[caption id="attachment_3279" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Paula Garces as Paula Morales on Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
If you have to go to work, it helps if you like your job, and that is definitely true of Defying Gravity's Paula Garces. It is only the middle of what looks to be a long day on the show's Vancouver set, but the actess is still full of energy and eager to talk about her involvement in the series. Her character of Paula Morales is part of an international team of eight astronauts who, after five years of intense training, set off in 2052 on a six-year journey to explore our solar system onboard the spaceship Antares. Besides her duties as mission payload specialist, Paula is also transmitting daily status reports back to school classrooms on Earth. It goes without saying that she wears a lot of proverbial hats, and Morales could not wait to try on every single one of them.
"My character is obviously of Latin descent, although we haven't specified exactly from where," notes the actress, who is back in her trailer after a quick visit to make-up in preparation for her next scene. "Paula is also a scientist and a pilot as well as extremely religious and conservative, so she's constantly having to deal with conflicts between her faith and science as well as religion. On top of that, Paula is experiencing the various difficulties that I think anyone in real life would be faced with if they were travelling in space and separated from their family and friends for an extended period of time. She's in charge of a space classroom as well, and when you lump all that together, Paula can occasionally be a little bit off-putting because she's quite misunderstood by those around her.
"So she needs to be a number of different people at the same time. Paula has to be bubbly and smart along with cute and charming so that the kids back on Earth will listen and actually learn something from her. At the same time, she has some dark issues to deal with and, again, is conflicted, which sometimes ticks off the people she works with. So it's been really interesting to see her develop, and I've been very lucky as far as the writing. The show's producers/writers have given me a great storyline that I can wrap myself around and lose myself in. It's a lot to do, but I love it and I hope I'm doing a good job.
"This part is full of layers and, again, I'm thrilled with the fact that my character is not only a scientist and astronaut, but also someone of faith. At the beginning I was wondering how that would work, but in researching the role I discovered that several astronauts are religious, specifically Catholic, and have even taken communion up in space and things of that nature. There is so much I can play with as Paula, including the fact that she's petite and cute and sometimes doesn't get taken very seriously. Yes, there are still stereotypes that she has to fight against, even in the not-so-distant future. It only goes to show that everything changes, and yet some things remain the same."
[caption id="attachment_3280" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Paula Morales holding "virtual class" with her students back on Earth. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
Like most acting opportunities, Garces was sent the pilot script for Defying Gravity by her manager, and as soon as she began reading it, she became enamored of the Paula Morales character. "That can sometimes be the kiss of death for an actor," she says. "We get sent so many scripts, a lot of which aren't very good. So when a good script does come along, you fall in love with it, but you don't want to deal with the heartbreak in case things don't work out.
"I actually flew to Toronto to audition for the role with Michael Edelstein [series executive producer] and David Straiton, who directed our first episode. I was very nervous, but David read with me and said, 'Don't worry, you're totally rocking it.' As soon as I heard that, it kind of gave me the confidence that I think the role needed. I also feel that was something that James Parriott [series creator/executive producer] needed to subsequently see from me in-person, too, because prior to this they had just watched a tape of my work. Once that saw that confidence, though, I think that's what made them decide, 'OK, maybe we should give Paula Garces a shot at this role.' So I really have to thank David for saying what he did to me during my audition, which is not typical. You usually don't know that early on whether or not they like you. Sometimes I think I'm totally awesome during an audition, but I guess I stink because I don't get the job," jokes the actress. "Other times, I think I blew it and I get hired. It's a crazy business, but in this case I'm delighted that things worked out the way they did."
Although Garces' audition jitters soon became a distant memory, those butterflies in her stomach returned, albeit briefly, when filming began on Defying Gravity's opening episode. "I think we were all terrified because it's such a big show," she says. "We had to establish the ship and the outer space elements as well as our characters' training and them being astronauts and so forth. Then there were the technical elements, including getting to know the sets, dealing with green screen and the wire work, the latter of which is necessary with any scene where there is zero gravity and our characters have to 'float.'
"So that was all pretty daunting simply because there was so much foundation for us to lay, and if you don't do it right away and grab your audience's attention, then they won't give the series a chance. Having said that, I think our first episode stands on its own and hooks you into our story and all its wonder, which includes hope for the future and finding answers to the unknown.
[caption id="attachment_3281" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="All smiles inside the Antares' lab. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
"The thing is, I see this show as being less Science Fiction and more Science Fact. It deals with things that are happening now in the real world with regard to space travel and how it's likely to change or improve over the next 40 or 50 years. That's a huge undertaking because you have to keep things real. You can't be like, 'OK, we're going to magically teleport ourselves to that planet.' Everything has to be thought out and make sense. So our first story really gives you a taste of what the relationships between these people are like and what they'll be facing in their next six years together on this extraordinary mission that I believe humankind would one day want to take."
When it comes to relationships, perhaps the oddest one onboard the Antares is between Paula and theoretical physicist Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor). The two formed an unexpected bond during training, specifically during medical training when a man under the influence of an unusual drug died in front of them. Since leaving Earth orbit, "Wass" has taken pot shots at Paula's religious beliefs, and at one point even accidentally injured her, but despite this there remains a connection between them.
"Now that I've watched some of the footage, I find Paula and Wass to be the 'youth vote' on the ship if you will," muses Garces. "As for the actual reason why she feels connected to him, I believe it's because she finds Wass brilliant. At first he comes across as a slacker, and I think Paula sees him as a waste of talent. My character is someone who works hard and is very disciplined, so she doesn't quite get the whole slacker mentality. However, what Paula eventually comes to realize is that this is just Wass' way of dealing with the isolation of space and being on this mission, which is actually a pretty smart way of looking at things.
"As these two characters have their conversations and debates, because they have quite a few debates on science and religion, Paula sees that underneath all that information and 'I don't care' attitude, Wass has a huge heart. And I think vice versa, he admires how disciplined she is. He begins to realize that maybe he should worry about Paula and try to give her certain [scientific] information that perhaps she's a little too stubborn to see because of her faith."
[caption id="attachment_3282" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Moments before an unfortunate accident that nearly ended Paula's involvement in the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
Coincidentally, one of Garces' favorite Defying Gravity moments is with her and Dylan Taylor. "I love doing wire work, and there's a scene between Paula and Wass where a section of the ship loses gravity," says the actress. "As tricky as it was doing the wire work, there was a great deal of humor in that scene. I don't want to spoil it for those who might not have seen the episode yet, but one of these two characters isn't a very good astronaut when it comes to floating, but I'm not going to tell you who," she teases.
"That scene was so funny and realistic, because if you stop and think about it, astronauts are human beings, right, and not robots. Once they finish whatever tasks they're supposed to do in a day when they're up there in space, they have to live their lives. So they're working out, eating, sleeping, reading, acting silly, whatever, and I think this particular scene with Paula and Wass helped bring out the human side of what could happen to someone up in space who's not accustomed to being in zero gravity. The special effects in the scene are incredible and how we shot it was really cool. It was done in a very different style and we used a bunch of tricks that I didn't even know about, so it was a great learning experience as well."
The eldest of two sisters, Garces grew up in New York's Spanish Harlem and was raised by her mother, who encouraged her interest in the arts. "I had braces when I was 12, and by coincidence I met this agent at a dinner party that my mom gave," recalls the actress. "She thought I was cute and said to me, 'Come see me when you get your braces off because I think you can make some money doing TV commercials.'
"A year later that same agent came to our house again and she asked me, 'Why didn't you come see me?' Later on, my mom asked me to at least make an effort to go see this woman because she was her friend, so I did and ended up getting five auditions, including one with [producer/writer/director] Martin Scorsese. Of course, I had no idea who he was, and when I got home from the audition my mom asked how it went. I told her it was OK and that I spoke with some guy whose last name sounded like Spacey. My mom called her friend to find out more, and this woman told her, 'Well, first of all, your daughter was auditioning for Martin Scorcese, who is directing a public service announcement about drugs, alcohol, teenage sex and AIDS. It's going to be shown in theaters nationwide and, oh, by the way, she got the job. Paula is super-funny, down-to-Earth and was the only one who was completely honest and kind of told him [Martin] off.'
[caption id="attachment_3283" align="aligncenter" width="199" caption="Having previously worked together on another series, Paula Garces and Malik Yoba (Ted Shaw) are reunited on Defying Gravity. Photo be Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
"My mom was like, 'Oh, my God,' and after hanging up the phone she immediately educated me on who Martin Scorsese was," laughs Garces. "He's the reason I got my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] card, and from there I was lucky enough to get work on most of the New York-based TV series including Law and Order as well as New York Undercover with Malik Yoba [Ted Shaw on Defying Gravity], Oz and The Sopranos. I got my big break when Jerry Bruckheimer cast me in Dangerous Minds starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Following that I did a soap opera [The Guiding Light] for three years, then [the feature films] Clockstoppers and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, and I just carried on from there."
On TV, the actress is perhaps best known for her performance as Officer Tina Hanlon on the crticially-acclaimed FX series The Shield. "Every single day on the The Shield was a wonderful challenge," she says. "I was only supposed to do one episode. From what I remember, the producers were auditioning very muscular women for this particular role, and here I was this tiny little thing. However, I thought, 'The easy route for a female cop would be a big, muscular, in-shape, tough looking woman. But what about the female cops out there who don't necessarily look intimidating, but who are still street-smart, know they can kick ass, and have an intuition about them that would be an asset on the streets as far as fighting crime.'
"So that's how I spun it, and I think they saw in my audition that I would be good next to this big guy, Michael Jace [Officer Julian Lowe], who ended up being my partner on the show, and the dynamic worked. After that first episode, they asked me if I would continue as a recurring character, and the next season they invited me to be part of the regular cast. It was a fantastic program to work on and, of course, after they established my character, they took great pleasure in having this cute little girl run through the streets, beating up bad guys with a baton, and cuffing them," laughs Garces. "They gave me all this nasty, gritty material, and I think the show's writers enjoyed seeing the expression on my face when I'd first read the scripts. It's that quality and high standard of writing that keeps you on your toes and interested in your job. It's the same on Defying Gravity."
As the actress approaches her 20th year in the business, Garces has not become at all jaded about the work, and has no intensions of falling into that trap. "I still get a thrill out of booking a job," she enthuses. "You study your lines, go into the audition room, bear your soul and hope that they like you. I don't know what it is about us actors, but we're desperate for other people to like us and reward us for just memorizing our lines. So when I get that phone call from my agent or my manager saying I got the job, it's such a high for me. It's the best phone call you can get as an actor."
Steve EramoDefying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and OmniFilm Productions in association with the BBC, Canada's CTV and Germany's ProSieben. As noted above, all photos by Sergei Bachlakov or Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!
[caption id="attachment_2889" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="Florentine Lahme as Nadia Schilling in Defying Gravity. Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC"][/caption]
Come on, be honest. There has been at least one birthday when you didn't get exactly what you wanted. That was not the case, however, for German-born actress Florentine Lahme, who, on her last birthday, received what she calls a "very nice present" when auditioning for the role of Nadia Schilling on Defying Gravity.
"My first audition actually was on my birthday, and it was pretty exciting because it led to a callback for the role of Nadia," says Lahme. "The second time around I did a video conference with the show's producers, who were in Los Angeles and watching me in Germany. That was exciting, too, and a bit scary. I was doing a night shoot that evening for a film in Germany and my head was so full of lines and information that I couldn't really concentrate on the audition. Fortunately, it was the same scene that I did for my first audition, so I did it once again. Then a month or two later I received a phone call asking me, 'Would you like to come to Vancouver and join the series,' and I told them, 'Sure," she says smiling.
"The funny thing is when I was a child, my Mom asked me, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' and I said, 'Maybe an astronaut.' I don't think I'd like to be one now in real life, but being one on TV is good."
On Defying Gravity, Lahme portrays Nadia Schilling, an ace pilot who graduated at the top of her class at the International Space Organization (ISO). Highly intelligent and a striking beauty, she is not afraid to put her sex appeal or keen mathematical/scientific mind to good use, depending on what the situation requires. Nadia demands nothing less than perfection from herself and expects the same from her fellow astronauts onboard the Antares when they set off into outer space to explore Earth's solar system. Jetting across the Atlantic, Lahme was anxious to step into Nadia's shoes and begin work on the first of 13 season one episodes, but first she had to find her space legs as it were.
[caption id="attachment_2890" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Nadia at the controls on the Antares flight deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC"][/caption]
"I always have huge problems with jet-lag," admits the actress. "So I was still pretty jet-lagged my first day of work. However, beyond that, the first thing I was impressed with were the sets, which are very expensive. On top of that, and more importantly, I felt like I was in good hands because of everyone working on the show.
"We had a great deal of green screen work to do in the first episode, so we constantly had to imagine what was going on out there in space. I also had to get used to wearing a wig, which I wear during the flashbacks. In the first episode, I had a love scene with Ron Livingston [Maddux Donner], too. Its always difficult when you don't know each other and have to do a love scene. I get sweaty palms just thinking about it," she jokes. "So I don't love doing love scenes, but I do love David Straiton, who directed this episode. I really enjoyed working with him and he made it fun and really easy for me."
Although she is not afraid to speak her mind, Nadia does not wear her emotions on her sleeve, so it took the actress a little time to figure her out. "Nadia is a funny character," notes Lahme. "When I first read the script I thought, 'Is she really human, or maybe she's a robot? I don't know.' Nadia is very much focused on her job. She's quite ambitious as well as earnest and always wants to be number one.
"You don't get the feeling that Nadia is a terribly emotional person. She's on her own most of the time and isn't really interested in getting too close to her coworkers, except for Donner, of course, because he's her lover. But the thing is, she treats him like a sex toy or tool. I like to describe her as a combination of the Terminator and Barbie, because you cannot look into her at all. She's pretty icy. However, as the episodes go on, you actually get some insight into her emotionally and I get to reveal her vulnerable side, which I was very pleased about."
[caption id="attachment_2891" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Antares Commander Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) and Nadia. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC"][/caption]
Given that she is on a six-year mission with seven other astronauts, Nadia does make the effort to behave in a professional and cordial fashion towards her colleagues. Unfortunately, she has difficulty doing so when it comes to dealing with one particular member of the crew. "I enjoy working with Dylan [Taylor], who plays Steve Wassenfelder. His character and Nadia have a special relationship - she can't stand him," chuckles the actress. "My character likes to complain to him, 'You eat too much and behave like a 12-year-old boy.'
"She doesn't understand why Wassenfelder has been chosen for this mission, and I love the scenes with the two of them because they always butt heads. That makes for an acting challenge because in real life I like Dylan, but on TV I have to dislike him. Whenever a scene makes me feel uncomfortable I think it's great because, again, it provides me with an acting challenge."
While her character may feel uncomfortable relating to her crewmates, Lahme has no such problems with her Defying Gravity castmates. "The last show I did in Germany [GSG 9, an action series about an elite team of crime fighters] had a large cast, too," she says. "So I'm used to working with a lot of actors, and I think it's terrific that we have such a variety of nationalities - the Latina, the Israeli, the Indian, the German - and everyone is so nice. Sometimes you have the problem where someone is very arrogant, but that's not true here. Everyone is very friendly. If, for example, there's a word in the script that I don't understand and it's not in my [German/English] dictionary, they'll help me figure it out. So it truly is a pleasure working with them."
A native of Berlin, Lahme was 16 years old when she began modeling part-time to earn some extra money to help pay for her studies in economics and Japanese at the University of Berlin. That eventually led to her being invited to audition for TV shows. "It was really by accident that I got into this business," recalls the actress. "My first TV job was a German soap opera set in a hospital, and I played a nurse. I was familiar with working in front of a camera because of my modeling, but it still felt a bit weird. Very soon, though, I began to feel like it was 'my thing,' and suddenly I knew I had to do this for a living."
[caption id="attachment_2892" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Nadia during training for the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios/ABC"][/caption]
Along with Defying Gravity, the actress recently appeared with David James Elliott and James Cromwell in the Sci-Fi miniseries Impact. She has also worked on a variety of made-for-TV movies and German TV series, among the latter is the aforementioned GSG 9. "In that show I did pretty much what Nadia does in Defying Gravity as far as looking at a screen and giving advice," explains Lahme.
"My character [Petra Helmholtz] was the brains on this particular show, and oh, God, the technobabble and all the monologues. I remember one day I had three pages of monologue and we didn't have time to rehearse. So I just did it and it worked. I'm a very lucky girl in that I have a photographic memory, so if I have to do tech-talk, and even if I don't understand it, it doesn't matter. I can just picture the words in my mind and say them. That's a great gift for an actor."
Feature film-wise, Lahme starred in one of the most successful German movies ever, the romantic comedy Keinohrhasen (Rabbit With Ears). Other big screen credits include Fire, Maximum and the horror thriller Metamorphosis starring Christopher Lambert (Highlander). "I loved Highlander and I fell in love with Duncan MacLeod [Christopher Lambert]," says Lahme. "When I was cast in Metamorphosis I thought, 'Oh, boy, I get to work with Christopher Lambert.' He is so cute and down-to-Earth. I really haven't had bad luck in my career so far. I always end up working with great people, thank goodness."
Like all actors, whatever the part, Lahme wants her character to come across as believable. If she can achieve that, then it is a good day's work for her. "When I watch myself onscreen, if I can feel it [the moment], if I get goosebumps, then I find that truly satisfying," says the actress. "What I also enjoy about this job is that you can be anyone you ever wanted to, but cannot be in real life. That's why I enjoyed modeling. I don't want to wear fancy dresses all the time, but just for one day to take some nice pictures. Otherwise, I like to be comfortable. What I'm wearing right now, it's casual, and that's me. So being any character you want in front of the camera and playing her convincingly are the biggest [acting] rewards for me."
Steve EramoDefying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and OmniFilm Productions, in association with the BBC, Canada's CTV and Germany's ProSieben. As noted above, photos by Sergei Bachlakov or Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!
What do TV shows like The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Forever Knight, Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty all have in common? If you said James Parriott, you are right. The veteran executive producer/writer has lent his considerable talents to these and countless other TV series over the years. In 2003, he and executive producer Michael Edelstein, whose credits include Hope and Faith and the hugely popular Desperate Housewives, worked together on the short-lived series Threat Matrix. More recently, they teamed up again to exec produce Defying Gravity, a Canadian-made space thriller that makes its Stateside premiere this Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on ABC.
Set in the not-so-distant future, Defying Gravity was inspired by Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets - a fictional docudrama produced by Impossible Pictures (the same creative minds behind Walking With Dinosaurs) for the BBC. It follows the crew of the spaceship Antares, an international team of eight astronauts (four woman and four men) who embark on a six-year mission to explore Venus as well as other planets in the solar system. Their journey is being monitored closely by Mission Control back on Earth, but only a handful of those involved are aware of the very real dangers and mystery surrounding this mission. Defying Gravity is not so much Sci-Fi as Sci-Fact and served up with a large helping of human drama, all of which is part of Parriott's and Edelstein's original blueprint for the series.
"Michael saw Voyage to the Planets on the Discovery Channel, and I then happened to see a rebroadcast on the Science Channel and thought, 'This is extremely well-made and cool. There's something here,'" recalls Parriott, who, along with Edelstein, took time out from their day to talk about Defying Gravity on the show's Vancouver-based set. "In this business you're always looking for a new arena for a drama. I mean, there are thousands of law shows and thousands of medical dramas, a lot of which are very, very good, but you're always thinking, 'What's the next arena?'
"So after watching Voyage to the Planets I got really excited and, right after the  holidays, I ran down the hall to Michael's office - we were both working at Disney at the time - and said, 'What do you think? If we throw in a little Grey's Anatomy along with a little Lost, this could actually work.' Because it has an international crew, it felt like an international show and, therefore, would have a broad appeal. It would appeal to Sci-Fi fans, but the drama part of it would appeal to those who have no interest in Sci-Fi. Michael and I looked at each other and said, 'This could be the one that really works.'"
[caption id="attachment_2289" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Ron Livingston (as Maddux Donner) and Malik Yoba (as Ted Shaw) in Defying Gravity. Photo copyright of ABC Television"][/caption]
Continues Edelstein, "What appeals to me about working with Jim is that he's all about the characters, and I just thought if someone was going to tackle this, give it to him. So Jim took this idea, put it to his brain and months later Defying Gravity came out of that. It was somewhat different from our early conversations, but I think it's richer and more compelling, not to mention addictive. We've been very selective about who we've shown the pilot to. Recently, I had an older female friend from London visiting me and I didn't think she was our demographic at all. However, she watched the pilot, got hooked and wanted to watch more and more late into the night. We're hearing stories like this from everyone who has seen the pilot.
"To Jim's credit and that of the other writers, they've come up with, once again, an addictive show. There's just layer upon layer of mystery, and the amazing thing about the characters they've created is that you can go to any one of them for a story and you can fall into their world and find those multiple layers. So that's been a thrill, and I get really excited when I read the scripts. I think the challenge, obviously, is to build a show of this complexity, and from day one Jim told me, 'Michael, this is a space show. Space shows are incredibly hard to produce.'"
Says Parriott, "I started out doing The Bionic Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man and other Sci-Fi and complicated shows with [visual/special] effects. And I told Michael, 'This isn't a medical show. This isn't Desperate Housewives. This is [outer] space we're getting into. Aren't you scared of getting into space, and on a budget?'"
Says Edelstein, "I came up here in early November  and since then I've been back home less than ten days in seven months. Initially, Jim was going to be up here a week or two, maybe a month, and he's been here at least three weeks a month, but it's been a ton of fun. Vancouver is a beautiful city and it has a great film community. We've inherited a wonderful group of people to work with and are settling into a nice groove."
[caption id="attachment_2290" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Paula Garces (as Paula Morales) and Christina Cox (as Jen Crane) in Defying Gravity. Photo copyright of ABC Television"][/caption]
Defying Gravity's international cast is led by Ron Livingston (Antares flight engineer Maddux Donner), Laura Harris (geologist Zoe Barnes), Malik Yoba (Antares commander Ted Shaw), Christina Cox (biologist Jen Crane), Florentine Lahme (pilot Nadia Schilling), Paula Garces (pilot, scientist and onboard documentary producer Paula Morales), Eyal Podell (psychiatrist and medical officer Evram Mintz) and Dylan Taylor (theoretical physicist Steve Wassenfelder).
Overseeing the entire operation back on Earth are Andrew Airlie (Mission Control Commander Mike Goss), Karen LeBlanc (scientist Eve Shaw), Zahf Paroo (flight engineer Ajay Sharma), Maxim Roy (flight surgeon Claire Dereux), Ty Olsson (capsule communicator a.k.a. cap comm Rollie Crane) and William Vaughn (assistant cap comm Arnel Poe). Episodic director Peter Howitt also plays BBC journalist Trevor Williams. In creating such a large and diverse group of characters, Parriott took a page out of his Gray's Anatomy days. Once the onscreen players had been named, he and Edelstein then began casting the roles.
"We wanted to create characters who are sort of archetypes," explains Parriott. "On Grey's Anatomy you can point to those characters and say, 'That's the pretty one who was the model,' or, 'That's the Asian girl who's the hard-ass,' or, 'That's the guy who is...,' etc. You create characters who, at first, the audience might not necessarily identify with, but at least they know who they are. I tried to do that with Defying Gravity in order that the characters would be very specific, and even a little bit stereotypical at the start, so you'd think, 'Oh, I recognize him, or her.' As the series goes on, you then give your characters different dimensions and continue to expand upon all that as the viewers get to know them."
Says Edelstein, "In terms of casting, we went through an exhaustive process. That really was a luxury, and I think it took us five months to cast the show. We cast out of Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and even Germany. Jim and I were up at five in the morning to audition actresses via teleconferencing and it was great. That's when we found Florentine and she's been fantastic. The funny thing is Jim and I have very different tastes in things, and we found that the right person for a part would be the one where we both overlapped. There are actors who Jim zeroed in on right away and it took me a while, and vice versa. It's been terrific casting this series together because we both looked for different things, and I think I speak for Jim and myself when I say that we're both thrilled with who we have on the show."
[caption id="attachment_2291" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Mission Control Commander Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie) and scientist Eve Shaw (Karen LeBlanc) watch intently back on Earth as the Antares mission unfolds before their eyes. Photo copyright of ABC Television"][/caption]
As the actors were being auditioned and cast, the cosmetic elements of Defying Gravity, including sets and costumes, were also being designed and built. "We were fortunate to find some incredible department heads, including our production designer, Stephen Geaghan," notes Parriott. "He has a tremendous amount of Sci-Fi experience and is also meticulous as well as wildly knowledgeable about [outer] space, and he brought his enthusiasm to the job. By the time we met, Stephen said we were already two weeks behind. We didn't start construction on the sets until mid-October  and we began shooting mid-January . So it was a Herculean effort, and there was a Christmas holiday right in the middle of it all as well."
Continues Edelstein, "There was very little stage space in Vancouver when I initially came up and scouted around. This [a portion of Bridge Studios] was, I think, the only stage really available, so we took it. Unbeknownst to all of us, Stargate Atlantis has left this massive steel cage-type set behind. Lucky for us, Stephen had the good sense to say, 'Hey, let's keep this. We can strip it down and turn it into something else.' So he built Mission Control around it, which was fantastic because on our budget I don't believe we could have achieved the same results from scratch.
"We were also lucky to get Monique Prudhomme, our costume designer, who has a wonderful background in feature films. She received rave reviews for her last movie, Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. We just thought that Monique had a great vision and she jumped headlong into research for the show. For example, with our EVA [extra-vehicular activity] suits, our white spacesuits, she looked at the new direction that MIT believes NASA will be going in next with their pressure suits. So Monique did some hardcore research and then she had to figure out how to make the suits 'work.' In real life they cost something like a million dollars apiece. Obviously we couldn't do that, but Monique figured out a way to make something that looks great on-camera.
"Our whole idea going into prep was, 'This needs to feel real and be believable.' One of the things that Jim and I learned at NASA is that the space shuttle, which had its first launch, I believe, in 1981, was built using solid-state technology. It was technology from the late 60's and 70's. The thing is, NASA has a great deal of redundancy in their systems. Once they lock into something they don't necessarily update as new technology comes along. The International Space Station is run by 46 computer chips, because when NASA first designed it, they knew peoples' lives were at stake, and that meant its systems had to be very reliable. So early on, Jim figured out that if Defying Gravity is set in 2055, the technology would probably be from the late 2020's to 2030."
Says Parriott, "We looked out to 2020 and decided that that's what we were going to do. Of course, everything on the show is from what we think will happen looking forward. I actually think some of our technology is behind 2020. It could be better in [the real world] 2020. In our case, though, what you see on-screen all depends on our budget and how much money we can put into the show."
[caption id="attachment_2292" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor) and Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme) on the Antares observation deck. Photo copyright of ABC Television"][/caption]
Adds Edelstein, "Budget-wise you don't get all the money in one lump. We had to take our episodic budget and use it to chip away at [building] the sets. The sets that you see now were not that evolved when we began shooting. However, we've slowly been able to put it all together and, fortunately, the studio has been very supportive of our vision. That's what's made this whole thing possible. It's a lot of hard work and people solving one problem at a time. Every day we've continuing to learn about the show. At the moment [late May] we're shooting episodes 12 and 13 and we're still learning things insofar as what we'd like to do in season two as well as ways to improve the show."
Story-wise, the 13-part first season of Defying Gravity is divided between the present day, as the Antares travels towards Venus, and the past, with flashbacks to when the astronauts were in the gruelling selection and training process. Although the show's characters are not aware of what lies ahead. Parriott has a definite plan for where this story is headed.
"Before we started filming, we had outlines for all 13 episodes,'" says the executive producer. "I'd basically arced out the entire season, which helped us a lot of terms of production and knowing what we needed to build. Beyond that, I wanted to do two things. One, in our ninth episode we have a major reveal, and it's a cool one that catapults you into the next part of the season. Also, having started in Sci-Fi, I know Sci-Fi audiences are demanding and I wanted to be demanding of myself, which meant I needed to know where the series was going. I didn't want to jump the shark; that was very important to me. So I know the ending to the show. I know season by season where it's going and the big [story] beats along the way. That's crucial for the Sci-Fi audience, in particular, and audiences in general."
Continues Edelstein, "My time is valuable as is everyone else's. There are only so many hours in the day to watch TV, and if someone wants to look at our series, then I feel extremely flattered that he or she wants to spend their time watching something that I'm a part of. You have to take that commitment to your audience seriously. It's sort of a covenant that you make - you give us an hour of your time and we're going to entertain you, we're going to move you, and we're going to keep your interest."
[caption id="attachment_2293" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell) and Nadina Schilling (front) along with Zoe Barnes and Jen Crane (back) sit through yet another training course. Photo copyright of ABC Television"][/caption]
Says Parriott, "It has to be a show that I want to watch, too. I think that's also part of the criteria. If you're making a program that you wouldn't want to watch, then you're kind of a cynic who's just out for the buck. We started out in a very calculated, dare I say cynical place of, 'OK, [outer] space, that will have a broad appeal.' But then as you start to write it, you fall in love with it and your characters, and you become passionate about it. We've very passionate about this project now, and I think all the actors and the crew feel the same way."
Adds Edelstein, "Episodes eight and nine changed everyone. After eight, everyone was like, 'What happens next?' And after nine it's just been a mad sprint to the end of these first 13 episodes. It's a very cool show and certainly not like anything else on TV. I feel the same way about Defying Gravity as I did about Desperate Housewives. When we first came out with Desperate Housewives there were no drama/comedies on the air and people didn't know how to react to it. Some people said that men would never watch a show called Desperate Housewives and there were those who wanted to change the title. With Defying Gravity we've made a show that's interesting and unique as well as compelling, and we're hoping it finds an audience."
Says Parriott, "I always say keep your eye on the ball. Make the shows as good as you can make them, and make the scripts as good as you can make them. That's the joy of something like this. I find I'm the happiest when I'm in the cutting room or when I'm writing. The time just flies by because you're doing what you love. The true reward is in the actual doing. And then in the larger sense, it's in the relationships that you build making a show. These last two episodes have been bittersweet. It's kind of sad and the cast as well as the crew are feeling it,too. They're like, 'Why does this have to end? Do we have to go home?' It really has become a very happy family and one of the tightest-knit groups I've ever had the pleasure of working with."
Steve EramoDefying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and Omni Film Productions, in association with the BBC, Canada's CTV and Germany's ProSieben. As noted above, all photos copyright of ABC Television, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!