A Chat with Continuum’s Simon Barry, Rachel Nichols, and Victor Webster

Continuum finally rolled out for U.S. audiences last Monday on Syfy, and we had a chance to join a pre-premiere press call with series stars Rachel Nichols and Victor Webster, and series creator and executive producer Simon Barry. They’re ramping up to start the second season this spring in Vancouver, and they took the time to chat with us about how the show came together, and what new audiences can expect from the show.

Barry says the idea for the show came from him trying to find a pragmatic approach get his love of sci-fi into a feasible television production. “Time travel is a really great vehicle for that because you can have a very large mythology in a big universe, but still be set in the present day world, which obviously is more production-friendly,” he says. “It was a pragmatic decision at the beginning, but then once the mythology and the characters starting coming together…it grew beyond that into a much more passionate process for me in terms of the many characters that the show presents, and also just some of the bigger themes that we are trying to explore in the show.”

The first step in putting the show together was to find Kiera. “When Rachel presented herself as an option, we were thrilled and jumped on the chance to work with her right away,” says Barry. “And once we had [her], we basically built the cast around her, and Victor was a great fit…it was very quick [to put the show together after that].

Nichols initially got the script from one of her best friends, who had another friend who was working on the casting. “She sent it to me and I loved it…which is very unorthodox. Usually you don’t get a script from your best friend that’s amazing that you immediately want to do,” she says. “And then my team was absolutely, completely on board and they loved the script, and they loved the fact that a friend of mine had found it.” She adds that they went full steam ahead from there just before Christmas of 2011 and then she moved to Vancouver on January 5th to start shooting.

Webster came to the project quickly, too. “I got a call on a Wednesday asking me if I’d like to come to Vancouver to do a chemistry test with Rachel, and I hadn’t read the script yet,” he says. “And I was a little hesitant at first, and then I read the script and I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I got on a plane on Friday and then got a call I think that weekend that I would be moving to Vancouver. And then…Monday I was [in] Vancouver for six months. So, it all happened really, really fast.”

Nichols says being cast first on a project was new territory, as was doing a chemistry read for a character that wouldn’t necessarily be a love interest. “All the guys that came in and read were great. Very, very different but great, and Victor was my first choice, which he knows now, so I’m not talking out of turn at all,” she says. “We sort of sat down after I tested with everybody and he was a clear runaway choice. And so then that piece…was in place.”

Nichols has also been thrilled with the casting of the LIBR8 members and the extended police family. “I just sort of showed up on set first day and met everybody and thought, ‘Wow. They’ve assembled such an impressive cast of characters that there’s no way the show isn’t going to work. It’s going to have to because everybody is great,’” she says. “[It’s] one of the more interesting…groups of people I’ve ever seen cast all at once, so the fact that it was a part of a show that I’m on was great.”

While Carlos is Kiera’s onscreen partner, Alec spends as much time with, her but he’s in her head. Nichols agrees that working with an actor in the room is easier than working with someone whose voice is just in your head, but she says Erik Knudsen, who plays Alec, went above and beyond to help her develop the Kiera/Alex relationship. “I’ve never met an actor who was more of a giver, because I work every day, and …Alec’s voice usually works every day, and Erik Knudsen, on the days when he was not working [on camera], would come to set and read all of his lines off camera,” she says.

“[That] was really important for both of us, because then we can hear how the other person is talking in those scenes, even if we can’t see them, and it’s not just…a script supervisor reading the lines.” Nichols appreciated the extra step since Alec and Kiera are “very, very connected on an emotional level. He’s the only person…that’s a true ally that knows my story and can understand it, and he is my best friend,” she says.

Barry says they didn’t screen test Knudsen and Nichols together, but they immediately knew how good he was. “He’s an amazing find and an amazing actor and just a great individual. [He] has a great soul and a great demeanor,” he says. “And because there was a disconnect [of them not being physically in the same scenes together], I think we felt a little bit more confident about them not reading together…because there is that disconnect and this unfamiliarity that we really embraced in the first few episodes because they hadn’t met.”

Barry has high praise for all of the cast and crew he’s assembled. “They set the bar high. And anyone who shows up on Continuum knows that they can’t sort of phone it in,” he says. “These guys work harder than anyone else I’ve ever worked with. And everyone who comes to work with us, by seeing their example, usually shows up with their best work.”

I asked about the Canadian aspects of the show, and taking advantage of the great repertory company they could tap into by shooting the show, and setting the show, in Vancouver. Barry says the show was originally developed for American networks but he found an opportunity to do it in Canada, and then surprisingly, was offered the opportunity to keep it in Vancouver, which is where he lives.

“I had a built-in relationship with a lot of actors in Vancouver [from] having lived here for a long time, and so it was a pleasure for me to really kind of wade into that pool of talent [because I knew] where a lot of the great actors were hiding,” he says. “[Because] of the amount of work that comes here, [Vancouver] has developed into a really strong talent base on many levels, not just with regards to actors but directors, writers, [and] producers. And so [I] knew that there was a much deeper reservoir than people appreciated, and the fact that we could be set in Canada was just a bonus, [especially to] showcase this city, which is a character unto itself.”

When the trio were asked about what would hook new viewers, they agreed it’s the genre mix.“I think there [are] a lot of ideas in the show that are relevant to today…that we’ve kind of repurposed through the prism of someone from the future. I think there’s something interesting about someone who has a perspective that’s different who knows what’s going to happen. And seeing our world through those eyes can sometimes be a fascinating way to relook at our world. So, that’s one element that I think is definitely intriguing,” says Barry.

“I think audiences will also like just the straight up thriller aspect of the show and the character dynamics of the show. There’s a real intimacy between the good guys and the bad guys on this show that’s very special. And because the time travel component links everyone, there is this awareness that all of the characters share, regardless of which side they’re on that really helps keep the show kind of connected within the varying factions.”

Webster thinks audiences will appreciate the show because it makes you think. “I like to make a show that after [it] ends, you could sit there with your friends and…discuss the possibilities and where a show could go, and what did they mean by that? And you know what if this happened? And, I think we explore a lot of those in this. We answer a lot of questions as much as we leave a lot of questions for the audience to ponder,” he says.

“And of course, me coming from an action background and growing up doing martial arts, I love the fact that this is a fast-paced, action-driven show that’s relatable. It’s not too far out there, even though it is a sci-fi show. All of this is within the realm of possibility. And, it’s [got] incredible characters. So it’s got aspects from so many different genres compiled together and mixed up that there’s a little bit of something for everybody.”

Nichols adds that Continuum gives you everything you want—procedural and sci-fi elements in a heavily character-driven show. “That sort of trifecta is very hard to come by,” she says. “The sci-fi genre is fascinating and wonderful because it allows us to do so many different things, whether it’s something like a social commentary [on] corporations and governments. [Sci-fi] really kind of lets us, as storytellers, get away with a lot. And, the built-in sci-fi audience that always enjoys that will love Continuum…Audiences from other types of shows…will also find something that they’re looking for as well, and that’s hard to do. I think Continuum does it very well.”

We couldn’t agree more. Continuum airs tonight on Syfy in the U.S. at 8 pm/7c and repeats throughout the week. Season two returns to Showcase in Canada later this year.

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