When the popular SyFy series Eureka returns for Season 4.5, Zane Donovan (Niall Matter) is still trying to figure out the history between himself and Deputy Sheriff Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra), knowing that things aren’t quite what they seem, as a result of a trip to 1947 that changed the timeline of the town and its residents. Although Zane has a brilliant mind that proves useful in the secret community of geniuses that conduct top-secret research for the government, he’s not sure what to make of his feelings for Lupo, but he’s definitely starting to voice them.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Canadian actor Niall Matter talked about going from guest star to series regular, the joy of essentially getting to explore Zane all over again, maturing personally along with his on screen character, working with co-star Erica Cerra and developing their relationship on the show, and having comic legend Stan Lee guest star on an episode. He also said he hopes to guest star on an episode of SyFy’s latest original drama Alphas, and that he’d like to do a full-blown comedy. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you originally get involved with Eureka? Was it just a regular audition?
NIALL MATTER: Yeah, it was just a regular audition. They told me it was just going to be one guest star episode. I went in and read for the casting director, without the director there, and they really liked what I did and decided to bring me back for the director, who was Tim Matheson, and that audition went great. I took a lot of risks in the audition room and it ended up paying off because they responded well to me and I had the job that next day.
What sort of risks did you take with the role?
MATTER: He wasn’t written to be really flirtatious. I just thought would be a lot of fun, if he flirted with every single female he encountered in Eureka. The very first scene that Zane has with Allison, played by Salli Richardson, he’s laying it on pretty think with her. There was nothing that ever came of that, but it just gave you a little sense of what this guy was about.
When you first started on this show, could you ever have imagined that you’d have taken the journey with him that you have, or have you just learned to expect the unexpected with this show?
MATTER: I have totally come to learn to expect the unexpected here, and I like working that way. I’m a little bit of a gypsy myself. I’ve always had jobs where I’m moving around and I’m not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day. I’m used to operating in that capacity, so the character Zane actually fits me quite while. He seems to always be ever evolving, as are most people in that town, but Zane has come a long way. He’s had a little bit of regression in some departments, but big progression in others. I really like the direction Season 4.5 goes. I think that the fans are going to be extremely happy, by the end of the season. I really like the relationship and the friendship that Fargo and Zane now share. It’s great. And, that’s still carrying on through into Season 5, which we’re filming right now. It’s becoming a pretty strong bond between the two of them, which is great to actually play because they started off as enemies.
What was your initial reaction when you found out that things with your character would essentially be reset? Were you hesitant at all about that and how that would play out, or was it exciting for you, as an actor, on a series for a number of seasons?
MATTER: Actually, that was one of the most exciting things that I found out, being on the show. Quite frankly, the direction that Zane went in Season 3, I was a little bit let down about. He just became a lap dog for Lupo (Erica Cerra). He would dote on her and follow her around, and he didn’t have those characteristics that made him such a strong character when he was first introduced. And then, in Season 4, there was a chance to reboot all of that and get that guy back into the show, so I was really excited about that. Not only could I reinvent him, but I could reinvent him in a different way. Plus, he turned into more of a man on the show because I’ve grown into a man. I started off an awkward boy in his mid-20’s, that was 160 pounds soaking wet, and now I’m 196 pounds and I’m a man. I’ve been hitting the gym. So, Zane has evolved as I have evolved, really.
Were there any specific changes that you made to your performance to make him different than before?
MATTER: Yeah, I’ve calmed him down and added a lot more maturity to him, and made him more particular about cultivating the relationships in that town that he cares about. There are subtle nuances that I’ve definitely started working with. I wanted Zane to be more likeable by a broader range of people, and to make someone more likeable, they’ve got to care about other people, so really, Zane has become more caring.
When the show returns, Zane is still trying to figure out the history that he’s had with Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra) and you can tell he’s frustrated that she’s not being very forthcoming about it. How much does their dynamic change, throughout the rest of the season?
MATTER: It actually becomes quite fueled and passionate because of that frustration, which sheds light to a very romantic relationship between the two of them, that’s based in a very adult realm. Whereas before, I felt like their relationship was a little bit high school, now their relationship evolves into a very adult, very mature relationship, and it’s actually quite passionate because of that frustration. We all know that frustration can bring some of the most intense feelings for someone, and that’s what happens between those two.
What has it been like to work with Erica Cerra and re-explore the relationship between your characters?
MATTER: It’s funny because sometimes her or myself will be confused as to where we’re at. One of us will be like, “Oh, wait a second, we actually don’t have that history anymore, so that doesn’t work, that doesn’t apply.” It’s been great. Her and I have been really good together, in bouncing ideas off each other and where we think that our new characters are coming from, in regards to their relationship, and how to build it together. We’ve just been playing and rediscovering the relationship. It’s much more playful and there’s much more of a creative energy between the two of us because we’re having a lot more fun, discovering these characters again.
Over the course of the series, you’ve had some great moments with everyone on the show. What’s it been like to grow with this ensemble of actors, over the seasons?
MATTER: It really has become like a family. I know that a lot of shows will say that, but you hear about on-set fights or on-set difficulties with people. There’s none of that, on this set. I can honestly tell you, wholeheartedly, that every single person on this set loves each other and it has become a family, and that goes down to every single member of the crew. I’ve never been involved in something that has been this enjoyable, in my life.
What’s it been like to have Colin Ferguson also direct a couple episodes? Does it help that he knows the characters so well?
MATTER: It definitely does. I’ve been jockeying to try to get to direct a few episodes myself ‘cause that’s my background. That’s what I came from. I started off as a director, so when I see other actors directing, it gives me hope that maybe they’ll put me into that position at some point, too. Working with Colin [Ferguson], Joe [Morton] and Salli [Richardson], all three of them know the show so well and know the medium so well and they’ve all been working in it for so long, that every single that they say, you just soak it in and listen to it and you do your best to meet what their requirements are.
How have the additions of Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton been for the show? Do you enjoy changing up the dynamic of the already-established ensemble that you have?
MATTER: Absolutely! It’s fun, especially with those two because they’re so incredible in their characters. When their characters are together, or they’re working with Fargo (Neil Grayston) and myself, it’s been nice because it’s breathes a breath of fresh air into the show. There’s new life that comes in, and the characters are so real and so fully developed that you just play. You just fall into the scene with them and it’s seamless, and it’s like they’ve always been in Eureka. They seem so comfortable and they seem like they’ve been there the entire time, and that comes down to every single person just inviting them in and making them feel welcome. As soon as someone feels welcome, they’re going to do their job to their fullest capacity. On our set, that’s just the tone, and that tone is set by Colin Ferguson.
What was it like to have Stan Lee come in and guest star on an episode?
MATTER: I was excited. I just wanted a picture, all day. I didn’t even get to work with him, so I don’t know what it was like on set, but there was definitely a buzz in the air when we knew that Stan Lee was coming. And, I got my picture, so I was happy. I follow him on Twitter and he cracks me up, all day long. He’s a very, very cool guy.
Having played this character for a while now, are there things that you like best about him, and is there anything about him that you wish you could change?
MATTER: I wouldn’t change a thing about Zane. I can’t pinpoint one specific thing that I like best about him, but the best thing I like about Zane is the fact that he’s in Eureka and I get to work with all these people that I get to work with.
You get to do so many different things on this series, playing such a smart guy, doing some of the physical work and getting to have a love interest. Is there any particular aspect that you enjoy most, or is it fun to get the variety?
MATTER: I love all the variety that the character Zane requires, but the most challenging thing for me was playing with his intellect. I’m an intellectual, but I’ve always had jobs that required physical labor, above all else. I worked in an oil field, and stuff like that. So, I found myself having to rediscover my bigger muscle, which is my brain, in working through the dialogue. Luckily, I have the ability to talk really quickly and talk like I know exactly what I’m talking about, but I have to research a lot of the stuff that Zane is required to say. I’m not of a science background, I was never a comic book geek, and I was never a gamer. I was a football player, a hockey player and an oil rigger, and then they threw me into this world and it’s a world that I didn’t really understand. I’ve actually loved discovering this world, as just a human being, because it’s opened my eyes up to a whole different genre. I’d never watched sci-fi, so all of the techno-jargon that I have to deliver has been quite refreshing because I’ve never had the opportunity to say it before.
Is there anything that you’d still like to see him go through or do before the series is done, or is the constant surprise part of the fun for you?
MATTER: You know what, that’s already happening. The writers couldn’t have made Season 5 any more perfect for me. I came in wanting certain things, and I was going to voice them, but then, all of a sudden, there they were in the scripts. All of these things that I’ve been wanting to do are happening, and a lot of it actually does focus around his physicality and being more physical on the show. They’re throwing all of that my way this season, and I’m loving every minute of it.
What’s it been like to have the support and devotion of genre fans, for so many seasons now?
MATTER: There’s no fans like sci-fi fans, and everyone in the world knows that. So, to have the support of sci-fi fans is one of the most incredible feelings that an actor can actually ever experience in his career. There are still a lot of haters out there that hate Zane, but I like people to hate Zane. If people hate Zane, I’m doing my job well. I like that it stirs up people’s emotions and that he gets under people’s skin. And, I like that other people really like him for who he is and accept him for his faults ‘cause we’re all human beings. Just the fact that so many people get fired up, I enjoy that ‘cause that’s the art of it.
How much fun was it to guest star on Warehouse 13, and get to work with Erica Cerra, in that capacity?
MATTER: Guest starring on Warehouse 13 with Eddie [McClintock] and Joanne [Kelly], you can’t get two nicer people. I had a blast doing that. And, once again, I was with Erica and I was teasing her that she’s always following me around. I love working with her, and we’re good as a couple. It just works. They were very different characters, but we were still working off of each other, which is nice because we have that rapport.
Is there another SyFy show that you’d like to some day guest star on?
MATTER: I’m hoping I can guest star on Alphas, their new show. I have a friend on that, Warren Christie, and from what he’s been telling me, he’s just loving it and he’s expecting it to be an amazing show. I really hope that I can get over to Toronto, at some point, and guest star with those guys.
Are there any particular types of roles or specific genres that you’d still love to work in, but haven’t had the chance to do yet?
MATTER: I want to do a full-blown comedy. If I could get on a three-camera comedy, even just to guest star on a sitcom, I would love to experience that. It’s just something that I’d like to do. Taking it back even to Ryan Reynolds’ roots, where he was on Two Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place, I would like to do something along those lines, so that I can just make fun of myself. I’m good at making fun of myself.