The Expanse

Wingman Wednesday

Byron Mann

Photo By: Diana Ragland

Byron Mann is on one heck of a project run, but he’s the first to admit that it wasn’t planned. In fact, he couldn’t have planned it this way if he tried.

Not only can the Hong Kong native be seen starring in the new Netflix series “Altered Carbon,” but you’ll soon be able to catch him opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the upcoming action film “Skyscraper.” Both projects’ trailers were part of the highly-anticipated Super Bowl roster of commercials, proving once again that you just can’t plan for this kind of thing.

We recently sat down with Mann to discuss the reason “Altered Carbon” feels more like a film than a television series, why it won’t be easy for other networks to duplicate, and the place he often finds himself engaged in character work.

TrunkSpace: “Altered Carbon” seems like such an ambitious show, especially by television/streaming standards. Just the visuals… the sets… they’ve really built an atmosphere and then dropped the characters in to inhabit it.
Mann: I didn’t realize how ambitious they were until I started training for the show, both individually and they had me work with a trainer every morning. It was pretty hard, rigorous training. Then, in the afternoon, we would train for the fight sequence in the pilot episode. We did that for like two months. Training for one fight sequence for two months – it’s pretty steep, yeah.

TrunkSpace: That’s amazing. It definitely had the feel of watching a feature film.
Mann: There’s no question that they were making a feature film. The director, Miguel Sapochnik, who won an Emmy for “Game of Thrones” last year… there was no question that his ambition was to make it that. I mean, listen, the camera that they used was the ALEXA 65. That’s the same camera used for “The Revenant,” the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. That camera is only used for widescreen display of the image, like in a movie theater. It’s never ever been used for a TV show. He chose to use this camera for this television show, this streaming show, I should call it. The ambition was clearly there from the get-go to make it feature film quality. When you see the first episode, you’ll see very clearly that it is a feature film presentation.

TrunkSpace: Maybe that’s why the sets and world stood out so much to us, because of the widescreen display.
Mann: Yeah. Of course, when we’re filming, you don’t really feel it. I can tell, not only from filming, but actually from the preparation, the training and rehearsals going into it, that obviously the sets were… they built a new world basically. They built a studio for the series. They converted a printing mill into a studio in Vancouver. It’s called the Skydance Studios, and Skydance owns it. I don’t know how to describe it. They weren’t making another “CSI.” They were making a groundbreaking show, from the ground up.

TrunkSpace: Which sort of calls out other networks. Executives at all of these other networks are going to be saying, “We need our own ‘Altered Carbon’.”
Mann: Oh man, that’s easier said than done. You can’t just duplicate that overnight. You can’t. It’s so hard making anything these days. It’s hard making a television show. It’s hard making a feature film. Not only do you have to make a show like that, then you have to make it a super duper outside-the-box, groundbreaking show. Forget about it. You can’t even plan it. A lot of things that came into being. There’s Laeta Kalogridis. She wrote “Terminator Genisys,” “Shutter Island.” She’s the leading science fiction writer in Hollywood. “Alita: Battle Angel,” the movie that is coming out from Robert Rodriguez… I mean, she’s it. She’s the Steven Spielberg of writers. Then Miguel Sapochnik, who was the executive producer and also directed the first big episode, which took 30 days to shoot. So you have a lot of these things coming together to make this kind of a show.

It’s like the Patriots – it’s a lot of things coming into one. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Gronk. The reality is, in football terms, you can’t even duplicate that. Where are you going to get another dynasty? If one of them leaves? If Brady leaves?

I’m very honored, very humbled to happen to be a part of this. It’s awesome.

TrunkSpace: When you signed on, did you dive into the source material, Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 book, to see what came before?
Mann: No. When I first started, I talked to Laeta Kalogridis, the showrunner. She said, “Don’t read the book.” So I didn’t. I just read the script, and I had many, many hours of sitting down with her alone, and just asking her questions like, “What’s going on? What happened?” It’s a new world with new terminology, a new technique of how things work. It’s like “Blade Runner.” It’s a brand new world. Believe it or not, I think 50 years from now, I think our lives will be very close to what we see in “Altered Carbon.” It’s predicated on this premise, that everyone has a “stack,” like a gift in their vertebrae. All humans have this gift. Even if your outer body dies, you can go resave yourself again. As I understand, they’re heavily invested in this technology right now, as we speak.

TrunkSpace: So when you’re playing in the sandbox of a whole new world with new terminology and techniques on how things work, does it allow you to take a different approach to performance than you would with something set in modern day New York, for example?
Mann: Not really. As an actor, when you’re doing a scene, you just want to find out the questions. “Who are you? What do you want? What’s happening in the scene?” It’s still human emotions. No matter how sci-fi everything gets, the baseline is still dealing with very basic human emotions – love, jealousy, desire, power – all that.

Mann in “Altered Carbon”

TrunkSpace: Between “Altered Carbon” and the projects you have due up, you’re getting to work in a lot of different genres. As an actor, is it a treat to get to play in so many different types of projects?
Mann: Yeah, I guess it’s fun. It doesn’t really faze me too much. After playing so many different characters, I think it’s all… the stuff I said earlier, it applies to every single project. Basically, you find out who you are, what you’re doing here, and what are you trying to do? That hasn’t changed from the ’70s and the ’60s, when you had movies like “The Graduate,” or “Serpico,” or “The French Connection.” And now with “Altered Carbon,” it’s still the same thing. Especially for an actor, it’s just you playing in an emotion.

TrunkSpace: Is that the personal draw for you as an actor, the discovery of finding out who a character is?
Mann: Yeah. Sometimes you find it on the tape, when you’re filming. That’s gold, if you actually discover that.

TrunkSpace: Are you someone who looks at someone sitting in a coffee shop or in line at the grocery store and breaks down who they are? Do you have those storyteller moments where you’re trying to discover “characters” even in real life?
Mann: Well, it can hit you anytime – character thoughts can hit you anytime. Once you’re thinking about it, it’s in your subconscious. For me, I’ll tell you when it hits me, it hits me when I’m taking a shower. Sometimes I’m in the shower a long time, and you think about these things.

TrunkSpace: We can totally see that. No distractions. No cell phones. Just you and your thoughts.
Mann: Yeah, and the water is warm, hopefully. When you’re under warm water, your body relaxes. When you’re relaxed, a lot of good things happen to you. I’ve thought about that. I said, “Why do I have these great thoughts when I think in the shower?” It’s usually because your body is really relaxed.

TrunkSpace: You had two trailers for projects you’re in run during the Super Bowl. One was for “Altered Carbon,” and the other was for “Skyscraper,” starring Dwayne Johnson. Not too shabby for the most watched television event of the year!
Mann: Yeah, no kidding. Like I said, you can’t plan for this stuff. You just can’t. You just have to go along life’s journey, do the best you can, and then life will kind of find your way towards these things.

Altered Carbon” is available now on Netflix.

Skyscraper” arrives in theaters July 13.

Mann can also be seen returning to SyFy’s “The Expanse” later this year and the upcoming Blumhouse thriller “Only You.”

Featured image by: Diana Ragland

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Wingman Wednesday

Dewshane Williams

Photo: Dewshane Williams Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Steven Ackerman

Yes, we’re counting the days until wind chills are no longer a factor in our daily clothing choices and Nor’easters are Nor’more, but until then we’re embracing the sentimental glow of the season – warming ourselves at the foot of the fireplace, indulging in home-cooked comfort foods, and of course, settling in under a heavy blanket and watching Hallmark Channel’s Winterfest programming event.

Premiering Saturday on the network, “One Winter Weekend” tells the story of a surprise romance that develops between two unlikely people, played by Taylor Cole and Jack Turner, who find themselves double-booked and snowed in together while on their own individual weekend away in the mountains.

We recently sat down with “One Winter Weekend” star Dewshane Williams to discuss staying warm on location, being welcomed into the Hallmark Channel family, and why it’s important to learn on the job.

TrunkSpace: From what we understand, this is your first time working on a Hallmark Channel movie. Did you go into the production with a certain set of preconceived notions/expectations and how did those views change by the time that the film wrapped?
Williams: You’re correct, this is my first time working with Hallmark Channel. I had no idea what to expect; however, I kept an open mind to the experience which was beneficial to my process. I was able to evolve creatively as a result, which is exactly what I was hoping would happen. If there’s anything I’ve discovered it’s that romantic comedies can be a lot of fun to work on.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that Hallmark Channel is known for is creating films that establish a feel and tone of a particular season, ultimately putting the audience in that seasonal moment. As far as the technical aspect of making a movie is concerned, was that element of the process new to you and does it ultimately play into how you approach your performance at all?
Williams: I’m from north of the border (Canada) where it can get pretty cold during the winter. For me, shooting in the freezing temperatures of Winnipeg, or the Kananaskis Mountains, was fairly simple. Wear layers, and you’ll be fine. Our wardrobe department was the best. They took care of us by making sure we had the appropriate gear. They’ve got these things we call “hot shots,” which are incredible! You put them on and they heat up for several hours; keeping your muscles and vital organs warm.

TrunkSpace: As far as your character Sean is concerned, can you give us a little insight into who he is as a person and how you “found” him in your own personal discovery process?
Williams: Dr. Sean is an affluent, supportive, free spirit. He’s the kind of friend you want to have in your corner. Sean also has a great sense of humor, which is infectious. We share a number of characteristics in common, and so I was able to understand where he was coming from rather easily. I’m grateful I got the opportunity to bring him to life.

TrunkSpace: Was there a particular scene or moment that you’re most excited for people to see in terms of your performance as Sean?
Williams: All of it! Typically, I don’t watch the things I’m in as I’m rather self-conscious – most actors are – however, my intention is to watch this film. Gary Yates did a wonderful job directing us, so I’m curious to see how it all turned out.

TrunkSpace: We have been amazed at how passionate and engaged the Hallmark Channel fan base is, especially via social media. Did you have any idea how popular Hallmark Channel movies were when you signed on for “One Winter Weekend” and now that you’ve been a part of one, what do you think the draw is for all of those “Hallmarkies” who continue to tune in with each new film or series?
Williams: I had no idea how passionate Hallmark Channel’s fan base was! That’s a great thing to hear; hopefully the film lives up to their expectations. I recently attended the TCA 18 event in Los Angeles with Crown Media, and it felt like I was being welcomed into a family. Maybe that’s it? There’s a warmth to the network that’s universal. It feels like you’re welcoming a family member into your home.

TrunkSpace: It feels like there is so much negativity and chaos going on in the world every time you turn on the news or check your Twitter feed. Do you think that part of the appeal of a film like “One Winter Weekend” is that, as a society, we’re just looking to feel good? In a way, they’re a bit of a throwback, are they not?
Williams: Definitely. Globally there’s quite a bit of negativity out there. If we can provide viewers with stories that help them believe in a better world, or warm their hearts; we’re responding to that negativity in a creative way. “One Winter Weekend” will make you feel good while watching it. That was one of our intentions.

TrunkSpace: Prior to your work on “One Winter Weekend,” you appeared in a number of science fiction and action projects. Was that by design? Did you have an interest in those genres that lead you down that path, or did fate step in and point you in that direction?
Williams: Prior to “One Winter Weekend” I’ve done a number of science fiction and action projects, you’re right. I think it was both by design and fate. As a boy, I was always interested in sci-fi and action. Getting the opportunity to combine both on a show like “Defiance” or “The Expanse” was a dream come true. Some of my biggest influences in film/TV are Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Steven Spielberg, and Will Smith, respectively. All of those names have an extensive background in science fiction/action projects… maybe I’m subconsciously following their lead?

TrunkSpace: A number of the series you have appeared on have built passionate fandoms, both due to their source material/character origins (“Supergirl”) and their originality (“Defiance”). Do you think social media has allowed series like those we mentioned to build on their fandoms in ways that shows of the past were unable to do? What is your relationship with social media and the fans who reach out to you via the platform?
Williams: I’m very fortunate that the fandoms I’ve encountered so far in my career have been wonderful. They really care about the shows we’re making and that’s apparent to us. “Defiance” and “Supergirl” fandoms, we see you and appreciate your enthusiasm. I think fandom organization is much easier than it used to be prior to the internet, and that definitely allows certain shows/films to thrive. The audience is a very important part of what we do and so I try my best to engage them online when I can. I haven’t been on Twitter in a while, but I’ll return sooner than later!

Williams in Defiance. Photo By: Joe Pugliese/Syfy

TrunkSpace: You studied your craft in school, but how much have you learned through the act of doing that you could have never discovered in a classroom? Is it important for people to strike a balance between training and hands-on experience to find success as an actor?
Williams: I went to an arts school in Toronto, and one of my school mates once gave me some great advice. I was in-between acting classes and I reached out to Nina (Dobrev) asking her for some advice on the craft. Her response has always stuck with me. She said, “Some of the biggest things I’ve learned happened while working on set.” That’s proven to be true for me as well. Understanding how to efficiently communicate with my crew/director in the workplace was one of those skills I’ve been able to develop. You can only learn so much in the classroom, or during training. At some point, you’ll have to take those skills and apply them while in the work environment. As a general rule in life, balance is key.

TrunkSpace: You started out acting for the stage. Does that medium still call out to you and do you continue to perform in theatrical productions?
Williams: Yes! The stage calls me from time to time. I would love to produce and star in some theater. Maybe Shakespeare? I had a chat with a friend of mine last month who wanted to do a little play, so I might do that if the scheduling is right. Would you come?

TrunkSpace: Count us in! Have your aspirations/goals changed from when you started out acting to where you are now?
Williams: Yes. My aspirations have evolved since I first started acting, as I’m constantly growing. I would love to offer more to the industry, and hopefully I can provide opportunities for others as well. I’m interested in writing and producing. directing is also something I would love to explore. Over the years my appreciation for the other departments that make up our community has grown immensely.

TrunkSpace: We’re a few weeks into 2018. Did you set any resolutions for yourself in the new year and if so, how are you doing with them thus far?
Williams: New year, same me. I’m trying my best to grow creatively, have new experiences, and read a couple more books. That hasn’t changed since last year.

One Winter Weekend” premieres Saturday, January 20 (9 p.m. ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel.

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