In the near future, Earth verges on the inhabitable. The crew of the Phaeton embarks on a ten-year journey to reach the Epsilon Eridani star system in hopes of finding a new planet to settle. They fund the trip by broadcasting their adventure as "Edge of Never: Life on the Phaeton", a reality TV show with an audience of five billion viewers.
The twelve-person crew endures their trip with the help of virtual reality technology, which enables them to perceive themselves in any fantasy they choose. Unfortunately, a glitch in the Phaeton's VR system results not only in a virus the crew must contain, but a distortion of the virtual realties the crew immerse themselves in. Slowly, they lose their ability to tell what's real.
This is "Virtuality," a two-hour backdoor pilot from Ron Moore and Michael Taylor, the minds behind "Battlestar Galactica." The pilot, directed by Peter Berg (currently filming a remake of "Dune") and aired over the weekend on FOX and can be seen now on Hulu, required the cast to improvise their dialogue during most of the production. In addition, the virtual reality scenes were filmed in green screen rather than traditional sets in order to convey a surreal quality, which meant the actors had to envision their surroundings as well.
CBR News sat down with some of the cast before the screening of "Virtuality" at Universal to get their thoughts on the production of the pilot.
CBR: How did you prepare for your roles in "Virtuality?"
Clea DuVall (Sue Parsons, the spirited Phaeton's pilot): I prepare for each role differently. For "Virtuality," I prepared by getting to know the people I'd be working with, since I had never done improv before.
Jose Pablo Cantillo (Manny Rodriguez, a mathematician & Superstring theorist): I worked on my bio with Michael Taylor. I also spent a lot of time studying string theory, and a little bit of UFO stuff.
Gene Farber (Val Orlovsky, a Russian geologist & Manny's husband): My preparation was actually very traditional. I worked on my bio with Michael Taylor as well. It's funny, one might think that being a part of the first gay couple on a network television in this genre might require some unusual prep, but the role didn't require that at all.
Erik Jensen (Dr. Jules Braun, the Phaeton's navigator & designer): I'm a huge big science fiction fan. Robert Heinlein, The "Tripod" Trilogy... my dog's name is Yoda. It's like I said to Ritchie Coster [who plays Dr. Jimmy Johnson, a Nuclear physicist & the ship's pulse drive engineer], I've been waiting for this since I was eleven. But really, the story isn't about outer space; it's about inner space. It's about what's going on inside the characters.
What did you think of filming in green screen for the characters' VR experiences?
Cantillo: I'm fine with it. I did it before in "Crank." Sometimes you can't see corners, but it's no really big deal.
Sienna Guillory (Rika Goddard, a Botanist and Microbial Exobiologist): I think in a way, when you're working with green screens, it's hugely enabling. There's nothing there to limit your imagination or to limit where you see yourself or how you see the scene unfolding can be a helpful thing, so you just imagine it exactly the way you want it to be, rather than kind of being held back by the physical limitations of a set.
What was your toughest day on the set?
Farber: Some of the improvs we did were pretty tough. The action scenes. They're the toughest but also the greatest. That was the thing about the way Peter and everyone worked on the project. It was creative, and open... and frightening. You put your trust in the director and the people around you.
Cantillo: The airlock scene. We were sewn into white space suits, and they had to cut you out of it in order to go to the bathroom.
Guillory: The virtual reality scenes. I was wearing padding and I played Rika very arch in those, like Katherine Hepburn. It felt so foreign because I wasn't played Rika as she really was. I was playing her as the person she would like to be.
What made you want to work on the show?
Nelson Lee (Kenji Yamamoto, an Astrobiologist): I really liked the script; I liked the dynamics of the characters. Plus working with the guys from "Battlestar" was a no-brainer.
Guillory: The fact that it was an ensemble. I was seduced by the idea of it being and ensemble, and the complete lack of limitation plot-wise.
What's your favorite scene of "Virtuality?"
Guillory: The launch sequence. We were in different parts of the set, but we had monitors to see each other and play off of each other's performances when we improvised.
"Virtuality" can be viewed for free on Hulu.