The Syfy Channel has high hopes for its new snowbound thriller
series Helix. A shiny new variation of many science fiction
nightmares has a mysterious and deadly disease - which may or may
not be manmade - turning a bunch of scientists in an Arctic
scientific outpost into weird, violent zombie-like creatures.
The show brought in genre veteran Billy Campbell to head up the
cast. Campbell has been well-known since breaking out in the
90s in the cult favorite film The Rocketeer. Since, he
has become a staple on television, doing long stints in the
acclaimed series Once & Again, The 4400 and The Killing.
In Helix Campbell plays Dr. Alan Farragut, a scientist for
the CDC (Center of Disease Control) in Atlanta who flies up with a
team to examine the dangerous mutations. Dr. Farragut is not
particularly happy to be part of the mission, but goes because his
estranged brother Peter (Neil Napier) is one of the scientists
working on the post. In fact, Alan is approached about the
situation by his ex-wife, Dr Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), the cause
of the brothers' estrangement when she had an affair years ago with
Their investigation into the mysterious malady is thwarted at every
turn by the outpost's inscrutable leader Dr. Hiroshi Hatake, played
by Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada.
Also on the rescue party is a young, beautiful scientist named Dr.
Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes), who seems to be very close with Dr.
Farragut, but so far in a completely platonic way. However the
young scientist has some secrets of her own.
Soon after the series premiered, we were able to take part in a
conference call with series stars Campbell and Hayes.
A lot of Syfy
programs have been a bit lighter in tone. Their movies obviously are
deliciously campy. This is a very straight forward, serious,
edge-of-your-seat-type series. What did you guys like about this
Well, speaking for myself, I was extremely attracted to the
situation. The genre. I'm a big fan of both The Thing movies,
the Howard Hawks one and the John Carpenter one. The Andromeda
Strain is one of my big favorite films. So I was very attracted
to the situation. And of course attracted to the fact that Ron Moore
was attached. [Also] Not least of which was that we were shooting in
Montreal. How about you Jordan?
loved the characters. They were obviously very smartly written and
very intelligent characters. The relationships between each of the
scientists, the team of CDC. It really felt, despite being a science
fiction show, there was a huge emphasis on the dramatic elements of
the writing. That really attracted me as an actor.
To the extent
that it is a sci-fi show, it is very much rooted in science. It's
the kind of thing that could theoretically happen. Does that up the
ante and make it even that much more interesting and appealing for
I would guess so. That's a question for the audience. But I would
assume that to be the case. Yes. I would say yes.
I really like
the relationship that you have, kind of a mentor/student
relationship, but it's also a little more. If you can both comment
on where that relationship is, especially in the episodes that have
aired so far.
I was going to
let you run with that ball.
I think it is exactly what you just said. It's a mentor/student
relationship. Sarah has a lot of admiration for Alan. She really
holds his opinion in high esteem. She really wants to make him proud
and improve her worth and impress him.
into a storm here. How did you approach him? Your acting just seems
very natural in playing an element of confusion, but also using your
training to guide you although you're stepping into something you've
never encountered before either.
Well, I'm a
genuinely fairly confused person anyway, so that helps. (Hayes
laughs.) I'm not sure that I thought about it very deeply. The
situation is so apparent that it didn't seem to require that much in
the way of depth of thought. It's a very black and white situation;
we come, there's an outbreak and we have to contain it. Then things
start getting confusing because we're being misdirected by Hatake,
and there are all these variables. I'm not sure how I approached it,
tell you the truth. It's kind of a blur, that long ago. (Campbell
On the set,
there is a cold room for the frigid outdoor scenes. Does it make it
easier to get in the moment, or do you not like being cold? I think
I'd rather pretend to be cold.
Well for me it's
just a great deal. I know the crew hated the cold room. First of
all, the cold room wasn't really big enough. It was very limiting as
a set. It was pretty small. There was a lot of stuff flying around
in the air, so the crew didn't really care for it. But they could
dress how they wanted. We were dolled up in nine layers of extreme
cold weather gear. In the beginning when we didn't have a cold room,
when we were all on the set having to do all this strenuous stuff,
we were, not to be too graphic about it, sweating a good deal. That
is more unpleasant than anything I can think of. I'd rather freeze
than parboil any day. How about you Jordan?
never had to go into the cold room, actually.
That's right, you didn't.
didn't, no. But I do remember being in all of our Arctic gear in
July, and that was very unpleasant, yes.
So unpleasant. So
the cold room helped a good deal. In the end it was untenable. It
was awkward to shoot in and everyone hated it. By the end of the
show we just had left the cold room behind again.
much right now on the news about the CDC and the flu and everything
going around. When you guys first started working on this, reading
the script and everything, does any of it ever freak you out a bit
because some of it could actually happen?
absolutely. I mean that's one of the greatest things about this
show. It's dealing with something that is very real. Throughout
history we've seen huge epidemics wipe out hundreds of millions of
people. Although now thankfully we have the invention of antibiotics
and we can treat things much better, it's still very real. It's
still very scary, and can possibly wipe out thousands of people.
It goes to our
most primal fears. The thing which you cannot see that will come in
the night and kill you from the inside out. I can't imagine much of
anything creepier than that.
How much were
you told about your characters and what was going to happen to them?
For example, Sarah seems to be hiding something and has these hand
tremors. Were you just told to do that Jordan? Were you also told
why her hands were shaking?
told why I had the hand tremors before we even started shooting. So
in that regard I was made aware of that particular plot point. But
there were several things that will surface throughout the season
that you'll see that we just weren't aware of. I think that worked
in our favor because then we were discovering things in the moment,
which was nice. Then we weren't telegraphing things from early on in
some of the earlier episodes.
Yes. I would have
to agree with that. I prefer honestly not to know what's going on
for the very reason that Jordan brings up.
While you were
filming did the cast ever speculate who was going to be the next to
There was plenty
of speculation. I think there was a lot of fun speculation as to who
might be next in all of that.
your favorite one or two episodes of this season?
That's hard to
say honestly. I think the one upcoming might be my favorite.
The third one?
The third one,
think the third was my favorite as well.
I know. I can't
say why exactly. I haven't seen it. I haven't seen really anything.
I didn't even get to watch this weekend.
What were your
best and most challenging experiences during production?
I don't know. I
don't know what was. The whole thing was a great deal of fun. I
don't know what really was challenging. I mean it's always a bit of
a challenge to imagine yourself into the circumstances. But even
that was relatively easy because of stellar cast-mates and a
wonderfully, creepy set and situation. I don't know. Jordan, was
anything particularly difficult for you?
Well to answer the question about the best experience, I think I
just loved the team involved on the project in general. The cast and
the crew really made it just such an enjoyable experience.
In terms of difficulty I think for me the most challenging part was
memorizing the dialogue and understanding exactly what we were
saying. It was very important for me to have a clear understanding,
or as clear as possible as I could, of the science that we were
referring to. That was a little bit like going back to school.
Looking at old textbooks and learning about the science all over
You both have
done a lot of genre work throughout your careers. Just as fans, do
you tend to gravitate toward science fiction and horror personally
or is that just how things have turned out in your career?
I dig science
fiction. It's one of my favorite things. Just because... well I
don't know why exactly. I always have, since I was quite young.
Science fiction and fantasy, possibly as an escape from my
circumstances. I went to military school for six years when I was
quite young. So it was a big escape for me. I've loved it ever
just happened for me I guess. A fair amount of my work has been in
the horror and sci-fi genre. I'm just fortunate in that regard. It
wasn't a particular choice on my part, it just worked out like that.
had a few long-running series over the years. I was a huge fan of
and Again and The 4400 and also The Killing and now
this one hopefully. Once and Again was a network series, but
most of the series you've done since then are cable. How do you feel
that working on a network is different than cable? And why do you
think that many of the imaginative shows now seem to be shifting to
cable from the traditional network model?
Well I think it's
fairly easy to understand why that's the case; there are simply more
options on cable TV for storytelling. As a network you have to
please a great many people, and from all parts of the spectrum. So
things necessarily get a bit watered down. Cable is more aimed at
particular niches, so you can write more specifically and more
daringly. I think that's the big difference.
were just fantastic in the first two episodes...
of emotions that Sarah went through made the character so
compelling. What can we expect from Sarah moving forward?
Well - and this is true for all of the characters - when you're put
in a situation like we are, where the stakes are so high, where the
stakes are literally revealing themselves to be life and death, your
character gets challenged. You end up doing things that you don't
think that you are capable of doing. I can't say too much, but I
will say that Sarah's put in some very challenging situations where
she is forced to do things that she never thought that she would be
capable of doing.
both Alan's brother and now potentially his ex-wife turn turned to
vectors, will Alan be trying to save them or will they be trying to
recruit him, a little of both? How's that going to work?
Well, I would be
pretty safe to say, I think, that he would be trying to save them.
Whether he's successful and whether they are willing to be saved is
another question. The act of saving them of course is inherently
dangerous. Who knows what perils lie ahead for Alan and the whole
Porsandeh, who was the creator of
Helix, is a
first time writer/producer. This is his first television series
ever. He's come from a whole different career to do this. What has
it been like to bring this newbie's creation to life?
Oh, it's been
fantastic. Really fantastic. Cameron is a very, very talented
fellow, as well as a lovely human being. I have to say it's been
nothing but a deep pleasure to be working with him.
have to agree. I think Cameron is extremely talented. It is his
first series. There’s something great about that because it's a very
original concept and it's written in a way that's fresh. So yes,
we're just very fortunate to have someone like him on board.
earlier you haven't seen the completed episodes yet, but have you
gotten any audience feedback since Syfy ran the first two episodes
this weekend? Have you heard any feedback about things like the
point/counterpoint, the use of music, "Do You Know the Way to San
Jose," or the scene that was at the end of Episode 2?
I haven't heard
much of anything. I'm cocooned down here in San Diego. I suppose we
will be hearing this week how the audience liked it. I have seen a
little bit on Twitter and the response seems to be mainly terrific
so far. I think people loved especially, the crazy, contrapuntal use
of the music.
The series is
a little bit more horrific than I expected. There's a lot of shock
and gore. Special effects are great. How does that help you as an
actor to kind of get into that horror frame of mind?
you can just imagine. First of all, Jordan actually threw up in her
helmet. (They both laugh.) I'm kidding, of course. But you
can well imagine opening a body bag and having the goop drip out and
having the skeleton there. It was all very, very conducive to that
feeling. Am I right Jordan?
absolutely. If you look at Peter Farragut - who's played by Neil
Napier - if you look at his makeup, it's just terrifying. Our
special effects team in Montreal is just unbelievable. They're just
so good. I remember Neil would come and sit down next to us while we
had lunch. It was unappetizing to have him sitting across from you.
But no, I mean it does help a lot. Yes, that definitely helps you
get into the mind frame of, "Look at this virus, look at what it's
doing to this person," because the special effects makeup is just
so, so good.
spoke with (executive producer) Steve Maeda and he mentioned that
your character was eventually supposed to be kind of back-stabby.
She was going to be something like Eve from
All About Eve, but when you came in and started portraying the
character, they changed their minds. Is that something that you were
no, it wasn't actually. That's funny. No, I wasn't aware of that at
all. But I think I'm going to take it as a compliment. (They both
laugh.) As we said before, we have the luxury of discovering
these characters episode by episode. I hope that my discovery is
there along the way, [and it] turns out as good as it could. I never
saw her as a backstabbing character so I guess I'm happy that they
changed their mind on that.
out most in both your minds about shooting the pilot episode. Is
there either a memorable or especially challenging scene that you
can recall from that shoot?
For me, it
harkens back to the outside stuff before we had a cold room. In the
very first few days we were swaddled in our extreme cold weather
gear on a stage with fake snow blowing around. In the middle of
summer. It was horrible. In fact I remember I got sick because I
ingested so much crap, crud into my lungs I got quite sick for a
couple of weeks. That's the thing that sticks out to me from the
pilot, other than just being so insanely happy to be in Montreal
think the experience that is standing out the most for me was the
first time that I walked into the BSL4 Lab, onto that set. [It] was
kind of great. It was just so wonderful to see all of the scientific
paraphernalia and get to play around with it. We had an actual
scientist on set who was showing us exactly what every instrument
did. I think that was the most fun part for me.
You both have
a lot of technical dialogue. Did you get any coaching in that area?
What's it been like to recite some of that stuff?
Well, I honestly
did not have nearly the technical dialogue that Jordan had and I'm
deeply, deeply thankful. So I'll pass that along to Jordan.
You had a lot of
technical dialogue. I've never found memorizing lines to be
difficult. As I said earlier, the most important thing for me was to
have a clear understanding of the science that we were referring to.
And yes, we did have a scientist on set who was there to help us
whenever we had questions. I was also fortunate. My older brother
majored in anatomy and biology. So whenever I wanted clarification
on something, he would whip out one of this massive text books. [He
would] try and teach me with drawings - in very layman terms - how
the science was working that I was referring to. I think it's great.
I like that they didn't dumb down the science in it. It adds to the
show. It makes it a more intelligent and interesting show. At times
it can be difficult for the audience to understand exactly what
we're referring to, but if you think about the reality, this is how
scientists talk, you know?
suits, how were they to work in?
(They both laugh.)
Well they were very real.
They were very
real. They weren't built for the show. They were real hazmat suits.
I would have this to say about them; they weren't as uncomfortable
as you might think, because they were ventilated. We had a pack on
the back that actually ventilated the helmet. So they were pretty
cool to work in. They were a pain to put on. And unless you looked
like Jordan or Kyra, they're not terribly flattering. So they had
that going on for them, or didn't have that going on for them in my
case. So yes, that's all I'd have to say about those. Jordan?
remember one time. Like Billy said, there are these ventilation
packs. The helmets were sealed off, so we actually had oxygen being
pumped into our helmets. I can remember at least once, maybe twice,
Billy pulled my hose out of the pack. (They both laugh.) So
yes, they were fun. Yes, like Billy said, they were difficult to get
into. But I really liked them and I think they look really cool on
screen. So it worked out well.
you look the way you do.
A lot of times
with series nowadays just because people can't seem to keep their
attention span, a lot of shows try to be procedural, not about the
mythology and everything. This is a show that really can't be
completely procedural, which I think is a great thing. Are people
going to have to watch previous episodes to understand what's going
you mean episodic?
Mystery of the Week, you don't have to watch them all…
Yes, so it's all
contained within an episode, yes. No, this will be more along the
lines of uncovering a mythology and a deeper story. Watching any one
particular episode would be exciting, but you wouldn't get the full
excitement or fulfillment unless you carried on watching all the way
through. I do like it better. I don't see any reason unless you're a
show like Law & Order or something like that, I don't see the
real reason in being all that episodic. The beauty of the serial
form is telling a story over the long term, developing situations
and characters and so forth. The episodic model doesn't, and really
never has, entirely appealed to me.
early in the call that we're going to get to see a little bit more
outside the base and we will get some other guest stars. Can you
talk at all about that, just tease any of what we will be seeing?
Well sure. The
story does open up. We are not confined to the base the entire time.
Other characters do make an entrance into the story, into the
situation. They change things up in a very big way. Jordan do you
have anything to add to that?
think that we're allowed to say this, because it's public knowledge,
but as you probably know Jeri Ryan comes into the show...
And kicks ass.
she's great. She's awesome. That just reinforces the notion of how
we get to this base. We think we're dealing with one thing and it's
actually dealing with several other things. As those several other
things begin to surface, you'll see more and more characters come
out as well.
previously talked about how the cast didn't like the cold room, but
did you guys have a favorite part of the set to work with, or was
there something on the set that you found particular creepy?
Yes, the sets were really great. Particularly creepy? Umm...
You know what set
I really loved? When we did the episode with Jeremiah [Checkic]
directing and we go off base, Kyra and I. We go off to an abandoned
listening station. I can't tell you what happens, but it was
dreadfully, dreadfully creepy. The set folks, the set designers and
decorators, did an amazing, amazing job with this place. What
happens there is intensely, intensely creepy. I think that was one
of my favorite sets.
How do you
manage to keep things light and fun on the set while also doing
those intense scenes?
Well, Jordan is a
no, no, Billy is a huge prankster.
Don't try to turn
it back on me.
pretend. Everyone knows that Jordan is like... it's very, very
difficult to even get her to be serious for a scene. (She
laughs.) She's crazy, I don't know what to say.
I can't speak for everyone, but I had such a great time with this
cast and this crew. It was very, very easy to keep it light on set.
Everyone was just very friendly. We all just really got along
together. So it was very light and easy on set.
It was wonderful.
There are a lot of sets [where] when actors aren't on camera they
all scurry back to their individual dressing rooms. [They] never see
each other except when they're in front of the camera. I don't think
a single one of us ever went to back to our trailers between shots.
We all sat as a group on the set playing games and chit-chatting.
Which was, I think, deeply appreciated by the crew, because when
they called us to be in front of the camera, there we were in like
eight and a half seconds. It was a very special situation that way.
I have to also add that it might have been my favorite crew of all
have to agree. The crew was really, really spectacular.
those scenes in the ventilating duct seemed very claustrophobic.
What was it like to deal with that as an actor? Was it as tight as
Well it was
pretty tight. It wasn't as tight as it could have been. Mainly the
pain was getting in and out of them and then scrambling around on
your elbows and knees, which would begin to hurt pretty badly after
a few minutes. It seems more claustrophobic probably in the viewing
than it does in the execution because you don't see that just around
the end, of course, is the opening. So I never felt like I was
trapped or anything like that. I'm not a particularly claustrophobic
person to begin with, but it was less cramped than it appears.
Getting off on
a slight sidetrack here, beyond
Helix you also
have a new Lifetime movie about Lizzie Borden that's just about to
come up. I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit
about that? Were you familiar with the case before taking the role?
What was it like to go back in time on such an infamous case?
It was a good
deal of fun. I mean I don't have a big role or anything. I play
Lizzie Borden's lawyer. I knew the director from before. He directed
some of The 4400. Most of all, I was just anxious to go to
Halifax, which is a place that is near and dear to heart. I have
many friends there. I knew the project would be good. So I went to
Halifax. It was a great deal of fun. I adore Christina Ricci and
think the show will be terrific. I had a great time. I had a
wonderful time drinking Guinness at one of my favorite pubs in the
This is a
little bit technical. The atmosphere of the show is really, really
neat, with the lighting and such. Could speak a little bit about
that at all, and working with the DP (director of photography) and
creating that atmosphere?
Jordan? I've been
yacking a lot.
No, no, I was
just punting that to you.
Got it. Our DP is Steve McNutt and he is just amazing. I mean I
don't understand lighting at all, it's a mystery to me. But I think
it really makes the show. Like Billy, I actually I didn't see the
entire two hours. But from what I've seen, [it] had this huge effect
on the mood of the show. He's just so incredibly talented. We really
lucked out getting him on board.
Can you both
just quickly describe your characters in three words?
No wait a minute,
this might even be more fun. How about we describe each other's
characters in three words? (They laugh.)
didn't mean to make it so hard.
No, this is
hilarious. This is wonderful. Intelligent, of course. I would say
there's just a spark of defiance, I would say: Intelligent, defiant
and, well, sexy. (Hayes laughs.)
Alan Farragut is commendable. Yes, why not? Standup guy, I know
that's not one word, but yes, standup guy. And...
I was trying to
put your standup guy into one word and I came up with forthright.
that's the perfect word. And sensitive.
I think that
fairly does it, I think that does it pretty well.
Billy can I
get your take on Alan's and Julia's relationship on the show? And
what you enjoyed most about developing that on camera?
I'm not sure we
did all that much about developing it on camera. I mean that's the
purview of the writers. They write that stuff. They develop it. We
just do what they write. But again, with this cast it wasn't
difficult to have chemistry with anyone. There were no divas. There
were no monsters of any kind, except in front of the camera running
around with goo coming out of our mouths. It was just a wonderful,
wonderful situation. In that case, it's really not difficult to
develop chemistry with anyone. The times when it's hard to have
chemistry with someone is when you don't like them as a person. Then
you have to go in front of the camera and pretend to like someone or
even be in love with someone that you actively dislike. That can be
really difficult. On this show there was none of that. I actively
loved everyone I worked with, which just made it so wonderful to go