Dark Matter: Interview: Joseph Mallozzi

dark-matterDark Matter returns to Syfy’s screens on July 4th, picking up on the major revelations of the final episode of the first season. During a visit to the set earlier this year, co-creator Joe Mallozzi set the scene for the second year and hinted at some shocking developments…

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Can you give a quick overview of where Season 2 starts?

Dark Matter 1.13Season 1 ended in shocking fashion with the reveal of who wiped the crew’s memories and who the mole was. When we last saw the crew they were being escorted off the ship by the Galactic Authority. We pick up things in Season 2 in the intergalactic prison.

Season 2 was surprisingly smooth sailing. It reminds me of Stargate: that was a super well-oiled machine and everyone knew what they did. On this show we don’t have Stargate money but I think we look just as good as any other sci-fi show out there. Everybody is so very good at what they do.

I was here early this morning and the production designer was walking us through the sets they have designed and built. It looks amazing in terms of how quickly they work and what they do.

What were the challenges of changing the story from a comic book to a TV show?

DarkMatterCover1People assume that Dark Matter started as a comic book, and to the public it was but it was always a pilot script I wrote way back in Atlantis’ fourth year. I thought, once the show ends, I will roll into Dark Matter – then we kept on getting picked up, and picked up. Then finally when I thought we would get picked up – we got cancelled.

I started my career in development and one of the things I learnt from development and going on to run shows is it’s really hard to sell an original idea. You go in, and unless you are JJ Abrams, it’s a really hard sell. People love established property and comic book property, so we approached Dark Horse Comic about publishing the pilot script. They were on board with the idea but there are no guarantees.

Jay Firestone who put this deal together said one of the biggest assets of helping sell this show was the comic books. You pitch the show and more often than not a lot of executives imagine the worst possible scenario. But if you have the comic book there, they can get it. It was a great selling tool and Dark Horse has expressed interest in beginning a new series – but realistically I have my hands full with this, unless another writer takes over.

Do the visuals of the comic book influence the show at all?

Not really. It’s funny: when they said they were going to adapt the pilot script for the comic book, I said I would send the artist the script and they could be like a director and envision it on the page – but that’s not how it works. You actually have to write a comic book script. I did that, and it was a great learning experience. It was a lot of fun. We brought a great artist on board and he had this ship design. His character designs were great but when it came time to develop it for TV, we went in another direction as the characters were different.

DM razaWhen we were casting, we were going to use the comic book as a template. The character of Four and the Android played by Zoie Palmer, they were open to all genders. The character of Four came down to an actress and actor and we went with Alex.

The comic book provided a template especially with the ship designs. We wanted to give the production designer carte blanche of what the Raza would look like. We brought in an artist to design various concepts and came up with six or seven different looks. The one we decided on, I liked the stocky, bulldog look of the ship and that was it.

You answered a lot of questions in the Series 1 finale; when did you decide to do that?

One of the things that drives me nuts with some shows, they either go along with the mystery for so long or never answer it in a satisfactory fashion. After the first episode ends with the audience [and the characters] finding out that these people are the worst-of-the-worst, a lot of critics said we should have saved that for the end of the season reveal. I suppose I could have but I wanted to accelerate the story. That was one of the things I promised the viewers. We had been sitting on this show for years, and one of the benefits is it allowed me to really think things through and come up with solid back story.

I do have a five year plan. I know where each year will end. Ultimately the story is about redemption. Are people born bad prior to their environment? The whole nature versus nurture debate, I like the idea of exploring it through six or seven very different characters. You are on a journey of redemption for five years and it’s not going to be a happy ending for all of them, like life. That was the game plan.

I know a lot of people, after the first episode, didn’t know how we would sustain the show. Bu the mystery then became their backstories and the journey of self-discovery. After the finale we find out who the mole is – so, people ask, where are we going to go now? There are plenty of directions to go and we know exactly where we are going in Season 2.

One of the things that we got flak for is that we kept things on a very micro level. One of the things I loved about the show when we first envisioned it was the characters are all tabula rasa. They didn’t know who they are or how they got on board. They started off on the same level as the audience and were finding out about themselves at the same pace and time as the audience. At the beginning people thought the characters seemed too flat, or were too much like the other characters, but as it progressed we added depth to these characters.

Darl Matter ThreeThe classic example is Three. He came off an asshole in the first episode and I was surprised by how many people hated him after that, so I thought maybe we’d made him too unlikeable. Then we found out about his backstory and his relationship, the woman he left behind; it humanises the character and now he is a fan favourite, which was always the plan. I was surprised by how much he was hated at the start.

One of the lessons I learnt from Stargate was that people tune in for the hook – and we have a lot of great hooks in this show – but they stay for the characters. I think we have seven very diverse and interesting characters.

What is equally important is a sense of humour. One of the things I told everyone when we were auditioning, I was looking for talent and someone who envisioned the character in a unique way and brought them to life, but I also wanted humour. I think all of the characters are funny in subtle ways, and I think humour goes such a long way with the audience in order to connect with the characters, the show and to humanise them.

How easy is it to predict the best place for mythology reveals? Did that change post Lost?

I watched the first three seasons [of Lost] and I thought they were very good at what they did. I think a lot of fans were frustrated that it was mystery on top of mystery with few pay offs, but maybe they did at the end.

TwoAndroidOne of the nice things about setting things up in advance is layering little clues and setups that you pay off later on. In Episode 3, the Android is about to head out. She turns to Two and says, “You have to come back, we can’t do this without you,” then the Android says “You can.” I remember Zoie coming to me and asking “Do you want me to emphasise the you?” and I said “Yeah”. Melissa said “That’s an odd intonation,” and I said “Yeah”. I remember reading on a fan board that one fan thought it was weird the way Android said “you” to Two. People said they were just imagining things. Ultimately it was very subtle but it paid off later on in the fact she knows Two is more than just your average human being. That was fun.

In terms of the mythology, Season 1 was very much the mystery and who they were, but in Season 2 we’re going to be proactive and take the fight out to the enemies they have established over time. Season 1 was very micro, it kept it on the character level. They are finding out about themselves and it’s very ship-centric. Season 2 we will be going out more, finding out about the universe. There is significantly more world building in Season 2.

Did anything change as far as the backstories of which characters interacted with each other after you saw the chemistries between the cast?

Definitely. Less so in Season 1 as we had twelve or so scripts already written in place. But now we have a better sense of who plays well with each other we made a concerted effort to tell those stories.

The Android didn’t have the significant throughline in the first season as we originally envisioned it. The script came in short so I decided I would write the Android scene, and so we created this throughline for her. It was interesting and we continued it in Season 2 as Zoie is so good.

FiveThreeHumour is so important so I’m always drawn to characters that have that. On our show all the characters are funny in different ways. You write the script and then you see the performance and onscreen chemistry. Five and Six have great onscreen chemistry. Five and Three. Jodelle [Five] is actually the most experienced actor on our cast, she’s been acting since she was two years old. She is an editor’s dream. She is always reacting, even off camera. She always gives you something to cut to. She and Anthony’s characters are so fun when they are in the room. In Episode 4 we did a part where she goes to him for cash, and she says “Sure but at 20% interest, if you don’t pay within a week.” Then he says “I can do math” and she says “Well you can calculate compound interest then”. It’s a really funny scene. So I knew going into the new season I wanted to do an episode with the two of them alone in the woods being pursued by someone. That’s Episode 11 and they are going to tear it up.

DM CrossCan you talk about the diversity in the cast….

Diversity is important, at the end of the day, when it came to casting. To be honest, we went out to cast the best actors. Roger Cross, a diverse choice certainly, but he was the best actor for the role of Six. One of the best things of having nine finished scripts [is] we could pick the very best scenes for auditions. One of them was for Roger and it was from Episode 9 where Five is in the vent and he’s blowing up at her. He’s reacting in anger and in hindsight you realise he’s going to take them down and doesn’t want her on the ship. In that instant he brings her to tears, and he apologises later on when she’s in the van. There’s one line he says, “We are going to go our separate ways, and when that time comes, I’m going to miss you a lot,” and the way he delivered that was so on point.

The character of Two I always imagined as Asian but we opened it up to all ethnicities and Melissa just happened to give the best performance. This year we’re adding Melanie Liburd. We didn’t go at it thinking “we have to cast diversity for this role”, she was the best actress. I look at the cast and it’s wonderfully diverse and reflective of society.

Is there a possibility that a main cast member will die?

DM AkitaI think Season 2 will put the ‘Dark’ in Dark Matter. Last year, in terms of shocking deaths – I don’t count the exploding planet – the most shocking death was of Akita in the way it happened [in Episode 9]. You create this character who bonds with Four, and Four literally kills him in the end, and that was a shocker. In terms of shocking deaths in Season 2, there are a lot more. Basically no one is safe.

One of the things I love about some cable shows, like Walking Dead, is that no one is safe – at least Rick is, and sadly Carl – and in our show no one is safe. There is no hero. Even though One is number One, he’s only number One as he happened to be the first guy to wake up. I think you will be surprised by Season 2.

Dark Matter begins on Syfy on July 4th

 

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