Exclusive: Trenna Keating on Becoming Doc Yewll

Exclusive interview with Trenna Keating of Defiance on April 22, 2013
Interview by Jamie Ruby
Written by Jamie Ruby

Trenna KeatingSyfy's new series Defiance features multiple alien races, collectively called the Votans. One of these races is Indogene. They are characterized by their bright white, hairless skin, which is comprised of faint hexagon-shaped scales. Their irises are also hexagonal. The Indogene not only have their own unique look, but also their own language, which is also based on hexagons. The Indogene are the most scientifically and technologically advanced of the Votan races.

The Indogene that appears most on Defiance is Doctor Meh Yewll, played by the talented actress Trenna Keating.

Keating recently sat down with Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision for an exclusive interview to talk about her work on the series.

The actress is very grateful to be playing Yewll. "I was pretty lucky to get on Defiance, because there're a lot of casting directors, in fact most casting directors in town still don't know who I am, so the casting directors of Defiance have been really great to me."

Trenna KeatingUnfortunately the audience hasn't learned much about Doc Yewll yet, but thankful they will as the show goes on. "[With] my character, you have to sort of have patience. We don't get much about her until about half way through the season, so, you know; she's kind of a mystery.

"And it was kind of an interesting thing, because I kept wondering, I was like, "I don't know if my character is the good guy or the bad guy," and the great thing about sci-fi is, that that could change at any moment. She is sort of an outsider though. I mean, not only does she look different to everyone, she definitely doesn't understand humans or get them in the way that they get each other. So she's kind of on her own terms for sure."

Because Keating looks completely different as her character, she had to reintroduce herself to many people on set. "It was pretty crazy, because the crew, even at the wrap party, I had to introduce myself to several of the crew members, because really, for the longest time, only the people who did my makeup, and the wardrobe people, and a few of the cast members, were sort of the only ones who knew what I looked like. So it is a kind of crazy thing, because it was like you get to know people in two different ways. You get to know them in your character, and you get to know them as your own person, and sometimes you have different relationships when you're in costume and out of costume.

"It's a strange thing: when I put the makeup on and the costume, and I think a lot of us in prosthetics have said this, that it's like putting your character on, and it affects the way you move, it affects the way you talk, it affects the way you feel. So you're kind of a little bit of a different person for the twelve or fourteen hours that you're in the makeup."

Being in the prosthetics for so long is not fun. "I'd be lying if I said it was comfortable and awesome. It is long and it is uncomfortable; you do sort of get used to it though, I have to say. When I first got cast I was a little bit terrified, because I had never done any prosthetic work before, and I had no idea what to expect, and I thought, "Oh, is this just going to be miserable all the time?" But you do get over it, and they take very good care of us. They're very good about bringing ice packs to us when we're sweating and all that kind of thing...but yeah, it's sort of like wearing a plastic bag over your head in the summer."

Keating described the long process of becoming Doc Yewll. "It takes two to three hours to get into it, and the head is actually one piece; it slips on like a hood over your whole face. So it's very tight to the face, and then once they get it in place, they stick the paint brushes in through the mouth, in through the nose, in through the eye area and basically glue it down as much as they can all over. And I should say, underneath they put me in a bald cap, so that's what's underneath it. And then it's glued in place.

"And then it takes about an hour to paint it after that. They shade it with an air brush and then they paint my eyes, and my mouth, and the inside of my nose, and the inside of my ears...I'm constantly blowing black shit out of my nose for like days after and finding black shit in my ears. It's lovely. (laughs)

"The guy who does my prosthetics, I'm really lucky that we get along, because we spend a lot of time together, and I always say, he doesn't have the nicest job when he has to cut all of us out of these prosthetics at the end of the day. It can be kind of nasty at times."

Trenna Keating as Doc Meh YewllThe Indogene skin pretty much just covers the actress's head and neck. "It doesn't go down very far; it comes just to my collar bone area. So it's not far, and I mean, it's a pretty intense prosthetic, but I always remind myself that there are some people in film and television who spend you know 5, 6, 7, 8 hours in the makeup chair, and have to do the whole body thing. I'm glad that mine's just my head, because the whole body thing, I just think you must just die of heat in those things."

Because the piece covers her entire head, it can be hard to hear. "Sometimes [it's hard to hear] because it's away from the ears and there're just tiny little holes. Especially when I'm at like the press thing (the Syfy Digital Press Tour), when I'm in big crowds, I sometimes feel like I'm in a little bit of a tunnel. So you feel a little bit like you're deaf at times, and you can't turn your head fully."

Besides the prosthetic head piece, there are also the contacts with hexagon shaped pupils. "They're larger than a normal contact lens and it's kind of similar to having like sunglasses on, because you don't see as clearly as normal contacts.

[quote]The restrictions make you create a certain type of character...You have to really learn how to speak and get your intentions across, not only with your voice, but with your posture and the way you move.[/quote]
"So there're all these sort of restrictions with the prosthetic, but in a way, the restrictions make you create a certain type of character. Like I said, the restrictions totally influence how I move as a character, and I did a lot of mask and clown work in my past and a lot of neutral mask work, and I mean never in a million years would I have thought that I would be doing a show like this, but it's very similar. You have to really learn how to speak and get your intentions across, not only with your voice, but with your posture and the way you move."

Treating does not have to have her hands covered. "I just wear gloves. And I know that the other Indogene, they had painted his hands, and it looked great, but it became problematic with putting contacts in and out several times a day. He had to have somebody else do it for him, so it's much easier to have just gloves on."

One of the other challenges that Keating has had, is having to learn to speak an alien language. In the pilot, she spoke Irathient to Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas). The actress enjoys it, however. "I haven't had to do much of it at all. I would like to do more, because it is actually difficult, like that line that we saw in the pilot, it took me about a week to get that one line down.

"So there's some people like Tony Curran (plays Datak Tarr) who are just incredible at it, and I haven't had to do full scenes in it yet, but I'm hoping that I do, because I think it's a really interesting challenge. But it is difficult to learn it phonetically, and then to also say it in a way that is getting across what the writers are intending to get across.

Trenna Keating as Doc Meh Yewll"But I think the guy's a genius, David Peterson, who writes the languages. He's such an interesting person, and man, to get inside his mind is something else."

Peterson created a complete language. "I think that I need to start learning it because fans are going to learn it before I do if I don't get on it."

Another difficult part of working on the series for Keating is battling the elements. "Just the nature of film and especially when you're in a prosthetic battling the rain and the long days. I mean, you've got to have a lot of stamina, and I've never been on a series where I've been so involved in it. So that was something that was new for me, and I definitely I think rose to the occasion. I hope I did."

Working with green screen can also be difficult. "My first day of shooting was the big green screen day, and it was about four in the morning by the time we were coming to an end there. And it was just kind of wild, because I'm doing this Mission Impossible type movement, and it was four a.m., and I was sweating buckets, because I just kept doing it over and over again. And they had me going really, really fast, and I thought, "Oh my God, this show's going to kill me! I'm going to die! I need to get in better shape for this!"

"But it was really great to see how that came together, because Scott [Stewart], the director, had such a strong vision for that scene. So it was just kind of wild. I was just like, "Okay, I'm giving myself over to you, because I can't quite grasp what you want this to look like." So I was just so pleased to see how it came together. And I was like, "Oh, that's what he was talking about." "

Trenna Keating as Doc Meh YewllKeating really enjoys playing the Indogene doctor. "I love my character; I just think it's exactly the kind of personality that I've wanted to play for so long. Never in a million years would I have expected that I would be on a sci-fi show working in prosthetics, but I feel really grateful to get to play such a fun, snarky character, and I really love the people that I'm doing the show with. We have so much fun, and I feel really grateful to be working with actors that I've respected for a long time, and then to find out that they are such lovely down to earth people just makes it even more blissful."

One of the great things about playing Yewll is all the great lines she gets. "I feel really lucky, I mean, they've got fantastic writers on the show, and I do get to say all those kind of grumpy, nasty things that we as humans often think but don't necessarily say, and I get to say them on the show."

One of her favorite lines is "friggin' dead beats."

Another great thing about working on Defiance is the sets. "It's fantastic. It just makes the world so much richer and it makes [it] easier to be in that environment, like you really do feel like you're in a community when you're there, and we just have such a blast, all of the cast.

"We get along so well, and we riff with each other, especially for myself with Doc Yewll, like I feel like I have that kind of snarky back and forth with the characters in a really fun loving way. So as soon as you step onto set you feel a little bit like you're in the world, and you get to live there for the day, so it's pretty spectacular. I've never been on such an incredible set before."

Keating absolutely loves her doctor's office/lab. "I was so impressed when I saw that. The first time I walked in there I just had a moment of like, "Oh my gosh, this was created for my character," and it was beyond what I had ever imagined. I was expecting a very sterile lab type setting for my character and then when I walked in there and saw all of this greenery, and it was just wonderful. I love my office."

Trenna Keating at the Syfy Digital Press Tour in TorontoOne of the interesting things about Defiance of course is that it ties into the Trion Worlds game. Keating is excited to play it, but hasn't yet. "I keep pestering my husband to buy it. I was like, "It's the only video game that I've ever really encouraged you to go out and get." So this week he said, he promises this week he's getting it. So I'm excited to see it, because I have to say, I'm not a gamer, but I might just have to become one."

The actress has not done any work for in game yet, but she wants to. "I haven't, not yet...I hope so, but I don't know for sure. But I really hope so...I've been hearing great things, so I'm excited to see it."

You can watch Trenna Keating weekly on Defiance as Doctor Meh Yewll, who the actress describes as "blunt snarky but also intuitive. I think that she's actually quite intuitive about things and about people, and there may be a softer side that she doesn't show all the time, or ever."

For more, be sure to also check out exclusive photos of the set, which include photos of the Indogene doctor's office/lab. There will also be more exclusive photos from the costume parade that Keating was part of soon at the Syfy Digital Press Tour gallery. You can also read more about my experience of visiting the set.

Latest Articles