Only a handful of episodes of Syfy's new futuristic drama 'Defiance' have aired and the series has already amassed such a vocal fanbase that the show has been renewed for a second season. The latest offering from Rockne O'Bannon, creator of hit series like 'SeaQuest DSV' and 'Farscape,' 'Defiance' was hotly anticipated when it began production a year ago; so far it has surpassed expectations.
'Defiance' even launched alongside a tie-in video game of the same name, released in April for the PS3 and X-Box 360--how many television series get their own video game before their pilot episode even airs? The work, passion and love that has gone into the creation of the series is palpable from the very first episode, as 'Defiance' offers science-fiction fans what they love best: a rich, deep backstory and fully realized world for the series' characters to play within.
'Defiance' takes place in the near future, after a war between humans and a collection of alien races (known collectively as Votans) decimated Earth and left few governing bodies intact. Now, in the wake of these Pale Wars, humans and the seven Votan species are scattered, forced to live and work together in order to survive this strange new world that has arisen from an alien terraforming experiment gone wrong. The title describes a refugee camp, called Defiance, built from the ruins of what was once St. Louis. The series follows the handful of humans, Irathients, Castithans, Indogenes and others who make their way through this dangerous landscape as best they can.
This morning I had the pleasure to chat with Trenna Keating, the beautiful, talented Canadian actor who plays the Indogene Doc Yewll on Syfy's 'Defiance' (pictured above). Trenna’s character Doc Yewll arrived in Defiance following the Pale Wars, intending to stay a week before moving on to dispense medical care in other war-torn areas. Eight years later, Yewll still serves as the town’s doctor. Keating is known to American audiences as Hannah Corday on 'Combat Hospital' and has appeared in several Canadian productions including the hit sitcom 'Corner Gas.'
TVRage: Well first off, let me begin by congratulating you on being renewed for a second season!
Keating: Thank you! We were thrilled to find that out. We're very excited.
TVR: I imagine it has been a fun week for you so far.
Keating: It has been, yes, absolutely. It's been great.
TVR: Well the renewal was sort of a no-brainer given how much excitement has been built around the show after just a few episodes. There's been such a resurgence of science fiction on television over the last couple of years; it's seemingly more popular than ever. I was wondering if you had any thoughts as to why this rennaissance of sci-fi has come about.
Keating: Well, if people are anything like me, I sort of came into sci-fi late in the game. I think television in general has had a sort of resurgence in good, good shows out there and sci-fi is absolutely a part of that. I think we were in a phase of mind-numbing reality tv for so many years that it has really been exciting that now there are so many good shows out there. I think the quality of the writing is becoming very impressive--in these kind of shows in particular.
TVR: It's certainly a nice time for actors now that reality TV seems to be a little more on the wane than in past years.
Keating: Yes, absolutely (laughs).
TVR: You mentioned that you came to science fiction a little late. I was curious: were you a fan of any of Rockne S. O'Bannon's previous series, such as 'Farscape' or 'SeaQuest DSV' before you joined this show?
Keating: No, actually, I wasn't. I watched 'Farscape' after I got cast, I wasn't familiar with it. After I was cast, everyone kept saying "oh you've got to watch 'Farscape!'" (laughs) So that's when I was introduced to it. It was really exciting. It was one of those things where I realized "oh, I've been missing out on some good shows!"
TVR: I'm sure that watching 'Farscape' also gave you a glimpse into your own future in the make-up chair, a little bit. (laughs)
Keating: Absolutely! That was something that was completely new to me and I think that I watch anybody that acts in a prosthetic much differently now. I went back and watched 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' through again after I got cast and I found myself watching all of those actors wearing prosthetics in a very new way.
TVR: I believe it! Your IMDB page shows that you're also an experienced casting assistant and casting director as well as an actress; I was wondering, did you always have designs to work behind the camera as well as acting? Or was that sort of a means to an end?
Keating: It was more of a means to an end but I actually really loved it. I started doing it pretty soon after I finished University. I was living in Saskatchewan and we had a pretty good film industry going on but there was never enough work for an actor to sustain themselves on, just being an actor. I started doing casting work, acting as an assistant and being a reader. I found that I really do, I really love it; I love being in the room, I love working with actors. Of course, acting is my first passion, but there's no pressure on you when you're a reader--you're just there for the other person. I used to be a background casting director for awhile there... I can't say I enjoyed that. That job is far more stressful than I think anybody deserves. (laughs) But yeah, actually being in the room and being a reader... I still do it--I was doing it yesterday.
TVR: Oh, wow, really?
Keating: Yes, the people who cast 'Defiance,' I met them a couple of years ago and started reading for them. They've been wonderful to me. They cast me in both 'Combat Hospital' and 'Defiance,' it's a really lovely relationship to have.
TVR: It must be really interesting to see both sides like that. Would you say that any of it has given you insight into the audition process as an actor?
Keating: Absolutely. If nothing else it helps me sometimes with the nerves and taking the edge off. By being in the room so much I realized that there are so many things that are beyond your control as an actor. All an actor can do is go in there and give it your best shot. You might do the best audition of your life and still not get the part. There's so many people that have to make a decision for an actor to be cast. It is quite something to be cast because when you get on a show like 'Defiance' or any series, I don't think some actors realize just how many people had to say yes to get them to actually be there. So it did help me to sort of relieve some of that stress and pressure that we put on ourselves as actors.
TVR: Speaking of just how many people go into the production of a show like 'Defiance,' beyond the casting is there any other behind-the-camera jobs that you'd want to take a crack at one day? Anything that interests you?
Keating: I would like to do directing at some point. I really do like that. That does also come from being in the room as a reader. I have taken directing classes for theatre. I wouldn't mind giving that a crack. But I've been in the film industry for several years, doing several behind-the-scenes jobs: I've been a stand-in, I've been a director's assistant. I've kind of gotten a chance to be on set and see the jobs that people do. I really have to say, there's not a lot of them I would want to do, other than acting and directing! (laughs) I very much appreciate and have a great respect for all of them--don't know if I'd want to do them.
TVR: So no desire then to turn the tables and put your make-up artist in the make-up chair for one day?
Keating: Well I might like to do that! I tease the guy that does my make-up and say that he's trying to kill me every day. I might like to torture him a little bit. (laughs)
TVR: Now to talk about the show a little bit: how can you prepare as an actor for a character that's not human and is from another world? How does that alter your initial process?
Keating: Well, it's funny. I've been asked that question quite a few times. People have said "do you look to all of these classic sci-fi characters or doctors in sci-fi?" and I said that I actually didn't. I felt with Doc Yewll that she's very much an outsider. It wasn't so much about being an alien as it was about feeling like an alien, just as we as humans often find ourselves in situations that we feel alien to. I actually watched a lot of Temperance Brennan in the show 'Bones' and Dr. Bishop in 'Fringe.' Those two people, I felt like, are sort of misfits. They don't fit in in society. They're geniuses in their own way and they are dedicated to their profession. Really, all they care about is that on some level--the profession, solving the case, finding what's wrong with this person. It becomes this obsession for them. It makes them extreme people that don't relate to other people very well. So that was the kind of research that I had done. Because I hadn't been a huge sci-fi fan before this show I wasn't drawing on these sci-fi things. I don't know, maybe that helped, because I only brought what I thought this character could be.
TVR: Would you say that there are any similarities between Doc Yewll and Hannah Corday from 'Combat Hospital?' Or is Yewll a complete departure at this point?
Keating: Well they are similar to me, to Trenna, in different ways. Hannah was uptight and eager to please; she's lower on the totem pole. She had superiors that she needed to answer to. But she also had a bit of a dry sense of humor. You didn't see a lot of Hannah, unfortunately, in that first season but there were moments where we saw that dry sense of humor so thats a similarity between them. But the difference is, Doc doesn't answer to anyone. Doc is her own boss. I think when I am in new situations I am a little bit more like Hannah: I want to please, I want to do the right things, I want people to like me, all of those natural human things. But I'm more like Doc once you get to know me. Once I'm comfortable with you I definitely have that dry sense of humor and a bit more of that I-don't-give-a-shit attitude.
TVR: So you get to turn the volume up on that once you're in the make-up.
Keating: That's right, absolutely.
TVR: Despite being a medical doctor, the pilot episode immediately established that Doc Yewll is not afraid to play rough or get her hands dirty or anything like that. I was wondering why you think the fans have taken to this character so immediately and whether or not you think that dichotomy has anything to do with it.
Keating: I think it does. Doc is completely unapologetic about who she is. She just does whatever she wants and I think people find that refreshing, to see somebody that says whatever they want and does whatever they want and gets to say those things that we, as humans, are too polite or too afraid to say. She just says them. So I think people appreciate that in the character. The writers write me incredible lines that I get to say so I get to have so much fun. It's a lot like people that I love: I love Ricky Gervais. I love Daniel Tosh. People that just say it. Lots of times they are definitely bordering on completely inappropriate (laughs) but I think that there's definitely something out there right now where people are appreciating that kind of comedy and attitude. I think there's a bit of that to Doc.
TVR: And it certainly keeps things entertaining.
Keating: I hope so!
TVR: It was mentioned in the show that Doc Yewll intended to stay in Defiance for a week or so and has now remained there for years and years. Do you have any insight as to why you believe she's decided to stick around?
Keating: Well I think, I mean, I have my thoughts. She is very rough around the edges when it comes to her interactions with humans. But I do feel that on some level--maybe Doc doesn't even know this about herself yet--but I feel like she does want to learn something from these humans. So that's sort of my thought. Who knows what the writers will come up with. (laughs) But there is the possibility of her learning something from these people. The mayor, the lawkeeper... she doesn't necessarily like them but I think she respects them. She respects people that are dedicated to their professions. There's also that line in the pilot when she doesn't make Nolan pay. She says "keep your money, buy the girl a meal." I think that was a slight insight to... maybe she has a little bit of heart. She doesn't show it very often but it might be there, buried deep.
TVR: It also seems as though, in the Indogene culture, that respect might also be much more important than actually liking the person.
Keating: Yeah, I think so.
TVR: Just to wrap up: how can you tease us? What would you like to say to your fans about what we can expect from Yewll in the episodes to come that we're all anxiously awaiting?
Keating: Well I can say that there is quite a bit of Doc to come. Like all the characters in this show, our ensemble, we all have our secrets. As the show goes on we start finding out a little bit more about what the characters' secrets are. Doc is included in that. You might find out a little bit more about who she is.
TVR: Well we look forward to that! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat today.
Keating: Thank you! It was lovely chatting with you.
'Defiance' also stars Grant Bowler as Joshua and Julie Benz as Amanda. 'Defiance' airs Mondays at 9:00PM EST on Syfy.