Jaime Murray as Stahma Tarr in DEFIANCE | © 2014 Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

Jaime Murray as Stahma Tarr in DEFIANCE | © 2014 Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

In Part 2 of Assignment X’s exclusive interview with Kevin Murphy, the co-creator/executive producer/show runner of Syfy’s DEFIANCE, he talks about metaphor, Votan races and why he never wants to work with feathers again.

AX: At what point did you realize the series was in part a metaphor for human on human interaction?

KEVIN MURPHY: I think that was always part of it. I’m as proud of this show as anything I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of stuff over the years, and I think it’s really a testament to, we were in a supportive environment with a lot of lead time and a lot of ability to experiment and that’s really when I felt very passionate. I tend to be pretty accommodating, but when I feel passionate – “No, this is not what the show is” – I always feel heard. And I think that’s come out in the final product. The show gets better and better and better as it goes along.

Michael Nankin, our [producing] director, had his moment, because the budget for the series was finite, it was not as much as we spent on the pilot. How we made more money happen was by cross-boarding and making things happen more effectively. Clara George, our producer, is just a genius in stretching a dollar. There was a point where Michael Nankin goes, “No. I love the box. Put me in a box – I will make the box amazing.” And he said this – it was kind of like the dad in BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD yelling at the hurricane. It was Michael Nankin saying, “Cut my money, cut my scenes – I will make it fantastic!” [laughs] I was there and I was like, “Oh, my God. I would march into the maw of Hell for this man.” And I think that’s something that really has come out – as the show moves forward, even in the episodes where we have to imaginatively figure out how to do it, how to execute the show on the timetable and the budget that we have, because the show is so insanely ambitious. There are science-fiction shows on Netflix that have way more budget than we have.

I’ve been running this show like we’re doing Equity-waiver theatre. I am about empowering – I want every single person on this show to feel like they’re an artist. Because the people who feel like they’re artists, they will give you their all. Because nobody ever gets that experience. And you have to kind of have the humility to let people be themselves. You have to allow people to have ideas that are different than yours, and if it doesn’t hurt the overall, it may not have been my choice, but that doesn’t make it invalid. And that’s what keeps Equity-waiver theatre and community theatre going, which is my background, and you get actors who own the roles – they go that extra mile. Like Tony Curran [who plays Datak Tarr] and Jaime Murray [who plays Stahma Tarr], they take such pride in their mastery of the alien languages, if you walked up to Tony right now and said, “Talk to me in Castithan,” I guarantee he would.

And the reason that he does is because our job, as the people at the top, we have to create an environment in which we inspire the artist in Tony Curran, that this isn’t a job where you’re collecting a paycheck, this is a job where you’re getting to do something really special, to do something that you care about, do something that you’re proud of, do something that you can look back on. And that goes to David Peterson who does our language, it goes to Michael Nankin, who challenges the universe to bring on the box and he will make an excellent television show regardless.

AX: Did the Irathients used to be Eboliants or something? Did the species change?

MURPHY: The larger mythological structure I think stayed the same. The specific characters and their dynamics and how they bounced off each other were markedly different.

AX: Can you talk about the thinking about making the mayor and the madam sisters? Was that to show that all professions are relatively equal in the town of Defiance?

MURPHY: I thought that was a cool thing, because it helped make it clear that Amanda [the new mayor, played by Julie Benz] is not ashamed of her sister [madam Kenya, played by Mia Kirshner], but when she has issues about it, it makes her job as mayor awkward, because people are upset because their husband doesn’t want to be home and is going to the whorehouse, and that’s a real problem for a woman in a marriage, or a man, because it’s pansexual and pan-racial. And we portray it as, Amanda listens to this and she slaps a woman in the face and basically says, “Screw you.” It’s a very shocking moment in the episode, because Amanda’s like, “That’s not who we are here. My sister is running a legitimate business, and if you can’t control your partner’s actions, then maybe you need another partner.”

And I think that’s something that’s very true – you blame the person who administers the service. It’s like blaming the bookie for someone who has a gambling problem. And I think that was a thing that was good post-our current culture statement about why this world is a little bit different, why the perspective and the lens is a little different than the one that we apply for what is proper and what is right in [2014].

AX: Is it also sort of a practical matter to have someone regularly in of one of the spaces where people are most likely to gather and be hot-blooded?

Julie Benz as Amanda Rosewater in DEFIANCE | © 2014 Mark Holzberg/Syfy

Julie Benz as Amanda Rosewater in DEFIANCE | © 2014 Mark Holzberg/Syfy

MURPHY: Sure. If it’s 90210, you always want the character that has the job at the Peach Pit. And it also helps the show be sexy, because what I really love about what Mia has brought to the show and brought to the character of Kenya is, she’s brought such earnestness and love and positive energy that she really makes the world of the NeedWant very aspirational and very beautiful and almost lovely and sacred. And that’s the kind of thing that Mia just brings as a performer.

AX: There are seven species of Votan, but we see some more than others …

MURPHY: The main characters are the Irathients and the Castithans. We’re going to see a lot of them, because their makeup is the cheapest [laughs]. It’s cost-effective. The Indogenes, like Doc Yewll [Trenna Keating], they’re more expensive. We pay thirty grand every time we see a new Indogene. The Indogenes are hard. Paul Jones, who does our prosthetics, he says that we’re using every single trick that he’s ever learned on every project. Usually, you’ll use one or two of your big tricks. He’s used them all on this project. Steve Geaghan has said the same about production design – every little trick he learned doing low-budget shows, and doing OUTER LIMITS and TWILIGHT ZONE and things on bigger-budget shows like V – he’s used every single trick with us. Our makeup artists, Colin Penman and Ryan Reed, who do hair and makeup, [took] a long time figuring out what level of makeup [various actors require]. There’s a level where it’s too subtle and they look human, and then there’s a level where it’s pancaked on and they look like clowns. It really took a lot of effort to make them work. There are a couple of scenes in the pilot where you can see, if you know what you’re looking for, you can see where we were still experimenting.

AX: Were there any characters or plotlines that popped for you in a way you weren’t expecting when you started out?

MURPHY: Yes, constantly. I don’t think anybody expected Trenna Keating as Doc Yewll to pop the way she did with fans. Trenna actually worked for the casting director in Toronto, and she would be the actor who would read the off-screen camera lines with the person who was actually auditioning, and she asked if she could audition and we said, “Yes.” And I loved her, submitted her for approval to the network, and the network promptly said, “No.” I said, “What’s wrong?” They said, “Well, she’s too funny.” So I wrote a dark scene for her. And we recorded her again. “Ah, she’s too dark and she’s playing with her clipboard.” So we shot it again without the clipboard. And then I started writing new scenes for her, tailored to her specifically, because I really believe in her as an actress. And finally, we ran out of time because we had to order the contact lenses and do the mold for the face, and they gave up fighting me and we cast her. And I’m so gratified that people love Doc Yewll, because nobody really expected that that would be a breakout character.

AX: Was there anything that turned out to be particularly difficult in making the show that you hadn’t thought was going to be that tough when you started out?

MURPHY: Feathers. Feathers are really, really hard because of the CGI, because the filaments are so thin that when you had a character like Rynn from Season 1, who had feathers as part of her costume, or Mia’s character when she was in front of green screen, feathers made it incredibly difficult and they had to be rotoscoped with our VFX team, so they said, “Please, no more feathers on any characters.” You would never have guessed, “Oh, that’s going to be a problem technically.”

AX: None of the Votan races are feathered, right?

MURPHY: Yeah. So we’re all good.

AX: Do you have a favorite episode from Season 1?

MURPHY: Episode Ten has practically no visual effects, and I think it’s our best episode, because it’s all about the people and the characters. There’s a scene between Datak and Stahma, which is pivotal in their relationship, and there’s no monsters, there’s no big crazy things exploding, and having watched every episode a million times, I find myself emotionally engaged by that episode.

AX: In Season 2, do we see more of the Votan races that we didn’t see much of in Season 1?

MURPHY: Yes. We’ve talked about Gulanee, but we’ve never actually seen them. They’re the rarest of the Votan races. They’re a gaseous, radioactive, sentient mist that exist within containment suits. When the Arks crashed, most of the containment suits were destroyed, it killed most of the Gulanee. So they are the absolute rarest upon rarest. We’ve seen one Gulanee in the videogame, and we meet one Gulanee [in Season 2]. And the Gulanee is an eight-foot-tall woman. They all are female, and they decided it would be less off-putting if their battle suits all looked like big Amazonian ladies, but they look terrifying, and we’ll see a Gulanee get down and fight mano-a-mano with a Bioman.

AX: What are some of your favorite DEFIANCE themes that have resonated with the audience?

MURPHY: People have certainly picked up on [the analogies to] dealing with immigration into North America. There are a lot of people who, back in the early twentieth century, came from very, very patriarchal cultures and had a really difficult time assimilating, and you see that today with a lot of people from Middle Eastern cultures coming in, and some of the patriarchal ways their cultures worked where a hard, awkward fit in the United States and Canada. And one of the things that we’re really playing with this season is, because Stahma is a woman in a Castithan patriarchal culture, and her husband is [at the beginning of Season 2] off the playing field, it now falls upon her to run her husband’s crime interests and keep the family from going bankrupt, so dealing with the fact that Castithans don’t like having a woman tell them what to do becomes very dangerous for the family, and it forces Alak into a position of being the crime lord figurehead when he really doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing and just wants to be left alone to play groovy music in the Arch and be a spoiled rich kid.

AX: And given Stahma’s penchant for coating objects with poison, should we be worried for the recipient every time Stahma hands somebody something?

MURPHY: It would be prudent [laughs]. I’ll give you this – we learn that Stahma has not poisoned her last person. That is her weapon of choice. And she’s extremely, extremely good at it.

AX: At what point in Season 1 did you know you had a Season 2?

MURPHY: We didn’t know for sure until after the show had begun to air. What they did was, they brought back the writers in anticipation of Season 2, so the writers were breaking stories in March [of 2013], but they didn’t actually pick up the show for real until May. So I expect it will be something different this year.

AX: Would Season 1 have ended differently if you hadn’t gotten the pickup?

MURPHY: No, because it was all in the can before we got the pickup.


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Article: DEFIANCE show runner Kevin Murphy chats about Season 2 – Exclusive – Part 2

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