The Fantastic Journey: An Interview with Jennifer Spence
With Echoes co creators Mark Savela and Ken Kabatoff busily putting the final touches to their alien invasion pilot presentation this week, we sat down to speak to its star, Jennifer Spence about acting, aliens and the appeal of playing the underdog.
“Well, the thing that really appeals to me about her is that she’s very much an underdog to begin with, when we first meet her in the show,”
Jennifer tells me, describing her character Sonya in Echoes.
“It’s just wonderful. It’s like so many things in life where you see somebody come out of their shell or excel as a human being. It’s always a journey that we go through as human beings. We don’t always start off as a certain type of person. We often wind up as a different sort of person to how we started out.
“So I really liked that she starts out as an underdog and is forced to undertake this leadership position and lead these people through to survival. It’s a fantastic journey for her. That just really appealed to me – to be able to play that transformation of a character. That transformation is fascinating, and what we live for as actors.”
Can fans expect Sonya to be very different from Stargate Universe’s brave and adaptable Doctor Lisa Park?
“Well,” says Jennifer, considering. “I think she is and she isn’t. She’s not too different in the sense that Lisa, like Sonya, had to undergo a transformation of sorts in order to take on more of a leadership position, so there is a bit of similarity that way.
“She is different in the way she becomes more of a leader than where we left off with Lisa. Had the series [Stargate Universe] continued, it might have gone further but as the series ended prematurely we didn’t get to see where that might have gone. Had it gone further, she might have gone further as a leader too, and come more into her own. But with Sonya, we will get the chance to see that.”
It seems that most TV shows featuring a female lead these days describe their heroine as a ‘strong female character.’ The term is often synonymous with super-human strength or fighting skills that would give the toughest Navy Seal pause for thought. I was therefore intrigued by Echoes creator Marks Savela’s take on Sonya as someone who ‘doesn’t jump fifty feet into the air, or do Karate, or have superpowers. But she can learn how to use a gun and she can kick ass doing that.’ I ask Jennifer if she agrees with that assessment of her character.
“I really like that” she says. “I think he put it perfectly. I think that is the norm that we see mostly these days. We want to see stronger female characters out there. That’s definitely a must. But when we do see them it does tend to be in more superhero type roles. So not everyone can relate to that obviously.
“It’s easier to relate to someone who is becoming something rather than already is, I think,” she muses. “It’s a more interesting journey. I think it gives other people hope. It involves a lot of hard work and self doubt but also just the ultimate belief in yourself.”
Echoes sparked the interest of many Stargate fans when it became known that some of the cast and crew, including Jennifer, worked together on the pilot. So what was it like working with the old crew again?
“Oh it was wonderful! I’m sure Mark told you just how close the cast and crew all got throughout the shooting process. It wasn’t like it was just the cast or just the crew. Everyone had this familial feeling with one another. When it ended prematurely we were all obviously devastated and eager to work together again so when this group came together it was so wonderful to see everyone again, and spend time together and work together and do what we all knew how to do as a team.”
While on the subject of Stargate Universe, I ask Jennifer (nominated for Leo Awards for Life in 2010 and Malice in 2011) if she has a favorite episode.
“You know, it’s always a tough one to answer because I love every episode I watch. I can always find something I love about it,” she answers. “I think maybe the one that really moved me the most or made me cry the most was Epilogue.
“That was the second season episode where everyone ages and we see the alternate reality and what could have happened. Any time I see somebody aged it always makes me emotional,” she confesses with a laugh.
“Seeing all of us aged and just the beautiful story with Louis [Ferreira] and Alaina’s [Huffman] characters and the little family they had and how she was struggling with her illness and in turn passing away from it. That whole sequence. It was beautiful. The whole episode was incredible.
“I think it far surpassed any expectations any of us had. We all knew we were going to pull it off. It was such a fantastic script. But at the same time it was an ambitious one and I think we far surpassed any of our expectations which were already pretty great. I saw it and I cried. It was like a movie. A movie in an hour long TV episode.”
Many fans of the show commented that Epilogue might have been a fitting season and series finale.
“Yes. I thought so too,” says Jennifer. “Particularly with that last line ‘It’s always been about the journey.’
“It was such a hopeful episode. It was a good way to express how I felt about the show in general. It gave us such hope for humankind. What it means to be human and how we all band together in order to survive. That’s what it is at the heart of it all. It’s about human beings.”
How would Jennifer sum up the time she spent working on Stargate Universe?
“Two of the best years of my life,” She answers without hesitation. “The experience that we got working on that show, both from a professional acting standpoint to a camaraderie and family point of view. Just learning so much in every different sort of way. Definitely two of the best years of my life for sure.”
Jennifer is currently working on Logo’s Exes and Ohs, a comedy series based on the short film The Ten Rules: A Lesbian Survival Guide, which she describes as “Sex and the City meets Friends. For Lesbians!”
How does it feel to be doing comedy after the dramatic intensity of projects like Stargate Universe and Echoes?
Well I love Comedy,” Jennifer tells me. “I wish I could do more of it. There just isn’t a whole lot of it available in Vancouver. I always jump at the chance to do it. It’s so much fun. It’s a great challenge in a different way for me.”
Jennifer describes her character Devin, who makes her appearance in the show’s second season. “She’s great. She’s a very outspoken, very strong independent woman. She’s the only bisexual in the group. She’s really savvy with computers. Extremely sarcastic. She has a good business sense so she’s a nice little addition to the group of friends. She has lots of skills to help them get out of various messes.”
Exes and Ohs is currently airing its second season on Logo in the US at 7.30 on Thursdays.
Jennifer also graciously answered several questions from the ChevronOne Forum and ScreenSpy Twitter community, featured below.
SGAngel: If Stargate Universe had continued, where do you think your character might have gone? Would there be any future with Volker?
Steve Deans: Greer or Volker?
Jennifer Spence: [Laughs] Everyone’s always rooting for Volker!
ScreenSpy: The poor guy with his bunch of flowers!
Jennifer Spence: I know! The poor guy. He got his hair cut and everything. Aww!
Well I think in terms of where the character was going, Lisa was coming more and more into her own and realizing her own strength and what she had to contribute to the team. My sense was that she was going further and further in that direction. So she would have kept taking on more and more of a leadership role.
I was really interested (not just in playing her, but from an audience point of view) in what was going to happen with her sight? Was she going to get it back? That would have taken a tremendous amount of her security. Just how good a scientist am I going to be when I can’t even look at the results of an experiment or observe the diagnostics of this when so much of ones sight is required especially in the situation they were in.
I just thought it was a really interesting thing that was going on with her. Even though we didn’t know if she was going to get her sight back or not, we were already seeing how much she was still contributing. When someone loses their sight it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden they become a non-contributing member of society. It doesn’t work that way. You just have to find different ways in which to maximize your other skills. I liked that we were still seeing that she was proving herself even though her sight was gone.
ScreenSpy: Were you ever given any indication on that point?
Jennifer Spence: No one told me and I was a little scared to ask! [laughs] Because I wasn’t sure if I was going to necessarily like the answer.
But either way I could see it going in a really interesting direction. So I never found out what was going to happen. It would be interesting to know now. I should ask them now.
In terms of Volker? Poor old Volker. I answered a question for another interview once where they asked, who do you think she would have ended up with, Greer or Volker? and my sense was that while she had more in common with Volker, from an audience perspective it might have been more interesting if she did wind up with Greer. Just because the two of them were so different. It’s nice to see that people from all different walks of life can still find love with one another. And that’s ultimately the most important thing. I thought that might be more interesting from an audience point of view.
Pat Considine: In the episode Malice jennifer had some pretty serious acting happening. How did she find doing those intense scenes?
Jennifer Spence: Well they were definitely exactly that. Intense! And they were a challenge. With the heat of the desert, and knowing we don’t have all the time in the world, it puts added pressure on for sure, But it was a great challenge. I was really happy to get those scenes. And especially happy because they were with Bobby [Robert Carlyle]. It was such a thrill to have those kinds of dramatic scenes with him. It was definitely a challenge but I just tried to get into my zone beforehand and I listened to some music that put me in the state of mind that I felt I needed to be in and so all that helped.
Pat Considine: Does Jennifer prefer acting comedy, drama or romance?
Jennifer Spence: You know, it’s a tough question. There are aspects of each that I do immensely enjoy. I think I would probably say comedy. Maybe it’s because I just don’t get much opportunity to do it as often. I just really really enjoy it. I have so much fun doing it. It really forces you to be on the ball and push yourself. Not that drama doesn’t. Drama forces you to push yourself in a different way. They all have their own challenges. But I think in terms of what I have the most out and out fun doing is probably comedy.
Pat Considine: If Echoes takes off, what is Jennifer hoping for her character?
Jennifer Spence: That’s a really good question. Well I’m hoping that we can succeed in – and I guess this will depend hugely on me as the actor portraying her – being able to have a lot of women relate to her. Just like we were discussing earlier about how a lot of strong female characters are more superhero types, it will be wonderful to portray someone who is just a basic ordinary human being. Someone who has been thrown in this situation and is forced to overcome her own shortcomings – her shyness or issues or insecurities or whatever you want to call them in order to become a leader. So I’m hoping that through that a lot of people will be able to relate to that and feel more of a kinship with her.
Pat Considine: Did Jennifer take anything from the set?
Jennifer Spence: Actually yes I did. There was a set sale that happened and so the cast and crew got in early and ran over what wasn’t already going to be given away for the auctions and such. I got one of the Destiny bedspreads!
Magpie: Who did Jennifer enjoy working with the most? And why?
Jennifer Spence: Like all the different genres of TV and film it’s impossible to come up with a favorite. Everyone offers their own different wonderful things. It’s such a tough question to answer. We did a bunch of interviews in Toronto when we went down for the Gemini awards when the show was nominated, and we did an interview with SPACE and that was one of the questions. I said I don’t really have anyone that I preferred working with necessarily because everyone was great and that was true across the board and unheard of in this industry! [laughs]
From an audience point of view I thought one of the more interesting pairings, and therefore an interesting challenge for me as an actor, was when I had scenes with Louis Ferreira just because our characters were so different and because he’s not really my boss yet he kinda is in a way. So that always presented its own special set of challenges whenever I was approaching a scene with him. Plus the man is frickin’ hilarious off camera! [Laughs] Having to stop laughing just before we did a take presented its own challenge too. So I always thought those scenes were pretty interesting because there were so many things my character had to deal with when approaching a scene.
Giscard: Are you a scifi fan?
Jennifer Spence: I am always so scared of getting this question! I fear the backlash that will come from people because I’m actually not really. As a kid I was. I loved Doctor Who and ET. As an adult I guess I just got too bitter or something for it. [Laughs] I don’t know! But once I was working on the show and I saw what this show was about and the product we were putting out there I was ooh yes! This has made me a fan!