It’s a good thing Tricia Helfer considers herself “a crazy cat lady.”
Just when “Powers” viewers had gotten used to Helfer as the tough-talking, no-nonsense FBI agent Lange, the fourth episode of the PlayStation Network series’ second season changed everything. The episode included the big reveal that fans of the “Powers” comic may have sensed was coming the instant the second season debuted: Lange was not only the criminally inclined, feline-power Lynx, she also shared a complicated romantic history with Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley).
With Lang’s backstory established and her relationship with the once-powered detective now muddied even further, Helfer spoke CBR News about where Agent Lange goes from here. She gave insight into how she approached her character’s feline twist and teased what’s ahead for the intriguing but increasingly contentious connection between Lange and Walker.
CBR News: With your character Agent Lange, the metaphorical and literal cat is out of the bag.
Tricia Helfer: Yes, the cat is out of the bag!
What was fun about the slow burn up to the reveal of her back story? And did you like going all out with great, revealing episode for her character.
Yeah, when I first was offered the show, they sent me the first two episodes. I was like, “Okay, FBI agent…” but I could sense there was maybe a little something [else]. I was talking to Remi [Aubuchon], our showrunner, and I kind of asked, “What’s going on? What is there besides the FBI in the case?” When he told me, I thought, “Oh, fun!” I hadn’t read episode four yet, by the time we started, but I was like, “Oh, okay — fun.” I’m a crazy cat lady myself, so how fun is that going to be to try and flavor it with some kind of feline mannerisms again?
That’s kind of what I was wondering: I imagine getting where you wanted to be for this was a little bit like those old acting class exercises where you get to inhabit an animal. How did you found those feline qualities? And how’d you go about not taking it too far?
I think the key was finding out how far they were going, in terms of actually turning me into a cat, you know? I had asked them, “Is it like ‘Grimm’ where it’s all CGI and literally turns into a cat?” They said, “No, no, no, you’re human.” So then it was just finding, like in the scene after the tail has come out, before Lange discovers that Pilgrim is in the other room and Walker is betraying her again, it’s finding the fun things — and because I have quite a few cats myself.
I was sitting in my hotel room in Atlanta picturing my cats. I’m like, “How do they play? How do they play-wrestle when they’re having fun? And how is it when it turns violent and they’re fighting?” And the differences, the little things, like when I was kind of nipping at him on the bed, like making sure to wiggle the butt like cats do before they’re going to pounce on something.
So those things were just the fun, silly things, but then trying to flavor the character so that you’re not like, “Oh, who’s this?” Completely different. Let’s find a few ways of being a little bit more aware, or finding a few times to use the sense of smell. Out on the lake, I tried to pull it in there where I’m sensing that somebody’s there before you see his partner — his old partner Brian shows up — and that type of thing.
Did you do anything in those early episodes to kind of seed it, for the people who re-watch? Will they see you give a little clue about her feline qualities anywhere?
I hope so. I wanted to stay away from — because the show is obviously about people with [powers], there’s a bunch of different types of powers, I didn’t want to maybe have it be misconstrued that there was something else or give away too much. But I did try and pull in maybe a little bit of intently watching things — but that’s also very human as well. Kind of in movement, sort of precise. But again, she didn’t really do too much prior [to the reveal] in terms of being really able to have some kind of feline attributes.
Tell me about finding the right — and two very different — kinds of chemistry with Sharlto Copley. You’re both antagonistic and romantic towards him. How much fun was that to figure out where you guys were going as you were acting it out?
Yeah, it really was, once we got to know how far their history had been — because again, when we shot the first two, I knew that she was linked, but you hadn’t read the script yet and you hadn’t seen kind of the depth of what their relationship was. So they had told Sharlto and I we did have a history, there had been some romantic history, and that he was responsible for having put me away. One of his first jobs in the Powers Division was he gave me up for being a thief and he arrested me.
Sharlto and I discussed, “Okay, yes, there’s an animosity, but there’s been enough time.” She’s moved on with her life and there’s been enough time now that there’s an anger there, but we also wanted to make sure that you saw that there was still some hint of a relationship that they could go back, that she was still sort of longing for his friendship, and kind of secretly in love with him.
What little teases are you able to put out there as to what’s right around the corner for you and for her?
With the way that episode four ended with this massive betrayal again — so she’s been betrayed twice by this man. There’s a lot of anger there, and she pretty much pulls back completely from him, and is all about the case — is all about wanting to figure out the case, solve the case.
Sharlto and I talked about leaving it somewhat open. She believes him enough. She understands that there was enough there in the hotel room, and with what he was trying to tell her, that the rest of the season for Lange, the couple of episodes that she’s in are about finishing up the case. There’s a deep resentment and anger to him, but he planted a seed in her mind, and there’s enough of a seed for her. I see her going back, once this case is finished, going back and really kind of digging into her own situation, and the situation with her bosses and finding out if what he was telling her, if there is something to that.
Have you had much opportunity to dig into the comic book source material? Or have you been pretty much relying on the scripts that they’re giving you?
Yeah, I hadn’t had the opportunity prior to filming, because quite often you get things late. I was flying to Moscow in between when I got the job and I had to go to Moscow and then straight to Atlanta. I didn’t have a lot of time before to dig into in. Then once you’re in it, luckily Brian Michael Bendis was on set the first two episodes, so I could talk directly to — I could talk to the brain behind the whole thing. So talking straight to Brian and to [director] Mikael [Salomon] themselves, and to Remi, and then focus on the actual what we were filming. But definitely yes, I’d love to go back and take in the whole series of graphic novels.
You get to work with a lot of people from all different corners of the genre field. I know “Star Trek’s” Jonathan Frakes directed your episode. I’m sure you meet some of them when you attend conventions and then you get to work with them. Tell me about being part of that extended professional family in the genre world.
You know, it’s really great. I loved working with Jonathan Frakes. He was an awesome director to work with. So positive, and giving, and fun. But usually, luckily, you do get to meet people every once in a while at conventions, at Comic-Con and that sort of thing. It’s sort of like the first step is done, you’re like, “Oh, okay. I’ve seen you, I’ve been around you,” or “I know friends of friends.” It makes the initial working-together experience so smoother in the beginning, yes.
Having done different kinds of genre stuff, what’s been interesting about working in the superhero world, especially something as deconstruction-minded as “Powers?”
I like that it has sort of parallels to our life. A lot of times superhero shows are just so out there, right? You’re watching fantasy, and it’s fun, and it’s all, you know. But “Powers” is sort of gripped in a little bit more, yeah, like you said, deconstructionist.
But I find it interesting that the Powers are…In one way they’re looked up to, but then they’re torn apart. Then they’re put on a pedestal, but then people wanting to drag them down. It has a lot of parallels to our society where you push someone or something up, but like to see it fall. So everything in the world is not all perfect. There’s not just a simple good and evil, good fighting bad. It’s people, some with powers, some without, and just trying to get by, and I found that interesting.
I know your fans always look forward to anything that you do with your friend and fellow “Battlestar Galactica” alum Katee Sackhoff. Anything in the works with the two of you together right now?
Not right now, no. We usually do — we have a little company called Acting Outlaws that we like to do a bunch of charity rides and things like that. So we’ve done a couple and we’re committed to a couple, probably. But it’s hard because the last two years, we’ve actually been on opposite filming schedules. I’ve filmed in the fall, away. I filmed “Killer Women,” and “Ascension” we were away in Montreal. And she’s been filming “Longmire” in New Mexico. So we just haven’t been able to…we wanted to do another long ride and film it, but we just haven’t been able to coordinate schedules to get them together to do something like that. So it’s just been hanging out with her for fun, but not so much in terms of a production.
What do you want to do what you haven’t gotten a chance to do yet?
There’s so many different types of roles that I’d like to do. I tend to, luckily, I tend to get strong women characters, the bitchy lawyer or the tough FBI [agent] or something like that. I think as an actor, it’s just fun to play all different types of roles.
There’s a role that I’m working towards trying to get it produced right now, currently: the book called “Heartsick.” It’s a series of books by Chelsea Cain. It’s actually a female serial killer, and it’s about kind of a love affair between her and the lead detective that’s searched for ten years to find her. It’s a very, very dark, disturbing series of books, but they’re fantastic. So I’d love to try and bring that to life.
New episodes of “Powers” are added to the PlayStation Network ever Tuesday.
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