The cast of Defiance promised fans at Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo big changes, meaty stories and high drama when the Syfy series returns in June for its second season.
"Just generally, every position that every main character was in, at the end of Season2, they lose," said Grant Bowler, who plays Chief Lawkeeper Joshua Nolan. "So whatever place social, financially or morally or ethically that they existed in Season 1 is destroyed, and they are left without that. So whatever they had is gone … which means that Season 2, now that you guys, our audience, understand the world and you know the rules, and you know the mythology and you know what happened in the Pale Wars, and blah, blah, blah, now we can get cracking, and get on with it, and start telling the story of all of the dynamics between the characters."
The series is set in the year 2046, more than three decades after the arrival on Earth of several alien races (known collectively as the Votans) in search of a new home. In the wake of terraforming that rendered the landscape virtually unrecognizable and wars that ravaged the globe, humans and Votans struggle to rebuild in towns like Defiance, built atop what was once St. Louis, even as events threaten the fragile peace.
“I think the first season in many ways for the actors and for everyone in production it was a labor of love," said Tony Curran, who plays influential Castithan businessman Datak Tarr, "but it was also a learning curve, you know. The second season will hopefully you will watch it will be much more meaty, and dangerous, and I think our characters will flesh out a lot more."
"The first season was just, like, a dress rehearsal," added Jaime Murray, who plays Datak’s wife Stahma, who’s been described as Defiance’s Lady Macbeth. They were joined on the panel by Jesse Rath, who portrays their son Alak.
"It was for Tony Curran,” Bowler quipped. “I myself was trying to act.”
"'Trying' to act," Curran replied.
The two joked back and forth with each other throughout the panel, with the others joining in from time to time. Bowler eventually explained the reason for their near-constant bickering: "I'm Australian and he's Scottish. … If an Australian is not laying shit on you, they don't like you. And that's true for Scottish too."
Rath said he didn’t realize Bowler is Australian until well into film because he always speaks with an American accent. "I just thought he was a plain asshole," he added.
"Jesse thought I was a real alien," Murray laughed.
The cast took some time away from taking friendly jabs to talk about the show’s setting, a 2046 radically altered St. Louis. "We built the town," Bowler said. "One of the reasons we shoot where we shoot in Toronto is we managed to build seven streets of the town in the backlot, so when you see the town, it's the town. We built it."
Defiance is so detailed and extensive, and the background characters so consistent and plentiful, that Murray said, "I sometimes get lost.
The setting gave Bowler and Murray a chance to take some playful jabs at a co-star who wasn’t on the panel. "Stephanie Leonidas," Bowler said, "who plays my daughter, in the first week we were shooting the pilot, we were shooting next to the – in the Hollows, and there's the big market strip with all the shops and everything, and I'm looking around for Steph because we've got to shoot and literally cameras are rolling. And she's over by some of the extras and I'm, like, ‘What are you doing? We've got to shoot,’ and she's like, 'Oh, I was just going to pick some stuff up from the store.’ ... [It's not real], and she said, 'What, this is not, I can't buy this?'"
Murray, who had obviously heard the story before, said, "Fair enough, it looks like a store, and you might think, ‘I'll buy something,’ but when you see someone with a prosthetic forehead or another person painted white, at what point do you think, ‘That's what people in Toronto look like?’"
"In Steph's defense, she had never been to Canada before, or around Canadians," Bowler offered.
"It was a whole new world for all of us," Curran said. "The humans, the actors, the production crew -- they were creating all these aliens, these alien languages, the different sets." Each of the Votan races has a language, and the actors are required to deliver chunks of dialogue in fictional tongues created by renowned linguist David J. Peterson.
"I play one of the humans on the show," Bowler said. "My poor bloke has to speak all of [the languages] badly." Speaking poorly is a blessing, he said. "These guys have to speak them fluently. They will come into read-throughs with half a page of this stuff. … It hurts to learn, hurts your brain. You just wait for their mouths to stop moving. Is it mine now?"
"In this season," Murray said, "I have this whole page of dialogue in Castian. … I did it. Everyone clapped at the end. Then they rewrote it, said it would be better if I said it in English. I went to a producer and I begged him to put it back in: ‘I will never get that time back in my life.’” The producer relented and the Cath dialogue went back into the script.
The actors provided a few hints about what the second season may hold for their characters.
"Nolan and Datak have a great storyline in Season 2,” Curran said. “That's all I am going to say.”
"There's a moment that Tony Curran and I will never forget," Bowler added.
"Last night, or …?" Rath joked.
"At the beginning of Season 2, everything is broken and nothing is as it was," Curran said. "People have to adapt even more so than they did so in Season 1 to survive and get on. Even more skullduggery, darker. … People are helping people you ordinarily think wouldn't help each other."
"In the first episode [of Season 2] Datak finally isn't too proud to ask for a hand. Just remember that" Bowler teased.
"You can call him Mr. Ambiguity," Curran joked.
"I don't think he's asking for help," Rath said.
Alak will undergo some immediate shifts in character and responsibility. "Jesse's character … is not going to law school, I'll put it that way," Curran said.
"Papa Datak isn't in the picture really at the end of Season 1,” Rath said. "So I got some big shoes to fill. Stahma will help me fill those shoes."
"She's the matriarch," Curran said. "None of us would be here without the mamas of the world. Season 2 is a salute to the – hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Women in Season 2, they are very strong."
"A common theme throughout our show is that we have very strong women," Rath said. "And the guys are kind of like – they kind of get manipulated by these women."
"Unlike in the real world," Bowler added sarcastically.
Rath's character is an extremely pale in the show, with reddish eyes like all Castithans. As a result, makeup can be a very trying process. "It takes two long, long hours,” Murray said.
"I was in makeup three hours this morning," Bowler said. Gesturing toward his face, he added, "This doesn't come easy. Steph's [Leonidas] got that wonky big head that I try not to mention. And she's all orange and stuff. … These guys have to have their whole body done, and it's got to be seamless. … I've gone in and throw dirt on me, mess my hair up and throw me out, whole makeup done, and Jaime, they won't have finished their legs."
"People always ask, how long does the makeup take to put on, but it also takes a long time to get off," Rath said. "We're in the bath and we're underwater for some of these scenes, so it the makeup can’t just wash off with water, so you actually need a team of handmaidens to come and remove your makeup."
Several in the audience seemed ready to volunteer for such duty.
"There are people in the world who get dirty at work who don't get a team of handmaidens," Bowler said, adding in an affected accent, "'At the end of the day, I need a team of handmaidens."
"You humans have it so easy,” Rath said. “At the end of the day you just get in a car and leave. We always shoot in October, and no one from our cast goes for Halloween. No one dresses up. I'm like the jerk who doesn't dress up. 'I'm on my break, damn it!'"
"We hate humans," Murray said.
"Obviously the resentment's here, you know," Curran said.
"My character really likes humans," Rath said. "I think that there's something we've discussed now between Castithans and humans is that humans have a smell to them. Datak, for instance, hates that smell. But Stahma finds it intriguing. I think so does Alak."
"Alak, by the way -- I think we can spoil -- likes a number of humans," Curran said.
"Spoiler!" Rath joked.
Getting back to season two, Murray explained what she liked about her role and about Defiance.
"I think it is a character piece. Even though it's this huge world, it is really about relationships and character and that's, as an actor, a really a great place to be,” she said. “There is this great storyline, but you don't feel forced to push it through. There are really, really flawed characters, and maybe the Tarrs are more the villains of the piece, but I feel as though as awful as they are you kind of still care about them, you are rooting for them. You kind of want it to turn out OK even though they are awful. I also think that Nolan and Amanda, I would say, are the more heroic character but they're so flawed. Particularly in Season 2. They are very, very flawed characters, and I like that gray area."
Defiance returns June 19 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.