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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.