In her 20-year career, actress Tricia Helfer has become somewhat of a connoisseur of great finales. She's been lucky to see a healthy number of her characters to the very end of their narratives in lauded series from the SYFY reboot of Battlestar Galactica to Burn Notice and even the upcoming fifth and final season of SYFY's Van Helsing.
As her incredibly dense resume reflects, the storytelling gods have been mostly kind to Helfer's characters — and the casting gods have certainly been exceptionally generous. Helfer's been working near-constantly in genre and non-genre TV and film, playing a wide array of roles that have allowed her to assuredly avoid being typecast as "that gorgeous Cylon." With Van Helsing, she's even navigating uncharted waters as Bram Stoker's horror icon, Dracula. Not a bad way to make your acting mark, or help close out the epic narrative of Vanessa Van Helsing's destiny on the five-season show.
Following a very weird year for everyone, Helfer recently got on the line with SYFY WIRE to talk about how she's had the opportunity to reflect on her career filled with unexpected roles that have made her a beloved genre character actor. From Battlestar Galactica to Lucifer, she takes us down memory lane and into the future...
There’s the perception by observers of your career that you are constantly busy working on a variety of projects. But 2020 forced many creatives to have to stop or slow down for a while. Was that the case for you?
It was a little bit of both. I look back at pictures of the beginning of lockdown. I had come off of being away for a month in Slovakia shooting the first three episodes of Van Helsing... which were so creatively different.
But, I actually stayed really busy in the beginning of it because I was doing my podcast for Battlestar Galactica called Battlestar Galacticast. My co-host, Marc [Bernardin] and I discussed at the time... would we still physically get together? He would come over to my house and the sound guy would come over if we were having a guest, so we talked about should we put it on hold? And he's like, "No, let's continue." So we did it over Zoom. We continued to have great guests. We just plowed through those because there was no other schedule to get in the way. We were really busy taping one or two a week. Then SYFY decided to do an [episode] marathon of Battlestar Galactica and they wanted me to host, doing a bunch of interviews for the marathon. So I was also doing that for a week or two of straight interviews with my castmates.
And then in the summer, Van Helsing picked back up again and they consolidated my work so I didn't have to go up there for too long.
Did the process of doing that deep dive on Battlestar Galactica feel like your first real assessment of the show with some distance from it?
Well, so many of the people that we had on as guests are in my life constantly. The Battlestar Galactica group, they are my family here in L.A. Katie Sackoff and James Callis and Jamie Bamber, although he's not in L.A. anymore. He moved back to Europe. Edward James Olmos and Mary [McDonnell], they're there. They are my family here, so I see them all the time.
But it was really interesting to see some people and talk to some people that I hadn't for a while, like the writers that had all moved on to other projects and things. Producers like Ron Moore were so gracious with his time and was on four times with us.
Did it make you appreciate the series more in any way?
I wouldn't say appreciate the show more because I did appreciate it then. But that was also my first series, so looking back at it having more years of experience, I could just go, "Wow, it really was a good show."
I went into it kind of expecting it to feel dated, and it didn't at all. Not only the special effects still held up completely great because the late [VFX supervisor] Gary Hutzel was amazing. It was odd actually to watch almost how more relevant it seems to our time period right now than when it was in 2003 to 2009. It seemed like we were almost writing it for today's time.
What are your thoughts on the continuation that is being developed by Sam Esmail right now?
Sam is a brilliant showrunner and filmmaker. I know he talked with Ron and got his blessing. I wasn't privy to their discussions, obviously.
But I do remember asking Ron on the podcast — and this is before I had heard about the new reimagining of it — Marc asked him would he ever consider going back. And Ron said no. He said that he told the story that he wanted to tell and, and he's happy with that. And he doesn't want to go back and revisit it, even though he loved the experience.
Another series you’ve become synonymous with is Lucifer, which will air the latter half of Season 5 in May. "It Never Ends Well for the Chicken" in Season 5 felt like your swan song from the show.
At that point, they certainly didn't know [the show was renewed]. They were wrapping the writers' room. I think they were on the last day of the writers' room of Season 5 when they got the call that there was gonna be a Season 6. They were like, "Wait, but we introduced God!" Who introduces God unless you know it's your last season?
But that one I think was actually Chris Rafferty's idea, one of the writer/producers on the show. I was super happy to come back and play. And I hear they're having a musical [episode] so I'm very happy I was not part of that one because I cannot sing or dance to save my life! [Laughs.]
SYFY's Van Helsing is another series wrapping up its run this year. You get to help close it by playing the first female embodiment of Dracula. Any qualms about diving into that challenge?
What I liked was that the show had its own version of it. It was already a very female-centric show, so I didn't have to worry, "Am I gonna get all this backlash about Dracula being a woman and whatever?" It's Vanessa Van Helsing. [Laughs.] Gender is not really an issue in the show, which I liked. And so it was a little nerve-wracking, but I purposefully didn't go watch a bunch of Dracula shows.
In between Seasons 4 and 5, I did read a book on Draculas throughout cinematic history. But I didn't watch because it is such an iconic character. I didn't want to fall into a trap of inadvertently copying.
Did they lay out the character arc for you when you signed on to appear in Season 4?
I didn't know where they were going in Season 5. When I first signed on, I just knew Episode 7, that one scene I have where I first come out, and then Vanessa launched me back in the realm. But they knew and I knew that Season 5 was going to be their series finale. They were introducing, obviously, Dracula, to be in the fifth and final season. I knew that, and I trusted that there was going to be stuff there to play with and to delve into.
It feels like the season will be building toward the ultimate boss battle between you and Vanessa?
There has been a shift and there's been an alteration of Dracula compared to the finale of the fourth season... It does come obviously down to an ultimate [confrontation] — I don't think that's a surprise for anyone. But there's a shift and I can't really explain more without giving too much away. But there is a shift and that's because of what happens in the first three episodes.
Last but not least, animal rights are a big issue for you. Recently you helped voice a new short film, Save Ralph, with Taika Waititi for the Humane Society that dropped on April 6. How did that come about?
The Humane Society International in Canada reached out to me and gave me the premise of it. Obviously to be involved with the names that are involved, like Ricky Gervais, who I think is brilliant, I just said yes, immediately and I was given the script and I started crying.
Season 5 of Van Helsing premieres on Friday, April 16 at 10 p.m. ET on SYFY.