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Prometheus Bound: Televisionary Talks to the Cast of Syfy's "Caprica"

Caprica might be set in the past but it's the perfect time to take a look into the future.

Now that the pilot for Syfy's Caprica has aired, I can take the lid off a series of interviews I did with the main cast of the Battlestar Galactica prequel series a few months back about what lies ahead for the inhabitants of the doomed planet as they make their fateful first steps towards the annihilation of the human race.

Traveling up to the series' Vancouver set a few months back, I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with the four adult leads of Caprica. The dining room of the Adamas' Caprica City apartment provided the focal point for our conversation and the space's warm terracotta and earth tones and Mission-style furniture seemed light years away from the sleek and icy modernity of the Graystone's high-end home, just a few steps away.

But it was that comfortableness that created a cozy environment as I met with Eric Stoltz, Paula Malcomson, Polly Walker, and Esai Morales to ferret out what lays ahead for their respective characters Daniel and Amanda Graystone, Sister Clarice Willow, and Joseph Adama this season on Caprica.

At Caprica's center is the intertwined destinies of two families, the Graystones and the Adamas. On the surface, these two clans couldn't be more different but they are united in their grief and in their efforts to move past the death of their loved ones. But many may be willing to break their moral compasses in order to snatch a second chance with the ones they've lost.

Stoltz likened his character, brilliant (and possibly mad) scientist Daniel Graystone, to a tragic figure in Greek mythology. "He’s smart and conflicted. He exists in a grey area; he thinks he is doing good. He thinks everything he does is wonderful--like most brilliant scientists--but he has a fatal flaw, which is that he can’t see what drives him might also eventually result in the destruction of society," said Stoltz of Daniel. "He’s so hungry for knowledge that, like Prometheus, he steals fire from the gods, gives it to man, thinking he’s doing a good thing and is eternally punished for it."

Stoltz said that portraying Daniel's sense of loss over his daughter Zoe's death was cathartic "in the best possible way" and that acting can be "a healthy outlet for any unresolved issues you might be dealing with." Still, Daniel's grief won't be easily erased, even after he attempts to resurrect Zoe by any means necessary.

"As anyone knows who has lost someone that they loved deeply, that stays with you for quite some time," said Stoltz. "You think you have your life together and then you find yourself weeping in a corner and you’re not even sure. You take three steps forward and then four steps back. It’s a continual monkey on your back for years. One thing our society does not help us with much is loss and how to deal with it."

That sense of loss has also infected Paula Malcomson's character, Amanda Graystone, whose guilt at a vicious fight with teenage daughter Zoe right before her death is exacerbated by a realization that she didn't know anything about her own child.

"To lose a child is an extreme," said Malcomson, speaking with her natural Northern Irish lilt. "I’m asking the viewers to come with me on that [journey]. It’s hard to get her out of there for a while and it might be taxing to take that journey with someone in so much pain. But I didn’t want to cheap out on it and throw in lightness. There is still that, there is fun, there is sex in the middle of it, there’s horniness in the middle of all the things that come up. I just wanted to be true to the enormous loss and the timeframe that we’re playing this. It’s an incredibly short amount of time; the first ten [episodes] are set over a matter of months since the accident."

Morales' Joseph Adama is both a man of the law but is actively breaking the law, walking a fine line between observing the moral code he's sworn to uphold and rejecting his heritage and cultural beliefs. Those beliefs are tested even more by his own mourning process.

"We don’t actually wake up doing what people can easily analyze from the outside," said Morales. "We just try to make a living. It’s just one mission at a time... We are all guilty of something or another. And if you’re not guilty of something than usually self-righteousness is your sin. You don’t have to look too far to see where we stray from the ideal. I have to think then that my character is not thinking he’s a crooked lawyer, [but rather] he’s living within the system. He’s making do as best he can, trying to stay true to his culture without getting arrested, trying to assimilate to this new world without being ejected from it."

But don't think for one second that Adama has anything figured out, especially after the death of his wife and daughter.

"He’s a mess," admitted Morales. "He’s lost the female half of his life, with the exception of his mother-in-law, who is a constant, irritating reminder of what he’s not, which is a good Tauron who is proud of his roots. He’s looking and searching; he’s terribly distraught and has to raise his son and doesn’t know how he’ll get the wherewithal to cope and be there for him. He’s floating. He’s in a pool looking for something to hold onto."

It's that sense of being rudderless that sinks in for Malcomson's Amanda as well. "It’s pretty dark and it’s twisted and it’s tortured," said Malcomson about Amanda's emotional journey this season. "She is not in a good place by the time we find her in the episode that we’ve just been shooting [the season’s ninth]. She’s despairing, she’s losing control, certainly; she’s losing a grip on things. We have to follow her down the slippery slope a little bit."

After all, one might argue that Amanda is a character whose job is to save people but she failed at the most crucial moment to save her daughter.

"She’s unable to save her own child and the fallout from that is devastating to her," she said. "In the midst of all of that her husband is busy, as men are in terms of getting into their own work. Little does she know what he’s doing. She’s no idea. There’s a lot of deception operating around her. There are enormous obstacles for this character in the first ten episodes. It’s been insane, and really, really challenging."

In the original version of Caprica's pilot, Malcomson's Amanda was involved in an extramarital affair with Thomas Vergis (played in the original pilot by Roger Cross), a storyline that was eventually scrapped and not included in either the DVD version of the pilot or the one that aired on Syfy.

Malcomson said it was for the best. "What’s funny is that those scenes, as written and when I was working on them, I didn’t believe them," she admitted. "That’s not to say I didn’t do everything I could to make them work, but there was a more natural chemistry to my own husband [played by Stoltz]. There was something between us. Eric and I knew each other already and there was just something between us: trust, respect, all of these things that were just more interesting than a fling, which is ultimately what that was. I think it was a smart choice to go with what was really kind of natural in the story."

Even more interestingly, Malcomson told me that she didn't originally audition for the role of Amanda Graystone but for private school headmistress Sister Clarice Willow.

"[Amanda] looked to me like a character that I didn’t know how to play and it was a character that I hadn’t played before," said Malcomson. "Coming from Deadwood, I thought that this was the pinnacle of playing a female character archetype and Amanda felt a bit like that. I don’t think it’s a secret that when I originally read and met with the director that it was for Sister Clarice and he thought I’d be a great Amanda and then they said, 'how about that?' I was terrified about it. The status, the position, it all seemed to me much further from me than anything I’d ever played before, which was incredibly enticing to me."

In other words: it worked out for the best, especially as
the role of the morally ambiguous Sister Clarice went to dynamic British actress Polly Walker.

When we first see Clarice in the pilot, she seems like a fairly straightforward academic/religious type but we slowly begin to learn that there is a darkness to her and that her personal life isn't quite that of a traditional religious figure. Not only does she live in a communal, plural marriage but Clarice is also a drug addict, to boot. Not exactly the prim and proper headmistress she appears in the pilot.

"She’s got a big agenda about society in its entirety," Walker told me about Clarice. "She’s a very conflicted character. She has very strong beliefs about what you should and shouldn’t do and yet she finds it very difficult to live up to those personally. She has a massive drug problem; she’s a drug addict and yet she’s selling herself as this perfect character. She’s pretty ruthless. She’s very powerful, she’s very manipulative and very narcissistic. She’s very interesting to play… [Clarice] can’t feel any of those things. [She] feels completely misrepresented by people and believes that [she is] a very good person."

While Clarice seems to be operating within the confines of a specific ideological philosophy, her actions seem to diverge from any sense of moral obligation.

"She will do what she needs in order to achieve what she wants," said Walker. "She is fairly reckless with her treatment of people. But she is incredibly bright and incredibly driven and she is an obsessive. I’m not quite sure yet about her. She is very vulnerable because she is so flawed. She’s got a weird heart. I’m not sure how much of it is actually flesh and blood. It’s a weird old heart in there that’s beating."

"She gets upset about herself and the things she does. She has a conscience, at least about herself," continued Walker. "When she falls off the wagon and she gets wasted on this opium-like drug, the next morning, she feels really guilty and she vows never to do it again. Of course, she does. As far as people are concerned, I haven’t seen much regret."

While Clarice seemed fairly separate from the Graystone/Adama storyline in the pilot, viewers can expect to see her slowly become more integrated into the overarching plot.

"She strikes up a relationship with Paula’s character, Amanda, and that’s an interesting dynamic because they are both strong women, though coming from very different places," Walker revealed. "That’s a very interesting relationship to watch. Obviously, I won’t divulge what happens there. I haven’t come across Daniel yet; I am sure I will at some point and I’ve not met any of the other main characters. She’s quite a lonely person, Clarice, but obviously she doesn’t feel that way. She has her agenda and that’s what she’s working towards. She’s a very, very committed terrorist."

Clarice's ruthlessness isn't too much of departure for Walker, who is known for playing deeply flawed and manipulative characters, like the murderous Atia of the Julii on HBO's Rome.

"You get what you get put in front of you and for some reason that’s what’s coming my way," said Walker about her penchant for playing deeply complex characters. "Sometimes I say, why aren’t I playing the kind of fluffy girlfriend/wife figure? Sometimes I wonder what does that say about me? Is that good or bad? Complexity is always interesting to play and that’s what fuels me as an actor. The worst thing that could happen to me as an actor is if I were bored. What’s the point then? Then I’d just become destructive."

What's certain is that each of these characters has an emotional journey ahead of them that will take each of them to some very dark places. Still, Caprica isn't just about death and loss but also about how technology, both physical and emotional, enables us to interact with each other and the world around us.

"Two things that Caprica deals with that I find a relief and strangely foreign at the same time are loss and a deeply loving marriage," said Stoltz. "Those two things... are rarely presented to us, certainly in film or television. There is plenty of fiction or nonfiction that gives that to us but as examples of how to live, I’m hard pressed to think of any."

Stoltz, meanwhile, has stepped behind the camera to direct the 10th episode of the season, written by Ryan Mottesheard and Jane Espenson. While the plot details are being kept firmly under wraps, Stolz offered some thematic clues about his directorial debut on the series.

"One of the themes that my episode deals with is fathers, lost fathers and finding and healing your family," said Stolz. "And that’s an overriding theme of the whole show: family. The difficulties and beauty of maintaining a family and all that it takes."

Caprica airs Friday nights at 9 pm ET/PT on Syfy.


jen said…
Great interviews! I just got into BSG last year so looking forward to the rest of this series. Polly Walker is just awesome.
Heatherette said…
Excellent interview. I haven't been completely "wowed" by Caprica as I was with the beginning of BSG but the characters are very interesting and I'm looking forward to seeing them develop more--especially as, for the most part, they are played by such excellent actors.
Page48 said…
I love that "Caprica" has characters named Willow and Xander, and that Spike (Marsters) is on the way.

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