Sci-fi, and Syfy the network, have been very good to Grant Bowler this year. The actor was part of the publicity kick-off at San Diego Comic-Con last year for “Defiance,” the transmedia science fiction TV show and video game by Syfy and developer Trion Worlds. Then, nine months after it was publicly introduced with much SDCC fanfare, the show debuted last April and was met with solid ratings and largely positive reviews.
Now, a year after its public introduction, “Defiance” wrapped its first season on Monday, and the show is heading back to Comic-Con next week – but this time, it will return as a success. After proving itself, the show returns to San Diego with a panel moderated by Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post on Friday at 10:30 a.m. in Room 6A. After the con wraps, the cast goes into production to film the second season of the sci-fi western about a post-war terraformed Earth shared by humans and multiple alien species.
Bowler will resume his duties as lead in the ensemble as Nolan, a hero with a troubled past. The Australian-raised actor has a long list of credits to his name, including as Connor Owens, the fiendish exec from “Ugly Betty,” but genre fans remember him more as Captain Gault from “Lost” and the werewolf Cooter from “True Blood.”
Bowler joined MTV Geek to look back on Season One of “Defiance,” as well as sharing a little about next season. And being a con mainstay, he went in depth about bringing “Defiance” back to San Diego.
MTV Geek: What has “Defiance” added to the genre?
Grant Bowler: Oh, where to start? I think we can start with the synthesis of the game and the show because that goes all the way back to the genesis of the idea – and that idea of having two entry points into the same story is completely new. What comes along with that is a slightly different mindset where, because we’re crafting elements from the two different media, we’re probably attempting stuff with the show that is of a scale that we’re often terrified of. What we’ve tried to do and what we’ve executed, very well, is having a show that is true science fiction that manages to hold both a very visceral environment – with the town and the badlands – and hold on to the idea of the epic.
Geek: Have you thought about the legacy of the show so far?
Bowler: If it has a future legacy, I think the blend of genre that’s slightly frontier, Western elements, post-apocalyptic – that mix is really well done. And we haven’t left earth to do it, and I think that’s a slightly new and different take on science fiction.
Geek: Is there a fan base you’ve noticed coalescing around the “Defiance”?
Bowler: What’s interesting is, before we started, there was a lot of focus on comparison. When people are thinking about tuning into something, they want to know what it’s going to be like. The only way people can contextualize that for themselves is to compare. I was always intrigued by the comparisons of Defiance early on. What I’m loving now is the fan base that, although they reference other science fiction, they’re starting to get a hold of how the show is an entity all its own, and the conversation is becoming internally driven. That’s when I think your fan base is defined.
Geek: Last year at Comic-Con there was a lot of signage and buzz built around the show, nearly a year before the show debuted. So what are you looking forward to this year at San Diego?
Bowler: I’m looking forward to the conversation with fans, first of all. Last year it was very much about, “Well, this is what we’re going to do.” Yeah, we had incredible support from the network and the studio, and from Trion, before we came out. Journalists and press were very much excited by what we were trying to do, and got behind us. Now it is interesting for me, as a practitioner and as an actor, we can have the conversation with the audience. Where do you want to see the show go? What do you think? How does it read to you? What do you see as the major story, hook or draw of the show? That’s the great thing about comic-con, man, you’re out amongst your viewers – and probably the most educated set of fans.
Geek: How did your involvement with “Lost” or “True Blood” prepare you for taking on a leadership role with a show that is steeped in lore and continuity?
Bowler: One thing I’ve learned over the years, going in and out of other people’s shows, is that every successful show has its own rhythm, its own musicality in how it’s played, how it’s shot, how it’s directed. There is an aesthetic that is filtered through everything, and that’s what we’ve managed to grab a hold of, I believe. All the creative are on the same page, and the band is all playing the same song. As an actor, I’ve always tried to figure out what song we’re trying to play, and where I fit into that. The opportunity to lead the cast and be involved at such an early stage was perfect timing because I’d become very passionate about those ideas that, I believe, work for an audience. From the very beginning, I was not only concerned that we had a rich and deep mythology – and there are minds far superior to mine working on that – but also that we all exist in the same world, right from the beginning.
Geek: Can you discuss the change in your journey from landing the job to filming, and from not knowing how it’d be received to it getting renewed?
Bowler: There is a certain focus to starting a show. In my career, particularly back home, I think I’ve been in the original cast of maybe half a dozen television shows – and a few of them have been really successful. I’ve been very lucky to be able to witness that chemical process happen. You’re operating in such a vacuum when something starts off. You’re nowhere near your audience, and the time lag between shooting and putting it in front of them … we had shot the entire [season] long before it was in front of an audience. You’re taking very educated stabs in the dark based on your own tastes and experiences. Now that the first season has gone up, and been very successful and we’ve had a lot of feedback from the audience, now it gets exciting in the sense that we know what we do well. We know where we want to go next, where we can go further. It is more directed, and we can see a much clearer vision on who we are.
Geek: Do you ever feel a pang of guilt for your costars who have to endure long makeup applications?
Bowler: No! And they probably don’t feel guilty on the days they’re home watching the TV and I’m shooting. It’s all turns and roundabouts. But I’m very lucky; I do pity them with having to sit in the chair and be patient for two hours. I could never do that. But they may get there before me but I’m normally there long after they leave. You all pitch in and all do your thing in your different way. There are aspects to wearing prosthetics, especially in summer, or wearing contacts lenses, so I do feel sorry for them. But they’re having a ball.
Geek: You are heading back into production shortly after comic-con; what evolution would you like to see your character or the show experience for the next season?
Bowler: What I can say is that it’s going to be a very different Defiance — the town of Defiance, certainly. Nolan and Irisa, their priorities are very different than in Season One. As far as where we started off in the first season with our belief in Nolan as one of the Defiant Few and reluctant good guy, we’re going to have a much more, um … complex character to deal with.
Geek: Any old friends you’re looking forward to catching up with at comic-con?
Bowler: Oh yeah. I always love catching up with whomever I can find from “Lost,” and I always love catching up with the True Bloodies. I tend to have dinner with them every time we do comic-con. A couple of them are really good mates that I see a lot, but seeing the entire cast together – and doing pretty much every comic-con – is awesome.