Defiance stars reveal the 'beating heart and soul' of Syfy's new series

Contributed by
Apr 15, 2013, 1:06 PM EDT (Updated)

You've had a chance to play the game. Now you can see the companion TV series when Syfy's Defiance premieres tonight at 9 p.m., which stars Grant Bowler and Stephanie Leonidas promise will create a brand-new genre for television.

Defiance is different than anything I've ever read,” said New Zealand's Bowler, who plays Joshua Nolan. “Ultimately as an actor and as a storyteller you're looking for a story that hasn't been told, and 99 out of 100 pilots that you receive, you've seen it before. Ninety-nine novels, 99 movies out of 100 you're read or you've seen before, and Defiance was a world that I hadn't seen before. It was a genre that I hadn't exactly seen before.”

When English actress Leonidas first read the pilot, “it wasn't just this apocalypse story with aliens fighting each other. There was a real human drama to the piece, and it felt like there was real heart to it, and the characters had stuff that people could relate to, even though they were these aliens with prosthetics on their heads.”

Defiance takes place in the near future on a partially terraformed Earth where several species of aliens known collectively as Votans have settled among the human population. The story follows Bowler's Nolan, a grizzled scavenger with an alien stepdaughter, Irisa Nyira (Leonidas), an Irathient warrior whom he's adopted. The duo end up in a boom town called Defiance, which sits on the ruins of St. Louis, where Nolan's military background proves valuable in protecting the town.

People look for quick labels, and sci-fi western is a really, really quick one-line sound bite,” said Bowler. “You could probably almost describe the social structure as western, the world as sci-fi and get away with that. But the themes of the show are Shakespearean the nature. The show is an immigrant drama. So that's what I mean when I say I haven't seen the story before. This genre hasn't existed before. People are going to want to throw a name on it so they can communicate the idea of it, but yes, probably in two to five years' time they'll be going, 'It's a cross between Defiance and Flashdance,' and stuff like that.”

The series begins with a bit of a falling out between father and daughter, and then the two begin singing. “And that scene has 15 years of shared history and choosing each other over everything and a father-daughter relationship to it. And, of course, we'd met 12 days earlier and had some light conversations over tea about what we're going to do,” said Bowler. “So as the season goes along our relationship gets better. Our trust in each other is as actors develops and we start to see more clearly what works in the dynamics between the two characters, and that feeds back through the directors and the producers to the writer's coach. And they start filling in the blanks for us and start to write to the dynamics of what is going on,” said Bowler.

So the beauty of that Nolan-and-Irisa relationship for me is it's the heart of both characters. You take each of those characters and deprive them of that relationship and they lose a dimension. It really is the beating heart and soul of each of them, and it's also the coolest father-daughter dynamic, I think, that I've seen. They're two people that if they were quasi-related she'd stab him, he'd shoot her, and they'd both be dead in the street and you'd wonder why. ... I kind of love that, that there's always that element of like there's a bit of danger between them. Neither of them are shy about pulling a gun, a knife or putting their hands up.”

It's just their way,” said Leonidas. “They live or die together, and that kind of sums them up. I mean, they really would. And also they couldn't live with each other. Like Grant said, I don't think they know what to do with themselves. It's literally like they're sort of part of one. I mean, they're just fiercely, fiercely loyal towards each other and would do anything.”

Also it's this typical father-daughter relationship, as well. It's kind of like you would see with any human daughter. They have their ups and downs, and Nolan has to watch this young girl from 10 years old grow up and start developing into a woman, and that's scary for any father. And also for Irisa being this alien as well, she's got all that other stuff going on and it's … yes, it's double whammy for Nolan,” said Leonidas.

It's a beautiful relationship, but it has its complete rocky moments. And these two carry weapons, so it's never going to be that easy,” she said.

For Bowler, his character is human, so “the only thing I brought to Nolan was my emotional immaturity, which I'm determined to capitalize on as long as I can.”

However, Irisa is alien. “She's very wolf-like. She's been brought up by Nolan, who's a human, so that's what she knows, but then deep down there's this kind of Irathient beast under there, this feral creature, so that is interested in discovering those parts of Irisa through the series,” said Leonidas.

Another major character on the series is the town of Defiance itself. The town was actually built and is so realistic that Leonidas wishes she could buy something from one of the shops.

Look, the back lot is another stroke of genius. Remember we shot Defiance in a seven-day turnaround, seven main shoot days, with maybe one or two second-unit days. So the scale of this thing is amazing for a turnaround. We shoot about 1/3 green screen, 1/3 location and 1/3, back lot so it’s like a seesaw. The back lot completely grounds the green screen. The green screen gives us our size and our scale and our scope, and we absolutely need that,” said Bowler.

“But the fact that Syfy went ahead and built the town for us, what that allows us [to see] the town’s real, and it’s eminently real, and we shoot our sets inside out. So you can start in the cell in the Lawkeeper’s office in one shot. You know, look through the Lawkeeper’s office out into the street, then across into the main ones, so we get to ground the show. Not only for us as actors, but for the audience, we get to ground it. It’s real, you see the people walking past out front. You see aliens wandering down the street while you’re in Doc Yewll’s office, and that is a beautiful counterpoint on a production level to what we’re trying to do with the visual effects,” he said.

“As an actor, yes, it’s fantastic. I sit on the porch of the Lawkeeper’s office and glare at people all day. I call it character building,” said Bowler.

Here's a look at Defiance:

Defiance airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. on Syfy. The MMO game is available online, and for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Defiance comes from Syfy and Trion Worlds, and is the first-ever convergence of television and Massively Multiplayer Online gaming, featuring an interconnected world and storylines that will co-exist throughout a scripted drama series and the multiplatform MMO shooter.

Are you ready for a Shakespearean sci-fi western?