Syfy’s HUNTERS: Chat with Julian McMahon, Britne Oldford & EP Natalie Chaidez

Tonight Syfy introduces audiences to the new alien drama, Hunters. When Baltimore FBI agent Flynn Carroll’s (Nathan Phillips) wife goes missing, his search leads him to a highly-classified government organization – the Exo-Terrorism Unit (ETU) – who track and fight alien terrorists. Regan (Britne Oldford) is a valuable ETU operative keeping secrets of her own, while McCarthy (Julian McMahon) is the dangerously unhinged terrorist threatening everyone’s safety.

Hunters‘ 13-episode first season debuts Monday, April 11 at 10PM ET/PT on Syfy. In anticipation, OHSOGRAY participated on a recent press call with stars Oldford and McMahon, in addition to the show’s EP Natalie Chaidez.

Can you talk about working with some of the both digital, practical effects on the show?

Britne Oldford: Yes. In working, I think on this show, we were so fortunate to be working with Justin Dix, the most amazing special effects guy. So we were really working with a lot of practical things. A lot with the guns, a lot of the props that has been — certain other pieces were all there for us and ready to be used in the green screen. I think as an actor that was definitely such a treat because a lot of the time aliens and other supernatural nature, you tend to have to work a little bit harder to kind of pretend and imagine what’s going on but we had everything like in front of us. It definitely added to the show and is a very important part of our show, and it’s kind of the heart of it, and it was a total treat.

Natalie Chaidez: Gale Ann Hurd has a long tradition of working with practical effects coming up in the Roger Korman camp. Early discussions between Gale and I [were] about grounding this really firmly in practical effects, and not only creatively helping the show but [to] give it a tactile and a visceral feel that sometimes is lost in the effects. We hope we provided that. We went to the body horror of the season. Like Britne said, we had a terrific prosthetics producer named Justin Dix who really is the Greg Nicotero of Australia. We have him in-house in our Melbourne studio and he was building all the Hunter effects from the ground up. We had full-on prosthetics lab in addition to creepy creatures, and just a bunch of other cool toys I wish you guys could have all seen.

Julian McMahon: We kind of lucked out. I don’t know how these things happen sometimes but we kind of lucked out with the studio and the location with which we were kind of got distant in a roundabout way, and that was this place out in — what do we end up calling it? Bloodywood. It was [ ] out of Melbourne, just outside of the city of Melbourne. Natalie nicknamed it Bloodywood. Well, this couldn’t be anything further from Hollywood than you could imagine. It was the building and the structure which we actually had our offices in and which Natalie had her offices in, particularly. We used this as a location for a lot of stuff. It was really a rundown building that was really applicable to all of the stuff that we were trying to express through our character and script. A lot of the time you search for these kinds of things and you may be going to find them quite as applicable as what they would be to what you may be desired. Here we just get this fantastic gift of shooting in the location with which suited the show. I think that that kind of add[ed] to that element of being able to shoot that kind of stuff. As Natalie said, that kind of grounded quality of what we were doing because it was real and it was dirty, and it was dark, and it was pretty disgusting. So, that all comes across because that’s what it was. I really kind of appreciate that attribute.

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Natalie, can you talk about the difficulties in adapting it for television?

Natalie Chaidez: I mean I wouldn’t say it’s the difficulty. I’ve done a very big franchise adaptation with the Sarah Connor Chronicle coming from the Terminator, and I have the opportunity to adapt a classic sci-fi movie and doing 12 Monkeys. It’s really an opportunity to spread-out because of the narrative of television. You have a whole season, hopefully, more seasons than that. I really think that the original sources are turning more and more of a jumping off point for a whole new playground for show runners and television writers to work from.

The show is as much about terrorism as aliens, which is of particular relevance right now. How have current events factored into the storytelling?

Natalie Chaidez: Hunters had been in development for three years and the role, [the] allegory of terrorism, at least, and terrorists have been, has been, creatively around. Sadly, it has just become more relevant in the last couple of weeks. Our hearts go out to the victims in those recent events. It’s tragic. And look, I mean these terrorists are the monsters of our time. Science fiction has always been a way to explore relevant social issues in a way that is palatable and to deal with our fears. We’re living in a time when we’re scared of going out in public. We’re scared of who is beside us. We’re scares of what we might be coming at us. The show is really about that fear and now it’s something as a monster, also wrestling with some of the larger issues that those fears create in our culture.

Britne Oldford: I think — yes. That definitely hits it on the nose, really.

Julian McMahon: Yes. Look, I agree with what Natalie said. This is a difficult time that we’re in, and terrorism is the new monster. The launch of the show coincides with something that has happened that is horrific. So your concern immediately goes to people that have been affected by this and your heart goes out for them, and your prayers go to them. As a television show, I think I’d echo what Natalie has already said, and that is an opportunity to be out to express our fears and to be able to do that through an alien world I think. As a piece, it’s interesting; as a statement also has its kind of its interesting qualities to it.

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For Britne and Julian, were you two familiar with the Alien Hunters book series before you started working on the show?

Britne Oldford: Yes. I mean, I at least got to read the book, Alien Hunter, when I got the scripts to read when I was auditioning. I definitely went through it and I read it. Then I was familiar with his work. Some of these books have been adapted to films. It was just really exciting everyone being involved, Natalie, Gale with me, having the opportunity to film to Australia. It was definitely a thrill to know that I could possibly be a part of the project and then getting it — I just wanted to do everyone proud.

Julian McMahon: I wasn’t. I was familiar somewhat with the writer and some of his other books. I was not particularly with this one. It was an interesting thing for me because we have done other stuff that had been adapted before. This was the first time, not only the script — and I think it was the [ ] script that I got. I think about a few initially. But this, the characters and the pace is so well written. This character that I play, McCarthy, was so kind of…he just kind of jumped off the page at me. I don’t know if it sounds weird but you kind of start visualizing. You can see yourself in it and you can — there’s always things that happen to you as an actor once you start kind of thinking about a character and reading a page. This is really the third time I didn’t read the books until after I finished shooting, because I didn’t want anything to interrupt what Natalie had already put in my mind. Everything from the names of the episodes to the characters and how well I was drawn to the piece itself and how well it was kind of potentially executable. I kind of didn’t want to interrupt everything that was kind of flowing already. And so it was an interesting thing for me, because usually I kind of go back and read the book and try to get something from it. But I just got summed up from the script. It wasn’t until later that I decided to take a look at the book.

For Britne and Julian, can you kind of talk about the physical side of this show?

Britne Oldford: Definitely. I mean, I know that for the Hunters — I can’t really say in particular because I think for everyone involved it’s a very physically, that it was a very physically demanding project. But for the Hunters in particular, we had a lovely coach, Peggy, when we were filming in Melbourne the first couple of weeks. She really helped us figure out how hunters move and what their ticks were, and really kind of feeling grounded in that aspect of the character which is all those subtle, very important… Of course, there was a series of training and so on for my character, for Regan, with regards to her kickboxing and with regards to justgenerally being a very strong, very agile creature or person. So, it was definitely a challenge. That’s really a challenge because the working schedule was quite intense, but something I enjoyed and would gladly do again.

Julian McMahon: Yes. And mine wasn’t quite — first of all, I have to say that, or I’d like to say, should I say, that I just think Britne’s work in these first two episodes, which is the only two complete ones that have been absolutely wonderful, so kudos to her. I just thought she was so well cast in this piece. I had kind of discussed that with Natalie as we’re going through it and we have that line at the beginning or the end of, should I say, of episode one where he says what an extraordinary creature you are.

I really think that that’s quite applicable to how well she suits this piece in that role. I didn’t have as much kind of rough work or any [of] that kind of physical[] stuff. But I did have, — look, when we’re trying to develop a creature that we haven’t seen before we were really starting from scratch in regards that like who are these, who are these creatures, where are they from, what do they look like underneath the human, what the skeletal structure. How will they walk if they were on their planet? All of those kinds of things were very kind of interesting and kind of expected for me to be able to kind of delve into as an actor. Even the clicking noises of the sounds that they make to communicate. It was only that kind of stuff that I kind of spent a lot of time on how do they move. We decided that they move kind of very, very much from that the center of their groin was kind of a bit, just simply because of their structure was, you know…. and their chest was maybe back a little bit. I thought that stuff was really interesting and really kind of fun to kind of explore and examine. Hopefully, we got some of that across on the delivery of it.

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Natalie, could you talk about developing the aliens?

Natalie Chaidez: Well, look, this is the big joy of this project. The books were really the jumping off point. I began a relationship with the scientist named Seth Horowitz. He’s a former Brown University neurologist, and he was really fundamental in the development of the creature. We started from the ground up. We started by talking about their planet, what kind of gravity it would have, how that would affect their anatomy, how that anatomy moves through space, how would… We came up with the sort of leaning into the world of sound because I wanted to do an alien world that was different from other alien world that we’ve seen. I think we all kind of think of lights in the sky when we think of an alien show. I wanted to do something really, really different.

I thought about conspiracy movies of the ‘70s and how important sound was. That led to creatures that were sound based and lived in a very auditory world. That led to the development of our sonic weaponry, and the idea that the aliens, the hunters themselves are communicating. They have a language that’s like dolphin’s or like bat’s. That their click language which we spent literally months from the development of, with our sound designer is embedded inside music, and that they’re using social media much like the bad guys and terrorists of our time. So, really, it was a two-year process, the development of the world, all the way, all the way from anatomical pictures, all the way through, like Julian and Britne said hiring a movement coach to work with our actors [who] plays as hunters on how a creature from a sound based would move.

What has it been like working on this project?

Natalie Chaidez: I would say the most exciting for me was working with Gale Ann Hurd. No offense to all the terrific cast and crew, but I was a huge fan girl. I was so thrilled when I first met Gale. She is someone who is responsible for some of my favorite movies of all time, the Terminator, Terminator 2 and Aliens. Created some of the most iconic female science fiction characters in movie history. For me the opportunity to learn alongside and work alongside, a pioneer, not just for women but for science fiction is something that — it was an incredible experience and I’ll treasure it for the rest of my life.

Britne Oldford: I think what I would really take away from this project was just the experience of it all. You know, living in Australia, living — just traveling the other side of the world, living there for nearly five months…. It was the most physically demanding project I’ve ever worked on and one of the most emotionally demanding projects I’ve ever worked on, and working with Julian and Natalie, and Gale, and all the rest of the cast. It’s amazing, amazing Australian talents that everyone is going to be able to see in a, in a very big way. Just being a part of the project was spectacular. It’s a dream role for me. I love the genre. I love the characters. I love everything about it. I’m very excited for it to come for people to see it, and hopefully, makes them question things. I mean that’s really what, as an actor, what I at least want to wanted to hopefully get people an experience and maybe them question their lives or think about maybe having a different opinion about things. Hopefully, accepting themselves more and feeling more comfortable in their own skin. It was just great to be a part of it.

Julian McMahon: I would have to say a little of both. It was Gale’s history and track record and the fact that she’s a legend in this business probably attracted me to the piece, more so than anything else to begin with and then Natalie’s writing was another big part once I started getting into the scripts. Then getting to — this is what Britne was talking about, you know. For me it was great to head back to Australia for a period of time to be able to work out there. I hadn’t done it in a long time and I’m from there, so that was a wonderful opportunity to kind of reconnect with the country I haven’t spent much time in over the last 20 years. We had a really great cast, a great collection of Australian directors. You’ll see the episodes continue that they just did wonderful work. Really the takeaway of the whole thing — and then I got to play this character that I thought was quite extraordinary. So the takeaway from the whole thing for me it was really just, more so than anything else, a wonderful experience. You don’t always get that. So that’s — and it’s very important for me, particularly at this point of time in my life. That would be my greatest takeaway.

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Are you looking forward to live Tweeting the episodes?

Julian McMahon: I think why not?

Britne Oldford: I definitely think it’s going to be fun that audience interaction is always amazing and it really helps you gauge what their experience is like and it’s wonderful. Yes. It’s very exciting.

Natalie Chaidez: I would say I am so looking forward to it, because [live] is the best. Like their vision and the level of interaction, and the feedback that I get from [people] who are watching the show and into the show, there is nothing like it and that’s why we do it. I know that I can’t wait, and I know that the rest of the cast can’t wait, too, to jump in and start, and start playing like that.

What do you like about your character, Britne? And Julian, is it more fun to play a demon, a doctor, or an alien?

Britne Oldford: Yes, definitely. First off, I just have to say that I think Julian’s character McCarthy is such a spectacular devious, amazingly performed creature. The few scenes that I get to work with you, Julian, they were some of my favorites. But yes, Regan, I love her because she was a strong character. She’s a strong woman and I’ve been very fortunate in the five years that I’ve been doing this acting to a plate, a string of fairly strong female character. I think that’s a great representation as well of the people behind the production and that is Natalie and Gale Ann Hurd. And she’s strong. She’s intuitive but she’s still incredibly sensitive to her surroundings and the people around her. I think that’s very complicated a very complicated role. So quite beautiful in navigating in that world was pretty powerful and that I find out that way about myself during the process.

Julian McMahon: Well, this — look, I felt that my character on Nip Tuck was a pretty extraordinary character and it’s hard to beat. But this, my party guy was a challenge to that, because I had never read something that was just so kind of intense and of his own kind of illusion, his own kind of take. It was just an extremely unique individual. Maybe that’s the correlation between the three things that I found attractive, the three characters that you’re talking about. It was one of those things where you read it. You don’t look — as an actor, you read a lot of different materials. It’s where that something kind of just naturally jumps at you and kind of screams and yells at you, and kind of tells you [that] you have to be the one that’s a part of it or performs it. This is definitely one of those pieces. It’s a uniquely written character. I got an opportunity to perform him uniquely, hopefully, something that we really kind of haven’t seen before, and that was a very conscious thing for us to develop. It’s just also taking a few risks, the ability to take risks, and I think that Natalie wrote it with that in mind. At least, that’s certainly the way that I interpreted it. When you’re taking risks, you’re really enjoying your process because you’re challenging yourself. So, to me it was a gift, performance-oriented gift.

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What was that the biggest challenge was developing the uniqueness of this world?

Natalie Chaidez: I wouldn’t say it was a challenge. It was a delight, because I hadn’t done any alien show before. I’ve done superheroes and I’ve done, you know, robots and timetravel. And so, the opportunity to take on the genre after years of loving the genre and admiring the genre was really, really, it was fun. I would say it wasn’t hard. Every step of it was a pleasure, from working with my consultants to working with the actors, to building the prosthetics, to working with the composer and the sound designer. I think everybody really jumped on board and said make it more huntery. You know that was the word that we had on production. And really dove into this vision of these creatures from another planet. So it was a delight, and I hope that it is dark. It is a dark world and a unique world, and I can’t wait for people to see the rest of it unfold over season one.

For Julian, did you dye your hair for the role? And also did you go to the gym before this started?

Julian McMahon: To the first part of the question is I haven’t, I haven’t gotten that gray yet. So, look, I did color my hair. You can see in the first couple of episodes, I kind of go through a bit of a hair-morphs in those [initial] stages. It was something that kind of came to me based on what Natalie had written about he’s cutting his hair. It was kind of this thing where he just needed to change his look on a consistent basis. Once you start kind of processing the script, you start to develop a kind of direction that might be interesting to go. So part of that was his looks. I mean his looks…it was a unique look in regards to his clothing and one that we kind of pretty much kind of stuck towards. But the hair and other things were all kind of created on the fly. We went through a whole slew of different looks. I’m sure Natalie kind of got sick of looking at my photograph in different hairpiece and with–

Natalie Chaidez: I mean, McCarthy’s hair was subject to great debate over the course of the season. His dreadlocks were quite controversial but eventually made it through into the pilot episode and I think those are really cool. To his credit, Julian/McCarthy is a master of disguise and a student of pop culture, and Julian came on and fully embraced all of those changes. As far as working out, Julian came on the set that day for the shower scene, took off his shirt, and all of the cast, the crews were so… I don’t know what he did. I don’t know what he did. I guess hunters just have great bodies to that. But that was really fun.

Julian McMahon: It’s a requirement. It’s really fun to develop and Natalie supported me consistently on really just kind of challenging what would look good, what worked, what makes sense. We kind of came with this design with the makeup and hair team, and we spent a lot of time on it. It was really an interesting kind of development and evolution. You’ll see even as the show goes on that that continues. I think that for me that was a really kind of fun aspect of being able to play this guy.

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For Britne, does your dance background help some because she’s kind of do so many interesting moves? Also, do you have anything you can kind of relate to with your character where you felt like an outsider you can kind of tap into that?

Britne Oldford: Sure. Yes. I definitely think that my dance background and my physical background it plays into all of my work, really, because it’s very helpful when you have a background of physical memorization for blocking purposes and that sort of things. So that becomes something that you need to think of less which should help you focus on the whole picture more. But, definitely, I can, I can identify with Regan a lot more than I’d like to admit to in the sense that, you know, as… Specifically, I really reached to my childhood for this character, mainly, you know, growing in school I was definitely an outcast. I was definitely just a big old nerd and kind of a, kind of a loner, and I kept to myself a lot and I would observe people. Because I felt like a little weirdo which now, you know, once you finally get out of your academic career, you realized it’s awesome and the place to be, really. But I think that that observing of human behavior, of you know vast number of different types of people doing the same thing. Yes, that’s a huge reason why I’m an actor, and so I really, I really touched up on that, that awkwardness and that weirdness, and sort of not knowing where I belong, and kind of floating from groups to groups and always feeling restless.

Are there any past TV, science fiction TV shows or literature that you think maybe influenced Hunters or sort of in the same vein?

Natalie Chaidez: I’ve started the process by trying to actually step aside from the other genre, things had done about aliens because there’s a level of familiarity to it. I started by asking myself what if, what if the aliens weren’t so powerful? If they’re here on earth, what’s taking them so long to takeover? All of those sort of bigger picture questions that has always nagged me about other alien shows. I kind of dove in and address, and that led me into the idea of a group that isn’t all powerful. I mean, what if we were, what if humans landed on the moon? I mean you and I, you and I might crash-land over, that doesn’t mean we could build an island tomorrow. So this sort of allegory that they’re a smaller group, a powerless group, a hungry group led me into this idea that they’re acting like terrorist. Once I stumbled into that, that led me. Yes, I was influenced by science fiction, but I’ll tell you what I really looked a lot at was, like I said thrillers of the ‘70s and conspiracy thrillers.

So I looked a lot at the conversation and Parallax View, and I felt like that was sort of an original and cool to take on the genre that I had, that I hadn’t seen before. Also look a little bit, as we went further into the season, we got down to Melbourne and found out what an amazing opportunity we had with Justin Dix. I started looking at a lot more body horror stuff, with the Cronenberg and just some other gory, goofy, goofy stuff that influenced us creatively throughout the season.

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Do you have a firm story arc gets start already for the first season or is it more fluid?

Natalie Chaidez: Well, the first season is all shot. So, definitely that season was knocked out. And what was interesting about the Hunters process and I had never done before is that all the scripts were written ahead of time prior to shooting which I had not done in 20 years of television. I really had to know where the season was going. I’m working on bridges, bridges that cross where season two and season three are going now. So, hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to do that. Having worked on some really excellent serialized drama shows, I worked on the first season of Heroes, Sarah Connor, and I really feel that the audience knows when the creator and the creative team has a firm grasp on where the show is going. And so that was really important to me as a creator and a show runner.