HELIX: Neil Napier Interview (2015)


Season 2 of Syfy’s drama series HELIX has been off the hook.  It is as if the show found a crazy way to reinvent itself after the big reveal of that the Immortals running the Ilaria Corporation had unleashed the Narvik virus in Season 1.  In Season 2, the CDC unit now helmed by Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier) back-tracked a new viral outbreak to the remote island of St. Germaine, where they find a reclusive cult living in an abbey.  Recent episodes have revealed that the new virus is somehow connected to a nest of bees found in the walls of the compound.  But that is just the tip of the iceberg on the mysterious going ons at the abbey and its dubious leader Brother Michael (Steven Weber).

In an exclusive interview, star Neil Napier talked about how the brothers Alan (Billy Campbell) and Peter are squaring off in Season 2 and despite their characters’ animosity and distrust for each other, how much fun he is having working with his co-star Billy Campbell. He also teases what Peter’s relationship really is with Ilaria.

As we are nearing the half-way point to this season, things are more confusing that ever with:  two timelines, two different viruses, and all these different people associated with Ilaria and maybe not knowing about it.  How would you describe this season?
NEIL:  (Laughs) Wow. I think there is a lot of agendas going on for different parties on the show.  Most of the characters are holding their cards pretty closely to their chest.  It will unroll.  We still have 8 more episodes, so I’m sure we’ll have more questions posed and a lot of answers coming down the pipe, as well.  In last week’s episode, there were quite a few reveals.  We start to see where my character Peter’s allegiances are.  You saw that Alan knows more about that than maybe we thought he did, previously.  We found out Kyle’s (Matt Long) real agenda.  So we are starting to get some answers to these storylines.

It’s gotten crazy with the Ilaria storyline.  We assume that Peter is involved with Ilaria on some level, and there’s Julia (Kyra Zagorsky) who may or may not be associated with them, and the reveal that Balleseros (Mark Ghanime) is alive and somehow still connected with them.  Then there’s Kyle’s storyline where he may be investigating them.  Just what is Ilaria up to and how do all these characters fit in?
NEIL:  Well, Kyle’s definitely not with Ilaria. He was speaking with the U.S. government, the Office of the Inspector General.  As for the rest, you’ll have to wait and see.

What can you share about what Peter is up to at this point?  What is his agenda?
NEIL:   Peter’s agenda is that Peter is not always looking out for Peter, for the most part.  I think he does have a deep love for the people around him — for Julia, for Alan — but I think it’s kind of a sideways love.  There’s a little too much ego about Peter than I think is helpful.  But he seems to be a man in search of a purpose.  If you look at this season so far, he seems to be trying really hard to live up to a certain expectation that he has of himself or a projection of what he feels others have, in terms of expectations of him, and he never seems to be quite up to the task or to not be as good as he is doing as he hopes he will be.

Is it possible that he has multiple agendas?  He seems at times to be looking out for everybody, like he wants to be a protector, while still trying to help Ilaria.
NEIL:  That’s something that resonates with me.  That’s kind of a good way to put it. He is a caring individual.  He does care about people and the people around him.  You see that in that he genuinely does want to find out what is going on with this pathogen and to come to a resolution and fix the problem on the island — and he cares about the people on the island and the people on his team.  But he is working for some darker forces.  So he is really quite conflicted.  I’ve always felt that about Peter.  He is a really conflicted guy and he is always trying to do his best, whatever the situation is.  Peter is the sum of his decisions.  We all are.  And I think, incrementally, we see him kind of make the wrong decision and the next wrong decision and that leads him down another path to another wrong decision.  So I think if you look from Point A to Point Z, you would see a big change in him.  But if you look incrementally as all these decisions are being made, it is almost imperceptible. But then you find yourself at the end of the day wondering, “Wow, how did I get here?  How did I find myself in a pit betraying my brother, who I love?”  But it seems like it is the only thing he can do in the moment.

I’ve never been sure, but is Peter an Immortal?
NEIL:  No, he’s not an Immortal.

So then what did the Narvik virus do him?
NEIL:  He was cured of it last season.  The cure that they came up with.  But it turned him into a somewhat different entity — Vectors, as people were calling them.  I think there are a lot of after-effects.  We started to see that in one of the earlier episodes this season where he has a kind of PTSD episode that Peter had when he was confronted with the sick individual down in the tunnels of the abbey.  There are some other residual effects from what happened in Season 1 that we will see a little bit later in this season.

So maybe this is like a quest for Peter — for him to figure out what happened to him and why.
NEIL:  I think that is part of it.  Absolutely.  He has a few agendas going on simultaneously.  It is definitely one of them.  It is quest to find out who he is and how he has been changed.

There is so much going on.  It is like we have to take notes to keep track of what is going on.
NEIL:  (Laughs) I know!  I have to watch it very carefully and I’ve read the scripts.

When you were filming this season, episode to episode, did you look at the writers and go, “Really?!  Why are you doing this to us?”
NEIL:  Oh yeah.  Absolutely.  It was like, “Oh my god, I’m where now? Oh, man.”  Some times it presents a really amazing challenge for actors — because there are some pretty hard turns for the characters and we have to find a way to justify these turns for ourselves and our characters — and that leads to really fun work for an actor because we have to be the hero of our own story. Every character, however far along the villainous scale he or she is, needs to be the hero of his or her own story to buy what they are doing and they have to believe deeply in whatever they are doing — no matter how reprehensible it seems.

Would you want to tell viewers that it is okay to trust Peter at this point, or would you tell them to reserve judgment for now?
NEIL:   I always say to reserve judgment because we don’t have all the information.  We rarely have it.  That’s life, right?  The decisions we make in our day-to-day life are rarely afforded the full information in any given situation — at least, for me, in my life.  (Laughs)  I think that is true of any story that we are telling, whether it is a film or whether it is a television series, whether it is a play or a song.  We don’t have all the information.  So I would say:  reserve judgment and come up with theories.

Another interesting aspect of this season is the show shifted the kaleidoscope and in this case they have changed it in such a way that it seems like the primary hero is your character Peter.  We are seeing the story through his eyes, primarily. Was that interesting for you?
NEIL:  It was very interesting.  In the first season, Peter was central to the story, but peripheral as a character because in Season 1 he was patient-zero and he was a bit of a canary in a coal mine — we drew from what was happening to Peter a clue as to what was going to happen going forward.  Whereas, it seems in Season 2 — like when I got the first script for the premiere episode of this season, I thought, “Wow, Peter is driving things a little more” and that’s a fun place to be in opposed to in Season 1, being that sick guy/the monster — it has been a really fulfilling challenge to take this character (given everything that has happened to him and everything he has been through) into Season 2 and build a character that is driving the story more with the information coming out of Season 1.

Peter definitely has the hero aspect down and it is to the point where we are almost not trusting his brother Alan as much. Alan has done some shady things and to top it off, he left his brother Peter in the pit!
NEIL:  It’s an interesting thing about our show.  It’s something I really like.  It’s not cut-and-dried.  You don’t have heroes and villains, it’s more anti-heroes and (if there is such a thing) an anti-villain. (Laughs)  As an audience member, we can never really truly take somebody’s side because there is always extenuating circumstances.  Michael, on one hand, seems somewhat of a villain. But there are parts where I’m like, “Okay, I get that.”  There is a real humanness to him as well.  There’s fallibilities that this man has.  And Peter, who is trying to do his best, as he can.  He just makes bad decisions sometimes and has his ambitions exceed his capabilities.  Is that a bad guy, or is that a flawed and conflicted guy?  The same with Alan, right?  Our hero does some terrible things.

Alan is a quasi-terrorist at this point.
NEIL:   Yeah, that is what it would seem.  That is what Peter believes to be true.  So in the same way that things that Peter has been doing seem underhanded and like a betrayal, it is motivated from a place of love.  He has some strong opinions about his brother’s acts and he seems him as a terrorist and as dangerous.  If I’m putting myself in Peter’s shoes, I think:  what would I do?  Should I try to work with him?  (Laughs)  I would like to think I would do a better job of handling my life than Peter.  That’s the joy of playing this type of character.  In a scene, I would think, “Wow, I would handle this a little bit more diplomatically.”  But Peter just gets a little too hot and tips his hand a little too much and sometimes his emotions get the better of him. I like that. I also like trying to play that guy who is good at what he is trying to do.

If you were to have the chance to sit down and offer Peter some advice, what would you say?
NEIL:  That’s a really good question. I would suggest that maybe he mediate every morning.  He is wound a little tight.  I think the counsel I’d have for Peter is:  to try to make sense of your past and understand that his is what makes you — and find a way to be okay with that and to be okay with your past and to move forward.

From the previews, it looks like the Narvik virus is going to be stirring things up again for the world outside of the island.  Is that something you can talk about and tease for fans?
NEIL:  In the teaser they realize we see Julia in a boardroom and a committee talking about Narvik-C.  So it looks like we will hear a little bit more about the plan that Ilaria has regarding these viruses.

That fight scene between Alan and Peter in the last episode looked pretty intense.  What was that like to film?
NEIL:  It was amazing to film.  First off, I just have to shout-out to Billy Campbell. He is the best lead a TV show could ask for — not only on camera, but everything around it.  He’s a very generous soul.  He’s a consummate professional.  I learned a lot from working with him in the last couple of years.  I owe a lot to Billy.  And he’s a joy to work with because he eminently available — emotionally and physically.  So we are down in this pit — and we both have a background having played rugby for years, so we engaged pretty intensely — and in that scene where he first slammed me against that wall, he almost put me through to the other side of it.  That’s the thing.  We got very involved in the scene emotionally.  It was very heightened.  I was wearing padding on my back, so it was okay.  There was no harm done.  But I heard wood from the set, crack as he put me into it.  I’m 5’9″ and 160 lbs and he is 6’2″ and 230 lbs.  So I’m giving away a lot of weight in a fight to Billy.  He is a big, strong man.  (Laughs) But he is also controlled.  We managed to actually not hurt each other.  But, at the same time, engaged really intensely.  It was awesome.  I think it comes through on screen just how intensely engaging it is.  It’s a brother fight.  There’s nothing pretty about it.  I loved it when I read that scene by Leigh Dana Jackson, who wrote that episode.  I’m in love with all the writing coming out of the writer’s room this season.  But for this particular scene, it was Dana’s and when I read it, it was these brothers fighting about some petty stuff, fighting about things that they might have fought about in high school.  Nobody can push your buttons like a sibling, and that scene very true in that sense.  These brothers are going to have at whatever is going inside them from their past and it might seem petty and it might seem like bickering, but it’s very real.   Meanwhile, outside of the pit, it could be the end of the world.

Can we look forward to another knock-down, drag-out fight between Peter and Alan before this season is over?
NEIL:  (Laughs) I hope so! They’re not best buds right now, are they?

It’s so conflicting.  It’s fascinating because we are looking at two quasi-heroes that are related and we know them from a previous season in a different environment and we really want to trust them, but then it’s like, “Maybe we shouldn’t.”
NEIL:  Yeah, it’s a fun conundrum.

To see what’s next as Brother Michael finds out he is not the only Immortal on the island and whether Peter and Alan can find a way to trust each other long enough to save all everyone’s lives, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of HELIX on Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. on Syfy.

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