One of my favorite hours of science fiction every week is Dark Matter on SyFy. Over the course of three seasons co-creator and showrunner Joseph Mallozzi (with Paul Mullie) and the cast and crew have explored concepts ranging from lost memories, time loops, self-determination of androids, blink drives, interstellar corporate wars to love and loss – high adventure served up with feeling and panache.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Anthony Lemke, who plays the character Three on the program. Our conversation was wide ranging (and fun) so let me share the highlights. SPOILERS for Season Three!
He and a group of friends are in the process of building a storefront theater in real life, where he lives, with a tight deadline, so we began by talking about acting and the theater in general and I asked if he was going to do a one act play, whose life would he choose to enact? After some thought, Anthony said probably the life of one of his own grandparents, who were in that “epic generation” born at the beginning of the 21st century and lived through amazing experiences and world wars, eventually emigrating to a new country.
Pivoting to the subject of Dark Matter and Three, I asked him for the first three words that came to his mind when thinking of the character. “Loyal, complex, funny,” were Anthony’s choices, specifying he was thinking as an audience member “because nobody thinks of themselves as a funny guy” but to him “that’s how the character lands.”
My own first thoughts – which I didn’t share with Anthony – were “rascal, funny and reliable.” Three is always there to be counted on when his fellow Raza crew mates need him.
Our conversation turned to favorite moments in season 3, and we settled on episode 4, “All the Time in the World”, with time loops and aspects of Groundhog Day, coupled with more serious emotional notes for Three with the characters Five and Sarah. Anthony said in the time loop scenes, which were shot sometimes hours apart, the challenge came “in always appropriately upping the tone for the iterations” of the repeated scenes. He also shared the technical aspect that when shooting closeups, for the actor on the other side of a scene, the challenge is to remember exactly what they did in the earlier takes.
In episode 4, Anthony mentioned that the scenes where the Android taught his character French technical terms were a lot of fun to do. On a more serious personal note for the characters, he said the “nice sensitive scenes with Five were impactful” because Three had to figure out the right things to say. Sometimes a person’s “presence is more important than the words coming out of their mouth.” We discussed that a little bit in relation to children – Five is the youngest member of the Raza crew, although certainly not a child and mature beyond her years – but Anthony said “as a parent sometimes just being there for the person in distress and letting them know that is the key.” (Five was upset at this point in the season because Six had left the ship to remain behind on a colony world.)
Anthony talked about the concept of how the “heart of the character” is what he and the audience gravitate most to. Not the fight scenes or the special effects, although he took care to praise Lawren Bancroft-Wilson, Visual Effects Supervisor, and John Stead, the Stunt Co-ordinator, for all their hard work and the amazing things they accomplish within the show’s budget. In Anthony’s view, the “character beats” have nothing to do with the budget a movie or a show has to work with. The “emotional beats” , being character driven, are the same in an expensive film or a less expensive film.
We discussed the idea that currently movies tend to be about the spectacle and the effects, whereas television shows like Dark Matter can take more time to allow the characters to unfold and reward the viewers’ time investment. Anthony compared watching a television series to reading a novel, where you can “go back and back again” and at the end of the novel, “you miss the people.” As a science fiction author, I resonated with that analogy. I think a viewer can certainly discover new depths and fresh insights to the characters upon rewatching previous episodes, in light of new information shared as the season progresses. I enjoy that element of a good character-driven show like Dark Matter.
The other scenes Anthony mentioned as favorites from this season were during the arc with Sarah and especially the moments where she’s going to go transfer her consciousness into an android body.
We talked about the romance between Three and Sarah, which Anthony characterized as a “tough romantic beat” and that it would surely be a Season 4 theme (assuming there is a season 4). He shared that originally Sarah was just supposed to be in the one episode in season 1 but the “relationship worked for Joe (Mallozzi)” and he “had to fit it into the puzzle.”
As far as future developments for Sarah and Three – I asked for teasers not spoilers – he said the situation was going to be “confusing and complex and centers around her being in an android body.” Viewers already know there’s going to be the ongoing theme of the android versus human revolt (the ‘Dwarf Star conspiracy’ Future Five warns Android about in episode four) and Sarah is caught in the middle of both sides, as a human mind in an android body. Anthony felt that Three was a “voice of fear and conservatism” and it was really interesting for the character to end up with a robot girlfriend. Three certainly has expressed his strong opinions about robots and androids in the past. Other than the Raza’s own Android of course, who Three admits is “different.”
Moving on, other than the return of Sarah, I asked if there had been a development in any of the seasons where Anthony was taken by surprise when he first read the script. After some thought, he said episode ten of this season, where Two and Android found their creator. He “knew they’d been hinting for a long time that Portia and Android had a special relationship” but that the exact nature of what was revealed in episode 10 was certainly “a twist.”
This led to a discussion of working with the writers and the showrunners, and how much input he provides about his character. He said the writers “come with production ready scripts” and “do listen to thoughts and comments” from the actors. His own process is more spontaneous on the day of shooting and he doesn’t do as much regarding notes at the table read. He said for him, “It’s hard to know on the page when you’re reading it how it’ll play out”.
While Anthony indicated that there’s not “massive actor input”, sometimes he or any of the others in the cast might go “hang out in Joe’s office and suggest a few things” and realize later that something did indeed make it into an episode.
We discussed the various “creative forces” at the actor’s level, when it came to the character and holding onto “certain ideas of what you’ve created and expect in your character” whereas the show runner and the writers have to hold onto the creative forces and expectations for the entire show and all the characters. I likened it to the balancing act an author like me has to do with all the characters in a novel vis-a-vis the overall plot.
Anthony also pointed out that the show’s editors are quite involved with the characters and “fundamentally putting it all together.” The bottom line was that “everyone gets their voice”.
I asked how he as an actor approaches playing Marcus Boone, the alternate universe bad guy version of Three, versus his usual approach to being Three. He said he “resets the clock to the guy who woke up in the first episode because that’s fundamentally who he is. Subsequent events changed who he has become.” He mentioned the influence of Sarah and Five on Three, but also shared that Three “still embraces a part of that side of who he was. The shoot first and ask questions later attitude is still there.” In an interesting insight, Anthony said Three has “rediscovered part of himself that was deeply buried” going back to when the character was much loved by his real family.
I asked if he thought the fans would be left in a relatively good place if there was no season 4. No spoilers but there is a cliffhanger, which Anthony felt fans would find “way cooler” than the cliffhanger at the end of season 2, and would “love it.” He explained that a “big bang cliffhanger” as there was at the end of the previous season offers questions about who might survive and who might die, whereas apparently the way this season will end raises different kinds of questions about the characters’ futures, not just merely the issue of survival. That’s my personal inference from the few, careful non-spoiler remarks he made, so any misinterpretation is solely on me!
He also offered that “Joe probably has totally different ideas in his head for what happens”.
(Count me in as a fan who really hopes the show gets renewed. I want more Raza adventures!)
Coming to the end of our time, we talked a bit about his role as an Ambassador for Handicap International. From their website: “Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International supports people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations living in conflict and disaster zones and in situations of exclusion and extreme poverty.” Anthony spoke eloquently of how the organization started during the 1980’s as one man’s efforts to provide simple prosthetics and has now grown to work in approximately sixty countries. Again from their website: “With local partners, we run programs in health and rehabilitation and social and economic integration. We work with local authorities to clear landmines and other war debris and to prevent mine-related accidents through education. We respond quickly and effectively to natural and civil disasters in order to limit serious and permanent injuries and to assist survivors’ recovery and reintegration. We advocate for the universal recognition of the rights of people with disabilities through national planning and advocacy.”
I asked him if he had any favorite science fiction books to recommend and he said he was “at the point of life where things outside the home” cut into his chances to read, but that prior to becoming a father he read a lot of science fiction. The book which he called “his favorite of all time” in the genre was Earth by David Brin. He spoke of Brin’s challenges in projecting into the not too distant future – the story is set in 2038. He also mentioned Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
For closing remarks, Anthony thanked the Dark Matter fans. “The folks watching the show are the last piece in the completed puzzle. Without them there is no completed puzzle.” He was “thankful for that relationship” and that he and the other actors got to “play in the playground and the fans were playing along and coming for the ride.” He finished with, “Big thanks to everyone for spending an hour of their lives with us [each week] in this busy world.”
Dark Matter airs on SyFy every Friday and if you haven’t checked out their amazing website at http://www.syfy.com/darkmatter I highly recommend it. Zoie Palmer (The Android) hosts the excellent After Dark webshow and Anthony does backstage glimpse segments in the show from time to time, plus more interesting content like the Showrunner’s Blog is easily accessible.
My thanks to Anthony for taking the time to chat. You can find me in my usual spot on Friday nights in front of the TV relishing the ongoing adventures of Three and the rest of the Raza crew.