Grant Bowler Talks DEFIANCE, the Process of Making Both the Show and Video Game, the Physicality of the Role, and More

     July 8, 2013

The Syfy drama series Defiance, which is also a multi-platform video game, is the first-ever convergence of television and online gaming, featuring an interconnected world between the two mediums as they evolve together into one overall story.  Set in the near future, the show is a story about survival under extreme circumstances, with humans and aliens trying to co-exist peacefully in this new civilization.  From executive producer Kevin Murphy, the show stars Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Stephanie Leonidas, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray, Graham Greene and Mia Kirshner.

During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Grant Bowler – who plays Joshua Nolan, a former lieutenant in the Earth Military Coalition who fought in the alien conflict and is now lawkeeper in Defiance – talked about the process of doing both the show and the video game, his first experience with motion capture, what attracted him to this character, the relationship between Nolan and Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), how much he enjoys the physicality of this role, getting to see how the sets and characters would look, and how much he’s looking forward to continuing to play this character.  Check out what he had to say after the jump.

grant-bowler-defianceCollider:  With this show having been in development for a few years now, when did you become involved with it?

GRANT BOWLER:  Just as it fell apart.  The concept and co-development started from the ground up, five years ago.  At the end of 2011, Rockne O’Bannon, who had been developing the pilot, left to do another pilot, and Kevin Murphy came on to replace him.  It was right then, pretty much that day, that I came in.  So, I came in at the point where the script that was became not the script.  Kevin and I sat down and he gave me a 30-minute verbal pitch on what the script was going to be.  We shook hands at the end of it, and then I wait to see if the script would turn out to be the script we talked about. 

Was it nerve-wracking to go through all of that and have to wait to see how it would turn out?

BOWLER:  It’s been a bit like that, all the way along.  Not in a bad way, but in a really, really cool way.  In the beginning, my big concern was, “Let’s get a script and let’s try our hardest to make it the best script we can.”  And then, we got that fantastic script that we shot for the pilot, and the game stuff came up because the visuals had to be done a long time ahead.  So then, I was in doing all of the scenes for the game, and the motion capture and voicing, long before I ever actually put down a single shot on the show.  That was also nerve-wracking and new.  I’d never done motion capture, and nobody had ever done the two things in conjunction.  So, that was another level of it.  And then, we started the pilot, which is always nerve-wracking because you want the pilot to turn into a show.  Syfy and Trion have to be congratulated for taking on a show and video game, at the same time and in conjunction, and getting them both right, to the standard that they have.

What was the motion capture process like for you? 

BOWLER:  The first question I asked them, when I got all of the motion capture gear on and we talked about the scene, was what the frame was because I couldn’t see any cameras.  They laughed at me and said, “Oh, we’ve got 400 cameras.  You just do whatever you want to do.  We’ll come up with the frame later.”  Having spent 20 years in front of cameras, that was terrifying because I didn’t know what I was acting to and you get so used to acting to a frame.  It was also exhilarating because, for the first time, you don’t have to worry about where the cameras are.  You just give your performance and they’ll put all the shots in.  I love motion capture now.  I think it’s the best thing, ever.  It’s wonderful.  It gives you an incredible freedom to just play things out.  We did it a number of times to give them a number of options, and then they built the scenes around it.  And because of shooting motion capture that way, you never really know how the thing is going to look.  It’s just a complete surprise, which I find really lovely.  I’m sure some people find it a bit daunting, but I love it.  It’s nice to be surprised again.

What was it about this character that drew you to him?

BOWLER:  I pretty much always choose characters.  That’s what I do.  That’s what I look for.  I look for dynamics in a script and potential.  From the start, Nolan was an incredible opportunity.  It’s such an open-ended, conflicted, wonderfully complex character.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  

How do you view Nolan?

BOWLER:  Nolan is not a politician.  I often think of Nolan as a great peacekeeper, but a terrible lawman.  He has absolutely no time for rules and regulations, whatsoever.  He has a great sense of justice.  He knows what’s right and what’s wrong, and is incredibly pragmatic.  He’s going to look for the solution that actually works in the world, and not necessarily the one that ticks the box for anybody. 

What do you think it was that ultimately led Nolan and Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) to stay together?

BOWLER:  That’s a good question.  That was another thing that really interested about Kevin’s script and where he wanted to go with that relationship.  Originally, Nolan had a daughter from a marriage with a human.  It was an actual daughter who showed up in Defiance.  It was Kevin’s idea to come up with this crazy take on Paper Moon.  What I love about the relationship is that they’re actually bonded together through suffering.  They’re both outsiders.  They’ve both been hurt by the world.  They’ve both lost trust in people and systems and organized structures.  They’ve essentially chosen each other.  It’s almost a beautiful example of complete free will.  They’re chosen to trust each other, and each other only, in a very hostile world.  That’s what bonds them.  He doesn’t like aliens and she doesn’t like humans, so the fact that he’s chosen an alien and she’s chosen a human is wonderfully human, in a way.  It’s just one of those beautiful quirks of nature where you find the animal or human that you’re looking for, in spite of their shape, their color, their creed and their race.

Do you enjoy the physicality of this role?

BOWLER:  Yeah.  It just fits perfectly in the wheelhouse for me.  I’ve played a number of soldiers.  I’ve done all of the gun stuff.  I’ve done all the fighting stuff, a million times over.  This just fit beautifully for what I really enjoy doing.  The funny thing is, the older I get, the less I enjoy talking when I act.  I don’t like talking anymore.  I like behavior.  All of the running and gunning, and the fights and the stunts, is just awesome fun.

What was it like, to see how the sets and vehicles would look, and what everybody would look like in their costumes and make-up?  

BOWLER:  I was just incredibly excited.  It started when we turned up for pre-production and the backlot was being built.  Every day, I would see the backlot going up and this town coming into being.  We’re so lucky with that backlot.  All of the things in the script actually became concrete.  And then, when they started dressing the backlot and fitting out the sets on the inside, and I watched Tony [Curran] and Jaime [Murray] and Stephanie [Leonidas] going through their make-up and wardrobe, it just got really, really exciting.  The level of elegance and grace in the design is one of the things that makes it really, really special.  It’s just beautifully designed.  We’ve created this world that is lovely, and everybody is very concerned with keeping that mythology sacrosanct.  People watch, these days, with a different set of eyes than they did 20 or 30 years ago.  They notice inconsistencies.  When I really get invested in something, the one thing that really disappoints me is when it breaks its own rules.

As you got more scripts and learned more about the journey your character was taking, did you find yourself getting more excited about exploring this character in future seasons?

BOWLER:  Absolutely!  We covered a lot of ground, in the first season, and there’s a lot of backstory dug up on Nolan and Irisa.  I’m absolutely determined to take that forward. 

The Season 1 finale of Defiance airs on Syfy on July 8th.