The Syfy series Helix is an intense thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control, who travel to a high-tech research facility to investigate a possible disease outbreak, only to find themselves pulled into a terrifying life-and-death struggle that could result in mankind’s salvation or total annihilation. The show stars Billy Campbell, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kyra Zagorsky, Mark Ganimé, Jordan Hayes, Meegwun Fairbrother, Catherine Lemieux and Neil Napier.
During this recent interview to promote the new sci-fi show, actress Kyra Zagorsky, who plays Dr. Julia Walker, talked about what makes this more than a zombie show, what drew her to the series, how she views this woman, how she’s had to discover everything, as they go along, shooting entirely in a studio, what’s most freaked her out on set, and the most challenging aspects of this role. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: What makes this show more than a zombie show?
KYRA ZAGORSKY: Since the show is based in real science, there are real-life epidemic scares out there, throughout history, where there are these huge viruses that have wiped out huge populations. So, we’re dealing with something that the CDC hasn’t seen before, but it comes from a virus. That’s something that’s based in reality, and then you put the science fiction on that and it’s a really interesting combination.
What do you like best about this series?
ZAGORSKY: I love the psychological thriller piece of it. Because we are trapped in this isolated environment with a deadly virus, what’s really interesting is that everyone’s darkness comes out because we’ve got these life-and-death stakes going on. And then, there’re these interesting relationships going on, but we can’t quite deal with the relationship right now because we’ve got something better to do, which is survive. But, it takes some of the characters to some very dark places, and they start doing things that they might not do, if they were in regular circumstances. Their true humanity comes out – the good and the bad. Something else that was fun was that every director would come in so excited to go with their own creativity. Sometimes directors get hired into TV shows, and it’s so formulaic and they’re a slave to whatever everybody wants them to do. But everyone came in with their own style, and it blended together with the Helix style that was set, and at the same time, they’re bringing their own ideas and their own input. It was really fun working with all of them.
What made you want to play this character, and how do you see this woman?
ZAGORSKY: Well, I would describe her as a very intelligent, accomplished woman in her field. She’s one of the top scientists with the CDC. And the thing that I loved about this character is that she was incredibly ambitious and got herself to where she is in this line of work, but she exists for purposes outside of her relationships, which I think is a really important thing for female characters in film and TV. Although she is the ex-wife of Dr. Alan Farragut, that’s not at all what her purpose is in the series. She’s there because she’s trying to deal with this virus and do her work, as a scientist. She’s passionate about her work. She’s an independent woman, and she does have her flaws in her relationships. She’s just a very full, human character, and that’s what I really loved about her. Because sometimes when we’re creating strong females, we give them a weapon and turn them into something macho, or often it has to be a superhero character, or else she has to be a full-on business person and has to be cruel. And there is something about this character that I just thought, “She’s a full-bodied human character. She’s got a lot of purpose outside of her ex-husband, and that’s what keeps her active and interesting.” It’s a dream role. There’s so much that I have to go through, emotionally, physically and intellectually. It’s the whole package. So, I couldn’t be happier, being able to work on this show.
Did you know ahead of time what your character’s outcome would be, or did you have to discover it, episode by episode?
ZAGORSKY: I had to discover it. I had to discover everything, and that was part of the fun in being on the show. It was so exciting. You could not wait to get your next script to see what was going to happen to you. The only information I got was that I had a history with Alan and with his brother, Peter. By the time I was working through the third episode, that was when I really felt I’d gotten myself grounded into the character. I feel like when I find the character’s darkness, and when everything opens up emotionally, is when I started going, “Okay, now I’m starting to really feel like I’ve got a handle on her.” And what was great is, when I first got up to Montreal, we had a talk and I just realized, “This is my role. I have no idea what’s to come, but I have to just trust that I’m her and start working with her.” When a new script would come out and I had questions about things, I would always ask about things, just figuring out what her character is made of. It became a really interesting team collaboration. It was pretty incredible. But, it was all a big surprise for me. They took me for a great ride, in this series. I had the best time. Every episode was pretty dynamic.
What’s it like to work with Billy Campbell and Hiroyuki Sanada, and what do they bring to the table?
ZAGORSKY: Oh, my gosh, working with Billy is incredible. He’s technically amazing. He’s been doing this for a long time. He’s a master at what he does. He’s very emotionally connected, and always available and powerful. The other thing about him is that he’s a blast to work with. He’s so funny. For me, the thing that I love about the show is the psychological thriller aspect of it. It’s frightening and it’s scary, and there are all these things that happen. You have these really dramatic scenes, and then you get in a scene with him and I can’t tell you how many times I would start cracking up. And Hiro is somebody that I’ve always admired, since I saw him in The Last Samurai. I think he’s an incredible person and artist, and he is always right there for you, supporting the story to its fullest. He was amazing. I learned so much from just being in the room with him. They just raised the bar for me. As an actor, you’re only as good as your scene partner. Anything that I do well on this show is probably from being in scenes with those two. It was a pretty exceptional experience.
Is this shot entirely in a studio?
ZAGORSKY: Yes, and it was pretty incredible. We had a room that we called “the freezer.” If you were shooting in the freezer that day, that was a joke. The fake snow looks incredible. The only thing that was tricky is that it was supposed to be freezing and we had these huge arctic coats on. There were a couple of times that we did end up moving the set outside to shoot some of the outside scenes, just because we needed a bit more space, and that ended up being a little bit more helpful and easier to breathe, when you’re dealing with some of the fake snow stuff. It was a lot of fun, and it looks amazing.
ZAGORSKY: I think the other side of that is embracing the claustrophobia, and that’s what a huge piece of this show is, just watching people go through having to be stuck in that. I think the audience is going to feel some of that. It might not be comfortable, but it’s really cool to just be experiencing that along with the characters that you’re watching.
Was there ever a time during filming where things just freaked you out?
ZAGORSKY: Yes, especially with the first couple of episodes. There are a lot of twists and turns that happen, and it starts to become something much bigger and much darker and more interesting. But in the beginning, when you’re looking at this and you’re thinking about it, the CDC gets brought up to this place to deal with this virus and it’s something that they’ve never seen. That, in itself, is quite frightening in a story because real-life epidemics are something that happen, all the time. I think there were just a couple of reported cases this last week in Vancouver of some people passing away with H1N1. People are trying to make decisions about whether they should vaccinate their children or not, which is still a big debate. It’s something that is a true fear for people. So, when we were getting into the story, in these first few episodes, and you’re seeing these people who are at the top of the CDC, they should have every answer. It’s almost like a God complex. But, they don’t know what to do. I think that’s pretty terrifying. When we didn’t know what was going to be happening next, as an actor, with where the story was going to go, that’s an interesting thing because you just think, “I have no idea what I can do. How much worse can it get? At some point, this is going to get everyone sick and we don’t have any answers.” That’s pretty frightening because that’s total annihilation of the whole planet. You’re also getting this information that you want to study and you want to sound educated when you’re in the scene and know what it is that you’re talking about and what it is that we’re working from. So, for those of us that were working on that stuff in the show, we’re doing a lot of research, which is fun. It’s like going back to science class.
What’s been the most challenging thing about doing this role?
ZAGORSKY: There’s a certain piece, in the middle of the series, that’s a huge mystery that happens to my character, and we were shooting quite fast. That was the most challenging piece because I was emotionally connected, all day, over and over again. Every day, there was so much going on that it just kept getting worse and worse, and more insane for her. But, it was so much fun and I really had to rise to the occasion.
Helix airs on Friday nights on Syfy.