The name Michelle Ryan may not be familiar to those in the United States, but fans of one of Britain's most popular soaps "EastEnders" can't forget Ryan's character Zoe Slater. Since moving on from the UK television institution, Ryan's worked alongside former Dr. Who star Billie Piper in a new adaptation of "Mansfield Park." She also has appeared in movies alongside Faye Dunaway, and on television, including a short sketch with Mr. Bean. Now, Ryan has taken a bionic leap into American television, where she has been made "better, stronger, faster" as Jamie Sommers, the Bionic Woman.
Getting the job on SciFi's "Bionic Woman" was actually quite simple for Ryan. "I was just called in to do an audition, so I put myself on tape and that was then sent to NBC and they liked what they saw and then they brought me out to do a screen test and then within a week I found out I had the job," the actress told CBR News.
When working on a re-imagination or remake of a property, one of the topics that inevitably come up is the star's familiarity with the source material. "I've only seen a couple of clips of the original," Ryan admitted. "I just think this is very much a new project, this is a re-imagination. So I know the concept is the same, it's the strong, young woman and her journey of self-discovery, but it's very, very different. Obviously, [producer of 'Battlestar Galactica' and 'Bionic Woman'] David Eick took 'Battlestar' and made it quite dark [and] I think it's the same with this. I felt like I just wanted to bring a fresh approach to it. That's what [the producers] like and that's why they cast me, so I felt that [I should now watch the original] to carry on with that theme."
One of Ryan's co-stars is Katee Sackhoff, best knowm for her role as Starbuck on the new "Battlestar Galactica." Sackhoff herself has had to deal with the fan reaction to her portrayal of a re-imagined version of amuch beloved, classic character from the '70s. The two actresses have yet to discuss how it feels to have fandom's eye watching you. "We have been meaning to go out for drinks," Ryan explained, "I need to have a good chat with her and [ask her] 'What should I expect?' I think I will do that because I didn't realize [that] it's a really big deal and obviously Katie has been through it before. So I think I'll have a few girly nights out and get her to give me some tips."
The character of Jamie Sommers will be experiencing a lot of firsts over her initial story arc. "The first time that she's being sent on these missions, the first time the she's seeing explosions and the first time she sort of dealing with using her bionic abilities," Ryan said, adding, "I think she's in denial at first. The first episode is a lot of her feeling that she wants to go back to her old life and then there are certain repercussions, things that she's done, that then cause huge amounts of destruction. So then, she realizes that she actually can't keep running away from it. Then [she is] also dealing with looking after Becca [her sister] and trying to find Will [her boyfriend]; it's quite complicated for Jamie weighing up what she needs to give her time to."
Ryan explained that being able to relate to a character is an important thing not only for an actor but for the audience as well, and that the vulnerability of Jamie is what she could relate to and thinks other will be able to as well. "All the way through the pilot, Jamie has that vulnerability. When Ruth says to her, 'We have plans for you, you might not go home,' she doesn't crumble even though she's really scared," Ryan said. "With the second episode, and the first script I've read, it's her feeling very vulnerable, feeling like she wants to go back to her old life, not really wanting to deal with the future. All the way through, she's on this constant struggle and she's feeling insecure, she's feeling vulnerable but she knows that she just has to own it because she's in too deep now. That's something that I always feel with her, that she still has that real vulnerability. That is what I identified with when I read the script [and] I think that's what young women dealing with the boyfriend and all of those issues [can relate to]."
Still, looking forward, Ryan would like to see her character less vulnerable and instead surer of herself and her abilities. "What I like about Jamie is, even in the second episode, when she's on this mission she's questioning everything; she's saying you never really know who's good and who's badm" Ryan explained. "I don't believe Sarah [the "first" Bionic Woman played by Katee Sackhoff] is all bad or that Jamie is all good. I think that's the great dynamic between the characters and I also feel with Jonas [the director of the bionics program], and with Ruth, Jamie is sort of working out who she can trust and also what she believes and what she feels is morally right.
"I think she has very strong morals so I think I'd like to see Jamie sort of stand up for herself," Ryan continued. "If we get to the second season I like to see her break away from Jonas and be more independent, more capable, and more aware of herself and have made a safe haven for Becca."
Ryan did add, with a laugh, that she also wouldn't mind Jamie having a love interest as well.
Now discuss this story in CBR's TV/Film forum.