The new series Bitten, based on the first of best-selling author Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld novels, tells the story of lone female werewolf Elena Michaels (Laura Vandervoort), a woman desperate to escape a world she never wanted to be a part of. The betrayal of having been turned sent her running to try to lead a normal life away from her pack family, until she’s pressured to return to help track down a killer that threatens to expose the secret existence of werewolves.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Laura Vandervoort (Smallville, V) talked about how she came to be a part of the show, what drew her to this role, the questions she had before signing on, using the novels to get insight about who Elena is, whether she might come to terms with who she is now, how they approached the werewolf change, how the relationship between Elena and her former love Clay (Greyston Holt) might progress this season, how much she loves the physical work on her show, what she most admires about Elena, and the shocking epic finale. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
LAURA VANDERVOORT: I was actually called by J.B. [Sugar], our executive producer, and he and I had a phone conversation for an hour and a bit, just about what he wanted from the project, how it would look visually, the character, the books, and the background. I guess he had me on his radar when he got ahold of the books and optioned them into a series. He saw me with George Stroumboulopoulos, on his Canadian talk show, and it just sealed the deal for him. I was talking about PETA and my love for animals, and it just clicked for him. So, we spoke on the phone. I had read Bitten and Men of the Otherworld, just to get the background of the pack, and I loved the idea. It was my first opportunity to be the lead of a series. And I love a challenge, so the fact that I was going to be one of the only females and would get to do stunts, and it’s such a layered character with her background and history, was great. In the first season, we do get into how she was bitten and where she’s coming from. She has so many skeletons in her closet that it’s a lot of fun for me when we go deeper into her past.
When you were approached about playing a female werewolf, were you immediately intrigued, or did you feel like you needed to ask some questions about it first?
VANDERVOORT: I’ve done a lot of sci-fi, so I was a little hesitant because you get pigeonholed into that genre and world. But at the same time, I love sci-fi because the women are so strong and independent and smart. I do just love the characters in sci-fi, but not necessarily the fact that it’s sci-fi. And obviously, that genre is huge right now. So, I just needed to know a little more about how they were going to do the wolves because that’s a huge aspect of the show. When he said it was more based on the characters and their relationships, and Elena’s issues that she has, being in therapy, that was the more intriguing part to me. The cherry on top is that she’s a werewolf, as well.
Did reading the books help give you insight into who Elena is?
VANDERVOORT: I think reading the novels definitely was a good source for me to study from, and to get an idea of her voice because she does speak from the first person in the books. To understand where she was coming from, in her own head, it definitely helped. We do stay as true as possible to the books and to Kelley Armstrong’s vision, and then the actors bring in their own twist on things. This is the first time I feel that, in a series, I’ve been completely open, honest and raw with my personal emotions, and used them on camera. So, I did use the Elena from the book. We’ve all just thrown in our own twist on it, as well. Personally, I just use my own experiences and try to relate to what she’s going through.
For people who aren’t familiar with the books, who is Elena Michaels and how does she fit into this world?
VANDERVOORT: Elena comes from the foster care system. She hasn’t really ever had a family dynamic. She’s never really had anyone to believe in or rely on or love. She has trouble trusting because she’s had some horrible experiences in the foster care system, which we will get into. She’s just trying to make her way through life. At university, she falls in love with her professor, played by Greyston Holt, and it’s the first time she really lets someone in and is trusting. Sadly, she feels betrayed when she finds out he’s a werewolf. He bites her, and she has no idea why he bit her. No females have ever survived the bite. She’s the first to ever be strong enough to get through the first transformation. Most people commit suicide or just die from the agony of the change.
So, once she transforms, she does her best to leave the pact behind and try to live a normal life. She’s very bitter towards what they’ve done with her, and she goes off to Toronto to try to live a normal life as a freelance photographer. She has a human boyfriend, and she just tries to move forward, but she obviously can’t deny the animal inside of her. And the pack calls her back to help them track. There are some murders back in Bear Valley, and because she’s their best tracker, she has to go back. She has that urge. When the Alpha of the pack calls, you have to go. So, when she’s back, she’s torn between her two loves. This is the first time she’s had a family dynamic, and they do love and care for her. The series is really her trying to live a normal life, but also trying to suppress the animal inside of her.
This is a world that Elena never wanted to be a part of because she didn’t even know it existed, but she seems to also really bring something to it, as well. Will she have less of a hatred for it, as time progresses, or will she always resent what was done to her?
VANDERVOORT: It was a huge betrayal. She’s now no longer human. She can’t live the life that she was working so hard to live. She hates that she’s this brutal killer. At the same time, the pack only kills to eat and survive. They’re made a rule not to kill humans. So, she’s definitely torn because she’s never had a family like this, and that’s the most important thing to her, but this was a huge betrayal. But towards the end of the season, she does find out why he did what he did, and that might change things for her. Maybe she will come to terms with who she is and grow to love it, but it definitely is a huge struggle for the entire season.
What do you think it was about Elena that allowed her to survive the werewolf transformation, when no other woman had, before her?
VANDERVOORT: She’s had to be really strong and on her own for her whole life. She’s just an amazing woman. She wasn’t going to let this be the end of her, and she fought through it. Also, the pack made sure she was in a safe place for her first transformation, so that helped. But, I think it was really up to her and her strength within. She was just not ready to be done.
What is it about Elena that makes her such a good tracker?
VANDERVOORT: I’m not sure what it is. I think it’s more of a DNA thing. She’s the best tracker. Clay is the muscle of the group and gets the job done. They all have their specific abilities, and she just happens to be the best tracker. They need her, and they can’t do anything without her.
VANDERVOORT: There’s no number. In the beginning, it’s grueling. It’s the most difficult thing you can imagine, that she’s going through. She’s been holding back this animal. As the season goes on, when she does change, it’s more of a relief for her, so there’s pleasure in it.
How did you decide on the way you would approach the change?
VANDERVOORT: Your bones are breaking and you’re contorting and your spine is growing. It was interesting for us all to collaborate, as producers and actors, as to how it would look and feel and sound. It’s exhausting doing the change because you have to physically and mentally show that. The first change I ever did was in the woods, and you’re not really wearing anything, and you’re down on all fours. We were like, “What are we doing, exactly? How does this look?” And it’s different for the other actors because the other wolves have done this for so long. For Elena, it’s exhausting.
When you signed on to do this show, did you have any idea how often you’d have to be getting naked?
VANDERVOORT: I had an idea. That was one of the things I spoke to J.B. about. It makes the most sense. You see so many movies where the humans change into werewolves and their clothes rip, and then suddenly they’re back in their clothes. That just didn’t make any sense. So naturally, they have to remove that stuff, and there’s no jewelry. It just makes the transition easier.
Do Elena and Clay get on the same page, at all, this season, or will that be more of an evolving process?
VANDERVOORT: I don’t want to give that away. The entire season is them trying to figure out how they feel about one another. Obviously, Clay loves Elena, and she just can’t get passed what he’s done to her. That’s an ongoing thing. But, I won’t say whether or not they figure it out by the end of the season. You’ll have to watch.
How would you describe the difference between pack werewolves and mutts, and why are the mutts so dangerous?
VANDERVOORT: Our pack abide by rules, like to not kill unless it’s necessary. The mutts are really just free range, doing whatever they want rebels. Some are psychotic murders that have been turned into werewolves. The mutts are specifically choosing people who are insane or are serial killers to change, to come at the pack. They’ve got these crazy wolves who just don’t abide by anything. Our pack is very civilized. We sit down and have our dinners. We live in a house together, and we look out for one another. It’s very similar to The Sopranos, in that it’s, “Kill to protect the family, but only if necessarily.” The mutts just are deranged.
Out of this pack, who would you say Elena is the closest to and has the most respect for?
VANDERVOORT: Definitely Jeremy (Greg Bryk). He’s the pack Alpha, and he’s basically the first father she’s ever known. He was there for her through her first change, and he really takes care of her, so she really respects him, in a lot of ways. But also, Logan (Michael Xavier), who’s one of the pack members. He’s the only other pack member that lives in Toronto and tries to live a normal life. He’s a therapist. It’s a great dynamic for her because it’s a friend who knows what she is and what she’s going through. She goes to these therapy sessions and it’s almost like a monologue to the audience from Elena, where she only talks about how she’s feeling. So, having Logan there is just a way for the audience to know how she’s truly feeling because, for most of the show, she’s keeping it to herself.
Do you enjoy all of the physical work you get to do with this show?
VANDERVOORT: Yeah, that’s definitely one of the things that attracted me. I grew up doing martial arts and I’m a second-degree black belt. I always do my own stunts, as much as possible. I’m a little stubborn about it. Even on Smallville, I was doing as much as I could. But, I also have great stuntwomen where, if it’s a really dangerous stunt, they will do it. With Bitten, it’s the first time I’ve had a chance to do hand-to-hand combat and work on these choreographed fight sequences. We’ve got this great finale fight that we shot for three days straight. It’s insane! I didn’t know how out of shape I was when we started to do that. I couldn’t keep up with the stunt double. We had the opportunity to have a character that you haven’t met before, so our stunt guy was the character and did the stunts with me. I was fighting the stunt guy, as opposed to an actor, so I was trying to keep up.
When they’re in human form, these werewolves can listen in on conversations, from a distance, and hear what people are saying. Do you think that would be a positive or a negative, if you could do that, in your own life?
VANDERVOORT: I think it would be a negative. I don’t necessarily want to know what people are saying when I’m not around, especially if it’s about me. I just don’t need to hear extra garbage. I wouldn’t want that.
Now that you’ve played this character for a season, are there things that you most admire about Elena and who she is?
VANDERVOORT: Everything about Elena is admirable. That’s why I wanted to be a part of this show. It’s rare on television to see a lead female. It’s happening more now, and I’m thrilled about that, but the fact that we still have to comment and say, “Wow, it’s a lead female,” means that we still have a ways to go. But in terms of her qualities, I admire that she stays true to who she is, her strength, and that she’s flawed and has been through so much, but still perseveres.
With the way that things are left at the end of the first season, is there a resolution, or are things left open for a Season 2?
VANDERVOORT: It’s definitely left open for a Season 2. I won’t say where we leave off, but it’s pretty dramatic. The pack has to come together. It’s an epic finale. People are going to be shocked with what happens.
Bitten airs on Monday nights on Syfy, starting on January 13th.