You wouldn’t have known it walking down Georgia Street, but this summer, downtown Vancouver’s Canada Post building housed all the traditional locales for a supernatural horror story. The run-down town pub, the experimental science lab, and the eerily lit church were all accounted for—and of course, all of them populated with wandering, pale-faced ghosts.
This is Port Moore, Alaska, the setting for Ghost Wars. The original 13-part series created by Simon Barry premieres on SyFy in the U.S. this fall on October 5 and on Netflix in Canada in 2018. (Barry will be making two appearances at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival to discuss the show; details are listed below).
Ghost Wars' cast and crew traveled between Vancouver and Squamish to tell the story of a small, isolated town that’s haunted by hordes of spirits, with characters trying to explain the increasingly frightening events from perspectives of skepticism, science, mysticism, and religion.
Based on the creepy series trailer, Ghost Wars doesn’t seem to be holding back any scares. But visiting the set in late August, the Georgia Straight got the impression of a working environment that’s the exact opposite of the haunted town it’s dressed up to be.
“Who knew that this horror-slash-paranormal show would give so much joy and so much connection to us,” Kristin Lehman, who plays town doctor Marilyn McGrath-Dufresne, says during an on-set interview. “It’s just a pleasure to work with people who are so good to each other. That’s been an absolute delight.”
Lehman, known for her work on Canadian police drama Motive, also directed episodes 4 and 8 of Ghost Wars. She found that the naturally expressive Squamish landscapes made her job easy—the mountains, moody weather patterns, and unique architecture of the town helped illustrate Port Moore’s character.
“Everywhere you look there’s something that is evocative,” Lehman recalls. “I just really loved having our characters saturated in what it would be like to live in that town, Squamish substituted as Port Moore. And I really feel like the visual landscape of that place was such an important part of telling the story.”
Viewers won’t just recognize B.C.’s beautiful landscapes. Local faces comprise most of the main cast, alongside American stars Vincent D’Onofrio and Meat Loaf. Vancouver’s Avan Jogia stars as Roman Mercer, a medium who uses his ghost-communing powers to protect the townspeople—who started out as less than receptive to his unusual gifts.
Among the Canadian cast members, South African–born Kandyse McClure is no stranger to sci-fi—she’s recognizable from her roles in Battlestar Galactica and Hemlock Grove. On Ghost Wars, she plays Landis Barker, a disgraced physicist who comes to town hoping to crack an unsolved scientific problem and rebuild her reputation.
From behind Landis’ laboratory desk, facing the towering particle accelerator, the sharply-dressed McClure spoke to the Straight on setabout genre television’s legacy for creating roles that don’t reduce actors of colour to their outward appearance.
“Sci-fi has always been open to breaking down social norms and seeing different people in different positions," she says. "Sci-fi audiences are, in my experience, some of the most savvy, some of the most informed and passionate and knowledgeable about what’s going on in the worlds that they love and enjoy. Nuance is not lost on them and choices are not lost on them, which I really love about genre television.
“You know, some years ago having a black female lead on a show was this thing that was supposed to set the bar and test whether the audience was going to take it, and the ‘state of America,’ and it was like, there was so much pressure,” she says, laughing. “Or, [now] she’s just a person who happens to be brown and like, a little nerdy. Yeah. Black girl nerds! It’s a thing.”
McClure’s Landis isn’t the only competent, professional woman working in Port Moore. Vancouver's Luvia Petersen plays Mayor Val McGrath-Dufresne, who’s trying to mitigate the increasing mass panic over otherworldly encounters. She’s also married to Lehman’s character, Marilyn, and is mother to two daughters—parts of her life that don’t in any way lessen the townspeople’s respect for her.
“I love that I play a woman who’s married to another woman and it’s never talked about,” Petersen told the Straight in a booth at Port Moore’s town pub. “Presumably we dealt with that nine years ago. And it is a small town so maybe there was some uproar or whatever, but we’re done. And I’m so thankful for the writers to just have the normalcy of two women who are in love and it’s not a big deal. It’s refreshing. It’s wonderful. It’s a privilege.”
The show promises a strong ensemble of compelling characters—and the cast attests that Ghost Wars is a genuinely scary series where anything can happen. Viewers will be surprised by the ways the supernatural manifests itself, according to Saskatchewan-born veteran actor Kim Coates, of Sons of Anarchy fame.
“We very quickly were thrown into madness on this show," says Coates, who plays Billy McGrath, the town loner and comic relief. “There’s no fucking rules. It gets me anxious. I’m a little anxious myself. We’re on our own little town-island that no one can get into, we can’t get out, phone lines are down. Are we gonna start eating each other? Like, seriously. It’s a crazy world.”
Meanwhile, Petersen can’t wait until the show airs, and plans to be watching and live-tweeting along with the fans.
“I’m just as excited as everyone else,” she exclaims. “I would watch this show. I love being scared. And there’s no clowns in this so I’ll be fine. I’m deathly afraid of clowns. But don’t tell Simon because he’ll write a clown in.”
Ghost Wars creator and executive producer Simon Barry, actor Kristin Lehman, writer and executive producer Dennis Heaton, production designer James Robbins, and first assistant director Sara Irvine Erickson will speak at VIFF's A Day in the Life panel discussion at 2:45 p.m. on Totally Indie Day (October 7).
Barry will also participate in a discussion after a screening of Ghost Wars as part of VIFF's Creator Talks series at 8:30 p.m. on October 10.More