We Interview the cast and people behind Syfy’s VAN HELSING

Find out more about the cast and the creators of SyFy’s Van Helsing, a series reimagined from Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing character.

The first day of San Diego Comic-Con turned out to be a pretty calm Thursday as compared to Comic-Cons past. However, there were some highlights from that being, one of them being SyFy’s upcoming new series, Van Helsing.

Right off the bat, you’ll know this is not the Van Helsing of old. This is very much a new, reimagined, gender-swapped version of the Van Helsing character. In a futuristic world that has been taken over by vampires, newly revived Vanessa Helsing (Kelly Overton) may be the only chance for humanity to survive.

Overton, actors Christopher Heyerdahl and Jonathan Scarfe were at Comic-Con to help promote the series. Joining them were executive producers Simon Barry, Chad Oakes, and Mike Frislev joined the cast to answer questions. Watch the interviews below to see what they had to say.

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From l. to r.: Simon Barry, Kelly Overton, Jonathan Scarfe, Chad Oakes, Mike Frislev, and Holly Hines (Dynamic television)

Christopher Heyerdahl who attended Comic-Con for the first time, plays Sam, a deaf person who allies himself with Vanessa. He explains that “a very viable thing happens in the world that creates an opportunity for vampires to not be burnt up by the sun,” which he found fascinating.

He also talks about his group of survivors that have had to deal with the vampires over the past three years and having to survive. He includes the ability to communicate with another character, Mohammed, who learned ASL through Sam and thus they formed a close bond.

As an actor, the challenge was not acknowledge the sound around him.

“It was always an issue with remaining true to the reality of someone who can’t hear. And if most everyone is communicating orally…it doesn’t really do him much good unless he is able to…see the person’s lips moving. So that was always a challenge with the piece and with all the other actors. You know, if I can’t see you, I can’t hear you.”

He definitely wanted to make sure he conveyed the reality of playing a deaf person and he hoped he did with the ASL community. He did note that his character is able to hear certain frequencies and thus able to react to them.

Executive Simon Barry explains the idea of the story as being a chessboard and its moving pieces. The idea was to get a “full spectrum of human characters that would reflect different points of views on this nightmare scenario, so that we weren’t just one note in how our central characters deal with problems and solve problems.”

They wanted to make the characters equal by not specifying a central character and the problems that come with humans dealing with each other. He noted that is pretty much Neil La Butte’s expertise, the darkness of human behavior, which he stated reflects the darkness of vampire behavior.

He also admitted the idea was to prevent watchers being able to predict what would happen from scenario to scenario, which certainly makes sense.

Simon expands on the character of Vanessa and how she’s still learning who she is just as we’re learning. He states she’s pretty much neutral from what she is able to see, but she is also neutral in the way that people want to use her, since she’s become a kind of tool. When asked if he considered her to be an antihero, he felt she was more of just a complex character instead of a singular description. She’s basically unpredictable.

In regards to the gender swap and the source material, Simon explains:

“We knew it was going to be contemporary out of the gate, which eliminated so many of the things from the Van Helsing mythology. Because once we went contemporary, we knew we were free from a lot of things like crossbows and hats and pitchforks and torches. So, it immediately gave the show a different tone in terms of the world. And we felt like the audience wanted it to be—would rather watch a show where, ‘if this happened, how would people react?’ As opposed to a higher, an extreme version of a universe where it’s theatrical or operatic. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to ground it in more of a—I guess the way The Walking Dead did it with zombies. Sort of be a bit more real world.”

When compared to The Walking Dead, he didn’t think it was exactly like that, as half of the story is spent in establishing what the vampires are there for, and the fact that they’ve essentially killed off much of the human population, therefore destroying their means to survive. He further explains their lack of leadership and dissention among the factions and factions of them. He considers it almost like a revolution or civil war among the vampire factions.

They do slowly dissolve the vampire story after the first half of the season as they focus more on the relationships between the humans.

Actor Jonathan Scarfe talks about his character, Axel Miller, a Marine who’s assigned to collect Vanessa, who’s in a coma. But the apocalypse begins and three years later, he’s still trying to keep Vanessa alive, still in a coma.  He continues explaining a bit more about her waking up from the coma after being bit by a vampire.

From that, he finds out just how important Vanessa is regarding the vampires’ reaction to her blood.

Jonathan was appreciative of the collaboration efforts of showrunner Neil LaBute with being able to create his character’s personality. His own personal experiences in living off the land helped and traveling apparently helped him being able to bring that type of a character onto the screen. Because of the lack of time after the series was greenlit, he admitted that there wasn’t any kind of fight training to be had, but the stunt coordinator and stunt team were amazing.

When asked how to kill a vampire with a spoon (a utensil he mentioned when talking about killing with whatever was available,) he stated the following,

“You have to destroy its heart [using a scooping gesture]. It’s a slow process.”

Executive producers Chad Oakes and Mike Frislev, on their first Comic-Con, talk about casting Jonathan Scarfe and Christopher Heyerdahl, who they worked with on Hell on Wheels, like a way of putting the band back together. They also spoke about not really being involved in the sci-fi genre and hiring Neil LaBute to be a part of the show, something they now find very exciting.

Kelly Overton talks about the differences and similarities between her character in True Blood and her character in Van Helsing. She does note that she found a vulnerability in Vanessa that Rikki didn’t have.

One thing she reveals about Vanessa is that she’s a mother when she goes into a coma, and when she wakes up, she finds the world overrun with vampires. However, despite that she’s being pulled in different directions, all she really “cares about is finding her daughter.” 

Kelly finds joy in doing the fight scenes and being covered in blood, and talks about the weapons she gets to use, including a katana sword.

From what was seen of the shown during panel, it didn’t seem there was much levity, but Kelly did state there would be levity and tongue-in-cheek humor, but it also gets bloody and it does get dark.

When asked the usual werewolves or vampires questions, she knew she couldn’t pick:

“You know, you can’t ask that of me. I can’t turn my back on my werewolves peeps. I come from a deep love of vampires. And then Vanessa’s like her own thing, right? I love them all.”

Of course, being this is Comic-Con, her blip of a mention of Tekken brought some interviewers to fanboy with her about the 2010 movie she starred in.

Van Helsing is a total re-imagination of a timeless brand, set in a world dominated and controlled by vampires.  Vanessa Helsing is the last hope for survival, as she unknowingly awakens to discover she has a unique blood composition that makes her not only immune to vampires, but with the ability to turn a vampire human.  With this secret weapon, Vanessa becomes a prime target for the vampires, while trying to save humanity.

Van Helsing represents a new mythology in sci-fi by challenging traditional vampire rules,” said Chad Oakes, Co-Chairman of Nomadic Pictures (Fargo, Hell on Wheels). “The series is unique in exploring a world completely dominated by vampires, while the human characters have to learn the importance of working together to ensure their survival.”

The 13-episode series will premiere in Fall 2016. Neil LaBute (Your Friends & Neighbors, The Shape of Things) will serve as writer/showrunner on this new take on the Dracula myth.

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Van Helsing premieres on SyFy on Thursday, September 22, 2016.

About Author

Southern California native who likes movies (Star Wars, Marvel, Love Simon), books (Shadowhunter Chronicles, NA, YA fantasy, Red Rising series), TV shows (Supernatural, The 100), food (sushi, seafood, steak, all kinds really), and San Diego Comic-Con. I also like to write, but don't get to do much of that aside from on here.

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