Based on the successful short fantasy film “The Portal”, Jonathan Williams’ eight part Canadian fantasy comedy web series “Riftworld Chronicles”, starring Tahmoh Penikett (“Battlestar Galactica”, “Continuum”, “Supernatural”) as the hapless wizard Alar of Caer Caladh, and Erin Karpluk (“Rookie Blue”, “Saving Hope”, “Being Erica”) as Kim, the journalist who slowly comes to believe that Alar may not actually be the lunatic she thinks he is, has just aired its trailer at this year’s SDCC. The web series premiered 13th July 2015.
By David Paul Mitchell, @HellingsOnFilm for SFFWorld.com
DPH: Hello, Erin: many thanks for giving us some time here. Welcome to SFFWorld.
EK: Thanks, David. Nice to ‘meet you’ – happy you enjoyed “Riftworld”!
DPH: I’ve just watched the eight episodes of Season One and really enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun. Going back to the beginning, how did come to be involved with the original short film “The Portal”?
EK: It’s a pretty funny story. Tahmoh and I have known each other for 15 (plus;) years – we’ve been in acting classes together, we’ve been roommates, we even went camping together, but we’ve never worked together. My manager sent me a script for a short film that Tahmoh and his “friends” were doing, and said they wanted me to be part of it. Of course, I jumped at the chance to work with T-Dog, and especially because the script required him to sport a wizard cape and essentially take the piss out of his hunky sy-fy persona. I liked the part of Kim, but was so stoked to see T do some comedy! Two days into shooting he asked, “Pickle, how do you know these guys?” I almost spit out my soda. “They’re your friends, aren’t they,” I replied. We pieced it together that our up-and-coming producers (who we now love to bits) spun some of their own magic to get us both on board and in Toronto. If not for that miss-information, I may not have been part of this incredible experience. So, thanks & well played First Love Films! xo
DPH: What was it about “The Portal” that gained such a fan following, do you think?
EK: I think “The Portal” is unique in that it blends a bunch of genres. I am drawn to the Rom-com style of writing. Half-hour comedy has always been my dream, mixed with the Sy-Fy elements that Alar brings to earth. I describe “The Portal” as “Crocodile Dundee” meets “Game of Thrones” … maybe throw in a little “When Harry met Sally”. Older references, I know, but classics!
DPH: Fans of “The Portal” very keen to see it expand beyond a short. How quickly were you aware that this was a project that was popular and what happened next in the process of moving from short film to web series?
EK: I can’t speak for Tahmoh, but I never thought the show would have life after the short. As an actor, I always keep moving forward and try not to invest into projects until they are happening. When I wrapped “Rookie Blue” last year I received scripts for the web series. I read them the next week on the plane ride back to LA, and was dying laughing the whole trip! As soon as I landed, I text Tahmoh and said, “We need to make this happen!” Luckily our schedules fit & production was able to make everything work, and a month later I was back in Toronto filming “Riftworld: Chronicles”.
DPH: How involved in the process were you? Did Jonathan Williams keep you up to speed with how things were progressing?
EK: We are very fortunate that Jonathan is not only incredibly talented as a writer and director, but is also open to suggestions we might have. With that said, there was very little we needed to change from the initial scripts because they were so strong. I love his style of writing – the words literally fall out of my mouth. Kim is very much in my wheelhouse to play. Jonathan is a very efficient & calm director, and has an impeccable vision. He also put up with the two of us – we are a bit of a side-show when we get together because of our history as friends. Tahmoh & I are lucky to have extensive experience shooting and didn’t mind doing things “quick and dirty” as they say. Meaning, if we could get more shot in less time without sacrificing the artistic integrity, we were all for it! For being a substantial player in the Sy-Fy community and having worked on very high profile shows, Tahmoh has very little ego, and is a complete professional to work with. He was always running his lines & accent in the morning (while I was still sleeping;), and never once complained about running around Toronto with only a cape on in freezing December! Brrrr. We didn’t have trailers on this show, for budgeting reasons, so he would always throw down his winter jacket for me to sleep on in the lunchroom – such a gentleman!
DPH: The eight part web series has just begun. One of the key changes is that Kim is now a magazine fact checker and struggling journalist rather than a travel agent. What brought about that change and how do you think it’s affected the character for the better?
EK: Again, I give kudos to Jonathan for making the right changes that allowed for a smooth transition from short to series. If Kim was stuck in a travel agency, we would be limited on her mobility and motives to follow & ‘help’ Alar. I really liked that he expanded her world to incorporate her brother Wes, played by Munro Chambers. He was such an awesome addition to our cast & super fun to work with! We were very lucky to have the caliber of actors that joined us, even in smaller roles. All of the performances really elevated the show – we are so grateful for their time and talent.
DPH: You’ve played a lot of dramatic roles. What are the challenges in working with a comedic script?
EK: Hmmm. I would say timing. Comedy is surprisingly technical. You can tell when it feels “off.” If things aren’t gelling, sometimes they can make or break a comedic performance in editing … but nothing feels better for me as an actor, then playing a fast paced game of word ping pong with a good actor. Sigh. Love, love, love it. It’s also so much easier to make people laugh with a great script, as opposed to “polishing the turd” as some industry folks might say Again, thank you to Jonathan for cleaver words & a smart script!
DPH: In “The Portal” we see a conclusion in which Alar and Kim do have a future beyond the portal. Has Jonathan given you any clues as to where the relationship is heading in “Riftworld Chronicles”?
EK: Nope! I never like to know what is going to happen until right before we shoot it. On “Being Erica” we’d often get our scripts just days before shooting, and I never wanted the wardrobe department to spill the beans! Unless you need time to prep & create, I like to be surprised.
DPH: In “The Portal” we do get a sense that Alar does actually have powers. So far in the web series, that’s still very much open in terms of does he/doesn’t he? Was that a conscious change to take more time based on having more episodes in which to develop that possibility? If so, how did that change affect the dynamic between the two characters?
EK: Hmmm. I’m going to say yes, that it was a conscious choice on Jonathan’s part not to focus on the ‘magic’ element just yet. Introducing things too early might paint us into a corner. The web-series in general is a much slower burn than the short in terms of developing our characters and their back-story. By the end of “The Portal”, Kim and Alar have a five-year-old child for goodness sake! Haha Talk about moving fast. I do miss that green dress, though. Sigh. If we continued with the show on whatever level, I would love to see Kim struggling in Alar’s world at some point as a parallel to all the conflicts he’s gone through here on Earth.
DPH: Jonathan’s script really allows supporting characters to have their moments in very funny ways. What were some of your favourite scenes to play in Season One?
EK: Agree! I’m glad you touched on that. As I mentioned before, our supporting cast was EXTRODINARY! I loved my scenes with Wes (Munro Chambers) – I have a brother in real life and I’m good at sibling banter! Wes would always throw it right back at me; he’s a great talent. The scene in the hospital was fun to shoot – we were all a bit delirious and it was hard not to crack up in the middle of takes. I haven’t seen any of the episodes yet, but in ADR I caught a glimpse of the subway scene – Tahmoh cracked me up!
DPH: If you could offer your characters any advice, what would it be?
EK: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
DPH: The fantasy genre is hugely popular. We’re seeing this with series such as “Game of Thrones” and in the gaming community. Amongst the biggest selling books last year was the new editions of the “Dungeons and Dragons” rulebooks. Have you ever been interested in the fantasy genre before your involvement with “The Portal” and “Riftworld Chronicles”?
EK: Yep! I’m not a fan of sci-fi to watch, per se, but I love acting in fantasy genre. Loved shooting “Taken”, “Supernatural”, “Dark Angel”, and even had a small part on Tahmoh’s show “Battlestar Gallactica”, but got blown up in the pilot so couldn’t return! Haha. It’s the best possible make-believe, and I get to do it for a living! At the time of my high school reunion, I was shooting a movie called “Wyvern”. My classmates who are teachers & welders & wardens all joked that me ‘chasing dragons’ was not a real job! If someone has to do it, I’m happy it’s me.
DPH: You’re a very busy working actor. How easy or not was it to schedule shooting for “Riftworld Chronicles”?
EK: It was a stroke of magic (see what I did there;) that our schedules all meshed. I just wrapped “Rookie Blue” and Tahmoh was heading home from a convention in Australia, and production was awesome enough to make it happen before our Christmas vacation.
DPH: Can you tell us a little about the working process of “Riftworld Chronicles”? Time is always gold during production, but did you get any input during the script or production stages?
EK: We were both happy with the script and also happy to hit the ground running. I like shooting fast, which helps when you have a smaller budget.
DPH: What was the average shooting day like?
EK: Organized chaos, coffee runs, setbacks, solutions, collaboration, laughs, lunchtime power naps, more laughs, hard work, and occasionally grabbing a post-shoot beer with the crew. Sleep, study, and repeat!
DPH: As you probably know, in the UK and Europe, the arts have seen major cuts in terms of Government support. I get the impression that Canada still very much understands the importance of the arts and is prepared to back them. Is that the case?
EK: In the past few years there have been major cutbacks made to the CBC. Many people have lost their jobs and the arts have completely suffered as a result. Through it all, some good minds and big hearts are fighting very hard to keep producing quality shows to entertain our great nation! It’s frustrating, but as artists, we have to adapt and accept we live in a time where we have to work a little harder, and risk a little more. And hopefully one day, things will turn around. The arts are incredibly important to society. I feel very grateful to have a job when I do! I Web-series are a sign of the changing times; they are a great way to make quality programming in a more cost effective & easily accessible way. That’s one plus.
DPH: have you noticed any major differences between working creatively in Canada as opposed to other countries?
EK: I find very little difference shooting between Canada and the USA. There is more difference shooting between Vancouver and Toronto, than Toronto and LA! The only time I’ve really noticed a major difference is shooting overseas – usually lingo, food, and set etiquette.
DPH: Final question: what challenges would you like to see for your characters in Season Two or if, as is hoped, “Riftworld Chronicles” does get to make it into a one hour per episode series? Are there any particular scenarios? And any particular types of villain of monsters that appeal to you?
EK: I do hope to see more shenanigans in store for Alar and Kim. On what medium, I’m undecided. We are just excited for fans to finally see this! If there is a good response, the fans want more, and the same team is involved, I’m in! We really hope you enjoy “Riftworld” as much as we had fun making it!
DPH: Erin, many thanks for taking the time and best wishes for “Riftworld Chronicles”.
This interview originally appeared on SFFWorld: