Tonight, after the season finale of The Magicians, Syfy kicks off the new thriller Hunters.
HUNTERS follows Baltimore FBI agent Flynn Carroll (Nathan Phillips, “Wolf Creek”) whose wife suddenly and mysteriously goes missing. His search for her leads him to a highly-classified government organization – the Exo-Terrorism Unit (ETU) – who track and fight alien terrorists. Britne Oldford (“American Horror Story”) plays Regan, a valuable ETU operative keeping secrets of her own. The series also stars Julian McMahon (“Nip/Tuck”) as the dangerously unhinged terrorist, McCarthy.
HUNTERS, inspired by best-selling author Whitley Strieber’s novel, Alien Hunter, is produced by Universal Cable Productions in association with Valhalla Entertainment. Ernest Dickerson (“The Walking Dead,” “Dexter”) directed the pilot.
Recently, Syfy held a press Q&A call with executive producer/showrunner Natalie Chaidez (12 Monkeys, Heroes) and stars Britne Oldford (American Horror Story) and Julian McMahon (Childhood’s End, Nip/Tuck). Here’s what folks asked on the call:
Could you talk about working with both digital and practical effects on the show?
Britne Oldford: On this show, we were so fortunate to be working with Justin Dix, you know, the most amazing special effects guy. So we were really working with a lot of practical things, you know. A lot with the guns, a lot of the props that has been — certain other pieces were all there for us and ready to be used in the green screen.
So, I thought, I think as an actor that was definitely such a treat because a lot of the time (aliens) and other supernatural nature, you tend to, you know, have to work a little bit harder to kind of pretend and imagine what’s going on but we had everything like in front of us. It definitely added to the show and is a very important part of our show, and it’s kind of the heart of it, and it was a total treat.
Natalie Chaidez: And just to follow up that, Gale Ann Hurd has a long tradition of working with practical effects coming up in the Roger Korman camp.
And that it were — early discussions between Gale and I about grounding this really firmly in practical effects, you know, and not only creatively helping the show but, you know, give it a tactile and a visceral feel that sometimes is lost in the effects, you know. And we hope we provided that. We went to the body horror of the season.
And like Britne said, we had a terrific prosthetics producer named Justin Dix who really is the Greg Nicotero of Australia. We have him in-house in our Melbourne studio and he was building all the Hunter effects from the ground up. We had full-on prosthetics lab in addition to creepy creatures, and just a bunch of other cool toys I wish you guys could have all seen.
Julian McMahon: You know, we kind of lucked out. And I don’t know how do these things happen sometimes but we kind of lucked out with the studio and the location with which we were kind of got distant in a roundabout way, and that was this place out in — what do we end up calling it? Bloodywood. It was (broad metal) out of Melbourne, just outside of the city of Melbourne.
And Natalie nicknamed it Bloodywood. Well, this couldn’t be anything further from Hollywood than you could imagine. It was the building and the structure which we actually had our offices in and which Natalie had her offices in, particularly.
We used this as a location for a lot of stuff. It was really a rundown building that which was really applicable to all of the stuff that, you know, we were trying to express through our character and script.
And, you know, a lot of the time you search for these kinds of things and you may be going to find them quite as applicable as what they would be to what you may be desired. And here, we just get this fantastic gift of shooting in the location with which suited the show.
So I think that that kind of add to that element of being able to shoot that kind of stuff. And also, as Natalie said, that kind of grounded quality of what we were doing because it was real and it was dirty, and it was dark, and it was pretty disgusting. So, that all comes across because that’s what it was. I really kind of appreciate that attribute.
Can you talk about the difficulties in adapting the book for television?
Natalie Chaidez: I mean I wouldn’t say it’s the difficulty. I mean I’ve done, a very big franchise adaptation with the Sarah Connor Chronicles coming from the Terminator, and I have the opportunity to adapt a classic sci-fi movie and doing 12 Monkeys.
And I think it’s really an opportunity to spread-out because of the narrative of television. You have a whole season, hopefully, more seasons than that. And I really think that, you know, the original sources are turning more and more of a jumping off point for a whole new playground for, you know, show runners and television writers to work from.
This series seems to be more about terrorism than it actually is about aliens, and that’s obviously something that’s very relevant in our world. Is that something you’re consciously thinking about as you’re making and working on the show?
Natalie Chaidez: You know, look, Hunters had been in development for three years and the role, you know, allegory of terrorism, at least, and terrorists have been, has been, creatively around.
And you know, sadly, it has just become more relevant in the last couple of weeks. And, you know, our hearts go out to, you know, the victims in those recent events. It’s tragic.
And look, I mean these terrorists are the monsters of our time. And you know, science fiction has always been a way to explore relevant social issues in a way that is palatable and to, you know, deal with our fears.
And we’re leaving in a time when we’re, you know, we’re scared of going out in public. We’re scared of who is beside us. We’re scares of what we might be coming at us.
And the show is really about that fear and now it’s something as a monster. And you know, also wrestling with some of the larger issues that that those fears create in our culture.
Britne Oldford: I think — yes. That definitely hits it on the nose, really.
Julian McMahon: Yes. Look, I agree with what Natalie said. This is a difficult time that we’re in, and terrorism is the new monster. And it — the launch of the show coincides with something that has happened that is horrific. So your concern immediately goes to people that have been affected by this and your heart goes out for them, and your prayers go to them.
As a television show, I think I’d echo what Natalie has already said, and that is an opportunity to be out to express our fears and to be able to do that through an alien world I think. As a piece, it’s interesting; as a statement also has its kind of its interesting qualities to it.
Britne and Julian, were you two familiar with the Alien Hunters book series before you started working on the show?
Britne Oldford: Yes. I mean, I at least got to read the book, Alien Hunter when I got the scripts to read when I was auditioning. I definitely went through it and I read it. Then I was familiar with – his work, you know. Some of these books have been adapted to films.
And so, it was actually, it was just really exciting everyone being involved, Natalie, Gale with me, having the opportunity to film to Australia. It was definitely a thrill to know that I could possibly be a part of the project and then getting it — I just wanted to do everyone proud.
Julian McMahon: So, no, no, I wasn’t. I was familiar somewhat with the writer and some of his other books. I was not particularly with this one.
And it was an interesting thing for me because we have done other stuff that had been adapted before. And this was the first time, you know, not only the script — and I think it was the (follow) script that I got. I think about a few initially.
But this, the characters and the pace is so well written. And this character that I play, McCarthy, was so kind of, you know, he just kind of, he just really kind of jumped off the page at me.
And I don’t know if it sounds weird but you kind of start visualizing. You can see yourself in it and you can — there’s always things that happen to you as an actor once you start kind of thinking about a character and reading a page.
And this is really the third time I didn’t read the books until after I finished shooting, because I didn’t want anything to interrupt what Natalie had already put in my mind.
And everything from the, you know, the names of the episodes to the characters and how well I was drawn to the piece itself and how well it was kind of potentially executable.
I kind of didn’t want to interrupt everything that was kind of flowing already. And so it was an interesting thing for me, because usually I kind of go back and read the book and try to get something from it. But I just got (summed up) from the script. It wasn’t until later that I decided to take a look at the book.
Could you talk about the physical side of this show?
Britne Oldford: Definitely. I mean, I know that for the Hunters — I can’t really say in particular because I think for everyone involved it’s a very physically, that it was a very physically demanding project.
But for the Hunters in particular, we had a lovely coach, Peggy, when we were filming in Melbourne the first couple of weeks. And she really helped us figure out how hunters move and what their ticks were, and really kind of feeling grounded in that aspect of the character which is all those subtle, very important…
And, of course, you know, there was, there was a (series) of training and so on for my character, for Regan, with regards to her kickboxing and with regards to just, you know, generally being a very strong, very agile creature or person.
So, it was definitely a challenge. That’s really a challenge because the working schedule was quite intense, but something I enjoyed and would gladly do again.
Julian McMahon: Yes. And mine wasn’t quite — first of all, I have to say that, or I’d like to say, should I say, that I just think Britne’s work in these first two episodes, which is the only two complete ones that have been absolutely wonderful, so kudos to her.
And then also, I just thought she was so well-casted in this piece. And I had kind of discussed that with Natalie as we’re going through it and we have that line at the beginning or the end of, should I say, of episode one where he says what an extraordinary creature you are.
And I really think that that’s quite applicable to how well she suits this piece in that role.
I didn’t have the, you know, as much kind of rough work or any, that kind of physicality stuff. But I did have, you know — look, when we’re trying to develop a creature that we haven’t seen before.
So we were really starting from scratch in regards that like who are these, who are these creatures, where are they from, what do they look like underneath the human, you know, what the skeletal structure. How will they walk if they were on their planet?
All of those kinds of things were very kind of interesting and kind of expected for me to be able to kind of delve into as an actor. And you know, even the clicking noises of the sounds that they make to communicate.
And it was only that kind of stuff that I kind of spent a lot of time on of, you know, how do they move. We decided that they move kind of very, very much from that the center of their groin was kind of a bit, just simply because of their structure was, you know…. And their chest was maybe back a little bit.
And I thought that stuff was really interesting and really kind of fun to kind of explore and examine. And you know, hopefully, we got some of that across on the delivery of it.
Natalie, could you talk about developing the aliens?
Natalie Chaidez: Well, look, this is the big joy of this project. The books were really the jumping off point. I began a relationship with the scientist named (Seth Borowitz). He’s a former Brown University neurologist, and he was really fundamental in the development of the creature.
We started from the ground up. We started by talking about their planet, what kind of gravity it would have, how that would affect their anatomy, how that anatomy moves through space, how would…
We came up with the sort of leaning into the world of sound because I wanted to do an alien world that was different from other alien world that we’ve seen. I think we all, you know, kind of thing of lights in the sky when, you know, when we think of an alien show. And I wanted to do something really, really different.
I thought about conspiracy movies of the ‘70s and how important sound was. And that led to creatures that were sound based and lived in a very auditory world. That led to the development of our sonic weaponry, and the idea that the aliens, the hunters themselves are communicating their, you know, they have a language that’s like dolphin’s or like bat’s.
And that their click language which we spent literally months from the development of, with our sound designer is embedded inside music, and that they’re using social media much like the, you know, the bad guys and terrorists of our time.
So, really, it was a two-year process, the development of the world, all the way, all the way from anatomical pictures, all the way through, like Julian and Britne said hiring a movement coach to work with our actors that plays as hunters on how a creature from a sound based would move.
I’d love to hear a little bit about what you all have kind of taken away from your experiences being a part of this project.
Natalie Chaidez: I would say the most exciting for me was working with Gale Ann Hurd. No offense to all the terrific cast and crew, but I was a huge fan girl.
I was so thrilled when I first met Gale. She is someone who is responsible for some of my favorite movies of all time, the Terminator, Terminator 2 and Aliens. Created some of the most iconic female science fiction characters, you know, in movie history. And so, really, for me the opportunity to learn alongside and work alongside, a pioneer, you know, not just for women but for science fiction is something that — it was an incredible experience and I’ll treasure it for the rest of my life.
Britne Oldford: Yes. I mean, I think what I would really take away from this project was just the experience of it all. You know, living in Australia, living — just traveling the other side of the world, live alone, you know, living there for nearly five months.
It was the most physically demanding project I’ve ever worked on and one of the most emotionally demanding projects I’ve ever worked on, and working with Julian and Natalie, and Gale, and all the rest of the cast, you know.
And it’s amazing, amazing Australian talents that everyone is going to be able to see in a, in a very big way. Just being a part of the project was spectacular. It’s a dream role for me. I love the genre. I love the characters. I love everything about it.
And I’m very excited for it to come for people to see it, and hopefully, makes them question things. I mean that’s really what, as an actor, what I at least want to wanted to hopefully get people an experience and maybe them question their lives or think about maybe having a different opinion about things.
And hopefully, accepting themselves more and feeling more comfortable in their own skin. So, you know, it was just great to be a part of it.
Julian McMahon: Julian. Yes. So I would have to say a little of both. It was Gale’s history and track record and the fact that she’s a legend in this business probably attracted me to the piece, more so than anything else to begin with.
And then Natalie’s writing was another big part once I started getting into the scripts.
And then getting to — this is what Britne was talking about, you know. For me it was great to head back to Australia for a period of time to be able to work out there.
I hadn’t done it in a long time and I’m from there, so that was a wonderful opportunity to kind of reconnect with the country I haven’t spent much time in over the last 20 years. We had a really great cast, a great collection of Australian directors. And you’ll see the episodes continue that they just did wonderful work.
And so, really the takeaway of the whole thing — and then I got to play this character that I thought was quite extraordinary. So the takeaway from the whole thing for me it was really just, more so than anything else, a wonderful experience.
And you don’t always get that. So that’s — and it’s very important for me, particularly at this point of time in my life. So, that would be my greatest takeaway.
Are you kind of nervous or excited to be via tweeting during the episodes and kind of getting to share some maybe behind the scenes photos or information? Getting that instant fan feedback?
Julian McMahon: I think why not.
Britne Oldford: Yes. And I definitely think it’s going to be fun that audience interaction is always amazing and it really helps you gauge what their experience is like and it’s wonderful. Yes. It’s very exciting.
Natalie Chaidez: Yes. And I would say I am so looking forward to it, because (inaudible) is the best. Like, you know, their vision and the level of interaction, and the feedback that I get from, you know, who are watching the show and into the show, there is nothing like it and that’s why we do it.
So I, you know, I know that I can’t wait, and I know that the rest of the cast can’t wait, too, to jump in and start, and start playing like that.
What do you like about your characters — Britne in Regan, and the same thing for Julian, you know, is it more fun to play a demon, a doctor, or an alien?
Britne Oldford: First off, I just have to say that I think Julian’s character McCarthy is such a spectacular devious, amazingly performed creature. And the few scenes that I get to work with you, Julian, they were some of my favorites.
But yes, Regan, I love her because she was a strong character. She’s a strong woman and I’ve been very fortunate in the five years that I’ve been doing this acting to a plate, you know, a string of fairly strong female character. And I think that’s a great representation as well of the people behind the production and that is, you know, Natalie and Gale Ann Hurd.
And she’s strong. She’s intuitive but she’s still incredibly sensitive to her surroundings and the people around her. And I think that’s very complicated a very complicated role. So quite beautiful in navigating in that world was pretty powerful and that (I find out that way) about myself during the process.
Julian McMahon: They all seem to have a little bit in common, don’t they?
Well, this — look, I felt that my character on Nip/Tuck was a pretty extraordinary character and it’s hard to beat. But this, my party guy was a challenge to that, because I had never read something that was just so kind of intense and of his own kind of illusion, his own kind of take.
It was just an extremely unique individual. And maybe that’s the correlation between the three things that I found attractive, the three characters that you’re talking about.
And so, you know, it was one of those things where you read it. You don’t look — as an actor, you read a lot of different materials. And it’s where that something kind of just naturally jumps at you and kind of screams and yells at you, and kind of tells you you have to kind of, you have to be the one that’s a part of it or performs it.
And this is definitely one of those pieces. It’s a uniquely written character. I got an opportunity to perform him uniquely, hopefully, something that we really kind of haven’t seen before, and that was a very conscious thing for us to develop.
And you know, it’s just also taking a few risks, the ability to take risks, and I think that Natalie wrote it with that in mind. At least, that’s certainly the way that I interpreted it.
And you know, when you’re taking risks, you’re really enjoying your process because you’re challenging yourself. And so, for me this is, you know, to me it was a gift, performance oriented gift.
Natalie, could you talk about the challenge of creating this world that is wholly unique and into itself?
Natalie Chaidez: I wouldn’t say it was a challenge. It was a delight, because I hadn’t done any alien show before. I’ve done superheroes and I’ve done, you know, robots and timetravel. And so, the opportunity to take on the genre after years of loving the genre and admiring the genre was really, really, it was fun.
So, I would say it was, you know, it wasn’t hard. Every step of it was a pleasure, from working with my consultants to working with the actors, to building the prosthetics, to working with the composer and the sound designer.
And I think everybody really jumped on board and said make it more huntery. You know that was the word that we had on production. And really, you know, dove into this vision of these creatures from another planet. So it was a delight, and I hope that it is dark. It is a dark world and a unique world, and I can’t wait for people to see, you know, see the rest of it unfold over season one.
Julian, did you dye your hair for the role? And also did you go to the gym before this started?
Julian McMahon: To the first part of the question is I haven’t, I haven’t gotten that gray yet. So, look, I did color my hair. You can see in the first couple of episodes, I kind of go through a bit of a hair-morphs in those (typical) stages. And you know, it was, it was something that kind of came to me based on what Natalie had written about he’s cutting his hair.
And it was kind of this thing where he just, you know, needed to change his look on a consistent basis. And then once you start kind of processing that, processing the script, you start to develop a kind of direction that might be interesting to go.
And the, and so part of that was his looks. I mean his looks was, it was a unique look in regards to his clothing and one that we kind of pretty much kind of stuck towards. But the hair and other things were all kind of created on the fly.
We went through a whole slew of different looks. And I’m sure Natalie kind of got sick of looking at my photograph in different hairpiece and with–
Natalie Chaidez: I mean, McCarthy’s hair was subject to great debate over the course of the season, you know. His dreadlocks was quite controversial but eventually made it through into the pilot episode and I think those are really cool.
To this credit, Julian, you know, McCarthy is a, you know, master of disguise and a student of pop culture, and Julian came on and fully embraced all of those changes.
And as far as working out, Julian came on the set that day for the shower scene, took off his shirt, and all of the cast, the crews were so… I don’t know what he did. I don’t know what he did. I guess hunters just have great bodies to that. But that was really fun.
Julian McMahon: It’s a requirement.
And so, yes — and so it’s really fun to develop and Natalie supported me consistently on really just kind of challenging what would look good, what worked, what makes sense.
And we kind of came with this design with the makeup and hair team, and we spent a lot of time on it. It was really an interesting kind of development and evolution. And you’ll see even as the, as the show goes on that that continues. And I think that for me that was a really kind of fun aspect of being able to play this guy.
Britne, does your dance background help some because she’s kind of do so many interesting moves? And second of all, she plays the element outsider. I mean she’s like an outside around the people she works with. Do you have anything you can kind of relate to with that where you felt like an outsider you can kind of tap into that?
Britne Oldford: Sure. Yes. I definitely think that my dance background and my physical background it plays into all of my work, really, because it’s very helpful when you have a background of physical memorization for blocking purposes and that sort of things. So, that becomes something that you need to think of less which should help you focus on the whole picture more.
But, definitely, I can, I can identify with Regan a lot more than I’d like to admit to in the sense that, you know, as… Specifically, I really reached to my childhood for this character, mainly, you know, growing in school I was definitely an outcast. I was definitely just a big old nerd and kind of a, kind of a loner, and I kept to myself a lot and I would observe people.
Because I felt like a little weirdo which now, you know, once you finally get out of your academic career, you realized it’s awesome and the place to be, really.
But I think that that observing of human behavior, of you know vast number of different types of people doing the same thing. I’ve always (inaudible) and it’s fascinating.
Yes, that’s a huge reason why I’m an actor, and so I really, I really touched up on that, that awkwardness and that weirdness, and sort of not knowing where I belong, and kind of floating from groups to groups and always feeling restless to (reach).
Natalie, are there any past TV, science fiction TV shows or literature that you think maybe influenced Hunters or sort of in the same vein? And then on the flip side, you know, what do you think about this is unique?
Natalie Chaidez: You know, I’ve started the process by trying to actually step aside from the other genre, things had done about aliens because there’s a level of familiarity to it.
So I started by asking myself what if, what if the aliens weren’t so powerful? If they’re here on earth, what’s taking them so long to takeover? All of those sort of bigger picture questions that has always nagged me about other alien shows.
I kind of dove in and address, and that led me into the idea of a group that isn’t all powerful. I mean, what if we were, you know, what if humans landed on the moon? I mean you and I, you and I might crash-land over, that doesn’t mean we could build an (island) tomorrow.
So this sort of allegory that they’re, you know, a smaller group, a powerless group, a hungry group led me into this idea that they’re acting like terrorist.
And once I stumbled into that, that led me, you know. Yes, I was influenced by science fiction, but I’ll tell you what I really looked a lot at was, like I said (full little full) thrillers of the ‘70s and conspiracy thrillers.
So I looked a lot at the conversation and Parallax View, and I felt like that was sort of an original and cool to take on the genre that I had, that I hadn’t seen before.
And also look a little bit, as we went further into the season, we got down to Melbourne and found out what an amazing opportunity we had with Justin Dix. I started looking at a lot more body horror stuff, you know, with the Cronenberg and just some, you know, other gory, goofy, goofy stuff that influenced us creatively throughout the season.
Natalie, do you have a firm story arc gets start already for the first season or is it more fluid?
Natalie Chaidez: Well, the first season is all shot. So, definitely that season was knocked out. And what was interesting about the Hunters process and I had never done before is that all the scripts were written ahead of time prior to shooting which I had not done in 20 years of television.
So I really had to, I really did have to know where the season was going. You know, I’m working on bridges, bridges that cross where season two and season three are going now. So, hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to do that.
You know, having worked on some really excellent serialized drama shows, I worked on the first season of Heroes, you know, Sarah Connor, and I really feel that the audience knows when the creator and the creative team has a firm grasp on where the show is going. And so that was really important to me as a creator and a show runner.
Everyone has mentioned that this show’s content is pretty dark and disturbing and very serious. But do you have any funny behind-the-scenes stories that you could share from filming?
Britne Oldford: I mean which one really? Gosh. We laughed a lot on the set, you know, between takes and at lunch, and whatnot. And I think — this is Britne.
For me, I, you know, there were — for me it was a boy’s club most of the time which is great for me because I just (inaudible) guys grow. And I think there was one time in particular when we’re doing some pickups from something and Derek, who plays Jules, myself and Mark Coles Smith who plays Briggs, we’re all hanging out at the table in the lunch room or in the, in the eating area.
And I just could not stop laughing for the silliest reasons and we started doing tricks like Gareth has this one trick where he can flip a cigarette into his mouth just by–
Natalie Chaidez: Why didn’t we do that?
Britne Oldford: We can have it (but you know what), I (inaudible) at some point. But there were so many laughs, and you know, it’s a very heavy, very emotionally and such a very demanding project, and you know, you really got to let off some steam every once in a while or else it can get to you.
Natalie Chaidez: And this is Natalie. And I will say that the queens that you see at the end of episode one or two that have that huge gaping mouth in their stomach provided hours of entertainment and laughs for the entire crew.
That was, that was a big source of (laughs).