close

James Roland

Wingman Wednesday

Jenny Stead

JennyStead_Wingwoman_wednesday

One of the more murderous characters in the grindhouse series “Blood Drive” goes against everything procedural cop shows have taught television viewers regarding serial killer profiles. As the overbearing and emotionally abusive Domi, Jenny Stead brings a dynamite dynamic to the raucous show. Whether she’s figuratively smothering her onscreen husband Cliff or literally smothering yet another victim of her cruel cravings, she is a powder keg who is one short fuse away from going off… and she is glorious!

We recently sat down with Stead to discuss flying freak flags, judging Domi’s book by its cover, and why “Blood Drive” is so special.

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?
Stead: Listen, when you read David Straiton’s IMDb credits you kind of figure that he knows what he’s doing.

But, um, okay, in the spirit of full disclosure (and at the risk of sounding like a complete doofus), I didn’t actually read the pilot until I was called back! I was contracted to do a play over most of the shooting of “Blood Drive,” so I didn’t think I had a chance to be anything more than (hopefully) a day player. When they called me back for Domi, I finally read episode 1 and all I remembered was Grace’s line offering a little extra adrenaline-inducing action, “Back door, Barbie. One time offer!” and I thought, “Woah! What!?! Oh, it’s some sort of soft core porn! Why am I reading for this?!”

I didn’t get the extent of James Roland’s genius and truly wonderful humor until the first table read. The entire cast was incredible, but Alan Ritchson and Christina Ochoa blew me away. Straight off the bat they had this great chemistry, but more than that they had already found the romance and the comedy so beautifully written into each show. It was really only after that read that I had a clear understanding of what we were doing and I was amped.

TrunkSpace: On the surface, your character is a fish out of water in the “Blood Drive” world, but in reality, she probably fits in better than most. Is she camouflaged on purpose or is Domi just who she is?
Stead: No one fits in in the Blood Drive, they are all misfits and weirdos and that’s one of the relatable aspects, right? Because we all have a freak flag, we just fly it at different heights.

I could write a solid thesis on my take on Domi’s backstory, but at the end of the day, it’s all just my own trajectory and I’m sure people like to imagine her beginnings for themselves.

I do, however, think it’s a lot of camouflage. I think Domi is trying very hard to pass for the average, suburban housewife. I think that dictates everything from the color of her lipstick to the shirts she, obviously, forces Cliff to wear. I think she probably grew up in a trailer and has worked very hard to become what she imagines society deems appropriate.

TrunkSpace: There’s that old saying, “It’s always the quiet ones…” Does that apply to Domi?
Stead: Sure, Domi can be an observer, but I wouldn’t describe her as quiet. Cliff can’t get a word in, poor guy! I do think the old saying about judging a book by its cover is pretty apt though.

TrunkSpace: Throughout the series your scene partner is your onscreen husband Cliff, played by Craig Jackson. Did having a static scene partner help you find a comfort zone, not only as Domi but in her role as not-so-loving wife?
Stead: I struck gold with Craig Jackson, he and I were like two kids in a candy store. We did not stop laughing and appreciating every minute on set.

Domi and Cliff have a particularly unique physical relationship. I don’t think Domi is fond of being touched at all. It takes a certain element of macabre to turn her on and Cliff is the only person who gets that. The fact that they’re often static physically and occupying separate spaces certainly played into the strained aspects of their marriage. It also meant that when they do become physically close it’s with a very deliberate intention, which makes it kind of sweet, and hopefully, even a little hot.

TrunkSpace: When did Domi and Cliff’s relationship go sour? As they reminisce, they sure seem to paint a pretty picture of the past, but was it ever pretty or are their nostalgic brains skewing what actually was?
Stead: Unless you think a honeymoon shag requiring a bellhop bleeding out all over you is pretty, I don’t think that’s the most accurate word! (But hey, each to their own!)

I think they were probably really lucky to find each other. In my head, they met as children and started killing early on. Craig and I like to imagine that Cliff helped Domi kill her foster parents. That’s why Domi has no surname because she got rid of her slave name and likes to be known by one name, like all the greats… Stalin, Hitler, and, you know, Cher.

TrunkSpace: Domi clearly has a murderous blood drive of her own. What do you think Domi’s weapon of choice is?
Stead: Anything sharp. A scalpel, scissors, small blade… her teeth! She definitely prefers to take her time and is fascinated with the human body, but she can also be like a shark near blood and go into a complete feeding frenzy. But for her, murder is definitely art.

TrunkSpace: Your onscreen husband Cliff has weaknesses that are clearly visible. Domi, not so much. Does she have any weaknesses?
Stead: I think her weakness lies in her deep desire to fit in. I think she tries so hard to be normal but has zero aptitude for normality. Luckily she has no emotions, so she doesn’t feel too bad about it all.

TrunkSpace: Eyeball make out session! How does one prepare for something like that?
Stead: We were so lucky to have James Roday directing that block. He had this ridiculous stroke of genius that he wanted the eyeball scene to be an homage to John Hughes’ “Some Kind of Wonderful.” He wanted Cliff and Domi to be like teenagers who were making out for the first time. It was so clever because we played it with absolute sweetness and sincerity and then there was just this incredibly life-like, bloodied eyeball in the mix. The props department gave me one of the standby eyeballs as a keepsake. It sits proudly on a bookshelf in my lounge over a copy of “The 5 Love Languages.” It’s especially great for when my kids have friends over and their parents pick them up after a play date!

TrunkSpace: How do you share your new gig with family when said gig is a show with cars that eat people and a character who is mouth-swapping eyeballs? What is that conversation like?
Stead: I have the world’s greatest husband. He’s incredibly supportive and although he’s not a massive grindhouse fan, he’s really enjoying “Blood Drive.” My kids think it’s the best thing ever, especially when I had to do stunt training and they hear about me having to massacre an entire village. My mom’s just happy when I work and I haven’t told my dad that much about it. Hopefully I’ll never have to!

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?
Stead: There is so much great television being made at the moment. Although on the periphery it might seem that “Blood Drive” would only appeal to a very niche market, I think they’ve managed to create something with a really broad appeal and given the genre that’s no mean feat. “Blood Drive” is special for so many reasons. The show is cool. It’s dark and gory and it’s funny and it feels particularly poignant in this day and age. I’m a genuine fan. I’m really proud of this show and it introduced me to some of the most incredible people. For such a gruesome show it was really filled with a lot of love.

TrunkSpace: Strictly from a career standpoint, is “Blood Drive” a game changer?
Stead: It certainly is a nice addition to my show reel. As far as game changing? I’m not sure I can expect a call from David Lynch, but if you’d care to put in a good word…

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?
Stead: It sounds corny but I just want to do good work that I’m proud of. I love what I do and I never take for granted how lucky I am to do it.

 

read more
Deep Focus

James Roland

JamesRoland_DeepFocus_part2

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.

read more
Deep Focus

James Roland

JamesRoland_DeepFocus_part1

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.

 

read more
Blood Drive

Blood Drive

BloodDrive_Feature

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…

.

read more