Is the future of TV shows relying on video games? This is the guess of the makers of Defiance, the new sci-fi show launched on Syfy, where humans and aliens alternate rivalry and cooperation thirty years after a war that devastated the planet. For the first time, a TV show is inseparable from its interactive version which takes form of a massively multiplayer shooter: the events that rythm the world of Defiance are simultaneously reflected both in the show and in the game. To help us navigate through the two sides of this same world, an appointment was held IRL with sherif Nolan, played on screen by the charismatic Grant Bowler, to talk about his double life as a human living alongside aliens and a digitalized creature controlled by humans… or the other way round.
First of all, thank you for greeting us Mr Bowler.
Hi, nice to meet you! Sorry I made you waiting, they were finishing some make-up fix on me. I think I don’t really need any make-up anymore for today, but whatever, let’s start the interview.
How did you get involved into this crazy project ?
Well, it was an interresting one, especially since I said 15 years ago that I will not do a sci-fi show again. I had to spend so much time in make-up that I sworn I would never do it again. So the fact that I’m now playing this character on a Syfy show is a thing I would have tought impossible. My agency representative knew it so well that when the project came to them, they just asked if I would come in without even telling me what the show was about. Coincidentely I was visiting a friend acting in True Blood, because the casting director was the same. All of a sudden, he told me “How did you come in Defiance?” I was just like “hey… what is Defiance ?”. Once they explained, I was conviced about getting involved but kept on telling that if I spend seven hours a day in makeup I can’t do it, I’m way too hyperactive, I’ll never sit this long enough.
You definitely have a problem with make-up?
I’m good for that if it’s 20 minutes long. I’m lucky on Defiance because I just have one costume, plus I don’t have to stay clean, it’s even the opposite as make-up artists keep on putting little dirt on me. They don’t have to make me up, it keeps me out, so I’m very lucky.
How did you know you were the right guy for the show?
I would say: synchronicity. Sometimes it’s a role you really want to play since you believe you’re the right guy for it but it just doesn’t happen, and sometimes it’s inevitable. Defiance just kept on happening closer and closer to me. It’s exactly what I was looking for a long time here in the US. I’ve done several TV shows before as a regular character in Australia, I know how much work and comitement is needed. Especially regarding my position in the show, you do nothing but work. That kind of commitement is something I was really unprepared to make, unless I felt 100% interested. But Defiance is for me: I feel as if I can play Nolan for ten years and still have a ball. I’m fascinated by the show, by its fusion with the game, by the post apocalyptic alien thing and the cheer complexity of the universe that was created.
In the story, your character sherif Joshua Nolan has to collaborate with aliens, even if he doesn’t like them (he lost his wife and daughter during an alien invasion). Would you do the same IRL?
Well, personnally, I would not trust them. It’s interesting, beccause in the back story of Defiance, the current alien inhabitants of the city came in peace, they only wanted to immigrate. I hate to say this, but I would probably distrust them and be fearful too. You know, as human beings, we have the terror of the others and that’s why we create tribes, flags, nations, we are obsessed by the notion of “us” versus “them”. And then, when we get tired of fighting with each other, we create vampires, werewolves, frankenstein, aliens: another us that is not us. I would hope to collaborate but the truth is I think I would be frightened.
It may be possible that I’m an alien myself, you never know.
I won’t be surprised. When I was a kid I thought there were aliens around me looking like real people, it was a terrifiying thing.
Luckily in the show you can easily recognize them. You adoptive daughter Irisa has a quite distinctive appearance.
True, and they are all also very distinctive. What I like about aliens in Defiance is the idea of seven races. Some could be your best friends while some hate humans for inexplicable reasons. Sometimes they can get stuck in wars between themselves more than with humans, it’s a complex story.
Besides the tv show, people will find your character in the Defiance game. How does it feel to be digitalized?
It’s something I’ve never done before, it’s very strange to look at, it’s the oddest sensation. I’m very used to being filmed, which results in a true representation, a photographic image of you. Being animated through a computer is different, it’s almost like being stolen. There are members of tribes in some countries that hate photography, they believe a part of their esssence will be stolen by photograph.
I heard about that, they say it can “steal your soul”.
That’s right, I felt like I was losing control. It’s still me doing what I do, but with 3D animation, someone just can make you move and act the way he wants. And the computer rendering of the image is so good, it’s truly an off-putting thing.
So basically it makes you feel like a digital puppet?
Yeah, it’s like a puppet being made of you.
Isn’t that crazy when you think that legions of people around the world will play with your puppet?
Even more insane: I can log on and play with me. Which means I can actually exist in two places, I can live through my own character. That’s getting existential.
Are you a gamer yourself?
Oh, a lot, I’m veteran gamer. I probably started with the original Dune and MS-DOS games.
By the way, did you know that Dune was made in France ? They were just two guys making it (Philippe Ulrich and Stephane Picq)
Oh, really? Thank you for letting me know, I was completeley addicted to Dune, oh my God! Talking about other games I enjoyed, I would probably say the Command & Conquer series, then Civilization ruined my life for a long time, the first two or three ones. Then I played MMOs with Everquest, a little bit of World of Warcraft, but Eve Online is my truly long time addiction, I have been playing it for 10 years. I’m travelling so much, it’s cool to sit down and play, but once you log in, you don’t want to get off, Eve is terrible on that way, but it’ so much fun. It’s exactly what I did this morning before working: I woke up, got my shower, wore my shoes, got my my tea, then I logged on.
Do you think games still exist in the world of Defiance?
No. One of the things that have been done in Defiance is to question what existing technology is still around in this near future, what media, what leisure. Video games are not.
So in 30 years video games are gone?
Yes. Not saying that they couldn’t come back, but they are no more. Maybe people will actually be living inside them.
Do you mean that real life in Defiance is already exciting enough?
Exactly, maybe people don’t have the need for it anymore.
Back to our world, did you ever went to a place and felt as if it was totally out-of-this world?
I had this experience many times, I remember the high plains in Bolivia when you can witness very bright colored lakes: you got bright pink, bright blue, a totally sci-fi looking green, and incredible barren landscapes around. Another strange place is in the border between Chile and Bolivia, in the Atacama desert, where it hasn’t rained for 400 years. When you leave the border from Chile, there are thirty miles before you hit the gate to Bolivia, the strech doesn’t belong to anyone. There, in the middle of nowhere, a man built three enormous swimming pools, Once a week, all the local villagers of both countries from a hundred miles around jump on the back of big trucks and come in. The guy charges everyone 12 cents to get in the pool. When I was starring at this surreal scene I thought I was in another planet.