The Syfy drama series Defiance, which is also a multi-platform video game, is the first-ever convergence of television and online gaming, featuring an interconnected world between the two mediums as they evolve together into one overall story. Set in the near future, the show is a story about survival under extreme circumstances, with humans and aliens trying to co-exist peacefully in this new civilization. From executive producer Kevin Murphy, the show stars Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Stephanie Leonidas, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray, Graham Greene and Mia Kirshner.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Stephanie Leonidas – who plays Irisa, an Irathient warrior who is also the adopted daughter of Nolan – talked about the appeal of this project, what drew her to this character, why it’s important to her that Irisa keep her edge, the relationship between Nolan and Irisa, what Irisa’s journey is like this season, the knife training she did, the make-up process she goes through, what these elaborate sets are like to work on, and how excited she is to continue to explore who Irisa is. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
STEPHANIE LEONIDAS: I didn’t really become a part of it all until much later on, a few months before we started shooting. For me, it was all a very quick process, really. I think Grant [Bowler] was on it much longer, and Julie [Benz], too. It’s still all very new to me.
Was this a role that you auditioned for?
LEONIDAS: Yeah, I auditioned for it. Kevin [Murphy] had seen me in MirrorMask. It was a film he went to see at one of the festivals, so he’d known me from that. But, I put stuff on tape and we had some Skype sessions about the character, and it went from there.
Is part of the appeal of a project like this the fact that you’re a part of something so new and groundbreaking, or does it feel a bit like a foreign language?
LEONIDAS: The more we’ve talked about it, and the closer it’s come to coming out, and the fact that the game is out now, it’s blown my mind even more. While we were filming, we just got on with it. Now, suddenly, with everything about to air, the realization of the fact that we are doing something so big and groundbreaking is hitting us all, slowly. We’re all just so excited because it’s so new to us, as well. We’re anxious to see how it all goes.
What was it about this character that drew you to her?
LEONIDAS: What I loved about the script was that, even though it was about aliens, and there was a lot of shooting and fighting, it wasn’t predominantly about that stuff. There was a real human drama to it. The aliens have heart, and it felt like it was something that people could relate to more than just watching a bunch of aliens, post-apocalypse, not really getting on. It just had so much more to it. With Irisa, I loved the fact that there was just so much going on inside of this girl that’s a feral animal-like creature. I liked that, on the inside, there was a lot more going on. I thought there was a lot to play with, with that. I think that’s what drew me to it.
LEONIDAS: That’s an interesting question. With Irisa, she’s been brought up by Nolan (Grant Bowler), who’s a human. But, the most interesting thing to me is that there were so many times that things didn’t make sense to her when they did to him, and she didn’t quite fit in. I always liked the fact that she went back to her roots and didn’t ever feel so comfortable, but didn’t really know why, and was constantly battling with herself. She was like a young girl, and I liked that aspect of it, as well. She’s just like any human girl, having to deal with all of that stuff. It was about what being an Irathient meant to her, and about discovering a lot about herself and her past. I think it’s definitely something that I, as Irisa, would like to hang onto because I think it’s important.
How would you describe the relationship between Nolan and Irisa?
LEONIDAS: It’s like many father-daughter relationships, in some ways. They have their moments. They’re fiercely loyal towards each other, and they would do anything for each other. They’d live or die together. There’s no doubt about that. They’re so loyal that they would do anything for each other. But, like any father-daughter relationship, they have their moments and there are many of them. With Irisa, she’s quite dangerous, as well. She carries knives. It’s an interesting roller coaster between those two.
Since the specific backstory between Nolan and Irisa isn’t really shown, did you and Grant Bowler discuss their history, at all?
LEONIDAS: Yeah, we did do a lot of rehearsal work and research, before we started filming. We were lucky enough to have a bit of time. I got to spend some time with Grant. It became clear that, especially for Nolan, Earth as he knows it has changed and he’s this lone ranger. He needs Irisa just as much as she needed him. He’s brought her up since she was 10 years old. It wasn’t just him looking after her, in the end. He needed someone there, also, even though he may not always admit that. They both needed each other. As they grew and went on their journey together, they had a special bond that just can’t be broken.
LEONIDAS: With Irisa, especially, it’s about going back to some of her roots and discovering who she is. Something Irisa starts to learn herself is why Nolan ever helped her and why she’s with him. She’s always questioned that, herself, and wondered what went on in her background. So, you start to learn a bit more about Irisa and where she’s from and her roots.
Did you know about any of that ahead of time, or did you learn about it, during the process of making the show?
LEONIDAS: Bits were learned, along the way, but a lot of it was told to me, at the beginning. There were some things that were kept from us because they didn’t want us to know anything too early and play those things too early. There were a few surprises, along the way, which was nice, actually. We learned it as the character would, in a way, and that’s nice. So, it was a mixture. You just have to go on the journey with the character, and that’s exciting. I’ve found that really exciting. And it can be nerve-wracking, at the same time, because you don’t know what’s coming next.
How much training or rehearsal did you have to do with the knives, to make it seem like it was second nature for her and that you weren’t fumbling with them or dropping them?
LEONIDAS: That happened, occasionally. I got rolls of eyes from the stunt team. The stunt team were great on Defiance. They were there, every day. Anytime we had some time off, in between takes, I would be with them and they would go through a routine with me that we’d be shooting in a few weeks, or just do some knife practice. We started off with tennis balls, at first, and then worked our way up. I would just throw stuff to get used to how I would stand, and they taught me how to use the knives safely. It’s been great. One stunt guy did actually bleed when I hit him on the head. It was very real. But, I had a great time with those guys. I was thrown into the deep end, straight away. I also managed to have some martial arts training while I was there, which I loved. It really all helped.
LEONIDAS: With Tommy, it’s someone that’s nearer to her own age and is lonely, too. He feels like he’s out there on his own, too. You get that sense, in the pilot, that they’re these two lone rangers, and they’re very curious about each other. It’s that curiosity, at first, that gets those two talking. I love the scene in the pilot where Tommy and Irisa speak, and it’s probably the first time you hear Irisa same something more than a mumble. That was a really fun scene to shoot, actually. It surprises Irisa, as well, how much she is suddenly talking to Tommy. It’s a strange friendship, but it’s one that you understand because they’re these lonely creatures who find a friendship in that.
Each of these alien races has its own culture, look and history. What was the process of finding how Irisa would look? Was that already predetermined before you were cast, or was it a collaboration?
LEONIDAS: They had a rough idea. Before I came on, they had some photos of roughly what they wanted the Irathients to look like. They’re a complete contrast to the Castithans, who are very pale. The Irathients have much more tan skin with these tribal markings. They’re much more feral, where the Castithans are more clean creatures. They bathe a lot. The Irathients are animal-like, in a way. They had some pictures for us, at the very beginning, but then once we started experimenting with make-up, little bits changed, here and there. It was nice to have some input, as well, into what Irisa would look like. It was shocking for me. The first time I stood up in the make-up trailer with everything on, I felt like a different person. It was a fun process.
LEONIDAS: At five in the morning, you have to zone it. It takes me about an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes to get it put on. It’s not too bad. Some of the other aliens are in there a lot longer, so I can’t complain. It’s a nice process, actually. I feel like I morph into Irisa slowly, in the morning. I have that time to turn into Irisa.
What’s it like to be on these sets? Does it really feel like you’re transported to another world?
LEONIDAS: It really does, more than anything I’ve done. The sets on Defiance are incredible. I’ve never really seen a set like this, where the world is so built around us. There’s not too much left for us to have to imagine. We do a lot of stuff on the green screen as well, but when we’re outside in the streets, it’s all there. It’s amazing! The creators have just been incredible. There are just the tiniest details. It does feel like we enter the world, every day, on set. It was really helpful for us.
As you got more and more scripts, and you learned more about the journey that your character was on, did you get more excited about the possibility of continuing to explore this character in future seasons?
LEONIDAS: Definitely! There are so many places that Irisa could go. By the end of the season, so much has happened. Irisa goes on quite a journey, and it just could go anywhere. I’m really excited to see how that could go, and watch Irisa grow up. I love playing her! It’s been good fun. It really has.
Defiance airs on Monday nights on Syfy.