In case you missed part one, we started our Alphas-palooza with a three-tier interview. Catch it here. In part two, we chat with co-creator Zak Penn and cast member Warren Christie. Christie plays Cameron Hicks, a newbie Alpha who’s capable of hyper-precise aim. He joins the team after he’s unwittingly summoned as assassin.
“Cameron is a guy [who’s] had a bit of run of bad luck,” says Christie. “He’s a recovering alcoholic and through a chain of events, [he’s] brought into this group run by Dr. Rosen, who wants to help him … [and he’s] using the ability that is just new to him … [while figuring out everything that goes with that].” Christie found the character interesting because he’s “the eyes for the audience, [joining] this group of individuals who have been together for a short amount of time [and] he doesn’t just jump right in with both feet.”
The pilot script came to Christie as part of the usual pilot process, and he recorded an audition on tape while working in Vancouver. “I kind of fell in love with it right away,” he says. He had a previous working history with (producer) Jack Bender, and that piqued his interest, as did the involvement of Zak Penn. “I was a huge fan [and] I knew that in his hands he could take what was already a great script and great characters and really take it up a notch,” he says. “And then finally, when David Strathairn signed on, it kind of became an ‘I need to get into this project and do whatever I have to do’.’’
Christie says he fell in love with Hicks right away. “He’s just got so much going on in his life and not good, in too many ways.” He especially loved that Hicks isn’t anybody’s hero. “He has isolated himself and he … put his head down and said, ‘This is my lot in life and this is what I’m going to do’ [until] he is given this opportunity [with the Alphas].”
“I remember the first time [I read] the pilot screaming [about how] great [the character was] and then there’s these action sequences, and this is so much fun. And I love the fact that it didn’t get a big bow put on it at the end of the pilot,” he says. “I’ve read some great pilots before, and when you turn that last page it was kind of, ‘Wow that was great. And now what are you going to do?’ I just thought the texture of [Hicks] and his life and all this different stuff was going to be a nice challenge. And it was nice to not be the bad guy again, although it’s not exactly loads of fun all the time.
Christie reserves high praise for David Strathairn. “[He is] everything that is right with this industry,” says Christie. “He is our leader in front of the camera and off. He is a phenomenal talent to work with and just an incredible man to be around. [He] attacks his roles with such integrity [and] he has been a really great example to the rest of us.”
Christie is particularly enjoying the physicality of the role, which is something he hasn’t had as much of an opportunity to do in his recent roles in movies of the week for Lifetime, Hallmark Channel, and Syfy, and series roles on October Road and Happy Town. “The stunts are getting … bigger and more elaborate and I find that it’s a really fun challenge on a daily basis,” he says. He gives a nod to his stunt team, especially to one of the crew, Stefan, who brings parkour into some of the scenes. “[They] do a phenomenal job,” he says. [It’s] one of those things that take our show … to another level stunt-wise.”
We asked Penn about the refreshing lack of cool around the Alphas team – that their office is Plain Jane and if you saw them on the street or around town in the van, you’d assume they were office mates off to lunch. “I would say you’ve probably hit the key point of the series for me right on the head … we want[ed] them to feel normal, you know,” he says happily. “[T]his is true for Michael Karnow, as well. [He’s] a good friend of mine who really brought a whole sensibility to the show [where] we wanted to see the normal aspects of life [that] we all deal with.”
He adds that he has a pet peeve about shows and movies where the timing is perfect: “If a group of people are pulling up to a crime scene or wherever, [and] they park, [and they get a space out front] … that does not happen.” He also enjoys being able to portray the everyday office politics. “Those are things that you don’t normally explore,” he points out. “I felt like that’s what makes [the] show funny at times [and] it’s what makes me believe that it’s actually happening [in real life].”
He says that finding human moments with these types of characters is the key reason to do the series, more than anything else. “It’s the life and soul of it and it has been there [in] every draft and [sometimes it’s hard to keep those moments],” he says. He points as an example to arguments over the Alphas stopping to feed the parking meter. “[We] absolutely need that … as much as we need Hicks to fire a sniper bullet through an air grate,” he says. “I hope people appreciate it because it’s something that we care very much about.”
The fun environment on the show carries over to the crew, who played an in-joke on Penn that made the pilot. “They mocked up [an album cover] for the record store scene … I was in a band in high school [called Oedipus and the Mama’s Boys] and … they took the picture of my band and created an album and when Dr. Rosen is looking through albums … one of them is my crappy band from high school’s album,” he says. “[They] actually framed it and gave it to me at the end of the shoot [and] that actually meant quite a bit to me.”
Christie won’t name names but he does tease upcoming guesters. “I think people who like [this] genre are going to [be] really blown away by … how they come in,” he says. “And they’re also going to get to see them play against type a little bit, which [is] going to be real exciting.”
For now, he’s thrilled with the role, and the show. “There are times when a script will come in [and] I’m just … blown away,” he says. “[As] we have gone along, [the writers] have always been very open to listening to us [and adding or changing] little things … and making it as naturalistic as possible.” Penn reciprocates the props to the actors. “[They] really do deserve a lot of credit,” he says. “They all are very shy about admitting this, but … we’ll let them come up with stuff on their own and [it’s sometimes] better than what we wrote.” He says a lot of the character growth comes from each actor suggesting tweaks from their own focal points of inhabiting the characters.
Penn also speaks plainly about the ass kicking of working on a weekly show, “It is really a daunting task to create a show like this and to work as hard as [we all do] for such an enormous amount of time,” he says. “I have to say that many times making this show, I realize [why] show runners are such valued commodities.” He says he’s gained an understanding about why actors bail out of series five years in. “[It’s] not like a movie where you’re sitting there getting pampered in your trailer and you come out for two hours and then you have a nice meal,” he says. “It’s a lot of hard work.”
Christie chimes in that the onset environment is integral to working on a weekly show. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great people. But I have also been on shows where it’s not exactly a whole lot of laughs,” he offers. He says that as he’s gotten older, what he looks for in a character, a job, and a show has evolved. “If you show up, and on day two you [realize you can’t stand these people], then [you’re] looking at a long trek,” he says. “I think more than anything, [working on Alphas] has opened my eyes to the type of people I want to surround myself with [and] the jobs that I want to do. It’s been a lot of fun. It is hard hours. But when you’re going with a group like that and everybody is on the same vibe of trying to do something great, it’s really exciting.” He says they’re working very hard to make sure that they entertain the hell out of the audience for an hour every week.
If every episode is as entertaining as the pilot, they’re doing just fine. Alphas premiered July 11th on Syfy, in the United States and SPACE in Canada and will air every Monday this summer on both networks at 10pm ET.