As Syfy’s HELIX picks up steam and cranks up the action, this week’s new episode entitled “Survivor Zero” introduces mysterious newcomer Constance Sutton (Jeri Ryan). Sutton’s role is protect the Artic Bio Systems research at all costs. But exactly how far will she go? What are the limits to her own humanity when it comes to her mission?
In a press conference call, special guest star Jeri Ryan and executive producer Steve Maeda talked about what kinds of trouble Sutton will be stirring up for the survivors and the CDC.
What first attracted you to the role of Constance Sutton?
JERI: It was fun. The concept of the show to begin with was sort of intriguing to me. I hadn’t seen any of it at that point because it was just being shot. And I loved the people that were involved in it. So that was all really cool. Then when I sort of was hearing a little bit more about the character and I was seeing how she was written, then it was fun. This is my sort of first foray back into sci-fi in a number of years, so it was nice. It was a lot of fun to get back into it. It’s a fantastic show.
How secretive were they about what was going to happen with your character?
JERI: They were very secretive. I was asking really direct questions about “What the hell am I and who am I?” and they were like, “Oh, I don’t know. It’s really cool. You’ll have to wait.” I was like, “Come on!”
STEVE: Yes. We played a little close to the vest.
JERI: They’re very secretive about it. They were holding their cards very close to the vest.
STEVE: And some of it was we’re just trying to kind of keep the mysteries, obviously, and we’re trying to help the actors as much as we can while still not revealing everything at the end of the day. And part of it is that it’s a work in progress. That’s the thing about a series is you don’t have everything figured out even the half-way point. We’re still working through things. We knew where her character was going, but other things came up in the breaking of the show, so we tried to give as much direction as we possibly could.
Can you talk about playing Sutton’s more cold calculated side? How did you kind of become her?
JERI: She was just fun. This was a really fun role to play because she’s kind of out there. She’s not subtle, which I love. So it was fun to just sort of let go and just really play and let her go to those places. That was a treat as an actor.
STEVE: Sutton, for us, was someone who put on a very sort of benign and corporate face, which is why she does a lot of corporate speak, but then underneath there’s obviously a lot more going on, and Jeri just ate it up. It was fantastic.
How would you best describe Constance and what motivates her?
JERI: She’s kind of a ball-buster. I think that’s the best way to describe her, which I love. What motivates her? I can’t really tell you exactly what motivates her. That you sort of find out.
STEVE: Yes, she’s a company employee, and so I would say she is trying to be loyal to - to the corporation and to the folks that she has been working with and been developing this whole plan with. And once she finds out that Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada) has since been working on his own agenda, she gets pretty damn angry about that. It’s an interesting thing, which I though Jeri really walked that line really that line between the corporate kind of niceties and the polite things that you say versus the things that you actually do. And once the fangs came out, it’s all over. So it was a lot of fun to watch.
JERI: It was a lot of fun to play. And I also love, as you’ll see without trying to give too much away, she’s definitely, as Steve said, in the corporate world, and very much looking out for the best interests of the company, but you find out that there’s a little more personal issue for her at stake, which I really loved as well.
STEVE: We tried to do with characters even if they seem to be, both with Hatake and with Sutton, even if they seem to be very kind of on point and you know their agenda comes first, we try to infuse them with some emotion down the road so you understand where they’re coming from and it’s not just about money. It’s not just about greed or this sci-fi illness of the show, but there’s an emotional component as well.
JERI: And I love that.
Sutton is kind of rough with Hatake. Would you like to maybe explore some more action and physical roles after getting a little taste of that?
JERI: Oh, yes. It’s not my first taste of it either. I mean I did “Mortal Combat” and I’ve done some other roles with a little bit of action here and there. Yes, it’s a lot of fun. I always enjoy those scenes. But I have to tell you, I have to brag about Hiro [Sanada] for a minute. That man is unbelievable. I was in awe of him. I still am in awe of him. The man is a ninja.
STEVE: He is. Really.
JERI: The scene where I had to throw the book at his head, and I have to throw it directly at his face, and it’s on me. I can’t like pretend to throw it. I have to wail it at him and he’s standing like six feet away from me. I was a wreck shooting the scene. I was so nervous. I was like, “Dude, I have no aim. I can’t.” He was like, “Just throw it. Just do it. Just right at my face. Just go.” And there’s cameras set up right behind him, and so he has to knock the book away, and we’re worried about hitting the lens and all this expensive equipment. He never even blinked. Never flinched. Never breathed heavy. Nothing. Every take, he just batted it out of the way like it was nothing in the exact spot that it was supposed to land so it didn’t hit any equipment. He is amazing.
STEVE: He pretty much didn’t flinch for the entire series.
JERI: Honest to God, I am such a fan girl about him. I just like follow him a round. I’m like, “Oh, my God, you’re so cool. You’re so cool.”
STEVE: I’ll tell you a little Hiro story. The first time he does that thing with the gun where he hands the gun over butt first and he does this little flip with it. The first time I saw that, because that was not scripted, he just did it, and I was like, “What did he just do?” And I went back and I liked watched it three times because it was so cool, and then sent him an email and said how bad-ass that was.
JERI: He’s so awesome.
Will the reason why Hatake’s so obsessed with Walker be fully explained this season, or is that a mystery that might carry over until the next season?
STEVE: It will be fully explained this season.
Will this also kind of shift some of the bad guy image away from Hatake? Because so far he’s sort of seemed like our villain? Will he be teaming up with Billy and things now?
STEVE: Absolutely. One of the things we wanted to do was take our characters who seemed to be villains and try to humanize them and create some kind of unlikely pairings. And also, take our characters who seem to be you know on the side of the angles and turn them a little bit and twist them and give them some unsavory motives perhaps. And so we’re trying to find those balances, and I think you’ll see them.
Is it safe to say that Sutton is not who she seems to be when she first comes on the show?
JERI: I think it’s very safe to say that. I mean she certainly is there representing Ikaria Corporation. There’s no question about that. But being there to help is not necessarily… She’s helping herself. And she certainly wants the cure. That is very sincere.
At the end of the day, who is Constance Sutton? How would you sort of describe this character for those people who are going to see her for the first time this week?
JERI: I’m trying to tiptoe the line about not giving too much away, but she’s certainly driven, and she definitely has an agenda that she is there to do. Hatake has gone off the rails. He is supposed to be finding them a virus and a cure, and he’s screwed up. He’s messing around and doing his own thing, and that’s not okay, so she’s there to fix it, and whatever she has to do to make that happen is what has to happen.
STEVE: Yes. She’s a fixer. She comes in and she takes care of things. Under the guise of corporate benevolence, she really has this very clear agenda and if Hatake has gone off the rails a little bit, Sutton has not gone off the rails of this. Firmly on the rails and is trying to make sure that everything happens the way it’s supposed to be happening and try to figure out what Hatake’s game is.
What can you tell us about Ikaria?
STEVE: They’re a pharmaceutical giant. They do good work and they make lots of drugs and their public face is actually benevolent. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot more going on than what you might expect. I can’t tell too much more than that, but the foundation of Ikaria, the origin story and how all that happened and how the company became what it is, is something that we’re going to see over the back half of the season.
Do you kind of know where Sutton’s story is going?
STEVE: Oh, yes. We know where she’s going. We know exactly. Sutton was a character who we knew very early on that we wanted to get into the show, that we wanted to have someone come from the corporation. And then the idea of Sutton was something that we talked about very early on. Then the rest of it just sort of you know came in kind of discussing and breaking stories with her.
How do the other characters react to Sutton’s character?
STEVE: They are all sort of dismayed for their own reasons because I think very quickly very early on you discover that Sutton is you know putting on a performance for the gang. So Hatake certainly knows who she is and where she’s coming from. I think that Daniel (Meegwun Fairbrother) has an idea. And I think that Alan (Billy Campbell) and company learn very quickly what’s going on. So what appears to be “Oh, good, help is here,” is really not help at all. I mean, she arrives with you know gun-toting soldiers too.
The themes of HELIX are very much to me a cautionary tale about where we’re going with genetic research, and medicine, and pharmaceuticals. Where do you mine the science for the show? Do you guys have science advisors?
STEVE: We do, and we’ve done a lot of research ourselves. We do have an advisor who reads all of our scripts. We have an advisor on set, but we have a CDC doctor who reads all our scripts and then comes back to us with, “You know what? It would really be this way guys and not that way,” and we try to take those cues when we can. Dramatically, we’re always trying to tell the best story, but we also want to be as grounded as possible. And yes, sometimes we take flights of fancy. It’s something I actually learned on THE X-FILES, which is the more you tie your science-fiction story into actual science, the easier it is to buy. So, that’s what we’re trying to do. We may not hit it all the time, but it’s something we certainly are mindful of.
There’s a lot of genetic research in chromosomes, and the idea of this virus being a delivery system. Does that have something to do with Hatake’s ability to heal quickly and what experiments he’s been doing on himself?
STEVE: I would say it very much has something to do with that, without giving too much away. It’s part of just who he is and what will be revealed in later episodes. But we you know delved as deeply as we could into the research and into trying to take a lot of really arcane science and make it understandable the audience, without dumbing it down too much, to get in as much real stuff as we could.
As of last week’s episode, it was revealed that Julia has the silver eyes. Is that supposed to be a result of the cure, so does that mean that possibly she’s had the virus, is something entirely different going that has nothing to do with the cure?
JERI: That’s part of the mystery isn’t it?
STEVE: You’re asking all the right questions and answers will be forthcoming, I promise. It’s going to be answered really quickly. But those are the questions we want you to be wondering about.
HELIX has a really dark edge. Unlike THE X-FILES, where it had at least a little humor in that show, HELIX is just relentless. Do you plan to keep up this intensity or are you going to maybe let us breathe every now and then somewhere in the series?
STEVE: No. We want to keep up the intensity. There are light moments coming, but they tend to be kind of in the service of it’s black humor, definitely, and they tend to be in service of keeping everything moving and just sometimes you find those moments you know in the worst situations. So we have 13 episodes and our mantra was to keep the show moving. So we want to have down time, we want to have character time, but we definitely want to keep everything twisting and turning and keep you coming back for more hopefully.
What was it like to work on a series that’s sometimes kind of gory and gross?
JERI: Oh, I love the gore. Are you kidding me? Oh, God, more gore. I love it. The goo and the guts, and all of it. I love it. So much fun. Come on. I observed autopsies when I was on BODY OF PROOF. I love this stuff. I love the science of it. I love the gore. I love all of it.
Have either of you picked up like an unnatural fear of needles as a result of working on this show?
JERI: Oh, I’ve always been needle-phobic. Hideously needle-phobic. That’s the one thing that I have a hard time with.
STEVE: No, not so much. Although the show does make you think twice about a new flu strain or anything like that. But no, not overtly I would say. It’s not my favorite thing.
This show can be very tension-filled and the music has been really great. Can you talk a little bit about that?
STEVE: We decided from the get go that we wanted to do some things a little bit differently and be unsettling not only in you know storytelling and how we were shooting the show, but also in post and in how we cut the show and in music. So part of that came from I think the whole “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” which started the whole thing, came from Ron when we were sitting in post on the pilot. That idea came from one of our other producers. We bought it on iTunes and watched it and just kind of temped in and it was like, “Wow. That works really well.” So it was something we had talked about. When we saw it, we thought it was great, and so that’s why we you know continued to do it. And “Fever” is the perfect one. That’s probably the best song we’re using in the entire show.
Can you talk about working with Kyra Zagorsky on the show?
STEVE: Kyra very early on brought a really nice humanity to Dr. Walker, and to that character and really fleshed her out, and we just started writing toward that because we saw what we had, and it was part of our whole story-writing process. Obviously Walker is very central to the story and maybe even more central to than we’re letting on; although, we certainly are hinting at that. I think that by the end of the season you’ll see just how central, because she’s a very, very important character in the show.
What has been your favorite experience working on HELIX?
JERI: Again working with Hiro Sanada. He’s incredible. The entire cast is fantastic, but he’s in another world. He’s not even human. It’s crazy. Seriously, he is such a professional and he’s so dedicated, just so good, and so connected, and so right there with you in any kind of scene. Whatever you have to do, he’s amazing to act with. You just feel so supported as an actor to work with him.
STEVE: But so unlike the Hatake character, in person.
JERI: Yes. Exactly. He couldn’t be more the antithesis of Hatake in real life.
STEVE: Yes, he’s just charming.
How many episodes will Constance be appearing in, and will there be a chance for the character returning in future episodes or seasons?
STEVE: This is Syfy, there’s always a chance. Yes. Without giving too much away, I don’t want to say how many episodes or you know the why or the why not; all that will come to bear, but we love having Jeri and you know she’s in a number of episodes and we’ll just leave it at that.
Are you completely done with Season 1?
STEVE: Not totally. We are locking our last episode, Episode 13, today, and then we are actually on the mix stage right now. We are watching a sound playback of Episode 8, which is the second episode that Jeri is in, and we’re working through those. So that’ll be going on a couple weeks before we air this last episode.
Are you waiting to finalize this finale until after you hear about a Season 2 pickup?
STEVE: We’re locked into our finale. We don’t have the luxury. So we are cautiously optimistic on a Season 2 pickup and 13 is going to lock today, so we’re crossing our fingers and toes.
To find out more about the mysterious and very dangerous Constance Sutton, be sure to tune in for an all new episode of HELIX on Friday, February 14th at 10:00 p.m. on Syfy.
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