Billy Campbell and Jordan Hayes Take On a Pandemic in Helix
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Jordan Hayes and Billy Campbell star in “Helix.”
Billy Campbell and Jordan Hayes
Take On a Pandemic in Helix
by Jay S. Jacobs
The Syfy Channel has high hopes for its new snowbound thriller series Helix. A shiny new variation of many science fiction nightmares has a mysterious and deadly disease - which may or may not be manmade - turning a bunch of scientists in an Arctic scientific outpost into weird, violent zombie-like creatures.
The show brought in genre veteran Billy Campbell to head up the cast. Campbell has been well-known since breaking out in the 90s in the cult favorite film The Rocketeer. Since, he has become a staple on television, doing long stints in the acclaimed series Once & Again, The 4400 and The Killing.
In Helix Campbell plays Dr. Alan Farragut, a scientist for the CDC (Center of Disease Control) in Atlanta who flies up with a team to examine the dangerous mutations. Dr. Farragut is not particularly happy to be part of the mission, but goes because his estranged brother Peter (Neil Napier) is one of the scientists working on the post. In fact, Alan is approached about the situation by his ex-wife, Dr Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), the cause of the brothers' estrangement when she had an affair years ago with Peter.
Their investigation into the mysterious malady is thwarted at every turn by the outpost's inscrutable leader Dr. Hiroshi Hatake, played by Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada.
Also on the rescue party is a young, beautiful scientist named Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes), who seems to be very close with Dr. Farragut, but so far in a completely platonic way. However the young scientist has some secrets of her own.
Soon after the series premiered, we were able to take part in a conference call with series stars Campbell and Hayes.
A lot of Syfy programs have been a bit lighter in tone. Their movies obviously are deliciously campy. This is a very straight forward, serious, edge-of-your-seat-type series. What did you guys like about this particular series?
Billy Campbell: Well, speaking for myself, I was extremely attracted to the situation. The genre. I'm a big fan of both The Thing movies, the Howard Hawks one and the John Carpenter one. The Andromeda Strain is one of my big favorite films. So I was very attracted to the situation. And of course attracted to the fact that Ron Moore was attached. [Also] Not least of which was that we were shooting in Montreal. How about you Jordan?
Jordan Hayes: Me? I loved the characters. They were obviously very smartly written and very intelligent characters. The relationships between each of the scientists, the team of CDC. It really felt, despite being a science fiction show, there was a huge emphasis on the dramatic elements of the writing. That really attracted me as an actor.
To the extent that it is a sci-fi show, it is very much rooted in science. It's the kind of thing that could theoretically happen. Does that up the ante and make it even that much more interesting and appealing for the audience?
Billy Campbell: I would guess so. That's a question for the audience. But I would assume that to be the case. Yes. I would say yes.
I really like the relationship that you have, kind of a mentor/student relationship, but it's also a little more. If you can both comment on where that relationship is, especially in the episodes that have aired so far.
Jordan Hayes: Billy?
Billy Campbell: I was going to let you run with that ball.
Jordan Hayes: (laughs) I think it is exactly what you just said. It's a mentor/student relationship. Sarah has a lot of admiration for Alan. She really holds his opinion in high esteem. She really wants to make him proud and improve her worth and impress him.
Farragut walks into a storm here. How did you approach him? Your acting just seems very natural in playing an element of confusion, but also using your training to guide you although you're stepping into something you've never encountered before either.
Billy Campbell: Well, I'm a genuinely fairly confused person anyway, so that helps. (Hayes laughs.) I'm not sure that I thought about it very deeply. The situation is so apparent that it didn't seem to require that much in the way of depth of thought. It's a very black and white situation; we come, there's an outbreak and we have to contain it. Then things start getting confusing because we're being misdirected by Hatake, and there are all these variables. I'm not sure how I approached it, tell you the truth. It's kind of a blur, that long ago. (Campbell chuckles.)
On the set, there is a cold room for the frigid outdoor scenes. Does it make it easier to get in the moment, or do you not like being cold? I think I'd rather pretend to be cold.
Billy Campbell: Well for me it's just a great deal. I know the crew hated the cold room. First of all, the cold room wasn't really big enough. It was very limiting as a set. It was pretty small. There was a lot of stuff flying around in the air, so the crew didn't really care for it. But they could dress how they wanted. We were dolled up in nine layers of extreme cold weather gear. In the beginning when we didn't have a cold room, when we were all on the set having to do all this strenuous stuff, we were, not to be too graphic about it, sweating a good deal. That is more unpleasant than anything I can think of. I'd rather freeze than parboil any day. How about you Jordan?
Jordan Hayes: Well I never had to go into the cold room, actually.
Billy Campbell: You didn't? That's right, you didn't.
Jordan Hayes: I didn't, no. But I do remember being in all of our Arctic gear in July, and that was very unpleasant, yes.
Billy Campbell: So unpleasant. So the cold room helped a good deal. In the end it was untenable. It was awkward to shoot in and everyone hated it. By the end of the show we just had left the cold room behind again.
There's so much right now on the news about the CDC and the flu and everything going around. When you guys first started working on this, reading the script and everything, does any of it ever freak you out a bit because some of it could actually happen?
Jordan Hayes: Yes, absolutely. I mean that's one of the greatest things about this show. It's dealing with something that is very real. Throughout history we've seen huge epidemics wipe out hundreds of millions of people. Although now thankfully we have the invention of antibiotics and we can treat things much better, it's still very real. It's still very scary, and can possibly wipe out thousands of people.
Billy Campbell: It goes to our most primal fears. The thing which you cannot see that will come in the night and kill you from the inside out. I can't imagine much of anything creepier than that.
How much were you told about your characters and what was going to happen to them? For example, Sarah seems to be hiding something and has these hand tremors. Were you just told to do that Jordan? Were you also told why her hands were shaking?
Jordan Hayes: I was told why I had the hand tremors before we even started shooting. So in that regard I was made aware of that particular plot point. But there were several things that will surface throughout the season that you'll see that we just weren't aware of. I think that worked in our favor because then we were discovering things in the moment, which was nice. Then we weren't telegraphing things from early on in some of the earlier episodes.
Billy Campbell: Yes. I would have to agree with that. I prefer honestly not to know what's going on for the very reason that Jordan brings up.
While you were filming did the cast ever speculate who was going to be the next to be infected?
Billy Campbell: There was plenty of speculation. I think there was a lot of fun speculation as to who might be next in all of that.
Which were your favorite one or two episodes of this season?
Billy Campbell: That's hard to say honestly. I think the one upcoming might be my favorite.
The third one?
Billy Campbell: The third one, yes.
Jordan Hayes: Yes, I think the third was my favorite as well.
Billy Campbell: I know. I can't say why exactly. I haven't seen it. I haven't seen really anything. I didn't even get to watch this weekend.
What were your best and most challenging experiences during production?
Billy Campbell: I don't know. I don't know what was. The whole thing was a great deal of fun. I don't know what really was challenging. I mean it's always a bit of a challenge to imagine yourself into the circumstances. But even that was relatively easy because of stellar cast-mates and a wonderfully, creepy set and situation. I don't know. Jordan, was anything particularly difficult for you?
Jordan Hayes: Yes. Well to answer the question about the best experience, I think I just loved the team involved on the project in general. The cast and the crew really made it just such an enjoyable experience. In terms of difficulty I think for me the most challenging part was memorizing the dialogue and understanding exactly what we were saying. It was very important for me to have a clear understanding, or as clear as possible as I could, of the science that we were referring to. That was a little bit like going back to school. Looking at old textbooks and learning about the science all over again.
You both have done a lot of genre work throughout your careers. Just as fans, do you tend to gravitate toward science fiction and horror personally or is that just how things have turned out in your career?
Billy Campbell: I dig science fiction. It's one of my favorite things. Just because... well I don't know why exactly. I always have, since I was quite young. Science fiction and fantasy, possibly as an escape from my circumstances. I went to military school for six years when I was quite young. So it was a big escape for me. I've loved it ever since.
Jordan Hayes: It just happened for me I guess. A fair amount of my work has been in the horror and sci-fi genre. I'm just fortunate in that regard. It wasn't a particular choice on my part, it just worked out like that.
Billy, you've had a few long-running series over the years. I was a huge fan of Once and Again and The 4400 and also The Killing and now this one hopefully. Once and Again was a network series, but most of the series you've done since then are cable. How do you feel that working on a network is different than cable? And why do you think that many of the imaginative shows now seem to be shifting to cable from the traditional network model?
Billy Campbell: Well I think it's fairly easy to understand why that's the case; there are simply more options on cable TV for storytelling. As a network you have to please a great many people, and from all parts of the spectrum. So things necessarily get a bit watered down. Cable is more aimed at particular niches, so you can write more specifically and more daringly. I think that's the big difference.
Jordan, you were just fantastic in the first two episodes...
Billy Campbell: Hear, hear.
...the range of emotions that Sarah went through made the character so compelling. What can we expect from Sarah moving forward?
Jordan Hayes: Well - and this is true for all of the characters - when you're put in a situation like we are, where the stakes are so high, where the stakes are literally revealing themselves to be life and death, your character gets challenged. You end up doing things that you don't think that you are capable of doing. I can't say too much, but I will say that Sarah's put in some very challenging situations where she is forced to do things that she never thought that she would be capable of doing.
Billy, with both Alan's brother and now potentially his ex-wife turn turned to vectors, will Alan be trying to save them or will they be trying to recruit him, a little of both? How's that going to work?
Billy Campbell: Well, I would be pretty safe to say, I think, that he would be trying to save them. Whether he's successful and whether they are willing to be saved is another question. The act of saving them of course is inherently dangerous. Who knows what perils lie ahead for Alan and the whole team.
Cameron Porsandeh, who was the creator of Helix, is a first time writer/producer. This is his first television series ever. He's come from a whole different career to do this. What has it been like to bring this newbie's creation to life?
Billy Campbell: Oh, it's been fantastic. Really fantastic. Cameron is a very, very talented fellow, as well as a lovely human being. I have to say it's been nothing but a deep pleasure to be working with him.
Jordan Hayes: Yes, I have to agree. I think Cameron is extremely talented. It is his first series. There’s something great about that because it's a very original concept and it's written in a way that's fresh. So yes, we're just very fortunate to have someone like him on board.
You said earlier you haven't seen the completed episodes yet, but have you gotten any audience feedback since Syfy ran the first two episodes this weekend? Have you heard any feedback about things like the point/counterpoint, the use of music, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," or the scene that was at the end of Episode 2?
Billy Campbell: I haven't heard much of anything. I'm cocooned down here in San Diego. I suppose we will be hearing this week how the audience liked it. I have seen a little bit on Twitter and the response seems to be mainly terrific so far. I think people loved especially, the crazy, contrapuntal use of the music.
The series is a little bit more horrific than I expected. There's a lot of shock and gore. Special effects are great. How does that help you as an actor to kind of get into that horror frame of mind?
Billy Campbell: Well goodness, you can just imagine. First of all, Jordan actually threw up in her helmet. (They both laugh.) I'm kidding, of course. But you can well imagine opening a body bag and having the goop drip out and having the skeleton there. It was all very, very conducive to that feeling. Am I right Jordan?
Jordan Hayes: Yes, absolutely. If you look at Peter Farragut - who's played by Neil Napier - if you look at his makeup, it's just terrifying. Our special effects team in Montreal is just unbelievable. They're just so good. I remember Neil would come and sit down next to us while we had lunch. It was unappetizing to have him sitting across from you. But no, I mean it does help a lot. Yes, that definitely helps you get into the mind frame of, "Look at this virus, look at what it's doing to this person," because the special effects makeup is just so, so good.
Jordan, we spoke with (executive producer) Steve Maeda and he mentioned that your character was eventually supposed to be kind of back-stabby. She was going to be something like Eve from All About Eve, but when you came in and started portraying the character, they changed their minds. Is that something that you were aware of?
Jordan Hayes: Oh, no, it wasn't actually. That's funny. No, I wasn't aware of that at all. But I think I'm going to take it as a compliment. (They both laugh.) As we said before, we have the luxury of discovering these characters episode by episode. I hope that my discovery is there along the way, [and it] turns out as good as it could. I never saw her as a backstabbing character so I guess I'm happy that they changed their mind on that.
What sticks out most in both your minds about shooting the pilot episode. Is there either a memorable or especially challenging scene that you can recall from that shoot?
Billy Campbell: For me, it harkens back to the outside stuff before we had a cold room. In the very first few days we were swaddled in our extreme cold weather gear on a stage with fake snow blowing around. In the middle of summer. It was horrible. In fact I remember I got sick because I ingested so much crap, crud into my lungs I got quite sick for a couple of weeks. That's the thing that sticks out to me from the pilot, other than just being so insanely happy to be in Montreal again.
Jordan Hayes: I think the experience that is standing out the most for me was the first time that I walked into the BSL4 Lab, onto that set. [It] was kind of great. It was just so wonderful to see all of the scientific paraphernalia and get to play around with it. We had an actual scientist on set who was showing us exactly what every instrument did. I think that was the most fun part for me.
You both have a lot of technical dialogue. Did you get any coaching in that area? What's it been like to recite some of that stuff?
Billy Campbell: Well, I honestly did not have nearly the technical dialogue that Jordan had and I'm deeply, deeply thankful. So I'll pass that along to Jordan.
Jordan Hayes: (laughs) You had a lot of technical dialogue. I've never found memorizing lines to be difficult. As I said earlier, the most important thing for me was to have a clear understanding of the science that we were referring to. And yes, we did have a scientist on set who was there to help us whenever we had questions. I was also fortunate. My older brother majored in anatomy and biology. So whenever I wanted clarification on something, he would whip out one of this massive text books. [He would] try and teach me with drawings - in very layman terms - how the science was working that I was referring to. I think it's great. I like that they didn't dumb down the science in it. It adds to the show. It makes it a more intelligent and interesting show. At times it can be difficult for the audience to understand exactly what we're referring to, but if you think about the reality, this is how scientists talk, you know?
The hazmat suits, how were they to work in?
Jordan Hayes: (They both laugh.) Well they were very real.
Billy Campbell: They were very real. They weren't built for the show. They were real hazmat suits. I would have this to say about them; they weren't as uncomfortable as you might think, because they were ventilated. We had a pack on the back that actually ventilated the helmet. So they were pretty cool to work in. They were a pain to put on. And unless you looked like Jordan or Kyra, they're not terribly flattering. So they had that going on for them, or didn't have that going on for them in my case. So yes, that's all I'd have to say about those. Jordan?
Jordan Hayes: I just remember one time. Like Billy said, there are these ventilation packs. The helmets were sealed off, so we actually had oxygen being pumped into our helmets. I can remember at least once, maybe twice, Billy pulled my hose out of the pack. (They both laugh.) So yes, they were fun. Yes, like Billy said, they were difficult to get into. But I really liked them and I think they look really cool on screen. So it worked out well.
Billy Campbell: That's because you look the way you do.
A lot of times with series nowadays just because people can't seem to keep their attention span, a lot of shows try to be procedural, not about the mythology and everything. This is a show that really can't be completely procedural, which I think is a great thing. Are people going to have to watch previous episodes to understand what's going on?
Billy Campbell: By procedural, you mean episodic?
Yes, like Mystery of the Week, you don't have to watch them all…
Billy Campbell: Yes, so it's all contained within an episode, yes. No, this will be more along the lines of uncovering a mythology and a deeper story. Watching any one particular episode would be exciting, but you wouldn't get the full excitement or fulfillment unless you carried on watching all the way through. I do like it better. I don't see any reason unless you're a show like Law & Order or something like that, I don't see the real reason in being all that episodic. The beauty of the serial form is telling a story over the long term, developing situations and characters and so forth. The episodic model doesn't, and really never has, entirely appealed to me.
You mentioned early in the call that we're going to get to see a little bit more outside the base and we will get some other guest stars. Can you talk at all about that, just tease any of what we will be seeing?
Billy Campbell: Well sure. The story does open up. We are not confined to the base the entire time. Other characters do make an entrance into the story, into the situation. They change things up in a very big way. Jordan do you have anything to add to that?
Jordan Hayes: Yes. I think that we're allowed to say this, because it's public knowledge, but as you probably know Jeri Ryan comes into the show...
Billy Campbell: And kicks ass.
Jordan Hayes: Yes, she's great. She's awesome. That just reinforces the notion of how we get to this base. We think we're dealing with one thing and it's actually dealing with several other things. As those several other things begin to surface, you'll see more and more characters come out as well.
You had previously talked about how the cast didn't like the cold room, but did you guys have a favorite part of the set to work with, or was there something on the set that you found particular creepy?
Billy Campbell: Jordan?
Jordan Hayes: Yes, the sets were really great. Particularly creepy? Umm...
Billy Campbell: You know what set I really loved? When we did the episode with Jeremiah [Checkic] directing and we go off base, Kyra and I. We go off to an abandoned listening station. I can't tell you what happens, but it was dreadfully, dreadfully creepy. The set folks, the set designers and decorators, did an amazing, amazing job with this place. What happens there is intensely, intensely creepy. I think that was one of my favorite sets.
How do you manage to keep things light and fun on the set while also doing those intense scenes?
Billy Campbell: Well, Jordan is a prankster and...
Jordan Hayes: No, no, no, Billy is a huge prankster.
Billy Campbell: Don't try to turn it back on me.
Jordan Hayes: Come on.
Billy Campbell: Don't even pretend. Everyone knows that Jordan is like... it's very, very difficult to even get her to be serious for a scene. (She laughs.) She's crazy, I don't know what to say.
Jordan Hayes: I can't speak for everyone, but I had such a great time with this cast and this crew. It was very, very easy to keep it light on set. Everyone was just very friendly. We all just really got along together. So it was very light and easy on set.
Billy Campbell: It was wonderful. There are a lot of sets [where] when actors aren't on camera they all scurry back to their individual dressing rooms. [They] never see each other except when they're in front of the camera. I don't think a single one of us ever went to back to our trailers between shots. We all sat as a group on the set playing games and chit-chatting. Which was, I think, deeply appreciated by the crew, because when they called us to be in front of the camera, there we were in like eight and a half seconds. It was a very special situation that way. I have to also add that it might have been my favorite crew of all time.
Jordan Hayes: Yes, I have to agree. The crew was really, really spectacular.
Just watching those scenes in the ventilating duct seemed very claustrophobic. What was it like to deal with that as an actor? Was it as tight as it seemed?
Billy Campbell: Well it was pretty tight. It wasn't as tight as it could have been. Mainly the pain was getting in and out of them and then scrambling around on your elbows and knees, which would begin to hurt pretty badly after a few minutes. It seems more claustrophobic probably in the viewing than it does in the execution because you don't see that just around the end, of course, is the opening. So I never felt like I was trapped or anything like that. I'm not a particularly claustrophobic person to begin with, but it was less cramped than it appears.
Getting off on a slight sidetrack here, beyond Helix you also have a new Lifetime movie about Lizzie Borden that's just about to come up. I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that? Were you familiar with the case before taking the role? What was it like to go back in time on such an infamous case?
Billy Campbell: It was a good deal of fun. I mean I don't have a big role or anything. I play Lizzie Borden's lawyer. I knew the director from before. He directed some of The 4400. Most of all, I was just anxious to go to Halifax, which is a place that is near and dear to heart. I have many friends there. I knew the project would be good. So I went to Halifax. It was a great deal of fun. I adore Christina Ricci and think the show will be terrific. I had a great time. I had a wonderful time drinking Guinness at one of my favorite pubs in the world.
This is a little bit technical. The atmosphere of the show is really, really neat, with the lighting and such. Could speak a little bit about that at all, and working with the DP (director of photography) and creating that atmosphere?
Billy Campbell: Jordan? I've been yacking a lot.
Jordan Hayes: Sorry?
Billy Campbell: No, no, I was just punting that to you.
Jordan Hayes: Okay. Got it. Our DP is Steve McNutt and he is just amazing. I mean I don't understand lighting at all, it's a mystery to me. But I think it really makes the show. Like Billy, I actually I didn't see the entire two hours. But from what I've seen, [it] had this huge effect on the mood of the show. He's just so incredibly talented. We really lucked out getting him on board.
Can you both just quickly describe your characters in three words?
Billy Campbell: My goodness.
Jordan Hayes: You go first, Billy.
Billy Campbell: No wait a minute, this might even be more fun. How about we describe each other's characters in three words? (They laugh.)
Okay, that works.
Jordan Hayes: Okay. (long pause)
Sorry, I didn't mean to make it so hard.
Billy Campbell: No, this is hilarious. This is wonderful. Intelligent, of course. I would say there's just a spark of defiance, I would say: Intelligent, defiant and, well, sexy. (Hayes laughs.)
Jordan Hayes: Okay, Alan Farragut is commendable. Yes, why not? Standup guy, I know that's not one word, but yes, standup guy. And...
Billy Campbell: Forthright.
Jordan Hayes: ...sensitive. What?
Billy Campbell: I was trying to put your standup guy into one word and I came up with forthright.
Jordan Hayes: Yes, that's the perfect word. And sensitive.
Billy Campbell: I think that fairly does it, I think that does it pretty well.