I had the very great pleasure of taking part in a conference call with Tony Curran and Jaime Murray. They gave wonderful, thoughtful, in-depth answers about their characters and the themes of the show. They hinted a little bit about where their characters might be going this season and hopefully beyond. Both were very generous with their time and enthusiastic about the show. It was also fun to hear both of them using their actual real-life accents in answering the questions! (Tony is from Scotland and Jaime from England) What follows is a quick synopsis of my notes of some of the highlights of the conversation. Do come back when the full transcript will be posted.
Q: Can you talk about how the dynamic is shifting between Stahma and Datak?
JM: I feel like it’s a period piece even though it’s 35 years in the future. It’s a very patriarchal society. Stahma is repressed. It’s a society in which “her role is as a breeder and a bleeder.” It’s complicated by coming from a strict caste system. Datak would almost have been an untouchable and Stahma is almost royalty. They would never have been together on their home world. It’s a bit of a power struggle. She is more highly educated and she sees the longer game. He’s shrewd and sharp. He’s had to live on his wits. She has to suggest ways of dealing with things. He’s sometimes more at the whim of his emotions. She has to avoid hurting his pride.
TC: As the season progresses, you see interesting dynamics develop. Stahma and Datak are coming from a different planet and very different ends of a cultural spectrum. They’re trying to re-invent themselves. Stahma wouldn’t have had as much power in their home world. She keeps his temper in check. Datak begins to wisen up to Stahma’s cunning. She’s a refined tool while he’s a blunt instrument.
JM: We all wear masks, but Stahma wears the mask all of the time. She loves him but she never takes it off. It just “slips” slightly at times.
TC: The makeup was important. You can still see the eyes and facial expressions. We wanted the audience to be able to relate to the characters. The patriarchal society is still seen all over the world today. Women in Defiance are strong role models.
Q: What initially attracted you to the role? What were the initial acting challenges?
TC: The size and scale of it all. Playing an alien and what that would entail. It’s important to break it down to the characters. You can have an amazing backdrop, but you have to have interesting, relatable characters. We have an interesting dynamic. Someone from the gutter marrying someone in the upper echelons. It’s very much like Sense and Sensibility.
JM: The Stahma/Datak relationship was very interesting to me. It’s a very complex relationship. Just playing another species skews things enough off their axis to give you a fresh perspective on what it means to be human. You want to play something that is human enough but different enough. It still needs to be relatable and needs to be able to allow the audience to invest in the family.
The scene in the bath where I’m almost naked and hugging my adult son. It’s very creepy. And the shaming ritual.
TC: I spoke to Kevin Murphy and that moment when she looks at me in the bath and then I give her a look like oh go on. Exactly what people should be reacting to. It almost didn’t make it into the episode. The Tarrs are weird and wonderful. They aren’t human. The Tarrs are relatable but still have to be different.
JM: I didn’t want to move like a human woman. My technique is to react to the other actor and let my own impulses come up, but in playing an alien I look for the opposite impulses. So if as a human I might do one thing, I choose to do the exact opposite as an alien. Getting in the bath – I would be self-conscious and hold my body in a certain way, but an alien would be erect and proud, like a cat or a snake. Our DP through the lighting of the Tarr house really raised our performance.
TC: We’re alien but have been on earth for 33 years. I have an American accent. Stahma is very deliberate when she speaks and looks for the words. We chose to sound different from each other.
JM: Tony – Datak – learned to speak in the streets. Christie is one of the first humans Stahma’s had contact with.
TC: Many back stories to come. We’ll find out lots of interesting things about the Tarrs.
Q: She manipulates him. Does he know it and would he do anything about it?
JM: In my life I know when people are doing it. Sometimes, I’ll just go with it. Tony is an organic actor. The scenes are so charged they are almost like a love scene. He knew it and appreciated it, but went with it.
TC: If someone gives you an idea that’s a great idea or they’re more informed than you are, you will take it. He admires Stahma. He knows she’s smart. It’s unsaid. She does it in a manipulative way but it’s for the better of the two of them. He knows what she’s doing but she still has to watch her step.
JM: At the beginning, Datak listens more. As the season progresses he enjoys some success and her control over him lessens. He becomes confident in his own abilities.
TC: Her ideology and philosophy is calming him down. Stahma is moulding him. He has the blunt instrument you need in the frontier, but she is educating him.
JM: Datak has the short term win, while Stahma has the long term goal in mind. She can satisfy his ego because she never needs to be right or seen as the victor. There is a shift in power. They need to find a new way or relating to each other.
TC: Jaime is the unsung heroine. She is the silent, stoic. She’s like a silent snake who takes down her prey and then leaves before anyone notices. Stahma does thing maybe Datak doesn’t know about. It’s going to stir the pot.
JM: There’s a lot of hot air that comes out of Datak, the there’s a vulnerability. I just want to take care of him.
TC: Lots of men with a volatile temper end up that way because of their hard upbringing. Stahma isn’t as vulnerable as Datak can be. It makes him fun to play.
Q: What is the joy/challenge of playing your characters?
TC: There was a lot of aggressiveness in the Pilot. I’m a big fan of James Cagney – a kid from the street. He was perceived to have a hard shell but he was damaged. His upbringing shaped his behavior. In episodes to come you’ll see how Stahma takes care of Datak. He’s like a big kid. A lot of characters on the show have skeletons in their pasts. They try not to face them.
JM: The unexpected delight in playing an alien forces me to question being human. So much scope for this character. Stahma doesn’t really know who she is. She only knows who she is in terms of other people. She’s surrounded by free and emancipated women. Even though she’s smart and powerful, she is defined by the men in her life. I felt isolated and lonely playing her because she’s constantly hiding behind her mask. She may figure out how disconnected she is and try to connect with someone. She’s a bird in a gilded cage. There’s a raw immediacy about who Datak is.
Q: Alak’s radio station – what would you add to his playlist?
TC: Old Earth vinyl. I’m a big fan of Motown, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross. Maybe Public Enemy.
JM: Pearl Jam, Jeremy, or quirky like the Cure, TC, Adam and the Ants. Some of those 80s singers like Soundgarden, Nirvana.
Jesse’s having a blast. He’s been tweeting as Alak, doing re-caps. He does a little video.
Q: Do you see a possibility that Datak will act for the town and Stahma will act for her family and this will put them at odds?
TC: Maybe Stahma gets what she wants and doesn’t need him. I don’t know how far he’d get without her. The Need/Want is a good symbol for how much do they need each other and how much do they want each other. To get to where they’ve got, they need each other. I’ve heard through the grapevine where things might happen in the future that will be tough for both. It’s an interesting road.
JM: They are so much a part of each other, who they are as individuals.
TC: You’d really see who Stahma is or who she thinks she is.
JM: Who would fare better on their own?
TC: Kevin is a writer/producer, but he’s a good director. He’ll whisper something in my ear about the scene, and not tell the others, so you don’t know what’s coming. He’ll come and tell you something that’s coming in a future episode.
JM: I think she’d put the family first, but she might get distracted but she might take her eye off the ball and then Datak may react to his own ego and act out a rash decision without her council.
TC: He might relate back to where he was before her.
JM: She might discover a new way of being while Datak will revert back to his old ways.
TC: She’s trying to educate him. Stahma could start soaring without him.
Q: I like picking out the political undertones. Assimilation is a topic that’s come up. Is assimilation possible?
TC: I think it’s inevitable. With the way terrorism is sweeping across the nation, it could be on the verge of turning really bad if we can’t integrate societies.
JM: All societies need to evolve. Stahma is uncomfortable with the old traditions, but Datak is holding on to the society that never helped him. It’s generally the disenfranchised who carry on the damaging behavior. There is a universal desire for people to have connection. Assimiliating has a strong connotation. We need to look at different cultures connecting so that we don’t have disenfranchised.
TC: You’re going to find some very human stories with people being alienated within the society. Like any good drama, it’s holding a mirror up to society. The question is what are we going to do? Do something about it, or let it go on?
This is not the entirety of the conversation, so please come back and scroll through the official transcript for even more!