[caption id="attachment_3045" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Dr. Tess Fontana (Jaime Ray Newman) and Sheriff Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) have an unconventional introduction to one another in the Eureka episode "Insane in the P-Brane." Photo by Marcel Williams and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
Over the past several decades, the brilliant minds working at Eureka's Global Dynamics have been responsible for countless scientific breakthroughs intended to benefit humankind. Unfortunately, there are certain discoveries and inventions either far too dangerous or not yet perfected and must therefore be kept under tight lock and key. Such things are confined to Section 5, the most highly-secured of areas at GD. After an incident involving "the Artifact," the section was closed down, but this (third) season, it was reopened to deal with a new threat. GD's managing director, Dr. Allison Blake, called in an old friend, Dr. Tess Fontana, to get Section 5 up and running again. Although she has only been in town a short time, Tess has already made quite an impression on the locals, especially Sheriff Jack Carter.
"Tess is very passionate, spirited, quirky and brilliant; of course everyone in Eureka is brilliant, Jack Carter [Colin Ferguson] being in his own way the most brilliant," says actress Jaime Ray Newman, who plays Tess on Eureka. "She is also a very focused gal who marches to her own drumbeat. My character comes to town to work on some extraterrestrial findings that have been unearthed. Tess ends up sticking around a lot longer than she ever imagined, and along the way a romance kindles between her and Jack.
"I hadn't really done much Sci-Fi before this, so it was a matter of getting used to helping tell a story where the town and Earth are constantly in peril and about to explode. With something like that, it's important to keep that momentum up and keep things feeling like, 'Oh, this time it really is going to happen.' It's one big adventure after another, and playing that every week is a challenge, but it's a blast as well. It's not hard to show Tess' enthusiasm about the science because it mirrors my own excitement about acting and working in the arts. So it's an easy transference for me."
[caption id="attachment_3046" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Jack and Tess must figure out a way out of the Fifth Dimension in "Insane in the P-Brane." Photo by Marcel Williams and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
Newman's character is introduced in the season three Eureka episode Insane in the P-Brane. Tess barely has time to settle into her new office at GD when a scientist who has been studying paranormal activity appears to go mad. Are his condition and the ghostly happenings around town somehow connected to the reopening of Section 5? As Tess and Carter get close to finding out the answer to that, they end up in another dimension.
"The toughest part of my first episode was the language," recalls Newman. "Because of the story, I was bogged down with a lot of technobabble, so the trick was getting those words out and somehow managing to act at the same time. So that was definitely a challenge, but from the get-go, Colin and the rest of the cast as well as the crew have been amazing. These are the nicest people I have ever worked with. Everyone has been very supportive and patient, and I honestly love the character they [the producers/writers] have created for me. Tess is funny and speaks the truth, which sometimes gets her in trouble," chuckles the actress.
"I'll never forget our last day of work on this episode. It was all done on-location with a second unit [film] crew and Matt Hastings [consulting producer] worked with us. We filmed the very first scene where Jack and Tess meet on the side of the road and she's somewhat irreverent towards him. Then we also did the last scene where the two of them are lying on the ground looking up at the sky. It had rained every day of the shoot except this particular one. It was a gorgeous fall day and the leaves on the trees were beautiful. It's hard to explain, but the scenes were the types of exchanges where my character and Colin's just got to be two people who are finding each other."
[caption id="attachment_3048" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Jack and Tess in the Eureka episode "Ship Happens." Photo by Marcel Williams and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
Although Tess is developing relationships with all the characters on the show, her main ones are with Allison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) and Jack Carter. "Allison and Tess have been friends for years," says Newman. "The two of them went to graduate school together, so they share a long history and a real kinship. Tess considers Allison to be a great pillar of strength at GD and she has a lot of respect for her. On top of that, Allison is going to be raising two kids on her own. She's a pretty amazing woman, and Salli plays her so beautifully. Salli is such a leader and really sets a precedent on-set. Everyone does, though. Colin, Salli, Joe Morton [Henry Deacon], they all come to work and do a bang-up job and are respected by the crew.
"As for Tess and Jack, they start out at odds with one another. She's this pistol who kind of walks in, takes her territory and Jack is like, 'Hey, who the heck do you think you are?' Ultimately, they go through all these crazy things together, like getting stuck in the Fifth Dimension, which creates a bond between them and they find out they have a lot in common and really like each other. One of my favorite episodes is You Don't Know Jack, where Allison has her baby. Along the way, we all lose our memories and Jack has to help Tess piece together how she knows him. Colin and I really got to do some acting there. It wasn't just about the planet being in danger or some nano-technological technobabble, but rather two people connecting, and that to me is always the most fun. I know the writers like writing scenes like that, but there's not alot of time for that sort of stuff. So when we get it, I don't waste a second of it."
Having appeared onstage in her first Equity professional play when she was just 12 years old, Newman went on to study acting and English literature at Boston University's School for the Arts theatre conservatory for two years before transferring to Northwestern University in Chicago. After graduating, she spent a year-and-a-half working on the ABC daytime drama General Hospital.
[caption id="attachment_3050" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Tess is helped through a life-and-death situation by an old friend, Dr. Bruce Manius (Billy Campbell), in "Shower the People." Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
"Talk about a great training ground," notes the actress. "I come from a theater background, and onstage there's a real freedom. You can do whatever you want, within the confines of the character you've created, of course. Every night can be different and you don't have to be worried about hitting your mark, being lit in a certain way, etc.
"It's not that theater isn't a technical craft like films, but in my mind it's a much less self-conscious craft. When you're in front of a camera it's not easy to ignore that big thing in front of your face that captures your every blink. So I still feel like I'm working on having that same freedom in front of a camera. I look at someone like Colin Ferguson, and you never feel like he's acting because he is so easy with it. So Colin has been a good role model for me to watch, especially with comedy. There's almost a musicality to the way he performs."
A Line in the Sand, Catch Me If You Can and the forthcoming The Gauntlet are among Newman's feature film credits. On the small screen, she has appeared in a number of made-for-TV movies and guest-starred on such popular series as Supernatural, Bones, Medium, Nip/Tuck and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The actress was also seen in the recurring role of Mindy O'Dell on Veronica Mars, while her first Sci-Fi experience was on Stargate Atlantis as Lt. Laura Cadman in the episode Duet.
[caption id="attachment_3051" align="aligncenter" width="207" caption="Jaime Ray Newman at Comic-Con 2009. Photo by Evans Vestal Ward and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
"Veronica Mars was awesome," enthuses Newman. "I'm a huge fan of Rob Thomas [series creator/executive producer] and I loved working with Ed Begley Jr., who played my husband [Cyrus]. My character is a murder suspect kind of straight out of the gate, and early on I made the decision to play her in a very film noir, femme fatale, Veronica Lake-type of way. That was really different for me and I loved the challenge.
"With Stargate Atlantis, all I can say is that David Hewlett [Dr. Rodney McKay] was such a rock star. The first episode I did was sort of an homage to the movie All of Me with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. My character's consciousness was trapped inside Dr. McKay's body and David was so good at all the physical stuff that the storyline called for. You could just tell when we were shooting that it was going to be a classic episode, and it really was."
It was back in college that the actress also discovered her love of music. While living in Chicago, she performed with her own jazz quartet along with the popular funk band Sweet, Sweet Candy. Nowadays when not acting, Newman spends part of her time performing with her cover band School Boy Crush. This fall, the actress will be playing Kat Rougemont opposite Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price and Paul Gross in the new ABC series Eastwick. As with all her jobs, this one is sure to be yet another learning experience.
"As an actress. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to meet people who are inspiring and aren't afraid to creatively stretch themselves," says Newman. "Again, it's about being around someone like Colin Ferguson, who is that good all day long. A while back I did a play [Turnaround] with David Schwimmer, and watching him do eight shows a week was just amazing. I recently did a play that [writer/producer/director] Neil LaBute directed, which was incredible, too. So for me, the best part about this job is watching others who are really free within their craft and sharing in that creative energy."
Steve EramoAs noted above, photos by Marcel Williams or Evans Vestal Ward and copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!