Athena Karkanis and Yul Vazquez Talk THE LOTTERY
I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with The Lottery’s Athena Karkanis (Chief of Staff Venessa Keller) and Yul Vazquez (President Thomas Westwood), and I was quite enlightened about this series.
Extinction of the Human Race?
First of all, how far fetched is it to think human beings will just stop giving birth, causing the human race to near extinction? It’s a concept Karkanis doesn’t think is far fetched at all. “It’s really a thing that a lot of women are dealing with,” she said. “And I think that’s true more so these days, because women are pursuing careers and waiting longer to have children. Just culturally, I think we’re maybe growing up slower. I think it’s definitely something more people are dealing with. Then, there’s the thing that women who had pursued careers suddenly find this infertility crisis hit, and they had no idea that it would happen. They sort of thought fertility would always be there for them. I mean, the premise is certainly more realistic than zombies. It’s also interesting to think that in reality today we’re dealing with issues of overpopulation. So, what an interesting way for this series to see our extinction.”
Vazquez agrees, “I think anybody with the desire to have a child or start a family, whether it’s a woman or a man, can relate to this show. I think it hits home on a lot of levels, for me anyways.”
But is motherhood something Karkanis sees Vanessa wanting some day? Karkanis says, “I think she’s maybe the only woman in the world of this show who isn’t desiring motherhood. I mean, I don’t know what they’re going to write in the future, but so far it’s not something that she’s been pursuing. I think part of it is that she had a very complicated childhood of her own, and she also has career ambitions. And I think she also sees this cause and trying to fix this problem that we’re all in as a real goal that she’s really focusing her energies on.”
Good Guy vs. Bad Guy
All that being said, are Vanessa and the President good guys or bad guys? Good guy/bad guy scenarios are sometimes not clearly defined in The Lottery, and Vanessa sees this as being true to life. “I think the writers have done a really good job of not writing people who are clearly good or clearly bad, because real people aren’t clearly good and clearly bad. Even Darius (Hayes, played by Martin Donovan), who seems like the bad guy, thinks he’s doing the best thing for the country and for the human race. I think everybody is kind of just doing what they think is best, even if that sometimes means that someone is going to lose or someone is going to get hurt. You weigh the pros and cons, and sometimes you have to make those choices, just as you do in life.”
Vazquez adds, “You also never see a character that you’re playing as the villain. As an actor, you can never do that.” He continues, “But, I can speak for the President, and there’s something coming up that I can’t talk about right now that will explain why he’s behaving like he is. It looks like he’s blind to the threat the military might pose to his Administration and to the country, but he’s not blind to it at all. He’s not blind to anything. He’s behaving in a particular way right now for another reason.
A Flawed Character
“You know, it’s interesting because we shot a scene in the pilot that for some reason they chose to cut, maybe because it hit the story a little bit more. But, anyway, it showed a very vulnerable side to the President. And that’s just one of the things that was interesting to me about this project. When Tim (Sexton) and Rick (Eid) came to me with the show, I told them it was important to me that they write to the effect that the President isn’t just a guy standing there, giving speeches, that you see the human side of the man. And I think that’s starting to come out.”
Vasquez says, “I think the President is aware of a lot of things that he’s probably not telling. And, like Athena said, these politically ambitious people at the end of the day are just humans. It’s not actually me playing the President. It’s me playing a flawed man who is like any of us. He has ambitions, and he happens to become the President and learn to deal with whatever that brings. He’s got his own personal demons, his own personal flaws.
“In some of the inner sanctum scenes in the White House with Vanessa and Darius in Langdon, you get to see the President react emotionally. I’m hoping that they bring in more of that. And, there’s a lot of stuff going on inside the President that you’ve not seen yet. It’s going to get a little contentious.”
As for Vanessa, Karkanis thinks she has aspirations of her own. “It’s sort of inferred in the pilot episode that she is maybe hoping to be President herself some day. Hopefully, anybody who’s in her position has a higher ambition, always kind of striving to be more. With Vanessa, you have to wonder if that’s behind her motivations for pitching The Lottery.”
The Beauty of The Series
Vazquez adds, “Here’s the thing. Athena and I wait for these scripts the same way that you wait for an episode to see what happens. Sometimes we don’t know what’s coming. And it’s exciting, because you have to work very, very quickly with very, very heavy issues. The writers are writing as fast as they can, and they’re working 24 hours a day. They’re literally editing that fast. It’s crazy what they’re doing. So, they get the stuff to us as quickly as they humanly can, and we literally get it the night before we start shooting.
“Another thing about this series is, I think it looks really, really beautiful. And that beauty’s only going to grow. The beauty is going to really look like a magical world. And I want to give a shout out to Bernard Couture, the Cinematographer of this show. He gets a lot of credit for capturing all that beauty.”
The Lottery airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.