In a ballroom full of snapping cameras and incessant chatter at San Diego’s incomparable Comic Con, Jodie Turner-Smith easily drowns out everything else. She commands the room more than any elephant ever could. She even ends her interviews with a flawless “Okurr” a la Cardi B. It is easy to see why George R.R. Martin, was so pleased with her castingin SyFy’s upcoming science fiction-horror series, Nightflyers.
The show, debuting later this year, is based on the novel and 1987 film of the same title. Whenever Martin’s writing is the theme of a extravagantly produced television show, expectations are understandably high. None of those expectations seem to daunt her but only fuel her passion for realizing her character’s mission of saving planet earth.
“I mean honestly it was such a surprise and such an extreme pleasure having his vote of confidence going into the show,” Turner-Smith said. “When I read the blog, I was like ‘Oh my gawwwd.’ Especially with George he comes with a massive fandom, so for him to introduce me to his fandom as someone who’s he rooting for, I was like okurrr.”
This series is set towards the end of the 21st century and the crew set on a journey to find an unknow creature. But that is hardly the most mysterious part when the computer on board of the ship takes over. One of the stars of the series, Eoin Macken said that he based his performance off the novel, but he was really inspired by the script that Jeff Buhler had a major role in developing. Balancing the genres of horror and science fiction were something that really drew Macken to this show.
“You always kind of hope you can make things that you kind of want to watch,” Macken said. “I like evangelizing movies and I used to read [Isaac] Asimov and Philip Dick all of the time. It’s based off that. It has everything to do with sci-fi and horror and it brings out a philosophical question of what you can and shouldn’t do and that’s what’s kind of fascinating to me.”
Martin wrote several versions of this story. One was set at a tidy hundred pages. The other was up to 23,000 words. Buhler talks about how popular the shorter version of the novel was that Martin went back and filled in more for his characters. He said that the rich detail from Martin, enabled him to draw from a rich world and set of characters.
But to make this unique and able to stand alone week to week, Buhler tried to approach this story differently by drawing inspiration from some genre classics.
“One of the things we really honed ourselves on is not going into one particular formula,” Buhler said. Each episode has its own flavor. There are themes we keep coming back to. So you will see a lot of The Shining. You will see a lot of Psycho. You will see a lot of Ridley Scott’s Alien in there.”
“But there are also moments we go completely off the radar and try new things. There’s a piece of technology on the ship that allows you to access your memories. In a very visual way. Just that piece of technology allows us to open that world to anything, that any character is able to experience. What memories to play with, what’s real, what’s not real. We dig into a character’s psychology. Really peel back the layers.”
Angus Sampson looks different from all of his other castmates. While his other castmates are reapplying makeup for the camera, Sampson is sweating from his brow smiling with delight. He looks like he has been waiting in line all day with the genuine enthusiasm of someone meeting Superman for the first time. Sampson is right at home at Comic Con. He spills with the same enthusiasm for his role in Nightflyers.
“Instead of it being sterile, maybe my character could be a knitter maybe my character could wear wool. I love him to represent the wooliness, everyone else in the cast is so beautiful and healthy. Though perhaps I could play something more George, you know with the beard,” he said.
“It’s incredibly humbling to be invited into the 1000 world universe. But it’s also a bar of sorts that you can aim for. It’s almost like someone inspires you which he does. I think that’s what people relate to with George as a reader. Is how recognizable it is despite some of the fantasy elements of it. So, we tried to bring some of that naturalism.”
Martin explores many time periods in his novels, and Gretchen Mol is no stranger to time hoping with her role on Boardwalk Emprie and now as Dr. Agatha Matheson in Nightflyers. Mol similarly to Sampson, speaks on grounding her role is how she makes this sci-fi fantasy story so believable. In a genere that has historically chilling doctors, (eg. Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) Mol tapped into her character through her relationship with her son.
“It was good because I had someone on the ship to take care of,” she said. “The cast and directors always talked about grounding it in your own reality. Making the characters real as possible and their issues are real to them. I felt very grounded in that relationship. The mother son relationship. Only wanting what’s best for him. I think it is harder to go into the future but in another way you just kind of have to trust yourself.”
David Ajala does not trust himself as a rapper. Now what could rapping possibly do with a sci-fi space odyssey? Ajala, who plays Roy Eris one of the ship captains, played a rapper in a comedy where he described his flow as horrible. He said he was so bad, he thinks that’ why he got the part. He has an incredible acting range getting his start in on stage in the theatre. But Shakespeare and sci-fi might not be a galaxy apart as they seem on the surface.
“I think I’m kind of old school, you’re always playing a different version of yourself. In terms of range and diversity has always been very important to me,” he said. “It’s very exciting to be a rapper and now being a captain of a ship. What do these two guys have in common? They could be polar opposites but what they have in common is they both fall in love with a woman and it’s very unexpected. I think tapping into universal themes regardless of the character you are playing is always going to serve you well as an actor. In this show we deal with some very big themes which is very exciting but also very scary.”
While the themes may be scary, this adaptation of a genre master’s sci-fi fantasy is successful in the way the cast and creators make the story of Nightflyertheir own. Their diverse backgrounds and experiences make this journey that much richer. This story might take place in a place far away into the future, but it’s grounded right here on earth.