In Syfy’s DEFIANCE, now in its second season Thursdays at 8 PM, it’s been thirty-five years since seven different species of aliens crash-landed on Earth and began interacting with the human population. The Castithans, all white with golden eyes, are among the most prominent – and certainly the most class-conscious – of the off-world races.
Jesse Rath plays Alak Tarr, son of Datak Tarr, played by Tony Curran, and Stahma Tarr, played by Jaime Murray. With Datak as a lethal, social-climbing gangster and Stahma as an outwardly proper, privately manipulative poisoner, one might expect Alak to be not very nice, but in fact he has decent instincts. He also braves the initial anger of his father and the ongoing ire of human mine owner Rafe MacCawley in marrying Rafe’s daughter Christie (Nicole Munoz).
Rath, who originally hails from Montreal, Canada, has been a series regular in AARON STONE, 18 TO LIFE, MUDPIT and played Frederico Auditore in the 2009 miniseries ASSASSIN’S CREED: LINEAGE. He also had a recurring role as Robbie, brother of regular character Sally, played by Rath’s real-life sister Meaghan Rath, in Syfy’s North American version of BEING HUMAN.
At a press event held at the Pasadena Ritz-Carlton by Syfy, Rath raps about acting Alak.
AX: You’re a series regular in Season 2?
JESSE RATH: Yeah, I got promoted [laughs].
AX: Was Syfy aware of you from BEING HUMAN and saw you for DEFIANCE, or did you wind up on BEING HUMAN because you were already on DEFIANCE?
RATH: Well, when they cast me in DEFIANCE, they told me that they had no idea that Meaghan was my sister, and I said, “Seriously? Look at me.” [There is a striking family resemblance.] But then luckily enough, they just offered me that role on BEING HUMAN. And this was after DEFIANCE. But I think it would have been weird if I had to audition for that, too, with a bunch of other guys there, and we’re all auditioning to play my sister’s brother [laughs].
We’ve got to get her on DEFIANCE, is what I keep saying, somehow. I think she wants to play a long-lost sister of mine on DEFIANCE, but I keep telling her, “You don’t understand. My family [on DEFIANCE] bathes together.” [laughs] So maybe she can play an Irathient or something.
AX: Did you find out that you were a regular and the series was picked up at the same time, or did those things happen separately?
RATH: I think I found out that I was getting bumped up and then later on we found out that we were getting the pick-up. Those were months apart. So the stress never really leaves.
AX: Is Alak’s life more pleasant or more complicated now that he’s married?
RATH: I think that marriage always makes things more complicated [laughs], and yeah, that’s definitely the case in Season 2. He’s just being pulled in so many different directions. He’s trying to make the Castithan side of the family happy by taking over the family business, but he’s also being threatened left and right by Rafe on the human side of the family every time he sees him, so he’s really trying to make both sides happy, and in the end, making no sides happy [laughs], and you really see how it starts taking a toll on him, and it starts unraveling him. One thing keeps building up after the other.
AX: Is he going to develop the ability to stand up to either of his parents?
RATH: I think so, yeah. He’s grown up a little bit, he’s lost the blue hair, he’s now in charge of the family business. He’s gained some confidence, and I think he really thinks he is in power. Little by little, you see how that power is really just a façade and he doesn’t really have the power he thinks he has, and it’s maybe all just Mom manipulating everything as usual. And that really upsets him, and I think there are a couple of moments where he tries, at least, to stand up to his parents.
AX: Alak and Christie are the only characters on the show in a good, stable, resolved romantic relationship. Do you have any ownership or pride about getting to play that?
RATH: Definitely. Most shows have a character who the audience can really feel for, they relate with. And I think in the case of DEFIANCE, it’s Alak and maybe Tommy, Dewshane Williams’ character. Those characters have a sense of morality and they don’t want to do anything bad, and I think you feel for them. In Season 2, it’s all about – Season 1 was building Alak up and Season 2 is breaking him down, and I think it’s the same case for Tommy.
AX: So are we going to see more of a dark side of Alak?
RATH: Yeah, definitely. If Season 1 was Alak exploring a human way of life, Season 2 is him exploring the Castithan way of life. He really dives in head-first into the whole dogma and religion and rituals of the Casti people, and that means getting darker sometimes.
AX: Where is Christie in all this?
RATH: Christie is just the loving wife. I think Alak underestimates Christie a bit, that maybe she’s not aware of what’s going on and she’s not privy to all the types of dirty things the Tarr family does to gain their power and their money. And I think that’s a surprising thing that we’ll see in Season 2, is that maybe Christie has more “jundra,” as we say in Castithan, than she’s made out to [have].
AX: “Jundra” is like “balls?”
RATH: That’s balls, yeah. As you can tell, we pick our favorite words, and “jundra” is one Tony and Jaime and I, one of our favorite words to use [laughs].
AX: Is there any particular family vibe between you and Tony Curran and Jaime Murray that you don’t have with the rest of the cast?
RATH: Definitely. We have a very creepy, incestuous kind of relationship [laughs]. I don’t know how it started, but we’re kind of dirty and we joke about inappropriate things all the time, and I think that’s what keeps us sane. Getting that makeup put on us every day, hours at a time in that makeup trailer, we’d lose our minds if we didn’t play around the way we play around. So just because I think most of my scenes are with them, I’ve gotten to know them a lot better than some of the other people in our cast, because our cast is so huge. But yeah, they are definitely some of my favorites out of the cast. They’re crazy.
AX: Is it tough playing scenes where Alak is being dominated by other people sort of continually? Datak yells at him, Rafe yells at him …
RATH: Just the story of my life [laughs]. You can’t catch a break.
AX: Is it tough playing that? Do you want to stand up for the character?
RATH: Yeah. Definitely. I think that’s the case with most actors. We feel for our characters – we want to protect them as much as possible, and it’s not fun for me when I read that, “Alak gets beaten up again” or whatever the case is. So yeah, I try to stick up for Alak and I try to defend him in certain ways. I was out buying something at a store, and I was wearing a “Shtakl Happens” [a DEFIANCE saying] t-shirt, and this girl saw my shirt, and she said, “Oh, DEFIANCE. Nice.” And I got all, “Oh, you watch the show?” And she says, “Yeah, I love the show.” And I said, “Oh, which is your favorite character?” And she said, “Oh, Irisa or Doc Yewll,” and I kind of went, “What about Alak?” She said, “Who?” “You know, the blue-haired guy, right?” And she goes, “Oh, yeah, no, that guy’s a bitch.” [laughs] And I was like, “Well, you know, he’s being pulled in twenty different directions …” She had no idea that I was the real Alak. But I find myself defending him when I can.
AX: She didn’t recognize you?
RATH: Well, that’s the blessing and the curse of playing a white, blue-haired alien on a show, is that I can kind of go around to Comic-Con incognito. But at the same time, I’m never going to really be picked out of a crowd for being that guy on the show. I think the more behind the scenes stuff I do, the more people will be able to put it together.
AX: Does your makeup involve actual prosthetics, or is it all paint?
RATH: It’s all me, baby, underneath that paint [laughs]. All the Castithans – no prosthetics whatsoever. Actually, I think we’re the only aliens who it’s just makeup. That being said, I think it takes just as long as the prosthetic aliens to get into that makeup. It takes a toll on you at the end of the day.
AX: When you watch yourself in the makeup as Alak, do you relate to that as your performance, or do you think, “Who is that guy?”
RATH: I get a kick out of it, because I don’t know what I look like, really, when I’m doing it, so when I see it, watching myself in the alien makeup makes it a little easier, because maybe I can suspend my disbelief and pretend that it isn’t me on the screen, I can just be an audience member and enjoy the show.
AX: The super-white sets within the Tarr house – are they that white when you’re shooting?
RATH: They’re very white and I think in post they even bleach it up – they turn up the saturation a bit. No one’s allowed wearing shoes in that place, or else it’ll be scuff-marked all over the place. But the funny thing about that set in particular is, when you watch on the show, it seems like it’s this big mansion full of mazes and these rooms that are connected to each other, but the reality is, it’s just one room and that every time we shoot in there, we rearrange the furniture and we make it look like this whole other room. So it’s a lot of fun shooting there. Everyone looks good. It doesn’t matter what alien race you are – if you’re human, if you’re a Sensoth – if you have a scene in that Tarr house, everyone looks amazing.
AX: Do the actors who aren’t American listen to you to try to get the accent on a level?
RATH: I’m not American, either. I’m Canadian. I’m from French Montreal, Quebec. I think Julie [Benz, who plays Amanda] is the only American on our show. It’s funny – it’s a whole bunch of people from all over the world coming here and doing American accents. And it’s kind of like our show, too – it’s a bunch of races all coming together.
There are a lot of moments like that, where everyday life kind of imitates our show. At the beginning of Season 2, Datak is not really in the picture – he’s on the show, but he’s not in the town. While we were shooting that, Tony [in real life] just had a new baby, his first daughter, and so he wasn’t around shooting at the beginning of this, and so that kind of imitated life there. He was away and Dad was away and me and Mom had all of our scenes together, and then he returns and it’s the same thing kind of happening in the season.
AX: What do you think happened to Robbie at the end of BEING HUMAN? He was a ghost, but we never saw what he finally decided …
RATH: Right. It doesn’t look like he got his door [to Heaven or Hell] – it looks like he decided not to take his door. But he thinks being a ghost is maybe kind of fun, and kind of his life in the past has always been escaping responsibility. I think in the afterlife, it’s the same thing – he’s just trying to escape responsibility and just enjoy doing anything he wants as a ghost.
AX: Do you enjoy the Comic-Con experience?
RATH: I love Comic-Con so much. Last year was my first time in San Diego going to San Diego with the show, but I had gone three years consecutively before that as a fan. So I’m the biggest comic book fan boy out of all my friends, and I love going to comic book conventions. It was a surreal experience to go for three years as a fan and all of a sudden, I’m on the other side of the table, doing a panel. I had to pinch myself.
I was very reluctant to do it at first, because I like my Comic-Con and my experience, the hunt for certain toys or comics, and that’s what I get a kick out of for Comic-Con, and going there with the show on the other side of the table kind of scared me in the sense that maybe losing a bit of that Comic-Con that was special to me. But going with these guys is just a blast.
AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about DEFIANCE?
RATH: Just I hope everyone watches it. Because as a fan, I think it blows Season 1 out of the water. I think by the end of Season 1, we really started finding our legs, and when Season 2 starts, we really hit the ground running and it’s awesome. I’m a fan of that type of show, sci-fi and those types of dramas, so it’s the type of show that I watch. So I’m excited to watch it, and I hope everyone else is, too.
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Article:DEFIANCE star Jesse Rath talks Season 2 – Exclusive Interview