Images © Tribune Entertainment
SFX Magazine Spring '02: Jay Firestone, Adam Haight, Seth Howard, Rocco Matteo, Paul Rapovski, Forbes March, Victoria Pratt, John Shea, Lauren Lee Smith, and Victor Webster *Submitted by Isabelle Meunier [2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9]
X & Violence
by Isabelle Meunier
Mutant X is the show that's bringing Hong Kong action to the small screen. Isabelle Meunier hung around the set. But not on wires. That was the actors...
"Somebody once called us Teenage Mutant Turtles Pull Through!" chuckles Adam Haight, the luminously red-shirted co-executive producer of Mutant X. "It's a warning," he says of the shirt. A warning to who? He's not saying, but it could be for 20th Century Fox.
The Turtles comment, you see, refers to the fact that Mutant X was nearly newborn thanks to a lawsuit brought against them by Fox, the producers of the X-Men movies. Marvel Comics, the creators of the extensive X-Men range of titles which included both X-Men and Mutant X, saw no reason why they couldn't licence out a whole bunch of their X-characters. Fox felt differently. The two concepts were too similar. Lawyers wrung their hands. The result: Mutant X could go ahead, so long as no mention was made in the scripts to its shared parentage with the X-Men movie.
There's also a parallel that links mutant turtles and mutant teens in another way. The Turtles brought their own brand of cartoony martial artistry to the big and small screens, while Mutant X is one of the first US TV shows to wholeheartedly embrace the latest oriental-flavoured celluloid fighting sensation -- wire-work. This is the technique -- forefronted in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- which places actors and stunt guys in harnesses connected to wires, so that they can be winched up and flung about the set, spinning, somersaulting and pirouetting like zero-G gymnasts.
"The huge debate was could we do wire-work?" admits Haight, "Because we're on a tight episodic schedule. But Paul [Rapovski, the show's stunt coordinator and wire-work expert] came in and we found ways to do it. Like everything, it was a learning experience and now we can do it pretty quickly."
Certainly the activity on set today in the show's Toronto studio is being run with a calm efficiency despite a large number of action scenes scheduled in. They're shooting the episode "Lazarus Syndrome", and there's an atmosphere of ease and familiarity that comes with a crew which has worked together for some considerable time. Mutant X may be a relatively new show, but Haight and co-executive producing partner Jay Firestone both used to work on La Femme Nikita, and have brought many of the crew they used on that show to help breathe life into their new project.
The importance of wire-work to the show is evidenced by a unique addition to the studio -- the Mojo Room. Hidden away around the back of the main sets, it's a specially designed exercise room with a trampoline, weights, aerobic machines and, most importantly, a test wire rig and crash mats. But why Mojo? "You know in Austin Powers where he says he's lost his Mojo and can't perform sexually?" grins stunt coordinator Paul Rapovski. "The idea is that if you can't perform when you enter the Mojo, you will by the time you come out!"
He makes it sound easy. It isn't. He stresses that wire-work is unlike any other stunt work; it is a highly specialised area in which one tug of a wire at the wrong time could end up fatal. And Rapovski feels that there aren't enough qualified wire-workers around to meet the demand and that spells a potential recipe for disaster.
"It can be very dangerous if you put wire-work in the wrong hands," Rapovski stresses. "There's a lot of stunt coordinators out there who say they know wires, but they are just kidding themselves and producers."
Rapovski's credentials for wire-pulling, however, are impressive. He's proven his worth on films and series like The Enforcer, Extreme Challenge, The Hitman, Relic Hunter and John Woo's Once A Thief. He has worked on numerous Hong Kong action films and Jet Li is a regular sparring partner. Relic Hunter wanted him back for another season and Adrian Paul tried to lure him onto his new series Tracker. But Mutant X won the race. A martial arts expert and a '96 World Champion, he started training from age nine, soon realising that Asia held the key to honing his talents. "I really had a passion for martial arts and cinema," he reveals, "so the natural choice was to go to Hong Kong because that's the birthplace of this style of action. I wasn't impressed with North American action when training as a kid. So I finished university and went to Hong Kong to understand how to use my martial arts in the film industry. I ended up living there. Living in China has opened my mind tremendously because they don't only train in martial arts; they live martial arts in terms of philosophy. My teacher in Shanghai wasn't a fighter but a great technician, superb to watch, so I evolved into that; I stopped training the 'fighting part' and trained more in the 'art part.'
"There's only two ways you can go in martial arts," he reckons. "You either open a school or go into films. The majority open a school but never go into films because they don't have that passion. But I did and didn't want to open a school. When you're a white guy my size..." That's six foot four, by the way, "...they always have roles for you there. I still go back to Hong Kong at least once a year to do a film."
Rapovski also feels that great martial artists don't necessarily make great film action stars...and he's not just talking about their acting abilities. The screen demands a certain kind of martial artistry. "People come up to me and say, 'I have won all these championships...' but you put them on a film and they can't do anything," he explains. "In my experience, dealing with someone with a background in martial arts can sometimes be difficult if that person isn't willing to change. These people think that, by having trained this way and by kicking that way, they're doing it properly. But kicking properly might not look good on camera. Sometimes kicking awkwardly looks better. But try telling this to someone who's been training in martial arts who doesn't understand or can't adjust."
He hasn't had any problems like that with the Mutant X cast. "Victor (Brennan) listens, watches me work and adapts quickly. Vicky (Shalimar) is the same; she not only punches and kicks well, she also acts well with her action, which is important; some people can fight but have no experience in theatrical action which is a totally different state of mind."
John Shea, though, sometimes takes his "method" acting a bit too far, apparently. "Some will aim here and stop," Rapovski laughs, pointing at his chest. "But John will go and hit them! I say, 'John, you don't have to hit them!' But when you see John's action, he looks great and I don't mind my actors hitting my stunt men. But I do mind my stunt men hitting my actors!"
One stunt Rapovski cannot perform, however, is cutting himself in half and being in two places at once. "I try to get in the editing room but can't always be because I'm on set," he shrugs. "Also, I can't be by the monitors when I'm pulling the wire on set, so I have to trust the directors' eyes to tell me the action looked good. But because they don't know what to look for, they sometimes say it looks good when, in fact, it's not how it's supposed to look. I've encouraged the actors to once in a while go into the editing room and take a look because, like me, they remember how many times they did a shot and which looks better."
Rapovski also promises that you ain't seen nothin' yet. "I don't want to give much away so all I'll say is that you'll see the characters do new things, such as them moving differently as they learn to use their powers."
Because one thing he doesn't want to do is sit -- lotus position presumably -- on his hands. "This series is setting a standard which will be hard to match for other action series," he declares. "We are doing something that's never been done before on a TV schedule with no second unit crew. Other series will look at us and say, 'How is it possible to deliver that action?' The fact is, the level of action we deliver on this series is actually feature film standard! I'm not regretting taking this show instead of something else, and one of the reasons that will make me stay longer and be happier is the opportunity to do more and better action."
Back on the set, there's not much action at the moment, though, because it's lunch. But soon the episode's director John Bell is back in his chair waiting for the actors to reappear. First to arrive is Victor Webster (Brennan) but he's not alone. Everywhere he goes Buddha follows -- Buddha being the terrier Webster rescued from the pound. Hopping onto a folding chair, Buddha settles comfortably and, between taking naps, eyes his new owner performing.
"He's our mascot you know?" John Shea reveals, rubbing the mutt behind the ear. Any chance of him doing a cameo then? "Yeah, that would be great!" he guffaws. Watch out, Frasier...
It's time for a scene in which Lauren Lee Smith has to unleash a bit of plot exposition to the rest of the team, but suddenly some frantic barking erupts from behind the set. A French bulldog has come for a visit and struck up a conversation with Buddha...and it's all Shea's fault!
"I met that dog in the production office and invited it to the set," he chuckles.
The scene is put in the can and after a coffee break -- during which Webster and Forbes March (Jesse) show off their immense skill at lobbing sweets at each other and catching them in their mouths -- it's time for John Shea to record one of his big moments. He's not going to do it with the crew still crashing about, though.
"Quiet, please!" he requests. Silence falls. "You know, there comes a times when the set's ours," Shea later stresses. "90% of the time, the crew has it for setting up, lighting, etc... So when it comes down to the acting time -- Jack Lemmon called it the 'Magic time' -- we focus and try to tell the story. You can't allow any distraction."
This from the man who brought Buddha's barking bulldog companion on set? Do dogs have some special exemption? "Of course," he laughs.
With the shooting finished until after the weekend, there's a chance to have a closer look at the sets without all those actor types getting in the way. From the show's conception to construction, Mutant X's production designer Rocco Matteo didn't have long to get the sets ready. Although pressed for time, he nevertheless found the exercise stimulating. "I started designing in the first week of March and was ready to shoot 5 June," Matteo recalls. "Three months from start to finish -- that's not a lot of time."
Even with the combined workforces of the Art and Construction departments Matteo's total number of hands on deck was still relatively small for a major US TV show. "At full capacity we had altogether maybe 30 to 35 people in the shop building, paintin and dressing, and eight in the art department designing."
Nevertheless he claims that seeing the sets come together in such a short time was an exhilarating experience. "It's liberating to see the ideas becomes reality so quickly," he smiles.
There are two main types of permanent sets on the show, those representing the Mutant X and GSA bases. Coming up with the basic look of each was, as dictated by the original scripts, a case of "similar but not the same."
"One of the interesting things is that the show is about these two factions who are both part of this Mutant world which is still secret and underground," he enthuses." So I had to find the way of defining those two tribes stylistically and clearly enough so that you can tell when we're in one or the other. There's a kind of philosophy behind each one. The writers described Adam's world as one of people coming together as a family whose outlook is one of optimism, serenity and calm, where the technology has been tamed to be nurturing and life affirming. At the GSA the welfare of people is somewhat secondary. They have an agenda of power and control, and for some people to benefit others have to suffer. So the style is trying to inform the audience right away what kind of place they're looking at, and I think both are visually interesting because some are cooler and some maybe a little more scary..."
Sets for TV shows can often be a huge disappointment when viewed in the flesh -- insubstantial, tackily constructed and sometimes even cheap-looking. It doesn't matter; clever cinematography and lighting can disguise all manner of sins. But Mutant X boasts some truly amazing sets -- vast, cavernous and totally convincing. It'd be a great place to dump a comatose drunk after his stag party and watch him wake up there the next morning.
Sanctuary, with its miniature waterfall, lush plants and warm colours is a welcoming, calming area, yet one which also retains the feel of functionality. On the other hand, walking through the chambers of Genomex is genuinely creepy. The view from the large window in Eckhart's office looking down onto the circle of pods (where unlucky mutants are kept captive) is a bizarre yet memorable sight. Through an opening down in the chamber are what look like rows of sinister-looking storage compartments. "I call it the gestation area; that's where the GSA's inner lab would be," Matteo reveals, making it sound like something's brewing. "Exactly!"
Walking through an adjacent opening, surrounded by shelves of flasks and vials, lies a stainless steel table that occupies most of the chamber. "This is going to be an autopsy room," reveals Matteo, "and on the side of that wall we're gonna have a piece of morgue."
On the way back to the Sanctuary, the steel chair in which Eckhart straps his captives in for interrogation lies in wait. One thing we can tell you; it ain't built for comfort.
Matteo personally favours this kind of large labyrinthine set design with room for additions as and when necessary. "A small addition can open up a whole new way of looking at the environment," he stresses. "It's not by coincidence that I don't tend to design environments with smaller spaces and hallways; I try to find a way to create a larger sculptural area with bits in it where you can move around and find new angles all the time."
According to Matteo, the Sanctuary was originally intended to be situated in a quarry, rather than in the heart of a mountain. "We started with the idea that outside of every big city is an area of nature that's been exploited in the building of that city. So somewhere on the periphery you will find where the stone was excavated. The initial idea was that Adam took over what was left of that quarry and built this underground lair. In order to hide in plain sight, water was reintroduced to the quarry along with the artificial means of getting in and out."
The shift to the mountain location also meant the introduction of the group's own special aircraft, the Double Helix. "In my mind," muses Matteo, "the mountain is far away from the city, maybe a bit too far away, I don't know... And as a result, the transportation between the city and the Sanctuary became the Double Helix. We're still developing it, but for me, I knew that the interior [of the plane] should share some of Sanctuary's traits."
If you've watched the show and wondered why nobody seems to actually pilot the thing, it was another decision forced on his team by time constraints. "Basically, we said that the plane has an advanced auto-pilot and they sit around in the cargo saloon," he says. "But I think that we're going to exploit the plane more -- go to the cockpit a bit more -- so it's gonna be an interesting design issue in the next part of the show's evolution."
So maybe we might even get to see something as basic as how they even get on and off the damned thing...
It's now the following Monday, bright and early, and we're on location. Some of the episode's action takes place in an abandoned warehouse overshadowed by a castle a millionaire built for his wife. Not the Taj Mahal, but a nice enough present. Part of the inside of the warehouse has been transformed into a club setting, complete with a bar well stocked with various bottles, unfortunately emptied of their alcoholic contents.
The first scenes of the day are shot outside and although clement for November, it's cold enough and the actors wrap-up in warm jackets between takes. There's an important visitor today. Tribune Entertainment's Seth Howard has flown in from LA -- "Got to make sure the money's well spent" -- and he's comfortably seated by the monitors, chatting with the cast and crew. The stunt team were up early, rigging the wires and laying down mats at 7 am, and now all is ready for the action to take place. Preconceived notions that stunt doubles will be enacting the jumps, rolls and fisticuffs go right out the window; the actors were all picked for their physicality as well as for their looks -- and their acting skills of course -- specifically so that they could do as many of their own stunts as possible within safety margins.
"That was a worry for us at first," executive producer Jay Firestone admits. "Jumping off buildings and doing wire-work is hard so we had to find actors who are also physical. It's a good cast and they train pretty hard."
Stunt guru Rapovski is delighted with the cast he's been given to work with. "We have to deliver so much action," Rapovski enthuses, "and when I do my action, I don't want to see a tight shot, I want wide shots so we can see what's happening." Which is easier, of course, if you've got your actor doing the stunt and not the stunt double.
Under Rapovski's supervision, Victoria Pratt (Shalimar) and guest actor Andrew Martin (Caleb) rehearse their characters' fight scene. Pratt rapidly picks up on pointers and new moves alike. Victor Webster (Brennan) later demonstrates that the regular cast are just as proficient with the wire-work when it's his turn to give Caleb a good kicking.
There's the sound of screeching tyres and a car races up towards the two figures engaged in a fight. Caleb throws one of our heroes into the path of the car, and... Ah but that would be a spoiler. Suffice to say, this is one of those tricky stunts where the actor involved is more than happy to swap places with his double. Or maybe he fleeced the stunt driver in a game of poker last night and is playing things safe....
The episode then takes a dramatic turn. At the end of an emotional scene with Lauren Lee Smith, Victoria Pratt exits the set rubbing off the remnants of tears from her cheeks.
"They make me cry a lot. What happens to me is so sad," Smith wails in mock woe. What's she complaining about? She gets to kiss the handsome guest star in the episode. The least she could do is enjoy it. "Oh, believe me, I did," she giggles.
The true purpose for Seth Howard's visit is finally revealed, his ego having finally got the better of him. "Did you see it?" he grins when his cameo's filmed. If it makes it to the cut, watch out for the blond guy chatting up not one, but two girls in the bar-club scene. This man sure has one mean sexual appetite!
An intricate wire-stun on a narrow platform of the building's upper level is performed by Pratt's stunt double (Jennifer Vey), and the day's shoot wraps on Shalimar and Caleb's fight, beautifully executed.
There's not much time left now, but there's time enough to chat with the show's artistic overseers, Jay Firestone (now there's a great name for a Mutant X character) and the alarmingly-shirted Adam Haight. But there's another unexpected guest in Firestone's office.
"This is Proxy Blue," Firestone reveals.
"You know, the virtual newscaster in the show?" adds Haight, "Well it's based on her face and her voice..."
Proxy Blue in the flesh. Cool! But the guys don't want the mystery spoiled and so ask for her identity to remain a mystery.
"We're going for anonymity here," she laughs, and there is no mistaking that this is indeed the face and voice of Proxy Blue.
So, to business. Mutant X -- one season wonder, or is it here for the long haul? "Oh, long haul," Firestone replies. "One of the reasons we like working with Tribune Entertainment is that they're pretty dedicated people to work with. They'd support us if we wanted to go for five years and if there were problems, they'd work with us to fix it."
The duo have previously worked on La Femme Nikita and Andromeda, but whereas both those series were aimed at mature audience, Mutant X is unashamedly aiming for the teen audience as well, which means some degree of self-censorship. "We trained everyone in not getting bloody or be to violent," Haight explains. "The funny thing is that you tell them that and they interpret it as, "Don't get too sexy either.' So you have to tell them, 'No, keep it sexy but don't go too sexy."
The show may be based on a comic, but Marvel don't seem to have been to precious about what Haight and Firestone have done with their property.
"You know what?" stresses Firestone, "it's based on a comic book but that was more of an inspiration for the show and that's it. We took the original concept and turned it into what it is now. We totally redesigned the characters, the stories, and Adam and I got very personal because there's elements of his personality in some of the characters and elements of mine in others."
So who's based on who? "I wanted to be Adam and Eckhart," Firestone reveals rather worryingly. "And he wanted to be Brennan!"
"I'd like to be Brennan but the writers named Adam after me," Haight grins. "I think they just did that to give me a hard time. They love to give me a hard time."
"The big battle for us was how much comic booky the show should go," explains Firestone. "Adam and I were trying to make it a realistic show with believable characters."
"We wanted to bring it back to a world of heightened reality that is visually quite stunning," adds Haight, "but do it in a way that's not kind of 'Spandex.' If it becomes too fantastic, it becomes a 'future' show, and one of the things we felt very strongly was that it had to have a level of credibility."
The next step was to give careful consideration to the casting. "We wanted to see how the personalities would work together and it was a difficult casting process," Haight explains. "We cast Shalimar first, because for Emma we needed a girl with a different personality that would complement hers, so we had to get one before we could get the other. Jesse and Brennan had to be like 'big brother, little brother.' This was written into the script so their personalities had to work together. We were very careful to differentiate the characters and make sure they didn't overlap but complement each other well."
Adam was the last to be cast. "When John Shea came in," recalls Firestone, "everyone went 'Perfect!' But in the original concept, Adam had this warped big brain and was kind of an oddball face, not this good-looking, charismatic man. But such a weird looking guy was too much like out of a comic book. The character itself also had to be much more deep and complex than in the comic, not just someone with corporate demons."
As the time comes to wrap up the interview -- and indeed, the set visit as a whole -- Firestone rather worryingly muses that not everyone in the audience finds wire-work action to their liking. "There are some people who don't like it and want to see pure action, just normal fights."
"We did a lot of wire-work at first and we've been trying to find the right level," adds Haight.
You do wonder... has anybody told Paul Rapovski about this yet? Then again, would you volunteer...?
VICTORIA PRATT Shalimar: possessor of cat-like qualities!
Victoria Pratt -- Mutant X's Shalimar -- had her first taste of on-screen action squaring up to one of telefantasy's all-time great warriors. "I had to fight Xena (Lucy Lawless) in my first big action role," she recalls, "and I remember being terrified because, you know, I had only ever practised my martial arts against a bag or into the air. To do that against a person was really intimidating."
Of athletic stature gained through Shotokan karate and kick boxing, Pratt is graceful in her fight scenes and learns new moves pretty fast while barely raising a sweat. "I ran track and field for about ten years so I've always been athletic but I actually started training in martial arts to do a Karate Aerobics video!"
So how does she rate her first celluloid slugfest? "I look back on that fight now and I know I could have done it much better if I'd known then what I know now," she continues. "Now I can learn fights really quickly."
Practice is the key, she stresses. "I practised a lot in the Mojo room with the stunt team at first and now only practice there when I need to learn new skills or stunts I haven't done before, like some crazy harness moves. There was an episode in which Jesse and Shalimar did a stick fight. I'd never fought with sticks before, but you'd never know it watching the sequence. We worked it out in the Mojo, and it was great!"
Pratt reckons that Mutant X also offers some fringe benefits. "All these dreamy leathers and exotic fabrics -- we have the most outrageous, exquisite over the top wardrobe that you can imagine! I'll put on outfit on and it fits like a glove because..." she whispers, "they know our bodies down to the last millimetres."
The character of the feline-powered Shalimar was altered from the original conception, partially because Pratt felt it was too near to a part she had played previously. "When I read the initial script, Shalimar was not likeable at all. When they think of a strong woman, a lot of people automatically think bitchy, mean and territorial. I wasn't interested in that at all because the last thing I wanted to do was bring Sarge [her character in Cleopatra 2525] back to life in a different costume. So they made huge compromises and while she's still territorial, she's also protective, and I like that. I think it's much more interesting to watch."
She's still quick to anger, however. "That's also the flip side of her powers," Pratt agrees, "because what makes her strong also can make her weak in many ways. She's got a quick temper but she's also quick to other emotions besides anger; happiness, and love too."
Talking of the romantic side of things, does Pratt, like Lauren Lee Smith (see the box-out on page 77), have the hots for the creepy old Eckhart? "You know what," she replies, "I can't tell you how many people come up to me who find Eckhart extremely attractive! Eckhart's voice could melt butter. He is soooo sexy and a guy doesn't have to be handsome to be sexy."
Before we can explore further, Pratt's husband, TJ Scott -- who also directs the odd Mutant X episode -- appears. And he's no Eckhart!
VICTOR WEBSTER Brennan: he can generate electric blasts!
While awaiting his next call to wardrobe, Webster relaxes in his trailer, his little dog Buddah taking a nap on the sofa. For someone who's six foot four, an expert in kick boxing and a Tae Kwon Do black belt it's an incongruous sight.
"I had to unlearn everything I learned in order to do this," he stresses, "because being able to fight in martial arts or in a street fight is a totally separate sport from what you see on camera. Your kicks systematically have to be bigger, everything has to be bigger, and when you're really fighting, everything needs to be small and in-tight but you can't pick that up on camera. Fighters often can't do action because they've learned how to fight for real and you have to throw everything out of the window."
The end result on screen, he reckons, should look, "beautiful, almost like a dance. What we do on TV would never happen in the streets. There's way too much skill, too many things we do that look good on screen but would not be practical. There is no way you would get that timing, because you're gonna get hit a lot more. Things are gonna be sloppy and basically, the person that can hit the fastest and hardest and can take the most punches is gonna win. And it won't look pretty!"
As with the rest of the regular cast, Webster is keen to do his own stunts. "I don't want to come to work and have my double do everything. I want the audience to see it's the actor doing it and not a stunt double. Not only is it creating the character's believability, but it's also much more fun for me and I really enjoy doing it. I feel like a kid!"
He also uses a smaller variety of wire-harness than his cast mates. "A lot of people like the feeling and security of a lace-up suit but I don't want that because it's too restrictive. So I use a Hong Kong harness which has the least possible amount of fabric and security. The other harnesses lace all the way up to here," he gestures to his ribcage, "and mine is like a belt that goes behind the legs and that's it.
"But," he emphasises, "it's also very safe and I trust the people I'm working with."
Using the Hong Kong harness makes a visible difference to the actor's fighting moves. "Because it gives you more freedom of movement, more body flow, less restriction and looks more natural. It's also much more difficult to do but I want it to look real."
Nevertheless he will use a bigger harness when his equilibrium requires tighter controlling. "You need it because you can adjust its levels in order to get the right one to balance you properly, so that you can do the kick. So I'll occasionally use that one, but I don't wear the full body rig."
Fancy fighting is a necessity for Webster's character -- the electricity-bolt lobbing Brennan -- because there are times when he can't use his powers. "If I used my electricity when I'm wet -- if it's raining for instance -- I'd fry myself! Also, right now I only shoot electricity in bursts and can never release it for any length of time."
Formerly a thief, Brennan has mended his ways since joining the team, and Webster reckons that the adage "once a thief, always a thief" wouldn't apply to him. "I think he's now devoted himself to helping people and for him, to take would go against everything he's now working towards. Plus he has no need to," he grins, "he just charges everything on Adam's gold card! But he doesn't need money because he has everything; a great car, a great place to live, clothes, he's part of a superhero team... What's better than that?"
LAUREN LEE SMITH Emma: she can read your mind
"There's no action, the clothes are terrible and none of the boys are really good looking, so coming to work every day is just so hard..."
Hmm, could this be Canadian sarcasm? Then she bursts into fits of laughter. It is.
"Aren't the sets beautiful with the waterfall and all that?" she enthuses. "And I hear that they're also building us bedrooms now, so that should be fun."
Oh really? "I wonder what they have in mind?" she muses.
We haven't seen much of her character in high-kicking action as yet, so is empath Emma the lazy one? "I get off pretty easy because I didn't come with any background and training," Smith reveals. "But they're slowly incorporating some action for me now; a few kicks here and there. I think that by season two, I'm gonna be kicking ass!"
Being cast in Mutant X has also meant that Smith has been reunited with an old playmate. "Forbes (Jesse) was in the very first acting class I took in Vancouver when I was 12 and I recognized him right away!"
When she nabbed the role, she decided to do a little bit of investigation. "Most of the others had already been cast and the funny thing was that I went on their web sites to check them out... like, "I hope they're nice!"
Initially Emma was painted as a bit of a pain, starting out by calling her soon-to-be-teammates a bunch of "freaks." "I know that a lot of people were saying that," nods Smith. "But that was just in the first episode because she was scared," she protests, feigning tears of remorse which soon give way to another burst of laughter. "You have to make choices. Sometimes it's the right ones and sometimes the wrong ones and people are alaways gonna have something to say about that so, what can you do? But at first, it was like, 'Get a grip!' And Emma has. Adam's helped her so she's come to terms with her powers and has matured a lot since then. She's part of the team."
Having started herself out, "Emma has loosened up a great deal. "She's also a little bit mischievous, which is fun to play," states a delighted Smith, meaning that she'll probably use her powers at some point to make Adam (John Shea) believe he's a Feral and have him jumping through hoops!
"Oh, she's got cool powers!" she laughs. Yes indeed, and perhaps she shouldn't say this too loudly as Eckhart's around somewhere, and would be only too happy to grab her and stick her in a pod.
"Yeah, you're right," she whispers. "Actually, I had this episode where I went to the bad side ("Double Vision") and Tom (Eckhart) was hilarious. It's so much fun working with him! I've also got another scene with him in the next episode we're shooting ("In Your Dreams"). But," she sighs, "we don't really get to interact with him that much."
Then again, why should she want to spend time with such a creep? (The character, of course, not the actor.) "Oh my God are you kidding me?" she exclaims, "I think he's very handsome. Ask any of the women on set. I am so serious. He's got this charming, evil thing!"
If there ever was a case of fatal attraction, that must be it. Next, she'll want to share a pod with him, maybe even bear his children? "Uh... I don't know, that could get a little weird," she laughs. "So we won't go that far!"
Maybe all this suggests there may be something missing from Emma's life? "Emma's gonna have to get a boyfriend," she wails. The queue starts here, boys!
FORBES MARCH Jesse: he can walk through walls!
Forbes March, who plays Jesse, may be relatively new to the action scene, but he immediately proved a natural wire-work talent when he flawlessly pulled off a stunt in Mutant X's pilot episode which stunned everyone and earned him the nickname "God of Spin".
"This man deserves respect and credit," reckons stunt coordinator Paul Rapovski. But when you meet March in person, he's affably modest about his skills.
"I was lucky I could do it," he grins. "For this stunt, they wrapped a cable -- which is about only a quarter of an inch thick -- three times around my waist. I then jumped, so that my body was horizontal to the ground. Then they yanked on the rope and I spun into the air. But before I could spin, the wire had to be as tight as it could around my stomach. Then it starts to unravel -- very fast too -- and when it's done unravelling, the cable snaps tight. It's quite tricky!"
So why not leave it to his stunt double? "I thought it was really important, at least in the beginning," he emphasises. "We do as many of the stunts ourselves but only if it's safe, otherwise, sooner or later, you're gonna get hurt. And then it takes you six weeks to recuperate!"
Jesse's ability to control his molecular density not only enables the character to walk through solid objects, it also gives March the opportunity to indulge his love of innuendo.
"Jesse can get hard -- HARD as marble," he says smuttily, "but he can only stay hard as long as he can hold his breath, then he becomes very, very soft." Ahem.
So how long can he hold his breath? "As long as I need to, baby," he replies in mock macho tones. "But with the assistance of Adam who's helping us training and refining our abilities, we're hoping that it opens up new possibilities." The mind boggles.
March also reckons that Jesse is a big softie in other ways. "Jesse is very sensitive, very compassionate and is always trying to see other people's point of view," he explains. "He feels very strongly about what he's doing and there is a certain lightness about the fact that he doesn't have to be there; he's with the team by choice and has a dedication to it at the same time. I always compare him to these kids who join a peace corps and save a village; they're doing something they feel very strongly about and that's kind of what Jesse's doing. He's saving the village but also has fun doing it."
March also reckons that Jesse is the most liberal-minded of the X-bunch, but even he would have problems trying to forgive Eckhart.
"Jesse doesn't think anybody's beyond redemption," says March. "But it would make a very short series if Eckhart found his redemption too quickly! You know, I think Eckhart's a very kinky man. He's doing cruel things to people and while we're trying to correct that, he makes the most of the situation and is blindly charging forward with more cruelty. Although compassionate and sensitive, I think Jesse would feel stronger about what Eckhart is doing than I would. I probably would feel more compassion about him, and I'm sure that if you were to sit down and have a conversation with Eckhart, he would have some good answers as to why he's doing what he does. Even though this is sci fi and we're taking all kinds of crazy directions, genetics is a very prevalent issue, an issue people are talking about right now. There's arguments for both sides and I stand right in the middle listening to it all."
Being part of Mutant X has some unexpected perks such as the engraved silver ring each member of the team possesses. "It is encoded with our genetics and acts as a communication device and a camera," March explains as he graciously hands over his ring for a closer look. "It's pretty cool, but to have one," he adds in a mock arrogant tone as he puts the ring back on his finger, "you must be a Mutant!"
© SFX Magazine