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Billy Campbell & Jordan Hayes Helix interview

The stars of the show discuss the first season and their characters.

Helix episode 6

Helix – Season 1 was released on DVD this week by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The hit sci-fi series recently aired on Channel 5 and 5* in the UK and tells the story of Dr Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) and his team who travel to a research centre in the Arctic where a suspected virus outbreak has occurred. Once there Alan and his team realise they are in the middle of something bigger than they ever expected that could cause a global devastation.

To celebrate the release of the DVD we’ve got some Billy Campbell and Jordan Hayes from the show talking all things Helix, explaining why they got involved with the show and discussing the challenges of their characters.

What did you like about this particular series and what attracted you to it?

Billy Campbell: I was extremely attracted to the genre, the situation. I’m a big fan of both The Thing movies, the Howard Hawks one and the John Carpenter one. Andromeda Strain is one of my favorite films, so I was very attracted to the situation, and of course to the fact that Ron Moore was attached. And not least of which was that we were shooting in Montreal.

Jordan Hayes: I loved the characters. They were obviously very smartly written and very intelligent characters. Despite being a science fiction show, there was a huge emphasis on the dramatic nature of the writing and that really attracted me as an actor.

Let’s talk about the “cold” room. How did you feel about it? Does it make it easier to get in the moment, or do you just not like being cold?

BC: Well for me it’s just a great deal. I know the crew hated the cold room. First of all, the cold room wasn’t really big enough. It was very limiting as a set. It was pretty small, and there was a lot of stuff flying around in the air, so the crew didn’t really care for it. But, they could dress how they wanted, we were dolled up in nine layers of extreme cold weather gear. So in the beginning when we didn’t have a cold room, when we were all on the set having to do all this strenuous stuff, we were sweating a good deal and that is more unpleasant than anything I can think of. I’d rather freeze than boil any day. The cold room helped a good deal I think. But in the end, it was kind of untenable, it was awkward to shoot in. So by the end of the show we just had left the cold room behind again.

There’s so much right now on the news obviously, about the CDC and the flu and everything going around, when you first started working on this, did any of it ever freak you out a bit because some of it could actually happen?

JH: Yes, absolutely. I mean that’s one of the greatest things about this show is that it’s dealing with something that is very real. Throughout history we’ve seen huge epidemics wipe out hundreds of millions of people. Although now—thankfully— we have the invention of antibiotics and we can treat things much better. It’s still very real and it’s still very scary, and it can possibly wipe out thousands of people.

BC: I think it goes to most primal fears, you know, the thing which you cannot see that will come in the night and kill you from the inside out. I can’t imagine much of anything creepier than that.

Helix

Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

How much were you told about your characters and what was going to happen to them? For example, Sarah seems to be hiding something and she has these hand tremors; were you just told to do that Jordan, or were you also told why her hands were shaking?

JH: I was told why I had the hand tremors before we even started shooting. So in that regard, I was made aware of that particular plot point. But there were several things that will surface throughout the season that you’ll see that we just weren’t aware of. I think that worked in our favor because then we were discovering things in the moment, which was nice because then we weren’t telegraphing things from early on in some of the earlier episodes.

BC: Yes. I would have to agree with that. I honestly prefer not to know what’s going on for the very reason that Jordan brings up.

What were your best and most challenging experiences during production?

BC: I think that would just have to do with – I don’t know. The whole thing was a great deal of fun. I don’t know what really was challenging. It’s always a bit of a challenge to imagine yourself into the circumstances, but even that was relatively easy because of stellar cast-mates and kind of a wonderfully, creepy set and situation.

JH: I just loved the team involved on the project in general. The cast and the crew really made it just such an enjoyable experience. In terms of difficulty, I think for me the most challenging part was memorizing the dialogue and understanding exactly what we were saying. It was very important for me to have a clear understanding, or as clear as possible as I could, of the science that we were referring to. So that was a little bit like going back to school and looking at old textbooks and learning about the science all over again.

You both have done a lot of genre work throughout your careers. Just as fans, do you tend to gravitate toward science fiction and horror personally or is that just sort of how things have turned out in your career?

BC: I dig science fiction. It’s one of my favorite things. I always have, since I was quite young, science fiction and fantasy, possibly as an escape from my military years when I was quite young. So, it was a big sort of escape for me. I’ve loved it, and I guess I’ve loved it ever since.

JH: Yes, it kind of just happened for me I guess. A fair amount of my work has been in the horror and sci-fi genre, and I guess I’m just fortunate in that regard. It wasn’t a particular choice on my part. It just kind of worked out like that.

Is there either a memorable or especially challenging scene that you can recall from that shoot for both of you?

BC: Well I mean for me I think it harkens back to the outside stuff before we had a cold room. I mean we were, in the very first couple or few days we were swaddled in our extreme cold weather gear on a stage with fake snow blowing around and in the middle of summer. It was horrible. I remember I got sick because I ingested so much crap, crud into my lungs I got quite sick for a couple of weeks. So that’s the thing that sticks out to me from the pilot, other than just being so insanely happy to be in Montreal again.

JH: I think the experience that stands out the most for me was the first time that I walked into the BSL4 Lab. It was just so wonderful to see all of the scientific paraphernalia and get to play around with it. We had an actual scientist on set who was showing us exactly what every instrument did. I think that was the most fun part for me.

Helix

Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

You previously talked about how the cast didn’t like the cold room, but did you have a favorite part of the set to work with, or was there something on the set that you found particular creepy?

JH: Yes, well the sets were really great, particularly creepy.

BC: You know what set I love? I really loved when we did the episode with Jeremiah directing and we went to go off base, Kyra and I, to an abandoned listening station. I can’t tell you what happens, but it was dreadfully, dreadfully creepy. The set folks, the set designers and decorators, did an amazing, amazing job with this place. What happens there is intensely, intensely creepy. I think that was one of my favorite sets.

Billy, what’s your take on Alan and Julia’s relationship on the show? What did you enjoy the most about developing that on camera?

BC: Well you know, I’m not sure we did all that much about developing it on camera. I mean that’s the sort of the purview of the writers. They write that stuff, they develop it, and we just kind of do what they write. But again, with this cast, it wasn’t difficult to have chemistry with anyone. There were no divas, no monsters of any kind, except in front of the camera running around with goo coming out of our mouths. It was just a wonderful, wonderful situation. In that case, it’s really not difficult to develop chemistry with anyone.

You know, the times when it’s hard to have chemistry with someone is when you don’t like them as a person, and then you have to go in front of the camera and pretend to like someone or even be in love with someone that you actively dislike. That can be really difficult, but on this show there was none of that. I actively loved everyone I worked with, which just made it so wonderful to go to work.

Can you both just quickly describe your characters in three words.

BC: No wait a minute, this might even be more fun. How about we describe each other’s characters in three words?

JH: Okay, Alan Farragut is commendable. Standup guy, I know that’s not one word, but yes, standup guy. And…sensitive?

BC: This is hilarious. Intelligent, of course. I would say there’s just a little, there’s just a spark of defiance, I would say: intelligent, defiant and, well, sexy.

Helix – Season 1 is available on DVD now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

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