The Syfy Channel is cashing in on the recent revival of alien obsession storming Hollywood with its new hit Defiance, a revolution in storytelling that combines both tv and online gaming. We talked with the face behind Doc Yewll, Canadian actress Trenna Keating, to discuss her role, what it’s like transforming into an alien and just how awesome her taste in television really is. Read on for the full interview…
The Daily Quirk: Can you tell us a little bit about Defiance and your character Doc Yewll?
Trenna Keating: Defiance is, basically the world that we know has ended so aliens and humans have joined together and created this community called Defiance and it used to be St. Louis. So Defiance is this sort of melting pot of a community that has various races of aliens and humans living together. It’s a really beautifully realized and enormous universe and I like to think that it has very well-defined characters and a lot of heart. The show has a lot of heart, a lot of darkness and a lot of laughter. So basically every week the community of Defiance joins together to fight for the great good.
My character is Doc Yewll, so my character is the doctor of the town. And my race is called Indogene and I came to Defiance eight years ago. There’s only a few of us Indogenes in the community and Doc Yewll is very different from humans. She doesn’t think at all the way a human thinks. She’s very scientific and mathematical and to the point. She doesn’t understand human emotion the way that humans do. I think she’s interested in the way people tick, but she holds her cards pretty close and she never really offers too much about who she is.
TDQ: Defiance is such an interesting concept, with fans being able to watch the show and participate in the world and plot by playing the game. How did you become involved with the show?
TK: The thing for, I don’t know if it was this way for the other cast members, but I didn’t really have a grasp of it when I got the job. I just thought “Okay, there’s going to be a video game. And there’s going to be a tv series.” But the videogame, they didn’t talk to us about that a whole lot in the beginning. I know it was in the works right from the word go, but I didn’t quite understand how intricately the two were going to be connected until later in the game. So it is this kind of incredible thing where our world of Defiance has become even more enormous by having this world in the video game as well. So it just makes for so many possibilities. I’m not a gamer, so I haven’t played it yet but I’ve watched quite a bit of things about it. But I might have to give it a shot.
TDQ: How do you get into the frame of mind to play an alien who doesn’t feel emotions like humans and is so in tune with technology?
TK: When I first went into the audition and got cast, I watched a lot of the television show Bones because I thought that that was a really good kind of example of a person, the Temperance Brennan character, the kind of person that is the real misfit in her surroundings.
TDQ: You’re speaking to my heart right now. I love Bones!
TK: So do I! I absolutely love Bones. It was not a hard thing to do, to watch the entire series. Because I really do feel that is who Doc Yewll is. She’s the misfit and she’s just different, but she’s also quite extraordinary. She’s very intelligent, and like some intelligent human beings she doesn’t quite know how to fit into the world in a social manner. So I watched a lot of that. And then after I was cast and found out what the prosthetic was going to be like, I watched a lot of Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) again because I wanted to watch a show that had a lot of prosthetic acting in it because I was watching it a different way now to see how people were managing a prosthetic.
TDQ: Doc Yewll has a really great dry sense of humor from what I’ve seen. Is it fun playing that kind of sarcastic, to the point type of character?
TK: I love it! I think that the writers are spectacular and they give me such great things to work with. And Doc Yewll gets to say all of those things that we humans would like to say and are too polite or afraid to say. But she’s completely unapologetic about it and she just says whatever she thinks. It’s something that’s kind of refreshing and I think that people appreciate that in a person, because we can’t get away with that all too often. So I feel really lucky that I get to do that for several hours a day.
TDQ: Have you had a favorite line so far?
TK: My favorite line so far has been “Freaking dead beats.” I know that fans have been really liking “Good human” and “If you rush me, we all go boom.” But I think mine is “Freaking dead beats” because I like saying it.
TDQ: What is the makeup and prosthetic preparation like for getting into character?
TK: It takes about two to three hours to get into it, so that makes for some very early call times. And then about a half an hour to get out of it. I get cut out of it at the end of the night. It’s a new mask every time I go into work.
TDQ: Is it difficult working in a mask?
TK: It certainly took some getting used to. I kind of had some ideas about how to make my intonations read through the mask but actually physically working in the mask, I had never been in a prosthetic before and it was certainly an adjustment. I’m a little bit of a claustrophobic person so I had moments where I thought “Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I can do this!” but you just adjust and deal with it. You learn to meditate and take lots of breaths and it’s not heavy, so that’s good. It is hot, though, and it’s glued completely to my face so it gets pretty sweaty in the middle of August. And on the flip side, when it starts getting cold you get this kind of damp, coldness all over your body. But I remind myself that I love my job and I love my character and I definitely feel like I am that character when I get into that prosthetic.
And there are some actors who get in that makeup chair for eight hours so I think “You know, this isn’t so bad. I can do it.”
TDQ: What’s it been like learning to speak alien languages? Is it something you’ve been able to study up on or is it a learn as you go kind of process?
TK: Basically, I haven’t had to speak it a whole lot, but what they do is David Peterson, who wrote the languages for Game of Thrones as well, records himself saying the line and then he sends an MP3 with him saying the line and he also writes it out for us so we can see what it looks like. Then we work through it and memorize it and then run it by him to make sure everything’s right. It’s quite a process and I haven’t had too do a whole yet, I’ve only said a few things, but the few things I have said I’ve found quite challenging. So I’m blown away by the other actors who speak entire scenes in it. I think ‘Oh my gosh, if that happens to me somewhere down the road they’re going to have to be patient with me!”
TDQ: Is it based off of any real languages?
TK: Well I know that David is a linguistics person and he knows every lost language out there, so I think there is a lot of history to it that I can’t really speak to well. I think it is slightly rooted but I’m not entirely sure.
TDQ: I’ve heard that you’ve had many jobs outside of acting in the film industry like casting assistant and director’s assistant. Were taking on all of those positions something you’d always wanted to try?
TK: I grew up in Saskatchewan, and our film industry there is a great industry, but a small industry. So I was always taking whatever job I could take to be involved, because there wasn’t always a roll they were casting. But I just wanted to be in there meeting people and learning, so I did a lot os stand in work. I was a director’s assistant on a movie and I did work in casting on and off. I still do. I still work as a reader for the people who cast Defiance, every once in a while. I have a real love for being in the audition room. I often say that if I could get paid to be a reader for the rest of my life, I would be a happy person because I love working with actors and watching other actors work. And when you’re in a room like that, the pressure isn’t always on you, which is sometimes really freeing. I’ve only been in Toronto for four years so I feel new to this community and I’m still doing the same thing that every actor in this city does, and I’ve been given this wonderful and incredible experience of being on Defiance, but going from audition to audition just trying to get the next job like everybody else.
TDQ: I’ve also read that you are a playwright as well. What made you decide to try your hand at that skill?
TK: When I lived in Saskatchewan I was part of a playwright center there where they develop new work, and I always worked with them as an actor. But I was in the room with them so often that I thought I wanted to try my hand at writing. I’ve written three plays, none of them are published, but I’ve produced one of them and another was produced at a college here in Toronto. I’ve got this third one that I’m trying to get out there. It’s one of those things where I love writing, and I think I’m pretty good at it, but it does take a back burner to acting. It is something that I really do intend on going further with. I want to see my work produced! It’s a mission in my life!
TDQ: Because we like to end our interviews on a fun note, could you tell me what last book you read was?
TK: The last book that I read was called The Wreckage by Michael Crummey. He’s a Canadian writer and I’ll give you the quick rundown. Wartime. This young couple meets right before he goes off to war, and we follow their lives as years pass. You see how war sort of tears people apart and they don’t reconnect until many, many years and many different lives later. It was a book I picked up at a used bookstore here in Toronto and I was very pleased with it. I love to read!
The Daily Quirk would like to thank Trenna Keating for taking the time to chat with us! To find out more Ms. Keating, you can follow her on Twitter and Like her page on Facebook. Defiance airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Syfy.