Syfy’s new “werewolf” series Bitten stars Laura Vandervoort and is based on the bestselling author Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series of novels. In anticipation of the shows US debut tonight we sat down with the pair to discuss the show, its origins and state of genre television…
Kelley, I wondered – I noticed that the show runner, Daegon Frynklind — she wrote the pilot. I thought she did a really good job. I probably murdered her name there. But IMDB also gives you writing credits. I wondered if could confirm that and perhaps tell us how many and which episodes coming up that you wrote — if any.
Kelley Armstrong: And no. I have not written any. There was talk of that early on. They had asked if I wanted to. And I definitely did. Nothing came of it, but maybe at some point in the future.
For Laura, I know you have a background in martial arts. Are you glad to be able to exercise that skill in this role? And was it part of your audition process in any way?
Laura Vandervoort: Yes. I grew up doing martial arts. So Elena feels like, you know, the other part of me. I relate to so much about her. Obviously, not the werewolf part, but the fact that she can take care of herself physically.
And I think it was great that the writers wrote in some extra hand-to-hand combat scenes. And especially in the finale — we have this epic fight that I just had a great time doing. And we had great stunt coordinators that help us so as incorporate the animalistic side to the fighting.
It wasn’t a part of the audition, but, you know, I think it definitely benefits the character. The fact that most of the actors on the show are physically able to do the fight scene sequences.
My question is for both of you and would like to know how you each began your involvement with Bitten. So for Kelley, what was your inspiration for the book series? And for Laura, how did you first get involved in the TV series?
Kelley Armstrong: Okay. For the books, Bitten actually came out of an X Files episode. I was in a writing group. And as part of a writing group you’re expected to actually write new stuff. I was trying to come up with an idea, sat down and watched X Files.
It was way back in their first season. Their one and only werewolf episode. It was your typical big guy who changes into some beast like thing and goes around slaughtering people under the full moon. And I said that’s not how I would do werewolves.
And for a writer, that then sparks how would I do them? And I wrote a short story with this character named Elena and I loved that world so much that I wrote a book.
Laura Vandervoort: I had no idea it was The X Files. That’s really cool for me to know as well.
Kelley Armstrong: Which goes to show you how long ago I started writing Bitten. It was the first season of the show; it is old stuff.
Laura Vandervoort: I actually – yes, I love The X Files. Like I was watching that as well. So that’s cool to know.
And Laura, how did you get involved?
I actually received an offer for the role — which was amazing, first of all. And ended up speaking to J.B. on the phone just to get an idea of the premise of the show and how it would look and how the wolves would be done.
And so we spoke for about an hour. And I heard how passionate he was about the project – he’s our executive producer. And it just sounded like something I’d really been looking to do—such a layered thing—and the character who is both flawed and strong.
And so I read the books. I read Women of the Otherworld and Bitten and did a bit of research. And as soon as I realized the amazing quality of what was there I jumped on. And we did some auditions and chemistry reads with the guys and we just sort of hit the ground running—no pun intended.
And I mean it was the most challenging six months I’ve had thanks to Kelley and the writers. Every day was a challenge for me. And there were days where I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle the emotional side of it or the physical side of it or just being in every scene. And I did. And I’m so grateful for the experience.
Since one of you created Elena and one of you plays Elena, kind of tell us a little bit about her and does your interpretation of her kind of differ from each of your versions of her?
Laura Vandervoort: Kelley, do you want to go ahead?
Kelley Armstrong: So, yes. So the creation of Elena really was – I mean it is my first published novel. So it was way back. And I wanted to create a character who would be a werewolf and be uncomfortable with that role, but ultimately come to embrace it.
So often we — at that time — saw werewolves that was a curse, something that you wanted to end to get out of. And I wanted a character who — while she would feel that she should think that way — really deep down doesn’t. And Bitten was about coming to understand that what you think you should be is not always what you’re meant to be.
Laura Vandervoort: And I agree with what Kelley said. A lot of, you know, there’s a lot of parallels with Elena in the show and women in general. You know, Elena flees to Toronto to try to hide who she truly is and try to have this almost perfect image of what she feels people need from her, but she’s just pushing down the animal inside of her. And it’s such an amazing character that a lot of the skeletons in her closet are explored this season. You learn a lot about her history and some of her demons come back.
So every episode was shocking to us when we’d read it. We had no idea, you know, where they were going to go with it. So I think even if you’re not a sci-fi fan you’re going to find something that you truly love about this show because it’s not just about the sci-fi. It’s not just about the werewolves, it’s about the characters and their relationships and it’s just very layered.
As you know, Syfy also has Being Human. So how do your werewolves kind of differ from Josh’s werewolf and also Nora’s as well.
Kelley Armstrong: Laura, go ahead.
Laura Vandervoort: Our werewolves are actually more down to earth. They’re life-sized to any other wolf. It’s not a fantasy show. It’s as realistic as we can be with the situation at hand.
And the wolves have the actor’s eyes and the same coloring – their fur is the same coloring as the hair. So it’s, you know, obviously we are dealing with a mythical idea of werewolves, but we’re trying to make it as true to life as we can. And that’s making sure the werewolves aren’t any different to a typical wolf.
Laura can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between Elena and her pack?
Laura Vandervoort: It’s complicated. She grew up in a foster care system – so never really had much of a family dynamic. So once she’s Bitten into the pack it’s conflicted because she is the trade. They didn’t – it wasn’t at her, you know, it wasn’t by her own will.
They bit her. And she had to survive it on her own. But at the same time she finally has a family that she’s always wanted and people who will look out for her.
So she’s torn between, you know, what she’s always wanted and how she got it – and then the life that she should be living in Toronto. But eventually within the season you realize that she is very close with the pack and she is their best tracker and she does love them all equally in different ways. And wants to help them and help the family.
Laura you’re from Toronto. What do you think about the fact that more and more shows either taking place in Toronto or being filmed in Toronto these days?
Laura Vandervoort: I mean I personally think it’s great. I was so happy to see that Kelley wrote a character from Toronto based in Toronto. A – because I thought oh, I don’t have to change my accent. And B – it’s also nice to, you know, celebrate the Canadian talent.
And, you know, that’s so rare lately. I mean a lot of projects I’ve done up in Vancouver, but American projects. So to have something that’s Canadian in Canada, I just think it’s fantastic.
Can you talk a bit about – I guess you don’t use a lot of prosthetics. It’s a lot of – more of the CGI. But can you talk a bit about that and working with that?
Laura Vandervoort: Yes. I mean that’s been a wonderful part of the show as well. We don’t have to do the furry prosthetics and in the makeup chair for four or five hours in the morning. We have a wonderful visual effects team that some of them worked on the Life of Pi–on the tiger’s fur.
So they’re just amazing artists who know exactly how to make the fur move and in certain lights. And we have actually a German Shepherd that our producer has that will run throughout the scene and we’ll get the motion of the wolf and then capture that onto camera with our visual effects wolves.
So we haven’t had to worry about too much of that. It’s more of the transition from human to wolf that the actors portray — that the bones shifting and snapping and contorting. And then after that it’s all visual effects with the actor’s eyes.
Laura, can you talk a bit about the chemistry read that you did with Clayton and so just talk a little bit about that.
Laura Vandervoort: Sure. Yes. We auditioned a lot of actors for both the Paul and Clay characters. And I think Greyston just embodied everything that we wanted for Clay — not only physically was he like a wolverine and just, you know, a wonderful spirited guy, but he was an incredible actor.
I think we connected immediately in the scenes. He was respectful and we worked off of each other and improvised and he was just like – I think the minute he walked in — especially Daegon and I — the two women in the room just looked at each other and said that’s him.
You’ve talked a lot about a lot of the different elements, but I love the tongue in cheek moments and how you sort of self reference and things like that. And there are a lot of werewolf shows out right now. So I know the answer to this, I think, but can you talk a little bit about, you know, what makes you different from Teen Wolf because I think this is a very different show from Teen Wolf?
Laura Vandervoort: Kelley, do you want to do that?
Kelley Armstrong: You want me to do that? You know, the one great thing for me was that — remember this? This book was written in the 90s. It was written in the late 90s when I didn’t have to worry about what else was out there. My point of reference was, like, the wolf man and American Werewolf in London.
So I was really able – I didn’t have to do that where I’m saying okay, what’s currently out there and how can I be different? If anything, the fact that I wrote about werewolves was a huge strike against me because nobody knew how to sell a book where the werewolves weren’t monsters.
So when I’m comparing it to other things, that’s a whole lot tougher for me because I did. I mean I built mine from folklore. I’m a huge folklore geek and I went through everything I knew about werewolves. And cherry-picked what bits of folklore made the most sense if putting it into a contemporary context where I want people to believe that the werewolves could actually live next door.
So there are lots of things in the folklore — like the can only be killed by a silver bullet, but don’t realistically work if you’re trying to say they have existed for hundreds of years unknown. Laura, do you know more about Teen Wolf? The only Teen Wolf I know is that old reel of Michael J. Fox movie. So totally different, different thing.
Laura Vandervoort: Yes. And I’m sort of the same world. I love Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf — and that’s about it. I really didn’t watch a lot of werewolf movies there or TV shows. But I know there are some out there. They are for younger audiences and I think they’re more geared towards the teens.
And where I don’t know if Kelley agrees, but Bitten is very much adult in that it’s risky and it’s raw and it’s sexy. And like she said, it is to the point where you feel like you could live next to a werewolf and not really know because of the way they’ve lived. They live in this beautiful home.
They’re cultured. Our pack alpha — played by Greg Bryk — is just very intellectual and artistic. And they sit down to nice meals and they only kill what’s necessary for food or to protect. They’re very educated.
And so they’re not monsters even though Elena has trouble at the beginning seeing herself as anything, you know, but a monster.
Just to follow up on that, do you see Elena as being a role model? Because I mean one of the things that really drew me to the show is that she is like a very strong, self-confident woman — which you don’t get a lot of on television. It just seems like such a great role.
Laura Vandervoort: Yes. You hit it. And that’s exactly why I loved what Kelley had created. I always want – I mean I grew up as tomboy and I wanted to be not necessarily a role model, but I mean I would go to Comic Conventions after playing Supergirl and I’d see, you know, 8 – 9 year old girls who look up to superheroes.
But those superheroes are in tube tops and short shorts. And it just, it turned me the wrong way. And so I wanted to always play women that I would be proud of young girls looking up to. Obviously the show isn’t necessarily for young girls, but Elena is an individual.
She speaks for herself. She always comes out on top. She’s strong. She puts these boys in place when she needs to in the pack. And I love that about her.
Kelley Armstrong: And I’ll just say, Laura, thank you for taking that stance on it in general for young women because I do agree. It is — especially in the world of fantasy and superheroes — giving role models who aren’t in the skimpy little, you know, outfits in, you know…
Laura Vandervoort: Yes.
Kelley Armstrong: …In impossible poses is so important for young women.
Laura Vandervoort: Yes. I agree with you Kelley 100%. And I mean there is a sexuality to the werewolves and needing to see that part of it. The fact that she is just so strong, I think is a great idea of what women should be and can be on television.
Kelley, I was wondering, how much influence did you have on the TV show speaking closer to the books and will fans be happy about, you know, any changes that they might have had to make for the TV show?
Kelley Armstrong: I really didn’t have any influence. And that is what I felt was the correct stance to be taken. I mean a TV show is an adaptation. It is another version for a different medium. And to take a book and translate it directly to screen would make a very boring book. Because I will warn you, in Bitten I spent way too much time in Elena’s head.
And to put that on the screen would have been boring. Somebody else has to take it with fresh eyes and reconstruct it for a different medium. And I personally feel that by getting involved — I’m, of course, so attached to my characters and so attached to my world that I would be objecting to things that I shouldn’t be objecting to.
And I was so thrilled with the early scripts I read. I was so thrilled with the writing and how they got the characters. And yes, there are changes, but there should be. And I was quite happy to leave it in everyone’s capable hands and just step back.
That’s great. That’s a refreshing attitude, I think, for authors to have, too. That’s good. It’s like your baby.
Kelley Armstrong: Oh, it is. It is. And I think that is very difficult. But I think it’s also very, very necessary because this is my work envisioned by other writers and by actors. And I’m thrilled to have that happen. I’m thrilled to have, you know, current readers see it on a screen and new people see it. But it’s not supposed to be my books translated to the small screen.
And Laura, it’s really great to speak with you. I was a big fan of both V and Smallville. So I was wondering if you would tell us a little bit of what you think any differences or challenges that you faced doing this new character different from the other characters that you played.
Laura Vandervoort: Probably like I said, it’s the most challenging role. I mean Smallville – playing Supergirl, she was an iconic superhero that had existed since the 80s — if not earlier. And so there was a lot of pressure there to play her, but it was also very – I had no room for interpretation. It was already laid out and that was that and that was great.
With V, again, with just a minor character for the first season and she was actually just intended to be a guest star. So they hadn’t really thought her out very much. And then when they saw the dynamic and chemistry with the other actors and I, they wrote her in as the daughter of the queen, so then it became more interesting. And then Elena — with Bitten — not only was Kelley, you know, gracious enough to allow us to interpret a little bit and add our own personalities into the characters, but she’s just a colorful character for me.
Like I can’t even express how much I feel in love with her. I’ve, you know, I’ve been acting since I was 13. I’ve never fallen in love with a character the way that I fell in love with Elena. Like I was actually sad — like I was leaving a person behind on the day that we wrapped because I just became so attached to her.
Honestly. And also, obviously, the cast and crew. But she’s the closest to heart for me – with a character that I’ve ever played. Everything about her is just so, you know, redeeming. And she’s sad and she’s layered and she’s, you know, not perfect.
It’s such an interesting role for me and the most adult role that I’ve ever had a chance to be a part of. And not only that, but it’s my first lead on a series. So I invested a lot of my heart and soul and a lot of personal, you know, things that were happening to me at the time of filming are on camera because you just can’t hide something. So there’s a lot of overlapping between Elena and myself.
Oh. Can you give us an example maybe — if you can — of one of the things that was happening to you that you might want to share?
Laura Vandervoort: Yes. It’s the first time I had had this sort of pressure to be in every scene every day and people expect, you know, a certain amount from you. But not only that, I’m my hardest critic and my toughest critic.
And I, you know, just barely slept and tried to do all the stunts and tried to just make everyone happy. And that became like I was two different people — much like Elena in Toronto and New York. It was, you know, the working self and then I, you know, would forget to just relax and be myself.
And also trying to become a member of the – a new group of people. It’s like Elena entering the pack. She had to get to know each person. And I had to get to know each person and develop these relationships. Luckily, it was easy with all of the guys. But it was me trying to show that I should be there and that I can handle this role — similar to Elena trying to, you know, make it clear her dominance in the pack as well.
What is Elena’s relationship like with the werewolf who changed her?
Kelley Armstrong: You want to take it?
Laura Vandervoort: Her relationship with the werewolf that changed her?
But not giving away spoilers, I take it.
Laura Vandervoort: Right. Well, I can’t answer that.
Kelley Armstrong: Difficult. Just say difficult. There we go.
Laura Vandervoort: It’s complex.
Okay. I’ll ask you a different question then. I noticed that there’s a lot of talk about the pack. And I’ve seen it in the trailers as well as in the synopsis and stuff. Is when you’re bitten, is there like an innate sense of connection to the pack? Or is it simply because these people understand her the best? What is that – how is that connection formed between the werewolves is my question?
Laura Vandervoort: Kelley, you might know that better than I do on this.
Kelley Armstrong: Do you want me to take it? Okay. Yes. What I was doing when I was creating my werewolves is really basing them on — as much as possible — a wild wolf pack. So there isn’t – it’s not as if being bitten brings you in, but what it does is it strengthens that instinct for pack.
It strengthens that instinct to need to be with others who are like you and to form tight, tight bonds — as an actual wolf pack does. So while she’s not drawn to these particular people, she is drawn to the idea of needing to be in a close knit group like that. And, of course, because of her circumstances, it’s the American pack.
Laura Vandervoort: Yes.
And for Laura, what does abandoning the pack, kind of, mean for Elena and for them?
Laura Vandervoort: As for?
And for the pack itself?
Laura Vandervoort: Oh, okay. I think at the beginning all she’s truly thinking is she needs to escape and she needs to get away from the people that have betrayed her — especially Clay. And just get back to Toronto and live a normal life. But I’m sure, you know, within the first year of being back in Toronto and staying away from the pack she does feel this internal pull to be with them.
And like Kelley said, I think that that’s just a part of the, you know, maybe a part of the DNA or just a family mentality that she’s never had that she finally does. So it is tough for her. I don’t think she shows it. But it is tough for her to be away from the pack.
And obviously the pack, you know, they need her. They – she is rare. She is the only female to have ever survived the bite. And she is the best tracker. And they all do have a love for her, but they also respect the distance that she needs to deal with what has happened and how much her life has changed.
Sabienna Bowman: Awesome. Thank you guys so much. I’m really looking forward to seeing the show.
Kelley, it sounds like from one of your answers a moment ago that when you made the deal to do this series with the Entertainment One and the producers, you didn’t have much of – or a big concern about how they would adapt your material. Is that a fair statement?
Kelley Armstrong: I think that is. I certainly had, you know, conversations with J.B. — both when they were buying the option years ago — and throughout as it was going forward. And everything that I ever heard from him really assured me that this was in good hands.
Laura, believe it or not, this is the fourth January in a row that Syfy has introduced a television series with very strong female starring or co-starring characters. It started with Being Human four years ago. Then came Lost Girl. Then came Continuum. And now your program.
I wonder if you saw the other three shows I mentioned and did they give you any tips about how to play your character?
Laura Vandervoort: I – yes, you’re right. And Syfy has been fantastic with having women being strongly dominant on their show. So I – and I love Syfy for that. I’m aware of Being Human. My friend, Sam Witwer — who was Doomsday on Smallville with me is on that. And so I think that’s a fantastic show and then Continuum as well – my producer friend Jeff Kink.
So I’m keeping tabs on all these shows because not only am I fan of being in them, but I’m a fan of watching them and watching these women kick some ass. And so I think that the lineup’s great. I’m glad that we’re a part of it — especially right behind Being Human.
In the books, Elena has overcome a history of some pretty awful abuse. I was wondering, Kelley, why was that important that you give her that history? You’d kind of think that having become a werewolf unwillingly would be more than enough to cause havoc.
Kelley Armstrong: It’s never enough. You really do. I mean for a character like that you really need to pile as much as possible on them. But seriously, what it was for Elena was looking at the psychology of a character who could have a background and come to become a werewolf and embrace that.
And Elena’s overriding need is for family. It is for family and acceptance. And that, of course, comes out of this really rotten background. If she’d had great parents and she had a great support system at home, she would have found that break from the pack much easier.
She just would have gone home, lived her life, and not really felt that pull to go back to people who had betrayed her. As it is, because it’s been so bad for her — and she really has no one that pulls for pack. You’re combining both the werewolf instinct with her own desires and her own what she really needs to feel fulfilled.
And it’s both a push and a pull because yes, the pack does offer family, but it does not offer the type of family that she has grown up expecting — which is get married, have kids, live in the suburbs somewhere. So it really is difficult for her.
And for me, my background is psychology. That’s what my degree’s in — and mainly counseling psychology. So I really do layer that in for background. In order to get this type of character, what would be the background that would cause that character to be the way I need them to be?
Operator: And our next question is a follow-up question from the line of Tim Holquinn with Screen Fad. Please go ahead.
Laura, I’m curious who your female action adventure role models were when you were a young girl growing up.
Laura Vandervoort: I honestly, I grew up watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer — the original movie and Sarah Michelle Geller’s. That’s sort of what got me into martial arts when I was younger. And so I sort of idolized them. And I think that’s really what’s directed me towards some of these roles. Gosh.
Laura Vandervoort: The Alien movies for sure. There’s been a bunch of action heroes that I’ve looked up to. But also just actresses in general. Like Meryl Streep and, you know, the ones that everyone would obviously look up to. But action is just, sort of, where it all started for me.
I’ve heard that when you were originally cast as Elena you hadn’t read the book yet. And I’m wondering have you read the book since then and what are your thoughts about the subtle changes in this adaptation? Not only to your character, but to the pack family in some of the incidents — like with Clay and Logan.
Laura Vandervoort: I mean I read Women of the Other World and Bitten just before we started shooting. And just sort of let that be the basis for Elena. And then went off of the scripts and the feeling that they were going for, but also incorporating myself as much as I could into it.
I mean that’s really a question for Kelley because she’s so close to the material and it is her baby and, you know, we were trying to also make her very happy with what we had done. I think we stayed fairly true to her vision and as well as the other characters.
I know there were some changes that fans weren’t too pleased with — characters that should be a certain ethnicity that weren’t or should have accents and didn’t. But overall I think the important parts of the material we stayed fairly true to.
I noticed that the werewolves eat so much. And you having — in certain scenes — to take such big mouthfuls, big bites of food — has that been an issue for you at all?
Laura Vandervoort: You know, it’s funny. The producers, we did an eating scene and they came back to me the next day and said we loved seeing Elena eating on camera. We want to do it more. And I just though oh no. And, you know, I’m getting naked as a werewolf. You want me to do both of these things? I’m not sure if that’s, you know, a good idea.
But, yes. That’s a really fun part when Elena and no one is around. It’s a whole – she stress eats or, you know, she has to hide her appetite from her human boyfriend. So when he’s not around she’s scarfing (sic) down the bacon and, you know.
That’s a really fun part of the character — that the crew and I would have a good laugh because the director wouldn’t yell cut. So I’d keep having to eat and stuff my face and stuff my face. And eventually the crew would laugh and we’d cut and, you know, had a good time with it.
But I would try to find ways around it. The boys definitely – we had a big breakfast scene and the boys, you know, after three hours weren’t looking so good after sausages and ham and all of that. So.
I’m wondering what each of you feel is the best and worst thing about working with supernatural genre.
Kelley Armstrong: Oh okay. I’ll take it. The best thing about working with it is just the capacity for imagination. That is what I love. I have been asked many times why do you write this stuff? And I say I have no idea. I grew up writing about the paranormal. And I blame too many Saturday mornings watching Scooby Doo.
I just saw such a capacity for imagination there where I could take anything and say what if and spin it. As for the worst think, well, honestly, I mean the worst thing is also something that is a plus. I mean the genre has gotten much more popular. And when I started it was a struggle.
It is far more popular now — which is both good and bad because you are always being, you know, asked how does your stuff differ from what is currently out there — and worrying. If I do something, you know, new — is that too similar to what somebody else has already done.
Laura Vandervoort: So in just terms of the Sci-Fi, I — like Kelley’s was saying, before this was such a popular drama and genre and I think what she did with it sort of transcend the time. And that’s why we’re still able to use it now. And you can’t compare. Yes, it’s a great time to be having this show premiere — especially because Syfy has been doing so well.
But there’s so much more to the show than the Sci-fi — that that’s why that the characters and the stories have lasted. And hopefully will last and people will enjoy them. And it’s because it’s about the characters and their flaws and Elena’s history.
And the fact that she is such a broken down human being and then suddenly becomes a werewolf and has to deal with that.
Kelley, I know how you said that you let them take the book and run with it and everything. But I assume that you still watched it — a lot of. So I’m curious. Is there something that maybe really surprised about how they did either change it or stuff that they left in or anything like that?
Kelley Armstrong: I’ve read and really enjoyed the first two scripts. Apparently screeners are on the way to me of the episode. So I haven’t seen anything. So I can only go on from early versions of those couple of scripts. And, of course, I mean one of the things that they really needed to do was bring in other points of view because Bitten is written first person, from Elena.
So when we see her and she’s not with the pack, all we know is when she has communication with them. And we’re not seeing what they’re doing at the same time. Can’t do it in first person. That is one of the drawbacks. But on the TV version, they were able to show what the other characters are doing.
So that was a lot of fun for me to read them, you know, imagining what the other characters were doing while Elena was in Toronto.
Bitten airs tonight on Syfy in the US at 10:00pm