HELIX: Mark Ghanimé and Catherine Lemieux Talk About Their Characters Sergio Balleseros and Doreen Boyle (2014)


Syfy’s virus-thriller series HELIX is pulling out all the stops as two of its primary characters look to be infected already. Safe so far are Major Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanimé) and Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux).  But as already seen, no one is safe. The attempts to quarantine and keep segregated the infected until a cure can be found has not worked.  Thus, it is up to Balleseros and Boyle to find the source of the virus as quickly as possible, if anyone is going to be saved.  But with artic monkeys and squirrely executives making both their jobs more difficult, it remains to be seen how successful they are.  In a recent press conference call, stars Mark Ghanimé and Catherine Lemieux provided their candid perspective on the creepy virus and where the show is headed.

Are we going to learn more backstory soon? Because it seems like Major Balleseros at least knows something, or has worked with Hatake to some extent.
MARK: I really hope you do and you just have to wait and find out as far as when the episodes get released. But there’s definitely going to be some interesting stuff developing with my character. He’s multifaceted, let’s just say. So we’re going to see some surprises. And we are going to learn as far as his background and where he comes from we’re going to learn some stuff with some twists.

Are you still working on that process or do you pretty much have an idea of who Balleseros is?
MARK:  I think that’s sort of a never-ending process. It’s just like trying to discover who you are and, as a person, you go through changes your life. When you’re 20 you’re a different person than when you are when you’re 40.  There is that process. For my character for the series, so far for the season I am done. We finished filming. But I do have some designs for Season 2, if that happens.  If everyone’s fortunate and everything aligns and we’re working on Season 2 and my character is around I’ve got some ideas for him, for sure. That’s something that I’m really looking forward to working on and to develop further. Definitely.

Can you talk about some of the like preparation you did for the role?
CATHERINE: I did a lot of computer work. Thank goodness for computers and the Information Age. I’m also very familiar with animals, as well. I’ve seen a lot of veterinarians with the various pets I’ve had in my life. So I think some of the research was actually just life experience I think in that sense. But I don’t know if a lot can prepare you for that kind of line of work of just going into nowhere and dealing with deadly diseases and fear and stuff.  We also had a vet on set. And she was great. She’s somebody that I could use a total resource. I considered that such a gift from production to be able to speak to somebody who actually is a veterinarian and who deals with that on a day to day basis. So that was really, really a great help.
MARK: For myself, it’s funny because just last year I finished a role on a project — kind of a passion project that I helped produce as well as acting — it was a soldier role. And my character in that show was sort of a slightly stripped-down version of Sergio Balleseros, so it was kind of neat because I did a lot of work previous going into that other project and it sort of helped carry on into this project so I was a bit more informed due to my previous work. And I just enjoy it. I mean, as a kid growing up playing with G.I. Joes and all that kind of stuff you always wanted to do these kind of roles or play these kind of characters in your play time. And then when I got into acting I thought it would be a blast to do this and play a doctor and play all these kind of different types of roles. But for Balleseros, in particular, there’s a bit of a darkness that I took on a bit more than my previous roles in any other stuff I’ve done so as far as the dialogue and the jargon goes from the military. I did some reading as far as ranking and how it goes and how you would pronounce certain words.  Then as we got into the show all the technical mumbo jumbo, all the science stuff, it was definitely something that myself and Catherine and everybody else had to really look at.

As far as developing Doreen’s personality, was that all in the scrip, or did you bring something to that?
CATHERINE:  It’s definitely a combination of those two things. I think what came from the script and what most of the writers gave to Doreen was definitely a kind of attitude.  The idea of someone having the character to just deal with working with disease and being able to relocate places like the Arctic takes a particular kind of personality trait, I think. So, for me, I kind of tapped into Doreen being kind of a hard lady — a kind of no-nonsense kind of lady — so that’s how I reached that.

How effective do you think that using fear and the element of hope with your characters in making them sympathetic to viewers?
CATHERINE: I think that that’s just a reflection of life.  Like life is a balance of those two things in a sense of fear and hope through that and of conquering the fears that we get. So I think that’s kind of like a true reflection, the show kind of reflects the balance of life that we all try to achieve. And we all have fears and we all have to face them in that sense. So it’s a very, very human experience in that. It also being a sci-fi experience and having this disease be completely unknown and completely from out of this world maybe, who knows.
MARK:  Exactly what Catherine says, and also the fact that if you look at some of the characters as we develop the story in the season, the people that get infected in the base, there is the fear and the hope that these people from the CDC can help them. It’s a very important storyline on the secondary and the guest star characters in the show. A lot of times you don’t see too much of the fear and the hope on the surface of the hero characters. But we have that support from the guest stars on our show. You really get to see what the true feelings are of these people in the space. And I think it is exactly human nature.

With a real world issue treated in a sci-fi manner, how do you retain the true gravity of that world?
MARK: The fact that what we’re doing in this show is not fantastical, is not supernatural, is not beyond the reach of the real world, I think that in itself lends a built-in fear in that it can happen.  You look outside your door and those things can occur; and I think that itself is enough to put the fear of God into people.
CATHERINE: The possibility of any situation that’s on television or on film or what have you is definitely the link with the audience in that sense. If an audience member can identify and see themselves in this problem that these characters are having then you really do have a connection.

It feels at times that there is a tiny bit of humor in Dorren and Balleseros odd-couple relationship. Was it always meant to be?
MARK: I think, obviously, part of it is due to the writing. They paired us up.  Dialogue-wise, they paired us up like that. But I had never met Catherine going into this project. But I was sort of met with open-arms and she’s a lovely woman. We had a lot of fun together. And I think just our comfortable behavior with each other just lent itself to what we put on film afterwards. It’s just a blast for myself. She’s got a wonderful background in theater and I had a blast learning from her so.
CATHERINE: I couldn’t have gotten through this project without the complicity that I had with Mark who, again, we didn’t know each other before this project. He’s just a really generous scene partner. I’m very new to working in television and so Mark was always just very, very, very helpful with that. As he said, I think we just developed a kind of relationship. I think Doreen is a bit like me and I’m a bit Doreen. So definitely that is a reflection of our actual relationship off-screen.

Does the epidemic expand into more of a conspiracy thriller mode with just cast we see now? Or does anyone else come in to make it more of an international conspiracy?
MARK:  If you remember in one of the first episodes when we’re coming down the elevator with Hatake, he describes how many scientists and doctors work in the Arctic Biosystem space, which lends up a lot of different types of people, ethnicities and backgrounds to bring the story to. And you will see through the guest stars throughout the show that there is a very good variety of people coming and going in any shape and form.

Does that mean that we won’t have seen them, but they will have been there or do they actually come in from the outside?
MARK:  No, they are people that already occur in the base; that already live in the base and work in the base. And then there’s other stuff, other factors that we can’t quite reveal just yet.

How much were you told at the beginning about what was going to happen? Some of the other actors said they were surprised as things came up.
CATHERINE: I felt like I knew nothing. I felt like I knew nothing and I felt like I was honestly just really learning every time I would get a script. And I think the math was that we get the script on halfway through the episode as we’re shooting it and we get the next script. So we got a chance to talk with Cameron and the director previous to filming the pilot.  Then I don’t know if was intentional on their part, but I felt that for me and my case, I felt like I was kind of left in some kind of mystery which helped to portray that in actual shooting the show because I really didn’t know what the heck was going on so that helped with my acting.
MARK: I think with the show when we were given the roles we were told what our character was like and what the basic idea of the show was, but we weren’t given a full season arc, which was kind of nice actually. It keeps a bit of the mystery and it kept us all on our toes when we’d get a script every other week.  We’d get the new script and we’d get to see what we’re doing, and it was just a lot of fun. I mean, that’s life; an event happens in your life and you learn how to adapt or get around it and you proceed on. It’s the way we’re filming is very much in that way which kept it pretty real and didn’t look stale in terms of the dialogue delivery.
CATHERINE: It helps you to relate to the audience too, not know what’s coming. You kind of get the impression of what the audience is going to feel as well as they see the shows.

It was cool the way you guys interacted in the beginning. It was almost adversarial, and yet there was a respect between the two of you that started to develop.
MARK: For my character, obviously, he’s got his own agenda.  He’s got his own side story and his own motivation for a lot of the things. But I think at first when you get together with a group of people and you’re supposed to work with them, you’re thrown into this situation, you don’t really know who they are, you’re trying to feel them out.  My character started to respect Doreen as the one finding out a lot of the information in the first couple of episodes, like how the virus was not airborne and that gave me a bit of relief. As the character I was able to sink into a bit more with a little less fear. And I think it was just a mutual respect that built throughout the episodes.
CATHERINE:  Respect is earned and not necessarily just given in that sense. And I think that’s a character trait of both Balleseros and Doreen.

Assuming that this storyline is a one-season arc.  Did you find that this is this the kind of show that each week you get a script and you check to see if you’re character is still alive?
MARK:  For fear of spoiling things I know that I was a little bit I would check the first page to make sure my name was on the top of every episode to see that I got to go on another day. It is one of those things. I mean, as we’ve seen with shows like with GAME OF THRONES where they’ve done some pretty drastic things to their cast in that series. Now a days it’s the W-T-F era of television where it’s just a lot of shock and awe sometimes.
CATHERINE: Anything can happen, yeah. Anything can happen really.

HELIX airs Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. on Syfy.

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