Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore returns to the sci-fi genre he helped redefine with his new series Helix, debuting Friday, January 10 at 10 PM ET on Syfy with the Pilot episode, followed directly by "Vector" in this two-hour premiere with limited commercial interruptions.
The series centers on a team from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who investigate a strange outbreak at a research facility in Antarctica. Series star Kyra Zagorsky (Dr. Julia Walker) and executive producer Steven Maeda recently held a conference call where they discussed what's in store for viewers during this 10-episode season, including comparisons to zombie shows, a room on the set called "the freezer," and the support they received from the network.
Of course, horror and sci-fi fans may draw parallels to the 1982 classic The Thing (and the 2011 remake), which were set in Antarctica. When asked about this setting, Steven Maeda talked about how well it worked out for them.
"It's a setting that is great for us because it's not the newest setting under the sun. It seems familiar enough, but I think we're doing a pretty interesting spin on it. And what works for us really well is that it lends itself to a very claustrophobic environment because you can go outside but only for brief periods of time. It's really dangerous. The weather is horrible, as I'm sure people who are in the Midwest and the East Coast right now can relate to. And what it does is it forces you to be inside most of the time and that's how we really saw this. That's how Cameron (Porsandeh), who wrote the pilot script, really envisioned the thing to begin with, which was a contained environment, someplace, you know, it's almost like being set on a spaceship where you're trapped inside with, you know, unseen horrors and then there're all sorts of human problems as well that develop from that. So it really lends itself to the series as a whole."
The show uses Montreal to double for Antarctica in the series, although Kyra Zagorsky spoke about one particular room on the set known as the freezer.
"Yes, it was pretty incredible. We had a room that we called the freezer. If you were shooting in the freezer that day, that was sort of a joke. But the fake snow and how they would do it, they'd get the fans going, and it was - it looks incredible and the only thing that was tricky is it was supposed to be freezing, we had these huge arctic, you know, coats on. But there were a couple of times that we did end up moving the set outside to shoot some of the outside scenes just because we needed a bit more space and that ended up being a little bit more helpful and easier to breathe, too, when you're dealing with some of the fake snow stuff. But it was a lot of fun and it looks amazing."
If you have seen the trailers for the show, the outbreak that the CDC team is investigating does seem to be similar to zombie invasion, although that isn't exactly the case. While Steven Maeda doesn't necessarily mind the comparisons to zombie shows, he talked about how Helix stands apart from those shows.
"I don't mind that, but we're really trying to not make it a zombie show. I would say the main difference about our vectors, as we call them, is that they are not kind of mindless sort of eating machines. And that's something that you'll see in later episodes. They're very scary and they're human and they look horrible. But our team will discover teams into and around the virus and also what we're going to find out about the vectors is that they're incredibly smart and so they retain a lot of their intelligence, if not their humanity, which I think makes them very different from zombies. And you know what? The comparisons will come and that's okay. But we're really trying to do something that feels different than the typical zombie show."
Kyra Zagorsky added that this show is based on actual epidemics and outbreaks
"I think also since the show is based in real science, there're real life epidemic scares out there throughout history where there're these huge viruses that have wiped out huge populations and so we're dealing with something that the CDC hasn't seen before, but it comes from a virus. And so that's something that's based in reality. And then you put the science fiction on that and it's a really interesting combination. I think that's another thing that makes it unique."
Steven Maeda also spoke about how Syfy and Sony Pictures Television wanted them to go far outside of the box with this show.
"As I stand back now and look back at the season that we're finishing up, is Syfy in particular - both Sony and Syfy - but Syfy really wanted us to get out of the box of a typical outbreak show. And from the very beginning, you know, the pilot was a great template and really set the stage for us. But then Syfy just gave us free reign and said, you know, between studio networks, Ronald D. Moore, and everybody, we all tried to put our heads together and say what can we do? Where can we take this show where it starts in one place and then goes someplace hopefully really unexpected where we want the audience to play along and say, "Hey, I know what's going to happen here. Of course, it's going to be this," and then have it be something completely different. And we tried to do that with creative choices we made, with story ideas, with some casting choices, whether characters live or die, with music choices, with how we edited the show. And so that was really fun to have the creative freedom to be able to get outside of the typical show box."
When asked if she was given a detailed character breakdown after landing the role, Kyra Zagorsky said she really had to discover the character for herself.
"I had to discover it. I had to discover everything and that was, I think, part of the fun in being on the show. It was so exciting. You could not wait to get your next script to see what was going to happen to you. But there were a couple of things. The only information I got was that I had a history with Billy-with 'Alan'-and with his brother, 'Peter,' who's played by Neil. So, that was the only information that I was given. So that was interesting. By the time I was working through the third episode, that was the piece when I really felt I'd gotten myself kind of grounded into the character. I feel like when I find the character's darkness, when everything opens up emotionally, that's when I started going, "Okay, now I'm starting to really feel like I've got a handle on her." And what was great is, when I first got up to Montreal and I met with Cameron and Jeffrey Reiner, we had a talk and I just realized this is my role. This is it, you know. So I have no idea what's to come, but I have to just trust that I'm her and start working with her. Steve was great to work with, too; when a new script would come out and I had questions about things, I would always write to him and I'd have a dialogue with him about things, just figuring out what her character is made of. So it became a really interesting team collaboration. It was pretty incredible. But it was all a big surprise for me."