ComingSoon.net got a chance to talk to “Bionic Woman” star Michelle Ryan (“EastEnders”) and executive producer David Eich (“Battlestar Galactica”) on Friday about the anticipated NBC series.
In the show, Ryan plays Jaime Sommers, a struggling bartender and surrogate mom to her teenage sister. She didn’t think life could get much harder. But when a devastating car accident leaves her at death’s door, Jaime’s only hope for survival is a cutting-edge, top-secret technology that comes at a hefty price. With a whole new existence and a debt to re-pay, Jaime must figure out how to use her extraordinary abilities for good, while weighing the personal sacrifices she will have to make. Ultimately, it’s Jaime’s journey of self-discovery and inner strength that will help her embrace her new life as the Bionic Woman.
Also starring are: Miguel Ferrer (“Crossing Jordan”) as Jonas, the man who employs Jaime’s boyfriend; Chris Bowers (“Rescue Me) as Will, Jaime’s boyfriend, who performs the operation; Will Yun Lee (“Witchblade”) as Jae, the specialized operations leader; and Molly Price (“Third Watch”), as Ruth, Jonas’ second-in-command. “Bionic Woman” is produced by Universal Media Studios and executive-produced by David Eick (“Battlestar Galactica”), Glen Morgan (The X-Files), and Jason Smilovic (“Lucky Number Slevin”).
Q: Hi Michelle, can you tell us about some of the crazy action stunts you’ve had to do so far on “Bionic Woman?”
Michelle Ryan: Wow, I have had so many incredible action sequences. The stunt coordinator has been coming up with some dynamic moves for Jaime. There is a lot of flying spinning kicks. They had me up in a harness yesterday. I am on another harness today doing these sorts of crazy stunts. Yeah, I am a real adrenaline junkie. I absolutely love doing it. And as much as possible, I’ll do my own stunts. There are lots of punches with a whole big sequence with Antonio Pope and Jaime where he tries to put the animal instinct in Jaime. That’s a really dynamic hard core fight.
Q: Are you doing any of the super running and jumping in the scenes yet?
Ryan: Yes, there are lots of high speed running and lots of jumping. I think my dance training comes in very handy because I have good flexibility and we have started doing these big flying spinning kicks. I think they are looking really dynamic and sharp on the screen. I’m just sort of learning the fights before I go on the set. I’m quickly preparing and then we are shooting and it is moving very fast.
Q: Can you give us a preview about the first meeting between Jaime and the character Isaiah Washington and where it goes from there?
Ryan: Initially Antonio Pope comes in and he’s quite threatening towards Jaime and abrupt. There is this whole triangle between Jae, Jaime and Antonio. Jae is trying to keep Jaime in touch with the human side and the spiritual side of herself so she doesn’t lose her identity as a human being. Whereas Antonio Pope is saying that you need to get into the machine and bring out the animal instinct otherwise your human side is your weak side. That is where the fight comes in where he and Jae are trying to train Jaime and they have very different styles of training her. Antonio Pope crosses the line when he does something that really offends Jaime. He completely flips out and that is when this really intense fight comes out. He does bring out the animal instinct in Jaime.
Q: As a self proclaimed adrenaline, is that what attracted you to take on the role of Jaime Sommers in “Bionic Woman”?
Ryan: It absolutely drew me to the role. When I read the script I just felt like connecting with Jaime on every level. The fact that she has this strength and feistiness and she also has this vulnerable side. I feel like with the script there’s an even flow of Jamie taking two steps forward and then two steps back. I love the fact that she gets to do these stunts. It gives you a real buzz as you go through the week.
Q: Is there any particular stunt that you would like to tackle on the set that you haven’t done yet?
Ryan: What I think is coming up is in water sequences. I had a chat with a lot of the writers and I thought wouldn’t it be great if Jaime had this sort of scene like where she falls into the water. I think that is coming up so I guess I should be careful for what I wish for.
Q: This question is for David and Michelle. What do you make of the fact that since the first “Bionic Woman” show was on TV decades ago that a lot of the science fiction back then is simply science today?
David Eich: Well, there is actually a line in the script about that and how science fiction isn’t science fiction anymore. We constantly struggle to be honest in the writers’ room to stay current. It seems the more and more that you come up with a crazy idea, you realize the reality is even crazier and that you are actually being too tame. The risk you run, of course, is that something just so hard to believe, even if they are true, they don’t play as true. So striking a balance between not just what is scientifically possible, but what feels scientifically believable, is part of the challenge. We walk that line which makes it a really interesting problem to try to tackle in the genre.
Q: Growing up in England, did you have any familiarity with the original series?
Ryan: I remember seeing a couple of pics of as a child in England and thinking that Lindsay Wagner was a very nice pretty lady. But, that is the only memory I have of it.
Q: What’s at the heart of Jaime that made you want to play her? Do you want her to be all science or more of a human being with her pregnancy, her having to take care of her younger sister and the emotions of having to readjust to a new life?
Ryan: I think it is absolutely the human side… Yes, she has these super abilities, but at the core of it, there is a woman’s journey of self discovery and her right to empowerment. I feel like I am on that journey. I just felt an instant connection. I know this young character (Vivian), who also has sudden abilities, she comes along farther down the series and Jaime takes her under her wing immediately. She is very compassionate and she questions every step of the way when Jonas and Antonio say, ‘We are the good guys.’ She questions everything. I love that. She is just this very grounded multi-layered character and person. That’s why I felt, yeah, there is so much potential to play with her character, aside from the action sequences. The sci-fi element at the core of it is this human being who has got so much depth. That’s the woman I want to be like. I want to find my voice and I want my voice to be strong and confident. I feel playing Jaime is helping me get there.
Q: There is a ton of sci-fi and fantasy shows on the network TV this fall. What are your thoughts on that and what might be behind it? Was it because “Heroes” and “Lost” were successes, or are people rebelling against reality shows in general?
Eich: Certainly in the case of “Bionic Woman,” it is sort of in its own category because you are talking about a remake. In addition to whether it is sci-fi or fantasy, you are also remaking a title that kind of puts it in its own category which will get it attention for that reason. I have only worked in the last five years in genre programming. It’s not the limit of my experience or appetite, but it is just where I have been for a while. You get a little myopic being in that world. It’s hard for me to say what might motivate other creators, writers or programmers to also move in that direction. I would characterize these times as troubling, to put it mildly and I don’t think that is any coincidence that you are seeing a lot more escape in fantasy in storytelling.
Q: Can you elaborate more on the relationship between Jaime and her sister? David, do you think it is important to have that human element to contrast the sci-fi elements?
Eich: Yeah. I think for sure the tone or goal of the show is a very kind of grounded humanistic story. It is about people and you should be able to feel like you can look out your own window and see these events taking place. To be bionic escapes this quality and becomes a unique thing as opposed to embedded in the aesthetic of the world you are in. Sort of like “Buffy” or “Dark Angel” or a show where you are dealing with a universe that is altogether unique or different. This is our universe in which this unusual character has suddenly emerged.
Q: Do you think the original “Bionic Woman” from the 1970s show would still work in today’s world?
Eich: No, of course not. The angle of that show had a lot to do with different social movements in the culture like women’s lib. There was a great deal of talk about can a woman do what a man can do, and can she be valued for the same except that a man can’t? While that debate or discussion is hardly over, it’s less of a question now in the minds of most people. Perhaps the question now is that once a woman has done everything a man can do is she judged differently? What does that make us think of her? That was part of the motivation for this character. In addition, I think I was really curious about whether you could rather than relying on that tried and true formula; you have an action girl she has got to be a real ass kicker. And real intimidating in your face to prove to you that she is not going to be underestimated. What if you didn’t do that? What if you took the Peter Parker approach, which was she’s a girl whose abilities are shocking and unusual and difficult to juggle as they would be to you and me. She is out of sorts with her powers and is uncertain how to use them. She doesn’t know whether to choose to be at home with her sister or to go on some crazy mission for this organization. That became a very unique approach to it versus just the sort of black and white approach.
Q: What were the challenges of fighting Katee Sackoff on that rooftop in the rain?
Ryan: I think it was rain that was freezing cold. I love working with Katee and she is absolutely brilliant. She has so much energy and we get along so well. I think the biggest challenge was purely the rain. Katee is a very good fighter and I pick up routines very quickly. We have some amazing fight sequences coming up in some of David Eick’s new scripts. We have such a good time working together. There is such a good dynamic energy and chemistry.
Q: This show is such a high profile series. How are you dealing with all of the attention that you are getting? Or is it something that you were prepared for?
Ryan: With having spent five years on “East Enders” I felt like it was the best apprenticeship because the show was watched by twenty million viewers an episode. I joined the show at sixteen so I kind of felt like that was a dress rehearsal for this moment. I’m kind of in a little cocoon in Vancouver working all hours. People e-mail me pictures of the big billboards and I feel kind of detached, which is good because I concentrate purely on the work. I come into L.A. and do some PR. It’s like, wow, this is all real. It’s happening and it’s huge. I’m enjoying the ride and trying to focus on doing the best that I can do. I’m giving all of myself and I am absolutely loving it. I feel like a kid getting to live out of my childhood fantasies. It’s great.
Q: Tell us a little bit about how you worked to make this character your own, apart from the original Bionic Woman.
Ryan: I know Lindsay Wagner became an icon for doing it. She was incredible. I’m not trying to be her. I’m using my own interpretation. I love the fact that this is a strong young female character. It gives a great message. Purely because it is well liked I feel like the character–you’ve got Jaime making scrambled eggs for her sister and breaking the eggs. And you’ve got her on these missions and really scared before she uses her bionic abilities. I just connected with the character when I read the script so I’m doing it from the heart and hope that people will identify with Jaime as I do. I’m just focusing on what I need to do and put it out there and see what happens.
Q: Did you do any research on people who have been badly injured in accidents and suffered a loss of limb to understand what it is like to go through those circumstances?
Ryan: I didn’t. I feel like with each stage Jaime learned something new. I specifically have not done that because Jaime is trying to deal with her sister. She is trying to deal with a boyfriend that wasn’t entirely honest with her. She is learning as she goes along. So I feel like with each new step, that’s when I will sort of sit down and work things out when Jaime views something new for the first time… Even with the pilot each stage where Jaime improves, I’m getting better with my things. I’ll let it come along organically as the character evolves and learn more. I am well aware of what is going on in the world with the fact that technology has advanced so much with cloning and I’m hearing about a man who has a bionic hand and how it moves as our hands do. With reading and the media, all the time we hear about things that seemed impossible thirty years ago is now actually not so impossible. As we go along I am learning more all the time.
Q: The show has gone through some changes and revisions. Can you tell talk about the process on how you got to this point and where do you see it going for the rest of the season?
Eich: One of the things I learned very early on in my career when I was running a television company for Sam Raimi was that in genre, so to speak, whether it is horror, sci-fi or fantasy, there is so many connotations of what you are doing and more over what you are not doing. People will bring in their own perspective to that. Some people will come in thinking if it’s got some super strength it must mean it has to be kind of funny and kooky. People come in a say we’ve got someone with a tortured soul who’s had this thing perpetrated on her then it has to be very dark and twisted. Other people might say it should be very female and soft. I’m not just speaking about this show but I think it applies to all genre material. Defining the show is a very tricky thing. Having done non-genre shows like cop shows or detective shows or whatever, I think it is a different exercise and finding the people, not just people get it, but defining what the ‘it’ is that you want everyone to get is its own separate endurance test. This is no different than the genre shows I’ve done and there is a lot of turnover in the process. That is just the way it works.
Q: David, you mentioned that you and the writers are constantly striving to balance between science fiction and science fact. Have you taken any of the medical technology headlines that stuck out and sparked some story ideas in the writers’ room?
Eich: The answer is yes, although I’ve got a small group of guys on the writing staff that do that, but by the time it gets to the writers’ room it is just an idea. I don’t know the specifics of where it came from. I couldn’t give you chapter or verse of what we were inspired by. There is a book we made everyone read that is about groundbreaking technology. One of the examples was some group had figured out a way to inject a computer into the larvae of a moth so that when the moth became a moth, you could use the joy stick and control where it went. There are certainly a great number of stories like that that gives you inspiration. We use them for sure.
Q: Have you met or heard from Lindsay Wagner since you got this role?
Ryan: I haven’t heard from Lindsay Wagner. Everyone asks in interviews if you’ve met her and I say, ‘No, but I’d like to. She seems like a very nice lady.’
Q: Does your being English bring anything different to the role?
Ryan: I don’t necessarily think it does. I identify with Jaime as a young woman. I think that goes universally. It doesn’t matter where you are from. It’s the strength that she has and this inner steeliness mixed with and a soft side that as a young woman I can identify with. I don’t know if it necessarily brings anything different being English. You’d have to ask David if he thinks I bring anything different, I don’t know.
Eich: Absolutely nothing. Nothing different whatsoever. No, not in the show.
Q: Moving out from the U.K. do you find yourself kind of parallel to the character like being out on your own?
Ryan: Yeah. I feel definitely a connection. I feel like I am on a journey of self-discovery. I’ve moved out of home. My parents are actually here this week, but I’ve had two-and-a-half months on my own. I do feel like I’m learning all the time like Jaime is. I do feel like it is helpful being away from home with no distractions. I can be free to do my work and I feel like I am at the same turning point as Jaime is.
Q: Can you comment about Glen Morgan leaving and how that will change things for you day to day and will you take a short break to figure things out in the process?
Eich: We don’t have a short break planned yet. Although you always look for opportunities to give yourself time to catch up on scripts, even if there are surprises. On just about every show I have ever done we’ve taken a week that was unplanned and unbudgeted and you get the studio to pay for it. You sort of shut things down and go on hold just to catch up or adjust your navigation. I don’t that yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we did. It would be unusual if we did. As for Glen, things will change because he is a very specific personality with great leadership skills and a real clear vision of the show. To some extent some of that is going to undergo some adjustment. He is going to be missed. I think we all agreed that what he was helping to build toward the show to come was quite good and valuable. We will be using a great deal of it.
Q: Will the show have a bad guy per episode or will there be stories that run through the entire season?
Eich: Every episode has a beginning and an end, but there are certain elements to it. You can ideally pop into the series midway through and get a sense of a clear story and is enjoyable in a narrative context. For those fans following the show each week there is a larger story being unraveled as those episodes continue. The bad guys as it were are of a variety that includes what we call black science. People in a classic science fiction context looking to take advantage of advanced technology for ill will. This group and organization has been created for that specifically. As often as not, Jamie will go on a mission that is altogether her own where is perhaps trying to investigate something that might reveal a mystery about her new way of being, her bionics, her life expectancy, whether or not she is going to be able to live a normal life and to what extent. Those stories will dovetail into the so called mission stories. Even in a mission story sometimes the organization will tell Jamie, ‘Here is your mission,’ and she will say, ‘No’ or she will say, ‘Okay, I like that aspect of it but not that.’ Or she will say, ‘Okay, I’ll take it, but only if I can do it my way.’ She is going to be receiving missions and going on them, but not necessarily in a straight forward way.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the responsibility and the pride you get from playing a character that is a good role model on TV?
Ryan: I just love the character. I feel of all the parts I have ever played, this is a favorite. I feel like it is great. I love the fact that Jaime is a tomboy. She is in her trousers and her jackets. Yes, she is sexy, and yes, she is smart, but she is very much a model woman in the fact that she doesn’t need to flaunt that. She doesn’t flirt to get what she wants. She is direct and smart. I am always drawn to strong characters. I watched Angelina Jolie on “Tomb Raider.” I feel good about myself. I want to be like that and I want to be strong. I hope that is what young girls will feel when they watch Jaime. I love the fact that she can’t cook and the fact that she has man trouble like everyone else. She has body image issues like most women do. I feel like she has all these bionic abilities, but she is very real. She is trying her best when she is going in and arguing with Jonas and she puts on this sort of bravado, but she is scared. When she goes on these missions and Antonio Pope is pushing her all the time. There are certain moments when she was really scared. She has to dig deep and find herself and find the inner strength. I feel like that is what I am doing and it is a great responsibility. I think it is very much in the writing how she is this strong and empowered young woman. It’s great.
Q: What was the process behind the special effects? Was there any talk about using the old slow motion and the sound effect when she moves?
Eich: We talked a lot about the slow motion thing in terms of things we knew we didn’t want to do. The goal is always to when you do a remake to look for details to reinvent. Oftentimes it is the larger purpose of the larger themes isn’t that different. In our case I would say they are more evolved past where they were in the late ’70s, but by and large it is still about a female point of view, a female perspective into an action adventure drama. That aspect of it remains but I think you are always looking for details to slant in different ways. With “Battlestar Galactica” we got a kick out of the fact that we are keeping the fighter pilot ships almost identical to what they were in the ’70s show, but making the “Battlestar Galactica” itself a complete departure. So that kind of thing is fun to do.
Q: David, in terms of acquiring Isaiah Washington for the cast, if it’s true that there is no such thing as bad publicity this has to be quite a coup for the show.
Eich: Sure, I didn’t realize it was bad publicity but it certainly is good for the show. He is a tremendous actor. Just in watching the dailies on a couple of really good cuts, he is really sensational. He kind of elevates everything around him and I think it is all good and I couldn’t be happier.
“Bionic Woman” will premiere on NBC Wednesday, September 26th at 9/8c.