*** WARNING: Spoiler Alert! ***
"Battlestar Galactica"s Tricia Helfer is returning to space in CBC and Syfy's science-fiction show, "Ascension." The six-part miniseries begins in the '60s, when the U.S. government feared the Cold War would result in the destruction of the human race. To ensure mankind's survival, 600 volunteers boarded a gigantic, self-sustaining spaceship in search of the planet Proxima to colonize. However, halfway through the 100-year voyage, a girl's mysterious death jeopardizes the mission and threatens to reveal the true nature of their quest.
Helfer recently spoke to HuffPost Canada about being pulled back into science-fiction, her character Viondra, big twists, being stuck in the '60s, and the possibility of more "Ascension."
HuffPost Canada: Many people recognize you as the Cylon Number Six. After "Battlestar Galactica," you were probably bombarded with one science-fiction offer after another. Did you purposely steer away from those types of projects?
Tricia Helfer: I did. Not because it was science-fiction, but I came off of "Battlestar" with pretty much my first job as an actress. I had just started acting. It was this groundbreaking show. It was a fantastic series to be on and to have that experience. But, I didn't want to be put into a bracket of, "Oh, she just does sci-fi." On a selfish level, I also wanted to do other things. I wanted to play an FBI agent. I wanted to play a lawyer or a serial killer. There was some thought about career longevity, but I also wanted to try new things.
What about "Ascension" lured you back to the genre, then?
At the end of the day, when I read "Battlestar," it was really about the human aspect of it. What are these people going through? With "Ascension," I felt very similar. They are completely different stories, but I was drawn in by what these people are going through and would I respond in the same way? There's a twist that happens at the end of the pilot. I wasn't expecting that at all. When I read that, I was like, "Oh wow. Now this really puts a different spin on what I thought was happening and what I thought the show was about."
When we got to the last two episodes, again, there was another layer of the onion coming off. I went, "Whoa. Something else is happening now." I was just drawn in by putting myself in the position that they were in. I found it interesting.
They didn't warn you about the massive twist at the end of the pilot? You were just reading through the script and suddenly, you are like, "Oh.My.God?"
I didn't know anything. I'm reading through. My character is fairly light in the first few episodes. You think you know about her and that you have her pinned. I'm reading the script for the character. I'm reading it and I'm like, "OK, I see the character. I get it, but I'm really liking the story." All of a sudden, the twist happens and you're like, "What the hell just happened? Where is this going?" I called them up and said, "You can't leave me hanging like that. You have to give me the next episode." They very kindly sent me the next one to read. They don't warn you at all.
Introduce us to your character, Viondra Denniger. Who is she and what are some of her strengths and weaknesses?
For the first half of the show or more, you think you have Viondra pegged. You think she's very manipulative and power-hungry. She's a strong woman, but sly and cunning, and not really likeable. Around episodes 4, 5 and 6, you start to realize there's a lot more to this character. Yes, she wants to stay in power. She grew up on the lower decks and doesn't want to go back to them.
What you realize about her in later episodes is she's very smart and political, and she does what she needs to do to stay in power. It really is because she believes in the mission. She believes they are possibly ensuring mankind's survival. Viondra doesn't know what's happened back on Earth. She thinks she and her husband are some of the best to lead the ship. Whereas, someone like Councilman Rose, who is waiting in the wings to take over anytime her husband messes up, he is really out for himself. She doesn't think that would be best for the ship, so she does what she needs to do to stay in power. It's not for purely selfish reasons.
How does being stuck on this spaceship bring out the best and worst parts of the human spirit?
In one way, the best is people really do have to work together. They can't get off the ship. They do have to find a way to be peaceful and co-exist. It's also a very difficult pill to swallow. When you're born on the ship, you have a bit of an idealistic childhood. You don't know anything else. But then, in the show, we call it the Crisis, and it usually happens to teenagers when they realize they never had a choice in their lives. They will never get to go hiking. They'll never get to swim in an ocean. They will never get to choose anything in their lives. It can bring out a lot of depression, a lot of hopelessness, and it depends on each individual person, how they're going to deal with it.
What's interesting about setting "Ascension" in the '60s as opposed to another decade?
There's the beginning of the Space Race. There was the Cold War. The Bay of Pigs just happened. During that time period, there was a genuine threat level. People didn't know if the world was going to survive. Women hadn't gone through the women's lib movement. At least people who boarded the ship to begin with, that decided to take this mission, they did believe they were maybe mankind's last hope. They wanted to go find Proxima. The people born on the ship, especially Viondra's generation, their ideals and values would be very similar to their parents. It's the later generation, the teenagers, that are starting to question things a little bit more.
In what way does this murder onboard shake up the mission?
The murder-mystery really rocks the ship. The murder of a young girl is really tragic, but unfortunately you hear about that a lot in our world. On the ship, they've never had a murder. It's sort of like a small town where everybody knows everybody else. The murder of a young girl has them second-guessing their neighbours and how could somebody do that? With Viondra, you find out there is more to the murder, but she doesn't know that yet. She could almost be a suspect herself, but anybody could.
Do you feel "Ascension" has life beyond this miniseries?
I think it's fine either way. It certainly could go on. There are more twists in the end, in the last two episodes. There are other layers to the onion that show a path and a reason to continue on. There's an open-ended element to it. It certainly could have a life afterwards. We don't know if it will or not. It works very well as a six-part miniseries as is, but there definitely is an opening to continue on.
"Ascension" premieres on Monday, February 9 on CBC at 9 p.m. ET/9:30 p.m. NT. The series has already aired in the U.S. on SyFy.