Dru Viergever was at work very, very early this morning, and by looking at him it is easy to tell why. It takes quite a bit of behind-the-scenes magic to transform him into Ber-Lak, the gruesome-looking yet good-natured goblin in the latest Sci Fi Channel movie event Knights of Bloodsteel.
"I go into make-up around 5 or 5:30 in the morning and sit through a two-and-a-half hour procedure," says the actor. "There are a lot of chemicals involved and that I'm not aware of, but I trust the team. They're amazing. Using plenty of glue they apply a couple of layers of prosthetics and paint, and then finish the process with the intricate elements, such as veins as well as the eyes and ears. Again, the [make-up] artists, who are from the award-winning MastersFX company, are top-notch, incredibly creative and make a fantastic team. Every morning I look in the mirror when they're done with me and I still scare myself," jokes Viergever.
"Initially, it was difficult enunciating through the teeth and utilizing the eyebrows, but the prosthetics are actually quite liberating because there's so much room for facial intricacies. As I mentioned, there was a bit of a learning curve and it took me a while to grow into it, but now, six weeks into filming, it's pretty much become second nature, not to mention great fun."
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and raised in Burlington, Viergever became enamored of acting as well as music at an early age. During his high school years, the actor performed in such theatrical productions as Oklahoma and My Fair Lady at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts. While earning his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto in Cinema Studios and Music, he appeared in several national TV adverts, and later spent three seasons playing Stew Kubiak in the NBC series Strange Days at Blake Holsey High. An accomplished musician as well, Viergever was on the road with his band when he received a callback after his first audition for Knights of Bloodsteel.
"Unfortunately, I couldn't make the callback, so I just assumed I was out of the running," recalls the actor. "However, two weeks later I got another call telling me the job was mine and I was off and running. Talk about a thrilling moment.
"Before I knew it, I was on the set with Natassia Malthe, David James Elliott and Christopher Lloyd [who plays the sorcerer Tesselink]. I'm a fan of movies and TV in general, so it was very cool to be whisked onto this amazingly expensive set. It's just a mind-blowing project for me. I was immediately impressed by the scope and scale of it, and there was also the sheer excitement of realizing what an awesome role this is."
In Knights of Bloodsteel, Ber-Lak becomes part of a magical quest to help two humans, John Serragoth (Elliott) and Adric Thane (Christopher Jacot), along with a warrior elf, Perfidia (Malthe), save the island of Mirabilis from becoming the playing of the evil Dragon Eye (Mark Gibbon). According to Viergever, his character has more layers to it than is first apparent, but assures viewers that there is nothing sinister behind the goblin's motives.
"Ber-Lak is an enigmatic figure and the journey's guardian, if you will," he explains. "There are some very somber undertones to the character, but overall he's pretty hopeful. We initially play Ber-Lak as being a little bit naive, but there's some wisdom behind his eyes. He's not too sure what to think about these elves and humans. Goblins are a funny bunch and rather antisocial when it comes to the rest of the inhabitants of this fantasy world. They're watchful and very knowing, but hesitant to become involved in other peoples' business. In this case, though, we're all in this together. That's what it's all about, and interrelationship-wise, we learn a great deal about one another and what it takes to coexist. So while Ber-Lak starts out keeping his new-found friends at arm's length, he eventually comes to care about them."
Even behind all his make-up, you can see the actor's eyes light up when talking about a favorite scene in Knights of Bloodsteel. "My character is going to be known as a curve ball pitcher, in that once in a while he'll surprise you and keep you on your toes," says Viergever. "There was a transitional point in the script that read, 'Ber-Lak's eyes flutter,' and I don't know quite how it happened, but I just opened up when we did this shot. I didn't think I'd get to do something like this as Ber-Lak, but I got to flex emotional muscles that I didn't know were there. It was such an amazing discovery and when you watch the final product you'll know what scene I'm talking about. I'm hoping everyone will dig it."
Despite an early morning start and what looks like several hours of work still ahead of him, Viergever has no complaints. "This is playtime," he enthuses. "Come on, this isn't 'work.' We get to inhabit this magical world and everyone loves being here. It's remarkable the things you get to do in this industry. You're a kid in a candy store. Growing up, I was the kid reciting lines from movies, so this is a dream come true for me. Every day I can't believe I'm here, and it just gets bigger, better and bolder. No day is like the one before it. This job is truly a privilege and an incredible ride that I hope keeps going for a long time to come."
[caption id="attachment_444" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="David James Elliott as John Serragoth in Knights of Bloodsteel. Photo by Carol Segal and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
When it comes to directing, Philip Spink likes to be hands-on. On this particular Tuesday in August (2008), he is on-location with the cast and crew of the Sci Fi Channel miniseries Knights of Bloodsteel. They are at a working quarry in Abbotsford, British Columbia, a small area of which has been transformed into a mining village thanks to several imaginative and talented individuals. This set is where some of the action sequences for the film are being shot, including an adrenaline-rushing sword-fight. At the moment, Spink is on-set discussing specifics of the fight with various actors and stunt people.
"With this scene I knew it needed some immediate jeopardy," says the director, sitting back down behind the camera. "One of the bad guys breaches the wall and attacks our heroine, Perfidia [Natassia Malthe]. Meanwhile,Klegg [Ian A. Wallace] is trying to get away and all this other action is happening around them. I'll work with the fight choreographer, who then works with the actors and the swordsman, and together we make it a good scene.
"So it's very much a collaborative process. With some of the [action] stuff I'm really specific, and other times I'll say, 'Just go for it and let's get some basic hacks and slashes.' Fight swordsmanship is somewhat different from basic action like explosions or a car going over a hill because there are certain techniques using knives and swords that take years and years to learn. With this movie we're fortunate to have Dan Rizzuto as our stunt coordinator because he's extremely experienced at both - he's a great fight/stunt coordinator. We also have Dave Barkes as special effects [SPFX] coordinator. He and Dan get along very well and together they give us what we need."
[caption id="attachment_446" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Perfidia (Natassia Malthe) takes on the bad guys. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Knights of Bloodsteel brings together a diverse foursome - vigilante John Serragoth (David James Elliott), con man Adric Thane (Christopher Jacot), the warrior elf Perfidia (Natassia Malthe) and a goblin, Ber-Lak (Dru Viergever). They accept a quest by the sorcerer elf Tesselink (Christopher Lloyd) to find the last of the bloodsteel, a magical ore that can save their mytical land of Mirabilis from being dominated by the evil Dragon Eye (Mark Gibbon). Also helping tell this tale is producer Pascal Verschooris. Having worked on other Sci-Fi and/or Fantasy projects such as Flash Gordon and Dead Like Me as well as HBO's Masters of Horror, he knew what basic elements were needed to get Knights of Bloodsteel off the ground.
"The biggest challenge was creating a new world," notes Verschooris, who is on-location today as well. "What is Mirabilis? What does it look like? What brings our heroes together and what is their quest? What does Dragon Eye look like? When you read the script, is he The Devil in a way that you've always imagined him to be, or do want to take a chance and take the character in another direction? Along with the evil, is there also a human aspect to him?
"Looking at all the Sci-Fi projects on TV, we wanted to make sure that if someone is flipping channels and they find Knights of Bloodsteel, that it's obvious to them that they're watching something really different. Every frame of this miniseries will remind you that you're not exactly on Earth, but somewhere else. That's been a tough hill to climb, but I think we're doing quite well in creating this world. We've found some locations in Vancouver that haven't been used before, or if they have, very rarely. We've also build some amazing sets from scratch, including a medieval town. So we're using all our assets, resources and experience and I think this is turning out to be a neat project."
[caption id="attachment_448" align="aligncenter" width="199" caption="Christopher Lloyd as Tesselink. Photo by Carol Segal and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Earlier today, director Spink shot a complex scene involving a number of VFX (visual effects) that will be added in during post-production. "It was a scene where the evil goblins unleash a flying machine that shoots missiles at our mining commune," he explains. "So what we had to do is shoot all the background plates so that later on our VFX department can put in the flying machine, or what they're calling the war machine. Because there is a little interaction between what people are seeing and the actual machine that is going to be added in, we had to make sure we filmed the sequences at the correct angles in the amount of time that we had. Luckily, we had a storyboard all laid out for this," says Spink, pointing out a large board with various drawings on it, "so we pretty much knew what was going to happen in those scenes.
"Because we wanted to get an early start on the VFX, we did what is probably one of the more compelling and visually challenging sequences on our first day of filming, and that was a big dragon attack. It was kind of a scary thing to do right out of the gate, but it was a smart thing, too, because everyone was fresh and ready to work. It also alotted us extra time to plan out the scene, so in the long run I think we ended up with a better product."
Adds Verschooris, "The cliffs where we shot that scene are on the same road leading to the 2010 Olympic site [Whistler], so we had to take that into consideration because the highway is being slowed down right now by all the big construction. Today, we're in a quarry and surrounded by trucks doing work, so we're trying to shoot in-between so we won't have too much [dialogue] looping by the time we wrap. However, the end result is that we have this feature-film like place that we're filming in.
[caption id="attachment_450" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Perfidia (Natassia Malthe) and John Serragoth (David James Elliott) - comrades in arms. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"There was another part of our script that takes place in marshland, and for that we went to an area in Squamish. It's somewhere that most people would probably avoid because you arrive in the morning and the tide is at 13 feet or so, which means you're on the edge of the water. As you film, the tide goes low and you're in the mud, which is where we wanted to be. You then have three hours to shoot before the tide comes back in and you're forced to finish. You have to be very organized with your continuity because it's something that you have to do over two or three days. As a result, though, when you watch the dailies you have this tall beautiful grass wafting in the breeze and colors that you don't often see on the screen," enthuses the producer.
Prosthetics/SPFX make-up artist guru Todd Masters and his company, MastersFX, were involved in sculpting the looks for some of Mirabilis' more unusual creatures, and the miniseries' Powers That Be have been suitably impressed by their efforts. "Working with Todd is very cool," says Verschooris. "He's extremely communicative and creative. We've had many meetings with Todd and he always brings all his experience with him. You'll talk with him about how you see a character, Ber-Lak, for example, or another one of our goblins or elves, and he gets it really quickly. It's one thing to create a prosthetic of a character, but it also then has to match the personality of the person playing the part. Thanks to Todd, it was actually quite easy to realize the characters that we wanted. We're fortunate to have him on a project of this size."
[caption id="attachment_452" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Perfidia (Natassia Malthe) and Tesselink (Christopher Lloyd) confer. Photo by Carol Segal and copyright by The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Listening to Verschooris and Spink, it is easy to understand why they are excited to be involved in bringing Knights of Bloodsteel to the small screen. "I was just saying recently that I'm not sure if I would know how to do a cop show because I've done so much Sci-Fi," says Verschooris. "However, the more you do in this genre, the more risks you take because it has to be different from the last time. It's hard to invent things nowadays because so much has been done, but I think we've done some things here that people might not have necessarily seen before on TV. So it should be fascinating for the eye."
Adds Spink, "I was a commercial illustrator for 15 years before becoming a director, and I got into this industry doing storyboards. When I did TV commercials I was hired for the heavily art-directed ones. I have a very active imagination and with something like that you can do some major [creative] 'damage,' all in a good way, of course," chuckles the director.
Steve EramoAs stated above, all photos courtesy of and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!
Last August I had the pleasure of spending the day on-location at a working mine in Abbotsford, British Columbia with the cast and crew of Knights of Bloodsteel, a two-night movie event that will be broadcast this Sunday and Monday - April 19th & 20th - @ 9pm EST on the Sci Fi Channel. Over the next three days I will be posting cast and behind-the-scenes talent interviews from my time on the set. Enjoy!
[caption id="attachment_348" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="David James Elliott as John Serragoth in Knights of Bloodsteel. Photo by Carol Segal and copyright The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Fans of actor David James Elliott probably best remember him as the clean-cut United States Naval officer Commander Harmon "Harm" Rabb, Jr. in the CBS-TV adventure/legal drama series JAG. This Sunday, he makes his debut played a very different type of hero in the Sci Fi Channel miniseries Knights of Bloodsteel. As the sword-wielding John Serragoth, the actor sports long hair as well as a beard and speaks with a Scottish accent. It was brand-new territory for him and one he was happy to explore.
"I'd never done anything quite like this before," says Elliott during a break in filming on-location in British Columbia. "I had just finished filming a miniseries [Impact!] in Victoria and was on vacation with my family in the Bahamas when I got a call about this project. They e-mailed me the script, I read it, thought it was well-written and they [the producers] offered me the role.
"Again, the fact that I had never really played a character like John was what made it interesting to me. My first day on-set was like most in that it feels as if you're about to climb Mount Everest. Not only are you still digging through the script to find the nuances, but you're also trying to find your character from inside yourself. That was certainly true with John because we took some chances with the character, including making him a Scotsman. We felt that that would help reinforce the fact that he's different from everyone else around him and more of an Earth-type guy. He's from the Moorlands, which is a wild territory on this world where our story takes place. So I was excited about the role and the chance to work with a new group of people."
In Knights of Bloodsteel, John Serragoth is one of four unlikely freedom fighters recruited by the sorcerer elf Tesselink (Christopher Lloyd). Their mission is to stop the evil Dragon Eye (Mark Gibbon) and his minions from acquiring the remaining supply of bloodsteel, a sorcery grade ore that gives powerful magical abilities to those who possess it. Should they fail, the island continent of Mirabilis will fall under control of Dragon Eye. Accompanying John on his quest to find the legendary magical Crucible, which is the source of bloodsteel, are Adric Thane (Christopher Jacot), a charming con artist, the enigmatic goblin Ber-Lak (Dru Viergever), and a fearless warrior elf named Perfidia (Natassia Malthe).
"They're a ragtag group," explains Elliott. "Circumstances thrust them together and John has his own agenda as well as this quest for a Crucible that will help his agenda. The latter is how the Elders of our story sold my character on helping them, and, in turn, this will help John complete his 'hit list' for lack of a better term. So he's a man with a list and he's ticking names off. Let's just say that he's got some vengeance issues," he says with a smile.
[caption id="attachment_351" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="John Serragoth (Elliott) and Perfidia (Natassia Malthe) enter dangerous territory. Photo by Carol Segal and copyright The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Off to one side of Elliott, Knights of Bloodsteel director Philip Spink is busy setting up his next shot. This project is the actor's introduction to Spink and in the director he has found a kindred soul. "Philip's enthusiasm is refreshing and he really gets into it, which is very inspirational," notes Elliott. "Like me, he's always digging and looking for the truth in every moment. Yes, we're doing this because it looks very cool, but at the same time it has to be grounded in some sort of reality.
"Before we began shooting I had to get a hair weave, so I came in for a seven-hour process where they were tying hair and attaching the extensions to my own hair. Philip came and kept me company. He and I laughed and talked about the script as well as my character and we had a good time. We sat together until almost two in the morning, and we were starting work at six the following day. It was nice to have that time because you rarely get that; once a project like this gets going there's really no stopping it and taking a pause."
As with many of his previous roles, this one brought with it various acting challenges, including physical ones, for Elliott to face. "The climax of this piece, which we already shot, was extremely challenging just from an emotional point of view," he recalls. "And it was late at night when we filmed it. We were working the night shift for a week straight, so that was tough. Again, you're constantly digging deep inside yourself and embracing areas that you probably wouldn't bother with in your normal day-to-day life.
"There's also been some fighting for my character," continues Elliott, "and I just missed having my eye taken out by a sword. It cut my eyebrow and I had a black eye for a while. People will often ask me, 'Oh, man, do you enjoy doing the fights?' Every time there's a fight I know I'm going to get hurt, and we have a big fight tomorrow, so I can't wait to see what happens then. I'm often cast in physical roles, probably because I have a high tolerance for pain. It's either that or someone has it out for me," jokes the actor.
[caption id="attachment_354" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="John (Elliott) strikes a blow for justice! Photo by Carol Segal and copyright The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"This is a large script and that makes the work quite challenging because there are numerous things to be considered and to have to hold in your mind. It's important to always be in the moment, too. That's tricky and a struggle every day. You're trying to exist in this [make-believe] world and you're forced to exist in the real world at the same time. Some days are better than others, but you endeavor to put your best foot forward."
The second of three sons, Elliott was born in Toronto, Canada and admits that he fell into acting. "Music was my first love, but I just became frustrated because I tried to make a go of bands and you're always having to rely on other people," he says. "I went to Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto and then auditioned for and was accepted into The Stratford Shakespearean Festival Company where I spent a couple of years doing quite a bit of theater."
While honing his craft onstage, the actor made his TV debut in an episode of the Scottish-Canadian historical drama series The Campbells. "I played a mentally-challenged young man who lived in the woods," says Elliott. "I don't remember much about the work, but it was a challenging role, especially from an emotional standpoint and trying to portray my character as truthfully as possible as well as with some dignity. It was a great first [TV] role to have."
Elliott went on to win the Jean Chalmers Award for Most Promising Young Actor of the Season. Not long after, his performance as Dick, a dimwitted stripper in a stage production of B-Movie: The Play, caught the attention of those in charge of the Canadian TV series Street Legal. They cast the actor as Nick Del Gado, the handsome love interest for the show's female lawyers. The program was a hit and made him a household name in his native Canada. Elliott eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting work there. Along with guest-spots on numerous shows including China Beach, Doogie Howser, M.D. and Dark Justice, he has had recurring roles on Knots Landing, Melrose Place and The Guard as well as regular gigs on The Untouchables, Close to Home and the long-running JAG.
"It was a joy to have worked on a character for that long," says the actor. "It was also a pleasure to work with all those people in a collaborative effort for an extended period of time. The show certainly opened a lot of doors for me, so it was a great 10 years spent."
[caption id="attachment_359" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Perfidia (Malthe) and John (Elliott) set their sights on the enemy. Photo by Carol Segal and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
All too soon Elliott is needed back on-set, but before leaving he adds to his previous response. "Overall, when it comes to this business, it's rewarding to work with people who take it seriously and give it the respect it deserves. It's also rewarding when people find entertainment value in what you do. That's ultimately what we're trying to do, entertain people, and if we affect someone then we're doing our job."
Steve EramoAs noted above, all photos are courtesy of and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any fashion. Thanks!