Burkely Duffield Dishes on Being Freeform’s Newest Super Hero
What would you do if you suddenly woke up from a coma to a world you didn’t know? A you you didn’t know?
That’s the big question behind Freeform’s newest series, Beyond.
Set to premiere Monday, January 2nd, this “Spielbergian” genre mash-up is equal parts coming of age story, sci-fi thriller and super hero drama. From the minds of Tim Kring and Adam Nussdorf, the hour long drama follows Holden, a teenage boy who awakes from a 12 year coma to discover that not only has the world drastically changed, so has he. Forced to catch up on the time he’s missed, Holden must steadily acclimate to his community and his peers while trying to get a grip on something even more unexpected than his awakening.
You see, when Holden woke up he didn’t just come back having to re-learn abilities. He came back with inhuman abilities. Incredible powers that he must understand and master. Powers that quickly land him in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy which stand to threaten not only his own safety, but the safety of those he loves. Caught in a dangerous and mysterious web, Holden is forced to figure out how to grow into his body (literally and figuratively) while trying to piece together why any of this happened to him.
With the season premiere right around the corner, we spoke with Beyond‘s star Burkely Duffield about what viewers can expect from Freeform’s newest YA venture and the challenges of making sci-fi, super-powered mysteries.
ScreenSpy: What can you tell us about your character, Holden?
Burkely Duffield: The story of Beyond is based around him waking up after 12 years and finding out who he is and what his world is really about. His family has changed and all of his friends. [It’s just about] understanding what modern society brings to the table. On top of that he has these superhuman capabilities that are a big aspect of him finding out who he is, as well as discovering what they are and what he can do with them.
ScreenSpy: What has been the most rewarding and most challenging experience of playing him?
Duffield: I think one of the most rewarding aspects of it would be things like this. Having people interested and enticed by this show we’ve created is really an amazing tribute to our creators, Adam, the network and the rest of the team. To be able to create a show that people are going to like — I think that’s just such a cool part of my job to come and tell you about something I’m really excited about and being able to show the audience now. The most challenging part about creating this show and creating the character was also an interesting aspect of it. It was the creation of it. We were really trying to create something new, something different. Being able to take a character who is very rooted in reality and to keep the aspects of day-to-day life while having these abilities was a really fun challenge for the writers to have, and to do in the acting of it.
ScreenSpy: Is Beyond going to be a procedural power of the week show or is it more like a serialized unraveling of who he is and what he’s capable of?
Duffield: When he wakes up he doesn’t go “Oh, I have superpowers!” Not only does he figure out he has them, he figures out the extent of what he can do, what they are, where they came from. There’s so many questions that he wants to ask and originally doesn’t have anyone to ask [them to], but we find out he does as we start to answer those questions very slowly. It’s learning a new super power with the audience through Holden’s eyes. Figuring out what he really is and has now.
ScreenSpy: What will make this show different from other shows we’ve seen like it?
Duffield: We’re trying to put on television a really cool take of a superhero story that is very much a modern day model of reality. The character is rooted in being a young boy who is growing up but is endowed with these powers. So it’s a journey for him of not just discovering what these powers mean, but figuring out who he is on that journey.
ScreenSpy: How far ahead did you know when things were going to happen in terms of getting scripts, and two was there a specific moment or twist that you were really blown away by?
Duffield: I think the first episode itself has very interesting elements that even when I was reading the first drafts of it, I was like ‘Oh that’s not what I had in mind.’ You have to flip back. Our writers really want to keep you intrigued and it’s a cool part of there job is being able to create those sort of twists and turns. I can’t say too much, but I will say there are some small dynamic twists and turns with characters, there are character arcs where people may not turn out the way we think they will, and as I mentioned before, waking up in being blind to everything and not knowing whose side everyone is on — including not knowing which side [Holden] should be on to be in the world. I think you’re going to discover there are characters who are not who they say they are to Holden and especially to everyone else.
ScreenSpy: As you explore this character more, is there anything you’re surprised to learn about yourself as a person?
Duffield: For me it has definitely been fun to read in the scripts these experiences — Holden’s firsts. It was fun for me to revisit this, to go “Oh yeah, I remember that. I remember the first night I snuck out and went to a party I shouldn’t have in high school.” And “Oh yeah, I remember when I was so nervous talking to a girl for the first time.” There were just a lot of times and I had fun playing with them in the script as well as when I first read them that he’s experiencing and that I also experienced when growing up.
ScreenSpy: What superpowers would you want if you could have them?
Duffield: I mean I’d love to fly but that’s a bit too cliche. So, I’ve always admired in like the X-Men, for example, Magneto’s power. Being able to manipulate metal and technology. I think being able to flick the lights on and off while sitting in bed and turn the TV channel when I needed to — I think that would be pretty handy.
ScreenSpy: Did you do any research in terms of how to physicalize your “powers” while on screen? Did you watch what other actors were doing or go with a gut instinct?
Duffield: I think it was a combination of those things. I have been an avid superhero fan from when I was a little kid, so I have watched so many movies from so many different creators that have had superpowers. As well as, when you’re reacting to something that isn’t there, you get to sort of create something new. A new stance. A new way of using abilities. A new way of understanding them. It was a really fun with our multiple amazing directors and our team, Adam and our creators, to talk through how this character would use [his powers] and what it would look like. I think we came out with a very cool mojo that Holden has when he uses his abilities.
ScreenSpy: There’s a line in a newer Superman that says ‘I have all these abilities and I could be the football star, but I can’t because I wasn’t before.’ Even though you have all these powers, you can’t just sort of do them, right?
Duffield: I totally agree, and on top of having that responsibility he cannot just stay at home and live a normal life anymore. The antagonistic forces that you’ll see throughout the show know about those abilities and want to harness those powers and use them for their own gain. So he is sort of forced to become the protector of the people that he loves [along with] needing to stay low key. He can’t exactly go and move a building with his mind if it’s in his way or pick-up all the cars and just drive through when there’s traffic. So these are definitely abilities that he needs to keep under wraps in order to keep the people that he loves safe.