You would think after all his years of playing Zane Donovan in Eureka that actor Niall Matter would have pretty much seen it all when it comes to the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres. Well, not necessarily. In the new SPACE Channel series Primeval: New World – a spin-off of the hit UK show Primeval - his character of micro-tech genius Evan Cross heads up a team that investigates “Anomalies” or rifts in time that allow animals and people from the past as well as future access to present-day Vancouver, British Columbia.
At the same time he is dealing with this threat to humanity, Cross is also struggling with his own inner demons, including the death of his wife, as Matter explains.
“Evan Cross is, first of all, an inventor and visionary,” says the actor, who has very kindly come into the New World studios on a very rare day off to talk about his work on the show. “He’s also the leader of this team of dinosaur hunters, if you will, or should I say dinosaur wranglers who are trying to get these creatures back into the Anomalies. They’re not really looking to kill them, but, in fact, return them to their proper points in time.
“My character is very loyal and determined as well as stubborn at times and headstrong. As the [first] season of the show progresses, though, that stubbornness begins to diminish and he starts realizing that people around him are being affected by his overzealous decision to chase after these Anomalies. He chose to kind of ignore personal relationships, which we see throughout the season, and I think his eyes are beginning to open up to the fact that there’s more to life than this obsession of his.
The cast of Primeval: New World (L-R): Geoff Gustafson (as Ken Leeds), Miranda Frigon (as Ange Finch), Sara Canning (as Dylan Weir), Niall Matter (as Evan Cross), Danny Rahim (as Mac Rendell) and Crystal Lowe (as Toby Nance). Photo copyright of SPACE/Bell Media.
“At one point, Evan takes off the wedding ring that he’s been wearing for six years. We don’t get to see the scene where that actually happens, but I would like to think that that particular moment was quite a struggle for him. That’s a huge step for him, and it’s after that when he starts opening himself up to the possibility of a new romance, not that he’s looking for that anytime soon, but the possibility is there.
“I’d say the biggest acting challenge with Evan right from the get-go was playing someone so emotionally damaged,” continues Matter. “He’s quite dark and withdrawn and comes with a lot of baggage. In the first episode he experiences some major emotional breakdowns, and Evan is triggered quite easily by the memory of his late wife. As an actor, playing something like that is quite a challenge because you’re doing multiple takes and you have to express those emotions each and every time. When you film such a scene, you don’t start out ready to cry. You begin from a different place, go through the scene, and then by the end of it there’s a breakdown where the tears are welling up or whatever.
“So that was initially tricky for me, but as the season went on and the more I got into my character, the easier all that became because I began to believe more and more in his cause. In the beginning, though, that was tough because there wasn’t that connection. I came from playing someone on Eureka who was much more standoffish and not necessarily very emotionally invested, to playing someone who’s very much emotionally invested in everyone around him. That’s been a big jump for me and one I’ve enjoyed making. After all, that’s part of why I wanted to take on this role. This career of mine as an actor is about challenging myself, and if I’m not doing that then I might as well pack it in.”
Although Primeval: New World has its roots in the original UK series, the work being done by its team of Anomaly hunters and dinosaur wranglers in their base of operation, which is called the “Tank,” is entirely separate from that of their overseas counterparts who operate out of the ARC (Anomaly Research Centre). That being said, it never hurts to have a helping hand. The show’s opening episode, The New World, introduces viewers to the show’s heroes and finds the ARC’s Connor Temple (Andrew Lee Potts) traveling to Vancouver to help set up the Tank. Filming this episode remains a fond memory for Matter.
“The first thing that immediately comes to mind about working on this episode is our first day on-set and being welcomed by Martin Wood [executive producer/director],” recalls the actor. “He took the time to introduce everyone to one another, which set up a wonderful family-type environment right away where everyone knew each other’s names and we all began working collectively right from the start. It wasn’t a case of hitting the ground running and learning later on who everyone was, but one of, OK, these people are your new ‘family,' so get to know and love them. That was a really great way to start this series.
“I’ve worked on a few TV shows and this was the first time anything like that happened. So we all gelled right way, and the very first scene I shot was with Sara Canning [Dylan Weir] in this park in Burnaby. I remember they were filming with a long lens and the camera was on the other side of the trees. Sara and I were imagining something was watching us through the trees and we just backed away slowly. Because we were just starting out, we had no idea where we were going with our characters as far as their thought processes, how they physical reacted, etc. So we spent those first few days just finding our feet.
“Part of this episode is actually the back story of Evan Cross. It gives you a look back at his life in 2006 and we get to see what happened that made him go down the path that he’s chosen to take. The event I’m speaking of is when his wife is killed by an Albertosaurus. After that, Evan decides to buy the factory, keep it under lock and key and solve the mystery of these shiny objects that are later named Anomalies.”
In order to help him better understand the Anomalies as well as the creatures coming through them, Evan surrounds himself with a small group of experts in their various fields. “My character’s immediate team consists of Toby Nance, Dylan Weir and Mac Rendell,” says Matter. “Toby is played by Crystal Lowe, and she’s the tech genius or Evan’s Zane [referring to the actor’s Eureka character]. She’s the problem-solver. Toby is the one who’s always in the Tank, which is our secret facility, working to come up with all the new tech devices that our characters use. Evan might design them, but she builds them.
“Dylan Weir is the animal expert. She’s the one who comes in and really helps Evan see that it makes better sense to protect these creatures and, whenever possible, return them to their proper times rather than kill them, Evan understands that if they did the latter, it could change the current timeline. There are all these different paradoxes that could occur if even one creature doesn’t go back to where it’s supposed to. So Dylan opens his eyes up to the fact that these creatures are more that just dinosaurs that kill people. These creatures belong in their time and we have to put them back. She’s also the member of the team that starts warming Evan up, because she has a sensibility about her that he didn’t have before she came into his life.
“Last but not least there’s Mac Rendell [Danny Rahim], who Evan recruited for the team. He brings Mac into his company, Cross Photonics, where he takes him under his wing, almost like a big brother type of thing, and gives him an opportunity. So the two of them are friends who also have a brotherly relationship, and as the season unfolds we see that relationship develop in some interesting and unexpected ways.
Matter’s character also receives plenty of support from Angelika “Ange” Finch, the financial and business whiz who runs Cross Photonics, and Lieutenant Ken Leeds, the Air Command officer in charge of Project Magnet, the Canadian government’s supposedly defunct bureau of the unexplained. In fact, one of the actor’s most memorable scenes to date in the series involves him, Miranda Frigon (Ange), Geoff Gustafson (Ken Leeds) and guest-star Louis Ferreira (Colonel Hall).
“The most challenging scene of my career to date and probably until the day I die is an 18-page shooting day that we did for episode 11,” he says. “Louie, Geoff, Miranda and I are in the scene the entire time and it ended up being a 12-minute long scene. Each take was 12 minutes long with no cuts, and the amazing thing is that none of us messed up our lines in any of the takes.
“We basically had to prepare like we were doing a play, which is something I haven’t done for over 15 years. Boy, I’m getting old,” notes Matter with a chuckle, “but that’s what it reminded me of. That would have to be not only the most challenging thing I think I’ve ever had to do on a film or TV set, but also the most rewarding thing. When it was all said and done, we finished that 18-page day in 11 hours, which is kind of unheard of.
“When we first read that scene in the script we all figured that we would be there forever, but we weren’t, and a big part of that had to do with the way that it was set up and shot. Martin Wood was at the helm, so it was his vision that made the day a lot easier, as well as all the actors coming prepared. Everyone came with their A-game and ready to go. Without every one of us prepping the same amount and working as hard as we all did, we wouldn’t have made it though like we did.”
There is no denying that wrangling dinosaurs takes a tremendous amount of physical prowess, and Matter has happily embraced that side of his character as well. “More often than not I’m doing my own stunts,” he says. “We have Marshall Virtue here, who’s our stunt coordinator, and he’s fantastic. He’ll give me the opportunity to do a stunt or the option to ball out and have a stunt double come in and do it. If Marshall gives me the chance, though, I always take it because I want to do my own stunts. So every single stunt that you guys will be seeing this season, minus maybe one because it involved a massive fireball, is me doing my own thing. As a result, I’ve gotten a lot more ‘beat up’ than I have on any other show, but a little bit of Epsom salts in the bath at the end of the day takes that away and you come back for more abuse the next day,” jokes the actor.
Prior to booking his role of Evan Cross on Primeval: New World, Matter filmed the fifth and what turned out to be the final season of the Syfy series Eureka. In it, his character of Zane Donovan and a handful of other main characters were unknowingly trapped in a virtual creation of their beloved Pacific Northwest hub of geniuses. The experience resulted in the death of one of their own, which Zane and the others had to deal with after managing to escape back to reality. The season culminated in the ultimate threat to the town as well as its eleventh hour salvation in the series finale. The filming of that final batch of episodes was a bittersweet time for Matter and his fellow Eureka castmates
“I’ll never forget filming season five and finding out that we were going again for a sixth season, which we were all excited about, and then three days later finding out that we were cancelled,” he says. “It was one of those times where the mood on-set was so sullen for a few days and we all felt a little bit defeated. However, we then all kind of rose at the same time and decided, ‘You know what, if we’re going out, we’re going out with a bang,’ and I really feel like season five was just that. I know without a doubt that every single person on that cast and crew did their absolute best work in that last season and I really hope that the fans saw that when they watched. I sincerely hope that they felt like we did justice to a series that they loved to follow and that we loved having them follow.
“When it comes to Zane, he took on a leadership role in a huge way and became much more responsible in season five, which I was really pleased about. The journey though season five as far as discovering that our characters were in the matrix and having Felicia Day’s character of Holly ‘unplugged’ and murdered by the matrix Sheriff Jack Carter [Colin Ferguson] was a challenge, too, because when they came out the other side, they had to watch Fargo [Neil Grayston] struggle with the grief and loss of the girl he loved.
“One of the things I really loved about season five is the strong friendship that Zane developed with Fargo. He obviously cares about Fargo and they have a bromance that’s one of the nicest bromances that I’ve ever had the opportunity to play. They’re two unlikely friends, but Zane cares so much about Fargo and his situation that he’s determined to get Holly back for him, in whatever form and type of technology possible. Ultimately, in getting Holly out of the computer system and into a computer-based program and then a computer-based body, he gets her back to Fargo. It was quite fulfilling to see Zane do something so selfless, because it’s not in his nature to be selfless.
“I remember leaving at the end of every day after working with Neil and feeling great about those scenes and what Zane was doing for Fargo. It’s just nice to be a person like that every now and then. I try to live that way in my own personal life, so it was great to mirror that in Eureka and help someone just for their benefit as opposed to your own.”
At the time of this interview (early July), Matter and the rest of the Primeval: New World cast and crew were finishing up work on the show’s penultimate first season episode and prepping to shoot the season finale. Looking back at the entire season, is he pleased with how his character’s story arc has played out?
“I’m very happy with the journey that Evan has embarked on in these 13 episodes,” enthuses the actor. “I feel that this one year of his life has unfolded in a way that the previous six years didn’t even come close to. It’s as if he was cooped up for those six years waiting for this moment, and now this moment is bursting out and he’s embracing it and running full steam into it.”
As noted above, Eureka photo copyright of Syfy and all Primeval: New World photos copyright of SPACE/Bell Media, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!