Tricia Helfer talks CON MAN, conventions, and the double edged sword of playing an iconic sci-fi character
Earlier this year, Alan Tudyk hinted at his latest collaboration with Nathan Fillion in a conversation we were having about his other work. That collaboration, CON MAN, is officially available through Vimeo as of today! To celebrate the release of his crowdfunded comedy web series, I got on the phone to chat with guest star Tricia Helfer about what to expect, Re-Born doll conventions, going unrecognizable on the street, and the double-edged sword that results from playing an iconic character like Six. Check it out!
I watched the trailer for CON MAN, I think, 40 times since it premiered over the summer. When did you come on board in the process of Alan and Nathan putting this together?
I can’t remember if it was before Christmas or after Christmas, but it was around that time. I got an email from Alan saying that he, and PJ, and Nathan were writing this webseries about the convention circuit and that there was a character that he had me in mind for, and would I be interested in reading the script. Knowing that Alan is a very talented actor and a very talented writer, I thought, absolutely! [laughs] Send it over! He sent it over and I was laughing constantly, giggling through the whole script. I thought it was very funny. My initial concern was “oh I don’t know if I want to make fun of the fans” and I said that to him, and he was like, no, it’s making fun of everybody! It’s like the whole thing, the actors are made as much fun of, and the convention agents, and everything. It’s just a funny tongue-in-cheek look at the circuit and definitely when I read the script, I haven’t read all of them because my character is only in one of the four scripts that the webisodes are based off of, so I don’t know everything that goes on throughout the whole thing. I can’t wait until it comes out and I can see it myself! I’ll be watching it along with the fans as an observer. I immediately said yes, count me in. It was quite a few months, maybe 6 months I think, until we ended up shooting. Then a couple of months later, I heard about the crowdfunding and the explosion in the popularity of it, and the support that it received. I emailed him like “Is this what you were talking about? [laughs]” and he said yes, and so it was a couple of months after that that we ended up shooting and it was just a really fun experience.
It’s crazy how crowdfunding, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo where this was built, how that has changed the game in the past few years.
Yeah, and it’s still, sometimes, you’re approached a lot to spread the word about something, and it’s like, “ah, I don’t want to push people in a direction” and I don’t know if it’s something that will come out good, but because, first of all, I trust Alan, because I read the script and just thought it was really funny. Crowdfunding has its ups and its downs, right? It’s certainly changed the landscape of opportunities and things. I think this is a great example of something I think Alan said – he had approached networks and studios with it, and everybody wanted to change it, and they wanted to change his vision, and he’s like, but that’s not what I want to do, so I think with the success of this and hopefully the viewers enjoy it, and then the continued success of it, will change that. With the good, like this type of project, you also have certainly some films that have been crowdfunded and had great success, but there’s also the other side, as well.
Talk a little bit about who you are in CON MAN – what can we expect from you?
Because I’ve done a couple of SciFi shows, people will be expecting me to be in the Sci-Fi genre of it, and my character actually isn’t, which is something that was really fun for me. When Alan first said he was going to email the script, I said, ok, I’m probably going to be an alien in a red dress [laughs] or I’m going to be a robot or something, and then he sent it to me with the preface that it’s actually kind of based off of a true story. Not our characters interaction, but the scenario was that he had gone to, I think down in Florida, to a convention with Summer Glau and there was another convention at the same hotel as the SciFi convention, and okay, so what am I going to be playing? It was actually a doll convention. There’s conventions for everything, right, so, I hadn’t actually heard of this type of gathering or convention. I did research it a little bit – it’s not a doll collection in terms of you know, different dolls. It’s actually a convention of predominantly women that have very life-like babies that are called re-borns and many of them treat them as if they’re a real baby, so they take them out in public and they have them in strollers and they feed them, they bathe them, have rooms for them in their house. Some only have one; some will have a collection. But they treat them as real babies, so my character is a mother of a re-born baby.
Has to be fun to play something new!
Yes, I play something completely different which was fun for me as well. Obviously, to do comedy, and to play something in a convention show, about sci-fi conventions and here, I’m not anything to do with sci-fi which I thought was a lot of fun.
I look at the list of everyone that’s involved in the show, and it’s a who’s who of what we’ve seen, people we know we see when we go to conventions. Kind of a love letter to the fans.
I really do think people are going to enjoy it because it’s comedy. There’s an element of truth but then situations and scenarios are exaggerated. I think it’s a really funny take just the whole circuit. I think the fans are going to really like it. There will be things that have happened to them, elements of something. Alan’s character, his convention agent, played by Mindy Sterling, is not anything like any convention agent I’ve ever met [laughs] but it makes for some really good comedy, right? But then there are certain narratives that he goes through that are 100% accurate, so I think it will be intresting to people to go “oh yeah, I’ve been through,” or “oh yeah, I’ve seen that,” or “I know him!” that type of thing [laughs]. I think it will be enjoyable!
What else besides this do you have coming – wasn’t sure if you were working on any new series or new shows?
I don’t have any series happening right now; I was actually under hold with my last series for quite some time. I’m working behind the scenes trying to get a series up and running based off a series of books that I absolutely love, so we’re in the middle of pitch meetings and that type of thing right now. Otherwise, I did this movie ISOLATION and that’s coming out – with Luke Mably and Stephen Lang and Dominic Purcell; shot that earlier this year. Otherwise, just kind of looking for my next good fit, I guess!
We have seen you so often in the sci-fi world, even hearing your voice in FALLING SKIES and things like that – was that a world you had been interested in, and wanted to gravitate towards, or are they the roles that you find interesting?
It’s certainly not something that I went towards. BATTLESTAR, I had just started acting and it was basically one of my first jobs, so that took up the first 5 years of my career. I was extremely fortunate that continued to be lauded and enjoyed, but it’s through that, I got involved in voice overs because literally my first video game was that they wanted the voice of Number Six, they thought it would be cool, so I got into voice acting because of that, and I built a career within that because you start to work with voice actors that then hire you for something else, cartoons, and things like that that have nothing to do with the sci-fi world. I’ve actually only ever done 2 sci-fi series; I’ve guested on like WAREHOUSE 13, but most of my other work has been not in the sci-fi genre. I just did ASCENSION that was back in the sci-fi genre this last year. Other than that, it’s been outside of the sci-fi genre, so it’s certainly not something that I just look towards. I had a lot of fun playing a Texas ranger. I’ve played lots of lawyers [laughs], played FBI in DARK BLUE and a spy in BURN NOTICE. Texas Ranger; I’ve done some pilots that haven’t ended up going to series, and things like that. I think when you get to know somebody through a certain genre, I think sometimes you don’t know the other shows that they go on. In this day and age, with the amount of channels and the amount of places to see things, unless you watch every single thing on TV, which I think is impossible, or every independent film that comes out, or whatever, you might miss people. I’ve changed my look, I don’t know what it is about my face, when I have different hair color, or different makeup on, people don’t even know that it’s me! I get asked that a lot of times, like “What have you done since BATTLESTAR?” I’m like…
A lot? [laughs]
[laughs] Exactly! I’m like, I’m not going to list it all! But I continue to work! [laughs]
I’d imagine it’s a bit of a double edged sword – people are so familiar with Number Six and the iconic imagery of her, but it’s like, I’m doing other stuff here, people! How is that to handle – do you embrace the “as long as someone’s watching me in something” or does it get frustrating?
It’s kind of a mixture of both actually. I look different from Six. I don’t have white hair [laughs]. Unless I walked around in a red dress and had white hair, most people don’t even know me from BATTLESTAR. It’s funny, Katee Sackhoff and I are good friends, and we ride motor bikes a lot. So many times, and she laughs about this as well, we will be standing beside each other, and somebody will come up to her like “Oh my gosh, Starbuck from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA!” not knowing that I’m Six. And she will actually say, you know this is Six? And they’re like, “what??” and then they go “Oh my gosh!” I have this chameleon quality that I’ve always thought was a blessing. I see myself more as a character actor; I just kind of become the part as opposed to “oh there’s that person playing that part.” I’m not necessarily recognizable in everything. I’ve always thought that would be career longevity [laughs] but I’m starting to think it’s the opposite. I can go out on the street and nobody knows, so that’s good, but it does kind of get frustrating; I won’t lie. I was at Dragon Con with a bunch of my costars, we had a big BATTLESTAR grouping at Dragon Con a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t know how many people came up to me and basically thought I hadn’t worked since BATTLESTAR. In one respect, it gets a little frustrating, because it’s like, no, I’ve done quite a bit [laughs]! It sort of attacks your ego, like “you haven’t worked” and I’m like, no…but I have!! [laughs] I pay my mortgage! I don’t have a side job [laughs]. I continue to do jobs. I have to laugh at it, but I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t kind of make me cringe every once in a while!