Syfy brought its newest show, Van Helsing, to San Diego Comic Con and we were fortunate enough to sit down with the cast and crew to discuss this re-imagining of a well-known brand.
In a world dominated and controlled by vampires, Vanessa Helsing may be humanity’s last hope for survival. When she awakens from a coma to find that her unique blood composition makes her not only immune to vampires, but turns vampires human she becomes indispensable to humans and vampires alike.
Executive Producers Chad Oakes and Mike Frislev answered the burning question, “Why another vampire show?” Not only is Neil LaBute, the playwright and first-time showrunner, pulling no punches with his writing of the series, but they felt as if the mythology was unique enough to separate it from other vampire shows. Couple that with the female lead of a male action series and they believe they have a winning combination.
They shared that it was a conscious decision to keep the production of the series together, with the actors, writers, and everyone else in the same place for collaboration purposes – something the actors all spoke of appreciatively when it came to filming.
They also shared that, while there is a core set of 8 – 9 characters, there are plenty of well known guest stars that will come and go in the series, including Tom Cavanaugh, David Cubitt, Paul Johansson, and Tim Guinee, among others.
Simon Barry, another Executive Producer on the series, explained the tone of the show as grounded and realistic, where the threats are palpable and the characters aren’t over the top – though the show is self-aware enough to have moments of levity with the characters themselves.
To differentiate itself from other post-apocalyptic shows, Van Helsing gives its antagonistic vampires back stories, desires, rivalries, conflicts, and plans to keep them from being a nameless threat to humanity. Different factions of vampires have different ideas on how to handle their current situation.
He explained how the show delves into the hierarchy of vampires by approaching them from an anthropological standpoint. When “the viral cat is let out of the bag,” there are different realities for different vampires, some can’t get access to human blood, some are older and wiser. Certain vamps become something of an army, difficult to control, and essentially become slaves to their hunger.
There are three major groups of vampires for the show: the feral, wild ones obligated to no one, the loosely related gang-like group, and the intelligent ones that approach things with a military mind and are likened by Barry to Nazi-occupied Europe at the top of the totem pole.
Descriptions of the show included it being set up like a siege already happening, almost a medieval story of the humans defending their fortress, and a revolutionary tale from the vampire standpoint of how they maintain control. Barry explained that the show also looks at how both sides can benefit from Vanessa’s blood in the “pseudo-messianic tale.”
Christopher Heyerdahl, who plays Sam, was drawn to the character because he was deaf and had managed to survive for the past three years. He described his character as a protector who is fiercely loyal. He’s formed a relationship with another character named Mohamad, who has learned enough American Sign Language to become Sam’s voice and ears, communicating for him.
While researching for his character, Heyerdahl took online lessons for ASL, as well as private lessons, he read books on deaf culture and still only felt like he was scratching the surface. For his part, he focused on the dialogue and making that believable.
There isn’t much exploration of Sam’s backstory in front of the camera, but Heyerdahl was able to speak with Neil LaBute and riff on a complex backstory that he made up himself. It was a fun experience that he was able to wrap into the DNA of his character.
Jonathan Scarfe, who plays Axel Miller, gave us a rundown of the pilot episode and how his character fits into the plot. The first season doesn’t touch on Axel’s backstory very much, but Scarfe shares that he was the average Marine in the motor pool before he volunteered for the mission to bring Vanessa to people who can help develop a cure.
Scarfe has experience living off the grid, after living on a sailboat with his family for two and a half years where he learned to become self-reliant and live off the land. He declared, “You super want to find me in the apocalypse.”
Kelly Overton, who plays Vanessa Helsing, found the role to be a “beautiful combination of passions” in her life. She was obsessed with vampires as a kid, enjoyed the athletic demands of the role, and has a daughter (spoiler: Vanessa is a mom). The journey resonated with her and she’s excited to go on the path to self-discovery with the audience.
She believes the obsession with vampires comes from the idea of being immortal and conquering death, of loving someone so much that you want to spend eternity with them. But she’s not all Bram Stoker vampires, she also loved The Lost Boys, Fright Night, and Anne Rice.
For this role, not only did she get to train in the usual ways, but she got to focus on bodybuilding. Overton didn’t feel the baggage of previous iterations of Van Helsing because it’s a completely new show. While she felt the responsibility of representing as a female, she wasn’t concerned with how many aspects are flipped and changed.
When discussing the vampires and how she can affect them with her unique blood, Overton revealed, “I just freaking bite them!” There is an exploration of how her bite and her blood work to turn vampires human as audiences get further into the series.
Her final explanation of Vanessa was, “I’m just kind of like a chick who bites back.”