CHANNEL ZERO: THE DREAM DOOR is the current season of the Syfy Channel horror series CHANNEL ZERO. Created by Nick Antosca, CHANNEL ZERO tells a different six-episode story each season. Unlike previous seasons, which aired on episode a week on Syfy Channel, THE DREAM DOOR rolls ou

In CHANNEL ZERO: THE DREAM DOOR, loving married couple Jillian, played by Maria Sten, and Ben, played by Brandon Scott, inherit a house they’ve been to many times before they owned it. However, when they’re cleaning out the basement, a door suddenly appears, which leads to another door. Something else that appears is a deadly life-sized version of Jillian’s imaginary friend Pretzel Jack.

Sten, who is also a writer and filmmaker, was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, although she sports a flawless American accent. Speaking by phone, Sten talks about CHANNEL ZERO: THE DREAM DOOR, and teases a bit about the upcoming SWAMP THING DC Universe series.

ASSIGNMENT X: What originally brought you to North America from Denmark?

MARIA STEN: I came over when I was eighteen, and thought that I was going to be a dancer. And then I trained and became a dancer, and then I realized, “I don’t think this is it.” And I branched out. I was acting when I was younger, but never committed to it. I was in New York at the time, and then moved to Vegas, and then did the move to L.A., where I took my first acting class in L.A. The oceans parted, and stardust came falling from the sky [laughs]. This was it, this was what I wanted to do, and so I’ve been in L.A. since. And that’s how I ended up in North America. I think it’s a matter of being in the entertainment industry as a whole, that is much, much smaller in Denmark, and I didn’t feel that there was a space for me the same way that there is here.

AX: Were you already in Canada when you got CHANNEL ZERO: THE DREAM DOOR, or did you go up for the show?

STEN: No, it’s all good. I was actually with my mom on a beach in Mexico, and they called me, so I got back to L.A., and then I went to Winnipeg two weeks later. It was a quick turnaround, but it was lovely, it was great.

AX: Were you familiar with the CHANNEL ZERO series before you got involved in it?

STEN: I wasn’t, but when you talk to people, especially people who are horror fans, it’s a staple of the horror world, and I was so excited to jump onto something that has the fan base of CHANNEL ZERO. It’s a very loyal one, and it was exciting to see that people are responding well to it. It’s a beautiful thing to come onto something that has so much love already.

AX: Are you a horror fan yourself?

STEN: I’m a genre fan. Not horror particularly, but I’m a huge fan of fantasy, supernatural, I love all that stuff. I’m a genre nerd in that way. So it was super-cool to come onto this, and it’s almost like you get to play. It’s an adventure. And you’re a part of this world-building, you’re helping tell this story of this imaginary world. That’s the fun.

AX: Did you think about how you would react if you were living somewhere, and one day a door appeared that hadn’t been there before?

STEN: [laughs] Yeah. I was house-sitting for a friend when I got back from Canada. Not a lot of people have basements in L.A., but she had a basement. And then I walked into the basement, and I was like, “This looks exactly like Ben and Jillian’s basement. I don’t think I should be down here.” But I think, hopefully, most of us are able to put that aside when we go back into the real world. I just love the analogy of what the door represents, what Pretzel Jack represents. I think it’s exciting, and I think that’s what draws us in – it’s the metaphor for what he represents that we all can relate to in that way. When the door appears, it’s whatever shape your issues, your baggage takes, we recognize that. And so I think that’s more what I’m drawn to in this story.

AX: Do you feel that what’s behind the door represents Jillian’s angriest impulses, but maybe also her self-care?

STEN: Yes. I think that’s a good point. I think we all have monsters, and not all of them manifest into scary clowns [laughs], but I think we all need some sort of self-preservation, and I think that is what Pretzel Jack is to her. He’s her protector, which is a complicated thing. I think it’s about how is Jillian learning to control her emotions. She’s learning how to navigate the fact that we can’t decide what we feel, we can’t decide to hate or love or not be mad at somebody. We feel what we feel. It’s about how we navigate it. And I think Pretzel Jack is basically her challenge in navigating that. But at the same time, he does look out for her, he protects her. So I think that’s a good metaphor for, we all have this baggage, and we have to figure out how to navigate it, and we have to get it out in the open to overcome it, or to understand it in learning how to maneuver it.

AX: Did you empathize at all with the idea of a childhood imaginary friend who shows up in your adult life?

STEN: I did. I have a crazy imagination. I’m also a writer, and I think I always have been living in fantasy worlds my entire life. I grew up on LORD OF THE RINGS and NARNIA and HARRY POTTER. I love these fantasy worlds, and play pretend, and make-believe, and I had multiple imaginary friends when I was a kid. I think it’s healthy for kids to have healthy imaginations. However, how that manifests later may be – that’s why Jillian is in therapy [laughs]. Of course, she thought that she could just tuck it away. She thought, “It’s all going to be okay, and whatever my issues are, I can handle them, and I’m processing them.” But they came out to bite her, if you will. And it’s a challenge that goes into, I can sit by myself and have my protector, but as soon as I introduce another person into the picture, who has his own baggage, then what would that look like? And how do you meet in the middle, how do you learn to coexist with someone carrying all the baggage that we carry through life?

AX: Since all the seasons of CHANNEL ZERO are closed-ended, did they give you the whole season to read at once, or did you read it one episode at a time?

STEN: No, we read them all at the same time at the beginning, because we were block-shooting [meaning that scenes were shot out of order to avoid having to return to a given set later on]. So we shoot all six episodes at once, we don’t shoot them one at a time. Which is crazy, but also, it’s powerful, because it’s basically a six-hour movie. It happens to be divided up in episodes, but it feels like a movie. So they gave me everything I wanted. It’s so helpful to know you have all the stuff there to dig into. It’s massive to get all that dumped on you, but at the same time, for me personally, I love it. I love to have as much information as possible about the character, about where we’re going, so you can do your homework accordingly.

AX: So you know all the back story going in …

STEN: Exactly. Of course, I have to fill in the blanks, and I bring my own little things and nuances to the back story, to who she is, because that’s what we do as actors, but it’s so helpful to know – it’s not like I made a choice, and then three episodes down, there’s a reveal that contradicts the choice that I made.

AX: Because you were block-shooting, and maybe shooting scenes from Episode 1 and Episode 6 in the same day –

STEN: Oh, yeah –

AX: Did you make a chart of Jillian’s mental, emotional and physical state, so you knew how you were supposed to play her in any given scene?

STEN: Yeah. I’ll never forget this day of walking down the stairs. It’s Friday, three o’clock in the morning, and Jillian is just walking down the stairs, and then change clothes and walk down the stairs again, and change clothes. Because we were shooting out each location. And you’re in a totally different emotional state every time Jillian is walking down these stairs. So it’s a lovely challenge, but it’s also crazy to keep track of. They gave us these big binders, which was also incredibly helpful, you have all the scripts right there, and then I can sit and notate, I have a little notebook that I like to write in when I’m working on a character, to sort of be like, “This is Jillian Stage This, this is Jillian Stage That, and this is where she’s going.” And so it was good to be able to jump back and forth on that arc, just to make sure that it tracks.

But I also felt like I knew Jillian, and I understood her, and once I got into it, I could very much navigate, “Okay, this is this moment here, and I know what this scene is.” And [director] Evan L. Katz, he’s great. He had such a clear vision, and then whenever he had an adjustment, it was like, “Oh, this is the adjustment, just tweak it.” So it was a great way of working. I know it’s such a trite word, but it felt very organic.

AX: Since you have a dance background, did you bond at all with Troy James, who plays the contortionist-like Pretzel Jack, over the movement of your characters?

STEN: Absolutely. We have a lovely choreographer as well, Sofia Costanini, to work with Troy a lot on the movement. There will be more about the way that he moves, about the way that we move in the same space, and it was a lovely thing – and a lot of that happened organically, when we were just there. And because I have a dance background also, I think, “How would we do this thing? Let’s try this thing.” We were all just creating this thing as it came up. And then of course we came to Evan with, “We have this thing, what do you think?” So that was really lovely, to get to use that as a part of the work.

AX: You also have some fairly physical love scenes with Brandon Scott. How were those to shoot?

STEN: It’s always a little intimidating at first. I hadn’t met Brandon before we got cast, we hadn’t tested together, so Evan, very early on, was like, “You guys, get to know each other. Quick.” And Brandon and I have had this lovely working relationship in terms of just, we were on set for many long hours, and it was really great to have a sparring partner through the whole thing, and he’s so respectful, and so professional, and we just created this safe zone that I think helped a lot to just go into these vulnerable situations. It’s a matter of trust, and because we have such a great collaboration, we got to establish that trust very quickly. It was very much like a partnership throughout the entire shoot, which helped so much, because of the schedule, but also, you know that someone has your back.

AX: How was working with Steven Weber, who plays Jillian’s therapist?

STEN: Great. He is hilarious. He is a joy to work with. And again, it speaks to just the overall atmosphere on set. We all had a great time. It was like we were all up at camp in Winnipeg, and just trying to create this, and have fun while working. Steven Weber is very much that as well, just great to collaborate with, and everybody’s spirits were high, because we had these long days, and we wanted to make sure that we were all in good spirits at all times, and he definitely added to that environment.

AX: Can you say what the key was for you to playing Jillian?

STEN: It’s funny, because Jillian is in many ways very similar to me and my life story, which was quite disconcerting. When I read the script, it was like, “Has Nick Antosca just been watching me for however many years?” [laughs] So I almost felt like I needed to do something different. She has different hair than I had when I first got that role, and I needed to figure out what actually is the different between Maria and Jillian to step into that space. I think the key into her is that she loves deeply, but she has trust issues. And she wants to be one person, and she realizes that she’s actually not this person. She’s been subduing a part of herself to fit this thing, and along the way, she learns to stand on her own feet, and she learns to become this woman that she actually is, and learns to trust herself, and take her power back, and to fight for this marriage. I’m not married in real life, but I think this has taught me so much about relationships, and about marriage, and what I would want from a marriage. So it was a great lesson for me personally.

AX: You’ve been cast as Liz Tremayne in the DC Universe SWAMP THING. Can you tease anything about that?

STEN: I can say that the scripts are amazing. SWAMP THING is such a classic, and I’m excited to see Len Wiseman directing the pilot, and [production company] Atomic Monster and [show runner] Mark Verheiden and [writer] Gary Dauberman, they’re really doing something really special with it. I’m excited to come onboard this show. I think it’s going to do a lot of great things for the landscape of television, and it’s another horror show. It lives in that horror space, but it’s very different from CHANNEL ZERO. So it’s exciting for me to jump from one horror classic sort of horror into a different monster. Yeah, it’s exciting. That’s all I can say.

AX: Have you started shooting yet?

STEN: No. We start next month [November].

AX: Do you have any other projects going on we should know about?

STEN: I’m writing something, I’m writing a feature, but other than that, nothing else that is public yet.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about CHANNEL ZERO: THE DREAM DOOR?

STEN: I think it’s a fun ride, and I think it’s something that speaks to all of us, the themes that evolve around it. Not only is it something that we can look at from our interpersonal relationships, but in the time that we live in, there’s a good analogy to look within and look at this underbelly of a beast that has permeated society, and try to come at it hands-on. We have to clean out our basements before we can move on and go into a healthy existence. So there are a lot of different layers to the show, but most of it is such an exciting adventure to be on with these two characters that I feel like hopefully a lot of people can relate to it. It’s about two people who are trying to love each other.


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Article: Exclusive Interview with actress Maria Sten on CHANNEL ZERO: THE DREAM DOOR


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