Since the early days of black and white movies, the werewolf has been part of storytelling. This furry and ferocious beast eventually made the transition to color as well as the small screen in a variety of made-for-TV movies and series. Perhaps one of the most unique and without a doubt one of the most beautiful of these creatures takes center stage in the new Canadian-made fantasy/horror series Bitten.
Based on the Women of the Otherworld book series (the first of which is entitled Bitten) by Kelley Armstrong, the show focuses on Elena Michaels (Laura Vandervoot), a woman living in Toronto, Canada and who is hiding a life-altering secret – she is the only female werewolf in existence. She left her pack many years ago, but has recently been lured back into the fold by its packmaster, Jeremy Danvers (Greg Bryk), to help solve a series of murders. Her return is not without its complications, including the fact that Danvers’ adopted son is her ex-lover, Clayton (Greyston Holt).
Bitten debuted on Canada’s Space Channel on January 11th, 2014 and airs Saturday nights @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST and in the States on Syfy, premiering January 13th, 2014 and airing Monday nights @ 10:00 p.m. EST/PST. Last week, the show’s leading lady Laura Vandervoort and author Kelley Armstrong took some time out of their day to talk with me as well as other journalists about the series and what viewers can look forward to. The following is an edited version of that Q & A. Enjoy!
Kelley, I noticed that the show runner, Daegon Frynklind, wrote the Bitten pilot and I thought she did a really good job, but IMDB also gives you writing credits. Could confirm that and perhaps tell us how many and which episodes coming up that you wrote, if any.
Kelley Armstrong: No, I haven’t written any. There was talk of that early on. They had asked if I wanted to, and I definitely did, but nothing came of it. Maybe at some point in the future, though.
Laura, I know you have a background in martial arts. Are you glad to be able to exercise that skill in this role, and was it part of your audition process in any way?
Laura Vandervoort: Yes, I grew up doing martial arts, so Elena feels like the other part of me. I relate to so much about her. Obviously, not the werewolf part, but the fact that she can take care of herself physically. I think it was great that the writers wrote in some extra hand-to-hand combat scenes. That’s especially true in the finale; we have this epic fight that I had a great time doing. We had great stunt coordinators that helped us incorporate the animalistic side to the fighting.
No, it wasn't a part of the audition, but I think it definitely benefits the character, the fact that most of the actors on the show are physically able to do the fight scene sequences.
Kelley, what was your inspiration for the book series?
KA: Bitten actually came out of an X-Files episode. I was in a writing group and as part of the group you were expected to actually write new stuff. I was trying to come up with an idea, sat down and watched The X-Files.It was way back in season one, and its one and only werewolf episode. It was your typical big guy who changes into a beast-like thing and goes around slaughtering people under the full moon. I thought, “That's not how I would do werewolves.”
For a writer, that then sparks, how would I do them? So I wrote a short story with this character named Elena and I loved that world so much that I wrote a book.
Laura, how did you originally become involved in the series?
LV: I actually received an offer for the role, which was amazing, first of all. I ended up speaking to our executive producer, J.B. Sugar, on the phone just to get an idea of the show’s premise as well as how it would look and how the wolves would be done.We spoke for about an hour and I heard how passionate he was about the project. It sounded like something that I’d really been looking to do; such a layered story and a character who’s both flawed and strong.
So I read the books Women of the Otherworld and Bitten and did a bit of research. As soon as I realized the amazing quality of what was there I jumped onboard. We did some auditions and chemistry reads with the guys and just sort of hit the ground running—no pun intended.It was the most challenging six months I've had thanks to Kelley and the writers. There were days where I didn't know if I'd be able to handle the emotional side of it or the physical side or just being in every scene. I did, however, and I'm so grateful for the experience.
Since one of you created Elena and one of you plays Elena, can you each tell us a little bit about her and does your interpretation of her differ at all from each of your versions of her
KA: I mean, it is my first published novel, so it was way back. I wanted to create a character who would be a werewolf and be uncomfortable with that role, but ultimately come to embrace it. Oftentimes back then, werewolves were seen as being cursed and a situation that a person wanted to rid themselves of and get out of. I wanted to create a character that while she would feel that she should think that way, really deep down, she doesn't. Bitten was about coming to understand that what you think you should be is not always what you're meant to be.
LV: I agree with what Kelley said. There are a number of parallels with Elena in the show and women in general. Elena flees to Toronto to try to hide who she truly is and try to have this almost perfect image of what she feels people need from her, but she's just pushing down the animal inside of her. It's such an amazing character where a lot of the skeletons in her closet are explored this season. You learn a lot about her history and some of her demons come back.
So every script was shocking to us when we'd read it. We had no idea, you know, where they were going to go with it. So I think even if you're not a Sci-Fi fan you're going to find something that you truly love about this show because it's not just about the Sci-Fi or the werewolves, it's about the characters as well as their relationships and, again, it's just very layered.
Syfy also has Being Human, so how do your werewolves kind of differ from the ones on that show?
LV: Our werewolves are actually more down to Earth and life-sized to any other wolf. This is not a fantasy show. It's as realistic as we can be with the situation at hand. The wolves have the actors’ eyes and their fur is the same coloring as the actors’ hair. Obviously we are dealing with a mythical idea of werewolves, but we're trying to make it as true to life as we can and making sure the werewolves aren't any different from a typical wolf.
Laura, can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between Elena and her pack?
LV: It's complicated. Elena grew up in a foster care system and never really had much of a family dynamic. So once she's into the pack, it's conflicted because it wasn't by her own will. They bit her, and she had to survive it on her own, but at the same time she finally has a family that Elena has always wanted and people who will look out for her.
So she's torn between what she's always wanted and how she got it, and then the life that she should be living in Toronto. But eventually within the season you see that Elena is very close with the pack and is their best tracker. She loves all of them equally but in different ways, and wants to help them and the family.
I understand that you don't use a lot of prosthetics on the show, but rather a lot more of CGI. Can you talk a bit about that and working with that process?
LV: That's been a wonderful part of the show as well. We don't have to do the furry prosthetics and sit in the makeup chair for four or five hours in the morning. We have a wonderful visual effects team, some of whom worked on Life of Pi and the tiger’s fur. They're amazing artists who know exactly how to make the fur move and in certain lighting. We also actually have a German Shepherd that will run throughout a scene and allow us to get the motion of the wolf and then capture that onto camera with our visual effects wolves.
So we haven't had to worry about too much of that. It's more of the transition from human to wolf that the actors portray as far the bones shifting, snapping and contorting. After that, it's all visual effects with the actor's eyes.
Can you talk a bit about the chemistry read that you did with Greyston Holt (Clayton Danvers).
LV: Sure. We auditioned a lot of actors for both the Philip and Clay characters, and I think Greyston just embodies everything that we wanted for Clay. Not only physically is he like a wolverine as well as a wonderful spirited guy, but he’s an incredible actor, too.I think we connected immediately in the scenes. Greyston was respectful and we worked off each other and improvised. I think the minute he walked into the audition room, the two women in the room, Daegon and I, in particular, just looked at each other and said, “That’s Clay.”
Laura, do you see Elena as being a role model? I mean, one of the things that really drew me to the show is that she is like a very strong, self-confident woman, which you don't get a lot of on television. It just seems like such a great role.
LV: Yes, you hit the nail right on the head. That's exactly why I loved what Kelley had created. I grew up as tomboy and wanted to be not necessarily a role model, but I mean, I would go to conventions after playing Supergirl (on Smallville) and see eight or nine-year-old girls who look up to superheroes. But those superheroes are in tube tops and short shorts, and it just turned me the wrong way. So I wanted to always play women that I would be proud of to have young girls look up to. Obviously the show isn't necessarily for young girls, but Elena is an individual. She speaks for herself, is strong and always comes out on top. Elena puts these boys in place when she needs to in the pack, and I love that about her.
KA: Laura, thank you for taking that stance on it, in general, for young women, because I do agree. Especially in the world of fantasy and superheroes, giving role models who aren't in the skimpy little outfits and in impossible poses is so important for young women.
LV: Yes, I agree with you, 100%, Kelley. The fact that Elena is just so strong is, I think, a great idea of what women should and can be on television.
Kelley, how much influence did you have on keeping the TV show close to your books, and do you think will fans be happy about any changes that the producers might have had to make for the TV show?
KA: I really didn't have any influence, and that is what I felt was the correct stance to be taken. I mean, a TV show is an adaptation. It is another version for a different medium, and to take a book and translate it directly to screen would make for a very boring show. I will warn you, in Bitten I spent way too much time in Elena's head, and to put that on the screen would have been boring. Somebody else has to take it with fresh eyes and reconstruct it for a different medium.
Of course, I’m so attached to my characters and their world that I would be objecting to things that I shouldn't be objecting to. However, I was so thrilled with the early scripts I read. I was thrilled with the writing and how they got the characters. So yes, there are changes, but there should be, and I was quite happy to leave it in everyone's capable hands and just step back.
Laura, what do you think are some of the differences or challenges that you faced with playing Elena as opposed to other characters you’ve played in TV shows such as Smallville and V.
LV: With Smallville and playing Supergirl, she was an iconic superhero that had existed since the 80s if not earlier. So there was a lot of pressure there to play her a certain way, and I had no room for interpretation. It was already laid out and that was that, and that was great.
With V, Lisa just a minor character for the first season and she was actually just intended to be a guest star. So they hadn’t really thought her out very much. When, however, they saw the dynamic and chemistry with me and the other actors and I, they wrote the character in as the queen’s daughter, so it became more interesting. Now with Elena and Bitten, not only was Kelley gracious enough to allow us to interpret a little bit and add our own personalities into the characters, but she's also just a colorful character for me to play.
I can't even express how much I fell in love with her. I've been acting since I was 13 and I've never fallen in love with a character the way I fell in love with Elena. I was actually sad on the day we wrapped filming because I just became so attached to her. Obviously that’s true of the rest of the cast and crew, but Elena is the closest to my heart for me with a character that I've ever played. Everything about her is just so redeeming, and she's sad and, again, layered and not perfect.
It's such an interesting role for me and the most adult role that I've ever had a chance to be a part of. Not only that, but it's my first lead on a series, so I invested a lot of my heart and soul, and a lot of personal things that were happening to me during the time of filming are on-camera because you just can't hide some things. So there was a lot of overlapping between me and Elena.
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