For five years, actor James Callis portrayed Dr. Gaius Baltar, a character whom audiences shared a love/hate relationship with, in the groundbreaking Syfy Channel series Battlestar Galactica. Earlier this year, the actor stepped into an entirely new and more down-to-Earth pair of shoes when he was cast as Dr. Trevor Grant in another hit Syfy show, Eureka. Like Callis' Battlestar persona, Grant is a brilliant scientist, but his set of circumstances present viewers with a very different type of character to get to know.
"A great deal interested me about Dr. Grant," says Callis, speaking from the show's Vancouver set. "He's not necessarily an unusual man, but a man who finds himself in a very unusual scenario. In the first episode of Eureka's fourth season, the series goes somewhere totally different, and I think any actor would jump at the chance to be a part of something like that. And for me, especially, I had never done anything like this before. It was a significant departure from pretty much every character I'd previously played, so it felt like a leap, you know? That was very challenging as well as a lot of fun, and the first episode, bits of which I've seen, is just fantastic. It's quite exciting and I'm extremely proud of it."
In Eureka's season four opener Founder's Day, five of the town's citizens, including Sheriff Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) and Dr. Allison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), are transported back in time to 1947, when Eureka was being established as a military base. Our heroes do their best to blend into their new surroundings while trying to find a way out of their predicament. However, Dr. Trevor Grant, a theoretical physicist and assistant to Albert Einstein, discovers their true identities. Lucky for them, his scientific curiosity is piqued, and he helps Henry (Joe Morton) reconfigure devices that ultimately get them home - sort of. When Grant decides to come along for the ride, he gets more than he ever expected.
"There are several things that my character does not have at his disposal when he is thrust as it were into his journey to Eureka," notes Callis. "Dr. Grant isn't like everybody else, for reasons that become fairly clear as you watch the first five minutes of episode one. As a result of that, the subsequent challenge for him is trying to negotiate just what on Earth is going on around him, because for Grant it's a bit of a brave new world.
"Acting-wise, on some level, that first episode was, for me, perhaps not as challenging as those that have followed. In Founder's Day we find my character very much in his comfort zone. It's after that that he goes someplace else, and, again, that brought with it its own challenges for the character. As I said, he's trying to negotiate his surroundings. Imagine that you've been stuck in a maze or blindfolded. You can hear things by echo-location; you vaguely know the run of the place, but overall you're pretty stumped. It's all new to you, and you've got to find your way around and fit in. You're more or less anomalous, and that's my character's weakness as well as his strength."
Jack Carter is rendered unconscious and taken prisoner by the military after he and Dr. Grant meet on the outskirts of Eureka, circa 1947. The sheriff ends up in the base's hospital unit and being looked after by one of the nurses on duty, who turns out to be Allison Blake. Grant is impressed with the level of medical knowledge that Allison possesses, and, of course, the fact that she is a beautiful woman. When he travels to the present day Eureka, the scientist becomes a bit of a romantic rival for Carter as far as his relationship with Allison.
"When you're doing television, a lot of times you have an idea about something, but then, as in life, things change from the original idea and, as the saying goes, you have to stand firm and remain flexible," says Callis. "So there have been some ups and downs regarding this particular relationship, and, again, that's part of Grant's negotiation with these people.
"I wouldn't call it a love triangle, but rather more of its own Eureka-shaped object." explains the actor with a chuckle. "Basically, what happens is Grant comes into town and is a catalyst for Allison and Carter getting together. Jack realizes very quickly that he hasn't really asked her out on a date in four years, and now he's about to lose Allison to someone she's just met.
"So my character's arrival gives him a kick up the backside and pushes him in the right direction. I think Carter is frustrated that he's not done anything when it comes to him and Allison, and like I said, Grant's presence brings that all too closely to the forefront. That's why it's not really a love triangle, because one would imagine that a triangle meets at all points. This is more like a kind of love horseshoe," he jokes.
Carter and the others decide that it would be best to keep their time traveling adventures a secret between themselves, and that includes who Dr. Grant really is. As the scientist tries to get a grasp on the technological advancements that have been made since the 1940s, he also has the chance to interact with some of the town's more familiar faces, which has delighted Callis to no end.
"I've enjoyed my time with the entire cast and their characters, all of whom have been firmly well-established," he says. "I mean, I've loved working with Neil Grayston, who plays Douglas Fargo. He makes me laugh. Erica Cerra [Deputy Jo Lupo] is just lovely, and Niall Matter [Zane Donovan] is great, too.
"Everyone brings a bit of themselves to the work that they do, and this is a naturally charming show with naturally charming people. They've all been great in the way that they are as their characters, I suppose, and that's something you truly appreciate when you're acting."
At the time of this interview (mid-June), the Eureka cast and crew were nearing the start of their summer production hiatus, and the episode they were filming is one of Callis' favorites this year. "The season opener and this, my ninth episode, have probably been the most fun as well as the most rewarding for me to work on because viewers get to see a whole world created that they really haven't seen before," reveals the actor. "The attention to detail is incredible, as is the way that the show is lit. When you look at the [daily] rushes, you really see how beautiful everything looks and how great everybody looks in it.
"Episodes one and nine, and to a large extent episodes seven and eight have quite a bit to do with Dr. Grant. This particular story has been a very busy one to shoot, with lots of late nights, and I think audiences are going to be stunned when they see it. I've been doing this [acting] for around 15 years or so professionally, and I kind of came onto this set thinking that I knew about Eureka. I'd certainly seen several episodes and spoken to lots of people, but the on-set experience with that first episode was really like making a feature film as opposed to a television show, and I feel that's totally reflected in the final product. It is what they say it is in the promos for the show, which is that it's a new formula. That's quite clever and it very much relates to this entire season. So this has been a truly fulfilling project for me to be a part of."
In between dealing with Cylons on Battlestar and traversing time to travel to Eureka, the actor was seen in a multi-episode arc playing an autistic savant named Gabriel McDow in ABC's Flash Forward. "That was kind of out of the blue, but a lot of fun. It was a flash without the forward," jokes Callis. "Had the show gone on longer, I think there would have been more to my character. I loved playing Gabriel, and essentially what I wanted was for him to be kind of like a trapped child, someone who was not childish, but childlike.
"What I really enjoyed, though, was that lots of people had no idea that that was me, and those who did, thought, in fact, that it was Gaius Baltar. That was pretty cool," enthuses the actor.
As noted above, all photos by Eike Schroter or Art Streiber and copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!