In 'Caprica,' Alessandra Torresani plays the first Cylon

Maureen Ryan
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

CHICAGO — There's nothing mechanical about Alessandra Torresani, unless you count her ever-present cell phones, which she uses to show off silly pictures of her "Caprica" (9 p.m. EST Friday, Syfy) castmates.

The exuberant actress, who plays the "first Cylon" and a virtual avatar of Zoe Graystone on the Syfy drama, isn't much like her characters (though they all display flashes of impish irreverence). Over a recent lunch at a Chicago hotel, during which she bantered playfully with castmate Sasha Roiz (who plays Sam Adama), she exclaimed, "Bread overload!" when a waiter approached the table, and she later gleefully dug into a plate of French toast.

She also ordered a double espresso, though she didn't seem in need of caffeine. The 22-year-old may have needed the energy boost for her trip to the Chicago suburbs later in the day; she couldn't wait to go see her 93-year-old grandfather, one of many relatives in the Chicago area.

"Chicago is my favorite city," she exclaimed, and reminisced fondly about shooting an episode of "ER" with George Clooney in the Windy City when she was12.

Torresani is not remotely robotic in person, despite playing at least two technology-derived characters on "Caprica." After Zoe's death in a terrorist bombing on the planet of Caprica, a virtual version of Zoe continued to exist in the "V-world," and her personality was downloaded into an advanced robot that her industrialist father created.

It was smart to cast such a lively, expressive actress in the role of Zoe. Torresani's Zoes — both the robot and the avatar — are alert, intelligent presences. Things are likely to get interesting when her onscreen parents figure out that a version of their dead daughter is trapped in the robot wandering around the lab of her father, Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz).

Torresani didn't realize that she was going to be playing an iconic character in the "Battlestar" universe — the first Cylon — until after she'd auditioned for the role.

"I didn't watch 'Battlestar.' I didn't know anything about it, so there was really no pressure," Torresani said. "I didn't know going into the audition that I'd be playing a Cylon. I was told, 'You'll be playing a rich girl and then an avatar of yourself.'"

"I think it would have been really weird if I was an obsessive fan" of "Battlestar," which she later watched and enjoyed on DVD. If she had been a fan prior to her audition, she said, she might have copied the actors who played Cylons on that show. The robot becomes a central part of her father Daniel's business plan, but the online Zoe is on her way to becoming a fully realized person. Zoe may have had a plan for her virtual self, but her avatar is learning how to think more independently. "She's her own person," Torresani said of the avatar Zoe. "That's what you learn.

She really grows up a lot on the show, compared to how she was in the pilot."

Torresani said the storylines put into place in coming weeks evolve quickly in the second half of "Caprica's" first season, which will air later in the year.

"In the second half, a lot of the storylines converge," she said. "A lot of interesting things start to occur and things start to spin out of control at a very fast pace."

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