Exclusive: Tony Curran on Playing Datak

Exclusive Interview with Tony Curran of Defiance on May 23, 2013
Interview by Jamie Ruby
Written by Jamie Ruby

Tony CurranSyfy's Defiance is home to a diverse group of alien races, including the Castithans. One of the Castithan families living in the town is the Tarrs – Datak, played by Tony Curran, and Stahma (Jaime Murray), and their son Alak (Jesse Rath).

Curran recently talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about what it's like playing Datak.

Tony CurranFans may not get to learn exactly why Datak can be so cruel this season, but as an actor, Curran has to come up with his own ideas. "It's something I've asked them and I've asked myself. I don't think it goes into it specifically; I think that's something that could be in the next season or in seasons to come, hopefully. I think what we know about his past has been sort of a sordid upbringing. He's been sort of downtrodden all of his life. He was a lower working class boy from the ghetto, if you will, and he's always been trying to get on the ladder to some sort of respect and wealth. I think he's very much a social climber. But I think a lot of that backstory has been created in own mind's eye, if you will, because there's what's written on the page, in the script, and an actor's imagination which can fill in the gaps. You perform what's written down, but at the same time it's good to get your imagination running down certain avenues as well."

According to Curran, certain parts of Datak's backstory may not even be decided yet, but that makes it exciting. "How did this creature, this man, this disgruntled individual become the way he is? I don't think it goes into it as much as it will go into it in the future. I'm sure as the seasons hopefully continue there will be input, because a lot of what me and Jaime, Stephanie [Leonidas], Grant [Bowler], and Julie [Benz], what everybody does on screen, the writers react to that and go, "Oh, that's interesting what they did there." They've obviously got their ideas for the season or for the episode, but I guess there're certain scenes that just have that little bit extra, which is what you want. You've got what's written on the page, but then you come to the poker table, if you will, and you've been given your hand and you go, "Okay, this is my hand; let's see how we can make this hand better," and are we going to go all in?

"But I think that's what makes a lot of the scenes exciting in Defiance. You come on set and you go, "Right, this is what we have on the page here, but how can we ignite it and make it more unpredictable and more dangerous, more sensual?" Get back in the bath again, you know?"

Curran thinks that Datak is not just a victimizer, but also a victim, which he likes. "My nephew was in a history class and I think they were talking about Shakespeare, and he wasn't concentrating, and the teacher goes, "Barry!" And he goes, "Yes, Mr. Murphy?" And he goes, "Shylock," - he has talking about The Merchant of Venice, obviously – "Shylock, Barry. Victim or victimizer?" And Barry said, "Oh, I think he's a little bit of both, sir." And Mr. Murphy said, "Very good, Barry. Sit down."

Tony Curran"I think Datak is a little bit like that. He definitely is a victimizer, but in some ways what I like about him, is he's not beyond getting his face kicked down in the dirt. He's sort of human, for want of a better word; he's vulnerable."

Datak may not be the nicest, but his wife Stahma is also a piece of work. "It was [Sir Walter Scott], the Scottish Poet who said, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." The more deception there is within relationships, the more dangerous it can become even for one as wise and as cunning as Stahma.

"So there is something coming up which involves... a bit of a vibe with Stahma and Kenya (Mia Kirshner), Amanda (Benz)'s sister...There's a moment where they have a bit of a thing going on, Kenya and Stahma...They have a bit of a relationship going on, which Stahma is keeping very quiet. She's kind of, for the want of a better term, taking one for the team, if you like.

"But it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. I mean, Datak's already been whoring around the Need/Want with his double standards, but now that his woman is doing it. It's the question whether or not Datak's going to find out about it or not. And when he does find out about it, it's not pretty."

Curran and the rest of the cast were surprised by that relationship and didn't see it coming. "[Jaime]'s like (says in a high pitched voice), "Tony? Do you see what's written here?" And I was like, "Yeah!"

Curran talked a bit more about his double standards and Datak using the services of the Need/Want himself. Regardless of stature, in the time of Defiance people don't hide those kinds of activities. "He goes into houses of ill repute, but I guess it is 2046 and it is Defiance, so it's a bit of a dark and sordid place...I think it was Oscar Wilde who said once, "Lust brings another good man low." You should just look [at] what Stahma and Kenya get up to."

Tony CurranCurran talked a bit about Datak and Stahma's plans now that he's joined the council. "I think now that he's in the door, they're trying to take control of not just Rafe McCawley's mines, but they're trying to take control of the political side of the town as well and hopefully if they can cover all bases of the industrial, the political, and the cultural, then it will be complete and utter Tarr domination, I guess."

It takes a long time to become Castithan when they film, according to Curran. "We can go in sometimes at four in the morning, five in the morning, but normally we've got it down to about two hours in the makeup chair; Jaime maybe is at two-and-a-half hours. I have to have a clean shave and I put my hair back quite tight on my head, because there's quite a lot of hair. And then I've got a white base makeup they put on, and then they powder that down. Then there's like a sheen that goes over that as well, which makes it very natural looking. And of course we try to hide the Curran ginger eyebrows with some makeup.

"Around the eyes, there's a sort of pink around my eyelids and then of course I get my wig put on. Each strand of hair has been hand made. These wigs are like seven thousand a pop, they're quite beautiful wigs, real hair. Then once they put that on it's time to put the eyes in, and once you put the eyes in, you look in the mirror, and it's game on; there's no more red man.

"...It's very detailed. Colin [Penman], who's head of makeup, he won an Emmy for The Kennedys...He's a fantastic makeup artist. And everyone feels very comfortable with it eventually, once you get it on."

It took a lot time to finalize the look of the Castithans. "Jaime and I were the last two aliens to actually have their makeup finalized, because they wanted to get our makeup right; they weren't just going to compromise. They had already started shooting principal photography, and Jaime and I were off. We [were] flown from Toronto to New York to go and do a Syfy upfront event last year, and everybody on the red carpet was like, "So, what's it like? How's Defiance going; how's shooting going?" And me and Jaime were like, "Yeah, yeah; it's great. It's been very fun so far; everybody's finding their feet," and blah, blah, blah. And we had no idea; we hadn't actually shot anything yet.

Tony Curran at the Syfy Digital Press Tour in 2012"We had come to set; we must have come ten, twelve times, back and [forth]. "What are we doing today?" "They want you on set." "What for?" "Makeup test." "Okay." And sometimes they're doing night shoots. Jaime and I would be brought out at midnight; we'd be hanging about. We'd be brought on set, and people would look at you and they'd go, "Nah, I don't like that. Change that." "

The process may take some time, but not near as much as other projects Curran has worked on. "Jaime and I talked about how we wanted to be alien, but we didn't want to be inaccessible, if you will, sort of in a sense physically looking at the character and trying to observe what's on their mind, as opposed to some other films I've done. I coined the phrase "prosthetic depression." You can call this number now, 1-800-PROSTHETIC DEPRESSION, if you're depressed. Do you have prosthetic depression? Have you been in makeup more than 7 1/2 hours? Call this number.

"So it was a friend of mine, Jason Fleming. We worked on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen together, and he was Dr. Jekyll and I was the Invisible Man. He would be in seven hours of makeup and I would be prancing about with a white bald head and wearing blue spandex. And I did Underworld Evolution and Blade 2, and compared to those films, Datak is a low-maintenance kind of guy."

Another thing Curran had to do for the role was learn Castithan, a language created by David J. Peterson. In a previous interview with SciFi Vision, Peterson talked about how easily the actor seemed to pick it up. Curran was surprised that Peterson thought so, and praises him. "I was just imitating him, that's why I apparently sounded quite good. He's a lovely man and very talented.

"I've been around languages all my life, really. I've traveled quite a bit and I guess I've got a decent ear, and I find it interesting, not just doing different accents, but different dialects as well. I think it gives real depth to the world of Defiance, having these humans and aliens speaking these wonderful otherworldly languages that David has created.

Tony Curran and Jaime Murray"I think it's still tricky to learn, because you get the mp3s he sends to you and it's written the way David writes it. Then it's phonetically broken down and then the mp3 is [there] so you can listen to it.

"I end up dissecting it, and I have my own little approach. I'm sure everybody has their own way of doing it. I do some syllables and consonants, because it has its own structure, which is so amazing about it. You know, the consonants and vowels, I tend to break it down, because a lot of the time, you could say [talks in Castithan], you know, there're certain words you have to hit. [More Castithan] there are certain words that you have to hit; when you do hit them they make more sense. And in the back of your mind you have it in English. But it's fun to say as well. He did the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones, which is really cool, and he continues to do that.

"I enjoy it, although sometimes you get a bit of the fear. They're like, "Here," and you only get maybe a week to learn it...If you've got two days to learn something and you're like "Oh my God," and I've got it stuck on pieces of paper around my bedroom, trying to get it in my head, but it's cool."

Stay tuned for part two of our exclusive interview with Tony Curran. For now you can catch him tonight on Defiance as Datak, who he describes in a few words: "He's a survivor: ambitious, uncompromising, and dangerous."

For more, be sure to also check out exclusive photos from the Syfy Digital Press Tour of the set tour and the Q&A in the gallery. There will also be more exclusive photos from the Q&A at the gallery soon. You can also read more about my experience of visiting the set as well as the Q&A.

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