Billy Campbell and Jordan Hayes Take On a Pandemic in Helix
by Jay S. Jacobs
The Syfy Channel has high hopes for its new snowbound thriller series Helix. A shiny new variation of many science fiction nightmares has a mysterious and deadly disease – which may or may not be manmade – turning a bunch of scientists in an Arctic scientific outpost into weird, violent zombie-like creatures.
The show brought in genre veteran Billy Campbell to head up the cast. Campbell has been well-known since breaking out in the 90s in the cult favorite film The Rocketeer. Since, he has become a staple on television, doing long stints in the acclaimed series Once & Again, The 4400 and The Killing.
In Helix Campbell plays Dr. Alan Farragut, a scientist for the CDC (Center of Disease Control) in Atlanta who flies up with a team to examine the dangerous mutations. Dr. Farragut is not particularly happy to be part of the mission, but goes because his estranged brother Peter (Neil Napier) is one of the scientists working on the post. In fact, Alan is approached about the situation by his ex-wife, Dr Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), the cause of the brothers’ estrangement when she had an affair years ago with Peter.
Their investigation into the mysterious malady is thwarted at every turn by the outpost’s inscrutable leader Dr. Hiroshi Hatake, played by Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada.
Also on the rescue party is a young, beautiful scientist named Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes), who seems to be very close with Dr. Farragut, but so far in a completely platonic way. However the young scientist has some secrets of her own.
Soon after the series premiered, we were able to take part in a conference call with series stars Campbell and Hayes.
A lot of Syfy programs have been a bit lighter in tone. Their movies obviously are deliciously campy. This is a very straight forward, serious, edge-of-your-seat-type series. What did you guys like about this particular series?
Billy Campbell: Well, speaking for myself, I was extremely attracted to the situation. The genre. I’m a big fan of both The Thingmovies, the Howard Hawks one and the John Carpenter one. The Andromeda Strain is one of my big favorite films. So I was very attracted to the situation. And of course attracted to the fact that Ron Moore was attached. [Also] Not least of which was that we were shooting in Montreal. How about you Jordan?
Jordan Hayes: Me? I loved the characters. They were obviously very smartly written and very intelligent characters. The relationships between each of the scientists, the team of CDC. It really felt, despite being a science fiction show, there was a huge emphasis on the dramatic elements of the writing. That really attracted me as an actor.
To the extent that it is a sci-fi show, it is very much rooted in science. It’s the kind of thing that could theoretically happen. Does that up the ante and make it even that much more interesting and appealing for the audience?
Billy Campbell: I would guess so. That’s a question for the audience. But I would assume that to be the case. Yes. I would say yes.
I really like the relationship that you have, kind of a mentor/student relationship, but it’s also a little more. If you can both comment on where that relationship is, especially in the episodes that have aired so far.
Jordan Hayes: Billy?
Billy Campbell: I was going to let you run with that ball.
Jordan Hayes: (laughs) I think it is exactly what you just said. It’s a mentor/student relationship. Sarah has a lot of admiration for Alan. She really holds his opinion in high esteem. She really wants to make him proud and improve her worth and impress him.
Farragut walks into a storm here. How did you approach him? Your acting just seems very natural in playing an element of confusion, but also using your training to guide you although you’re stepping into something you’ve never encountered before either.
Billy Campbell: Well, I’m a genuinely fairly confused person anyway, so that helps. (Hayes laughs.) I’m not sure that I thought about it very deeply. The situation is so apparent that it didn’t seem to require that much in the way of depth of thought. It’s a very black and white situation; we come, there’s an outbreak and we have to contain it. Then things start getting confusing because we’re being misdirected by Hatake, and there are all these variables. I’m not sure how I approached it, tell you the truth. It’s kind of a blur, that long ago. (Campbell chuckles.)
On the set, there is a cold room for the frigid outdoor scenes. Does it make it easier to get in the moment, or do you not like being cold? I think I’d rather pretend to be cold.
Billy Campbell: Well for me it’s just a great deal. I know the crew hated the cold room. First of all, the cold room wasn’t really big enough. It was very limiting as a set. It was pretty small. There was a lot of stuff flying around in the air, so the crew didn’t really care for it. But they could dress how they wanted. We were dolled up in nine layers of extreme cold weather gear. In the beginning when we didn’t have a cold room, when we were all on the set having to do all this strenuous stuff, we were, not to be too graphic about it, sweating a good deal. That is more unpleasant than anything I can think of. I’d rather freeze than parboil any day. How about you Jordan?
Jordan Hayes: Well I never had to go into the cold room, actually.
Billy Campbell: You didn’t? That’s right, you didn’t.
Jordan Hayes: I didn’t, no. But I do remember being in all of our Arctic gear in July, and that was very unpleasant, yes.
Billy Campbell: So unpleasant. So the cold room helped a good deal. In the end it was untenable. It was awkward to shoot in and everyone hated it. By the end of the show we just had left the cold room behind again.
There’s so much right now on the news about the CDC and the flu and everything going around. When you guys first started working on this, reading the script and everything, does any of it ever freak you out a bit because some of it could actually happen?
Jordan Hayes: Yes, absolutely. I mean that’s one of the greatest things about this show. It’s dealing with something that is very real. Throughout history we’ve seen huge epidemics wipe out hundreds of millions of people. Although now thankfully we have the invention of antibiotics and we can treat things much better, it’s still very real. It’s still very scary, and can possibly wipe out thousands of people.
Billy Campbell: It goes to our most primal fears. The thing which you cannot see that will come in the night and kill you from the inside out. I can’t imagine much of anything creepier than that.