On the new Starz drama Torchwood: Miracle Day, premiering on July 8th, actress Arlene Tur plays Dr. Vera Juarez, an attending surgeon in Washington, D.C. when people suddenly stop dying. The sick stay sick and the injured continue to be in pain, but no one dies, with no explanation as to why. As the world crisis grows, Vera’s surgical and emergency room experience sees her recruited to advise on government think-tanks. She quickly finds herself inextricably tangled up with CIA Agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) and the mysterious British organization Torchwood, led by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and dedicated to fighting the strange and bizarre, leading her to realize that this is a much bigger crisis then any of them could have ever imagined.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Arlene Tur talked about joining the popular British series making its first trip overseas, that she thinks Torchwood fans will like the new direction once they give it a chance , how exciting and surprising the story turned out to be by the end of the season, how great it was to work with original cast members John Barrowman and Eve Myles, and that she thinks show creator Russell T. Davies is a brilliant storyteller. She also revealed that she would love to play a superhero or a super-villain in a sci-fi/action movie, and that she would like to try her hand at physical comedy. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
ARLENE TUR: No, I hadn’t been before the audition. I got the audition and then became aware of Torchwood, and that it was already on the BBC, and that it would be their fourth season. So, I got to watch it and I got hooked. By then, I was already like, “Oh, I really want this. I love what they’re doing. How exciting that it’s going to be here!” I was very happy to hear that I had booked the role of Dr. Vera Juarez.
Because they’re so secretive with the show, did they tell you much about who the character was or what the story was, when you were auditioning?
TUR: They are very secretive. They came out with the fact that she was going to have a relationship with Rex (Mekhi Phifer), who was in the CIA, but that’s about it. They really didn’t tell me about all the involvement with the CIA, and her having to become a fish-out-of-water and go undercover, and that they were going to take her out of her comfort zone so much. That was a joy for me to hear and to read because it was a challenge, as an actress. I was expecting to be mostly in the E.R. and have my work be very medical, in general. It was such a bonus for me. I was very, very excited. Every time I read an episode, it just became better. I got further and further from the E.R.
How do you think the long-time fans of Torchwood will respond to Torchwood: Miracle Day and the changes this season?
TUR: Well, once the huge fanbase sees it, they’ll see that unlike other shows, like The Office and Shameless, that have been bought and changed to be more American, Starz is complimented the BBC and saying, “We love what you’re doing and want to be a part of it.” It’s more of a collaboration. We’re complimenting it. Hopefully, the fans will see it like that versus trying to change it and make it American ‘cause that’s not at all it.
Had you been aware of how fearless this show is and that they’re not afraid to kill off main characters, at any time?
TUR: Well, I hadn’t been aware of the fact that they were prone to just kill off characters and not worry about it, but that’s what makes it so real. They’re not trying to do anything except show truth and follow the story. They’re not trying to please everybody, or worry about what other people think too much. They’re like, “You like the character, but I’m sorry, this is where the character ends.” I like that about Russell’s writing. He keeps everybody on their toes. No one ever knows what to expect, and I think that’s the definition of a good show.
TUR: Oh, incredibly different. It turned out totally different. When I heard that people stop dying, initially my reaction was that I was ecstatic, like they are on the show. They show that people are very happy, thinking that they’re going to be immortal. They celebrate because they’re not seeing the problems, and I didn’t see the problems either. And, the themes and the issues that developed really took me by surprise. They were exciting because they went places that I would have never thought the character would get to go. It was only better for me, in the end. Vera has quite an adventure and quite a roller coaster. Vera’s main problem is how to deal with all the over-population.
Were there things done to help introduce you to the world of Torchwood, or did that not even matter for your character since she’s unaware?
TUR: It actually served the character to be unaware. They didn’t give me too much because that makes it more realistic when you’re entering into a world where you have no idea what could happen. That’s what I’ve enjoyed about sci-fi. Usually when you’re in a doctor show or a law show, or any kind of show, there’s usually reality. There has to be some sort of truth and reality. But, in a sci-fi show, it’s really up to the imagination of the writers and you really never know what’s going to happen, so it’s very exciting, and it’s some of the most interesting dialogue and material to work on.
How would you say your character views what Torchwood is, and what Captain Jack Harkness and Gwen Cooper are doing?
TUR: She’s very cautious of it because it’s not at all scientific. Nothing that she’s learned in all of her studies to become a cardio-thoracic surgeon tells her that this exists or that this is real or how to deal with any of the things she’s getting involved with. So, at first, she’s doubtful, as anybody would be. She’s cautious, but then her eyes are opened by the Torchwood team to things that are possible and things that exist. It’s a revelation for Vera.
TUR: It was awesome! They’re exceptional, as actors and as people. They’re so open and so loving. They’re like sunshine on legs. I thought that they were going to be a little more, “This is our show. What are you guys doing? Welcome to my show.” It wasn’t like that at all. It was like, “Welcome! You’re so wonderful! I can’t wait to do this. Aren’t you excited? I’m excited!” It was so great! Just is quite a jokester, so we had a blast on set.
Your character is a surgeon, but does she get to be physical and kick some butt too?
TUR: Not so much. It’s more intellectual action that Vera gets, which is exciting because I’ve done physical action and I enjoy it very much, but it was intense. All Vera’s scenes are very intense, which was wonderful. I thought it was so challenging because it wasn’t just physical stuff. She does get into things that are a little physical, but she doesn’t have to be too physical herself.
Was it daunting to be the one bringing much of the sex appeal this season?
TUR: I don’t even think about it, but thank you. I didn’t think about anything to do with sexuality. I thought about the problems, more than anything else, and how to solve them. I was just as natural and as real as possible, and was true to the part. I’m glad it came out that way.
Is it difficult to justify finding time for a sex scene in a story that is essentially a world catastrophe?
TUR: As human beings during crisis, we look for love, comfort, acceptance, something that’s real and emotions to be satisfied because there’s so much fear and uncertainty involved. I think that’s a natural part of humanity. Usually, in crisis, most people need a hug. When you’re scared or there’s something going on that’s crazy, a hug is what makes you feel better. Basically, that’s all it is. It’s just a bigger way of expressing that, and they just show it more in detail. They get more intimate. I felt that it was natural for that storyline to evolve that way.
How was it to work with Mekhi Phifer? Did the chemistry between you come easily?
TUR: Yeah, I’d say it did. He’s really wonderful as a person, as well. It was very simple and very natural. We had a lot of fun. Every time you have a lot of fun, it helps.
Some of the scenes in this are pretty gruesome. Do you enjoy shooting that stuff, or do you get grossed out too?
TUR: Oh, I love it! I absolutely enjoy shooting those scenes. I hadn’t been in something before that had a lot of green screen. All the stuff that I’ve done is very true to reality and not with green screen. In the first episode, we cut a guy’s head off. I had such a blast! I really got to know the special effects guy. I got really into how they make everything look like that. It wasn’t at all gruesome ‘cause I knew it was fake. You see it happening before you. It looks gruesome on screen, but when you’re doing it, you see the guy with half of his face done and you eat lunch with him.
Your character seems to be pretty cool under pressure. Is she able to maintain that, or will she also start to lose it about, as the season goes on?
TUR: You have to be true to reality, and there’s only so much a person can take. I believe that the writers did a good job of that, and of showing people’s breaking point. But, Vera pretty much stays under control, as much as she can. In that position, when you’re a surgeon, you’re trained to be the one that has to be thinking and analytical during a crisis, so it’s something that’s natural. It’s a very different crisis than she’s used to, but the training is still the same, and the way your mind works and the way you’re used to behaving is still the same. She goes into her analytical mode and tries to be the calm in the storm. She tries to find the solution versus panicking.
Do you have any favorite episodes that you’re really looking forward to fans getting to see?
TUR: I really enjoyed the second episode where everything is so intense and they’re on the airplane. More of my scenes than I’m used to were on the phone, but the intensity was still there. Everything is life and death, and just so urgent. That was very exciting and different for me to shoot. It was very intensity driven and I really enjoyed it.
How has it been to work with Russell T. Davies? Was he very collaborative in developing your character?
TUR: Absolutely! He’s the person I talked to the most. He’s brilliant. He’s a joy to work with. And then, in person, he’s a huge teddy bear. He’s such a loving person, who’s so terrific.
How shocked do you think fans of the series will be by how the story plays out this season?
TUR: I think they’re going to be astonished. They’re going to be incredibly shocked. You know Russell’s writing. You can never expect what’s happening next, which is what makes a good show.
You began your career doing comedy, but have become known for your dramatic work. Do you prefer one over the other, or have these just been the roles that you’ve been attracted to?
TUR: They’re the roles I’ve been attracted to. But, I love comedy. I absolutely love it, and I enjoy drama as well. This was my first sci-fi, and I’ve fallen in love with that too. If you’re doing a lot of the same thing, I find that it can get a little monotonous, so I enjoy being able to go across comedy and drama and sci-fi. Torchwood is a show that has it all, and they do it very well. They’re a hybrid of all shows.
Are you prepared for the devotion of sci-fi fans?
TUR: Yes, I’m welcoming them with open arms. I look forward to them.
Are there any types of roles that you’d love to do, but haven’t gotten the chance to do yet?
TUR: Yeah, I’d love to do some kind of superhero or super-villain. I want to do something that’s very action-packed and sci-fi. I would love that! And, I’d also like to play somebody incredibly silly, like on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I’d love to do really over-the-top, slapstick, crazy, very physical comedy.