On screen, there’s not much “Roswell” and “Bones” star Brendan Fehr hasn’t overcome. As an alien on the former, and a military man on the latter, he’s faced danger on both global and universal scales. Naturally, then, Fehr was the perfect choice to topline Syfy’s holiday feature “Ice Quake.”
On Christmas Eve, Fehr’s character, scientist Michael Webster, is called in to investigate the melting Alaskan permafrost. As the ground thaws, underground rivers of liquid methane are formed and lead to caustic earthquakes — and possibly an explosion that will destroy the planet.
“Ice Quake” (9 p.m. ET, Saturday, Dec. 11) is the finale to Syfy’s first “Countdown to Christmas Week.”
Fehr spoke with BTS and a handful of TV writers this week. The Canadian actor discussed his involvement with Syfy (and his iconic sci-fi beginnings), his past achievements and future projects.
Question: What did you think of the script when you first received it?
Brendan Fehr: Well, Syfy obviously comes up with their original movies. They come up with a whole variety of scripts. You never know kind of what you’re going to get and it’s always probably going to be a little bit of a surprise.But this one was rather tame in the sense of how there’s no sort of shark to hunt or zombie. There’s no monster, per se; it’s all based in science and natural disaster. Something I suppose could realistically happen, or at least that’s what we … I don’t exactly know the science behind it. But I thought that was interesting in order to kind of do — it’s probably one of the few ones that they do in this original series that there is no monster, per se. And, hopefully that adds to the reality of this possibly happening. It could add to the audience being — engaging the audience in a different respect than kind of sitting down and watching a two-headed monster dog or something like that (which) runs rampant around the city or whatever else. And so that interested me when I saw the script is that it was kind of planted in reality a little bit, which it’s not necessarily. … The others are a lot of fun, but as an actor I think it’s much easier to get into a headspace of “OK, this can happen. All right, this is all legitimate now.” And it requires a little bit less work, I think, and it kind of works in an actor’s favor. So that was a pleasant surprise.
Question: With this movie, “Ice Quake,” we find a couple of things we don’t normally see in sci-fi movies. You’ve got the family theme, and you’ve got the Christmas elements. How are those things sort of woven into the plot line?
Fehr: Well, it takes place over … it’s Christmas Eve. I’m called in to work to look at these tremors and kind of, I don’t know if you’d call them earthquakes so much, but these kind of underground activities. … I’m called in to work on Christmas Eve, which obviously doesn’t sit well with the family and all the rest of them. And then going up — because I have to check up on something, I just simply take the family up, as well, to the site — to the mountain — in order to grab a Christmas tree. We’re going to do the old fashioned way; we’re going to go down and chop down a tree and bring it home and all hell breaks loose, and we’re caught up on the mountain Christmas Eve trying to look for a tree, but obviously trapped by the ice quake. So we get to have kind of a Christmas theme, which is obviously exactly the right time of the year. And when you involve a family and children and kids, hopefully you bring that kind of character and those relationships to it. And hopefully we’ve found a way to raise the stakes a little bit in terms of dealing with that and then the sci-fi aspects: the methane and the potential catastrophic end of the world stuff.
Question: Did you have to go through any special preparation or research for the role?
Fehr: I probably should start doing those things, but I don’t. The preparation and everything else for me at this point … generally a lot of these things are fairly last minute. It’s not the big studio pictures and films where you have six months of training and you have something like “Black Swan” where Natalie Portman gets to train full-time for a year for the making of this movie. We have about two weeks max, and usually about a week before the whole thing gets rolling. So during that time — I use that time to kind of break down the script and my character and what I can add to it and what I can do. I just, in terms of the research and all that stuff, I rely a little bit on the writers and everyone else having all the facts straight and all the rest of it. And I just feel that if I play the lines as they were designed and then kind of true to the nature of what I’m trying to put across, then that generally is fairly sufficient. And I think the more time you’re given and the bigger budget and the bigger time, and the amount of time you have beforehand, you can obviously start getting into greater detail. Kind of a time management issue, of sorts, in terms of what you’re going to spend your time on. And, when you’re not giving it too much I think it’s just getting familiar with the characters and the story and knowing where you are and just kind of being very comfortable with your lines and what you have to do. So, unfortunately, I haven’t had a (large-scale) project. … (“Ice Quake”) doesn’t give me enough time to think about it, which can be a good thing (because you don’t) over analyze it and I haven’t had the luxury of having a tremendous time and resources to do a lot of research on a lot of roles I have. And so I kind of work with what I’m given and it’s, I think, works with me so far. But, I’m always trying to get better and all that stuff. You’re always looking for new ways to kind of go about your business.
Question: You have a sci-fi following thanks to your work on “Roswell” (Fehr played alien Michael Guerin. His character dated Majandra Delfino’s Maria, and Katherine Heigl played his sister, Isabel). What do you think of the current slate of sci-fi offerings?
Fehr: I think they really — they’ve found kind of the winning formula, of sorts. I think earlier on a lot of it early, early on, was just B movie stuff and it was simply meant as entertainment and to scare you and something that gives something to audiences they haven’t seen before, but just in terms of visually like zombies or whatever else. And then you have something like “X-Files” come along where there was actually a lot of thought into it and there was the detail and everything. They paid attention to all the details and there was — you could see they were also trying to tell a story. And I think they were the first ones to kind of, in my opinion, to really bring it to another level. And then it took — and then people tried to follow in their footsteps. Obviously we were there in terms of “Roswell,” and we were trying to find our way and we lasted three years. But it’s a fine line. I think people appreciate the supernatural aspects and kind of all those unexpected things happening. But you have to marry that in some kind of cohesive manner with the characters and caring about them in the relationships. And I think the successful shows do that. I mean, you look at something like “Fringe,” where all the characters themselves are just very interesting regardless of what they’re talking about. Even the “Twilight” series. Obviously everyone’s very engrossed in this love triangle and all that stuff. And it’s no longer — I think people are paying more attention to just the character issues and the relationships and they’re putting as much effort into that as that sci-fi aspect. I haven’t seen it, but I was always informed that the “Battlestar Galatica” was very much like that where you’re in this kind of sci-fi universe in reality. But it’s — there is married to a certain amount of reality in terms of the emotions and relationships of the characters. And I think that’s what makes it so successful and we’re probably at a relatively high point in terms of what we’re doing or what television is doing on the sci-fi front.
Question: What’s next for you?
Fehr: There’s nothing I’m working on now. I just finished, I think it was in about October, maybe September/October, I did a movie of the week for Lifetime called “Never Tell a Lie,” and immediately after that I went to Richmond, Va., and I shot another Christmas movie for next Christmas. Kind of a romantic comedy, but it’s tentatively called “The Nutcracker.” And I finished that, but that’s for next year and then I — the day after I finished shooting that I shot up to Toronto and I shot an episode of “Nikita.” So those will all be airing in the new year. But, as far as any current work, I don’t have any. Well I’ve been gone for a number of months now from home depending on that from all those projects, so I’m just spending the holidays with my family — and we’re expecting our second child in January, so I’m sure that will keep me very busy.