The NIGHTFLYERS Cast Dish on Syfy’s New Horror Series
By Pauline Perenack
San Diego Comic Con attendees were some of the first to experience George R.R. Martin’s latest book-to-screen adaptation Nightflyers. After the panel, ScreenSpy sat down with some of the cast and crew to talk about what viewers should expect, why the characters are the way they are, and what exactly this genre of horror will be. Those talked to included Executive Producers David Bartis and Gene Klein, and stars Eoin Macken, Gretchen Mol, David Ajala, and Jodie Turner-Smith.
What should we be most excited about?
Gretchen Mol –There’s these characters on the ship that all really are new to one another. They all have different reasons for being there. I’m a psychiatrist, and it creates a lot of tension. I think it’s the tension in the characters, not because we haven’t seen fear in space amongst the crew, but because everyone has a different set of reasons for why they’re there, and that really becomes more clear with each character as the season progresses. I think that just opens it up. It’s exciting to explore.
David Ajala – I felt it was very impressive how you phrased it. There are many different layers of horror. There’s the gorish of blood and guts and stuff. There’s claustrophobia, and there’s psychological horror. I think what our show does really well is introduce the different layers of horror and how these characters respond to it. Where we end up, and heading towards, which I found really exciting, is when these guys are forced to survive. And it’s about primal instincts starting to kick in. I think that’s the catalyst of horror. Each character is fighting with their own personal demons.
GM – Everything is getting kind of magnified. Each person’s fears. The love between people. Everything feels, the closer we get, the further, the more that energy is affecting everyone and the ship. So, you feel that the allegiances are weakening in some places, and stronger in others. I think in terms of the production values of this world that has been created, they are so high. The level, I think you can see by the trailer, how the spaceship looks, it’s very cinematic. The world of it is as much, I hate when people say it’s the character, I hate that, but it’s as much of a part of this sort of psychological spin that happens to everybody.
DA – It’s produces its own energy.
You’re starting this series brand new, what are the first lines your character speaks?
GM – Mine, it’s the teaser we saw, the first thing I saw is, this is Dr. Agatha Matheson of the Nightflyer.
DA – I say, this mission could change the course of human history.
GM – That’s a good line.
They actually built the whole spaceship, right?
GM – Yes. We just didn’t actually have outer space. That was all that was missing. The other thing that was amazing, was usually you would have a green screen if you’re looking out the windows, but when we’re doing the mission launch, you would look out window and really see the Earth go by because it was projected on the screen. It was beautiful, and moving. Just to sit there and think of the people who had done this before us. It was quite weirdly amazing.
Were either of you surprised at the direction your characters took?
DA – A little bit. A lot actually, yeah.
GM – I knew a few things. I knew a couple of little shreds of ideas, but there were certain plot things that were surprising that were there. That I didn’t know at all.
DA – Oh man, I just remembered so many of them.
GM – It’s good to be surprised. Keeps you on your toes.
What makes this so chilling to the broader audience?
David Bartis – This is about a long journey into a part of space people haven’t gone before, and everybody is trapped on a space ship. So again, if you’re doing horror, where is horror going to come from. Well, we obviously have some external forces we’re going to come in contact with, but the real, tricky, scary stuff comes from the baggage that people brought with them. Nothing can scare you if you don’t have some flaws to exploit. And so the 10 episode journey is about all of those flaws being exploited different ways at different times.
Gene Klein – What you saw on screen, you see Eoin [Macken]’s character with his daughter and then you see his daughter later on on the ship, and that’s just a hint of what happens. But clearly, he’s left his family behind and now he’s on a spaceship heading into the void and the baggage he has with his daughter is being realized psychologically in horror, on the ship.
Do we learn about the characters’ backstories?
GK – There’s a really cool element that’s not in the book. We have a memory pod where people can go in and, I’m sure you’ve seen Sunshine where people go to get grounded. We have a version of that with the memory pod. Sort of the horror version. That’s our way of getting off the ship.
Do you pitch this as a space opera? Or something else entirely?
GK – For us, we’re super character driven. We’re a good counterbalance to Jeff [Buhler, EP]. Jeff is bananas. He writes a lot of crazy, psychological stuff, and our tendency is always to find a way to ground it, and make it emotionally relatable. We’ve never done horror before. We’ve done some sci-fi working with Doug on Edge of Tomorrow, which is super grounded. And that’s been our whole approach here. A space opera was never our goal. It was always grounded in psychological horror.
DB – We’ve had to pay attention to the horror because it’s a core thing, but more than anything else, day to day when we show up, it’s a character genre.
GK – And we’ve brought in horror experts, and the thing we’ve learned in putting a show together is there is a real science to horror. A real specific science and there’s people who really understand that, and there’s people who don’t. And I think we got some people on board who really, really understand it.
DB- Building anticipation in really, really specific ways. Surprising people with no anticipation in surprising ways. We’re now well educated in the art, but it was new to us.
GK – That first trailer you saw, there’s no dialog. She leaves her message, but it’s chilling. It’s terrifying.
You mentioned The Shining on the panel if I remember correctly, and also talked about 2001. I also flash back to Event Horizon. This shows seems to be that what’s in your mind is even scarier than anything else.
DB – Exactly. The 2001 aspect is one of those things we’ve been holding back on talking about because we don’t want to spoil it for people. But in the same way that Hal is an influence in 2001, there is an aspect of that that is revealed in the series that is really one of the main drivers of the show.
Do you feel that having the source material of the novel made it easier or harder?
DB – The nature of the material made it easier. What’s hard is the bar that’s been set for material related stories. But the novella is 100 pages and we essentially mapped out a season’s worth of television out of 100 pages of a book. You’re going to take some liberties. There’s no way to pull every detail from 100 pages. So that’s liberating. The intimidating part is what’s come before us. The expectations.
GK – But also we don’t have to be religious about following a multi-book series that’s 100s and 100s and 100s of pages, so that part made it easier.
Do you see any similarities of human psychology in a fantastical situation?
GK – Absolutely. Big characters. George doesn’t write a character that is internal and small. Even the characters that he thinks are internal and small, have big personalities.
DB – And that’s fun.
In good, classical horror, there’s not a lot of special effects, and shooting on a realistic set. Was that something from the beginning you wanted? To keep those kinds of elements?
DB – Maybe it’s because we haven’t done that genre before, but it was less intimidating for us to think about scaring people with well-designed shots, and character sequences than it was with visual effects. I think that’s even harder.
You’re starting the series, what are your characters’ first lines that introduces us to your characters?
Jodie Turner-Smith – Well, technically I say something that you don’t know it’s me saying it. So I don’t know if we should use that one.
Eoin Macken – I can’t remember. I think I was having a nice conversation about the idea of aliens existing on the moon.
Were you guys surprised about the arcs of what your characters took?
JT – I had the chance to go to the writers room ahead of filming and sit down with everyone in there, and with Jeff, and we kind of talked about what my arc would be, so in a way, I wasn’t so much surprised about that journey, but I was definitely surprised in that I had no idea of what was going to happen in between, or even exactly what it would look like at the end.
Your character is not strictly human.
JT – No, I am human. But my genes have been modified in vitro. We actually have the technology already to gene edit, but it’s controversial because it’s like, what are the lines, the limits, but in this world of Nightflyers, we are doing that. Editing genes of humans, and so I’m not an alien, I’m not a non-human. I had a mother and father.
Do the other humans treat you differently?
JT – Well, Mel has spent her whole life up to the point of the mission sort of in a program for people who have been engineered in a way she has. And training for to live her life in that way. So in the sense that people have always had an expectation of her to go down a certain path, sure. But, it’s definitely in a time for it to be en vogue for that kind of thing to be happening. Especially since she was part of a program, and in that program, Mel was the best and the brightest, so she was bred to be a part of this incredible mission.
EM – The reason Mel ends up being selected to be with Karl is that Karl needs to put together a crew to help scientists to space and there’s no proof that what he’s talking about is actually valid, so the reason why Mel goes along with Karl is that Karl needs somebody who… she’s been designed for space travel. Karl is an astrophysicist who doesn’t actually want to go on these journeys and doesn’t want to be involved in this at all, but because he’s the only one who understands where the aliens could be to possibly make contact, he has very personal, obsessive reasons for doing that, so Mel is there along with some of the other scientists as part of this crew he puts together to basically be a support structure and to try to read the aliens. Karl just had no idea of what being in space constitutes. A part of the crew doesn’t want the scientists on board in the first place because they’re going on a mission no one has ever done and if anything goes wrong, there’s no one to help them. They don’t know what it’s like to be in space. You’ve got a bunch of people who don’t know how to exist in space. And in a space that becomes very visceral and intense, very quick. So Mel is the only one who has any kind of training, or any kind of physical abilities to cope.
David and Gene were talking about how characters come with their own baggage, and their fears draw from that. When you discovered your foundation of fear, were you surprised by that?
EM – No. It’s very specific, and for me, the very idea of where Karl’s fear comes from is a very personal thing, and it’s also very personal to me, and very personal to the character of the show. I think it happens to connect to everybody because, how far are you willing to go to sacrifice for something you believe in. Everyone’s idea is very subjective. So what Karl believes he should or can do, shouldn’t do, isn’t the same as Mel’s, or anybody else’s, so that’s where you end up in conflict. So that kind of personal journey for the character, no, I understood it. It’s a very specific journey that obviously then gets convoluted and more complex.
JT – I think Mel is unique in that she has been spending her life kind of thinking about doing something and not in specifically, she wouldn’t have known there was an alien race we were going for, but this idea of going on a mission, being in space, being a part of something that is bigger than herself. That’s always kind of been what her life has driven towards. So I think more than anything, one of her biggest fears is of failing or not being able to do this thing she spent her life preparing to do. And I think that in the face of, as we know, there’s a lot of death on the show, that’s something that is very real for her. It’s definitely less about something, dealing with someone in her life, it’s more about purpose. Failing purpose, dying. That’s just kind of a thing. We all kind of fear death as humans, but like just that not fulfilling her purpose. That’s what’s driving Mel throughout the series. If you’re just supposed to be this perfect being, and you’re not, then who are you?
EM – It’s a very visceral, and complex, emotional show. I was exhausted when we finished the show, in a great way. It’s the kind of show I’m actually excited to watch. I binge watch shows, and this one is going to be fun.
JT – We want our fans to know in the US that we’re not binging this show. We’re watching every single week. I will be live tweeting from wherever I am. I want to see what happens. I just spent five months on a spaceship. I need to know what’s up.
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