Kristanna Loken seemed to come out of nowhere when she was cast opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 3, but like all overnight successes, it was years of dues paying in the making. The stunning actress has been a regular on the series Mortal Kombat: Conquest and Philly, but she's best known for her roles in films like Bloodrayne and miniseries like Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King.
Coming off an acclaimed role on this season of The L Word, Loken stars in and co-executive produces Painkiller Jane debuting on the SCI FI Channel Saturday April 14th. Based on the comic book created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada, the series has little in common with the SCI FI Channel movie of the same name, which featured a different cast and an alternate storyline.
Loken was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to talk with us at the beginning of another long day.
What was it about the pilot for Painkiller Jane that made you sign onto the series, and more than that, sign on as a producer as well?
Well, the deal was pitched to me almost a year ago now. I had done a miniseries (Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King) for SciFi that did well and we wanted to try to find something else that fit for both of us. I had a meeting with Gil Grant, who's one of our executive producers and the show runner, and he pitched me the concept, still without a script.
It was when I'd read the pilot and the comic book actually that I really fell in love with the Jane Vasko character. She had a lot of depth to work with. I love the fact that she could heal but not from the emotional or physically pain, which is an interesting concept for me. I liked the back story. I just felt like she was a very rich character and I wanted to make her very real and even though she does have these healing abilities, she doesn't know why or how or the genesis of when they began so it gives a lot of room to grow in the series as a character.
And I also thought well if I'm going to be basically eating, living, sleeping and breathing the show for a good eight months out of the year, then I should be able to have some overall creative control as well. And that's when they asked me to come onboard also as a co-executive producer. I produced my first independent feature last year and I guess I've learned enough. I've been doing this since I was thirteen. So a long time in the business, and it just feels like a right overall fit.
You've done a lot of work in the science fiction or fantasy genres – are you drawn to those genres or is it just what you're cast in?
It was just the way I started getting cast and people saw me for those types of roles. I'm not much of a sci-fi fan myself, but I do like the freedom it gives you as an artist. To really do and create whatever you want and really go for it and not have the limitations or guidelines. So I think it's very freeing for an artist to do sci-fi.
For you, what is it about the character that you feel plays to your strengths as an actor and what aspects really push you?
I would call it an action-drama-sci-fi, I guess. The action is something I've done a lot of, fight choreography and that type of thing. But then also really playing on the emotional side and the vulnerable side of Jane, I really enjoy having that aspect as well. It's versatile. It's not one or the other. And that's why I also think hopefully that it'll translate and attract a wide audience because it's not just one type of show. So, for me, every day and every week is different. I don't know what circumstance she's going to be in or the other team members [are going to be in]. So it keeps it fresh and keeps me on my toes.
You've come off The L Word, which you've gone on record as saying was not the best working environment you've been in. As the lead and one of the producers on Painkiller Jane, how do you set the tone for the show and the set to get the best out of everyone?
That's a good question. I think a really important part of the job is keeping the morale up. In essence, it's almost like you're a bit at war with the job because you're in this very confined space with different types of people from all walks of life for condensed amounts of hours and you really have to be able to keep the morale up, keep everybody positive, no matter what. And it's definitely not always an easy job.
But I just try to have a very sunny disposition about things. Try to keep things light, but professional when they need to be. Obviously the overall quality of the show is the most important aspect. So just trying to do whatever it takes to get the best outcome of the show and that's facilitated by people's morale and how happy they are. Do they want to show up at work? Do they want to work with you? I think it's really an intrinsic part of the job. We do things all the time.
The other day we had a screening for the cast and crew of the first episode and I think it's important to see, to show everybody what you're doing. So you know why you're spending your fifteen hours a day and missing your family and friends, that you're doing something special. So, yeah, I think it's a very important part of the job.
What are your responsibilities as the producer day to day, because you probably don't walk on set firing people, demanding scenes be rewritten, throwing coffee at underlings and ordering extras sent to your trailer once you wrap?
Actually, it's exactly that! [laughs] No, I'm joking. It really is a little bit of everything. It is also creating the overall tone. Up until recently I was the only creative producer up here in Vancouver on set on a daily basis. So, I was making a lot of the creative decisions: what the sets look like, watching casting tapes, getting together the episodes as they come out, choosing music for the title sequence, what do we think about that, how do we like this and the editing.
I have an opinion and a say on virtually everything that goes on creatively as far as the show goes. We've now hired someone else because with this also being a single lead show, there's no way I could possibly have taken care of everything that needed to be taken care of. We now have a wonderful person who's helping me out. It's a whole other job, more than just showing up and saying your dialogue. But it's great, I love it. Because I really feel like creatively I'll have a lot more input that just getting paid for acting.
Having just seen the finished pilot on a screen recently, what stood out for you?
It's the first episode and it's the overall tone of the show that you never really know how it's going to be until you see it come together. Because you have all these wonderful creative forces that are putting their ideas and creativity out in their own special way, so when you see it all come together you see the lighting and you see the visual effects and how the stories come together, you see how the sets look and the fight choreography – all the things that make the end result and the end product. You don't really know how it's going to look until you see it come to life. It's exciting. And then you start to get an overall feel and tone of the show and see for future episodes what will work and what won't.
Have you had much input as far as the directors and the style of the show?
Quite a bit, actually. For me it was interesting. Aside from The L Word this past year, I hadn't done series television in a long time. And I was trying to re-wrap my brain around the fact of working with different directors every episode. In film there's one director. It's been better than I thought. Or at least an easier transition. We've now found a few directors that we like and put them in a bit of a rotation so that also helps, too. They're familiar with the show and the characters and the tone and just the overall feel.
But, a lot, I think in their defense, they only know so much. Maybe they've seen parts of the pilot or they've seen a little bit of this or that, but they don't really know, so I think they rely on the actors to say what the character would do in this sort of situation or that sort of thing.
I've got to say, there's mixed feelings. I really like being away from LA. It's nice to have a break. You do get spoiled with the weather and you kind of take that for granted. And there's a lot that LA has to offer. But the show wouldn't look the way it looks. Its like The X-Files, when The X-Files went to LA the light was different, the sets were different, just the overall feel was different. You have different people. It's just a different overall feel. And I think the weather and the vibe up here have really helped create the right moody tone that we want for the show. And in that aspect I think it's good.
And I just like to be away from all that LA B.S.. I love what I do and I love the fact that I don't have to be there to do it. LA is probably not the first place I'd chose to live if it weren't for what I do. I like Vancouver. It rains a lot, which I'm getting a little bit sick of. But today is beautiful. This weekend we went skiing with a bunch of people at Whistler, which I love. So there's a lot that it has to offer and actually the summer, because we also shot The L Word up here, the summer was gorgeous. It really was lovely. The quality of life here is good and it's nice to take a break and not hear about the war.
But we are taking the show to Budapest, Hungary for the last four episodes.
Is it going to be set in Budapest, or is it standing in for someplace else?
Well we haven't really set the show anywhere. It's that make believe fantasy world where you don't really know where it is. I know the comic book takes place in New York, but we don't. We're not trying to be New York or Chicago or Vancouver or anywhere. So I guess Budapest will be also the same thing. We wanted to give it more of a European vibe. I shot in Romania, which is not Hungary, but its close and it really gives it another feeling. Story wise we're going to have some pretty neat things that turn up in Budapest.
Yes, they're stand alone episodes. You wouldn't have to have seen episode 2 to be clued into episode 13, however there are definite overall story arcs with characters and character relationships and bread crumbs of why I am the way I am. A couple steps forward, a couple steps back. There are going to be interesting things that happen to just pop up for certain reasons and we don't know why at the time, but we'll find out later. Some characters return. That sort of thing. So, yeah, there will definitely be an overall story line, but like I said, it's not necessary to have seen all of them to understand episode 13 or 15 or whatever.
How far into the season are you so far?
We're on episode thirteen now, thirteen of twenty two. More than halfway there and more than halfway done with our time in Vancouver.
My last question is always, what's the question never get asked?
Huh. I don't know. It seems to differ with every job.
Well I can give you one more tidbit of information. I have a film coming out in, I believe September, that should have a wide release. Another video game turned movie big action epic with Jason Statham and Burt Reynolds and Claire Forlani and Leelee Sobieski and Matthew Lillard and John Rhys-Davies and me. It's called Dungeon Siege: In the Name of the King and it's something people might want to look for in September.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, interrupting what little down time you have at the beginning of what I'm sure is a long day.
Oh yeah. They're all long. But thanks a lot and I really hope you like the show.
Painkiller Jane debuts this Friday, April 13 th , at 10pm on SCI FI Channel. Check your local listings
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