Saving Hope fans … by this point, you’ve probably seen the heartbreaking Season 3 finale (and if you haven’t, watch it first and then come back and read this). We were lucky to chat with Benjamin Ayres (Dr. Zach Miller), who shared his experience filming those intense scenes.
Oh my god, that season finale. I did not see that coming whatsoever.
I know! What are we doing? The show becomes Game of Thrones in a moment like that. You’re like, “What? No character is safe?”
Exactly. And you having to be the person playing the character that witnesses it all.
We really worked on that moment. First of all, Daniel and I are really good buddies. So you’re standing there, and we fake the explosion, Daniel runs off and then there’s a bigger explosion, and then it’s just me looking at nothing. That was such a weird moment to play. We tried it so many different ways. The director, David [Wellington] asked me, “Are you going to run forward?” and I’m like, “What am I going to run towards?” I just remained in shock until the point when it hit me what was happening. It was such a bizarre thing.
What was your initial reaction when you received the script for this episode? And when did you find out this was the way the story was going to play out?
I kind of knew before the script came out just because Daniel had told me what was going on. For him, he found out the day before the script came out. It was a major shock to us. “This isn’t happening” was the reaction up until the day we were shooting, and I was still “I can’t believe this is going to happen.” Right up until me watching the episode last week.
Going into the episode, I was sure that Zach was a goner, but after that white horse first appeared, then I kind of saw the direction the story was headed.
Yeah, and you can even trace it back to that coin toss where things start to lead toward Joel’s untimely ending.
Your scenes in the episode looked like they were perhaps a bit more intricate than in other episodes. Can you tell us a bit about bringing this episode to life? Someone with a mortar shell in them? I’ve never heard about anything like that before!
I love that you said that. I remember something again about reading the script and being like, “Wow, what’s that going to look like?” And I remember when we got out to the field and looking at it, wondering “Would that happen?” and “Is this possible?” They were like, well, no, but for dramatic purposes, it is happening, and maybe it could happen, so let’s just go with that.
It was a really fun episode to shoot. I remember thinking it was kind of like a little film where we went on our own little journey, and the production value of being out in this field with all of these army personnel and vehicles and coming in by helicopter. Daniel and I kept saying that it felt like we were making a short film outside of the show itself. In fact, going back to Episode 17, him and I were doing a scene in the ER and Linda Pope, our producer, comes up to us and asks, “Are you guys comfortable at all in a helicopter,” and we were like, “Yeah, that would be awesome.” And she says, “Because in the next episode, we think we might have you guys fly in by helicopter and jump out.” We thought it was awesome and were so giddy for the rest of the day, that we’d get to act out a scene from Apocalypse Now. We were quite giddy to ride in a helicopter doing dumb things.
I remember it was ridiculously cold. We all had Hotshots under long johns and stuff like that. There was a huge snow warning coming, so the scene where we pick up the guy with the mortar shell, walk him across and take him into a tent, that was added last-minute because they knew the following day it was going to snow, so if we were going to be coming back to this location, there would be snow on the ground and we’d already revealed that there’s no snow. So we had to add us walking into the tent, and then that tent was just outside the studio. We still shot that outside because we wanted to see our breath, but outside of the tent was two feet of snow.
How do you think losing Joel in this way going to affect Zach going forward?
I don’t know, but I want to see it affect him and I think that there are many places for the character to go from here. There’s a darkness that Zach’s going to have to carry into the next season. I don’t know what the jumping off point is going to be for next season. I know they’re not starting the writers room until the middle of March or something. Where I’d like to see Zach go would be to have to figure out in what way he feels responsible for this and I’m intrigued to find out what way it will affect him, especially what day-to-day life will be like for somebody who lost a good friend and feels responsible for it.
The scene that really got me was Zach at the hospital and he’s in the doorway of Alex’s room after she’s given birth. That exchange of looks with no words was really powerful.
Originally, Zach was supposed to walk in and Alex was supposed to say, “Zach” and I say, “Joel died.” When we got there, I couldn’t say, “Joel died,” I cannot say that. I think I’m just going to have the look that tells her what happened and that’s what we went with. That was the hard part. Zach comes back to the hospital and has to tell everybody, and also at the same time feel responsible for everybody else’s pain. Joel wanted to be the hero and he saved Zach.
Looking back at this season, Zach had an interesting arc. Can you share a bit about playing Zach’s journey in Season 3?
The great thing about the show, and the writers are so good at this, things that kind of come out of left field have been planned for a while, and for us, we don’t really get a heads up, like when I read the episode when Zach thought he had prostate cancer. It’s great to not know things like that are upcoming so it comes as a surprise to the actor as much as it does to the character. It was nice to get to know more about Zach, especially with his father having died young, and his father keeping the secret from him that he had had cancer and was trying to help this wife with her husband. I was so grateful to have that episode for Zach. I also think he’s found a lot of happiness in Melanda, and I’m intrigued to see where that is going to go. Is what happened in the season finale going to drive a wedge in their relationship because Zach’s going to need to figure some things out on his own.
Photos Courtesy of CTV