The sci-fi drama Continuum tells the story of Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols), a cop from the future who finds herself trapped in the present day. When a group of fanatical terrorists escapes their planned execution in 2077 by traveling back in time to 2012, Kiera inadvertently goes along for the ride. Thanks to the assistance of tech genius Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen), Kiera infiltrates the local police department and forms an alliance with her new partner, Detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster), in the hopes that she will find a way back to her husband and son before the terrorists change the course of history.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actress Rachel Nichols talked about how she came to be a part of Continuum, maintaining the lead role on a show while juggling movies, when she realized how successful the show was, the difference in the humanity of 2077 and the humanity of 2012, making sure that things don’t come too easy for Kiera, the relationship her character has with both Alec and Carlos, having to wear that suit, doing as much of her own stunts as possible, and where the story is headed next. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: How did you come to this project?
RACHEL NICHOLS: Well, it’s a really unorthodox and interesting story. A girlfriend of mine called me and said, “I have a friend who’s casting this show and, right now, it’s only in Canada. It doesn’t have U.S. distribution. But, I just read it and I thought of you. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but can I send it to you?” I said, “Sure!” She sent me the pilot for Continuum, which was called Out of Time, at that point. I was about 10 pages in and I said, “I’ve gotta do this! This is amazing!” Female characters like this don’t come along, every day. It was a chance to not only do the action, the sci-fi and the procedural elements, but also the family element. I’d never played a mom before. So, it had all the fixings for a great role. I sent it on to my team, and they really loved it. I went in and auditioned for it in New York and was thinking, “I really hope I get this job!,” and I ended up getting the job. I believe the offer came in, in December of 2011. It was really late. I was in the middle of my Christmas vacation when we were closing the deal. And then, on January 5th, I moved to Vancouver, having never been to Vancouver before, ever in my life. And then, I was there until mid-May while we shot the first season.
You’ve done projects, like Alias, G.I. Joe and Conan, that are action films. Is that something you just personally find yourself drawn to, or has it just all been very coincidental?
NICHOLS: It’s a bit of both, actually. I love the fact that I’m in a place where my fan base believes me as someone who does a lot of action. You’ll never see me in a fight scene or carrying a gun where people will say, “Oh, she’s never done this before. She’s new at this. We totally don’t buy this.” I’m at that point where I’ve done enough of it that people associate me with that, which I think is great. That takes one hurdle out of any audition process I ever have, or any believability issue, or any technical advising. I’ve done enough of it that people see me and say, “Oh, yeah, we totally buy that,” which is fantastic. I also like the physicality of roles. I like being able to invest my body in it, as much as my mind. At the end of the day, it’s just really fun. What woman doesn’t want to go out there and kick some butt? I did it with a sword in Conan, I did it with a crossbow in G.I. Joe, and I’ve got my multi-tool and my super-suit in Continuum. It’s really a release, and it’s quite cool.
NICHOLS: We’re in the sweet spot with Continuum. For the first season, we shot 10 episodes. For Season 2, we’re shooting 13, but we won’t shoot any more than that. That’s ideal, for me, because once you’re on a show where you’re shooting 22 or 24 episodes of a one-hour drama a year, that’s your whole year. That goes from August to May, and then you just have a little window of time off, and you’re usually so exhausted and burnt out that you just want to hide under a rock for a few months. A 13-episode arc is the sweet spot because I’m in Vancouver from January to June, and then I have another half a year to invest in other projects and do movies and produce things. So, while I’m in Vancouver, I’m usually planning for what I’m going to do, the next half of the year. If I have to put myself on tape for an audition, or something like that, I can do that. It’s perfect because I get to do the show for half the year, and then I get the other half of the year to do whatever I want.
Was there a point that you realized people were not just watching the show, but that they were responding in the way that you hoped they would?
NICHOLS: I wasn’t in Canada when it premiered because I had moved back to the States by then. But the whole time I was working on the show, I was thinking, “God, this show is so good! The storylines are good, the effects are good, the creator is brilliant, and I think this show is really amazing.” And then, you just hold your breath because nine times out of 10, in this business, if you think you have something really good, it doesn’t necessarily turn out that way, or you’re let down by the final product, or people just aren’t that interested in watching it. I remember when it premiered, it was that, “Okay, here we go, fingers crossed,” and it was amazing! It caught on like wildfire, and it was suddenly on Twitter. That’s the quickest way to find out about things, to be honest. I just really adore Twitter, in this funny way, because it spread like wildfire and word traveled fast. Suddenly, the ratings were everywhere and people who followed me were posting great reviews. We aired two episodes and we were even in the States yet, and IMDB put us in the Best TV Shows list at #3. That was when all of us went, “I think we’ve done what we wanted to do. This is amazing!” And then, the outpouring of support from all over the world, including countries that we were actually airing in, was pretty insane. You can’t thank them for stealing it, but you’re kind of proud that they did. It’s so flattering!
Having a male show creator, do you collaborate on the portrayal of Kiera, or does he have a good handle on giving voice to a female lead?
NICHOLS: Simon [Barry] is amazing! I can’t say it enough. I forwarded him this note that I had copied from a card, when we wrapped the show, and it said, “We are more than just friends. We’re like a really small gang.” That’s Simon and me. Not a lot of people know this, but the irony is that Kiera was originally Kyle. Simon had written it as Kyle, and then rewrote it for Kiera, which was amazing. That was a tough task to do, and obviously he did a fantastic job. He’s great! He’s so good at writing things for Kiera. And then, when we got to know each other, ‘cause I didn’t meet him until I was up in Vancouver, starring in his show, he was always into collaborating and changing dialogue, or whatever. There a very awkward, goofy side to me, and he didn’t know that existed until I showed up there. So, there are some parts, in the first 10 episodes, where extra little bits of Rachel shine through in these awkward moments when Kiera is pulling faces or learning to drive a car. The outtakes from the blooper reel from the first season are hilarious. Simon really embraced putting me into the character, which is lovely because then it makes me even more comfortable playing her. But, he’s collaborative with everybody. We do cast read-throughs, with the whole cast and the director for that episode, for every episode, and we talk about stuff afterward. He’s always game to change things or add things. He makes all of our jobs very, very easy because he is so thorough. I think he’s got 10 seasons planned in his head. That’s how deep his knowledge of what’s going to happen goes. Anytime I have a question like, “Does this exist in the future? Have I seen this before?,” he’s the guru when it comes to the lineage, the legend and the story. Any question I have, I can ask him and he always has the right answer. So, not only is he collaborative and a great show creator, but he knows the answer to any question I might need the answer to. That makes my life a lot easier.
When you were setting out to play this character, did you think about ways her humanity would be different in 2077 than it would be when she goes back to present day, so that you could convey both sides of that?
NICHOLS: Yeah, I did, actually. Human in 2077 are much less human than humans are in 2012, given the technology and given the cold, weird feeling of the future, and given my job. I’m today’s RoboCop, essentially, with all of the mechanisms that I have, the technology and the devices. So, for the first two episodes, before she really has come to realize that she’s in this different time and she has to adapt, she’s very robotic, and that was intentional. There’s an arc of physicality. In the first two episodes, she’s very wooden because that’s how she’s been trained to be in 2077, as far as her job is concerned and as far as what she does on a daily basis. So, she sticks out like a sore thumb, as she should in 2012, and she’s got to adapt very quickly. When she befriends Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster), he tells her to trust her instincts, and Kiera doesn’t even know what that means. In 2077, you trust the tech. You don’t trust anything else because the tech will do it all for you.
There’s a very different level of humanity in 2012, and that was absolutely something that we thought about. Kiera has never seen a horse before. We don’t have running water, in the future. The food is disgusting. It’s brightly colored goo. There were a lot of those elements that we had to figure out. And Kiera has to adapt quickly. She’s gotta get in there and befriend Carlos and handle her situation, so it does happen quickly, but there were many conversations about how to make her stick out, in the beginning, as someone who is a complete alien, who then slowly assimilates. And then, as the season progresses, Kiera sees a lot of things that amaze her. That element is one of the mechanisms that brings about her questioning. In the future, it’s very black and white, and yes or no. Coming back to 2012 and seeing what the world is like now, and knowing where it’s going to end up, really puts her in a moral and ethical conundrum/crisis because she likes it here. Many elements of the present day are so much nice, better, kinder, friendlier, warmer and tastier than in the future, and that really does start her thinking, “Maybe everything that I thought was right in 2077 actually isn’t.” One of the things that I love about the show is that it’s not black and white, or good and bad.
Do you have to always be aware that Kiera can use this future technology, but that you also don’t want everything to come too easy for her?
NICHOLS: Yeah, absolutely! There’s always that aspect of, “I have this suit and I have the multi-tool.” She can’t seem like a superhero. She does, in a way, but she can’t have every answer at her fingertips. That’s definitely something that we want to make sure is not like, “Oh, we’re never worried for Kiera because she can get out of everything with a snap of her fingers.” We’ve gotta be careful about that. It’s definitely something that we talk about. The cell towers are down. That is very helpful to us. Or my suit gets shorted out and breaks, and Alec (Erik Knudsen) has to fix my suit. We have to be careful that you still believe her and can empathize with her as a human, and not look at her as though she can fix everything with a snap of her fingers. You want to have her still be very human, and you want to feel for her when she gets into terrifying or exciting situations. You don’t want her to seem like a robot. You want her to be human, in those situations, so you have to protect that idea, throughout the whole show.
The relationship between Kiera and Alec is very unique. How challenging was it to establish that bond between those characters, without them actually being in the same room?
NICHOLS: Erik Knudsen, who plays Alec, is so generous. He’s such a great actor. The fact that he has to say all of the technical stuff, and he says it so well and makes it funny, real and understandable, is amazing. Obviously, I’m working every day, on this show. I don’t ever have any time off. As the season progresses, Alec gets out of his little room, but Erik doesn’t work as much as I do. But he would come to set, even on days that he wasn’t working, to read the lines off camera to me. So, even though Kiera and Alec weren’t in the same room at all, in the beginning, he would be right there with me and we would be saying the lines together. It wasn’t as though I just had the script supervisor yelling Alec’s lines from video village. He came and he gave hours of himself to be there, so I could hear exactly how he was going to say things, on his end, and so how he could hear how I was going to say things, on my end. And then, as the season progressed, it got a bit more sophisticated.
After the read-through of each new script, and before we started filming, the sound department would record all of the conversations between Alec and Kiera. That way, if Erik couldn’t be there for me, or I couldn’t be there for Erik, they would at least have a recording of what we were going to say, in our own voices, for the other to hear when they were shooting their side of things, and that was really helpful. Alec is the only person that really knows Kiera. He’s the only person that knows the truth, and he’s the only person that she can really turn to. They have to have this immediate trust and this immediate bond, and a lot of that comes through their language with each other. So, it was really important that we could hear each other’s actual voice rather than hearing someone else say the words. He’s got this speech pattern that nobody could replication because it’s him, and that’s why he’s so good. Even when he’s joking around, it’s so helpful to have him actually say it to me rather than me having to think it will be funny whenever he says it. He really gave a lot of himself. He was so generous, all season. He’s a great guy, anyway, so I’m happy that his voice is the one in my head.
What’s it been like to work with Victor Webster and establish the dynamic between your characters, with Kiera being so focused on getting home to her family?
NICHOLS: I really like that it’s not the obvious romantic get-together. Simon Barry and I were at the Fan Expo in Vancouver and somebody said, “When are Carlos and Kiera going to get together?,” and Simon went, “Never! It’s never going to happen!” Victor is really ugly and really unfriendly and totally difficult to work with. Not at all. He’s clearly a very attractive man, and one of the nicest guy’s I know. He’s got this great presence. I screen tested with four guys, all of whom were extraordinarily different, for that role and Victor was my first choice. All the others were great. They were all very different, but they were all great. But, Victor just has that presence. He’s got that height, that build, that kind face and the, “I could actually kill you,” look too. He really is the moral compass of this show, in a really weird way. He’s the heart of it, since he is this everyman in 2012, and he fills the role perfectly. Kiera has a great affinity for him, in a non-romantic way. At the end of the season, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for her to lie to him, on a daily basis. She lies to him, all the time, and all he’s done is be her friend and stick up for her, even though she’s come out of nowhere and seems to always be two steps ahead. And Victor is great. He’s the best possible Carlos.
Where are things going with Kiera and both Carlos and Alec?
NICHOLS: Neither of them is ever going to turn into a romantic relationship. Alec is like a little brother to Kiera. He might have a technological crush on her, but it’s nothing more than that. And then, with Carlos, it’s very different. Those two guys keep Kiera sane. Those two relationships, although very different, allow her to be here and face being here and away from her family.
In regard to the suit, do you look at it like, “Oh, god, I have to put that on again?!”
NICHOLS: Yes! When the show premiered in Canada, I had people on Twitter going, “Ooh, that suit is so sexy!” And I literally responded, “Yes, when the suit is on, it is sexy. But, getting it on and taking it off are probably two of the least sexy things you’ll ever see, in your life.” It’s me, lying down on the floor, pulling it up from the foot straps and wiggling my way into it. It’s an acrobatic act. When it’s cold outside, the suit is freezing, and when it’s hot outside, I sweat to death. It looks fantastic and I will wear it with pride, but when I see it in my dressing room, a little piece of me dies. At least it looks great when it’s on.
Once the suit is actually on, does it make the action scenes easier?
NICHOLS: Absolutely! The copper suit has four layers of fabric and they did a really good job of making all the layers stretchy, so that I can run and punch and kick, and do all of the stuff that I need to do. That’s very helpful to me because having to do a fight scene in an outfit that doesn’t move is very difficult and uncomfortable, and somebody ends up getting hurt. I’m thankful that my suit is flexible, in that way.
As somebody who has experience with physical roles, do you try to do as much of the action and stunts as possible?
NICHOLS: Absolutely! I will do anything that production will let me do. I will do all of my own stunts. They don’t usually let me do that because it would be a problem for them, if I were hurt. But, I have a great stunt double, who also doubled me for Conan, and she’s amazing. Nobody else can tell when they watch the footage, but I know when it’s me and I know when it’s her, and I want it to be me, as much of the time that’s humanly possible. I do have the training for it, and I keep in shape for it. I just like that stuff. Fight scenes are like learning a dance. You learn it move by move, and then you put it all together and it looks awesome when you edit it together. It’s great! You get to be this superhuman.
What can you say about where these characters are headed next?
NICHOLS: As the season progresses, and then Season 2 starts up, Alec is seriously questioning who he becomes, in the future. That’s one of the many reasons why it’s so interesting for an audience to watch. There really is a character for everyone, and there really is no cut and dry, black and white, good and bad. There is a good side to everything, except for maybe Sonya (Lexa Doig). I’m not really sure she’s got a good side. But, there are a lot of questions to be asked. As the season progresses, you start to see what this group was doing and that maybe it wasn’t a bad idea. Maybe it was achieved in the wrong way, but maybe what they were trying to do wasn’t so bad, after all. And then, that opens up a whole new arena.
Will the show continue to explore whether Kiera’s time travel was fated, or if she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
NICHOLS: Definitely! There’s a cliffhanger at the end of Season 1 that speaks exactly to that. It speaks to the fact that maybe this wasn’t a mistake. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake that they went back 65 years. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake that Kiera went with them. Maybe other people came too, and we just don’t know it yet. So, those questions certainly aren’t answered yet, as far as I can tell, but they are asked. The interesting thing about the show is that people will get answers or partial answers to some questions, but then that will lead to five more questions. That’s another thing that I love about the show. It’s a snowball effect. And for people who really like to think about stuff and theorize about what’s going to happen or what kind of time-space continuum we’re working with, it’s a very interesting show.
Have you given any thought, personally, about whether or not you’d like to see her end up at home?
NICHOLS: You know, obviously, I would like her to get home. I hope the series goes for years and is successful, and all that stuff, but I think there will be a planned end. When the show is over, she’s gotta get home. I really hope that that’s what will happen. We definitely play around with it this season, with some dream sequences where you wonder if she’s home or if she woke up from a dream. I don’t know what she’s gonna do in the present day, and I don’t know how that’s going to alter the future that she came from, if at all, so there’s that whole thing to deal with. Depending on when she goes back, what is she going to be going back to? There’s the worry of, what if her husband and son don’t exist anymore? What if she gets back and they’re not there? What if they’ve somehow aged 50 years? You have no idea. I really want her to get home, but I don’t want her to get home and have her husband and son be dead. Then, she’s back in the future with no friends and everybody has a different life. And then, she’ll want to go back to 2012 because her whole life is there. It’s a complicated idea. What can Alec do, in the future? Obviously, he’s assembled this device. Did he send other people back that we don’t know about yet? Did her husband demand to be sent? We don’t know, and that’s really cool!
Continuum is on Monday nights on Syfy.