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Wingman Wednesday

Jennifer Cheon

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Photography: Jeffery Fountain/Makeup: Caitlin Krenz with Opus Beauty/Hair: Felicia Rials/Stylist: Lauren Taylor

With her character Ivory set to see more action in “Van Helsing” when Season 3 premieres October 5 on Syfy, Jennifer Cheon is living out her Linda Hamilton dream. As a child, “Terminator 2” kick-started her desire to go full on-screen badass, and now thanks to the fan-favorite fantasy series starring Kelly Overton as Vanessa Van Helsing, that dream has become a reality.

We recently sat down with Cheon to discuss how viewers will get to see more of Ivory in Season 3, the reason actors are being drawn back to the city of Vancouver, and why shows like “Supernatural” and “The Flash” have been so important to her career.

TrunkSpace: What is it like being part of a series like “Van Helsing” where the fan base is so supportive? Is it almost more rewarding on a personal level than appearing in a show that pulls triple the audience but isn’t necessarily as invested in the story and cast?
Cheon: “Van Helsing” has the best fans ever! I am happy to be a part of a show that is diverse and full of good ol’ Vampire fun! It is super rewarding when people reach out and tell you they love and support, or relate to your work!

TrunkSpace: The series returns on October 5. What are you most excited about as you build up for the third season?
Cheon: I’m the most excited that people are getting what they ask for in terms of seeing more of Ivory.

TrunkSpace: What can fans expect from Ivory this season, and on a personal level, what were you looking forward to play with on-camera as it relates to the character?
Cheon: Well, this season you see her around more characters that you may love or hate… you get to see her coming into her position more. Very exciting!

TrunkSpace: Is there a secondary level of excitement involved in being a part of a series like this when it drops in its entirety on Netflix? Is it nice to know that new people can continuously discover your work?
Cheon: YES! Yes! I am a binge watcher myself so I love that Netflix delivers it all so you can cozy up to your human or animal and enjoy the whole series.

TrunkSpace: You’re no stranger to fan-favorite series. You’ve appeared in “Arrow,” “The Flash,” and “Supernatural,” all shows that are important to viewers. But those shows are also important to your native Vancouver and the actors who call the city their home. What have those series meant to your career and how it has progressed throughout the years?
Cheon: Oh man, I had some of my first real lines on camera on those shows. I got the privilege to work with industry vets; some of the best, from actors to the crew. It’s funny how much of the industry is in Vancouver now. I lived in LA for a few years and ended up moving back home because the industry was booming (still is). Every experience on set has lead me to this moment. You never know as an actor what role will stick or which role will end up being more than a one liner… you have to really choose this career for the love because you never know.

TrunkSpace: “Supernatural” in particular, which is going into Season 14, seems like a staple for performers in and around the Vancouver area. Is it a bit of a rite of passage for actors to step onto that set and become a part of the “Supernatural” universe?
Cheon: It truly is. I remember I was fresh out of high school and modeling at the time. I needed a summer job, and my modeling agent suggested Background work… I had never heard of that being a way to earn money, but I’m so glad I tried it! It taught me set etiquette, and also gave me an inside scoop to what it was I really wanted to pursue. One of the first sets I ever walked on to was “Supernatural.” I remember saying to myself, “I am going to do that – I want to work with those actors, and be on this set with an actual role.” When it finally happened it really felt like a milestone for me, and what a great group of people to work with!

TrunkSpace: What is it that you enjoy most about performing? What is the internal drive?
Cheon: I LOVE it all. I love that I get to embody different people. I get a chance to understand how they think, whether they are fiction or real. I find it helps me put things into perspective. I love giving people a sense of comfort in the characters I play… comfort in the way they relate or comfort in the escape from whatever might be happening in their own worlds. I also love how the environment on set is so collaborative creatively. In “Van Helsing,” we get to fight with swords and be complete badasses… so much fun!

Photography: Jeffery Fountain/Makeup: Caitlin Krenz with Opus Beauty/Hair: Felicia Rials/Stylist: Lauren Taylor

TrunkSpace: We read that part of what sparked your interest in pursuing a career in film and television was “Terminator 2.” What was it about that movie in particular (and for us, we have to add that the soundtrack was pretty great as well!) that ultimately set you on this path?
Cheon: I’m humming the score right now. (Laughter) Everything about that movie and the making of that movie drew me into this industry. I love action films, and I love seeing humans do these crazy things with our bodies. I love how indestructible we become on film. With “Terminator 2,” not only was Linda Hamilton the first woman I ever saw on TV that was tougher than most men, but she was the real deal. I was such a tomboy growing up, and when I saw her it made me proud of it instead of always trying to conform to the way men tell us we should be. Also, can we talk about the costumes, and styling of that film? Ummm, epic! I think my entire wardrobe is a mix of all the characters.

TrunkSpace: In a perfect world – the BEST best case scenario – how do you see your career playing out? What bucket list items do you want to achieve?
Cheon: I want to be a Bond Girl. I have always been such a fan of those films. I would also die a very happy woman if I were to play Catwoman. I think it’s time for a mixed race female super hero. Also I would love to have more opportunities to direct.

TrunkSpace: What job have you learned the most from, the one where the things you absorbed on that particular set you still find yourself applying to your career today?
Cheon: I think I have learned these general rules from being on a set for so many years in many different departments: Stay in your lane, be respectful, say please and thank you, remember at the end of the day everyone wants to get the job done so don’t think you are the only one who matters. Just remember how lucky you are to be there, and most importantly have fun! This is entertainment!

Season 3 of “Van Helsing” premieres October 5 on Syfy.

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Wingman Wednesday

Stella Maeve

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With its third season winding down and a fourth recently announced, “The Magicians” continues to be a surprise hit for both SyFy and its stars. Stella Maeve, who portrays Julia in the pull-few-punches fantasy, admits she never goes into a project expecting it to be a success, and while she read the Lev Grossman books that the series is based on and found them entertaining, her motivation comes from the work and not the end result. If there is an experience to be had – a place to grow from personally and/or professionally – then that is where you will find her. Thankfully for fans, she saw that in “The Magicians.”

We recently sat down with Maeve to discuss life imitating art, applying character arcs to reality, and gaining knowledge while applying it.

 

TrunkSpace: How has being involved in “The Magicians” impacted your life the most?
Maeve: It’s funny how art can imitate life and life imitates art, and it’s interesting in retrospect to sort of see where you’re at, as in the individuals themselves, and how you can learn from whatever it is you’re going through or take from your experiences within your life and bring the attributes to the work to make it more realistic. It’s funny how I’ll look back and be like, “Wow, that’s wild that that happened at that time when I was portraying Julia as a character.” A lot of it is just mirror images, which is cool. I think you learn a lot about yourself. As a human being, I always wanna grow and I’m constantly changing. I just wanna get better, so it’s nice to sort of get to learn through your character’s mistakes. And then also, to me, Stella as a human, learn through my mistakes and then try to do it differently either within the show or within my personal life, which is great.

TrunkSpace: That must really come into play when you’re able to spend so much time with a single character. Getting to see your character grow while you yourself are growing must be a trippy experience at times.
Maeve: It is trippy. It is bizarre. But I think the goal is to evolve, right? In life and on the screen. What else is the point to sort of watch these characters’ journeys? In the book, it’s almost like they’re stunted and you sort of see periods of sporadic growth but no significant changes. Quentin throughout may remain on the same note, or Julia may come back to the same note, but when you format this stuff to television, you want to take people along for this ride, and you want to show them that they’re invested in something that is going to grow and change. Just like us as people, we want to grow and change. I mean I would hope, for the better of mankind that we all want to be better and grow and change.

So, I think the goal is to constantly have these characters evolving, and constantly strive to be better and change. And we’ll watch them mess up just like we do in life, and then we’ll watch them pick themselves back up. But, hopefully, in the end, it’s worth it, and we make it worth it for the viewers and I guess for ourselves, as well, to sort of have that impact, and show that people can evolve and people can change, and really, as humans, can constantly grow.

TrunkSpace: Do you ever look at your own life and think in terms of a character arc? “What was my arc during this period of my life?”
Maeve: Oh yeah, totally. Gosh, I’m trying to think of a specific example, but I can’t. There’s so many times that it’s happened that it’s on a parallel or it’s simultaneous, or it’s just kismet and wild and you’re like, “What!” I can’t just pick one, but absolutely. And it’s also hard too because sometimes the way that they write for these characters, they haven’t learned the lesson that I myself, Stella, have learned. So it’s sort of like, “Oh no, I wished that she had gotten past it.” I mean, it gets frustrating, right? You’re like, “Well, I, Stella, know that this isn’t right,” or, “I know this can be done differently, but Julia doesn’t know it yet,” and then vice versa as well. But I think it’s all sort of subconscious and it all comes in retrospect because in the moment you’re so in it that it’s hard to unveil it. With Julia the character, I just try to have patience, like I do with myself. Sometimes it gets frustrating, and sometimes you have to run into the brick wall a million times before you sort of see why you’re doing it or are able to correct the changes. But that’s what life is. Nobody gets it on the first try. Nobody’s perfect all the time. And I think that’s why people can relate to this show so much, and to Julia, because bad things happen to good people, and life isn’t fair, and we are faced with traumas and issues constantly. To have the belief that everything is great all the time is not reality. Things are gonna get ugly, things are gonna get uncomfortable, and it’s just about how we navigate our way through it, to get to the other side.

TrunkSpace: Do you think that characters come into your life for a reason, much like the way people do? Did Julia come along at a certain time where it felt like she was there for a reason?
Maeve: Gosh, I wish I had the answer to that. I ask my mom that. (Laughter) I constantly ask myself the question, “Is it all random and chaotic, or is there the divine? Does everything happen for a reason?” I believe personally it’s a little bit of both. I believe that a lot of it is random and chaotic and coincidental, but not for no reason, because then what would be the fun of life? You’ve got to believe that there is some sort of divine intervention, that there’s some sort of kismet and magic, for lack of a better term, to our existence and why things happen when they do.

THE MAGICIANS — Pictured: Stella Maeve as Julia — (Photo by: Eike Schroter/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: Julia has had some really rough, dramatic moments throughout the series. From a performance standpoint, creatively does that have you longing for the lighter moments within the series, or even lighter work outside of the series itself?
Maeve: It’s always nice to have your hands in a few different pockets. I just want to have as many experiences in this life and maximize as much as I can out of it before it’s gone. So, I love getting to play all types of characters. And I’ve totally loved and enjoyed getting to play Julia as well. It’s nice to get to be somebody else and try on another skin. And Julia has been that and there are going to be other roles that would be totally different archetypes, and I love that. I love the variety. I think it’s great to try everything. When are you ever gonna get to be like, I don’t know, a Texas hooker? When are you ever going to get to see these different walks of life and sort of apply your knowledge to it, and then also gain tons of knowledge from it? You’re getting to totally get involved and invested in a part or a walk of life that you would never normally and while also educating yourself and trying to understand. Acting is essentially the study of people, so in the grand scheme of things, it’s the way to connect us. It’s a way to have empathy and understanding and a way for us as people to unite and be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Because, you know, people can relate through work. People come together through it, people watch it, people see it. I like it as a metaphor in that sense.

TrunkSpace: Well, people see it as entertainment, but there really is a psychological aspect to being able to plug into a show or movie and unplug from your own life.
Maeve: Totally, and it’s therapeutic as well, because people can put on your show or your movie, or whatever it is you’re doing, and they might use it as a form of escapism in their daily life, because they don’t want to deal with what they’re going through. Or it could be used for the total opposite, to be able to relate to something, to be able to say, “Oh my gosh, I went through that. I totally understand that. Wow, that’s my story.” So, in its own way, I think a form of therapy.

TrunkSpace: In terms of the popularity of “The Magicians,” did that take some getting used to for you? Did it take you by surprise?
Maeve: I think it was definitely shocking at first, because I didn’t know that it was going to be such a success. You never know with this stuff, what’s going to take and what’s not going to take. And yeah, I was definitely shocked at the fact that people loved it so much because you just never know. But I read the books, and I thought they were great, and the response has been… it’s been crazy, and in a great, beautiful way. People really love it.

TrunkSpace: Not banking on the success of a project before it’s a success is probably a good defense mechanism as well?
Maeve: Yeah, I never take on something because of how I think it’s going to do. As an artist, I pick out a role that speaks to me – or a script, or a director, or anything in particular. And if it’s something that I think is interesting and a great piece of art that I want to be involved with, that’s what I go with. There’s a little bit of selfishness in that, but it’s awesome because you get to create with others and make something that is bigger than yourself, so then therein lies the non selfish aspect of it, but also you’re getting a high out of it as well.

I’ve never done it for money. I’ve never done it for the success. I never even worried about if anyone else was gonna like it. I just always was like, “Does this speak to me? Is this something that I find fascinating? Who are the people that are involved? How is this carved out? What are the archetypes? What is this that we’re getting involved with?” Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and it’s sort of irrelevant how it comes out. It’s more of just walking away and saying that you got to be a part of something that was fantastic. I’ve had films that never even got shown, but it didn’t matter because it’s the experience of getting to make them that really counts.

The Magicians” airs Wednesdays on SyFy.

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Wingman Wednesday

Diana Bentley

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Photo By: Shaun Benson

The latest season of the horror anthology series “Channel Zero” has been injecting our Wednesday nights with a dose of the creepy crawlies. Filled with morbidly captivating visuals and paced to unsettling perfection, “Butcher’s Block” is a gem of a genre offering from series creator Nick Antosca and the folks at SYFY, but it’s the ensemble cast that has us transfixed.

Diana Bentley portrays Edie Peach in the mystery-filled season, and much like the character’s surname would suggest, she is surface sweet, but there’s also something completely and utterly menacing about her that indicates this Peach is rotten to the core.

We recently sat down with Bentley to discuss her “Channel Zero” trip, why she was instantly at home in Edie, and the reason she feels so lucky to be a character actor in the current content climate.

TrunkSpace: “Channel Zero” is part visual feast and part mind trip. “Butcher’s Block” in particular looks like it would have been quite the experience for all involved just because of the nature of the story and the world in which you’re working. When you’re performing in a project that has a heightened reality, does it make the process a bit more surreal?
Bentley: This process was unique because, although the world around Edie Peach in “Channel Zero” is surreal, Edie is quite a grounded and clear mother bear to me. She sees the world only from her own perspective and experience, and isn’t concerned with seeing anything other than that. So, for me as the actor I felt like I was wandering around set in rose colored glasses having the time of my life! I’m sure it was a very different trip for the rest of the cast. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We know you have a theater background. In watching “Butcher’s Block,” we couldn’t help but notice that there’s something very theatrical about it at times, even right down to the framing. The dinner scene in particular comes to mind. In those shots where the entire table is visible, it’s almost like you’re looking up at it on a stage. As you were working on the project, did you get that theatrical vibe at any point during production?
Bentley: I don’t know whether I would say I felt the show was ‘theatrical’ but I would say it feels heightened to be inside. There’s a tension and a need and a ‘keeping up appearances’ that kept me feeling like I couldn’t let the ball drop. I think that’s the magic of the Peach clan and the show’s storytelling.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what was the most exciting aspect of Edie Peach that you were looking forward to tackling? Was there something in her personality that was an entirely new take on a character for you?
Bentley: From the moment I read the audition I fell in love with Edie and needed to play her because I understood her so deeply. I’ve never felt so at home in a character or loved them so much. There is a quality to Edie that wants to love and be loved so badly, that it obliterates everything else. I found this an intoxicating aspect of her personality.

TrunkSpace: We always hear about character complexity and how that can make working on a project more interesting for a performer, but does that also apply to story complexity? Does a yarn spun with lots of twists and turns keep things more interesting for you?
Bentley: Yes. The story is everything. Arkasha Stevenson and Nick Antosca had such an incredible grasp on the story and who these characters were, and that made it a delight to work on. Arkasha let me improvise as Edie and pushed me to explore Edie’s humor and also her darkness. She trusted that I knew the character inside out and let me play – it was just the best experience. When you can really follow a director and where they take you it makes for an awesome ride.

TrunkSpace: “Channel Zero” plays in various genre sandboxes, but the one that is most apparent (and the big draw for viewers) is horror. One of the things the show does so well is setting a really uncomfortable, creepy tone for the audience, and based on early feedback, this season is firing on all creepy cylinders. What are you most excited for viewers to see and experience as the season rolls on?
Bentley: I just think as the show delves deeper and deeper into the world and psyches of the characters, viewers will be more and more entranced and horrified. Olivia (Luccardi) and Holland (Roden) have such wild journeys – I can’t wait for the audiences to see where these two sisters end up!

TrunkSpace: Horror fans are pretty welcoming when it comes to new projects, especially when those projects are done right. When you’re coming into a series like “Channel Zero,” do you go in thinking about the end product and how it will be perceived? When all is said and done, the genre has a bit of a built-in audience so there’s automatically going to be a set of viewers who will tune in to see if it’s their cup of tea, which must be nice to know as you’re working on something… that the work you’re doing will be discovered regardless?
Bentley: I didn’t think about the end result – but I was really excited to share this show with viewers. I just think it’s such a wacky, dark, terrifying and often funny ride. As a cast we really bonded making it, and when that happens it’s usually a sign that it’s going to be good!

Photo By: Allen Fraser/Syfy

TrunkSpace: You’re also returning to “Frontier” for Season 3 later this year. We hear so much about how exciting of a time it is for actors in this “golden age of television” because of the rich, character-driven stories, but is the quantity just as exciting as the quality? Is there more work now than when you started your career?
Bentley: I feel pretty lucky to be a character actor right now because I think more than ever dynamic and meaty characters are being written for women. Edie is the perfect example – she is all of the traditional conventions of femininity but turned upside down. And Imogen on “Frontier” is not dissimilar! What you see isn’t always what you get and that’s what I’m drawn to.

TrunkSpace: Is theater still a big part of your life? Does acting on stage give you a different thrill than tackling a role on-camera?
Bentley: Theater is a huge part of my life. I run my own theater in Toronto called the Coal Mine Theatre! It’s a 90 seat theater in a storefront and we have an awesome audience. There’s nothing like performing on stage – it’s a different thrill performing live and a different beast in many ways. I like flexing those muscles once in a while.

TrunkSpace: What is the best house you’ve ever performed in? Not the best play or experience, but the most beautifully-moving theater itself – the kind of place that inspired you night after night – and why?
Bentley: I did a show at my own theater a few years ago called “Bull” by English playwright Mike Bartlett. It’s a play about bullying and we did the entire show inside a cage with the audience right on the other side of the cage, up against it. It was the most insane experience because the audience felt free to speak and comment and voice what they were feeling throughout the show. It was intense but awesome.

TrunkSpace: Anything is possible in “Channel Zero,” so we figured we’d take a page from that fantastical handbook for our last question. If we had at time machine and it could send you ahead 10 years to see what your career would look like in 2028, would you take that opportunity for a futuristic sneak peek?
Bentley: No! I love living in the moment. One of things I try to embrace about being an actor is not knowing what’s coming next or what’s happening. It’s one of the unique things about the profession that I’m learning to love. Your life could completely change overnight and that’s intoxicating if you let it be.

“Channel Zero” airs Wednesdays on SYFY.

For more information on the Coal Mine Theatre, visit here.

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Wingman Wednesday

Holland Roden

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After spending six seasons on the hit MTV series “Teen Wolf,” actress Holland Roden is used to dipping her toes into the supernatural water, but like the nightly news so often teaches us, human nature is far more disturbing than those things that go bump on a full moon night. In Season 3 of the horror anthology series “Channel Zero” (subtitled “Butcher’s Block”), Roden’s character Zoe is battling demons of the personal variety while being dropped in the middle of an unsettling mystery that would make anyone question the sordid capabilities of humanity. The troubling journey offers sights, sounds and an atmosphere that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. It is the worst case scenario for a character grappling with her own soundness of judgment.

We recently sat down with Roden to discuss tackling mental illness onscreen, why she was excited to dive into the “stripped down” nature of Zoe, and the reason acting satisfies her gypsy soul.

TrunkSpace: You portrayed Lydia Martin in 100 episodes of “Teen Wolf.” Does stepping into a series like “Channel Zero” have a different vibe as an actress, knowing that it has a single season ceiling? Does it feel more like you’re working in film rather than in television?
Roden: It feels just like a different story. Playing Lydia I had a certain feeling and Zoe a certain feeling. She’s an adult, she… well, I think of her as living in the real world. Lydia lived in a supernatural one, for all intents and purposes. Zoe has a much more realistic approach despite what she deals with mentally.

TrunkSpace: From a character’s journey standpoint, did you have a clear take on what Zoe’s beginning, middle and end would be when you signed on to play her, and if so, does knowing that journey beforehand make it easier to make choices for a character in the early stages of finding who she is beneath the surface?
Roden: I don’t know how much of the plot I can give away. There was one aspect I found out only when I read Episode 2. I had recently seen a movie called “Raw” and loved it, so let’s just say I was excited to be able to play some of the same urges that were for the characters in “Raw.”

TrunkSpace: When we first meet Zoe we learn that she is suffering from a genetically-inherited psychotic break. What kind of research did you do beforehand to get a sense of what that would look like for Zoe and how you would portray it onscreen?
Roden: Lots of YouTube, articles and books. One book that Nick (Antosca) and Arkasha (Stevenson) recommended and I read was “No One Cares About Crazy People.”

TrunkSpace: Zoe seems very different than any of the previous characters we have seen you take on in the past. Creatively, was that part of the appeal for you in “Channel Zero,” getting to tackle a character and territory that you have yet to in your career?
Roden: Exactly that – I play an adult. I play a character with a lot of responsibility and hopelessness at the same time. I was enthralled to tackle Zoe. There is a stripped down aspect to her – no makeup, baggy clothes – the opposite of Lydia.

TrunkSpace: “Channel Zero” plays in various genre sandboxes, but the one that is most apparent (and the big draw for viewers) is horror. One of the things the show does so well is setting a really uncomfortable, creepy tone for the audience, and based on early feedback, this season is firing on all creepy cylinders. What are you most excited for viewers to see and experience as the season rolls on?
Roden: The dinner scenes for sure.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that we are always fascinated with is how actors can tap into fear, which we would imagine, is one of the more difficult emotions to find on set just because it is so specific and needs to read so honestly in order to be believable for viewers. From a performance standpoint, how do you go about that? What are your tricks to finding fear within a scene?
Roden: I just pile myself to the best of my ability in the situation – sense memory to a certain extent. I write backstories on characters I play. Some days are better than others. We all have bad days at the office, but ultimately, once you are there, it is real to me.

TrunkSpace: Again sticking with the idea of performance, what was the most difficult part of shooting “Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block” for you? Where did you feel the most out of your comfort zone?
Roden: Hmm. I don’t know. Well, smoking for me was a big one. I am allergic to nicotine. Of course, these don’t have that but getting the smoking thing down was tough for me. Now I don’t think twice when I have to smoke a rose cigarette, but for a long time I dreaded it.

Roden in “Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block.”

TrunkSpace: Do you still love acting as much today as you did the first time you stepped foot on a set and began your career?
Roden: I don’t act at any cost anymore. If it makes sense then great, if not – from either end – there are so many amazing professions and lives to live out there. Too much to see and do to fret if this life doesn’t work.

TrunkSpace: We read that you were originally on a path towards a career in molecular biology. Had you not left your studies to pursue acting, do you think you would be a different person today? Would you have a different view and outlook on life?
Roden: I would probably be the same person but with a sharper mind at this point, yet with more curiosity. The amazing opportunity with this profession is it really feeds the gypsy, curiosity path. Nothing shocks me anymore. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You’re still so young with so much career in front of you. If someone came to you tomorrow with a blank check and said, “Holland, go develop any project you want for yourself,” what type of project would you greenlight and why?
Roden: Wow, great question. I would explore different types of mental illnesses. One hundred percent, I would strive to only make stories we haven’t seen before.

Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block” airs Wednesday on SYFY.

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Wingman Wednesday

Arjun Gupta

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There’s magic to be found all over the tube these days. Words like whimsical, bewitching and spellbinding could easily be used to describe the rich storytelling available to binge-hungry viewers, but for fans of the SYFY series “The Magicians,” that magic is far more literal. (At least in an imaginary sense.)

Currently in its third season, the must watch show is a combination of great writing and a compelling ensemble group of actors. In fact, in a fictional series about magic, the real magic lies in the cast. Arjun Gupta, who portrays Penny, is a stealer of scenes, a Harry Houdini of performance. In watching his sleight of character, you see that his talents are no illusion. Much like TV as a whole, words like whimsical, bewitching and spellbinding could easily be used to describe what he brings to “The Magicians.”

We recently sat down with Gupta to discuss how the series has changed his life, why he’s feeling good about becoming an astrological adult, and the reason he never thinks about the end result of a performance.

TrunkSpace: You have a pinned tweet on your Twitter page that talks about how everybody should travel because it allows you to expand your horizons and to stretch and grow as a person. We’re curious, how has “The Magicians” expanded your horizons and allowed you to grow in ways that you didn’t think possible?
Gupta: Yeah, that’s actually a really a great question. First of all, there’s two ways – personally and artistically. As an artist and as an actor, I’ve been fortunate to work for the last, professionally, for the last 12 years. I was on a show before, but this was the first series where I was an integral part, where I was working every day. Just working every day has been a huge opportunity to grow. It used to be that I would learn something on set, and I would have to wait a month or two months until the next job and then put it into practice. Starting from the first season, I would learn something on a Tuesday; put it in on a Wednesday, the next day, and that has been a huge opportunity for growth and it has continued through the years.

My acting teacher, who I’m very comfortable with and I coach with often now, he often says, “This is your rep experience.” In theater, you would go into a repertory theater where you would be doing four different plays, and you would do it in a day. This was kind of that experience for me. And so, just the growth I’ve been able to go through as an actor from that standpoint, it’s such a big blessing. And on top of that, on our show, we get to stretch a lot. I mean, Penny is a very different character than who I am, and is different than characters I’ve gotten to play in the past. Our writers, God bless them, are a little bit crazy and take us to these crazy places that we as actors then want to make real and have to make real because that’s what makes our show good. So that’s another beautiful challenge that’s an opportunity to really grow.

Personally, I don’t know if it’s the show as much as it’s just life. I’m now 31. The last three years have been the last few years of my 20s and then into my 30s, starting that journey. TV is such a collaborative experience and I’ve learned so much on how to let go of my own ego; how to not let that get into practice and how to be even more of a team player.

It’s just been an incredible opportunity and experience these last few years for growth.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the life aspect, which is a big transition going from your 20s into your 30s. Sometimes you don’t even realize how big of a transition it is until you’re looking back on it years later.
Gupta: Yeah, I 100 percent agree with you. It’s interesting. I’ll be curious to be 40 and look back on it because it has been a whirlwind at times, for sure. I was really fortunate for the teachers that I’ve had around me that I continue to be in practice with. My support system and my family that help me… I’ve actually been talking about this in interviews that we’ve been doing. People who call the 20s the best times of their lives are either looking at it through rose-colored glasses or just have forgotten how stressful that time is.

TrunkSpace: It’s true. And you really don’t know who you are yet in your 20s.
Gupta: No, you really don’t. I’m not a strong practitioner of astrology, or, I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it… that’s a whole other conversation, but I did learn through a reading with someone that, astrologically speaking, you’re not an adult until you’re 30. And when that person said that to me I was like, “Yeah, that makes sense.” (Laughter) So I guess it’s feeling good to finally be close to, if not officially, an adult. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Artistically is it exciting to be a part of a show where literally anything can happen? You can show up to work one day and learn that you’re not just Penny, but literally a penny.
Gupta: Yeah, that is the huge blessing of being a part of this show. Look, we’re all so grateful to work, every actor… well, should be. Actually, I find that not everyone is, but I’m so grateful to have a job and work. So many of my friends, so many people that I know, don’t even have the opportunity to do what they love to do, let alone get paid to do what they love to do. It’s crazy. It’s just a crazy blessing. But on top of that, to then be on a show where we do what’s not a procedural where it’s formulaic or it’s the same thing day in and day out, we’re constantly surprised. It’s a dream. Sometimes I’m just like, “I get to do this, and then I get paid, and then I get be with some amazing people?” Everything that I’ve gotten from this, it’s just incredible.

It’s just really fun. It’s just fun. It’s hard to say that in any better term other than that it’s real fucking fun to come to work. (Laughter)

Gupta with Dustin Ingram in “The Magicians”

TrunkSpace: And the amazing part of that is, now that the show is in Season 3 and creatively hitting its stride, you no longer have a fan base. You have a fandom.
Gupta: Yeah, it’s interesting that we’re talking about 30, and also talking about this show, which I think has turned 30 in its third year, and what I mean by that is the writers… I noticed it from the first script that I read of Season 3. I was like, “Oh shit!” They just felt so much more comfortable. They know the voice. With the second season I felt like there was still a little bit of hesitation or a little bit of, like, “This is who we are, but can we do this?” And now it’s like, “This is who we are. Period!”

The amount of risks we’ve taken already in five episodes are risks that I would see a show take in two seasons. It’s really great to be a part of it.

Look, man, in the first season, I’ll be honest… it was my first series regular job because on “Nurse Jackie” it was just recurring. I was there all of the time, but I was just a kid. I was 22. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on to be completely honest with you. (Laughter) In that first season (of “The Magicians”) I was just like, “Oh my God! I want to do my job well and how do I do my job well?” It was just like a whole experience. But then in Season 2, and now in Season 3, it’s cool, I’m good, I know what it is and it’s just been an increased level of comfort and safety. I feel safe with myself, within the process, within my own process, within the amazing people that I can’t speak enough about that we get to work with in Vancouver. I feel freer to play. I can make more bold choices as an actor, and I’m supported. It’s just exciting.

TrunkSpace: One of the things we love so much about what you do with Penny is, you’re so expressive. Your face is doing so much in any given scene. Is that something you have tried to always bring to your work, or is it something you felt worked specifically with Penny?
Gupta: I appreciate that. That’s very kind of you to say. Look, I think performance is everything. It’s all of it; the way you deliver the line, how you look, how you… because you’re a human and you’re living in that moment and experiencing, it should be believable even without sound. The next time you’re watching something, close your eyes and just listen to the acting. Do you believe it? If you block your ears and watch the acting, do you believe it? It’s a fun exercise, for me at least.

Yeah, Penny is a different character for me. I don’t think about specifics – the results of what’s gonna show up. I surprise myself. That’s the goal. The goal is to surprise myself because I’m not thinking about the results of what this is gonna look like to the audience. I’m focusing on the process of what the character’s going through. What is this moment? What is this scene? And then in the process of being present with that, and listening and being dialed into the circumstances. What you’re referring to are byproducts of that process. So, for me, as soon as I get result oriented and start thinking about, for example, that… I’m just going to be very reductive… that I need to be upset in a scene. If I start focusing on it like, “Okay, by the middle of this scene I need to be upset,” for lack of more eloquent terms, I’m fucked.

The Magicians” airs Wednesdays on SYFY.

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Trunk Stubs

Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block

ChannelZero_TrunkStubs

Series: Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block

Where To Watch: SYFY

Rated: TV-14

Genre: Horror, Drama, Mystery

Release Date: February 7th, 2018

Episodes: Season 3/Six Episodes

Starring: Olivia Luccardi, Holland Roden, Krisha Fairchild, Rutger Hauer

Creator: Nick Antosca

Reason We’re Watching It: Nick Antosca has taken the source material provided by Creepypasta, a group of digital urban horror stories, and given visual life to these tales and legends that will haunt your thoughts and dreams. The last two seasons of “Channel Zero” kept us up at night, wondering what the next episode will hold. “Butcher’s Block” has proven to have the same hook and is indeed the most harrowing and chilling installment of “Channel Zero” thus far.

What It’s About: “Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block” is inspired by Kerry Hammond’s Creepypasta “Search and Rescue Woods” Reddit series. The story follows Alice (Olivia Luccardi) and her sister Zoe (Holland Roden) as they move to a new town in an attempt to escape the families’ dark history with mental illness. We find out their mother is in a mental facility and that Zoe is also suffering from the same mental health issues, as well as battling with addiction. Alice is working as a social worker, hoping to help children in need. Meanwhile, there have been multiple disappearances occurring in the small town, and there are more questions than answers as to the cause. As Alice ventures further down the rabbit hole that is “Butcher’s Block,” you find out the town is much darker and sinister than you could ever imagine.

Whoah! Rewind That!: In the first episode there are a lot of moments that will have you hitting the rewind button and getting a second look at what just transpired on your screen. For us, one moment that evoked a verbal reaction from the room of viewers was the…well, we’re not sure what it was yet, but we’ll call it the “thing” in the wall. Alice makes a social worker call to check in on a mother and child. You start to hear and see this “thing” in the wall. Then, when they show the child’s room, you see a hole in the wall that would perfectly fit its face, implying that it could easily peer in on the child. The thought of this “thing” looking through the face-sized hole at the sleeping child is just horrifying to contemplate.

Watercooler-Worthy Tidbit: Season 3 of “Channel Zero” was originally going to be called “Staircases.” You’ll see why when you watch it. The creators changed the name to “Butcher’s Block,” which we have to admit, immediately sets the tone for this story.

And that’s why we’re giving it…

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Wingman Wednesday

Summer Bishil

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Photographer: Diana Ragland/Makeup: Helen Robertson/Hair: Harper/Wardrobe: Matthew Peridis

One of our favorite shows these days is “The Magicians.” There are a great many reasons why the series has cast a spell over us during its first three seasons, but the most prominent of these entertaining factors is actress Summer Bishil. The California native shines as bright as the tip of a wand in her portrayal of Margo Hanson, a character we love to hate and hate to love, but even she admits that the ringer of zingers may have had difficulty achieving fan favorite status had they not highlighted the Filory ruler’s vulnerable side.

We recently sat down with Bishil to discuss how “The Magicians” has impacted her life, the Buffy parallels, and why she is most comfortable on a series that is willing to take risks.

TrunkSpace: You’re currently in year three of “The Magicians.” Aside from the work itself, where has the series impacted your life the most?
Bishil: It’s kind of transformed my life in all aspects. It’s really informed who I’m able to even spend time with because I’m living out of the country for five months out of the year. I didn’t know anybody in Vancouver when I first got there. I didn’t have time to go out and meet people outside of my cast so that’s really my world for five months – the crew and the cast and the people that I work with. Then I come home to LA and have this other second life. Just on a practical, geographical level, it’s affected my life.

This is the first time I’ve ever really had a steady, steady gig this long so it allows me to sort of relax a little for the first time. I’m not constantly hustling to that next job. You can sort of take a step back and be a little pickier because you’re making your income. You don’t have to run around like a crazy person.

TrunkSpace: That must allow you to live in the moment more.
Bishil: It really does. This is the first year where I was able to step back because the first year I was so worried about doing a good job and then the second year, pretty much that as well. But, by the third year, you know who your character is so you can relax and enjoy a lot of the blessings that come along with being on a show for this long. Your life is just more comfortable because you’re happier… you have a job.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what has the experience been like for you to spend that much time – over 30 episodes now – with one character and see her grow in ways that perhaps weren’t who she was when you first read for the part?
Bishil: Well, part of the reason I’ve always wanted to expand on Margo and expand on who she is is because I watch a lot of episodic television and I watch for existing formula and the thing that sticks out the most with a great performance is when they evolve, when they change, and I haven’t gotten bored after watching for four seasons, two weeks in a row. When you watch a show like that, you really see how crucial it is to continue to add dimension and change your character because people will get tired. They’re looking at you, a lot of times now with binging, every day for a month. And if you’re tired, if you’re bored of something on set, then they’re probably gonna be bored of it, watching back to back.

TrunkSpace: That’s a really excellent point. Because of how people consume television now, it is probably much easier for an audience to see when and where a character is sort of idle because they’re sitting down with the episodes all at once.
Bishil: Exactly. And you have missed those characters more too, like in the old days. I’ve always liked television, even when I was a kid. My parents would let me watch and it wasn’t a thing in my house. I liked “Will & Grace.” I thought it was hilarious and I liked it. I liked the comedy. Now that I’m an actor, I know what I like and it’s the performances. I would rush home every week and wait to see it, and so when you have that much faith in something you really love and you have a chance to miss it, you’re not gonna be as critical as you would if you were binging. I’ve watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” a couple times now, all the way through, to study it actually, and what I think made it so successful is that Sarah Michelle Gellar really switched it up.

TrunkSpace: As did the supporting cast around her. Everyone grew, which made the grounded aspects more believable.
Bishil: Yeah, exactly. That cast always expanded as well, kinda like ours. I think that’s one of the reasons why “The Magicians” works because we really have a huge cast of regulars and then, in addition to that, we have so many recurring characters, so many great actors, that come in and out of our show.

TrunkSpace: Another thing you get with the “The Magicians” that also relates to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is the really rich dialogue that manages to walk the line so perfectly between drama and comedy.
Bishil: Yes, you do. On “The Magicians,” especially the Eliot/Margo/Filory storyline, we deal with a lot of fantastical situations and high stakes scenarios that are really drawn out with comedy. There’s constant humor running through it so it can be challenging to figure out the tone that you should deliver your lines in. Honestly, a lot of the times it’s a game of experimentation for me. I don’t like to go to set with one idea in my mind of, “This is how the scene’s gonna play.” Every time I’ve done that, I’ve been unhappy with the edit. I like to just give as many options as possible because, a lot of times, my instincts I do trust and 99 percent of the time they’re right, but sometimes you’re not seeing something. If you’re not taking direction, the performance is gonna suffer if you don’t have other insights.

TrunkSpace: We would imagine that it all changes depending on who you’re in a scene with as well. The energy changes.
Bishil: Exactly. On our set, given the world that we’re playing in, a lot of times, the variables are changing a lot. Drastically. Constantly. You can’t be set in your ways.

TrunkSpace: You talked about finding the tone of a specific line, but just finding Margo’s tone in general seemed like it might have been something that was a malleable process at the start because she’s somebody that, in a lot of ways, we should hate, but we can’t help but love.
Bishil: Well, thank you for saying that. I think what I read when I read Margo in Season 1 was the potential for how much vulnerability was there, but also the potential for how much she could be hated, like you said. I kinda knew that and I wanted to really play against that in fact. I was a little scared sometimes because some of the stuff that was coming out of her mouth, stuff that my character was engaging in, wasn’t always emotionally sympathetic. I definitely wanted to and tried to figure out a way to make her appealing and sympathetic and not grating on the audience because, you play it a certain way, it could have gone the other way.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how you were a fan of “Will & Grace” when you were younger. That’s a show that, even during its heyday, was very safe for the network, but now you have places like SYFY taking these huge leaps in terms of how they present their content and they’re really raising the bar and pushing the boundaries in terms of what we’re seeing and hearing. Is it freeing as an actress to be on the forefront of this less censored wave of storytelling?
Bishil: For me, my background and what I’ve done in the industry, my career background, it’s definitely more comfortable to be on a show that’s taking more risks because I’ve done kind of controversial stuff. I’ve not been in very PC stories, so I think I would feel probably very stifled if I was on a show that had to mind its Ps and Qs for the sake of some arbitrary rule which applies to them. That would just get so boring because it is boring storytelling, I’m sure, for who gets written for and how they get written for, obviously.

I’m glad I’m on a show that does that, for sure. Sera Gamble and John McNamara , they’re pretty fearless and they’re gonna take the risks that they want to take and that’s why the show’s good.

Photographer: Diana Ragland/Makeup: Helen Robertson/Hair: Harper/Wardrobe: Matthew Peridis

TrunkSpace: Which is great, because in its current form, “The Magicians” is probably a show that wouldn’t have made it on the air even a decade ago.
Bishil: Probably not. It probably wouldn’t have. I think it would had been cast very different. I don’t think both me and Arjun (Gupta) would be in the cast. This experience of just being cast and auditioning for so much, I don’t think that would have happened 10 years ago. Even if it did get made, I think it would have been a vastly different show and it would’ve just clipped the wings that makes it good.

TrunkSpace: One of the things about the show as a whole is that it sort of has this underlining message of diversity and acceptance. Was that something that you could feel in the early going, even before you first stepped on set?
Bishil: You know, my casting alongside Arjun, I thought was more progressive than I had seen in other castings and in other ensembles that I auditioned for. I thought that was a great step. The material that I got was not weighed down with any stereotypes. There were no limitations put on Margo because they had now hired a woman of ethnicity, which sometimes happens. Some shows are like, “Well, we got to spend an hour talking about where she comes from.” (Laughter) They’ve never done that, which I appreciate.

TrunkSpace: Fans are still eating up everything that Season 3 has to offer. What were you most excited about headed into this season?
Bishil: I think this season what I was most excited about was that I had the eye patch to work with. It just gave me something else to do in my third year, which was really great. It wasn’t always easy and it definitely presented some challenges, but I was glad to have something challenge me a third year into a show because, it’s like you said, other shows, procedurals, I would be doing the same thing, probably wearing the same outfit, for literally this long. I can’t imagine. I think I would go crazy.

TrunkSpace: Imagine a doctor show, wearing the same set of scrubs for 13 seasons.
Bishil: At least you’d be comfortable when you do it. (Laughter)

The Magicians” airs Wednesdays on SYFY.

Featured image credits
Photographer: Diana Ragland/Makeup: Helen Robertson/Hair: Harper/Wardrobe: Matthew Peridis

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Wingman Wednesday

Colin Cunningham

ColinCunningham_best17of17_REVSIED

*Feature originally ran 9/07/17

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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Wingman Wednesday

Keith Allan

KeithAllan
Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: Keith Allan as Murphy — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

* Feature originally ran 9/29/17

It is no easy feat for a television series to maintain a fandom (and time slot) for four seasons, especially when you’re a show that takes such creative risks as rolling a giant cheese wheel over a group of bloodthirsty zombies. And yet therein lies the genius behind Syfy’s genre mashup “Z Nation,” a post-apocalyptic episodic adventure that is often compared to “The Walking Dead” but is more closely related to “Gremlins” or “Young Frankenstein.” Yes, there is a group of humanity’s leftovers, wily in their ways, attempting to survive a never-ending army of the undead, but they’re doing it with punchlines and visual gags, making the journey more about escapism than realism.

With season 4 set to drag more rotting corpses into your homes starting tonight, we sat down with series star Keith Allan to discuss his surprising journey as Murphy, why “Z Nation” is not your average zombie apocalypse show, and what his first experience directing an episode was like.

TrunkSpace: As a series, “Z Nation” takes a lot of twists and turns. How much of Murphy’s overall journey was present creatively in those early days when you were just diving in?
Allan: Well, I knew the overall idea for the character. The basic idea was that Murphy carried the cure and there was a road trip involved. That was pretty much all I knew – and that he had a chip on his shoulder, but that was the extent of it. It’s just been a thrilling surprise. You’re kind of like, “Oh, now I get to put on a pimp outfit and mind control zombie strippers?” How fun is that? And unexpected.

So, yeah, it’s great but it’s certainly been a surprise to me, every few weeks, about what’s coming up next for the old Murph.

TrunkSpace: Were there any performances choices that you made in those early days of the character that have sort of paid off in ways that you never expected they would given the surprises you’ve come upon with Murphy over the years?
Allan: Yeah, for sure. The great gift I was given with this character was that he’s truly evolving. Not only as a human being, but as a half-zombie. He’s a character or a species that we’ve never seen before. So, luckily it’s given me a lot of leeway, I feel, in what I can do with him. We’re sort of in uncharted territory because he’s not really a human. He’s part animal. I take a lot of liberty that I wouldn’t with a regular human being.

At the very beginning of the show, I approached him as a very sort of damaged, timid animal who’s been through a lot, and certainly was not considered a force to be dealt with. But as Murphy changed and as his circumstances changed, and as he grew stronger, it was really easy for me to move into that without having to really justify a lot of it because it’s sort of built into his DNA. It’s just who he’s becoming. So that’s been a great gift because I’ve been able to morph from one version of Murphy to another fairly fluidly.

TrunkSpace: And what’s great about that is that the viewer is in on the physical change just as much as they are the emotional one.
Allan: Oh yeah. And it’s not only the color of my skin, but it’s also the texture of my skin and what my scars are doing because I have this whole series of scars on my chest from the zombie bites. So yeah, he’s morphing and changing and I, quite frankly, think that’s one of the reasons the audience has gravitated towards him, because you don’t know what’s next for him. And luckily, it’s been written in, and I’ll take some credit for it, that the audience has some partial empathy for this guy. I mean, in spite of everything, the bad decisions that he’s made in his life, he’s truly a victim of his circumstance. I think people, in a sense, see that he’s justified in being a dick. He’s kind of got the right, you know? He didn’t ask for any of this.

TrunkSpace: You talked a bit about the surprises you discover week to week, from the pimp outfit to being able to control the minds of zombie strippers, but has there been anything that has surprised you from a performance standpoint? Something where you went, “Whoa, I never thought I’d be going here with old Murph?”
Allan: Well, I have to say, without giving too much away, I get to go some places in this upcoming season that I really wasn’t expecting to go. And so that’s been exciting for me to explore a whole other side of this character that I didn’t really see as part of the overall story when I initially got on board.

The season has been interesting. There’s a couple of really powerful things for my character, and really dark things, too. And one of the things that I can talk about that was a little unexpected was Murphy’s empathy for the zombies. We hit on that early in season 1, that Murphy was the only one who’s saying, “Wait a minute, maybe they’re not as bad as you guys think they are. Maybe you’re taking everything at face value. Maybe there’s someone still in there. Maybe there’s still a consciousness. Maybe, you know, there’s some humanity left inside of these people.” He’s able to connect with them in a way that no one else was. And so, I think that was a really interesting take on my character, who is very selfish when we first come across him, and then all of a sudden, he’s the only one who’s saying, “Wait a minute, maybe you guys are the assholes!” He’s really sort of throwing up a mirror to these people who think they’re doing good just by slaughtering these people and he’s the one who’s saying, “Maybe you guys are the monsters.”

I think it’s a great social commentary in the bigger sense of in that we look at the disenfranchised and the way that they are judged solely based on what people’s perception of them is. And it’s a limited perception of them, I should say.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: Keith Allan as Murphy — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: It’s also a classic theme, going all the way back to original Frankenstein.
Allan: Exactly!

TrunkSpace: The show is tonally so different than anything else you’ll find on television. Do you think that’s part of what’s drawn such a loyal fan base, the fact that it feels unique compared to anything else they can find on other channels?
Allan: For sure. We’re definitely bringing much more of a graphic novel feel to this show. And I hear it constantly from fans that they were prepared to hate our show, simply because they thought we were doing another “The Walking Dead” knock-off. I think they clued in early on that we were, sort of, playing in a whole different world. I mean, you couldn’t miss it. Once a giant wheel of cheese rolls over a bunch of zombies, we ain’t the same show. (Laughter) And so it certainly became part of what people were drawn to because they didn’t know what to expect from us next.

We really struck a nice balance between the humor and the horror and the drama. We get to play in all of those worlds, which is great as an actor. I’m not on a straight show – it’s got all kinds of wacky twists and turns and different styles within it. Even within some of our seasons, there’s one episode that will just be a goofball episode – the whole thing is goofy – and then there are some that are more heavily dramatic. And for the fans that I talk to often, it’s the humor. “The humor just keeps bringing us back. You guys crack us up and then you break our hearts.”

TrunkSpace: In a lot of ways “Z Nation” is the indie band that they discovered and sort of view as “their” band.
Allan: Right! For sure. I love that.

TrunkSpace: We know that you’re also a writer and a director. Is there an interest or opportunity for you to step behind the camera and helm an episode of the show?
Allan: Brother, I’m glad you asked that, because actually, I got the opportunity to direct an episode this season.

TrunkSpace: Congtrats. That’s awesome.
Allan: Yeah. I got to be in the writers’ room for the creation of the episode, and the writer who actually penned the script, her name is Delondra Williams, is someone whom I have collaborated with on a couple of zombie movies for Syfy. I got to really help shape and mold the episode, which was great for me because I really know the characters. And she’s very talented, so it was great to get to collaborate with her because I love working with her. And then to get to direct something that I had an integral part in creating – I love that. I’m already envisioning it in my head when we’re chatting about it and when we’re writing a scene, so I think it’s super helpful to have the chance to play in both of those worlds.

So, yeah, I got to direct episode 4.4 this season, and in fact, I was just looking over some of it now for the color correction and looking at the finishing touches on this thing. And of course, you’re never quite done with it.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: (l-r) Keith Allan as Murphy, Russell Hodgkinson as Doc — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: It’s a big undertaking, especially when you’re also starring in the show.
Allan: I have to say, it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. This season, especially, we are shooting super fast. Because of budget constraints, we’re now shooting five-day episodes, which is insane for a show that has special effects, special effects makeup, fights, a substantial cast, and you know, these goofy gags that we pull off. And initially when I had been given the opportunity to direct, it was decided amongst the producers and myself that it would be an episode that I would not be heavily featured in. Well, I don’t know where that idea went out the window, because I’m in about 75 to 80 percent of this episode. (Laughter) So I’m not only acting in it, but I’m directing. I was running around behind the camera and in front of the camera and behind the camera and… it was very, very challenging.

TrunkSpace: And yet at the same time, it was probably super addicting and you want to jump right in and do it again, right?
Allan: Yeah! I totally want to do it again because now I learned so much from doing it. I’m like, “Let’s just do it one more time, because now I know what the hell I’m doing!”

Season 4 of “Z Nation” kicks of tonight on Syfy.

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Wingman Wednesday

Christina Ochoa

ChristinaOchoa_best17of17

* Feature originally ran 06/21/17

Christina Ochoa’s character Grace from the SyFy grindhouse series “Blood Drive” would be a page-turner if she were a book. Captivating in her silence and hypnotizing with her methodical delivery, the Barcelona-born actress is a revelation on screen, even when streaked with the blood of her victims within the eclectic gorefest. The fact that she feeds humans into the engine of her car can’t damper the warm and fuzzies you feel when watching her tough-as-nails performance.

We recently sat down with Ochoa to discuss the campy craziness of the series, how there’s nothing like it on television, and why she loved coming home bruised after a long day on set.

TrunkSpace: The response to the show thus far has been really positive, but we have to ask… how the hell did you guys get away with half the stuff that you did?
Ochoa: (Laughter) You know, we did not expect such a unanimous response from the audience, especially in the States. Maybe on an international level we were hoping for something fun and exciting, but we did not expect the warm response. We didn’t know if we were going to get hate mail and bashed at every corner. (Laughter) We’re just happy that the audience has tapped into the fun, campy aspect of it and is enjoying it as much as we did making it.

I think that being far away and shooting in South Africa kind of gave us license to get away with a lot and it worked. Kudos to James Roland for getting away with it!

TrunkSpace: You hear people say all of the time when talking about shows that “There’s nothing else like it on TV!” But that really is the case when it comes to “Blood Drive.”
Ochoa: We didn’t know if that was for a reason… that there is nothing like it. (Laughter) But we were very excited about taking a risk. There’s definitely nothing like it and I think that SyFy and UCP have been very brave in tackling something so different and standing behind it so much. I think it’s very brave.

TrunkSpace: From an acting standpoint, does the campy nature of the storytelling allow you to let loose and go to places that you wouldn’t normally go as far as performance is concerned?
Ochoa: Absolutely. I think Colin Cunningham epitomizes that a little bit with his role as Slink. He is masterful in the portrayal of that character. But I think in general we all went into this saying, “We have no idea what the end result is going to be.” We loved the material and thought it was outlandish and crazy and we dove in just wanting to have a blast. How could you not have fun? Combustion engines that run on blood!

TrunkSpace: It really is the greatest logline of all time.
Ochoa: (Laughter) Exactly!

But we had a blast. And we did have a lot of fun on set. Every episode kind of tackles a new sub genre, so every week it was something different and exciting.

TrunkSpace: Did some of the early performance choices you made for your character Grace pay off for you as you continued to play in the sandbox of those other sub genres?
Ochoa: Absolutely. I think one of the craziest things for me is that when I was reading the script, there’s a very big part of me that was like, pardon my French, “We’re never going to get the fuck away with this. They’re never going to air this. Ever!” (Laughter) So there was a freedom to making outlandish choices because we did not think that they would end up in the cut and… they did! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: When the trailers and marketing clips first hit, the show looked crazy and cool, but they still didn’t prepare you for what you ultimately see in the final product. (Laughter) It surprises people.
Ochoa: I love hearing that. We were surprised with the characters and the stories and the layers that we get to unravel as the season goes along. For us it was a constant surprise and a shock to see the scripts, and in the best possible way, I think everybody just dove headfirst into it. Everybody! Every head of department was so enthusiastic about being able to do something so different that we just kind of reveled in that space… in that little bubble that was “Blood Drive.”

TrunkSpace: It must have been interesting even just from a visual standpoint when you started tackling those various sub genres because the look of the show changes as the season goes on.
Ochoa: Credit to our fearless leaders, in this case our director/producer David Straiton and our DP Yaron Levy, who is just unbelievable. We had amazing guest directors fly in. We had James Roday and we had Lin Oeding and wonderful people. Everyone gave their episode a flavor and they are all fans of this genre and the sub genres so they got to live out their dream by making every episode look the way they wanted to, whether that’s an 80s feel or going back to the old exploitation films of the 70s or a vampire kind of thing with 80s synths and the music being eclectic. Whatever it is that you are a fan of, you got to tap into it.

TrunkSpace: Is it a sign of the times… the Golden Age of television, as a lot of people refer to it… that “Blood Drive” can even exist right now?
Ochoa: 100 percent. I think that now, especially with the new distribution models and the caliber of TV that we are getting as an audience, because I am a consumer as much as a producer, we are able to find our material and the things we like. It’s a very open platform to any kind of product being out there because it seems to find its niche audience regardless now. It’s not as hard to find it and obviously that has a lot to do with online platforms and the internet and spreading the word and marketing it virally. I think that we seem to be tapping into a time where artists really can create their vision and count on the fact that it will reach the intended audience somehow.

TrunkSpace: Certainly in the time of there being only three networks, you were force fed what you consumed on television. You liked what you got. Now you find what you like.
Ochoa: Yes! Exactly. And SyFy is the perfect fit in this case for something like “Blood Drive” because I think that audience was hungry to see something this different and this outside of the box, within the realm of what SyFy masters best.

TrunkSpace: So much of your performance takes place in the car and you hear actors say all of the time that they need to DO something within a scene. How did you handle that?
Ochoa: Are you implying that we didn’t do enough in the car because I would disagree with you! (Laughter) At the end of episode 1 we do enough! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) Agreed, but we were thinking more along the lines of the smaller performance things. For instance, an actor in an office scene may want to be twirling a pencil or stacking file folders.
Ochoa: You know, I think it might have been harder for Alan (Ritchson). As an actor, but maybe more so as a character, because he wants to actively be doing something as a hero. Arthur is itching to get out there and do something. I think for my character Grace, a lot of her power comes in observing and in stillness. She’s a very economical fighter. She’s very good, but she doesn’t come at things just swinging wildly. She’s calculated in her movement as well as in her actions and in her words. In their conversations, she doesn’t say a lot. She’s not verbose, but she definitely economizes and picks her words wisely. I think that was part of the character, so it wasn’t as hard for me as maybe Alan’s character Arthur to be in that enclosed space.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you shot in South Africa. Between the heat, the fighting, and the stickiness of the blood, it looked like a pretty physical shoot.
Ochoa: I have pictures that can show you bruises everywhere from practicing fight stunts and choreography. It was gruesome when it came to the physicality of the show and I also think that is one of our favorite parts. And I think I can speak for Alan on this as well… I loved every second of that. Our stunt coordinator Kerry Gregg has an amazing stunt team that has worked on “Mad Max” and “The Dark Tower” and huge, HUGE productions. They are very good at what they do, so learning how to stunt drive or fight… it was one of the best parts and one of the main reasons why this job was so appealing to begin with.

TrunkSpace: What’s great is that you genuinely sound like “Blood Drive” was a bit of a dream job. The excitement is in your voice even long after you wrapped.
Ochoa: (Laughter) We would come to set the next day and compare bruises and wounds and be so excited about it. My favorite part was coming home exhausted after a really, really long day of stunts and, not complaining but going, “I just had such a long day doing all of these fights!” It was my favorite part. You get to kind of feel very much like a warrior.

TrunkSpace: You have your own production company with a number of projects in the works. Do you hope that the buzz of “Blood Drive” is able to rub off on those future productions and bring them a built-in audience?
Ochoa: Yeah. I also think that tapping into “Blood Drive” and Grace as a character has opened up a lot of things for me, almost politically as well in terms of being involved in a project where representing a woman who is so in charge and in control of herself and unapologetic about her dark side. I think that those were things that were so much fun to tap into that the kind of roles and female empowerment roles that now my production company is developing are a direct correlation of my experiences in “Blood Drive” as well as “Animal Kingdom” and “Valor.”

TrunkSpace: So is that what drew you towards the producing and the development side of things, creating projects for women?
Ochoa: Absolutely. I’m very much a feminist. I think we all have to do our part to create the reality that we want and it was one of those things where I started to want to have an input and a say in the material that is out there. I have wonderful creative people around me where we like coming up with different ideas and stories and we are all entertainers to a certain degree. I think it’s also a part of the times. Not to get incredibly political, but it was something that now more than ever, in this climate, I believe is important as an industry and as a community of artists to tap into and take a stand in whatever way we can, storytelling being one of the main ones. So, after the election especially there’s been a big push on my end to put out content that I think has a point of view.

“Blood Drive” airs Wednesdays on SyFy.

Featured Photo By: Cedric Terrell
Featured Photo Make-Up By: Steven Aturo
Featured Photo Hair: Arbana Dollani
Featured Photo Stylist: Matt Peridis

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