OK, so, yes: Virtuality is also set in space. And all habitable planets are still in peril (or at least appear to be). Yet Ron Moore and Michael Taylor leave Battlestar Galactica‘s backdrop of armageddon behind tonight to introduce the audience to a different subplot: cultural armageddon, by way of reality television. What if a crew of space explorers were being filmed (and perhaps manipulated) for the sake of ratings? Jon & Kate Plus Space? Can’t argue with the inherent intrigue of the premise.
In a recent interview, actresses Clea DuVall and Sienna Guillory discussed their roles in the Ron Moore/Michael Taylor-helmed project, and their thoughts on reality – whether virtual, or the kind filmed for voyeuristic kicks.
Clea, your genre work has been diverse. How did you approach this character?
DuVall: I approach each thing differently. On Virtuality, for me it was so much about getting to know the people I was working with, and getting comfortable with improv, which is something that I’ve never done before. [Director] Peter Berg likes to work that way – just letting scenes run and seeing what happens. It was a lot of on the job training. Any preparation I did had to be thrown out the window.
Sienna, a lot of work that you did – especially when you’re in your virtual environments – was green screen work. What were some of the challenges in trying to make that work?
Guillory: In a way, it’s enabling. The whole thing that Ron Moore gave us – he gives us a life with no limitations. You have to use that green screen as a plus. The fact that there’s nothing there to limit your imagination can be a helpful thing. You can imagine it exactly the way you want it to be, rather than being held back by the physical limitations of the set.
Can you talk about your characters?
DuVall: I play Sue Parsons, who is the ship’s pilot. She does have a cocky, hotshot attitude, which was pretty fun to play.
Guillory: My character is Rika. She’s introverted, oversexed, and quite real. The fact that we’re all geeks doesn’t mean we’re particularly brilliant at handling our emotions.
When you’re talking directly to the camera [for the reality show confessional scenes], there seems to be a different [acting method] involved and an intimacy to it. Did it feel different, doing those scenes?
Guillory: For me, it was part of my character. I decided she hated having her privacy invaded, but she was desperate for adventure. She’s kind of complex and introverted. Those moments of intimacy were vital. There’s so many big ideas to play with in the script…
DuVall: I didn’t really do much of it, but what I did do – it sort of felt to me almost like you’re writing in a journal. There’s that stream of consciousness, just tapping into your character. I really wanted to do more of it, and hopefully if the show is a success, I will get to do more.
What do you think of the concept of virtual reality?
Guillory: I think it’s tremendously healthy to be able to explore your inner cravings and be able to realize your fantasies without necessarily hurting other people. But also I think you need to realize that when you do experience something emotionally, it does affect who you are, and that’s the backbone of what we’re doing.
If you had to pass time with virtual reality, what environment or scenario would you be most curious to explore?
DuVall: I think I would probably want to go into space. It’s something so far removed from my reality, and it’s something that I’ve always been intrigued by, and…..I’ll probably never have the ability in my lifetime to experience it.
Guillory: I think the places that you want to be and the things you want to be doing change from day to day, from minute to minute. If I refer back to where we were when we were filming……..working with [director] Pete Berg was phenomenal. He never held me back. He raised the bar and let us go. Yet I think at the time, it would have been having a cage fight with Pete Berg, and winning.
Given that the story was meant to be ongoing [as a series], were there any details that you were given for going forward with your characters?
DuVall: There were little bits and pieces that we were given, because we all had the hopes that it would continue, but Michael and Ron didn’t really give away much. Thinking into the future was overwhelming at times. There is definitely a lot more to the story that – fingers crossed – we may be able to tell.
Guillory: We all had these mad ideas. Maybe we’re not actually on a spaceship? Maybe we’re all in these pods, and we’re being fed these ideas, and we’re going to wake up, and? No one really knows anything.
You guys have both done genre, effects-heavy work before. What difference does improvisation make in that environment?
DuVall: For me, whatever genre you’re doing, it’s all improvisation. Because I don’t know what’s going to happen until I get there. In that way, I guess it was similar. But in this, I’ve never had so much freedom from a script. Of course I said everything that was in the script, but being able to build on it….was very exciting.
Guillory: I think this is the imaginative genius that is Ron Moore and Michael Taylor. They’re so infectious and enthusiastic. They’re so brave. They didn’t assume that the audience is stupid. They assume the audience is intelligent and demanding. Which made us as an ensemble want to rise up and meet that challenge. They let us rip. And….they’re more intelligent than we are. They’re going to take out the bad bits!
In terms of the reality TV aspect of it, some have described this as akin to Big Brother in space. Preparing for that aspect, did you watch any reality TV? Or did you take cues from any shows?
DuVall: I watch some reality TV. I’ve never seen any of the Big Brother shows, or Real World, or anything like that. But what I’ve got from Top Chef - that definitely comes through. [Laughs]
Guillory: Did that start up again?
DuVall: Yes. It’s good, but….there’s no Padma, and there’s no Tom.
DuVall: It’s still good. It’s still good.
Guillory: I love Top Chef. You can’t really class all reality shows together. For instance, Top Chef is about talent and competition. Big Brother is more like what happens when you get all those narcissistic personalities crammed in together…and there are limits to that. Personally I don’t get that whole reality show thing. It was much smaller, and it’s grown. It’s like an epidemic. I’m still rather confused by it.
Virtuality airs tonight Friday at 8 p.m (ET/PT) on Fox. If you care about supporting sci fi, tune in and give this show a shot at serieshood!