The world of sci-fi takes viewers to the far corners of the universe, and sometimes it explores the creepy and mysterious here on Earth. One of the first authors to explore terrestrial horizons and challenge our imaginations was Jules Verne. To share a bit about their experience bringing JULES VERNE’S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND to life, stars Mark Sheppard and Gina Holden chatted with press in a recent conference call about the film and the lure of sci-fi in their careers.
Mark, once again you and your father are playing the younger and older versions of the same character. What was it like working with your dad on this project especially with it being your directorial debut?
MARK: Well, I’ve actually directed him before in a short film, so it’s a lot of fun to work with him. My dad is a truly gifted actor and a lot of fun to play with. But we take every chance that we can get. I mean that’s the best answer I can give you is any chance we get to work together we take it. It’s so much fun.
There’s been a lot of film adaptations of Jules Verne’s stories and especially the MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. Can you talk about what makes this one unique?
MARK: Well, I’m in it, that’s one thing. I’ve never done a version of it before. Genuinely, I think it’s one of the hardest of Verne’s stories to actually bring to the screen because it’s very long, very complex. And I think a lot of people have tried to bring every aspect of the film together. I think what makes this different in a lot of ways is that we’ve tried to go back and stick to the spirit of what Verne was actually trying to do. But it’s always hard to do that. It’s always hard to take such a fantastic long novel and make it into a small film piece of entertainment. I mean you’ve got to pick the heart of soul of the action. Somebody’s always going to be upset, that’s the trouble with the great Verne stories is somebody’s always going to be a little upset by it. But I hope they really enjoy it, we’ve done the best that we can.
Can you both talk about how you became involved in the film?
GINA: I actually just received a call and was sent the script. And of course seeing that Mark was attached to it I was immediately interested because I’m a huge fan of his work. I also really enjoyed the script and as soon as I was given the opportunity to be part of it and had read the script I thought it was a character I definitely wanted to play. So for me it was kind of an invitation and I definitely wanted to be part of it just seeing who else was attached to the project and being a sci-fi fan myself of the genre I just thought would be fantastic.
MARK: Every film is so difficult to put together. The chance to actually complete something and take it all the way to it being seen. And it was just such a lovely group of people that came together to do this and it’s so much fun. And the more that we went into it and the further we went into the better the people were attracted to it. I mean it’s lovely. There’s a lot of fantastic people who worked on this film and it’s so much fun to do. It’s such a labor to make a film anyway, but it’s lovely that we managed to do it this way. And had pretty much such a good time doing it. As hard as it was to do it was a fun time and a good memory.
What did you find most challenging about this project?
MARK: The weather.
GINA: Yes, the weather was crazy!
MARK: The weather was hard core. I mean we lost a lot of time to weather. We had horizontal rain and heat beyond anything I’ve ever experience. I mean, I’ve been in Miami before, worked in Miami and other places, but this heat I’ve never experienced before. The humidity was incredible. And then the chiggers and the gators and the nutria rats and the flora and the fauna of Louisiana, I mean it’s an incredible place, I’m telling you. Louisiana is an adult place, but it’s been an amazing the experience. But those are the challenges and making a film has its own challenges inherently. But a great crew and a lot of people that really wanted to get this thing done as best as it could be done. And the cast and crew were just fabulous. And it was just a labor of love.
We’ve just been lucky to have you both on so many Syfy shows. Do you actively seek being on Syfy and can you tell us what you most like about working with it?
GINA: For me, I think I’m always looking for great Syfy projects. I’ve done a lot as everyone knows and I just think for me I’m drawn to them because of the imagination that you have to use while filming. I’m kind of a weirdo that way. I just love the green screen. I love the challenge of working with things not from this world and just the challenge of that is really exciting. And as crazy as it sounds, yes, even with MYSTERIOUS ISLAND we were on this crazy location and all the bugs and all those challenges. But those are what kind of make it fun as well as weird as that sounds. So for me, I’m always hoping and always excited when I get a new Syfy project because it’s really interesting and it brings everybody together in a way that’s just different than the dynamic in a drama or something like that. So you just really have to pull together and dig deep and face your own fears as well. For me, I’m terrified of huge insects and here we are in the middle of the swamp in Louisiana dealing with these massive moths and things like that. That’s kind of what makes it exciting because you obviously get over those challenge. So, yes, it’s really fun.
MARK: I agree with Gina. It’s the imagination that is involved in sci-fi and fantasy is what draws me to it. Stories, everything. I mean with sci-fi you get these kind of stories in historical drama and it’s just so fabulous. It seems to realize itself to be some of the most exciting TV and films that are made. Sci-fi just has that ability. And I love watching actors and especially directing actors looking at giant octopuses that aren’t there, which is a tough job and I think it takes a very special type of actor to be willing to commit to these kinds of things. And I think that’s why Gina and the rest of the cast are very much loved by the sci-fi community. There’s a commitment there and there’s a love of the genre and you can tell. You can really tell.
Mark, can you tell us about what is it like to direct Gina? And Gina, what is it like to be directed by Mark?
MARK: Fabulous, it’s an absolute — everybody says this — but it was so wonderful. It’s such a joy, she’s lovely. But she really is so lovely. And myself and Dave, the Director of Photography, we were just blown away. We could just watch her all day. It was just so much fun. No matter what’s biting us or what’s attacking us from the flora or fauna, the poison oak and the rats and ivy and everything else that exists, we could sit and watch Gina do what Gina does all day. She’s just fabulous, so much fun.
GINA: Thank you, Mark! And I have to say about Mark, it was so much fun being directed by him. And again, obviously he has so many fans from his acting work and of the projects he’s done, but to see him step in and direct was really fantastic. And you’ll hear from actors that when a really talented actor goes and starts directing he’s that much better just because he’s been on the other side. So we connected right away, I can say that. And I just trusted him from the start and we had a blast. I would just understand. He would look at me and go, ‘I kind of was thinking this.’ And I’d go, ‘yes, I know exactly what you mean.’ And we just kind of worked that way. And everyone else was fantastic as well. We all really enjoyed working with Mark, and it was exciting to be part of his directorial debut. It is great. He’s special, you know. I’m very proud that I got to work with him and be directed by him.
MARK: Any time, any time.
For both of you, what is it like being on the other side of the camera? Does that make you stronger as an actor?
MARK: I don’t know. For me, it’s all part of story telling, it’s all part of the same thing. I was a musician before I was an actor, and I don’t see any difference in that either. But I think the director’s position. If you’re doing it right, I mean the time and the money and lots of things conspire against you being able to do it, but the ideal situation is that you’re trying to create a place where magic can happen — and that’s a kind of sacred thing for the actors. It’s got to be a safe place where they can go and find something magical, you know what I mean? I mean it’s really, really an important thing. And we try our best and we hit that a lot of times. We had a lot of fun doing it and that’s why I love being behind the camera is it’s a different kind of facilitation.
GINA: And for me I agree with that and I think that there’s just not enough I can learn about the movie making process or the film making or the TV making process. It’s just why limit myself to one area. Of course, I love acting, it’s my first love, but I’m also very involved in the business side of things. I run my own company. Its “Knowledge Is Power.” I love to be a part of everything that’s going on. I don’t just want to run back to my trailer and hide out. I want to be on set seeing how it’s done and learning from the whole process. It absolutely makes me a better actor I believe, and I like knowing what’s going on. So I try to make myself useful in everyway and producing for me is just another step towards learning more and more about the business and about what I do.
Gina, do you see yourself directing someday? Is that something you want to get into?
GINA: I’m not sure. I’m more drawn to the producing side of things, but I never say never. I just think haven’t really satisfied my acting-bug yet and I’m so interested in being directed and working with directors that I don’t know if I’m ready. Maybe one day.
After acting and directing and producing, is there anything that either of you would like to try your hand at, something else in the entertainment industry?
MARK: Catering, catering’s a big one for me. I think it’s really good.
GINA: For me, I’m always involved in other things already. So sure, but just take it as it comes and see what happens. I’m always interested in doing lots of different things all of the time. So I don’t know if that answers the question but I’m certainly open to any things that come my way.
There’s such a good rapport between the two of you. Did you find it became after a bit of time working together, or was it something that you saw instantly?
GINA: For me, it was pretty much an instant. I just got it. Meeting Mark, I felt so comfortable and we just clicked. I mean, I can say that from my side, I just was really excited about the passion that he had for the project. So when he was describing things and how he wanted a scene to be shot I just really understood it. It was really nice. It wasn’t just a technical set up and get it done. It was, ‘here’s what we’re doing’ and he was right in there. He got his hands dirty so to speak and so it wasn’t, ‘just stand here, do this.’ It was very a collaborative effort from all of us and it was great. So, for me, I loved that right away. There was no question I couldn’t ask. There was no thing I couldn’t try and for me, it fell into place right away and made it a really wonderful experience.
MARK: I totally concur. I think, as a group of actors, top-to-bottom everybody there was very, very trusting. That made a huge difference because as I keep saying in the lower budget side of making films there isn’t a lot of time to get things that are done and get them together and weather conspires against you or things don’t go to plan. The real test at that point is do people just pull it out of the fire and give you everything they’ve got. And especially with Gina, there was just this fantastic sense of wanting to get it to be as good as it can possibly be. And that’s a major, major thing. And trust is a huge element in that I think, I really think so. I’m honored to be trusted in that way. I tried not to mess it up.
Gina, could you talk a little bit more about your character, Julia Fogg and how you’re similar to her or different from her?
GINA: Absolutely, I love the character Jules. She’s a modern woman. She finds herself amongst a bunch of different people sort of in this Bermuda Triangle type of situation and she has to be a leader and take care of her younger sister and deal with a whole lot of adversity that’s happening around her and the challenges. So for me, of course, I identify with that in wanting to stay strong in tough situations and just enjoy the ride. It was really fun and I always enjoyed playing strong female characters, and it was a lot of fun. I have to give a shout out to Lochlyn Munro, who I haven’t mentioned yet, he was so great to work with, and my character obviously has a lot of interaction with his character. We worked really well together as well to get the story told and go through all of the adventures together. It was a great role for me. I’m really honored that I got to be part of the project.
Mark, is there any chance of you doing a “20,000 Leagues” prequel with your character?
MARK: I’d love to do that. I mean any excuse I can get. But I’m a big fan of Verne’s, and as I said, any opportunity to tell a great story. I think this is one of the tougher ones. This is one of the harder ones to do, and I hope that we really did try to stick to the spirit of it because I think the scope of it is so big. I don’t think anybody can really tell the whole story. But I hope people enjoy it. I mean remembering that we are truly trying to entertain and I think we’ve done a very good job in that way. And it’s a testament to Lochlyn and Gina and everybody else on this film. It was such a lovely cast. Everybody tried so hard to bring as much to it as they could. It’s a lovely way to realize the story. We always have Gina in mind for this situation and Lochlyn in mind for the situation. I’ve worked with Lochlyn many times over the years and he’s so much fun to play with. And that Canadian continent can be real fun I tell you, it’s a fun bunch of people.
If either of you could go and meet some people from some other time who would you want to ask questions about from their time?
GINA: I don’t know, that’s a loaded question.
MARK: There’s so many great people. I don’t know why the past is truly fascinating to me in that way but I think the future actually controls me more. I’ve always thought that time is the question, whether I go backwards or would I go forwards, and I’ve got a funny feeling that I would want to go forwards. I’d want to see how we end up or how we turn out. Maybe that’s the downside of having done BATTLESTAR, it’s what did we do with it, you know? What did we do with all this knowledge? Did we succeed? Did we manage to make the world a better place? And I think I stick a lot on that.
GINA: Well, I’ll quickly jump in with something, I love that Mark, that’s really cool because I’m fascinated with the future as well. But just really quickly because I got to work with Mark’s father, William Morgan Sheppard, talking to him was fantastic. I would just sit in awe while I was waiting for a shot to be set up and he’s so knowledgeable and so wonderful. I would just sit and listen to him, all of the stories he had, what an extraordinary life, an extraordinary career. And for me that just comes to mind because I just remember that and we’d pass a lot of time with these fascinating stories. And he was just wonderful to work with.
MARK: Yes, I agree with you. I mean that’s been my experience as well. So many actors and wonderful people that I’ve worked with over the years and those are the treasures of it, the actual experience, you know. You’re sharing something together which is so intimate, so intimate. I mean it’s just a lovely place to find out about people and where people come from and what they are. And again, as Gina keeps saying, it’s just learning, and learning, and learning from great participants, you know.
Is there something for both you that you were surprised to learn about each other while filming this show?
MARK: Yes, I mean it sounds so shallow, but it’s not. Two things: one just how perfect she is. You get beautiful actors that sometimes don’t have that whole thing. She’s such a smart and funny and interesting person. And it’s this wonderful package. And then the second thing is just how much she just lights up the screen when you film her. Some people just have this lovely ability to bloom on the screen. And it’s just such a fantastic thing to watch. I mean seriously myself and David were just sitting there all the time just looking at Gina going, ‘yes, well, we can shoot this all day, this will make our movie.’ So I’m truly in love with Gina Holden absolutely, without any question. That’s what I learned, somebody who is wonderfully fascinated by the fact that she’s so much more than the sum of her parts.
GINA: Thank you, I’m blushing! Thank you so much for that. For me, what I was surprised about Mark or what I learned about Mark was, well, obviously he was just so approachable and fun and a great sense of humor but what an incredible father he is and what an amazing family man he is — and that was just beautiful to see. His family was on set with us. I absolutely just adore his son. I didn’t get a chance to meet his other son but, just what an incredibly compassionate father and family man he is, that was a delight. And not knowing him before I had no idea. You don’t know what people’s personal lives are and it was really a beautiful thing to watch and to see that it’s possible in this crazy business to have such a loving family and a dedicated father. That was a very beautiful thing to be around.
Are there any other shows you’d like to be on as a guest or a regular?
MARK: You talking about me? I’m just going to lie to you. I mean my job is to lie — you have to remember that. I’m not allowed to tell everybody what I’m really doing, where I really am, or what’s really going on because it’s been one of those weird journeys for me that I’ve been lucky enough to play characters that have seemed to resonated with fans and tend to come back. And people know where I am and what I’m doing or whatever it tends to spoil the story a little bit. So I’m one of those weird actors that’s taken his name off the credits more times than I think he’s kept it on. . . . But it’s a lovely thing to be able to do. I love and respect the genre and I love to participate in any shape or form in what I do. I don’t know what my journey is, I don’t know what I will be doing or what I can do. I have no idea, I have no idea. And it’s thanks to fans and thanks to their support that it’s allowed me to do – you know, be able to do things like DOCTOR WHO. I mean Moffat picked me for DOCTOR WHO because of the other work that I’ve done that has tended to resonate and these are the things that keep happening, these wonderful, wonderful opportunities keep coming up. And I do my best not to turn down any of them because they’ve tended to be so much fun and such great learning experiences for me.
GINA: For me, kind of the same thing as Mark. I really don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing and that’s part of the reason I love this job. I just work as hard as I can. I audition a ton. I try to be part of any great projects and I just work as hard as I can all the time. Like I said earlier, I am drawn to the sci-fi genre and so I get really excited when things come my way. I’ve been part of some really great things recently. And again like Mark, we can’t ever really talk about it so I feel bad that I can’t ever really say, this is exactly what I’m doing. It’s always after the fact I can go and talk about what that experience was at the time. But I’m just going to take it as it comes and keep working really hard and just hope to be working and moving forward.
MARK: I think what’s fabulous as well is I remember when Syfy Channel was really starting out and Gina and I have both worked extensively on the channel, and what’s really interesting is their support of our genre I think has been so incredible. It’s created a whole new way to experience these stories, you know, from the originals through the series that they either bought or the series that they’ve actually created, which is just fantastic. And such a testament to the channel itself and the people at that channel that they just keep making sure there’s a hunger for sci-fi.
The two of you are part of the social media networking site Twitter. Why is that such an important place for you to connect with fans and even to promote the work you’re doing?
MARK: Well, the reason I do it so nobody else will pretend to me I guess.
GINA: Yes, exactly, me too.
MARK: It’s just a lovely interaction. I do it — I’m very real about Twitter. It’s like, I’m Mark_Sheppard and there are other Mark Sheppards who got there first and they’re ruing the day because they keep getting requests to speak to me so that kind of annoys them. But the fun aspect of it is I still made it so that I have to accept everybody. So I’ve had to click all these tens of thousands of times saying approve, approve, and all this. So it’s just very funny. And I read the tweets, I read the stuff that’s coming in because some of it’s just fabulous. And I follow a whole bunch of people. I enjoy the brevity of it and I enjoy a lot of the wit. There’s some great people online and there’s people that I’ve worked with before and people that I want to work with, and I follow what they have to say. It can brighten up your day. And I read the stuff the fans write. . . It’s a fabulous thing and it’s nice to be able to reach people quickly in that way. It’s genuinely brilliant questions and some great stuff goes on, and I do actually read everything that’s written. And if it wasn’t brief, 140 characters, I probably wouldn’t be able to.
GINA: I agree completely with Mark. I just think it’s a fantastic outlet and way to interact with fans. And things have changed these days. I mean I don’t want to be somebody who’s inaccessible and who doesn’t ever talk to anybody. I’ve always been so grateful for my fans. I’m just so humbled that people even want to follow me or interested in what I’m doing. It’s just a way to learn about other people and also share who you are because it isn’t just about the work or what movie I’m doing. It’s also, ‘this is the music I like or this is what I’m having for dinner,’ you know. It’s just kind of the way it is these days. And also like Mark, I also wanted to have my own because there was a bunch of fake accounts before I ever joined. And then once I joined I realized how much I do love it and how great it’s been to get to know who’s out there watching what we’re doing. And it’s fun. It’s just a way to stay connected to people and I think that’s very important in today and how things are run. So I want to be somebody who’s available.
MARK: Absolutely, I agree entirely. I think another aspect of it is the fact that the sci-fi audience and the fandom, real true fandom audience, is such an intelligent audience that it’s actually so much fun to read. It’s the occasional, ‘Hi Mark, I love you from wherever,’ which is lovely to get. I mean don’t ever get me wrong, it’s lovely to get. But some of the questions are just brilliant and some of the things posed are just brilliant because we have a truly intelligent audience. You know, it’s a smart, smart audience. And I love interacting with people that love it as much as I do. I’m a fan too. I think the other biggest problem is a lot of people think that because we have a really cool job, you know. Speaking for us I guess in this way, because we have a really cool job we’re somehow different. We’re not. Gina’s already talked about the fact that she’s a fan. Fans are drawn to a particular script or drawn to a story, yet she’s a fan and that’s what we are. And I think the line is becoming blurred a lot between the fan and the actor and the fan and the director and the fan and the writer in that way — and I think it’s fantastic. You go to DragonCon or Comic-Con or any big conventions anywhere year-in year-out, my friends who write television and write films are all there as fans. I mean that’s a huge big deal. The line is being blurred as we go forward and the discourse amongst us is a wonderful, interesting, and educational nature. And I love every second of it.
To see Mark and Gina’s latest adventures brought to life, be sure to catch the premiere of JULES VERNE’S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND on Saturday, February 11th at 9PM on Syfy.
Tiffany Vogt is the Senior West Coast Editor, contributing as a columnist and entertainment reporter to TheTVaddict.com. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).