Syfy recently aired an early premiere of their new series, Van Helsing
, which officially premieres in September. Set in an apocalyptic future where vampires have taken over, the series follows Vanessa Van Helsing, played by Kelly Overton, who after waking from a three year coma is found to be not only immune to their bite, but has the unique ability to turn vampires back into humans.
The star recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about her work on the series. SCIFI VISION: Can you talk about how you became involved in the show?
Sure. I read the script, and it was one of the first scripts that I read actually, during pilot season, and I loved it. I loved the journey the character went on, and I was pretty much hooked.
With the vampire genre, you’ve got vampires fighting. I’m very physical, so I loved the fight sequences. [The idea of] the apocalypse and a mother whose looking for her daughter, the mother/daughter connection, it was just really exciting to me. So the script and all those elements pretty much just hooked me.
And then you add in the producer/creator side of things - Chad Oakes, Mike Frislev, and Simon Barry, of course, and Neil LaBute - all those combinations I found really compelling and fascinating, and so it was something I wanted to pursue. Did you audition?
Yeah. My agent was like, “Hey, you’ve got to check out this script; I think you’re going to love it,” and he was right. And he said, “They’re seeing a handful of girls, and they want to see you.”
So I went in, and it was Michael Nankin, who is the executive producer and director of the first three episodes, and Neil LaBute. We just sat down and talked, and Neil and I really hit it off. We talked a lot about theater. I starred in a Broadway show called The Graduate
back in 2002. It was right after 9/11, actually, and Neil was also in New York doing The Shape of Things
on Off Broadway. And I remember being backstage during that time and us talking about The Shape of Things
, and it was really cool meeting him in person, and we just talked about being in New York and being on Broadway at that time.
And then we just started messing around with the material, you know? I did a bunch of different reads, and that was it.
And then I just got the call and the offer; it was pretty painless and wonderful. I know you were in True Blood before, so you probably already knew about some vampire mythology, but did you do any research into vampires specifically dealing with the Van Helsing mythology?
I’m really familiar with vampires. I kind of grew up fascinated with them, everything from the Lost Boys
, even Fright Night
. I grew up with a fascination, and I was a big fan of Anne Rice; I blew through all her vampire books and stuff. And there's True Blood
of course, so I’m really familiar with the genre and vampire folklore in general.
And then I read up on Bram [Stoker]’s description of who Van Helsing is as a person and really wanted to incorporate some of those qualities into the character. Other than that research, were you inspired by anybody, or did you think of any particular character or person as you created this character? Or did you take it mostly from the script and those legends?
From the script and from the legends, but one of my big references was Sigourney Weaver in Alien
. That was something I definitely researched a lot as I was getting into the character and doing my research. I went back to Ripley; I think she’s amazing, and those movies are amazing. What part of yourself do you see in your character? How much are you like or not like her?
I think I’m a lot like Vanessa in the sense that she’s kind of just immovable in her quest to understand who she is and why she’s the way she is and to protect those she loves. I think I could say that’s true about me as well. And the ways that I’m not like her? I’m not a violent person at all. I don’t push people around in my real life. In some versions of the mythology, Van Helsing doesn’t only fight vampires. Is this going to be strictly vampires or will they bring in other supernatural creatures?
There are different types of vampires. At the bottom of the totem pole you have vampires that rarely feed. They’re their own breed, because they are not getting much blood at all. Then you have the other vampires who are feeding, but they are feeding off animals, so they have more animalistic qualities. And then it goes up and up and up to more sophisticated vampires, eventually ending with the gorgeous ones. So you have a bunch of different kinds, so I think that keeps it really interesting. It’s not just one type of vampire; it’s different breeds. So all the monsters are vampires but different.
At this point, no, there are not different monsters. They’re all vampires, but there are several different types, so it feels like there is a lot of variety in the monster realm. I saw an interview from Comic-Con where Simon mentioned there are factions within factions, is that what you mean with the different groups of vampires?
Yeah, and in some ways with the humans too. The amazing team of survivors we meet in the pilot, they’re not the only humans left. Talking about the survivors that we do know about, there is Axel (Jonathan Scarfe), who has been watching over Vanessa in her coma. Can you tease a bit about how her relationship with him is going to develop as time goes on?
It’s such a great relationship. Vanessa wakes up into a world where there’s no one she can really trust. She’s wanted by the vampires; she’s wanted by the humans. And oddly enough there’s this one guy there who is her protector, which she finds suspicious also. She’s coming from this place of not being able to trust anybody, and like you see with Ted (Tim Guinee) in the first episode, she learns very quickly she can’t trust anybody.
And so it’s a really cool journey that you go on between her and Axel and seeing how the lack of trust affects things, seeing how the trust is gained and won, and just the nuances between that and the relationship between them as he tries to get her trust, as she slowly trusts him – or doesn’t.
That’s what I thought was really also cool about the world: it’s survival. Everybody’s on 'code red.' The stakes are so high; it’s life or death. So when you get into a situation like that where the trust gets compromised, and you feel like you can’t trust anybody, it’s a quick decline into paranoia and insanity. We as humans, a fundamental need is trust between people, and I think Neil LaBute did such a great job at writing the relationships and the dialogue and playing with this idea of trust, which I thought was really important. And I just really focused on the trust aspect, because I thought that was compelling to me.
So with Axel, it’s a perfect example of – there’s rest there with him at times, which you don’t find for her in other relationships and other dynamics with other people, which in such a high stakes world it's kind of refreshing. I assume that we will learn more about why he's stayed watching over her and why he’s keeping her there?
Yes. Can you talk about some of the other survivors and how they are connected? I know Chris Heyerdahl is in it for example, but we didn’t see much of most of them.
I know. Although, what an awesome reveal of [Sam], just him with his bat. I just loved that character entrance; it was perfect seeing him just bashing away with that bat, because he’s so badass.
And yeah, we meet some new characters along the way, and as far as the others, trust, like I mentioned before, is a big factor in survival, and we’re in a world where not a lot of people are surviving very long. So you watch them figure out where their best chances of survival are.
The great thing about all these characters is they’re so complex; they’re so richly written and created by Neil, and Neil is so great at delving deep into the human psyche and the darkness of the human psyche. And when you have a post-apocalyptic world and these strangers locked together, it’s like a candy store for him.
I feel like that’s all I safely can say. I hope I answered your question. You get to learn more about everybody. The whole season you’re learning about why people are the way they are, and I think you get a lot of reason to really fall for the characters and care about them. Are there any guest stars who you can tease about?
If you’re a fan of Chad’s shows, Fargo
and Hell on Wheels
, you’ll probably see some familiar faces From what I saw from interviews at Comic-Con, it looks like the vampires are going to be a separate set of characters, in the sense that it's not just about the surviving humans fighting them and trying to stay alive. We will see it from their point of view as well?
Yes. Other than being immune to the vampire bites and being able to turn vampires human, does she have any other powers or strengths?
Well, she heals. And there’s some variation on those supernatural powers. I don’t want to give too much away, but yeah, other things happen. So then, I would think that turning them back is not necessarily an easy thing? Because I would wonder if the stakes would be kind of lower otherwise, because if people get bit then it would just be like, 'Oh, she just makes them human/better again.'
No, it’s not that simple. That leads to the next thing I was going to ask. Is it not always going to be going on the offense against vampires as much as maybe trying to sometimes change the vampires back, or recruit them, or create an alliance with some of the vampires? Is that going to maybe be part of it?
Yes, that’s definitely touched on at some point in the season.
But Vanessa’s main goal right now, is she wants to find her daughter. She’s been given these gifts and this responsibility that she didn’t ask for, and she doesn’t even, frankly, want. So that’s what I really liked too, it’s not like “Oh, here’s a new Van Helsing show, and boom, she wakes up, and there’s no threat to her. She’s just this vampire-killing, unstoppable machine.” I loved that there’s a journey to go on to get her there. That’s already in her core, and it’s just a matter of her waking up to it, no pun intended. And I loved that.
And she battles with it; she struggles with “Is this a responsibility I want to take on?” She’s been a loner most of her life. Is she just going to reject it and do her own thing? And how does she put her quest for her daughter, how can that not be first? It has to be first. Speaking of her 'waking up,' when we first see Vanessa, she's in a coma. Will we find out why soon?
In the first couple of episodes, there’s a little bit of jumping back in time. It is not a theme in the show moving forward, but while we’re setting up the mystery of the world and how the apocalypse happened. There is in the first couple of episodes some going back and forth. So you do get to see who she was before she got into a coma, and you see why she is in a coma. It will be explained.Do they venture out of the building and that little area they’re in? I know he’s like “You can’t go outside;” does it mostly take place inside there?
I don’t think I can tell you that. From the first episode alone, you can tell that there will be a lot of fighting. Can you talk about that? Did you do any training?
I’ve always been an athlete, and so working out and training is a part of my daily life. I have done a lot of roles that require that. I was in a martial arts film called Tekken
, and I did my own stunts in that, and in True Blood
there was fighting. So it’s just my job, and so it’s something that I’m always doing. For this role in particular, I focused more on boxing, and I focused on bodybuilding. I started to focus on weightlifting, doing deadlifts, and just trying to make my muscles bigger, trying to bulk up. Did you do any weapons training or were you already comfortable with all that?
I was pretty comfortable with it, holding guns and stuff. Other than that, there was no extensive weapons training unfortunately. I wish we had had time for that but there wasn’t. So far, in the first episode we see an apocalyptic skyline, so I know there is some green screen at least. Did you work with any digital effects?
No, not me personally, no. The effects mostly happen in post. For some of the vampires there was a little done as far as the transformation from human to vampire. There were the dots on the face and everything. But for me personally, there were none. You did though get to see the makeup effects while working with the vampires.
The makeup team was really gifted on this series and they spent countless hours with each person transforming them into the vampire. So there was a lot of artistry that went into the makeup effects...There was some art, some big art. Do you have a favorite scene that you can talk about? Even if it’s just in general. Something you’re excited for people to see?
Of the whole season? Oh gosh, that’s hard. Yeah, I guess one of my favorites is how I end up in a coma and the minutes, like the seconds before I go into the coma. It was a really cool scene to film. It’s intense, but it was one of those scenes that all the way leading up to it and then to the end was really amazing to shoot. That was day one, the first day of filming, and it just set the tone for the rest of the show. What was the most difficult scene or the most difficult part about the role in general?
I think the most challenging part of the role for me was finding the balance between her stoicism and her vulnerability. Like I said, I didn’t want to just come out of the gate playing an impenetrable character that for the audience there is no point investing in, because she didn’t need them; she was fine. I wanted to have this balance of that she’s just this woman thrown into these extraordinary circumstances, but also where I show the hero that she is in her core. And so just trying to balance that out I think was the biggest challenge for me in a way that served the character and served, ultimately, the show. Are you going to be live tweeting along with the shows? Most Syfy shows do that now. And are you looking forward to it?
Yeah, I am. Have you done that before?
I have not, no. It will be a new thing for me. Can you describe your character in three words?
Oh, that’s so hard! OK, give me a second. Bloody...no, that’s more the show. No, that’s me too. Bloody. And is badass one word or two? It can be two. Bloody badass. Can you tease anything about what’s coming up the rest of the season or the next episode?
In the season, the scope of the show gets bigger; the scope of their world gets bigger, so my character starts learning more about who she is and her lineage. So we go into that as the season progresses. And as far as the next episode goes, like I said, you get to go back in time briefly and see the world right before the apocalypse happened and the characters and who they were before it happened.