Spaceships and Scoundrels: An Interview With 'Dark Matter's Anthony Lemke
Dark Matter's Anthony Lemke discusses working on a genre show, sci-fi fandom, and ill-fitting pants.
Dark MatterAirtime: Fridays, 10pm
Cast: Anthony Lemke, Jodelle Ferland, Marc Bendavid, Melissa O'Neil, Alex Mallari JR., Roger Cross, Zoie Palmer
Subtitle: Season 2 Premiere
Air date: 2016-07-01
On Friday 1 July, Space Channel's sci-fi series, Dark Matter, returns for its second season. The show centers on a crew of six shipmates (and an android) who awaken from stasis on a spacecraft called The Raza, with no recollections of their past. The crew name themselves in the order they awaken, One through Six, and immediately set out to discover who they are and why their minds were wiped.
Dark Matter works as a gripping sci-fi mystery / adventure series while also exploring deeper philosophical themes. The Raza's crew are essentially reborn as new people, yet certain characteristics of their past selves spill over into their new lives: think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind in space.
When it comes to sci-fi tropes, the shifty crewmember is right up there with laser blasters and warp drives. Schemers, swindlers, and scoundrels often become the series' most memorable characters: Battlestar Galactica's Dr. Gaius Baltar, Firefly's Jayne Cobb, and Deep Space Nine's Quark immediately come to mind. There's something about the combination of rogues and spaceships that fans find endearing.
Veteran Canadian actor, Anthony Lemke, plays Three, The Raza's resident low-life. Lemke has the difficult task of balancing Three's outward selfishness with a pragmatism and loyalty rooted somewhere in his murky past. Fortunately for viewers, Lemke succeeds, he delivers a textured performance in a role that could have easily been played one-dimensionally.
In the week leading up to Dark Matter's return, PopMatters met with Lemke. The ensuing conversation spans playing a character with no backstory, disasters on set (or a lack thereof), and what makes a great movie monster.
Getting Into Character
While sitting across the table from Lemke and discussing Dark Matter, it's easy to see how much he enjoys playing Three, a character who begins the series as the Raza's most treacherous crew member. "The role of Three is kind of a dream role for me," he says. "It's a heck of a lot of fun to say the things he says, to behave the way he behaves, but to have a core that is fundamentally empathetic. And I cherish the character for sure." Lemke elaborated on the character's appeal. "To say the things that no one else gets to say in real life, to behave in a way that's just bad!" The big smile on Lemke's face adds credence to the notion that it's a lot more fun to play the bad boy.
Once on set, it's not difficult for Lemke to slip into the role, Three fits him like a cozy old jacket. "It's a character that I wear very easily," he says, "There are definitely characters that I've played before where I've had to go through a process to enter into that [role]." Three is a gruff character, and the writer's leverage his surly disposition for some of the show's lighter moments. Lemke makes a conscious effort to keep his comedic chops sharp. He stresses the importance of keeping his brain's comedic side open to input, namely the "quick, sardonic, and witty" portions. "Just in terms of craft, consume a fair amount of comedy while that's going on," he tells me, "Part of it's just technical, comedy is just technical, it's timing."
Inhabiting a character often takes an emotional toll on actors. Fortunately for Lemke, leaving Three behind on set isn't difficult. He chalks the easy transition up to the real and fictional man's similarities. "There are definitely characters that at the end of the day you're like (grunts). I'm bringing this home with me. I'm grumpy, I'm miserable."
Lemke believes he and the character have the same set of impulses, what separates them is they traveled down different paths in life. "I had a different upbringing than Three had. Three's negative side is all there in me, for better for worse. But so is Three's empathy, so is Three's loyalty. He's an incredibly loyal character even though he likes to think of himself as not."
Embracing the Mystery
Speaking of Three's empathy, production on Dark Matter was in full swing before Lemke became privy to the huge reveal about Three's past. "We had no backstory. We didn't know who our characters were, we only knew what was going forward," Lemke said. While the show's main cast all had to portray characters who began as blank slates, Three was at a particular disadvantage. "We received the first six scripts at once. But in the first six scripts, there's no reveal for my character. He's just an asshole, you don’t know anything about his past. You're learning about other people's past. You don't know anything about him.
"Script seven you do. That's when you first see his empathetic side and he's like, 'What the?'"
Lemke didn't know about that major point in his character's arc until an episode before he was scheduled to shoot it. He says that series co-creator, Joseph Mallozzi, isn't quick to divulge the show's secrets. "Joe is very good about parsing out knowledge. So much so that we didn't know who the traitor was until we shot it at the end of the first season, literally the last episode." Indeed, Mallozzi has garnered an on-set reputation for being an information hoarder. "It's on a need to know basis! You know, you go in and it's famous. You ask him a question about, trying to mine where your character is going and he gets that wonderful twinkle in his eye and starts telling you, 'well it could be…,' you know, this kind of thing. All of us just sort of recognize that immediately, it's very funny, very funny."
The Dark Matter Set and Poorly Fitting Pants
When discussing his experience working on Dark Matter, Lemke shows nothing but enthusiasm. He's extremely modest and displays the humble attitude Canadians are famous for. He says that his favorite part about being on Dark Matter is the fact that he gets to show up to work every day. "I've been lucky enough to work pretty consistently and raise my family from acting, but I'm aware how lucky I am that that's the case."
As positive as Lemke is about his time on set, genre shows are notorious for their troublesome shoots: elaborate makeup, uncomfortable costumes, and intricate effects shots often make for grueling productions. When pressed on the most difficult parts of his job, Lemke paused for a moment to think. "There's one pair of pants that are cut horribly for me but happen to be my signature pant. They literally gave me back pains for eight months, so I wear them a lot less in season two." A pair of pants? That can't be the worst part about filming a sci-fi show, can it?
When pressed further, Lemke did divulge one on set horror story. "On the whole, I think the one difficult part about our job is, sometimes you're in really disgusting locations. Like really grimy, dirty old factories that haven't been cleaned in a dog's age and you swear it's all asbestos dust floating around and you just don't want to breathe," he cringes as he recounts the incident.
"I remember this one scene where we're inside a location that shall remain nameless. The entire crew (he stops and laughs), because the wall is sprayed with this black foamy, disgusting, fibrous material and everybody is wearing masks, except, we can't, of course. So we're all like, 'should I breathe during this scene, or what's the deal because you guys are all wearing masks and none of us can.' So those are the moments where you're like, this is a less pleasant part of my job."
Lemke stresses how fortunate he is to avoid onset turmoil. "I'll' be honest, I had to search long and hard to find those [incidents]. The crew is great, the wardrobe is fantastic on the whole about putting you in stuff that you're comfortable in, the character is fantastic, the show is being well received, we're getting good support from our network. Really, there's nothing to complain about."
Working With Pros
Dark Matter's seasoned production team ensures that filming goes off without a hitch. "The production side has been together now, this is their seventh year," Lemke states. "They did all five years of Lost Girl, some of them had even done XIII before. All five years of Lost Girl and now two years of this, it's a well-oiled machine, there aren't those screw-up days. And it runs very smoothly. It's an efficient working set.
"In the beginning of last year, there was a lot of camaraderie, loud singing, breaking into song, 'Uh we're shooting guys,' (he makes a flailing motion like he's telling someone across the room to be quiet) that kind of thing. And then we settled into a nice rhythm."
The series' on-set chemistry also translated to viewer's TV screens. As Dark Matter's writers tested out different combinations of actors from episode to episode, it quickly became evident that One (Marc Bendavid) and Three had fantastic onscreen chemistry. The duo's deep-rooted mistrust of each other made for some of season one's finest moments.
"I felt in season One, many of my character's best scenes were with One. I love Marc, I think he's a great guy and I like him as a person. We're very different as people, and our characters are very different as characters." Lemke believes that his scenes with Marc are where Three shined the most.
When asked if there was an actor he would like to spend more time working with, his answer was quick and decisive. "Five (Jodelle Ferland). I love my character's relationship with Five, the sort of burgeoning relationship at the very end of season one. That plays far more heavily in season two."
Lemke is an acting veteran (his IMDb page reveals he's closing in on 100 film and TV credits), yet even he wasn't prepared for the type of fandom that comes along with a sci-fi series. He became acquainted with the world of Cons while promoting the series. "The Comi-Con circuit is not something that I was familiar with. I haven't done a lot of sci-fi, it's been a real treat, to be honest."
As an actor, Lemke understands the appeal of Cons. "You walk in and, people are cosplaying everywhere. You get it. You're like, 'yeah I do that for my life. That's my job. I cosplay for my living.' And I know why you're doing this because it feels really cool to dress up as somebody else and pretend you're someone else, and feel what it's like to dress in high-heels or carry a broadsword because it changes who you are.
"It's the biggest reward that we have as actors that I get to be other people. I get to express emotions that no one else gets to express on a daily basis. I get to pretend, and be a kid, for a living. And it's not a surprise that Cons are exploding because it's not like you stop wanting to be creative or that you stop wanting to pretend, it's that society tells you, you should stop. Your mom tells you, you should stop, or your dad or your boss or your serious life gets in the way. But you can still dress up, and pretend, and live in that world and live a serious life."
What to Expect From Season Two
According to Lemke, fans of season one have a lot to get excited about. "You can expect the world to really expand. Season one, in a lot of ways, was like a family drama. We spent a lot of time on The Raza. We were learning about ourselves, our pasts, about who we were, how to interact with each other. Who could we trust within our own crew, who are friends, who are allies?
"We will continue with that in season two, it's not like we drop it. We learn a lot more about the characters in season two, about their backstories." With an entire season under their wing, Dark Matter's production team have also outdone themselves. "The world really, really expands," Lemke said, "So much so that we literally got a second studio. They built entirely second studio sets, the whole nine yards."
It seems that Lemke was bitten by the sci-fi bug, he's about to serve up another genre role to his fans. "I just finished a show for SyFy called Night Before Halloween, which is awesome. The script is fantastically fun, mostly because the monster is really great. The best thing about any sci-fi/horror monster is what you don't see as opposed to what you do see. When I first got the script I was like ooooh."
If Lemke ever decides to get out of acting, he should consider a job in advertising, he sells me on the upcoming production like he's the Canadian Don Draper. "It's a producer that I know, and I like, and I've worked with a bunch of times. So I got the script," he says as he leans in towards me, eyes wide with excitement, "and it really depended on whether or not that monster was going to be good because it's sci-fi. It could be a really cheesy monster or a really good monster. When I read it I was like, 'Oh that's a really great monster! I want to do the show!'
"So that's coming up and also After Camelot is coming up as well," he noted. "I'm just finishing up shooting that and then hopefully, I'd like to take a couple months and not work, and see how Dark Matter lands. And if we get a season three, I'm going to take time off until season three, and spend time with my family.
With 77 credits listed on his IMDb page, Anthony Lemke has definitely earned some family time. You can watch him when Dark Matter returns for its second season on Friday, 1 July.