DEFIANCE Scoop: Grant Bowler Interview

Season 3 of Syfy’s drama DEFIANCE started off on a dramatic note with the deaths of two prominent characters and the arrival of two new enemies looking to decimate the town of Defiance off the face of the planet.  As if that were not enough, the father-daughter duo of Nolan (Grant Bowler) and Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), while stronger than ever, sounds like it will be tested in Season 3.

In a recent press call, star Grant Bowler talked about all these enemy forces marching upon DEFIANCE and the struggles that Nolan and Irisa will face in Season 3.

Can you talk about your character’s journey this season and maybe about how he’s going to try to help Amanda fix the town?
GRANT: We’ve obviously established DEFIANCE is not only an incredibly dangerous place to live, which very heavily featured in that first double episode, but also the tenants always been on the verge of disaster or boom or collapse.  That really reminds me of kind of California in the Gold Rush.  My character Nolan this season is fabulous. I’m really, really happy and grateful for what Kevin got me to do this year.  Because he’s much more about a story of what’s going on for him in Season 3 than he is about chasing around other people’s story, which by and large, he was doing in seasons one and two. So DEFIANCE, when we set at the beginning of Season 3 is a shell of what it was. Basically, when Irisa set off and destroyed New York, a new element was created called gulanite and gulanite is a rock that so hard that no earth-created machinery can penetrate it. So DEFIANCE now sits on this cap, this impenetrable cap, which means the town can’t get gulanite, which means that they can’t protect themselves. And the byproduct of that of course is Nolan and Irisa were trapped under the gulanite, and are  kind of stuck. So that’s the back story going into this season. So that’s the starting point and the reason why they’ve been trapped in that sleep for so long. This season is very much about getting the town back on its feet; but, as always, also very much about the town’s survival. I think the town, in Season 3, thanks to Rahm Tak is in more peril and actually comes in a more direct attack and direct fight than it ever has before. DEFIANCE actually gets successfully infiltrated in Season 3 by the enemy force and directly assaulted. So it’s a much more perilous place to live. It’s on its last leg. There’s no energy and lines for food. There are very little good things sold. If you look closely in the first few episodes you see that the markets is now moved inside.  There’s no outdoor markets anymore because there’s so little to be gained and traded. So DEFIANCE – yes, it’s a much set of place, a bit Soviet Russia in certain 1960s – and Nolan and Amanda have some very strange bedfellows again, and to have to come together in order to put the place back on its feet

Can you talk about some of the action scenes you’re going to have this season, whether it’s fighting or just in general?
GRANT: (Laughs) I’m in so much pain, I can’t tell you. I’ve done more fighting this season than you can poke a stick at. I think in the first three weeks at work, I had something like five or seven fist fights and half a dozen gun fights. So it’s been a very busy season that way. It’s been very action-packed. It’s been very much about that kind of action element that we have to the show. And Stephanie, who plays Irisa, is also been very busy that way, and also Julie Benz as Amada, and Anna Hopkin as Berlin. My guy Nola – I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that bloody and bruised. Our only problem with continuity this season is healing my face up fast enough before the next assault on my face and I get messed up again. At one point, I think it’s in the second or third last block, I’m carrying injuries over from about seven episodes and my face is just hamburger. So it’s not very glamorous to be me this season. But it’s been fantastic to play because it’s been a low, rough and tumble. It’s been a lot of really good direct confrontation scenes to play a little high-stake drama going on. So it’s been wonderful. I always wake up sore for about a month after though. I think for July I’ll be in bed.

What it’s like mentally for him this season? We know the physical part is difficult. What’s going through Nolan’s head this season?
GRANT: This season has been fantastic for Nolan. He’s vulnerable for a start and I’ve really enjoyed that. He’s falling down this season. He has some challenges and he comes apart it seems a couple of times. We’ve always dealt with Nolan as so pragmatic, so full with fighting, that he just tends to swallow his blood. There’s a great old expression, “swallow your blood” – old boxing expression. I think it comes from those great 1930s heavyweight champs. But he’s always kind of been very much about that swallowing his blood and moving on, and this season, it catches up with him. This season, he doesn’t have another step in him and that’s been great to play. It’s been great to see in the character too because it really grounds him as human, as it is for me. And the other big development in Nolan this season is through that vulnerability,– not being able to cope with everything, and through his own challenge this season, his relationships are at risk of change. That is just some this season. I can’t say how happy I am to have this season with Stephanie. The relationship is fantastic. It’s always been my favorite part of the show. And it has become so much more full because she’s now in a position where she is picking him back up, where she’s supporting him, where she’s trying to figure out what’s going on with him. Having an adult-daughter relationship where it’s really complex, it requires compassion on both front, and requires a lot of pressure and understanding from both of them. And they get sorely challenged. Their entire history, all of his memories about her and bringing her up, directly challenge him this season. And he finds out that the way he parented her or what he thought was the way he parented her wasn’t even close to her experience of what went on. So it’s wonderful in those ways.

Can you quickly talk about some of the new faces on DEFIANCE this year?
GRANT: Absolutely. We’ve got three major new players. We have Rahm Tak, who we meet in the opening stanza. He’s a warlord, if you like, for the Votanis Collective. And Irisa destroyed the Earth Republic, who was the balancing force to the Votanis Collective. And our big threat in Season 3 initially is that this military force of alien-based races was moving north from South America. So Rahm Tak is the advance god of that Votanis Collective. And all he wants to do is raze DEFIANCE, burn it to the ground, and kill every single human being in it. So he’s our first player. And Lee, who played him, did an amazing job. Lee Tergesen, he did an amazing job of playing him with an enormous amount of flare and humor. And he’s a genuinely frightening character. Then we come to the other two major new arrivals, who are the Omec. Now, we established in Season 1 that there were seven races of Votan; we only saw six of them. And in Season 2, we saw the Gulanee, which we thought was the last race of aliens and they were an energy-based life forms. So that’s why we haven’t seen them before. At the beginning of Season 3, we discovered that there is an eighth race that predated all of the other races called the Omec and the reason we never heard about them before was that the Votan, the aliens who came to work saying that they just wanted to immigrate and peaceful, had deliberately left this race behind. They sabotaged their ships. They destroyed their means of escape and they left them behind to die. It’s basically the Votan shame and guilt that means that humans have never heard of this race before. And then our first double episode, the Omec arrived, the father and daughter, T’evgin and Kindzi, played by Nichole Galicia and Conrad Coates. They arrived right at the beginning. Although they don’t seem to have a problem with humans, but boy they got payback to deliver to the aliens. I only realized this just now, Rahm Tak want us to kill every human being in DEFIANCE and he’s on the outskirts and coming. In the first episode, right and smack that in the middle of town arrived these two aliens. And they don’t care about the humans. They want to kill every single alien on the planet if they choose that they don’t want peace. So you’ve got these wonderful two kinds of groups of enemies – one hate the humans and one hates the aliens. So it’s an interesting dynamic.

What have you learned in the last couple of years from playing Nolan? What he has taught you?
GRANT: That’s a great question. It’s a question I’ll probably best answer in five years’ time, lasting what it is. But it’s taught me to be a better father to my daughter in a strange way. That would probably be the biggest things. Playing that role and that twisted crazy father-daughter relationship is so amazing. It always brings me back – I have to look at my relationship with my kids. I have to look at my relationship with my daughter in order to find material to mine, to play the same. So I’m constantly looking over my relationship with my children on my head, and my relationship with my daughter, in particular and examining my own strengths and weaknesses: where I’m like him, where I’m not like him, what I do well and what I don’t do well. I don’t know if I would have done that much examination in the objective way I have, had I not been playing Nolan. So that’s probably the first biggest thing. And the second thing is has been leading a cast.  Kind of having to be on deck in a production like DEFIANCE is extremely complex and large every pretty much every shoot day and try some of the best of my ability to lead from the front. That’s been a growth for me. And something I really loved something I really have enjoyed and it has been very fulfilling for me personally.

You compared the town of DEFIANCE to a Gold Rush town. It seems like the show has always been really more of a western, like and Old Wild West show than a science fiction show. When you’re filming, does that seem like that to you?
GRANT: Well, it always looks really science fiction to me. They’re all running around and there are aliens attacking. But I do get what you mean. And do you mean what I think it is? I think our story is sci-fi but our archetypes are western. So with all these incredibly technological stories, with all these pure science fiction stories about uptick and artificial intelligence and faster than light travel, and everything else like that. But we have a mayor, a law keeper, and doctor, and our archetypes within that town, even the fact that it is a small town isolated in the wilderness, all those mains, if you like, all those overwriting archetype are western, the same. So I think that’s where that comes from. And I think you  can never get too far away from it when my guy is the law keeper and the doctor is the doctor, and the mayor is the mayor. But having said that, there’s an ease to archetypes, I think allows us to shorthand a lot of stuff story-wise, which means that we can get into the meat of what we’re trying to do much more quickly. And I think that’s where genre really is strong where it’s very useful, you can assume a lot of things based on the genre as an audience, and get into a story faster without having to establish so much.

What’s the feeling going into a third season?
GRANT: (Laughs) I feel like an old man. No. It’s fantastic. I mean, it’s an interesting landscape of television today, isn’t it? It’s hard enough for shows to get a pilot, let alone get a run off of a pilot. It used to be that if you shoot a pilot, you had a fair chance to get a season. And it used to be that if you got one season you’d be supported and developed three, two or three seasons. So it’s a much more parallel universe I think that we all exist in as story tellers today. Every season that you get granted — if you like by the gods — is a sign of a fight. And having that third season is wonderful. I think for me, the first season of anything — and I’ve done a number of shows in a number of countries over the years — and what binds it all together is the first season is your big idea. And you run out your big idea and you see if it grabs and it gets any traction and if people identified with it. The second season is everyone’s ideas. I like to call second season “everyone’s best ideas,” what everybody would have done if they could have run the universe in Season 1. And I think pretty much every show does that, second season is everyone’s idea. For me, the sweet spot for nearly everything I’ve ever been in is the third season. So I feel very much that about DEFIANCE. This is by far the best show we’ve delivered and I’m extremely proud of this season and show. I think the show grows up in its third season. It shows why they make it to a third season and does that or it doesn’t survive. I think what happened with our show is what excited me most go into the third season was we figured out what we are, and what we do well, when we’re on point, when we’re not, and how we best tell stories given the creature that we are. And I confer with absolute confidence that we delivered on that. This is the best version of DEFIANCE we’ve presented. So that would be the most exciting thing about Season 3. Winter, the coldest February in recorded weather history in Toronto was not the thing, trying to say enough, that I was most excited about, given the fact that nobody gave me gloves or hats to wear. But the show looks fantastic even for that, even in things that we’re working against this in Season 3, which was the weather and the conditions, make the show look even better on screen. So I’m, in the end, happy with that.

Is there a level of comfort now that you’ve been with the same people for so?
GRANT:  Yes. You form a family. Cast, like anything else, it’s like any relationship. First you fall in love with each other, and it’s all about potential. And the second year, you kind of look at each other and go: who did I wake up next to? And the third season is so wonderful because we have all have been around each other for a long time now. We know how to work with one another. And we have real friendships based on lengthy experience of one another, which is really good when you got to work every day. And we’re very lucky on this show because we have a group of just really good human beings to work with.

With DEFIANCE always seemingly being a target of someone or some army, why not just move away? What keeps other residents there? Especially your character who, when we first met him in the first season, what sort of not that interested in other people and everything?
GRANT:  I think the answer to that lies in the world, which is if you move away and you build something else, then people are just going to want to take that away. So DEFIANCE for me, when we’re at our best, is very much a metaphor for the western world. You build something and it’s good enough what’s fill the dreams if you build it and he will come. And in modern civilization, if you build something nice enough, people will come and they want it. They’ll try and take it away from you. So it may as well just be DEFIANCE. I think that’s that. I think there’s also the name in the town that this place is built in DEFIANCE of those that want to pull it down. And DEFIANCE is not giving up.  It partly, at least, in testament to that spirit that brings people together to improve these circumstances to put the world back together again. And I think that’s human nature in essence. We came back from the Dark Ages. We rebuild off around the world after two world wars. Human beings – New York, look at New York. I’m in New York City right now, and I look at New York after 9/11. We have a great ability to come back. And I think that’s the spirit of DEFIANCE. I think that’s what Michael recognized when he turned up in that place, that these people – they might not have been as shot as he had been from the world he’d experienced but they had a lot of guts and they deserve a chance. And I think that’s what still keeps him there, that he actually is grown to have a little respect and admiration and love for the town and the people in it.

With the Omec coming, are we going to find Nolan sort of playing the peacemaker a lot this season with those two groups?
GRANT:  That’s like putting a pig in a soup, isn’t it? Yes, kind of gasoline and pick up a matches to a degree. What’s wonderful about Season 3 to me is all of the protagonists that are coming into the show this year; you can reach out and touch them. They’re individuals and they have therefore individual needs, but also individual strengths and weaknesses.  Rahm Tak is a megalomaniac and is quite insane. But he’s incredibly effective. The Omec are very old powerful strong race, but they’re hubris, they’re arrogant. The fact that they see every other race as literally a lesser race, that’s the term for them, is probably their wrongdoing. I don’t know whether Nolan this season is much going to play as peacemaker as he is going to play politician. The key to staying alive longer than everybody else in DEFIANCE sometimes I think is giving everyone enough of what they want to keep the whole ball rolling. And with the Omec, they’ve very dangerous proposition. We will see as the season goes along that they are very, very powerful creatures. And we’re not actually quite sure whether we could get rid of them if we want to. They’re cool. They’re really cool development.

How different are you from your character?
GRANT: I stayed in school longer. There’s just this line in Season 2 when Panjit talks about things at high school, and he’s like a high school crush and Nolan said he never went to high school because the war broke out. And yes, I honestly think that’s got something with it. He is more pragmatic than me. I am a man less self-assured, I think. And I question myself a lot more than Nolan does. And sometimes I envy him. It’s funny sometimes you’re doing the character set. He’s much more unequivocal than I am.  I’m probably a little better at using honey to catch bears than Nolan is. Nolan would probably just fight them. But I always like to think of Nolan as me with too much coffee and my impulse-control removed.

Is there a scene that you can kind of tease about, that you’re most looking forward to people seeing this season?
GRANT: It’s not just the same as an entire episode. There’s an entire episode where — let me figure out how to phrase this — where Nolan and Irisa get to re-experience their relationship, literally re-experience their relationship with one another.  And that relationship gets turned completely on its head, and I not only love what goes on first in those scenes, well, all of them are great scenes for us to play, but I love the storyline and the episode as a whole.  I think times of being a parent or being a child or – I think in that sense, they are really interesting questions that come up what — how much is perspective in the relationship and how people have different perspective to that same relationship.  I also think from sci-fi point-of-view, from a television point-of-view, it’s a really intriguing story element that was written by Kevin. It’s a fantastic. So, yes, you’ll know it when you get to it. But it’s that episode when Nolan and Irisa have to go back and confront their relationships. It’s cool. I love that.

To find out just where the looming battle of humans versus the Omecs and everyone else goes this season and the trials that Nolan and Irisa experience through it all, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of DEFIANCE on Friday nights at 8:00 p.m. on Syfy.