Sam Strike on the Horrors of ‘Nightflyers’ and Getting Inside the Mind of a Terrifying Telepath

     December 6, 2018

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Be aware there are some light spoilers for Syfy’s Nightflyers through Episode 3, ‘The Abyss Stares Back’.

Danger is everywhere in Syfy’s new space drama Nightflyers. With the future of earth and mankind in peril at home, a team of maverick scientists journey into the far reaches of space in hopes of encountering a mysterious alien race known as the Volcryn in a ship haunted by the presence of someone or something that torments its passengers. But perhaps the most unpredictable and intriguing of the threats on board is Thale (Sam Strike), a telepath known as an L1, a young man with dangerous powers and a volatile personality to match. Why bring a dangerous telepath aboard your space mission? Well, Thale’s unusual gifts don’t just make him the ship’s loose cannon, they also mean he might just be the only person capable of communicating with the Volcryn.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to join a small group of journalists on the incredible sets of Nightflyers in Limerick, Ireland, where Syfy’s space horror created the halls and hellscapes of the Nightflyer in striking, remarkable detail. While we were there, we had some time to sit down with series star Sam Strike to chat about playing the wildcard telepath aboard the spooky ship and what it was like working in such an immersive environment. The actor also discussed getting inside Thale’s mind, hid complicated relationship with Gretchen Mol‘s Dr. Agatha Matheson, whether or not he considers Thale a villain, the fun of playing villainy and much more.

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Image via Syfy

We just talked to Phillip. And he obviously talks a lot about your character as well. So now we want to hear about your side of this character.

SAM STRIKE: Of Thale in general?

Yeah.

STRIKE: I mean, I imagine I’m going to agree with what Philip said, really. What did he say? Can you tell me?

He’s basically an antagonist to Murphy, when we first meet him. But we never hear really if he’s an actual good guy or not.

STRIKE: What, Thale?

Yeah.

STRIKE: Yeah, he’s a good guy… this is a debate I’ve been having with myself. I think a lot of the time, for the sake of entertainment purposes, they’ll make the bad guy vulnerable. Which I think is right, because it gives the character some color. But I also think sometimes you just are what you are, I know people that are just inherently bad, with no redeeming features kind of thing. So, I guess it depends how the series unfolds, I very much saw him when I started out as being pretty evil. I mean, did Phil tell you what Thale …

Oh yeah, he sets him on fire.

STRIKE: That’s the thing, I set the bloke on fire, right? For no reason. My character can beat you with his mind, no need to set the guy ablaze, but I did, which is pretty evil, do you know what I mean? So that’s what’s interesting for me at the moment, trying to figure out how he comes back from that. How does he redeem himself from just setting someone on fire? So I guess the answer to the question is, I’m not even sure yet. I don’t know. I think his general demeanor is that he’s a menace.

Is that pretty much common for all L1s?

STRIKE: Most of them are rounded up and thrown into a prison in a mountain. I feel like, if any of us were locked up and thrown into a prison in a mountain you’d be pretty hostile to the people that threw us in there eventually. So yeah, it’s a blanket statement.

Why specifically though is he taken from this prison and brought onto the ship, versus any of the other L1s?

STRIKE: He has a relationship with Agatha Matheson, played by Gretchen Mol. She’s looked after him since he was a kid, since he was really little. I think his motivations for going were, what else am I going to do today? Why not? He kind of doesn’t have a life anyway, so why not go and see what this spaceship malarkey is all about? And I think he goes because he’s powerful, and Agatha knows that he’s powerful, and it’s just sort of a happy connection, I think.

Is it quite fun to play unrestrained villainy?

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Image via Netflix

STRIKE: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve started to carve out a sort of career path playing these sorts of characters now. I don’t know how I’d describe them. Villainy is a good way to describe them, absolutely man. I like to play a lot of those … I think they’re more fun, there’s less baggage. I’ve done leading man stuff, and I’ve done a lot of these guys, and there’s less baggage to be likable in a sense of, your hair’s got to look good, that kind of shit. Whereas these guys, you can kind of just show up and be creepy, where I don’t have to look at my female co-star with smoldering eyes and shit, I don’t have to do any of that. So it’s quite good, yeah. I enjoy it.

Do you have to go through any kind of transformation to play Thale?

STRIKE: Yeah, they put quite a lot of makeup on me. They paled me up pretty good, and pulled these veins on the side of my head, I think, to lend to the fact that there’s a lot going on up here. I look like a crackhead, I look like a junkie, yeah.

Presumably, you aren’t a telepath in real life.

STRIKE: No.

So how do you go about kind of getting into that headspace, and going through all of that?

STRIKE: I like to look at acting as kind of more of a science than an art, as time’s gone on. I try and strip away all the bullshit. I think there’s just a lot of bullshit surrounding acting about, “I really thought I was really there, I was really in the groove, you know?” I’m not a telepath, and this is a point I made to someone yesterday. I’m not, I don’t know how it feels to be one. I’m not going to try and feel like a telepath because it’s totally impossible. I think, to try and keep it grounded, I was like, who would this guy be today? And the fact that he has powers and that he’s in space is just an add-on. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the term “chav”.

So in the U.K., a chav stands for council-housed and violent. Council house in the U.K. is the projects for the States. I kind of was like, he’s been in prison, he’s a bit mischievous, a bit evil, a bit cheeky. He reminds me of a chav. He reminds me of the kids that grew up at the end of my street. So that’s kind of all I-

You play him up like that?

STRIKE: Yeah, yeah. And the telepathy thing, he’s had it his whole life. We don’t think that our eyes are blue, or I have a cup of tea. It’s just, I have a cup of tea every day, he’s a telepath every day. I don’t think it’s like “I’m a telepath”, but yeah, it’s something I can do.

Do you have to use an accent?

STRIKE: No, this is the first time in years I’ve been able to do my own accent, which is really nice. I’ve been doing American accents for a while, but it’s nice to do it, yeah.

Does everybody have their own accents?

STRIKE: I think so. I’ve not actually got to work with all of the cast, because I’m quite contained from everybody else, but I believe so, yeah. I was scared at the beginning that they were going to tell me to pull it in, because it’s for an American audience. But, I’ve been getting scripts, and they’ve started writing my vernacular into the script. My character will say like, “bruv” and stuff like that.

It’s nice in the future they’re still using the slang.

STRIKE: I think, why not? The example I keep using is pockets. We still have pockets, pockets have been around forever, how much is really going to change? Before that point, or up until that point. Between now and then.

So you say you’re kind of tucked away a little bit, and we know you have this antagonistic relationship with Murphy. What is your dynamic like with the rest of the crew?

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Image via Syfy

STRIKE: So I don’t really get to know anybody else particularly well. There’s Agatha, who I’ve known my whole life, and then D’Branin, who Thale thinks is a bit of a boy scout. He’s a bit of a do-gooder, and he’s stealing the attention of Agatha from Thale. So I think he’s a bit “ugh” about that guy. Lommie, I think, they have a connection in a sense that they both have these weird abilities, and they’re both made quite vulnerable by them. But that’s it really, I don’t get to interact with anybody else all that much.

So that’s interesting, why does his telepathy make him vulnerable?

STRIKE: It’s a cliché, but I think it’s because it’s something people can exploit. I don’t like to weigh on that too heavily, if you’ve got power, you’ve got power. I call it what it is. It’s not Spider-Man, it’s not a curse. I wish I was Spider-Man. It’s not a curse. What it is they’re both trying to, I think, harness what they have, and they don’t fully understand it yet, because they’re both still quite young.

In the book, and even in the 1987 movie, the character goes completely crazy. Is it the same here, in the series?

STRIKE: I don’t know what happens in the end …

So far.

STRIKE: So far? My impression from the book is that what we did with the show is a bit different. When you get sent an audition, you get sent a character breakdown, how they’ve described the character. And I looked at that, and I did an audition, and then when I found out they were receptive to it, I was like “I’m not going to pay too much attention to the book”, because it seems we’re doing something respectful to it, but quite different, and I didn’t want it to confuse me.

Have you gotten to the point where you find out if there’s a side effect to having this power?

STRIKE: There is not necessarily a side effect, how do I put this? There’s another presence on the ship that definitely affects him because he’s an L1. You ever see that movie Hancock? I’m not going to say, but there’s a plotline in there somewhere, that’s kind of similar to that. There’s somebody else there that’s making his powers falter, or making him falter, do you know what I mean?

So you’re learning where your character goes when the scripts come in episode to episode?

STRIKE: Yeah, they’re episode by episode. Being honest with you, I said this before, and my agents will kill me for saying this, but I sit down to read a script, and I get easily distracted. I think, what it is, is all I need to know is what my character is doing, where he is, where he’s been. I don’t really need to know anything else. Going into a scene, I need to know what he’s trying to do, where he’s been in the scene before, and then just act accordingly. Which is going back to what I was saying about stripping down all the nonsense around acting. It works for some people, for others it doesn’t. But for me personally, I find if I read a script it becomes work, it becomes too much work and education. I’d rather just come sharp and have fun, and with Thale you can, because he’s mischievous. You can just show up and have a laugh and terrorize people. I like to wind up Gretchen Mol, who plays Agatha.

So, I’m getting the sense that he’s quite close to your personality.

STRIKE: I don’t know, I suppose you start to play to type. I don’t know, I was never terrible. I’ve got up to mischief that any other kid gets up to….

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Image via Syfy

I was always a really really really good kid, like a choir boy. And then this sort of weird turn of events, and I started getting into a little more mischief. But what I think it is, I think I play these characters because I know what scares me. Not so much that I am like him, but I know people that are like him, and I always found if you were getting into trouble, for example, if someone comes up to you on the street and they’re screaming in your face and being on the aggressive, you just … alright? Because they’re out of control. But if someone just kind of sits there and looks at you menacingly, and doesn’t say anything, you’re like “Oh, fuck. That’s terrifying.” Because they’re not moving, and you’re like “What are you thinking? What did I do? Is there something up my nose?”

So the horror elements, then. As much about personality and as much about the sort of theory of what someone might possibly do as they are about bloody hearts, guns turning into bloody hearts and things like that, then?

STRIKE: Yeah, yeah. I think so, yeah. I think what’s scary is if you can really imagine it happening, and I mean, I know it’s high-concept because we’re going to space, but it means our job is to, as actors, make it feel like it could be happening anywhere. And just the fact that we’re in space is just a circumstance of what we’re doing.

I’m sort of asking as of everybody, in different forms, but are you a fan of genre, either horror, sci-fi?

STRIKE: I always liked horror as a kid. I liked to be scared as a kid, you know? And I’ve done a bit of horror, and played a few murderers and stuff now, and as far as sci-fi goes, I loved Star Wars when I was a kid. I’m not as into it anymore, but I had the lightsabers and everything. But I loved it, I really did. So I can appreciate it. Have you guys seen the sets? Right, so I got this job and I was like “It’ll be a fucking wooden spaceship and some green screen.” And I was happy with that, I was like “Cool, man.” And I get here and I was like “Oh my word, this is insane.” So I can appreciate being, I was enough of a sci-fi fan that I can walk onto this set and go “Wow, this is crazy.”

This is a real plane.

STRIKE: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. There’s the loading bay, and the set is so huge. I walked in on my second day, and I’m always nervous going on set, the first few weeks, because I’m like “They’re going to fire me.” Pay them anyway, it’s fine. But I remember walking onto the set on the second day, and just being like “Whoa”, intimidated by the scale of the thing. But I think because I was a sci-fi fan when I was younger. I wish I was doing this when I was eight, when my imagination was still raring and I had my lightsabers and shit. I would’ve been here all day.

How much of an adjustment is that? Besides working with much bigger sets, this much bigger scale.

STRIKE: It’s not been an overnight thing. It’s been four years in between where I’ve done other things that have led me up to this. I’ve got to work with people where the work has been way more of an adjustment than this. If anything, this is kind of the closest thing I’ve done to EastEnders since EastEnders. Yeah, I did a bit on Mindhunter, and I was working with David Fincher, and I was like “Oh my god, this is nuts.” I was a nervous wreck. I never forget my lines, I was forgetting all my lines, and I just couldn’t pull it together. To go up there, that’s as tough as it’s going to get for me, whereas this, there’s still a formula of, you’ve got to think that these two are going to date each other, this guy is going to do something bad. Again though, EastEnders is such a separate sort of TV show than other things, it’s such a strange way to work. There were guys there that I’ve watched on EastEnders my whole life, they’re just doing their nine-to-five. They’re out having their cigarette breaks, and calling their mum, or whatever on their lunch break. They’re very, very normal people.

I got the train to work every day, and got the train home every night. It really felt like a regular job, which I’ve done. I’ve worked regular jobs, and it didn’t feel that different. So, do you know what? To be on all these crazy sets, that’s a huge change, yeah. A huge change. They don’t shoot on HD cameras on EastEnders because of the sets. If you filmed it HD you could see that they were made of paper. And this isn’t the case. The long answer to your question.

Working on a George R.R. Martin project, how much chatter is there among the cast about who’s going to survive season one, and who’s going to be around for the long run?

STRIKE: I’m not massively familiar with George R.R. Martin’s work, which I think stands as a testament to the fact- I know that he’s going to kill people. I don’t even watch Game of Thrones, but I know what he’s notorious for. So, I think people were kind of told early on what their fate would be, so I don’t think there’s too much wondering as much as “This is how it’s going to go.” George R.R. Martin is going to … and there’s nothing we can do about it.

You said that you were a horror fan, what movie would you compare the horror in this show to?

STRIKE: I guess it’s kind of like that Alien, Event Horizon kind of thing. Yeah, it’s quite specific really, I suppose, horror in space. Alien. And that was what everybody spoke about pretty early on, our first director Mike Cahill, he’s got this really overly-Californian accent, even though he’s from the east coast. He’s like “It’s like fucking Alien, dude. You know, like, monsters, and like, crazy shit, but on a spaceship.”

Horror in space. Good accent, though.

STRIKE: Oh, thank you.

Have you guys met, or spoken to George R.R. Martin at all as a part of this?

STRIKE: I haven’t. I don’t think anybody else has. He’s not been here, to my knowledge. I don’t think so is my answer to that.

You pointed out that one of the things that George R.R. Martin is known for is killing people, probably the other big thing is sex and nudity. You mentioned you have a relationship with Gretchen Mol’s character. Is that a platonic relationship, or what are we going to see your character getting up to?

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Image via Syfy

STRIKE: This is something, as well, I’m still figuring out. I view her relationship to Thale is quite maternal, I think, really. She’s like bathed him when he was a baby and all. So I would say it’s maternal, I think they probably weave things in to keep you guessing, but my guess is as good as your guys’, and I think it’s a maternal thing. I think that she cares about him, Thale will give her a bit of a hard time, he’ll be like “You let me watch you in the shower.” Just as a creepy lecherous wind up. And he knows she’ll never go for it, but I think he’s pretty bored and it’s a way to get entertainment to watch her go “Ugh, stop it.” Watch her squirm. But I don’t think it will develop into being a romantic thing, but I don’t know. Out of my control.

Sci-fi is bigger and bigger on TV. Did you have the chance to see shows like Altered Carbon, or Lost in Space, maybe? What do you think about the evolution of sci-fi on the small screen?

STRIKE: Well, yeah, I guess everything comes in waves, doesn’t it? And you’re right, the sci-fi thing really seems to be picking up at the moment, I’ve noticed. I started watching Altered Carbon, and then I didn’t, I can’t remember why. But I like Joel Kinnaman and it looked really cool, it looked really classy and really well done. I haven’t seen Lost in Space yet, but I saw the trailer. Looked very expensive. [crosstalk 00:21:33] So, I mean, I don’t really have much to say on it, it just seems to come in waves, doesn’t it? I think last year or the year before it was all Quantico, FBI-style stuff.

Mindhunter.

STRIKE: Yeah, Mindhunter, yeah. I’ll kind of just ride the wave of whatever’s there, man. But there definitely seems to be this insurgence of sci-fi stuff right now. You’re right.

With Nightflyers, you are going to be part of this kind of new legacy of Syfy on television. How does it feel?

STRIKE: Well that’s always cool, because it’s an experiment really, I suppose. I don’t know too much about what they’re trying to do, but I understand they’re trying to do a bit of a facelift, a bit of a rebrand, and this seems to be one of the flagship shows that they’re going to try and do that with, so that’s exciting. I’m constantly surprised at how much money they’re throwing at it, you know what I mean?

Are they covering the tattoos?

STRIKE: I just wear long sleeves man, I can’t. There was one day where they had to, and it took ages, man. It took forever. Normally, when I’m working I tend to wear long sleeves because it saves everyone time.

Thale can communicate and read minds, and he can manipulate what they see. He can’t do anything else, like he can’t see?

STRIKE: He’s getting intrusive, kind of, telepathic thoughts where he can see things that’re happening through somebody else’s eyes. But he doesn’t understand it yet, he didn’t really know he could do that. But I think as the series unfolds, the extent of his powers will broaden. What that will be, I’m not sure. From what I’ve been filming, they seem to be opening up more and more and more.

So he’s getting more vision, than feelings and thoughts, okay.

STRIKE: Yeah, and ones that he can’t control. He’ll just be chilling, and then all of a sudden … yeah.

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