The Syfy Channel's re-imagined Alice Hamilton (Caterina Scorsone). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel.
When she was a child, actress Caterina Scorsone read Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books, not knowing that one day she would not only be stepping into Wonderland, but also walking in Alice's shoes. However, in the Syfy Channel miniseries Alice, this iconic literary character is quite unlike the little blonde-haired girl who most of us are familiar with. For one thing, this Alice is a brunette. She is also a twentysomething martial arts instructor who very much has a mind of her own. While Alice may have grown up, she still retains elements of the original character, which Scorsone could not be more pleased about.
"In this production, Alice is the everywoman, just like in Lewis Carroll's original story," explains the actress during one of her days off from filming this past summer. "She is the eyes through which viewers get to observe this wonderful and strange world, and that can be Wonderland or the world in general. Alice is kind of the perspective for the audience on just how bewildering life can be. The character is a tough cookie in this version of Alice. It's a re-telling, so she's an adult and very self-sufficient in the beginning of the story and throughout. At the same time, Alice is vulnerable and there are a lot of areas that she has yet to explore within herself as well as Wonderland. And this place called Wonderland is where she, and the viewer, get to discover all those sorts of places that she is not comfortable with all of the time.
"This is kind of a new spin on the story, so it's very contemporary and brings elements of psychology into some of the whimsy and fantasy that Lewis Carroll set up in his books. In terms of acting, this has been one of the most satisfying projects I've ever worked on. There are a lot of procedural dramas on TV right now, and that's terrific and they have their place, but as far as personal stakes, they're not always as satisfying. It's great to solve a crime and it's very compelling and interesting and I love watching stories like that, but as an actor, it's the personal journeys that truly excite me. And in Alice, my character goes through such a transformation, more so than in any other project I've ever done. I've had the chance to play a tremendous range with her.
One tough cookie. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel.
"She starts out pretty much emotionally closed, but by the end of the story, all her walls and defenses have been blasted away. It's been a joy to work with the other actors who have been cast. Everyone who comes to work is so professional and so well-prepared that you know anything emotionally challenging is going to be supported and played with and you're going to be given the time to do things right."
In Alice, we learn that at the age of 10, our heroine's father abandoned the family without warning or word, which led to Alice developing a stong distrust in men. Now, years later, she believes that she has met Mr. Right in her handsome new love, Jack, but, unfortunately, her old demons resurface and she sends him away after rejecting his proposal of marriage. However, when Jack is kidnapped, she follows him and his abductors through a mysterious portal and winds up in Wonderland. Once there, she is forced to put aside her doubts in the opposite sex and ask for help in order to find Jack.
"What's cool about playing Alice is that, again, being the eyes of the audience or the everywoman, she gets to interact with everyone because so much of the journey and the adventure is through her experience," says Scorsone. "Just like in the Lewis Carroll stories, she kind of walks through and meets all these fantastically colorful characters.
Jack (Philip Winchester) and Alice. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel.
"Jack Chase [Philip Winchester] is the dashing young man who Alice opens the story with. He's her love interest right off the top, and then there's Hatter [Andrew-Lee Potts], who along with the White Knight [Matt Frewer] become my character's trusted companions. Hatter is with Alice throughout the entire story and together they have this journey of self-discovery. Everyone she encounters affects her in some way that is a significant part of her transformation. They impact her subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, and act as a catalyst for the change that is happening inside her as a woman."
Scorsone could not have asked for a better person to help guide her through her onscreen adventures than Alice writer/director Nick Willing. "Nick is an amazing director for so many reasons, one of which is that he's very interested in the rehearsal process," notes the actress. "He makes sure that you have a significant amount of time to rehearse in order to get to know the material as well as the people you're playing with.
"So before our first day of shooting, we had, I think, a week-and-a-half to two weeks of intense discussions and rehearsals at the hotel where we were all staying, and Nick's process is so neat. Usually you get together and everyone sits around a table and you do a read-through of the script and then start filming. What we did, though, was meet, discuss and rehearse, and only after we went through this really intense process did we sit around the table and do a read-through.
Alice ends up a stranger in a very strange place called Wonderland. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel.
"By the time we got to set we were all very familiar with the material and had created trust with each other. So from day one the set has been a safe and creative place to play as well as explore and push the limits of what we thought we could do. Right from the start this has been a pretty magical situation to walk into, where you're surrounded by people who fully believe in this project and are excited about creating something of value. It's been one of the most consistently joyful sets I've been on. Nick has this incredible ability to keep it light and keep everyone laughing, and at the same time command the respect that you need to get through the really long days and lots of material. And what's nice, too, is that everyone here is experienced enough to appreciate that."
Although the actress and the rest of the Alice cast and crew has spent a great deal of time shooting inside on a soundstage, they have also ventured out quite a bit in and around Vancouver, a place that Scorsone admits to have fallen in love with. "I have this mad fantasy that I'm going to move here and have this beautiful life surrounded by mountains and water," she says.
"It's been so much fun working on-location. We were in Kamloops [British Columbia] for a while shooting in this abandoned sanatorium, and we also went to Golden Ears Provincial Park, which has a beautiful rainforest where the tress are so massive and it's so damp that they're completely covered in this lush, dripping moss. We were filming there at five in the morning and there was fog and mist everywhere. It was really quite surreal. There was mist on the water and you were outside of everything familiar to you and in this spectacular place that truly felt like Wonderland.
Alice finds a friend - and perhaps more - in Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel.
"Then, of course, we're wearing these incredibly creative costumes and the set dec is unbelievable. So you have all these elements that are adding to the suspended reality that has been created here. It just makes everything so much fun and easy emotionally as well as creatively to enter this world that we're talking about here."
Obstetrician and violinist were among the career choices that Scorsone considered while growing up. Having acted since the age of eight, she stepped away from it a couple of times, including when she was 19 to go to university. While she was eventually drawn back to the business, Scorsone has no regrets about her brief respite from it.
"I needed to explore what other possibilities there were," says the actress. "And what's fortunate is that that exploration led me back to an appreciation of what I'd been doing. I think when you start acting as a child it's fun, but you haven't made an actual choice about it. You've inherited it, so I had to get away from it and really decide if art was something important to people. So I quit, went to school, got my bachelor's degree and after that came back into the business with a more mature perspective and have really been appreciating it ever since."
Ever get the feeling that you're all boxed in with nowhere to go; Alice sure does! Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel.
Having begun working on TV in the mid-90's, the actress has appeared in several made-for-TV movies as well as done guest-spots and recurring roles on such shows as Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal, Power Play, Crash, The Guard and Castle. She also played the lead character, Jess Mastriani, for three seasons in her own series, Missing.
"When you're with a character for that long they become a part of you and you get close to them and feel protective of them," says Scorsone. "Also, working on that show was a huge learning experience for me. With series TV you're there every day and all day, it's long hours and you're surrounded by a tight-knit family of, in my case, 85. So as a professional, you're learning a number of skills in terms of your acting as well as technical skills such as the camera, lighting and all the other things you need in your 'tool bag.'
"You're also learning how to ration yourself energetically along with emotionally and how to work well with others when everyone is tired and hasn't seen their families for a while and it's crunch time because you've got to get the episode done in 14 hours. So doing that series was definitely significant for me, creatively and in terms of my work ethic as well as professionalism and coming to understand the significance of every single crew member's job on the set, and only together can we make this amazing thing happen."
On the big screen, Scorsone's credits include Borderline Normal, The Devil's Arithmetic, The Third Miracle and the upcoming political thriller Edge of Darkness starring Mel Gibson, Danny Huston and Ray Winstone. "I can't say too much about the story because I don't want to spoil it," teases the actress. "But I can tell you that I loved working with Martin Campbell, who's a fantastic British director. My role is a really cool one, too, and I have a South Boston accent in the movie, which was a fun challenge for me to do."
While she might work in an industry that is based on make-believe, it is very much the down-to-earth aspects that make an acting career rewarding for Scorsone. "When you first come onto a project it's like the Land of the Misfit Toys, where you meet everyone at base camp and it's all these people who never saw themselves working a traditional 9 to 5 job," she muses. "For whatever reason, we were all attracted to this nomadic-like, caravan lifestyle where the stories and the challenges are always changing.
"Everyone is willing to live in this kind of uncertain way where you go from job to job and don't know what tomorrow will bring. There's a heart to it as well as a tenacity and a courage that tends to inspire on every project. You get to witness these moments of fantastic humanity at 3 in the morning when it's freezing cold and everyone is trying to get the shot. There's a support that everyone throws into the ring for one another when you're in these unusual situations, and it's a privilege to be part of such a team."
See the conclusion of Alice tonight, Monday, December 7th, from 9:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. EST on The Syfy Channel.
As noted above, all photos by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!