The FoF participated in a conference call interview with the stars of Helix; Mark Ghanimé and Catherine Lemieux. Helix airs on Friday nights @ 10/9c on Syfy.

Question:  All right so I was just curious can you talk maybe about some of the like preparation you did, if there was any research that you did before you, you know, got the roles?

Mark Ghanimé: Catherine?

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah, I did a lot of computer work. Thank goodness for computers and the Information Age. I’m also very familiar with animals as well. I just – as a veterinarian I’ve seen a lot of veterinarians with the various pets I’ve had in my life. So I think some of the research was actually just life experience I think in that sense.

But I don’t know if a lot can prepare you for that kind of line of work of just going into nowhere and dealing with deadly diseases and fear and stuff so basically my – yeah, that’s that.

Question:               All right, Mark?

Mark Ghanimé:     For myself it’s funny because just last year I finished a role on a project – kind of a passion project that I helped produce as well as acting. It was a soldier role. And my character in that show was sort of a slightly stripped-down version of Sergio Balleseros so it was kind of neat because I did a lot of work previous going into that other project and it sort of helped carry on into this project so I was a bit more informed due to my previous work.

And I just enjoy it. I mean, as a kid growing up playing with GI Joes and all that kind of stuff you always wanted to do these kind of roles or play these kind of characters in your play time. And then when I got into acting I thought it would be a blast to do this and play a doctor and play all these kind of different types of roles.

But for Balleseros in particular there’s a bit of a darkness that I took on a bit more than my previous roles in any other stuff I’ve done so as far as the dialogue and the jargon goes from the military, yeah, I did some reading as far as ranking and how it goes and how you would pronounce certain words. And – like USAMRIID, for example…

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     …and just all these different things that I had to say. And then as we got into the show all the technical mumbo jumbo, all the science stuff…

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     …it was definitely something that myself and Catherine and everybody else had to really look at so.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah. Hey, Jamie, I just wanted to point out that we also had a vet on set. And she was great. She’s somebody that I could use a total resource. Her name was (Ev) and I don’t know her last name. but I considered that such a gift from production to be able to speak to somebody who actually is a veterinarian and who deals with that on a day to day basis. So that was really, really a great help.

Question:               I’m sure. And then, Mark, I was going to ask you, are we going to learn more back story soon? Because it seems like – I don’t know, he at least knows something or has worked with Hatake to some extent. So are we going to be finding out more soon?

Mark Ghanimé:     Yeah, I really hope you do and you just have to wait and find out as far as when the episodes get released. But there’s definitely going to be some interesting stuff developing with my character. He’s got a lot of – he’s multifaceted let’s just say. So we’re going to see some surprises.

Mark Ghanimé:     And we are going to learn as far as his background and where he comes from we’re going to learn some stuff with some twists.

Question:               Now I want to ask both of you, as far as, I mean, Cat, you know, to start with you, I mean, your personality and she’s a great character and you also had the…

Catherine Lemieux:     Thank you.

Question:               …Battlestar Galactica reference line in there too…

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah. That was great. That was a great gift, yeah.

Question:               So as far as developing her personality was that all in the script? Or you must have brought something to that.

Catherine Lemieux:     Oh that’s a great question. It’s definitely a combination of those two things. I think what came from the script and what most of the writers gave to Doreen was definitely a kind of attitude. You know, and I kind of – the idea of someone having the character to just deal with working with disease and being able to relocate places like the Arctic takes a particular kind of personality trait I think.

So for me I kind of tapped into Doreen being kind of a hard lady, you know, a kind of no-nonsense kind of lady so that’s how I reached that.

Question:               And, Mark, I mean, the funny thing about this guy I think he’s still – we’re still sort of peeling back the layers of who this guy is and which is kind of the like show actually. But…

Catherine Lemieux:     Right.

Question:               …as far as developing him, I mean, are you still working on that process or do you pretty much have an idea of who he is?

Mark Ghanimé:     Oh I think that’s sort of a never ending process. It’s just like trying to discover who you are and as a person you go through changes your life. And when you’re 20 you’re a different person than when you are when you’re 40. You know, there is that process.

For my character for the series, so far for the season I’m done, we finished filming. But I do have some designs for Season 2 if that happens; if everyone’s fortunate and everything aligns and we’re working on Season 2 and my character is around I’ve got some ideas for him for sure. That’s something that I’m really looking forward to working on and keep – to develop further. Definitely.

Question:               My question is – it’s kind of based on the story device of fear and hope. Your executive producer, Steve Maeda called the Narvik virus an invisible villain. He said you can’t touch it, you can’t taste it but it’s there. And X-Files did this very effectively in so many episodes.

Thinking on things, you know, real events of viral disaster in world history, the Black Death in the 14th Century or Chernobyl or even, you know, Fukushima Daiichi recently, how effective – how effective do you think that using fear and then of course the element of hope with your characters is in connecting you, making you sympathetic to viewers?

Catherine Lemieux:     Wow. Wow. I think that that’s just a reflection of life really like life is a balance of those two things in a sense of fear and hope through that and of conquering the fears that we get. So I think that’s kind of like a true reflection, the show kind of reflects the balance of life that we all try to achieve. And we all have fears…

Catherine Lemieux:     …and we all have to face them in that sense. So it’s a very, very human experience in that. It also being a Sci-fi experience and having this disease be completely unknown and completely from out of this world maybe, who knows.

Mark Ghanimé:     Exactly what Catherine says, and also the fact that if you look at some of the characters as we develop the story in the season some of the infected – the people that get infected in the base there is – there is the fear and the hope that these people from the CDC can help them. And, I mean, that kind of – it’s a very important story line on the secondary and the guest star characters in the show.

A lot of times you don’t see too too much of the fear and the hope on the surface of the hero characters. But…

Mark Ghanimé:     …we have that support from the guest stars on our show. You really get to see what the true feelings are of these people in the space. And I think, yeah, it is exactly human nature.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Question:               Is it – do you think that – do you think that it will be difficult or going forward treating such a real world serious – you know, even though we’re not dealing with, you know, say the X-Files black oil type of virus.

But, you know, say, I was on a beach in South California and the Fukushima and San Onofre issues are – they’re only sort of just there. You know, they just – they linger a little bit even though we’re told that the, you know, all the radionuclides are just at trace levels now and they’ve all dissipated. The little fear is always there.

Do you think that having sort of a real world issue treated in a fantastic sci-fi manner how – how do you do that? How do you put that slant on it and keep it – keep some levity but the true gravity of the world?

Mark Ghanimé:     Well I think, if I may, Catherine first…

Catherine Lemieux:     Of course, Mark.

Mark Ghanimé:     …we’ve echoed this a lot on our previous interviews. The fact that what we’re doing in this show is not fantastical, is not supernatural, is not beyond the reach of the real world I think that in itself…

Mark Ghanimé:     …lends a built-in fear in that it can happen.

Mark Ghanimé:     You look outside your door and those things can occur. And I think that…

Mark Ghanimé:     …itself is enough to put the fear of God into people.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     Yeah, for lack of a better term.

Catherine Lemieux:     The possibility, I think, of it – the possibility of any situation that’s on television or on film or what have you is definitely the link with the audience in that sense. If an audience member can identify and see themselves in this problem that these characters are having then you really do have a connection.

Question:               Excellent. Well very cool. Thank you. Thank you. Actually may I ask one more question about the Infinity contact lenses?

Catherine Lemieux:     Oh wow.

Question:               If either of you – if either of you have an answer to this it would be awesome. I sent – I have a friend who is the chair of ophthalmology at UC Davis and I sent her the Infinity contact lens ad; I thought she would find that amusing.

And she – we both weren’t quite sure how that fit into the show other than Hatake – his silver eye. So I was curious if you had any kind of an answer for her on how that relates to the show?

Mark Ghanimé:     I have a huge – I have a huge answer. It’s a juicy one. Are you ready for this?

Mark Ghanimé:     No comment.

Mark Ghanimé:     We cannot talk about that.

Question:               Okay all right, then I will let that be. Thank you so…

Mark Ghanimé:     …and said with all humor of course.

Question:               …the middle of Episode 3 and liking it very much. It’s nice and creepy and scary and all those good things.

Question:               But there is a tiny bit of humor in your odd couple relationship. Was it always meant to be? …personalities are in the midst of all this fear and creepiness and death and black goo. Are you guys sort of the – a little bit of (unintelligible) humor there particularly Doreen of course together.

Mark Ghanimé:     Well I think – I mean, I think obviously part of it is due to the writing. And they paired us up – dialogue-wise they paired us up like that. But I, you know, and I had never met Catherine going into this project. But I was sort of met with open arms and she’s a lovely woman. And we had a lot of fun together.

And I think it kind of – just our comfortable behavior with each us just lent itself to what we put on film afterwards. And it’s just a blast for myself. And she’s…

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     …got a wonderful – a wonderful background in theater and I had a blast learning from her so.

Catherine Lemieux:     I couldn’t have gotten through this project without the complicity that I had with Mark who, again, we didn’t know each other before this project. And he’s just a really generous scene partner. I’m very new to working in television and so Mark was always just very, very, very helpful with that. And as he said I think we just developed a kind of relationship.

I think Doreen is a bit – a bit me and I’m a bit Doreen. And so, yeah, definitely that is a reflection of – I think our actual relationship off screen.

Question:               Now the show is moving at a very fast pace. I told you I’ve watched three so far. Does the epidemic at hand expand into more of a conspiracy thriller mode or does – is the cast we see now the cast we’ll always see except those who die of course? Anyone else come in to make it more of an international conspiracy? Where are you going on that part of it?

Mark Ghanimé:     Well, you know, if you remember in one of the first episodes when we’re coming down the elevator with Hatake he describes how many scientists and doctors work in the lab – in the Arctic biosystem space which lends up a lot of different types of people, ethnicities and backgrounds to bring the story to.

And you will see through the guest stars throughout the show that there is a very good variety of people coming and going in any shape and form.

Question:               Now does that mean that we won’t have seen them but they will have been there or do they actually come in from the outside?

Mark Ghanimé:     No, no they are people that – well they are people that already occur in the base; that already live in the base and work in the base. And then there’s other stuff, other factors that we can’t quite reveal just yet.

Question:               Okay. Finally, is there – what has creeped you out, if anything, of course creepy about watching but is there anything that you just went, oh this is so gross or is it total fun, kid-like fun working with goo and black blood and all that?

Catherine Lemieux:     I had a lot of fun…

Mark Ghanimé:     If you could just repeat that? I couldn’t quite hear you, I apologize.

Question:               Did anything actually creep you out? Clearly not as much as we’re creeped out watching but working with the goo, the black blood, just a lot of revolting things or did you just feel like a kid in a, you know, candy store it was so much fun?

Catherine Lemieux:     Okay – I think that’s how I felt, a kid in a candy store. I think that’s a really good expression. For me I think I was just in a world of wonder because, I mean, the special effects there are created by a team of artists really so, you know, the monkey that attacked me was a work of art really.

Mark Ghanimé:     Yeah.

Catherine Lemieux:     He was just – Mark kept taking pictures of him too. He was just a – the things that we – yeah, that we come across are really fantastical but obviously in a non-threading kind of context. So, yeah, I think that’s a really good description. I mean, I think, yeah, kid in a candy store.

People – I think a lot of people were a bit freaked out for me to be working with rats. I think a lot of people have rat fear but – with the live rats. So that first scene in the pilot episode a lot of people were just afraid for me but I love animals so that was fun.

Mark Ghanimé:     They’re so cute those little rates, even the hairless ones.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     I just want to take them home and love them.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah, yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     You feel like they didn’t get enough love growing up.

Mark Ghanimé:     I agree with Catherine, you know – Catherine and I we were working in tandem with a lot of the same kind of effects and a lot of the same circumstances for the first few episodes so we got to see a lot of the same things. So, yeah, definitely working with these monkeys that they created – the visual effects monkey – special effects – just the process that it takes to create such wonderful pieces of art that look like live beings on the screen is just amazing.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     And it was kind of – and then when you put – you see them in regular light when all the lights are on in the house and you’re looking at these products that are built for the show but then under the proper lighting and when the cameras are rolling it just adds this completely different level of creep.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah. It’s not as scary from the side of filming and a lot of stuff is kind of green-screened and stuff like that so you kind of have to imagine what’s going on. And so the result, once it’s all put together, is a lot different from the experience.

Question:               And I got to say even in light, I don’t know, that severed arm was kind of creepy in regular light. But the monkey was cute; I agree the monkey’s cute. But anyway that was part of my question, you guys have such a great set there and everything, do you have like a favorite part of the set or anything like that?

Catherine Lemieux:     Oh wow.

Mark Ghanimé:     My favorite and most hated part of the set was the fridge. For some reason…

Mark Ghanimé:     It was the indoor freezer that we filmed a lot of the outdoor snow scenes in. And my character spends a lot of the time – a lot of time in the snow. And I, as you saw in the first couple episodes that I’m sending out the signals and when I’m seeing the frozen monkeys.

I spent a lot of time in this fake snow environment and I both loved and hated it because it was a challenge as an actor to work with this stuff flying at your face and the clothing that we wore and everything. For me the fridge was definitely my favorite and most hated part of the show.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah, I concur with Mark, absolutely. That fridge is a special thing to work with.

Mark Ghanimé:     And, you know, we had it whatever difficult as far as doing the acting in front of the stuff but the crew had to spend all the time, no breaks, they couldn’t come in and out like we were allowed to as the actors. They had to stay in this – in the fridge for the duration of, you know, 13-hour days. So I feel for them more than I feel for us.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah that’s a good point. At one point somebody had – when we were doing the field monkey scene somebody had brought us some tea – the (unintelligible) had brought us some tea and we thought oh how sweet to bring us tea in this cold environment. But it was essentially to get our breath to have more smoke so you kind of made a joke like, right, we thought we were being nice to you but really we just want more breath from you.

Mark Ghanimé:     Oh how nice of them. Oh wait.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Question:               All right. And then the other question I had is how much were you guys told at the beginning when you started like about what was going to happen? I know a lot of the actors had said, you know, they were surprised as things came up. How much did you guys know?

Catherine Lemieux:     I’m going to start that one, Mark. I…

Mark Ghanimé:     Yeah, go ahead.

Catherine Lemieux:     …really – I felt like I knew nothing. I felt like I knew nothing and I felt like I was honestly just really learning every time I would get a script. And I think the math was that we get the script on, you know, halfway through the episode as we’re shooting it and we get the next script.

So I really was, you know, we get a chance to talk with, you know, Cameron and the director previous to filming the pilot…

Mark Ghanimé:     Steve Maeda and…

Catherine Lemieux:     Steve, yeah, that’s right. We had a chance to speak but I don’t know if was intentional on their part but I felt that we were really – for me and my case I felt like I was kind of left in some kind of mystery which helped to portray that in actual shooting the show because I was really – I really didn’t know what the heck was going on so…

Catherine Lemieux:     So that helped with my acting I think.

Mark Ghanimé:     Yeah, I think, you know, with the show when we were given the roles we were told what our character was like and what the basic idea of the show was but we weren’t given a full season (unintelligible) which was kind of nice actually. It like – it keeps a bit of the mystery. And…

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     …it kept us all on our toes when we’d get a script every other week we’d get the new script and we’d get to see what we’re doing. And it was just a lot of fun. And, I mean, that’s life; an event happens in your life and you learn how to adapt or get around it and you proceed on. It’s…

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     …the way we’re filming is very much in that way which kept it pretty real and didn’t look stale in terms of the dialogue delivery I think.

Catherine Lemieux:     It helps you to relate to the audience too I think to not know what’s coming. You kind of get the impression of what the audience is going to feel as well as they see the shows. Yeah.

Question:               You guys touched upon this. Again, great to talk to you. And it was cool the way you guys interacted in the beginning. It was almost adversarial, the GI Joe comment, and yet I think after you (pulled) the nitrogen – way to break into that part that was forbidden…

Catherine Lemieux:     Oh yeah, yeah.

Question:               …I think there was a respect between the two of you that started to develop there a little bit. …on your short evolution so far.

Mark Ghanimé:     Well I think – I mean, for my character, you know, he’s obviously – he’s got his own agenda; he’s got his own side story and his own motivation for a lot of the things. But I think he, you know, at first when you’re just – when you get together with a group of people and you’re supposed to work with them, you’re thrown into this situation, you don’t really know who they are, you’re trying to feel them out.

And I think that’s, you know, not to speak for Catherine but her smart-ass remarks to my character were just her way of feeling out who he was and whether he could take it and whether he was really built for this kind of thing.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah.

Mark Ghanimé:     And that’s how I took her (reusing) of my character. And I started to respect her, you know, she was the one finding out a lot of the information the first couple of episodes whether – how the virus was not airborne and that gave me a bit of relief. As the character I was able to, you know, sink into a bit more with a little less fear. And I think it was just a mutual respect that built throughout the episodes.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah, again to – a testament to – respect is earned and not necessarily just given in that sense. And I think that’s a character trait of both Balleseros and Doreen.

Mark Ghanimé:     Not to say that I didn’t think she was a brat and maybe a bit of a pain in the ass but, you know, I kind of liked her.

Question:               And how much room do you guys have to play with your characters? I mean, can you kind of ad lib a little bit? Were some of those lines that you threw out were they in the script or did you have a chance to play a little bit?

Catherine Lemieux:     Oh wow.

Mark Ghanimé:     We, you know, obviously given the scripts and the dialogue and we need to get the story out, you know, this isn’t a Will Farrell movie where a lot of it is ad lib for the humor. There’s a certain amount of story that has to be told and things have to be exposed.

But for the most part if we had a problem with the way something felt as it came out of our mouths, if it didn’t seem very character-like or seemed a little difficult and a little contrived, or whatever, we could have a conversation with Cameron and Steve Maeda and the writers and they were glad to just, you know, on the fly make changes if it needed it.

And sometimes they said, no, we need it this way and that’s fine. We’ve all got our jobs to do and, you know, we just kind of work together and collaborate, that’s what makes this so fun.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah, I was really astounded at how much we were given in terms of being able to communicate with somebody exactly as Mark said, if something didn’t feel right or you didn’t know the flow of a line, there was always somebody to talk to about that. And an actors kind of (unintelligible) is to respect the written word in a sense. And but we were always given – we had a lot of support, so much support, to make it our own.

Question:               …and I think it’s really something that SyFy has really needed to do. They need a huge hit like this one and I think it’s – I think it’s on its way.

Mark Ghanimé:     Well thank you. We appreciate the support. I know Catherine and I are just having a blast and it’s been fun so thank you.

Catherine Lemieux:     Thanks.

Question:               So I would have assumed originally that the atmosphere on set would not be upbeat I guess. But it sounds like, from what everybody’s saying, it is. So can you just kind of talk about maybe just that atmosphere and how everyone gets along, I mean, besides, you know, you two.

Catherine Lemieux:     Oh wow, we are so lucky. I think we’re all so lucky in this casting that everybody just genuinely got to know each other and liked each and respected each other, so lucky. I don’t know if that always happens. Personally, as I said before, this is my first television experience and I just so – I was just so terrorized all the time just personally in that sense.

So I really relied on Mark so much to work with really. And, again, just a testament to the casting and the skill of all involved in this project. And, again, I think it’s a reflection of the success of it is that it was just really well put together in that sense and, you know.

Mark Ghanimé:     You know, for as serious as the show is as far as the writing and the content and the dialogue and the serious careers of some we have on board, you know, with Billy and Hiroyuki. Those serious people are serious jokesters too and they like to clown about like I do as well. I’m kind of a goof, you know, sometimes. So it’s fun to let our inner child out and express how we really feel as opposed to just what’s written.

You know, we’re on set and we’re around each other—it’s camaraderie, it’s friendships, it’s support. And, you know, a lot of jokes get thrown around and teasing and fun. So I think that is important to develop, I mean, we’re effectively a family for five months straight. You know, we work together every single day, 13 hours a day, 14 hours – for quite a long time. And you have to be able to be more than just colleagues in that sense when you’re working so creatively on a television series.

And that goes for the crew as well and the production side, the producers and everybody involved, they’re all very friendly and very caring and very fun and willing to put in the hours with a smile on their faces.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah, yeah, I think, again, humor is just something that all of us can use to help us deal with whatever stress, you know, whatever stress we’re dealing with in that sense. And so whether it be our character or us as actors but it was always the best way to deal with kind of the heavy stuff that was going on is through humor.

Question:               Okay. And then lastly can you both describe your character in three words? It seems to always be a hard one.

Catherine Lemieux:     Wow.

Mark Ghanimé:     Bad ass with heart.

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah. No nonsense. No nonsense – is that three words?

Mark Ghanimé:     That’s two. No nonsense lady?

Catherine Lemieux:     No nonsense. Yeah, no non sense.

Mark Ghanimé:     Nonsense is one word, dear.

Catherine Lemieux:     With compassion.

Question:               I assume that this story line is a one-season story line and the CDC goes elsewhere. And I’ll be optimistic and say when it comes back for a second season. Is that true? Is this the kind of show that each week you get a script and you check to see if you’re still alive?

Mark Ghanimé:     For fear of spoiling things, you know, I know that I was a little bit, you know, I would check the first page to make sure my name was on the top of every episode…

Catherine Lemieux:     Yeah, exactly.

Mark Ghanimé:     …to see that I got to go on another day. And, you know, it is one of those things. I mean, as we’ve seen with shows like, you know, with Game of Thrones where they – they’ve done some pretty drastic things to their cast in that series. Now a days it’s the WTF era of television where it’s just a lot of shock and awe sometimes…

Catherine Lemieux:     Anything can happen, yeah. Anything can happen really.

Mark Ghanimé:     Yeah.

Special thanks to Syfy and from Helix, Mark Ghanimé and Catherine Lemieux for taking time out of their schedules.

Be sure to tune in to Helix on Friday’s 10/9c


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