Interview: Defiance Star Jamie Murray
"Some of those outfits are really quite painful to wear."
When you originally got the script for Defiance what were your initial thoughts about the show and your character?
Well, actually when I initially got the script the role of Stahma was not really in it. I saw a very old version of Defiance in which they knew they were moving forward with it but that it was being re-written, so then me taking on the role was really based on the fact that I had worked with Kevin Murphy before, who is a producer and writer on the show and I absolutely adore him and he assured me, he wrote me reels and reels of emails of who Stahma was and he described her actions and then he wrote me three scenes which I went in and read with Tony Curran for the director and it was really a kind of actor thing taking the role because I actually committed to the role before I’d actually read the entire script. I mean I’d read the old script just for a vague idea of what was going on in this world but it turned out very different and I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
So would you normally take on something without knowing anything about the character or the show?
No, never of course not, absolutely not but she just sounded like such a weird and wonderful character and you know, she just sounded right up my alley. I really enjoy playing weird and wonderful and complex characters and powerful characters. There’s just something quietly creepy about her and the chance to play an alien I just thought was such an interesting challenge, and I was saying to a friend earlier it’s really funny in that in process of becoming an alien it really forced me to re-examine what it is to be human and that was a really unexpected gift from this job.
It reportedly takes two hours to get Stahma’s make-up done, but this is the first job that you’ve had that requires a long make up process. How do you cope with that?
Colin Penman who does my make-up, as is the case when you work closely with such brilliant artists, who are really sort of in your personal space and are really caring human beings, he became a dear friend. I mean it sounds awful, two hours every morning but I get to turn up at work and have a cup of tea and hang out with this amazing person for two hours and that’s sometimes one of the nicest parts of my day. You know, sometimes it can be a little stressful when you’re being rushed, and you know how long it takes you and suddenly they’re moving forward and they need you now and actually you know, it’s still going to take you another hour and fifteen minutes and then you’re kind of rushing it along; you’re under pressure but really it’s not a bad part of my day, and I’ve actually worked on jobs where glamour make up has taken almost an hour and a half, and you know, if things go wrong or your hair doesn’t work out that day sometimes it’ll take two hours just to look like a human being. So I think it sounds worse than it is when you actually haven’t been through the process. I would say that when I first started playing the role I did get a little claustrophobic, at the beginning I felt very confined and constrained and I still do a little bit because I’m so conscious of what an amazing artist Colin is and how long it’s taken him to make me look like Stahma that, I’m a very good actress in terms of trying to keep it okay for him and not get knocked and not slow production down and sometimes that can take a toll at the end of a long day.
So as well as the make-up, Stahma has some amazing outfits, are there beads on every item of clothing she wears?
Yeah I know, that became a thing! The beads, there’s something quite organic about them, and if you look closely at them, I don’t know if you get that on TV, they’re quite spiteful looking things, they look like little bones or fish tails and little spikes and we fell in love with that idea early on because we wanted, you know I was very conscious in the way I moved and the way I felt in what we chose for Stahma to wear, we wanted it to look other worldly, we wanted to do everything to make her look like an alien in a very organic way but unfortunately some of those outfits are really quite painful to wear [laughs] and sometimes the skill that I employed playing Stahma isn’t really my craft it’s just trying to look like I’m not in pain when I really am!
Do you have any input into Stahma’s character or is it all written down or you?
Oh no, that’s the amazing thing about the ensemble cast. I mean a lot of it, Kevin Murphy had a real vision and our director, Michael Nankin, who did Battlestar Galactica has a very strong vision and great ideas which I will steal as many of them as I possibly can in order for me to make myself look good. But they’re also incredibly open to our ideas as was the costumer who was amazingly perceptive and we were always sending little YouTube videos and pictures backwards and forwards and I’m on a website called Pinterest, where I have an alien board where I collect together every picture of a white weird human and that’s my alien board for inspiration and I think on this show, partly because it’s so big in its scope, that you actually need all the help you can get. The other thing about it is there really are so many amazing artists in front of the camera and behind the camera. I mean it took not just my make-up artist and my costumer to make me look like Stahma but also the director of photography, there was so much messing around that he had to do to make the Castithan look, give them that glow and make them look other worldly in those scenes and it was a real process of trial and error and it was a constant conversation and actually if you watch the first season you see Stahma’s look evolve from the beginning of the show to the end of the show. I think we really got there by the end and that was because of the constant conversation and the constant desire to get it right and get it better and it was one of the most creative jobs I’ve ever been on, even the way I moved. I didn’t want to move like a human woman I was constantly working on my movement like a dancer would really and watching how certain animal like serpents and big cats moved because I wanted it to be alien. I mean you come in with your ideas and you’d share them and generally it’s like “yeah, that’s so cool let’s do that, let’s try it” a lot of that played in Defiance.
So if we just jump to the last episode we’ve seen in the UK (at the time of interviewing) which was “If I Ever Leave This World Alive.” This is Stahma’s key episode for us to begin to see what she is like.
Oh Really? Well, all I can say is watch the next three closely, now it’s getting exciting, I almost, sometimes when I was watching Defiance I knew what was coming and I was so excited for the next three episodes I almost felt impatient at the beginning of the season knowing I had to wait for the audience still to see the drama unfold. I’m really proud of that, it’s a complex progressive show.
The relationship between Datak and Stahma is, I think, one of the best relationships we’ve seen in any recent sci-fi, and you work so well with Tony Curran…
It’s so weird and creepy and wonderful and kind of loving but strange and I mean, I enjoy playing with that man so much. I’d never met him before this job but it just so happens that he became one of my best friends, he’s one of the funniest individuals I’ve ever hung out with and we have so much fun when we shoot our scenes and we’re generally the loopiest couple of actors on Defiance and yet we play such baddies it’s ironic really. He’s an incredibly creative and generous person and he is amazing to work with because he surprises me in scenes. He’ll surprise me just because he’s such a creative person but he’ll also surprise me, just on my close ups. You’ll never see what he did and he only did it for me to give me that extra reaction, to give me that extra adrenaline and he’ll try something new in a scene to surprise me in such a way that I’ll find a mercurial compassion that I didn’t expect to find in Stahma, just because Tony Curran was there, was really playing with me that day, he’s wonderful.
How far do you think Stahma would push Datak to get what she wants or what she would consider to be the best thing for the Tarrs in general?
I’m glad you re-phrased it because I think she would push him all the way but I don’t think it’s to get what she wants. I think she has no real sense of who she is, only in relation to her son and her husband, so when she is trying to get what she wants it’s really what she considers best for the family, and I mean that might not be what Alak or Datak considers best for the family and so they might think that’s what Stahma wants. Actually I don’t even know if Stahma knows who she is as a woman. She was a woman who was bought up in a society where she was passed from her father to her husband. Her only real relation in this world is through her son and her husband, and what might be interesting to Stahma is now she’s living in a new world with new other species of emancipated woman and let’s see how her own situation might be resonating with her when she realises how oppressive it is.
You’ve got a large base of fan girls and Mia Kirshner has built up a large base of fangirls having worked on The L Word, what is it like working together and the relationship that Stahma and Kenya have, is that just a way for Stahma to try and find out who she is?
What I really liked about Defiance is that it’s such a progressive show that the fact that these two women embarking on an affair really isn’t an issue. Really the taboo is that Stahma has quite a frightening husband really, and also that this is an interspecies relationship and how is that going to turn out and you know, it’s one rule for Datak and one rule for Stahma and that’s interesting. I love the fact that Defiance is a progressive show without making a big issue of it or really commenting on it. What it’s doing on the surface is saying so much more on a deeper level by not commenting on it. There are lots of intricacies and complexities in all the relationships and they’re not doing what you consider they’re trying to do at first.
When does Defiance Season Two start filming?
We go back at the end of July and we film until Christmas and we’re filming in Toronto.
You came over in March to attend a comic-con; do you plan on coming back and attending another one?
Oh definitely. I’d never done one before and I was a bit nervous because I didn’t think it would be something that I would be particularly good at or enjoy, I thought it would be, well, I don’t know what I thought it would be like, the part of acting that I don’t like which is, you know, being a celebrity and doing press and PR sometimes I find a bit stressful, but actually it was so different from what I expected and it was such a nice way of connecting to the fan base who are so knowledgeable and so enthusiastic and I really cared about those people. It was funny because often I meet people and they tell me their twitter handles and it’s like I’ve already had a conversation with them before.