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Wingman Wednesday

Jesse Moss

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Photo by: Kristine Cofsky

Haley Joel Osment isn’t the only person seeing dead people these days. With the new Syfy series “Ghost Wars” set to kick off tomorrow, the entire population of a remote Alaskan town is about to be spooked on a massive scale. With a cast that includes Vincent D’Onofrio and Meat Loaf, as well as a trailer that would make Vincent Price’s iconic voice crack, Major League Baseball isn’t the only fall classic set to wow people this week.

We recently sat down with series star Jesse Moss to discuss the impressive “Ghost Wars” creative team, where the real horror lies, and why people are continuously drawn to the idea of being scared.

TrunkSpace: The “Ghost Wars” concept is great. The producers are powerhouses. The cast is stacked. And there’s a side of Meat Loaf! From a project perspective, this is a dream gig. What were your initial thoughts when you booked the job and what are your expectations going into the upcoming premiere?
Moss: This was one of those times when it took awhile from the initial audition to actually book it. To be honest, I had just assumed they had gone another way, so when my agent told me I had the job I was quite surprised. I was really excited to work with Simon Barry and Dennis Heaton again. Like you said, they are creative powerhouses and the shows they make are always amazing. Then I heard who else was cast in the show and my head exploded. Between the writing, the cast, and the people putting it all together, I think this show is really going to excite a lot of people.

TrunkSpace: A lot of ghost-related series take a more comedic approach tonally, but this looks pretty damn frightening. Would you say the series as a whole is strictly horror, or does it have other genre elements blended in?
Moss: This show will definitely scare you, but it’s more than just a horror. It’s really about the relationships of the people in the town and how they deal with the events that are happening. Some believe that these ghosts are punishment for past sins, so there is a religious point of view, but there is also a science fiction aspect where some believe science can explain the afterlife. There are actually a lot of funny moments in the show as well. With all the darkness it’s important to have those moments of light.

TrunkSpace: In watching the trailer, the show gives off an us (the living) versus them (the dead) type of vibe, but is it more complicated than that? Do the people eventually turn on each other?
Moss: There is definitely an us versus them theme in the show, but the politics in the town were already divisive before the dead show up. As things become more intense, that divide only grows.

TrunkSpace: Where does your character Deputy Norm Waters fall into things, and without giving too much away, is it safe to say he’s in for a couple of rough days on the job?
Moss: He has a couple of rough days on the job to say the least. Particularly because it’s a job he doesn’t even want. At the start of the show, Norm is not especially heroic or courageous. Being a cop is just a job to him, and it being such a small town, a job he thought would be easy. When events force him into a position of responsibility, Norm has to overcome his fears and learn things about himself he never knew.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, did taking on Deputy Norm allow you to go to places that you have yet to visit on-screen with other characters? What was it about him that drew you to the character?
Moss: Without giving away any spoilers, I definitely go places I’ve never been or ever expected to go. Things get pretty crazy. I think the best part about playing Norm Waters was the arc of who he was to who he becomes. It’s a pretty epic journey with a lot of highs and lows.

TrunkSpace: In recent years you have done a number of Hallmark films, which tonally couldn’t be any further from “Ghost Wars.” As an actor do you purposely set out to create an environment for yourself where genre and character diversity is at the core of what you’re doing and the choices you’re making?
Moss: It’s always nice to have diversity in your career. I think one would get bored playing the same character over and over again. I wouldn’t say, however, that I purposely go after it. I go where the work takes me.

TrunkSpace: “Ghost Wars” has the feeling of a show that could very easily amass an impressive fandom, something that Syfy shows are known to do. From the perspective of someone who knows the project better than most, are the ingredients there to build a fan base that will make it the next, let’s say, “Supernatural,” a series you actually appeared in a few seasons ago?
Moss: I think the show is solid from top to bottom. From the script to the cast to the way it looks, I don’t feel like there’s a weak link. People are gonna love it. One can only hope that the show reaches a “Supernatural” level of fandom, and this show has as good a shot as any.

TrunkSpace: We’re suckers for some “Supernatural” here, a show that is brilliant in the fact that if you know it, you love it, and if you don’t, you’re not even sure if it is still on the air. In a lot of ways, it feels like a secret club. As someone who has appeared on the show, did it give off that vibe to you as well… in that now that you’re a part of the universe, you’re a part of the fandom?
Moss: “Supernatural” fans are some of the best fans in the world. They really love the show and know everything about it. When you are a part of the show, you feel like you’re a part of a family. They really welcome you with open arms.

TrunkSpace: In doing research for this interview, our fingers literally locked up scrolling through your extremely impressive film and television credits. It is packed with projects. As you look back over your career, what roles stand out to you in terms of those that not only meant the most to your career, but at the same time, to you personally?
Moss: The TV series “Whistler” was a big one for me because it was my first real lead on a series. I learned a lot on that show and I think I really grew as an actor. I not only learned what to do, I learned what not to do. “Dear Mr. Gacy” also stands out as a role that really allowed me to stretch as an actor. It challenged me and pushed me to places I didn’t know I could go.

Moss in Tucker and Dale vs Evil

TrunkSpace: We’re about to hit our stride for our month-long Trunktober event, which is basically our celebration of all things horror. Outside of “Ghost Wars,” you have also appeared in a number of memorable genre films, including “Final Destination 3,” and of course, “Tucker and Dale vs Evil.” As “It” has proven, people continue to love horror. In your opinion, what is that keeps people going to the movies looking to be scared?
Moss: I think people are fascinated with death. Watching a horror movie allows you to experience aspects of death from the comfort of your own home. Getting your adrenaline pumping and experiencing that thrill while knowing that you’re safe is very appealing to people. It’s the same reason people ride roller coasters. Although that didn’t work out so well in “Final Destination 3.”

Ghost Wars” premieres Thursday on Syfy.

Featured image by: Kristine Cofsky

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Wingman Wednesday

Keith Allan

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

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

Russell Hodgkinson

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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 on Friday, we sat down with series star Russell Hodgkinson to discuss his own unique journey, how acting became a therapeutic escape, and why he never expected to have a fan following.

TrunkSpace: Doc’s fictional story aside, you have a fascinating story of your own. The first thing that came to my mind in reading about your journey was just how different your path has been from other actors. What has that path, especially having enlisted in both the Army and the Coast Guard, done to help you not only as a person but in your career as well?
Hodgkinson: I can tell you that I’m probably one of the only actors who ever earned their Actors’ Equity card while still being in the military. I was fortunate enough to perform regularly at the Fort Bragg Playhouse while I was a soldier at Bragg. Luckily for me it was peacetime, so it was a safe place to be. After my divorce, I lost custody of my daughters and I was kind of lost – kind of heartbroken. One day I saw an audition announcement and went in. That led to about three years of solid on-stage acting experience at this really wonderful, semi-professional theater that unfortunately no longer exists.

I tell you, I learned more about acting during that period working with seasoned performers than I probably would have learned anywhere else. I did have a scholarship in high school to go to a theater, but I turned it down after my girlfriend got pregnant. The military was an obvious choice for me since I came from a military family. All three of my brothers have served. It was a safe place to be. It kept me independent and taught me discipline and responsibility, which I think every actor needs.

TrunkSpace: Did you carry the training mindset into your acting – the idea of always being prepared for whatever comes your way?
Hodgkinson: No, I never was that guy. I definitely didn’t focus on training. And I’m sure it’s super useful to study the craft and all that, but I just like on-the-job training. I would just do shitloads of community theater and whatever I could get cast in, and then that’s when I would dig in. I had child support payments and I didn’t have any extra money to take acting classes. What money I did have I soon realized would be better spent in therapy – learning about myself, processing my pain, and confronting my demons. I think that prepared me as much as any acting experience did.

TrunkSpace: So in a way the acting itself became the therapy?
Hodgkinson: Well honestly, I think for me, especially my 20s, it was an escape. I was really kind of a mess and acting was a way to mood alter. I could be somebody else. I didn’t have to be me, you know? And it was also where I found my tribe – my people. Artists, and not just actors, but technicians and set designers and just all the people involved in theater and film. I just found those to be the people that I gravitated towards. I did it for social reasons, and I did it to mood alter, and then it just kind of morphed into being something that I continued to do throughout my life.

TrunkSpace: Is it a surprise then to be sitting here, all these years later, talking about it from the perspective of heading into the fourth season of a television series?
Hodgkinson: Oh completely! I mean, seriously, if I wanted to be in television I would’ve moved to LA years ago. I just have always possessed this kind of culty ambivalence about acting. I guess my life experiences have really kind of prepared me for this moment on the show, but because being an actor has never really been the most important thing in my life, it doesn’t drive me in the way that it may drive other actors. That doesn’t mean that I’m not fiercely loyal to my character. I feel like I really know who Doc is and it’s super important that I stay true to him.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: Russell Hodgkinson as Doc — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: In many ways, “Z Nation” has had its own unique story, much like yourself. It hasn’t exactly existed in the same way that other shows have, and tonally, it’s very different than anything else on the air. Do you think that has helped shape the audience and fan base?
Hodgkinson: Well no, I think the fans are really responding to our dynamic as a group. Compared to other zombie shows out there, we have a clear cut mission. We try to put the fun back in the apocalypse. I think you can genuinely see that we have a real fondness for each other. I think that may be what they’re responding to – not having to take the apocalypse so seriously.

I also love the fact that we are introducing different kinds of zombies that they’re not used to seeing. If we had better merchandising, we could sell a zombie 12-pack, because we’ve got the Blasters, and the fidos, and the one’s with the bling that had the jewels all over them.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that TV wasn’t necessarily on your radar. Has being on “Z Nation” changed your perspective of the medium as a whole?
Hodgkinson: Well, it’s really clear to me that it’s definitely not the actor’s medium. I mean, coming from theater, theater is the actor’s medium, and television is the editor’s medium. It’s wonderful to see what they make out of our stuff. We’ll shoot for five days and they just get in there and make us look great. It’s all just cutting this and cutting that, and then of course the FX, adding the splatter and the gunshots, and just bringing it all to life. That’s really where the magic happens, I think, behind the scenes really.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, has the tone of “Z Nation” allowed you to take an approach to the character that perhaps you would not be able to take while on another show? Are you able to take things a little further with Doc than you would with a more straightforward network series?
Hodgkinson: I typically play a lot of cowboys, drunks, and rednecks. For me, the opportunity to be comedic has been really fun. I mean, film-wise and television-wise, I’ve only really done serious roles, nothing very comedic. And you know, as a guest on a TV show, you’re going to come in, you’re going to do your thing, and then you’re done. But as a series regular, there’s so much more opportunity to explore as you get to help develop this role over a period of time. That adds a whole other element to it really.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: Russell Hodgkinson as Doc — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: This may seem like a loaded question based on how season 3 ended, but can you sort of give us an idea on where things are going this season and how Doc’s story is going to play out? What are we going to see that’s different and exciting, two things that “Z Nation” is always known for?
Hodgkinson: Well, I think you’re going to really like the new cast. Everybody died but Doc, so…

No. I’m just kidding. We actually pick up the show two years later. You’re going to see who survived and who didn’t. We all kind of separate, and we have a moment where we come together, and then the team’s back together on a new mission. What’s left of the team, I should say.

We got some wonderful new guest stars as well, Henry Rollins being one of them. I think it’s going to be a really fun season for everybody.

TrunkSpace: As someone who never expected to be here talking about starring in a television series, what has been the best experience for you thus far throughout your “Z Nation” journey?
Hodgkinson: Well, I think the best part of the “Z Nation” experience for me has been the opportunity to connect with people all over the world. The fans have really made the experience worthwhile. And the ability to bring laughter and entertainment to people has been super rewarding. In fact, I could travel to 10 different countries and I would definitely know somebody who would let me sleep on their couch. (Laughter)

I had no idea I was going to have a fan base. That doesn’t happen in theater, you don’t get a fan base. You also don’t get any respect from your family either. I’ve been a theater actor for 30 years. “Oh yeah, he’s doing that acting thing, you know.” But the minute you get a role on a TV show, suddenly it’s, “Oh my God, you’re an actor!” Then they care.

TrunkSpace: And isn’t that funny considering we just talked about how television isn’t the actor’s medium.
Hodgkinson: Oh yeah. It’s very ironic. I’ve had amazing roles on stage – big leading, fantastic roles and it was, “Eh, whatever. He’s doing his acting thing.” The first time I was ever on a TV show, I think I maybe had two lines and it was, “Oh my God!” Everybody’s calling everybody. “He’s going to be on TV! His dreams have been realized! He’s now an actor officially!”

TrunkSpace: Finally, we read that you once worked at Carvel Ice Cream as a professional soda jerk. With “Z Nation” being such a mix of genres, what kind of flavors do you think would make up a drink in its namesake?
Hodgkinson: If I had to pick an ice cream that would encompass “Z Nation,” it would definitely be Rocky Road.

Season 4 of “Z Nation” kicks off Friday on Syfy.

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Wingman Wednesday

Karl Schaefer

KarlSchaefer_Wingman_wednesday
Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: DJ Qualls as Citizen Z — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

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 on Friday, we sat down with series co-creator and showrunner Karl Schaefer to discuss how we’re all in on the “Z Nation” joke, the Spokane experience, and why he considers the show do-it-yourself filmmaking.

TrunkSpace: The humor and tone of “Z Nation” is not only so different than what other zombie shows present to viewers, but it’s so different than other shows in general. How much of that do you think plays into not only its initial success, but ongoing success as well?
Schaefer: Well, I think the humor and quirkiness of the show certainly is part of the secret sauce that makes it work. It’s kind of an organic thing that comes from me and my writing. If you look at my other shows, they all kind of have this tone to them. At the same time, the goal of this show, from the very beginning, was to make it the people’s zombie show and give everybody just what they wanted and cut out all of the rest of the stuff. We wanted to make it feel like when you watch the show, you get the feeling the people making the show are laughing their asses off, just off-camera. You’re kind of in on the joke with them. If the viewer at home had the tools to make their own zombie show, this is the kind of stuff they would be doing. We wanted it to have that feel to it.

TrunkSpace: At the same time, there’s also a specific mission that the characters are on, which gives the show some parameters within that wacky tone that we all love. With lot of post-apocalyptic shows, there’s always that vibe in the first season, but then it sort of disappears after awhile.
Schaefer: Right. I think that’s one of the things that was baked into the idea from the beginning, was that there was a sense of hope to the show, that there’s some actual thing the characters can do that might result in their well being at some point. So that gave it some sense of hope, and a reason to travel, and to keep pulling yourself from place to place. Most zombie shows, they kind of hunker down somewhere.

TrunkSpace: And that traveling aspect of the show allows for some great visual differences week-to-week.
Schaefer: Yeah, and that’s why we shoot in Spokane. There’s so many different looks within the 30 mile zone that we have to shoot. That’s what made it seem like we’re traveling across the country and is a big part of the fun of the show too.

TrunkSpace: We read in a previous interview that you did where you said you wanted the show to be the anti “The Walking Dead,” which makes complete sense from a creative standpoint. That being said, do you think “Z Nation” would have made it on the air had it not been for that show and the success it had?
Schaefer: That’s hard to say. Certainly before “The Walking Dead,” the idea of a zombie TV series seemed dumb. (Laughter) I mean, they did elevate the genre with it. That was sort of the genius of “The Walking Dead,” was it took the genre seriously to start with. Then it was sort of like, after a couple of seasons, it seemed like they took it too seriously. So my joke is, “The Walking Dead” is kind of like zombie church, and we’re sort of like zombie bowling.

TrunkSpace: Neon bowling!
Schaefer: Right. Do you want to go out to church or do you want to go bowling on a Friday night?

So that’s sort of where “Z Nation” lives because our driving question we ask about everything we do is, “Is this fun?” Our show is just purely about giving people an hour to forget and just distract them from whatever is bothering them.

TrunkSpace: Which is pretty timely with all of the chaos going on every time you put on the news. Distractions seem very welcome.
Schaefer: There’s a lot of TV you watch and you go, “What? How is this entertaining again? Why am I watching people in prison? Or sick in a hospital?” (Laughter) So we’re just trying to make it fun, and because we’re kind of so low budget, and we’re way up in the heart of darkness here in Spokane where nobody pays that much attention to us, we get away with a ton of stuff that you could never do on a regular show. We get network notes and it’s like, “Sorry, I don’t have the money to do that. That’s shot, there’s nothing I can do. Sorry.” And because it keeps working, they leave us alone.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: (l-r) Tara Holt as Lucy, Anastasia Baranova as Addy — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

I just walked out of a mix to do this, and the director and I are sitting there watching the mix going, “We could have never done this show anyplace where executives were paying tons of attention.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And that’s not a bad place to be!
Schaefer: I think they sort of just let us go at this point. There’s been so many things where we’ve had a meeting going, “Is this really gonna work?” and then we kind of pull it off and they go, “All right, I guess they can throw 10,000 zombies into the Grand Canyon!” or, “I guess a cheese wheel is funny running over zombies, and you can actually make it look good!”

Syfy has been super supportive. I do have to say that. They’ve been great.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned budget, which got us to thinking… so often in the horror genre, great things come out of when creative people have to think outside the box because of budget constraints. Has that been the case with “Z Nation” through the first four seasons?
Schaefer: Oh, absolutely! This show is kind of like one of those cooking shows where they give you 10 ingredients at the beginning of the episode that don’t go together, and you gotta make a meal by the end of it. That’s sort of my challenge every week with this. We write all the scripts ahead of time down in LA, kind of knowing what we have up here, but then you get up here and see what we really have in locations, because we don’t have the money like on most TV shows to make the environment fit the script, we have to make the script fit the environment. So every script is rewritten to fit what we find so that we maximize what we find.

You don’t know that we were planning to do something else entirely. The audience just knows, “Oh, this seems really good what they did.” It’s because we changed something to fit something really cool that we found. There’s so many interesting, weird locations up here where we shoot, so it’s a very dynamic process that goes on, finding the locations and making it all fit. Having to be clever about the filmmaking of it – that’s what makes a show really fun to work on.

We have a great group of young filmmakers here in Spokane, and a great visual effects department that are just local guys that started out on the show, and then after working on the effects, started their own company and now they’re doing all of it. We do everything. We do models. We do forced perspective. We do lots of camera tricks, as well as good digital effects. It just makes it fun.

TrunkSpace: Like a giant cheese wheel for example!
Schaefer: With a gag like that, we actually built a giant cheese wheel. There’s a 35 foot cheese wheel that’s now in a museum in Spokane where we have a “Z Nation” exhibition here in town. We’re actually shooting a lot of the show at the museum as well, so people could come and watch us film.

We use every trick in the book to make this look as good as possible each week. There’s so many good people that just won’t let it be bad. If you saw our first cuts you’d be like, “Yeah, that looks like a cheesy, cheap, Asylum movie!” But by the time we’re done with it, there’s just so many good people adding little bits and pieces, and fixing things, that it looks like a real show by the time we’re done with it.

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

TrunkSpace: Just by the excitement in your voice, it sounds like a heightened version of when you’re a kid and you grab the video recorder and then go out with your friends and try to shoot something cool.
Schaefer: That’s actually part of the appeal. One thing about the zombie genre is, it’s a do-it-yourself genre. People like to be zombies. They make zombie films. The original concept for the show, which we had to sort of drop because I think we just wound up with more story than we thought we were going to originally have, was going to be people sending in their own zombie videos that they made, which the Citizen Z character was gonna be receiving and playing as part of the interstitial stuff. It was because of that feeling of, “Let’s just go out and shoot this and do it with a couple of pie tins and homemade blood!” It’s part of the fun of the show, I think – the fact that it has a little bit of that handmade, do-it-yourself quality to it.

TrunkSpace: Prior to “Z Nation” you had a hand in the creation and development of a number of cable shows that sort of got the entire cable world rolling – “Eerie, Indiana,” “The Dead Zone,” and “Eureka,” to name a few. Now that everyone wants to be in cable, does it kind of feel like, “Hey, this is my turf!”
Schaefer: (Laughter) I wish it was my turf. My turf is pretty big at the moment. What is there, 400 something scripted TV shows now?

I’m glad to be working. We’re having a lot of fun up here. We’ve kind of hit that sweet spot where we’re pretty much left alone. We’re just getting to make a crazy zombie show. They give us money to make a crazy zombie show, nobody bothers us, and people like it. I’m gonna hang in here as long as I can. It seems like a pretty sweet place to be.

Season 4 of “Z Nation” kicks off Friday on Syfy.

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Wingman Wednesday

Marama Corlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corlett and Colin Cunningham in “Blood Drive”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blood Drive” airs Wednesdays on SyFy.

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Wingman Wednesday

Colin Cunningham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blood Drive” airs Wednesdays on SyFy.

Featured Images By: Arthur Albert

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Wingman Wednesday

Christina Ochoa

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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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Wingman Wednesday

Jenny Stead

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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.

 

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Deep Focus

James Roland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wingman Wednesday

Craig Jackson

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There have been plenty of talented people with the name Jackson who have left their mark on pop culture. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is an obvious one. Randy Jackson, the “American Idol” judge and record producer who made “dawg” a household phrase. Shoeless Joe Jackson, the famed and shamed professional baseball player who later became fictionalized in “Field of Dreams.” And Samuel L. Jackson, the iconic “Pulp Fiction” actor who once had to fight motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane.

The list could go on and on, but only ONE Jackson has shared a passionate screen kiss with his scene partner while having a human eyeball pass back and forth between their lips. (At least we think he’s the only Jackson to do that. Truth be told, we haven’t actually fact checked that because it just felt like a safe assumption.)

South African-based actor Craig Jackson plays slacks-wearing, serial killing, lap-dogging Cliff in our favorite man-eating car drama “Blood Drive.” And the fact that we can even say that sentence out loud proves just how cool this interview is going to be, so put on a bib because you’re in for a treat!

We recently sat down with Jackson to discuss bloodthirsty love, putting the pedal to the hybrid metal, and why he’s so proud of having worked on the series.

TrunkSpace: We have been asking this of every Blood Drivecast 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 Drivewould ever make it to air?
Jackson: All the time! When I read the line, “Back door entrance, Barbie,” my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I thought they might censor some of the material. I’m just so glad it all stayed in. It was just so out there and crazy and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard!

TrunkSpace: What is interesting about the show is, due to the premise, many of the actors had on-screen partners, in your case Jenny Stead. Do you think that helped the actors find their sea legs in a series that is so over-the-topbeing able to instantly rely on a scene partner who is also your character’s partner?
Jackson: Definitely! When Jenny and I first met at the studio, we hit it off immediately! I remember the crew asking me if we had known each other for years! It was nerve-racking coming into this series, because it was so off-the-wall and we were worried where to pitch our performances, being comfortable with each other made everything so much easier. Jenny is a really funny and talented actress, working with her was such a pleasure.

TrunkSpace: Your character Cliff is going through what a lot of long-married people go through. He is wondering what happened to the excitement and spark that he and his wife had in the early years of their relationship. However, Cliffs excitement and spark involves the longing to return to a life as a serial killer. Was it fun tapping into that totally relatable concept, and yet, sooooo not relatable at the same time?
Jackson: Such fun! I think Cliff is “comfortable” with their marriage and doesn’t like change too much, but adores Domi and would do anything for her even though she’s a ball busting narcissist who drives him crazy. Domi is on a mission to find that spark again and Cliff follows like the lap dog he is.

TrunkSpace: A bit of Cliffs backstory is discussed through some reminiscing with Jennys character Domi. Did you two explore that even further, either together or with creator James Roland? Perhaps, how the two ultimately met and fell in bloodthirsty love together?
Jackson: Jenny and I came up with a backstory, which was very dark. Cliff and Domi knew each other at a young age and fell in love when he helped her kill her parents. They realized then that they were soulmates. Years before entering the “Blood Drive” race, Domi had a miscarriage and Cliff saw the dead fetus, which put him off killing. This event has affected their relationship and their marriage had stagnated as they didn’t kill together anymore.

Before we shot our very first scene (the eyeball kiss), I spoke to James about my character. He said what he loved about my audition was that I reminded him of Winnie The Pooh! I loved that!

TrunkSpace: The amazing thing about Cliff is that although he looks like a suburban super dad on the surface, he is probably one of the more better equipped characters for this world, at least mentally. Hell, even Rib Bone had a weakness in the dog! Do you feel like Cliff is sort of the big psycho fish in the small Blood Drive” pond?
Jackson: For sure. That’s what I love about the characters that James has written. They look so normal. Your typical harmless, middle American couple, who are repulsed by the other drivers. They see them as lower class. Even though Cliff is a ballbusted whipping boy to Domi, his inner rage is unrivaled. When he loses it, he is a bad ass! And coupled with Domi,… well, lets just say… Arthur and Grace wouldn’t get out of their starting blocks!

TrunkSpace: We just spoke of weakness. Would Cliffs weakness be Domi?
Jackson: 100 percent. Even though she drives him crazy, he would be nothing without her. Oh, and the Prius! I mean, how emasculating can you get? Cliff would have loved a cool mustang, but NO! Domi insisted on a slow HYBRID!!!!

Domi: (staring at Cliff) Tone.
Cliff: Yes, Dear…

TrunkSpace: Eyeball make out session! How does one prepare for something like that?
Jackson: Hubba Bubba chewing gum.

I was really excited! Before shooting the scene, I thought to myself, “Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would be shooting a kissing scene with an eyeball! How great is my life right now!” The environment was so relaxed. We had such a great team around us and it was such a pleasure being directed by James Roday.

TrunkSpace: Just out of curiEYEsitywhat was the actual prop eye made of?
Jackson: Plastic dipped in some sweet blood syrup. Yummy!

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?
Jackson: Well, my family find it hilarious but can’t quite get their heads around the concept, but they are all very supportive and eager to see the show. I love watching my wife’s face when she watches the eyeball scene. It’s a look of pride with moments of disgust.

TrunkSpace: “Blood Driveis so very unlike anything else on television. That statement is said a lot about a great number of shows, but usually its 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?
Jackson: Absolutely. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun. Not being 100 percent sure how this show would turn out was both frightening and exciting and I’m so proud of the finished product. This show isn’t just about blood and gore, there are amazing, clever themes running through each episode and James Roland has done a sterling job. It was an awesome team to work with! I have also made lifelong friends. I’ve just got back from the United Kingdom where I met up with Marama, Thomas and Andrew. What a lovely, talented team! South Africa misses you guys! COME BACK SOON!

TrunkSpace: You spent multiple seasons starring in Black Sailsas Featherstone. What did your time on that series teach you about working with the same character over a prolonged period of time
Jackson: I find the longer you play a character the easier it becomes. You’re more at ease when delivering dialogue and can play more and try different things. We also had amazing script writers in Jon Steinberg/Robert Levine and Dan Shotz, which makes an actors work a whole lot easier.

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?
Jackson: I love what I do and want to keep doing challenging roles, whether it be for film, television or stage. An award or two would also be nice!

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