Azita Ghanizada Talks ALPHAS, Her Favorite Episode in Season 2, and the New Showrunner

     July 23, 2012

Azita Ghanizada alphas

The action-packed Syfy drama series Alphas returns for its second season on July 23rd, picking up eight months after the shocking events of the Season 1 finale, which resulted in Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn) exposing the existence of Alphas to the unsuspecting public. Ordinary people with superhuman mental and physical abilities, Rosen’s team of Alphas have regressed without his care and guidance and must now battle their individual demons before they can continue to help him solve cases.

During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Azita Ghanizada (who plays Rachel, a “synesthete” that can enhance one sense while rendering her remaining senses temporarily useless, often leaving her vulnerable to danger) talked about what she thought of the Season 1 finale, how she felt about where things pick back up for Season 2, the expectations of having a fanbase for the show now, what it’s been like to have a new showrunner, having a new addition to the Alphas team, their great guest stars, and her favorite episodes for this season. Check out what she had to say after the jump.

Collider: When you got the Season 1 finale script, what was your initial reaction to it? Were you excited about the possibilities of Season 2, or were you nervous about the direction it could take?

Alphas (Azita Ghanizada)AZITA GHANIZADA: When I saw the season finale, I think we had just learned that we were going to have a second season. We essentially watch the episodes when they air, along with the audience. We really see the final product, along with everyone else. So, when we saw the final product, it was such a spin to see Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn) expose all of us, in that way. The question was, “How are we going to pick this up, in eight months?” Your mind does race forward because, as a creative person, you take ownership of your character. I thought, “Oh gosh, where is she going to be? Is she going to be fighting with the bad Alphas? Is she going to be locked up in her home? Is she going to have fallen in love?” I pitched that Rachel and Nina go to Hawaii, during the downtime, because Nina pushes Rachel into thinking that going to Hawaii and having a vacation would be fun. And then, the first episode back could find us in Hawaii. But, I only wanted that because it’s so cold in Toronto in March. They didn’t go for it.

Where is Dr. Rosen’s team of Alphas at, when Season 2 picks up?

GHANIZADA: The curiosity was, “How are we going to pick this back up?” We had a new showrunner come in and we didn’t know what writers were coming back, so we didn’t really know what was happening. We knew that the mythology was going to stay intact because it had been established in the first season. We knew that it would be Red Flag versus this Alpha team that works for the government, but we weren’t sure whether or not the Alphas were actually going to side with Red Flag now, after what they’d heard and experiences in the first season, or whether they would fight the good fight, alongside the DOD. We didn’t know what was going to play out. What we walk into, in the beginning of the season, is, “Will the team come back together?” You find out where we’ve all been. Some of us have fallen apart, and some of us are still fighting the good fight. Rachel didn’t do very well without Dr. Rosen’s guidance and without her team. She took so many strides in the first season, to finally feel like a young adult, and a woman who has her own voice and that she’s brave enough to stand up against her family, and feel like she wasn’t this cursed person, but that she’s actually special. And so, she really retreats and you find her a bit of a mess and a bit more paranoid. She can’t control her senses, right now. And she has to decide whether or not she trusts Dr. Rosen to go back to him, or is he going to let them down and disappear for eight months again. He really betrayed us by exposing us, and that has impacted the way that people around us, see us, now that we’re known to be, essentially, these people that the majority of the human population consider to be disabled or odd. That’s where you find us.

Alphas (Azita Ghanizada)The first episode is a bit glamorous and fancy. It’s got a lot of explosions. The first episode back is explosive and dramatic, but then Episodes 2 through 6 really get back to the heart of the team and there’s really character-driven stuff, which seems to be what works the best. People really love Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright). People really love Rachel. People are curious about how disabled Nina (Laura Mennell) is. People love Hicks (Warren Christie). There are all these things that the audience wants to know about the team members, and we go through that and explore that in the preceding episodes, after the premiere. It gets really character-driven and interesting. There’s a lot of betrayal, deceit and sadness. Some things happen, and people die. People that are important to the main team members die, and it’s a lot to swallow in 13 episodes. There are a lot of cool new Alphas. We have a new team member, who’s super funny and spunky. And we’re still on the hunt for these bad Alphas. There are still bad Alphas, each week, and we have to go on the thrill of the hunt and use our abilities to solve those crimes and capture them, while we’re still dealing with our own inner turmoil of feeling like we’re disabled.

In the first episode back, Nina has to push Rachel to get her to focus. Is that something Rachel will need again?

Alphas (Azita Ghanizada)GHANIZADA: No. That was really more about showing the audience how Nina can use her abilities, even on her own team. We’re not immune to it. Rachel is in a really vulnerable position, in the first episode, and she needs all the help she can get. But, coming out of the first episode, and really throughout the season, a lot of Rachel’s personal issues come from the fact that she doesn’t know how to love. She doesn’t really feel loved, and she doesn’t really know how to have true intimacy or any of those things because of her senses. They overwhelm her.So, she goes on this really romantic self-journey. She ends up meeting someone this season, who becomes a love interest. The first episode back is just the remnants of eight months of disappoint and fear, and Episodes 2 through 13 jump back into what we’re doing to become smarter, faster and sharper in our abilities. She gets over all of these things very quickly and learns that, if she’s going to make the choice again, to come out of her bedroom and join these people on these hunts, she better be prepared. If she wanted to be safe, she would have stayed at home and would not be joining them. So, you see Rachel in a more empowered position this season. She’s definitely becoming a woman, she’s becoming confident, and she’s becoming somebody who’s learning how to trust her abilities. It’s been a real pleasure to get away from all the stuff that makes her hyper-sensitive and paranoid. I wanted Rachel to become a bit more hedonistic. That was my goal with the writers, and I think they’ve achieved that. She’s definitely learning how to enjoy her senses and control them more. Hopefully, the next step will be that we get to weaponize her. That’s what I’d like to see.

Is it more exciting or more nerve-wracking to know that you have a fanbase now, with Season 2, and that people will have certain expectations?

Alphas (Azita Ghanizada)GHANIZADA: You’re very protective of the character because of the audience. We interact with everybody so much now, through social media, that we know what’s moved them throughout the first season, we know what’s important to them, and you know what you did right and what you did well, so you really want to protect your character. Sometimes not honoring your character makes for really good television, but that also can really upset fans. You have to turn things upside sometimes. As a storyteller, you have to know that sometimes you’re going to let your fans and the audience down because you have to do your part in servicing the story. That’s going to be what the story is for the next 50 episodes, and not necessarily the next five episodes. You might let people down, and that’s a big concern because you want to do them right. The most important thing is to honor the science fiction elements because science fiction fans are the smartest fans in television, period. They just are. They’re just so smart, and they know so much detail and information. They’re really cool! They’re a part of the story and they inform your character, as well. We all listen to the fans, and we love their feedback and the attention they give us. That’s not something that’s scary, at all. I know that I show up, every day, prepared to be Rachel and I fill out her skin the best that I can. It’s been fun to get to play her now for almost 24 episodes of television. That’s very cool! But, you have to work in the context of what the writers give you and what the network wants. I think everybody will be proud, but if I let them down, then I’ll blame somebody else.

How has it been to have a new showrunner this season, with Bruce Miller (Eureka)? Is the tone and focus of the show still feel the same?

Alphas (Azita Ghanizada)GHANIZADA: I think so. It’s different because we’re just so in the thick of it while we’re shooting. We shoot on a seven-day schedule, so it’s a very intense pace. We get the scripts maybe a day or two before we start filming them, so there’s not really a lot of time to prep. Of course, before the show starts, you have a good idea of where your character is going to be for the first half of the season, but then you’re surprised as it progresses to the second half of the season. A lot of last year, we were always together, all the time, solving new crimes. This year, they’re definitely defining the team dynamic a bit more, in different ways. I don’t know if that will be the tone for the coming seasons, fingers crossed, if the show continues. But, there’s definitely more intimate relationships for the team members, either together or with somebody close to the team. You get to see those external relationships defined more. Bruce Miller, the new showrunner who’s come on board, is a really lovely person. He brings a lot of calm and confidence. He’s worked in the science fiction genre for a very long time and brings a tremendous amount of ease for all of us, which has been really lovely. We have a lot of the same writers, and Mike Karnow, one of the creators, is still there. So, we still have the same tone, but the show is growing and evolving. It’s not the same show it was in the pilot, and it’s not the same show it was in the middle of last season. It’s definitely progressed. Everybody looks and feels a little different. It’s almost like we’re all becoming adults. I felt like we were all kids, a bit, in the pilot. I look at it now and I’m like, “Oh, my god, I look like a lady!” Ryan Cartwright looks like a man, and David [Strathairn] has a beard again. It has the same underlying tone and the same character dynamic. It’s an action-filled show with special effects that is really underlined by its human drama.

Because Rachel really has a different relationship with each of the team members and seems to relate to each of them differently, which of those relationships has been the most surprising to you?

Alphas (Azita Ghanizada)GHANIZADA: This year, a lot of my arc has to do with Rachel figuring out if she wants to be in a relationship or not. I feel like Rachel and Gary have a very special bond, and Rachel and Dr. Rosen have a very special bond, but a lot of very dramatic things happen that divide us into these different little patterns. In the beginning of the season, Rachel is betrayed by someone very close to her on the team and there’s a bit of an explosive situation that happens within the team dynamic. You don’t know whether or not she’s ever going to speak to that team member again. That really plays out because someone really betrays the crap out of her and dishonors her in a way that really hurts her, in her most intimate place. That dynamic, within the team group, was really jarring to see. It also affected me on set because I was angry at that person, as Rachel, and I was avoiding them for several episodes. Whether or not that’s resolved, I won’t tell you, but it’s definitely something that happens in the first half of the season. Somebody really hurts her, and it makes her grow and maybe helps her grow up a little bit and pushes her towards the direction of being in a real relationship.

What’s it like to have a new addition to the team, and what does that character add to the dynamic?

GHANIZADA: Kat is super spunky and her ability is really fun. She brings a lot of humor with her character and a naivete because she doesn’t know what they are, which is really fun to see. She’s kind of heard of what they are and she’s trying to figure it out and deduce what’s going on. She’s an Alpha, but she didn’t know that this little team of Alphas exists. It’s really exciting. I think her naivete is just so brilliant because we’re all looking at her like she’s a kid. Even Gary Bell is a bit like, “Who’s this creature?! Get her out of here! We don’t want a new team member. We’re already a family.” It’s like a family having a new sibling. The sibling is the baby, and some of the kids are going to be amused by her while some are going to be annoyed by her. And the actress that plays her, Erin Way, is a real treat to have on set. I think she’s doing seven episodes, and they’re very big episodes for her. It’s a real pleasure to get to see her work. She’s extremely fun and talented.

Has it been fun to have such cool guest stars and returning characters on the show?

Alphas (Azita Ghanizada)GHANIZADA: Yeah. We have somebody coming in, for Episodes 11 and 12, that is really going to be exciting for sci-fi fans. Lauren Holly came in, and C. Thomas Howell. There have been a number of guest stars that really up the ante. They come to set prepared and have ideas, and they’re fans of the show. It makes us all excited ‘cause they’re really pros and they have this cool outlook on the way the show is and the way their characters are. That’s always a pleasure. Having Brent Spiner on the show was really great. All of the guest stars are lovely and talented. The level of guest actors that we’ve had come in was great, and it’s continuing, if not expanding to be even bigger. It’s really awesome! It’s always cool when a show can get these really amazing actors to come in and guest, and create little characters for one or two episodes.

Do you have a favorite episode this season, or a favorite thing you got to do?

GHANIZADA: My most challenging day this season was stunt diving. I swam underwater with a HydroFlex camera, in a Gucci dress. Rachel gets affected by this Alpha with infra-sound and she really goes bananas ‘cause it affects her hearing. Her auditory senses are so sensitive that she really goes nuts. And so, to have that experience of diving into the pool and acting underwater, and being paranoid and losing consciousness, was one of the most challenging days I’ve ever had, as an actor. I’m not a stunt diver, and I learned really quickly that my stunt person was there. She did it for many takes and looked at me and went, “This is tough!” For the first hour in the pool, I was like, “Yes!” And then, with the second hour, I was like, “I can’t! I’m out! I’m gonna die in here!” I thought I might literally pass out. That was really challenging. I have to say that there are two episodes that will be really great episodes, but don’t even have Rachel in them a ton. Episode 4 gives a really good backstory on the Nina character, and a really good storyline about how we all united as a family and also shares that bit of betrayal for Rachel. That’s a really exciting episode. And Episode 10 is a really crazy episode, throughout the whole episode. Rachel really has a major expansion, and I’m really excited to see what that ends up looking like. All the Alphas are processing and dealing with grief, in their own specific way. That was really an interesting, human way to play how these superhumans deal with death. That was a cool episode to shoot. I’m pretty excited for Episodes 2 and 3, as well. I hear they’re really fantastic. We did some cool stuff in them. The new Alpha gets introduced in Episode 3, and Rachel’s love interest gets introduced in Episode 2. Those are episodes that I look forward to.

Alphas (Azita Ghanizada)For people looking to spend a summer night at home on the couch, what is it about Alphas that makes it the perfect summer show for people to stay in and watch?

GHANIZADA: The thing with Alphas is that, even though it’s sci-fi, I run into lots of people that have watched the show for various reasons. They’re like, “I had no expectation, and I’m totally blown away and fascinated.” It’s not only the science elements, but that it’s an action-driven show that plays on the thrill of the hunt, and has special effects, superhuman abilities, and human drama pushing it all the way through. I think it’s got something for everybody. Each Alpha has such a unique ability and they appeal to so many different audience members. Gary Bell tugs at the heartstrings of most people. Cameron Hicks tugs at the panties of most women. Most men would like to be able to do parkour like Bill. Malik Yoba is extremely strong and handsome. And then, there’s Nina. David Strathairn is so intelligent and brings so much heart and strength to Dr. Rosen, that it really appeals to the smarter, more intense television viewer that wants to be informed by his neuroscience, and what he loves to talk about and do. I can’t tell you how many Tweets and notes I get from young girls. It really impacts young viewers to watch someone like Rachel feel so distant and separated from her family, and a slew of young girls reached out to me because they connected to it. At the end of the day, it’s a Monday night at 10 pm, and you want to have a glass of wine or some hot chocolate, and you want to watch something fun and exciting, and that gets your brain thinking. It’s a terrific show for all ages. It doesn’t have a specific age group in mind, but I think the core audience is 17-35. It’s all there, in each episode.

Have you already wrapped for this season?

GHANIZADA: We have three more episodes to go, so we’re in the dark, right now, about what’s going to happen. We just have a rough idea, but it gets pretty massive. We never know what the writers are going to come up with and what they’re going to do.

Alphas will air on Monday nights on Syfy, starting on July 23rd.