Now that viewers have had a taste of the new Syfy werewolf series BITTEN, everyone seems to be clamoring to find out how the show cast its hunky lead, Greyston Holt and more about his character Clay’s sizzling hot relationship with Elena (Laura Vandervoort). In a press conference call, star Greyston Holt and executive producer J.B. Sugar gave the inside scoop on Greyston’s casting, some of the challenges of making the show’s wolves look as real as possible and how sexy they will go on the show.
Could talk a little bit about how you first became involved in a series and your audition process for your role?
GREYSTON: It’s always a drawn out process. It was actually almost exactly a year ago. We sent the tape out to Toronto for the show for Clay, and it sat for a little bit. Then a couple of weeks later, we got some positive feedback and we ended up doing a Skype audition so I could talk to the producers a little bit and J.B. on the phone and Skype. Then a couple weeks after that they flew me into Toronto for a screen test and a chemistry-read with Laura Vandervoort, who plays Elena. Then about a week after that I got the call, and I was a very, very happy boy.
J.B.: Even before Greyston put his first audition for BITTEN onto tape, the writers and I were breaking the scripts for the season, and a couple of our writers were working on MOTIVE and Greyston Holt was a guest star on MOTIVE. So one of the writers literally brought up the dailies when we were in the writing room and had us all take a look at him. From right then we were very excited about the prospect of Greyston bringing Clay Danvers to life.
GREYSTON: Which still shocks me because like I look back at that episode and I feel like I look younger. I’m like super clean and the like nothing like what we eventually shaped Clay into being. So it’s amazing that you saw through that.
J.B.: We saw the beast within.
GREYSTON: (Laughs) You saw the beast within.
In filming the show, what have you found the most challenging?
J.B.: It’s always a big feat as a producer developing a project and being fortunate enough to see it come to life and get finance into production. So I mean it’s a process filled with myriad challenges to overcome. We were so blessed and fortunate to have been able to get the show made and financed through Space, BellMedia’s specialty channel that’s our commissioning broadcaster in Canada and just thrilled beyond belief that Syfy has picked us up for airing in the U.S. So getting the show into production was a huge challenge. And then of course production in itself is one big ball of challenges as well. We’re very fortunate to have assembled just an amazing ensemble of actors to carry the beautiful characters that Kelley Armstrong and her Otherworld series novels layout. To see them brought to life by these dynamic talented actors has just been such a great joy. So other than identifying them in finding them is the challenge. Once they’ve been cast and once they were cast rather, the challenge was alleviated significantly because they just performed and brought these characters to life in such brilliant fashion. I will say one of the biggest production challenges for us had to do with how we were going to portray our characters when they were in wolf-form, and as they are in Kelley Armstrong’s novels, they’re photo real wolves. They look like very large yet very real wolves that you would see in the wild. So to craft a series that honors that and also brings to life the wolves when they have such specific action, one of the biggest challenges was trying to figure out whether or not we should train real wolves, or whether or not we should use puppets and animatronics. Ultimately we decided to go full CGI with our wolves. Most of the talents of a visual site from Vancouver called Atmosphere and they’ve done some truly groundbreaking work in the intelligence space to bring these wolves to life. We’re extremely proud of them and the work that they’ve done.
GREYSTON: One of the main challenges for me was just keeping my clothes on. (Laughs) No, there’s so many small challenges and they’re all fun challenges. I mean, I’m pretty low-key. I’ve never been in a fight in my life, and then this Clay character has this this kind of instant switch to rage, at points. So that was fun and challenging to find that. I did a little research watching wolves and how they can just switch into this aggressive mode and fast. So that was a fun challenge for me. And then down to the fight sequences we did. This was kind of a bit of a learning curve for me because there were some pretty long and intricate fight sequences that were created by our stunt coordinator, John Stead. So he was patient with us and I think the final product was amazing. It was a big challenge. I mean our rehearsals would be eight hours, nine hours sometimes. So by the end of it you’re just dead. But you feel it’s fun.
What was your favorite part the first season?
GREYSTON: Just bonding with our cast. I mean we were super fortunate that we all got along right from the get-go. We had this kind of strong bond in this trust with one another. We go through a lot emotionally and physically, and it’s nice to know that you have this trust in support from your cast mates. So that was an amazing part of it.
J.B.: For me it’s also harder to choose. It was just a series of favorite moments throughout the entire process. But one of the best moments was when we were doing our final casting and doing our chemistry reads. To see Laura Vandervoort and Greyston Holt performing together, as well as Paul Greene who plays Philip, just finally after years of developing the material and just to see it come to life and to see these characters embodied in these amazing actors. It was just a real thrill and bolt of energy.
GREYSTON: I can’t imagine that for you because we come in after you guys have done so much work and we just step into this this world. I can’t imagine that for you, all that waiting and to finally see everyone come together.
J.B.: Absolutely. And then again, most recently one of my personal favorite moments is we were fortunate to have a screening for our cast and crew on the night before the Canadian premiere. To show this work that all these amazing talented craftsmen from our actors of course through our director of photography and the whole camera department in the postproduction team. Just to see everybody come together and watch the fruits of their labor together. It was just a real thrill.
GREYSTON: One of my favorite things is upon reading the scripts in the books is Jeremy, the pack alpha and his love for them. It was great to go love this life basically and their struggle.
Could you talk a little bit about the production of the pilot? What sticks out for you most about shooting that first episode?
J.B.: We had been developing BITTEN as a series for a couple of years even before we went into production and that the first two episodes actually were the first to be written. We had a really healthy amount of time to work on crafting those. It’s always a huge task trying to introduce a huge ensemble cast of characters, as well as establish the unique mythology that’s inherent in the other world and Kelley Armstrong’s books. I think Daegan Fryklind, our creator, and our writing team just did such a great job staying true to the beginnings of BITTEN, as well as calling from the mythology that’s present throughout the entire Otherworld series to make for a satisfying pilot experience. As for the visual effects. That was always a big challenge for us in production. So as we were filming the show in filming the pilot episode, we had all the elements: this beautiful set designed by our production designer Rob Gray and amazing cinematography by Steven Rice. It seems we were able to really see what the show was going to look and feel like. But one of the biggest unknowns was how these CGI wolves were going to look in our place. We’re extremely proud of what’s on screen now.
How did you come up with specific way the wolves see things?
J.B.:Wolf vision, for lack of a better term, is something we worked on and discussed stylizing early on in the process. Then of course once we shot those shots and took them into the color-timing suite, we were able to really play around in kind of subtle on a look and approach for wolf vision. The intention and spirit of design of those shots really are inspired by the K9 color palette and that the way that K9s see the world and have a bit of an enhanced ability to see at night, and contrary to popular belief, K9s are not colorblind. They really don’t see any reds and browns. So we really kind of isolated the blues and yellows and had that inform how our wolves would see when we go into their point of view.
The wolves are really well done. It must be so hard with CGI, especially with hair. Yet these wolves look pretty real.
J.B.: The fur, as you said. I mean fur is one of the hardest things to do in the CGI world and environments, and the technology has evolved so much. We have such talented artists. Three of our core animators and designers on our visual effects team were on the tiger rigging team for the “Life of Pi,” and we’ve got some real the effects rock stars behind the scenes working to bring those to life.
Is it a challenge to kind of keep a level of of not knowing what’s going on with Elena? Does Clay eventually kind of put two and two together?
GREYSTON: That’s acting for you. You read the scripts. You know the ending. I definitely didn’t give much attention to the parts in the scripts that were Elena’s Toronto storyline, because really Clay wouldn’t know that. But I need to know the whole story, obviously. So I read all the scripts. Then I just focus on the world at Stonehaven. Obviously as an actor, you try to just put aside the facts that you know in the script. But that’s just part of acting.
How much of the books did you read? And did you get a chance to talk to Kelley Armstrong at all?
GREYSTON: I hadn’t met Kelley previous to filming. I’ve actually just met her, which was amazing. But leading up to it, I read “Bitten” and I kind of was skimming through “Savage” as we were filming a little bit too. You get the drift from source material a little bit, but we also take some artistic license and kind of try to create our own versions of these characters a little bit. It’s just a suggestive-type of thing reading a book and people’s opinions. I just kind of did my thing. I’m just hoping people like it. But it’s a very contentious subject with book fans.
J.B.: Having a wealth of material to draw from is such a blessing to have when you’re crafting a new show, and the first season of BITTEN follows very closely to the plot of the first novel in the series “Bitten.” Of course there are still some surprises and Easter-eggs and new element introduced just by virtue of translating it to a different medium. But we’ve been very conscious of the how loyal and passionate the Kelley Armstrong Otherworld fans are, and collaborated with Kelley pretty closely during the two-year development period. She had read Daegan’s bible for the show, which kind of outlines the whole first season and character breakdowns and tone and style of the show. We are very pleased to get sanctioned by Kelley, and once we got into production and up and running so to speak, Kelley was focused on her new book series that she was launching. So she was only peripherally involved once we went production. But at the same time we felt very confident that she was pleased with the direction we were headed in.
Elena has a strong female friendship with her boyfriend’s sister in New York. Will we see that character again throughout the season, or is she kind of out of the picture now that Elena went back to Stonehaven?
J.B.: That’s Diane who is played the beautiful and talented Natalie Brown. She will definitely be appearing throughout the season. One of the things that we’ve done in the series, which is a bit of a departure from the book, is really blown out the whole McAdams family, which is Philip, Elena’s human boyfriend. We really worked hard to develop that world so we can really highlight this push and pull that Elena undergoes throughout the first season. Despite her love and affection for Clay, she also has this desire for normalcy. And by casting such great actors in crafting such great characters, are writing really kind of really helped bolster that dynamic and that push and pull of the two worlds. So I’m so happy that you connected with that Diane character. That’s definitely something that you’ll be seeing more of throughout the season.
What kind of creative freedom did you have from Kelley to do the show you want to do?
J.B.: It was an absolute blessing to get that kind of freedom from Kelley. But at the same time our intention is to really satisfy the tremendous and loyal fan base that she’s built over the years. So any time we have that question about what would Kelley do, we are so fortunate to be able to just open up, whether it be “Bitten” or any of the subsequent novels. Particularly “Tales of the Otherworld” and “Men of the Otherworld,” which really goes back into the backstories of each of our characters and the kind of creation stories of how the relationships were built. It’s just such a tremendous resource for us to build upon. Like I said earlier, there’s a lots of little Easter eggs peppered throughout the first season that coal from those later novels and speak to that mythology. So it is such a blessing to get that kind of that freedom from Kelley, and at the same time we have her voice always ever present because she created these characters. We have the resources to go back and look into the way that the stories are crafted in the motivations for the characters. So despite the lack of day-to-day involvement, Kelley was always on the forefront of our minds. Even more so the fan base and playing that balancing act of keeping the show grounded in the source material, and at the same time bring something new for fans who are already familiar with the material and also for fans who are going to be coming to a fresh.
Is there any specific scene that you can think of that you are looking forward to the fans seeing that you can talk about?
GREYSTON: Oh my God, so many. Later on in the series there is this one. Damn it. I’m walking on eggshells here.
J.B.: The origin stories and history that I was alluding to earlier and peppering those in, Episode 5 is one of my favorite episodes. But one of my favorite scenes is the scene that actually takes us to the moment where Elena is bitten into the pack and the circumstances that led to it. The performances are just fantastic and that whole episode. And it features some of the best and most effective CGI shots we’ve built. You get to really see Clay in his full wolf form and it’s just beautiful.
GREYSTON: I had a lot of fun with it. I guess this is in the books so there’s no spoilers there, but when Philip arrives finally, and Clay meets Philip. The flashbacks were fun, playing how Clay and Elena met and fall in love and that whole thing. So that was fun to play for sure.
How much of this first season will be exploring that year that Elena’s been gone? And what did Clay do during that the year that she was gone?
GREYSTON: Clay was at Stonehaven. I mean his loyalty is ultimately to Jeremy. So in this year off, he’d be at Stonehaven wallowing in his sorrow and missing Elena.
J.B.: Much like the book “Bitten,” the series starts off very similarly with Elena already being gone for a year. And neither the book or the series really explores that one year period. There’s a lot of alluding to it and a lot of angst and tension that comes as a result of it. But we never actually flashback and go into the details of what happened within that year period.
Was there kind of a trick to try to balance Elena with the pack versus Elena with her life in Toronto?
J.B.:It’s very much an ebb and flow throughout the entire season. And again, another credit to the great writing and grafting that our writers have accomplished with the show. So some episodes, like the pilot is probably about I’d say 70/30 Toronto to Stonehaven. Whereas Episode 2 kind of reverses that ratio. Episode 3 pretty much stays within that 70/30 Stonehaven to Toronto. Episode 4, kind of the same. Episode 5 still keeps that balance. And then later in the season through Episode 6, we’re actually flipping that again and we’re in Toronto a little more. And then towards the end of the season, the two worlds really do collide. So there’s a healthy balance and ebb and flow of Toronto and Stonehaven.
Clay and Elena seemed to have parted on bad terms. What can you tell us about their relationship, or at least their dynamics of how they interact with each other?
GREYSTON: Yes, Elena was turned into a werewolf by Clay. He bit her for reasons that you will find out as the season progresses. They were good reasons and he had good intentions. But there’s complications in the werewolf world. It’s not like being a human. So it’s not that simple. But it was fun. I mean as far as their relationship and how we were sort of seen. It really played out with the animal side of it. Like a scene with dogs, so much of it so that you don’t have eye contact, and we played with them a lot. We were being very careful and cautious when approached. So we played around with that a lot, especially when Elena and Clay kind of first meet each other just really assessing each other out and feeling their energy and playing off that. So that was really fun.
In terms of trying to portray the romance that Clay and Elena, how much will we see of that arc throughout the season?
GREYSTON: It really is this inner-conflict between Clay’s loyalty towards Jeremy and his love for Elena, and that comes to the forefront as the series progresses. He doesn’t really have another agenda. I mean, his agenda is to protect the pack and be loyal to the pack. And then Elena, she’s his love, his one and only love. But ultimately his loyalty lies with Jeremy. He’s the pack alpha. But as the season goes on you’ll see that loyalty tested for many reasons. For mutts and for Clay’s love for Elena and then Jeremy. But as the season goes on, you’ll see this inner struggle that he have to deal with at every turn basically.
Elena seems to have such a voracious appetite. Is that something that’s going to be portrayed throughout the series as well?
J.B.: I’m very pleased to see how the fan reaction has been to that. I’ve had a lot of women and men for that matter commenting on how that’s a bit of a wish fulfillment like having an appetite like Elena and our other characters have yet remaining as slim and spry as they do. It was definitely something we felt an important to explore throughout the show. It’s certainly accented a little heavier in the first couple of episodes. But the appetites, both sexually and dietary our ever present in our BITTEN universe.
GREYSTON: Yes and it’s just the animal-side of it. Everything is just kind of immediate and urgent: the violence, the fear, the sensual and the sexuality, the hunger. I mean these are very primal feelings that we have that are really fun to play with.
J.B.: Again that’s paying honor to the eroticism that’s just layered into the Otherworld series. And it really does, as Greyston says, inform the primal nature of our characters. It kind of goes hand-in-hand. So it really does work within our world, and it’s organic to our characters. It’s certainly ever present. But it’s never gratuitous. We wanted to keep it sexy. We’ve always, even in the early days of developing the show, always intended to maintain a really sexy, erotic and adult kind of show.
GREYSTON: J.B. put it well. It’s definitely not gratuitous. It’s just primal and it’s real and it’s present — and it’s just the way these wolves are.
What do you think separates BITTEN from other supernatural shows that are on TV?
J.B.: We take pride in the fact that despite the supernatural premise of BITTEN that it’s really a story about the themes that resonate for fans of any kind of genre. Characters that have real dimension, that are grounded in a real-world despite their supernatural abilities to shape, shift into werewolves. At its heart it’s a real character drama and with themes that deal with identity and family and kind of quelling the beast that’s inside of all of us, quite literally and figuratively.
All new episodes of BITTEN air Monday nights at 8:00 p.m. on Syfy.
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