Interview with Ryan Cartwright, Azita Ghanizada, Warren Christie, and Exectuve Producers Zak Penn & Ira Steven Behr from Alphas Part 3

This is part 3 of our Q&As with Ryan Cartwright, Azita Ghanizada, Warren Christie, and Exectuve Producers Zak Penn & Ira Steven Behr from Alphas. If you missed parts 1 & 2, check them out HERE & HERE.

On his character, Cameron Hicks

Warren Christie: Cameron is a guy who we meet in the pilot, he’s had a bit of run of bad luck and he’s divorced, his son doesn’t really want to spend much time with him. He’s a recovering alcoholic and through a chain of events is brought into this group run by Dr. Rosen who wants to help him while at the same time using the ability that is just new to him that he is just figuring out that he has to help him investigate other alpha abilities.

So I think Cameron is interesting because I think in the pilot specifically he’s kind of the eyes for the audience because as he is brought into this group of individuals who have been together for a short amount of time, he doesn’t just jump right in with both feet.

He’s very skeptical, he doesn’t understand what these abilities are. He doesn’t necessarily believe in them. And so it’s not like a type of thing where he’s just all gung ho and sign me up and let’s do this. He’s very resistant to the whole thing. And by the end of the pilot he’s almost forced to choose to work along with them.

And so he’s spent a lot of time as a loner and he has had a really bad run of luck and so he’s got trust issues and used to being alone. So immersing himself into a group is not the first thing that he is looking to do.

Jump with us to read the rest of the Alphas Q&A.

On what makes the show unique & why people should tune in

Warren: I think what we’re doing is we’re putting a new spin on a genre that has been around for a while. Anytime you have a show of this nature people want to compare it to this and they want to compare it to that.

But we’re putting our twist on it. We’re really delving into people and how their abilities which are exciting and yes there are these action packed sequences but really there’s drawbacks to it. Whether it be physical, whether it be psychological, they’re all dealing with things. And when you bring this eclectic group together it causes drama but a lot of humor. It’s just a very dysfunctional group, you know, individuals and as a group.

So like I said, I think that at the end of the day we’re working very hard to make sure that we are going to entertain the hell out of you for an hour every week and hopefully at the end of the day that’s what we do.

On Alphas being more about tapping into your true potential as opposed to superheroes

Zak Penn: Well interestingly, I mean, obviously when you do a superhero movie usually that is working on a metaphorical level, right, because no matter how Jean Grey’s struggle with turning into Phoenix is obviously so extreme but it’s operating on a metaphorical level.

I think with Alpha’s part of the point is these people’s abilities and problems are so close to reality that sometimes it’s not only not metaphorical, it allows us to actually tell the same human story.

You look at Hicks’ story. It’s pretty close to the story that any of us would have who have a talent that kind of we have trouble managing. Even look, there’s a long history of writers who have an instrument that they can access occasionally but when they can’t they turn to drinking or turn to other things to manage that problem.

And Warren can speak better to this but we really tried to keep both the upside and the downside of their problems so close to human that we end up writing stories that are, I mean, I don’t mean to get all semantic and a lecture about semantics versus metaphorical but it’s actually a real – it’s fun.

I mean, on the X-Men it’s pretty hard to write a story about Wolverine’s problems, paying his rent and working in a grocery store, whereas with Hicks those are real issues. Warren?

Warren: And byproducts from what has led him up to this point in his life. Like Zak said, I think Hicks sees this as much more of a curse than a gift because he has known there has been something different about him but it seems to always have failed him at the biggest times.

So because of that, like Zak pointed out, because Hicks is so agile you can have something like a professional athlete. Professional athletes go through a lot of different things where they have these highs and then because of that they have these very big lows. And I think it’s that fine line and that balancing at that is what makes each of the characters so rich in the show.

Zak: And also, yes and most professional athletes by just the thread that’s in there, like whenever you read about, I’m a big baseball fan, I’m a big sports fan. Warren and I have talked about this a bit.

But almost every professional baseball player, 70% of their job if they’re good is failure. Any good hitter, if they bat 300, 70% of the time they’re failing. So it’s something that Hicks is kind of coming to grips with that, you know, I think is real even for quite a few players.

On what they learned during the research for the show and if there are people actually like that in real life

Zak: First of all, in terms of what I learned during the research, it’s so, so much more and so voluminous compared to anything else I have ever worked on just because it’s been five years I’ve been working on this project. And everything about the brain fascinates me and I was already a huge fan of Oliver Sacks and so I had already read everything he had written. So, I really wouldn’t even know where to start.

I can just tell you maybe the persistence of vision, the nature of the persistence of vision was one of the things, the way that our sight is so much less real than we think it is something that kind of blew my mind when I first uncovered the idea that you have two giant blind spots in your vision and your brain just kind of fills it in for you. So that was fascinating for me.

In terms of Rachel there’s people who are incredibly close to her in terms of – there is a woman who, you know, and all of these people we did a lot of research. We put together videos. In fact part of the way we sold the show was presenting, you know, here’s the real people that are the equivalent of this.

Now with Rachel there is this one woman for example who has a very similar type of synesthete which allows her to perceive things with her senses that other people can’t. Admittedly it is a science fiction show so it’s all – Rachel is maybe ten times better than she is.

And certainly that woman doesn’t have the same downside although for example there was a very touching thing where she talked about her inability to go to certain public places because sound is color to her, it would overwhelm her and she could not deal in big public situations. So for Rachel, and we talked with Azita a lot about this, it’s incredibly close to reality albeit, we need to push it at times.

Gary, I don’t know that there is a person out there like Gary. There’s certainly people who can perceive different wavelengths that others can’t. There’s people who can hear things that others can’t. I do think his ability is probably the one that we most took a leap with, I mean, just to be – just to divide them up. His is the one where we said we haven’t found a person like this but what if they existed.

On the decision to make Gary autistic in addtion to his “power”

Zak: Well obviously that one really came out of the research and having read all of Oliver Sacks’ books. So, between An Anthropologist on Mars and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and all the other fascinating books he has written, the more we talked about – first of all one of the things that fascinated us was the idea that these kind of repeated stereotype movements that you sometimes see in people who are autistic.

I know people who are autistic so it’s a pretty common thing. We just thought wouldn’t it be fascinating if there was a secret language going on behind that.

And as Warren could attest, Ryan has created that secret language, I mean, he is the one who knows it. So when we have questions about it we call him. And we have worked with a number of doctors to make his portrayal incredibly accurate.

But I will tell you that we felt like really we were looking for in every case where we came up with an alpha ability, we tried to say like if this were in Oliver Sacks’ study, you know, if this were about a guy who could draw incredibly well, what is the most likely problem or what part of his brain would have suffered.

I mean, there’s a thing about Einstein, I don’t know if it’s apocryphal but I believe it’s true that they found, you know, after he died when they looked at his brain that the part of his brain that controls like visual and spatial understanding was enormously, it was much bigger than it should have been in a normal person.

And other parts of his brain were slightly smaller which explains why he didn’t speak until he was – they thought Einstein was mentally challenged until he was five or six years old because his speech was so bad.

So for Gary the strength of his ability and the nature of it we felt like the amount of stimulus that would have caused, it seemed only natural that he would have the kind of autism spectrum disorder that he has as opposed to someone for example like, Warren’s character with Hicks, with hyperkinesis didn’t seem like it would lead to that kind of problem. So it really was organic I would say.

On how influential his experience with comic books was/is on the show

Zak: I’ve been reading the X-Men comics since I was, I don’t know, six so I think it’s burned into my brain in a way that is inextricable. When I did an improvisational comedy about (Burner Hurtsog) I found that I was doing stuff that felt like it had some sort of antecedent X-Men which don’t ask me to explain that further.

But, all that stuff has been such a big part of my life and even my professional life so there’s no question that it lurks there in the background and that universe is so rich.

I will say that there’s a lot of different stories obviously that touch on people who have unusual abilities. A number of them have been raised in these questions. The key is differentiating them, the key is making sure that you’re not starting in the same universe with the same type of people.

And so, I actually think in a lot of ways I very consciously said, in fact they kind of get sick of me in the writer’s room because I’ll say we cannot do that, that was in X-Men, no, that character can’t say that, that’s exactly what he says in X-Men. And after a while (Ira) jokes with me, he’s like between Star Trek, X-Men, all the shows that all of us have worked on we’d never be able to write anything if that was our criteria.

But for me personally I do try to – I’m always conscious of let’s try not to do what has been done well elsewhere. Let’s try to do something different.
Don’t forget, Alphas premieres tonight on Syfy, with a 90-minute premiere at 10/9c!

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