cars run on human blood. Buckle Up, Lube Up and prepare for everything you know about Cable Television to Blow up!

That sounds like the craziest TV show of all time. Is the tone handled in a serious way so that it’s grounded or is it played up for fun?
SCM: You know what, Syfy just released today, some teaser trailers from the show, so if you have a look at those, you’ll have a very good feel for what the show is going to be like.

They’re really paying homage to the grindhouse movies of the 70s, so it really is, I think… maybe I’m mad in my head… I think it’s beautifully done. It really sits completely into that genre. It’s beautifully filmed and the attention to detail and everything that has gone into it. So, yeah, it really, really grounds itself into that world. Obviously a lot of it is sort of tongue in cheek because some of it is just so over the top, but I’m really excited for audiences to see it when it premieres in June. It’s such a wonderful mix and it’s one of the first times in my life when I had been sent a script for the first episode and I really burst out laughing. (Laughter) It was just so over the top and crazy and clever and funny. I’m really excited for audiences to see that.

TrunkSpace: And where does your character Old Man Heart play into things?
SCM: The whole story of “Blood Drive” is that you’ve got these death racers… these guys go on a race to win a lot of money or save their lives or whatever, but the whole game that they’re in or race that they’re in is being controlled by a big company called Heart Industries. I play the head of Heart Industries. So, Old Man Heart is the head of this big, big, big corporation who is basically running the whole show. A really interesting character in the sense that, I think in the original brief that they sent for the character, it said that this guy will basically kill anyone who gets in his way. So, a very unsavory and interesting character, I think, for the audiences to meet. And as we were talking about different looks and being a chameleon in a way… on this job I spent about an hour and a half to two hours in prosthetics and makeup and costume each morning before I actually went on set. So I don’t think anybody is going to recognize me at all. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that the show is over the top. Are you able to take a more theatrical approach in the delivery of your performance because of that?
SCM: I think what’s wonderful about playing something… if the writing and the set up is already so big and so over the top, you actually are able to do less as an actor. With everything going on around you and with what you’re saying… it’s all there. That actually makes it more comedic. It’s funnier when a character is actually being more intense and more serious even though what’s going on around them is just absurd. (Laughter) The show is one of those things that I think people are going to watch and go, “Oh my goodness… I have not seen anything like this before. This is the most over the top absurdity that I have seen, but in the funniest, cleverest way.”

So, no… I think if I had pushed any harder… if I in anyway sort of turned the role that I was playing into any kind of caricature, it really would have been too big. Some of the directors that I worked with on the show were just awesome. These guys really knew and understood that genre and really knew what they wanted. From a performance point of view, I always go for less is more, so I was sort of coming from under the radar. I try to go for a subtle performance and then if they want me to push it up a bit more… because I think the character that I play is also a bit schizophrenic in a way, so he will go from being very businesslike and corporate to just losing his shit. So, it’s kind of nice and funnier in a way when that kind of comes out of nowhere and you don’t expect it. I think it makes it more interesting and exciting to play a character who may be a little bit more mysterious.

TrunkSpace: There’s so much incredible content circulating throughout television these days, but again, “Blood Drive” just seems so unique even in that massive sea of TV originality.
SCM: Yeah. I think audiences today, as you say, there’s so much good television out there, which has obviously attracted a lot of the big movie stars to work in TV because you’ve got such a big audience. But at the same time, audiences have become really, really intelligent and really demand a high level when it comes to production values and content. If you look at a show like “Game of Thrones”… if you’re going to try and make a TV series in that era or in that period, you’re really up against something that’s really big and audiences have been spoiled in that way. So, I think with “Blood Drive,” because it’s such a specific genre that hasn’t really been seen on TV, I think the writers and the producers have a lot of leeway to kind of make it their own.

TrunkSpace: Your film “Last Broken Darkness” is set to screen here in the States beginning this week at The Sunscreen Film Festival in Florida, but that was a film that you actually shot some time ago, correct?
SCM: Yeah. We started shooting it in May 2015 on location all over Johannesburg, South Africa. That was 26 night shoots on location in winter. (Laughter) In South Africa. That was a really challenging… one of the most physically demanding and challenging productions that I’ve worked on.

Sean Cameron Michael in “Last Broken Darkness”

TrunkSpace: In watching it, it certainly has the feel of an intense shoot.
SCM: Oh yeah. And it’s a South African indie film, so it was on a small budget. And so obviously when you’re doing indie film, you don’t have a lot time, there isn’t a lot of money, and you really have to make it work with what you’ve got and what you’re able to get in that moment. If the final product looks great and sounds great, then that really is a sort of a feather in the cap of the director and the producers… to be able to produce something that looks and sounds great and works on a limited budget in a short amount of time. We shot that two years and then there’s some scenes in the movie that were quite sort of visual effect heavy, so it spent over a year in post. And so yeah, it’s finally doing the festival circuit and they’re hoping to get international distribution for it so that the whole world can get to experience it.

TrunkSpace: Is there a moment in the film from a performance standpoint that you’re the most proud of?
SCM: Yeah. I think actors, especially character actors, we love those really dramatic and really challenging scenes. I think the big moment… sorry, it’s kind of difficult to say because it’s kind of a spoiler in a way. (Laughter) What I can say is that somebody relatively close me… let’s put it that way… I have to deal with death. So, when there’s an emotional breakdown scene, what I love about doing on-camera work is that the camera zooms into your eyes and when you’re having to express an emotion of loss and an absolute breakdown in that sense, you can’t lie to the camera. You can’t have makeup come in and put in some fake tears and go, “Okay, well just act it.” It really doesn’t work like that. You really have to actually go through the emotions and what that character is going through. That can be really hard and really tough, but as an actor, my God… it’s what I love. It’s what I live for.

“Blood Drive” premieres June 14 on Syfy.

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