[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_2975" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="Defying Gravity's Dr. Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell). Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC."][/caption]
On the surface, Dr. Evram Mintz appears ready to take his first step into the unknown. As a member of the International Space Organization (ISO), he participated in a five-year program in preparation for six-year mission onboard the spaceship Antares to explore the other planets in our solar system. However, like his fellow shipmates, Evram brings with him some emotional and psychological baggage that could compromise his ability to care for the physical and mental well-being of those around him. Facing his inner demons is not easy for Evram, but for the actor who plays him on Defying Gravity, Eyal Podell, it is part of discovering just who his character is.
"Evram is the Antares crew physician, psychiatrist, resident drunk and in many ways voice of reality," says Podell, who is dressed in his character's flight suit and waiting in his trailer to be called to set. "The greatest [acting] challenge with him came, I think, when my conception of the character changed. Once all the roles were cast and everyone came together, we realized that between Zahf [Paroo], who plays Ajay Sharma, Florentine [Lahme], who plays Nadia, and Peter Howitt [who plays Trevor Williams], we already had three or four different accents on the show.
"So [executive producers] Jim Parriott and Michael Edelstein said, 'Let's strip the accent away from your character.' That immediately sent me right back to ground zero because I felt in many ways that one of Evram's defining characteristics was his foreign personality [Israeli] and point of view. So having to kind of start from the ground up again was a bit of a challenge, and then in the first few scripts there wasn't much character revelation or backstory with Evram. However, as episodes four, five, six, seven and eight came along, more and more of Evram's history began coming through," enthuses the actor, "so that allowed me to piece him together.
"In general, astronauts have to be terribly brave, visionary and optimistic people, and part of my challenge was figuring out what the hell was Evram doing here. That meant talking with Jim and Michael about exactly why he wanted to be part of this mission, other than the grandeur of being one of the first humans to travel to these other planets. There must have been something else behind it, and answering that question helped me form a clearer picture of my character. Evram has a dim view of humanity and he's experienced the trauma of war. He has been involved in some of the big Middle Eastern conflicts that have taken place in the future, and those experiences obviously shaped his outlook on life as well as humankind.
[caption id="attachment_2976" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Evram ponders what situation might unfold next onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
"Maybe it was a subconscious choice of Evram's to get on a spaceship and get as far away as possible from his own flaws, including his issues with alcohol and war. If he's billions of miles away, he doesn't have to be drafted, or read on the Internet or watch on the news the non-stop footage of bombings, killings and murders - the atrocities that man commits against man."
Was it destiny that led Podell to his role on Defying Gravity? Ironically, when he was in 10th grade, the actor wrote a term paper about being a doctor. "Then, though, I realized I didn't have the stomach to go to medical school and spend however long it would take with internships, residencies and all that other stuff," he recalls.
"However, my parents raised me with the idea that an education is your ticket in life. One of the really important things they did for me was make sure I went to a good college [Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire] so that I would have the proper foundation and tools to pursue whatever [career] I wanted. So I actually came into this business thinking, 'OK, I'll try this for a little while and see what happens,' but I soon found that it was almost like a drug. You get a little bit of the joy early on and become hooked. From there, I chipped away at it [acting] and built a resume role-by-role. Just a few years ago I booked my first regular job on a soap opera [The Young and the Restless] and landing Defying Gravity is my first big break."
The pilot episode of Defying Gravity establishes that the story is told in present day (2052) and in space with the Antares crew - four men and four women - as well as in flashbacks where the astronauts first meet and start their mission training. Audiences also see that despite Evram Mintz's rather dark and grim view of the human race, he has not scared away someone who truly cares about him.
[caption id="attachment_2977" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Dr. Evram Mintz during training for the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
"In the first episode we're introduced to my character's love interest, Dr. Claire Dereux, played by Maxine Roy, and it would appear that she and Evram have been in a relationship for a number of years," notes Podell. "And it's been interesting to find out through the flashback element of the show how they came to be in that relationship. It's also a little strange because in the flashbacks we're all just meeting as a crew, so we don't quite know each other that well yet. However, in the present day, we've already been through five years of training, so what does that mean in terms of our relationships? Which of our strengths as well as weaknesses did we reveal to each other during training? What personal struggles have we seen one another experience? Have we been there for each other as shoulders to cry on? Have we picked one another up off the ground and said, 'Come on, get back on the horse.' Have we had fist-fights? Who knows?
"So there's a while lot of history to be filled in. However, what we do sort of assume is that we've reached a point where we can look around at each other and say, 'I trust you with my life.' There's a camaraderie among the crew. They're a family, and they have to be because they're going to be together for a very long time. That being said, even with your brothers and sisters, you feel like 'killing them' sometimes, which I think is a compelling aspect of our show, especially in that these people are essentially locked under one roof."
Acting-wise, has it been difficult for Podell jockeying between flashbacks and present day? "It's not so much the bouncing back and forth as to who we [the characters] are, but more how we relate to one another," he says. "With relationships in general, you come into them being neutral. So as our characters come into the [training] program, they look at one another and think, 'Oh, there's a guy, and there's a girl.' The exceptions to that are those who have reputations, like Maddux Donner [Ron Livingston], Ted Shaw [Malik Yoba] and some of the other astronauts who have done some incredible things. However, the rest of these people look at each other and they don't know one another from a hole in the wall, so they don't have any preconceived notions.
"As the series begins to unfold, we see our characters in the flashbacks start to uncover pieces about each other. They then gather all this 'evidence' up and we sort of see how that affects their perception of one another. So the flashback elements are fascinating in that our characters are still trying to pull things out of each other and fill in the gaps. It's a strange dynamic, and in some ways I feel like those scenes are much more fun to play when it comes to character development."
[caption id="attachment_2978" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Evram on-duty in the Antares' sickbay. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
As far as a favorite Defying Gravity episode, one immediately comes to the actor's mind. "Part of our characters' training involves having to back each other up job-wise if necessary," explains Podell. "So as a physician, Evram has to teach the other astronaut candidates something about medicine. So that was a fun episode where I really got to play doctor and 'perform' surgeries and things of that nature. As an actor, I'd never had to do scenes like that before involving medical jargon, special effects, blood and guts and cool equipment like you see on TV. Evram also gets to share some of his backstory with the other characters, which I was pleased about.
"Funnily enough, my wife went in for surgery not too long ago to have her appendix removed. I wanted to make her feel at ease, so I was trying to make light of the moment and asked the surgeons, 'Do you want me to scrub up? I've had some experience.' I started throwing words around that I'd used in the show and the doctors were looking at me as if to say, 'Hey, you know your stuff.' I had a photo taken on my cell phone of me on-set, which I showed to the surgeon and said, 'See, I've been there.' Meanwhile, my wife is rolling her eyes and saying, 'He just plays a doctor on TV. Don't let him near me,'" chuckles the actor.
While Sci-Fi drama is nothing new to TV, Podell is hoping that audiences look deeper into Defying Gravity and discover what makes it different. "Michael Edelstein and Jim Parriott refer to this as Science Fact, and I think that's very interesting given that we're right on the cusp of these [real world] advancements with the European Space Agency as well as China and a whole new space race that's being launched," muses the actor. "All these things are relevant because our show looks at what's going to happen with the space program 30 or 40 years from now. Although the series is set in the future, it's not so far ahead that you can't comprehend it. I think audiences will be curious to see what our technology might be capable of and where humanity might be headed as far as working together to explore the universe.
"There is also the fact that the stakes with space travel are quite high from a very real perspective because our characters don't have transporters or any of the typical Sci-Fi devices. For example, they're still vulnerable to the affects of exposure to space on the human body. I think it's in the pilot where Donner says something like, 'When exposed to the vacuum of space, humans are like pinatas. We just explode, burst, freeze, die, etc.' So it's a fine line between life and death, which is always intriguing. And then there is the mystery element to our story, in that what are we going to find when we get out there in the universe.
[caption id="attachment_2979" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Evram Mintz standing in one of the Antares corridors. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
"Jim and Michael have some really cool stuff planned when it comes to planting things along the way and piquing the audience's interest to make people wonder what's going to happen next."
In addition to Defying Gravity, the actor's other TV credits include CSI: NY, ER, The West Wing, House and Without A Trace as well as recurring roles on 24 and The Game. On the big screen, Podell made his debut playing Al Pacino's son in The Insider, and has since appeared in such movies as Unconditional Love, Blowing Smoke and the independent feature Hard Scrambled. His fans perhaps best know him for his two-year stint on the aforementioned The Young and the Restless, as well as his multiple episode arc as Ryan Burnett in season seven of 24.
"24 was a lot of fun," says Podell. "It was great to be back on-set with Kurtwood Smith, who played my boss [Senator Blaine Mayer] in the show. He also played my boss in a little independent film we both worked on. Kurtwood tortured me in that, and here I was getting tortured by Kiefer Sutherland [Jack Bauer] in 24," jokes the actor. "It was awesome getting to watch Kiefer at work. I'm always looking to learn from people who have been in this business longer than I have and have endured. Kiefer gave 150% of himself. he was the hardest working guy on-set and totally dedicated and committed to making the best product possible. Not one ounce of him was phoning it in, and I thought that was amazing.
"The response I received from people about my being in the show was terrific. The second they saw me on it, they started saying, 'You're going to die, right? He's going to kill you. That's what happens. If you're with Jack Bauer, you're dead.' So that was tough having to keep my mouth shut about it for a few months. Of course, my character got tortured and then had his throat slit. I don't know why, but I tend to get killed a lot on TV. Hopefully that won't happen here," he says laughing.
No matter where his career takes him, Podell will never forget something Gene Hackman said to him and a group of other actors during a break on the set of Behind Enemy Lines. "One day we were all sitting around - these young actors playing sailors and naval airmen - and nervously pretending to do something else other than stare at Gene Hackman while he was sitting there reading a book," says the actor.
[caption id="attachment_2980" align="aligncenter" width="199" caption="Evram monitors a situation while on-duty on the Antares flight deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC"][/caption]
"Gene could sense that we were all hoping that he would say something, so he looked up and asked, 'Do you guys still audition?' It was a totally redundant question,which he knew, and we were all like, 'Sure.' And he said, 'Man, I used to love to audition.' At first I thought, 'Why?' and then it dawned on me that he got to be the success he is because there was nothing else he'd rather do than walk into a roomful of strangers and put on a 'show' for two minutes. It wasn't about being in Yugoslavia and filming a multi-million dollar feature for Fox Studios. It was about the bare minimum of that moment in the audition room, and that for two minutes a day, a week, twice a week, whatever, you get to entertain people. Learning little lessons like that early on in my career is what continues to serve me well in this business."
Steve EramoDefying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and OmniFilmProductions, in association with the BBC, Canada's CTV and Germany's ProSieben. As noted above, photos by Kharen Hill or Sergei Bachlakov 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!