When Grant Bowler is asked about being cast on Syfy’s upcoming drama “Defiance,” the Australian actor most recently known to TV viewers for playing Richard Burton in Lifetime’s drama “Liz & Dick,” flashes a leading man grin followed by a cheeky admission: he’s an avid gamer – a 7-year card-carrying member of EVE Online, in fact.
And he regularly enjoys MMORG (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games) like “World of Tanks,” his current addiction, without embarrassment. “I’ll put my gaming credentials up against anybody,” Bowler says.
In a way, that’s about to happen when “Defiance” premieres April 15, at 9/8c, on Syfy. The epic post-apocalyptic drama, already generating Internet buzz, is debuting as both an original series and a multi-platform video game, a collaboration between Syfy and Trion that is breaking ground as the first-ever convergence of television and online gaming.
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Set sometime in the not-too-distant future (a frightening thought after you see this world), “Defiance” tells the story of a group of survivors of a significantly transformed planet Earth, following the devastating arrival of seven different alien races known as Voltans. Bowler plays Joshua Nolan, a former Marine and the chief lawmaker in the boomtown of Defiance. Lest you think all feeling and emotion has disappeared in this troubling new world, he also cares for his unofficially adopted Irathien alien “daughter” Irisa (played by Stephanie Leonidas, she’s destined to be a favorite of guys).
But the more pressing question is does the blending of genre TV and gaming culture work? “It’s got heaps of promise and an amazing cast,” wrote one reviewer after watching the first three episodes. Bowler would agree. Acknowledging that he entered into this with the attenuated skepticism of a gamer, he says, enthusiastically, even triumphantly, yes, the two can and do succeed together. “I’ve always been fascinated by the possibility of melding gaming and television but I failed to see how it could be accomplished,” he says. “But I think the way that Trion ad Syfy have done it is incredible.”
Watch an XFINITY Exclusive Interview with “Defiance” Stars Grant Bowler and Julie Benz:
Bowler uses the word “ingenious” to describe the game’s influence on the TV series, and says, “It’s actually the opposite of what you’d expect. The pervasive world is the game … and we’re [the TV show] actually piggy backing the game.”
Go Inside Nolan and Irisa’s World:
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Below, Bowler, opens up about the show, his gaming habits and why he thinks that “Liz & Dick” never got a fair shake:
On Whether Or Not He’s a Sci-Fi Fan: Yes. Look, I am with a caveat, and that is quality. I have an internal kind of litmus test with shows and one of them is, I’m not keen on joining shows where its fundamental selling point or its hot button is a device and goes no further than the device. What I loved about [working on] “True Blood” was that the world was pervasive, top-down. The same with J.J. [Abrams] with “Lost.” That world, as out there as it was, was pervasive. It all worked all the way down. And I remember at Comic Con two years ago, and this is how detail oriented the “Lost” fans were, [a fan] came up to me and said, “That flight recorder box that you pulled out of the safe on the freighter,” and I go…”Yeah?” I was actually there for another show so I go, “Oh, yeah ‘Lost.’ Got it. Okay.” I said “What’s your question?” He said, “It was burned.” And I said, “Yeah, it was.” And he said “But the plane went into the water and it was picked up off the bottom of the ocean. Why was it burned?” And I looked him in the eye and I finally told the truth. “Because that’s how props handed it to me.” So for me it’s if I know that backstory, that world is going to be immersive.
On the Challenges of Doing a Special Effects-Heavy Series: This was the first time I’d done a lot of special effects. It was the first time I’d spent any amount of time in front of a green screen. And that, although it was a bit daunting at first, turned into this wonderful playground because you can pretty much invent. And then what I do, I’m sneaky. I go through the back door. I walk up to the effects guys and say, “Well what did you have there?” And they say, “Oh we had this thing about ten feet tall,” and I go, “Oh, well I was looking twenty-five feet high [during the scene].” So then actually as an actor you can sneakily make it all bigger and better behind you. It’s wonderful, because when you’re working on a real set, that won’t happen. You live with what’ you’re given. I thought the special effects part of it was amazing All of the visual effects part of it. I’ll tell you one thing: The special effects boys up in Toronto – they’re crazy, like they need Lithium. They were amazing. So we did some wonderful, wonderful stuff. I love that.
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On How Much Backstory He Was Given for Joshua Ahead of Time: Well, the thing that attracted me so much to this show is when I came on was when we had no script. [Executive producers] Mark Stern, Kevin Murphy, Scott Stewart the director of the pilot and me. We didn’t have a script. We sat around in a room and had a seven-page outline and these guys promised me that we’d have something by the time we started shooting and that’s been an amazing experience so yeah, for me it’s been ground-up and that’s been wonderful.
On How He Felt About the Critical Backlash to “Liz & Dick”: I was disappointed to a degree because I think that by and large the movie became too much about people’s opinion of Lindsay. And I’m not making Lindsay a part of that. She had nothing to do with that conversation. It seemed to be difficult for people to judge it by its own merits. And there were particular production aspects like the makeup, hair and wardrobe of the sets the camera work, there’s some amazing special effects work and we shot the whole thing in LA and some of it looked like the Trevi fountain. Regardless of whether Lindsay was given a fair shot or not, I don’t think the movie was. I come from a place where there’s no above and below the line. When I came up in the industry in Australia, you’re on the crew call sheet if you’re an actor so I had a crew that was working twenty hours a day. They were and always will be my priority. But I worry about the key grip and the best boy and all of those guys who haven’t seen their kids for six weeks to three and a half months. You want them to get the recognition, especially with a story well told.
On Whether He Spoke to Lohan After “Liz & Dick” Aired: I think by the time the ship sailed, there’s nothing to do other than wishes and fishes. Acting like filmmaking like writing like directing, you’re always forward looking. You’re always trying to put the right people in the right places for the right thing that moves forward. It does or it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s no explanation as to why, it just does.
On What Types of Games He Likes to Play: It depends. This is to be completely honest, if I’m shooting I can’t play MMORG’s ‘cause it’s too much work to do that. They require too much upkeep and too much care. And I’m shooting sometimes fifteen or seventeen hours a day. What I find is that I end up sliding. Although I love MMORG’s, I tend to put them away while I’m shooting because otherwise I get no sleep, I’ll stay up all night. So I put ‘em away. I have to go cold turkey for a while and then if I’m shooting I’ll do Sid Meiers’ “Pirates of the Caribbean,” I love playing that over and over again. Things that are just one-player and I can muddle through it in four-six hours and then put it away so that I don’t have to dedicate that amount of time to it. When I’m not shooting and not trying to look after the kids, the MMORG’s come back. At the moment I’m obsessed with “World of Tanks.” I don’t know why but I’m obsessed. I’ve got this target that I’m determined to get to an A75. My crew are almost leveled up on their second interview skill set. I’m just chomping at the bit.
“Defiance” premieres on Monday, April 15 at 9/8c on Syfy.