Bitten: Interview: Kelley Armstrong & Laura Vandervoot

BITTEN_EP101_102_D11_SW_0049 webFor many years fans of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld have been hoping for a screen version of the stories, which began with Bitten, about reluctant werewolf Elena and her relationship with Clay Danvers, the wolf who turned her. Now the stories are coming to television, starting to air on Syfy in the US this week. Author Armstrong and series star Laura Vandervoot – the former Kara/Supergirl from Smallville – took part in a press conference on January 6th:

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Kelley, what was your inspiration for the book series? And Laura, how did you first get involved in the TV series?

Kelley Armstrong:     For the books, Bitten actually came out of an X-Files episode. I was in a writing group. And as part of a writing group you’re expected to actually write new stuff. I was trying to come up with an idea, sat down and watched X-Files.

It was way back in their first season. Their one and only werewolf episode. It was your typical big guy who changes into some beast like thing and goes around slaughtering people under the full moon. And I said that’s not how I would do werewolves.

And for a writer, that then sparks, how would I do them? And I wrote a short story with this character named Elena and I loved that world so much that I wrote a book.

Laura Vandervoort: I had no idea it was The X-Files. That’s really cool for me to know as well.

KA:     Which goes to show you how long ago I started writing Bitten. It was the first season of the show [1993]; it is old stuff.

LV:     I actually received an offer for the role — which was amazing, first of all. And ended up speaking to [executive producer] J.B. [Sugar] on the phone just to get an idea of the premise of the show and how it would look and how the wolves would be done.

We spoke for about an hour. I heard how passionate he was about the project and  it just sounded like something I’d really been looking to do – such a layered thing – with a character who is both flawed and strong.

So I read the books. I read Women of the Otherworld and Bitten and did a bit of research. As soon as I realized the amazing quality of what was there I jumped on. We did some auditions and chemistry reads with the guys and we just sort of hit the ground running, no pun intended.

It was the most challenging six months I’ve had thanks to Kelley and the writers. Every day was a challenge for me. There were days where I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle the emotional side of it or the physical side of it or just being in every scene. And I did. I’m so grateful for the experience.

One of you created Elena; the other plays her. Can you tell us a little bit about her and how our interpretations differ?

KA:     The creation of Elena really was way back – Bitten is my first published novel. I wanted to create a character who would be a werewolf and be uncomfortable with that role, but ultimately come to embrace it.

So often we – at that time – saw werewolves as having a curse, something that you wanted to end to get out of. And I wanted a character who, while she would feel that she should think that way, really deep down doesn’t. Bitten was about coming to understand that what you think you should be is not always what you’re meant to be.

LV:     I agree with what Kelley said. There are a lot of parallels with Elena in the show and women in general. Elena flees to Toronto to try to hide who she truly is and try to have this almost perfect image of what she feels people need from her, but she’s just pushing down the animal inside of her. It’s such an amazing character; a lot of the skeletons in her closet are explored this season. You learn a lot about her history and some of her demons come back.

Every episode was shocking to us when we’d read it. We had no idea where they were going to go with it. So I think even if you’re not a sci-fi fan you’re going to find something that you truly love about this show because it’s not just about the sci-fi. It’s not just about the werewolves, it’s about the characters and their relationships and it’s just very layered.

bitten_posterSyfy also has Being Human. So how do your werewolves kind of differ from the werewolves on that – Josh and Nora?

LV:     Our werewolves are actually more down to earth. They’re life-sized to any other wolf. It’s not a fantasy show. It’s as realistic as we can be with the situation at hand.

The wolves have the actor’s eyes and the same coloring – their fur is the same coloring as the hair. Obviously we are dealing with a mythical idea of werewolves, but we’re trying to make it as true to life as we can. And that’s by making sure the werewolves aren’t any different to a typical wolf.

And what makes you different from Teen Wolf because I think this is a very different show from Teen Wolf?

LV:     Kelley, do you want to do that?

KA:     You want me to do that? You know, the one great thing for me was that this book was written in the 1990s. It was written in the late ’90s when I didn’t have to worry about what else was out there. My point of reference was, like, The Wolf Man and An American Werewolf in London.

So I didn’t have to say “OK, what’s currently out there and how can I be different?” If anything, the fact that I wrote about werewolves was a huge strike against me because nobody knew how to sell a book where the werewolves weren’t monsters.

So when I’m comparing it to other things, that’s a whole lot tougher for me because I built mine from folklore. I’m a huge folklore geek and I went through everything I knew about werewolves. I cherry-picked what bits of folklore made the most sense if putting it into a contemporary context where I want people to believe that the werewolves could actually live next door.

So there are lots of things in the folklore – like they can only be killed by a silver bullet – that don’t realistically work if you’re trying to say they have existed for hundreds of years unknown.

Laura, do you know more about Teen Wolf? The only Teen Wolf I know is that old Michael J. Fox movie. A totally different, different thing.

LV:     Yes. And I’m sort of the same world. I love Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf – and that’s about it. I really didn’t watch a lot of werewolf movies or TV shows. But I know there are some out there. They are for younger audiences and I think they’re more geared towards the teens.

I don’t know if Kelley agrees, but Bitten is very much adult, in that it’s risky and it’s raw and it’s sexy. And like she said, it is to the point where you feel like you could live next to a werewolf and not really know because of the way they’ve lived. They live in this beautiful home.

They’re cultured. Our pack alpha – played by Greg Bryk – is very intellectual and artistic. They sit down to nice meals and they only kill what’s necessary for food or to protect. They’re very educated. And so they’re not monsters even though Elena has trouble at the beginning seeing herself as anything, you know, but a monster.

BITTEN_EP101_102_D11_SW_0075 web portraitDo you see Elena as being a role model? She is a very strong, self-confident woman – which you don’t get a lot of on television.

LV:     Yes. You hit it. And that’s exactly why I loved what Kelley had created. I grew up as tomboy and I wanted to be, not necessarily a role model. I mean I would go to Comic Conventions after playing Supergirl [on Smallville] and I’d see eight to nine-year old girls who look up to superheroes. But those superheroes are in tube tops and short shorts. And it just turned me the wrong way. I wanted to always play women that I would be proud of young girls looking up to.

Obviously the show isn’t necessarily for young girls, but Elena is an individual. She speaks for herself. She always comes out on top. She’s strong. She puts these boys in place when she needs to in the pack. I love that about her.

KA:     I’ll just say, Laura, thank you for taking that stance on it in general for young women because I do agree. Especially in the world of fantasy and superheroes, giving role models who aren’t in the skimpy little outfits in impossible poses is so important for young women.

LV:     Yes. I agree with you Kelley 100%. There is a sexuality to the werewolves and we need to see that part of it. The fact that she is just so strong, I think is a great idea of what women should be and can be on television.

In the books, Elena has overcome a history of some pretty awful abuse. Why was that important that you give her that history? You’d think that having become a werewolf unwillingly would be more than enough to cause havoc.

KA:     It’s never enough. For a character like that you really need to pile as much as possible on them! But seriously, what it was for Elena was looking at the psychology of a character who could have a background and come to become a werewolf and embrace that.

Elena’s overriding need is for family. It is for family and acceptance. That, of course, comes out of this really rotten background. If she’d had great parents and she had a great support system at home, she would have found that break from the pack much easier. She just would have gone home, lived her life, and not really felt that pull to go back to people who had betrayed her.

As it is, because it’s been so bad for her, she really has no one that pulls for pack. You’re combining both the werewolf instinct with her own desires and what she really needs to feel fulfilled.

It’s both a push and a pull because yes, the pack does offer family, but it does not offer the type of family that she has grown up expecting – which is get married, have kids, live in the suburbs somewhere. So it really is difficult for her.

My background is psychology. That’s what my degree’s in – and mainly counseling psychology. So I really do layer that in for background. In order to get this type of character, what would be the background that would cause that character to be the way I need them to be?

bittenHow much influence did you have on the TV show? Will fans be happy about changes that they might have had to make for the TV show?

KA:     I really didn’t have any influence. And that is what I felt was the correct stance to be taken. A TV show is an adaptation. It is another version for a different medium. To take a book and translate it directly to screen would make it very boring.

I will warn you, in Bitten I spent way too much time in Elena’s head, and to put that on the screen would have been boring. Somebody else has to take it with fresh eyes and reconstruct it for a different medium. I personally feel that by getting involved, I’m, of course, so attached to my characters and so attached to my world that I would be objecting to things that I shouldn’t be objecting to.

I was so thrilled with the early scripts I read. I was so thrilled with the writing and how they got the characters. And yes, there are changes, but there should be. And I was quite happy to leave it in everyone’s capable hands and just step back.

Is there something that maybe really surprised about how they did either change it or stuff that they left in or anything like that?

KA:     I’ve read and really enjoyed the first two scripts. Apparently screeners are on the way to me of the episode. So I haven’t seen anything. So I can only go on from early versions of those couple of scripts. And, of course, I mean one of the things that they really needed to do was bring in other points of view because Bitten is written first person, from Elena.

When she’s not with the pack, all we know is when she has communication with them. We’re not seeing what they’re doing at the same time. You can’t do it in first person. That is one of the drawbacks. But on the TV version, they were able to show what the other characters are doing. So that was a lot of fun for me to read them, you know, imagining what the other characters were doing while Elena was in Toronto.

Bitten Clay and ElenaHow do you feel about playing Elena?

LV:     I can’t even express how much I feel in love with her. I’ve been acting since I was 13. I’ve never fallen in love with a character the way that I fell in love with Elena. I was actually sad, like I was leaving a person behind, on the day that we wrapped because I just became so attached to her. Honestly. And also, obviously, the cast and crew.

She’s the closest to heart for me with a character that I’ve ever played. Everything about her is just so redeeming. She’s sad and she’s layered and she’s not perfect. It’s such an interesting role for me and the most adult role that I’ve ever had a chance to be a part of.

Not only that, it’s my first lead on a series. I invested a lot of my heart and soul, and a lot of personal things that were happening to me at the time of filming are on camera because you just can’t hide something. There’s a lot of overlapping between Elena and myself.

Bitten starts on Monday January 13th on Syfy

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