There are no pace cars in Syfy and Universal Cable Productions upcoming Grindhouse racing series Blood Drive. Every set of wheels run at full throttle, because any lag time can get you killed. The pressure is enough to make your head explode. The lady in the red Camaro keeps her engine running smooth with a hybrid mix of human blood and some green goo she scooped up in Steel City.
Grace is played by Christina Ochoa, best known as Renn Randall on Animal Kingdom, Karen Morales on the Robert Rodriguez’s Matador, and guest turns on Modern Family and I Hate My Teenage Daughter. She’s also known as a science communicator who studied oceanographic engineering before hitting the stage. That may not qualify her to discuss what fuels a land rover, but her grand uncle is the Nobel Prize-winning physician and biochemist Severo Ochoa, who knows a thing or two about the propellant properties of human blood, could. Blood Drive’s creator and writer, James Roland, says that wouldn’t be necessary because Ochoa is “one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
Ochoa brought that intelligence, and a fair amount of enthusiasm, to Den of Geek in an exclusive interview about what feeds her need for speed on Blood Drive.
Den of Geek: How many times did you have to take your driver’s test before you got your license?
Christina Ochoa: Once.
Do you remember your first car?
Yes, it was a Ford K, which kind of looked like an egg. It was very popular in Spain when I first got my license and it was just everywhere. It was either that or a smart car. I don’t know how popular they were in the states, but they were prevalent in Europe.
Do you remember your fastest car?
I don’t think I’ve ever had too fast of a car, but I did get to borrow a DB9 [Aston Martin] for about a week. It was pretty fast. That was heavy machinery and it was a lot of fun.
Did you go exploring with it?
I just drove up and down the PCH a few times. Nothing half as exciting as the stunt work we did in South Africa for Blood Drive.
Have you ever drag raced?
You know what? I had not, but then, little known fact: Please do not tell the studio because I don’t think insurance would be happy about this. I mean, now it’s after the fact, but we did a few times in South Africa on the show, Alan and I would race. Also we would do it outside of work to see who would get to the set faster, things like that. But safely, safely, in confined empty roads and spaces blocked off, but I hadn’t until then.
How much of the stunt driving are you actually doing?
I actually got to do quite a bit of stunt driving. We had training on courses. We had rigged cars, specifically for the stunt driving. Some of the shots, including in the pilot, there’s a big hand-brake turn where Arthur falls on his knees and Grace comes around to put him back in the car. All of that, that is me. But of course, for safety reasons, we had an amazing stunt coordinator on the team who would also kind of do it. But I tried to wing it and do as much as I possibly could.
Do you think stunt work is easier now because of CGI and newer technologies?
No, and I think one of the best parts of Blood Drive is we didn’t have a big visual effect allotment, so we tried to do as much as we could practically. The blood and all of that stuff, the stunts being one of them. Our stunt team did all of the Mad Max films and things like that but they are very good with practical work and it was probably some of the best days on set, when we got to do a lot of stunt work. Fights, driving, all of the above.
I noticed you do some very intricate fight sequences.
We had fun, yeah.
How much rehearsal goes into that and what’s the most fun part of that?
I call it method stunting. It’s how many times can I whack Alan before he loses it. That’s pretty much how we worked it out.
What kind of high do you imagine for Red Rapture?
Oh that’s a great question. I want to say, because of the addicting elements of it, maybe it’s something like Oxy. I don’t know, I’m not very familiar with the actual feelings of these things. I think it’s a little heroiny, maybe a little softer than that, but along those lines.
Club Mayhem, did you recognize it from any club days or anything like that?
I was not a club person, and the Mayhem clubs and parties and the suck-bus was all this wonderful vision of our creator, James, and the director David Straiten, and them putting it together. It just got weirder and weirder and weirder, and then set design would come in and they would add something just outlandish to it. Then the extras would come in and they’d all be half-insane in character, and just humping in corners and doing all sorts of very bizarre things that I think were very fitting. I’ve never been at a party like that.
I loved the sets. Of all the different sets you shot on for the show, which were you most comfortable in?
Oh, I feel like taking one of the sets as far as how comfortable I am. I definitely have a lot more sex scenes and nudity on Animal Kingdom, but of course, the style if very different. On Blood Drive it almost has a very comedic component to it. So that was a lot of fun.
The good thing about Blood Drive is none of us take ourselves too seriously. So, we got to play around a lot, even with the crazy, bizarre, the anal scene or whatever, screwing in a car, backwards, crossing a finish line. It was fun. There was an element of laughing. The outtakes are pretty hilarious on that show, versus on other shows, where it’s a little more dramatic, and a little bit more in character in between sets.
When I was talking with Colin Cunningham, how putting on a hat can change a character. What about the opposite, not putting on the hat, but cutting off the pants?
It’s great. Grace walks differently than I do, sounds different than I do. Her voice is different than mine is. She has a different way to move. I think that helps immensely as an actor, putting on the shoes that belongs to that character, and the wardrobe. All that makes it immediate.
Colin did an incredible job, by the way. I don’t know if he told you about this, so I am going to tell you for him. He created Slink, in the sense that he, very masterfully, did the crazy dental makeup, and the white pale face. He really took a character that was initially written as probably much more of a screaming, center of attention, life of the party, type character, and all of a sudden, he gave it these theatrics and this gravitas. He made a self-tape of himself as Slink that translated almost directly into what you now see on-screen as Julian Slink.
So credit to Colin, because he really made that character something that nobody else could have done, this is his craft, in conjunction with the writing, of course. It’s a totally different take from what you would have seen initially on the page that most actors did.
Did you base Grace on anyone?
Animal work for me is very important, and music is very important, in crafting a character. There were a couple of songs that I took to to feel her. She’s also very much a wolf, and a lone wolf at that. She is a hunter, or huntress. In this case, when she’s luring men to come to her engine so she can throw them in. She is manipulative when she has to be. She just thinks that the end justifies the means, at least at the beginning of the show. I think that was something you can find within yourself. I think those are different parts of different characters that know are in us, we just don’t tap into them.
What music did you listen to, to get into the role?
There were a couple different ones. It depends on how I wanted the character to move, because that’s how it taps in. When I did Animal Kingdom, when I did Ren, for example, I did a lot of “Black’s Animal.” For Grace, on Blood Drive, I had a couple of things, the song “River,” was very much hers. It’s a little bit more rock and roll. It’s a little bit grittier. I have a whole playlist of different songs for her. “Mona Lisa” was on there. There was a couple of different more rockery chick type bands that I thought were very fitting for her seed songs. And then on Valor, “It’s a Soldier,” and its Seven Nation Army the theme song for my character. I listen to that on set before I go on to shoot, because it’s so immediate. You know how it is, music just gets you in the zone so fast.
I just learned to start playing drums for Valor, she’s a drummer. I find it fascinating and incredible hard to really master in any way, shape or form. I’m always impressed by people who have those abilities.
As a scientist, music is all math, but with drummers it’s also a complete physical immersion as opposed to fingers, mouths or lips.
So, the rhythms of the characters are important.
Yes, to me, it’s just like that tone. Some characters are fluid in the way they walk, in the way they move, the way they sound. They’re melodic. Others are a little more jagged and a little stronger. Others carry their weight when they walk, or when they move, in different body parts. I think music does that for me, on an instinctual level. There are some songs where you have your weight, you’re stomping and your feet and your legs. Sometimes it’s in your hands. For Grace, I think a lot of it was in her hands. Hence, why the music for her was a little edgier, a little more rock and roll. More rebellious, a little more punk, than some of my other characters who might have been a little more sensual or move differently or more fluid. She’s a little more on edge.
On set, in a show like this, which is very different from many TV shows as far as how quickly it’s shot, is it closer to theater performance?
You know, somebody described this kind of a show, or TV in general, compared to film, like gesture drawing versus making a detailed painting. It’s like, look, here’s an impression. Here’s the broad stroke impression of what this scene entails, or what this episode entails, this moment. I like that analogy. It’s like the gesture drawing of acting and directing and all of the above. It’s like boot camp. You do your best, it’s very intense, very high-paced, especially as you’ve seen on the show, there’s no stop. Our showrunner John Hlavin said it’s like getting shot in the face with a machine gun, because there is no moment of “now we’re going to pause and have these beautiful character moments” and slow down. It doesn’t slow down. I think that’s kind of how I would describe shooting in South Africa for Blood Drive for six months.
I thought there was some beautiful character moments between the serial killing couple that had fun with a bellboy in their honeymoon suite. They shared some romantic moments.
Are they not the best? They were incredible. I loved them, Craig [Jackson] and Jenny [Stead], who play Domi and Cliff. You’ll see their relationship keeps expanding and growing in the show just because they were so good, so funny together. They have this amazing chemistry as these characters. We’ll get to see a lot of them having fun on the rave. I’m curious to see what you think.
How does Art go from being a Barbie Doll back to a Ken Doll for Grace?
Oh, but does he? Does he ever go to Ken? Because I like Barbie, so we’ll have to see if he ever transitions to a Ken.
Do you have any favorite Grindhouse films?
I am a big fan of all Rodriguez and Tarantino films. I also worked with Robert on Matador, and I’m a big fan of his to begin with, as an individual and filmmaker. But I don’t know that I have a good, smart, fun answer for that. I like House of Terror, obviously From Dusk Til Dawn, all of them are good. They’re fun. They just fun movies.
Given the choice, would you interview for Heart Enterprises?
Could I be the interviewer instead?
Did you get production notes? I know it’s usually restricted to actor and director, but since Slink goes through so much agony, I wanted to know how painful it was for actors.
We didn’t get a lot of production notes. Alan and I were allowed to play around and improv with the scenes quite a bit, and also we were so far away that we got away with a lot in South Africa. Things aren’t so rigid as they are in LA. So, again, we got to do a lot of our own stunts, even though we probably shouldn’t have. We got to play around with our scenes and try some things out to see if they would work. The directors, producers and creators there were all on board. So, we got to have a blast shooting this with were zero production notes from LA.
Your friends at the Los Angeles Committee for Science for Society, will they be giving you notes?
My family, my friends and my associates, when it comes to science communication and STEM advocacy, are hereby all forbidden from watching Blood Drive or looking at clips. Episodes 1, 4, 6 and 8 are off the table.
How would Professor Blastoff describe the unpopular mechanics that make these cars go?
Oh god, Professor Blastoff would probably talk about ATP in the prep cycles? I have absolutely no idea how this could potentially work and how a combustion engine could run on blood. This is something you might have to ask an engineer or somebody if there is any way for this could be possible. But, you know, hemoglobin seems to carry a lot of energy. I’m just throwing around words that could fit for this principle.
Is there a science to sex appeal?
Ooh, I don’t know but if you discover it, and you found out the rules and methods of that, let me know.
Wikipedia labels you as a science communicator, so: Can fracking cause the kind of damage we see in the Scar?
So, due to the greed of the establishment and the fracking, there are a lot of really bizarre toxic gases and little phenomena that come out from these fracking tubes. We get to see some crazy behavior that subsequently keeps evolving into deranged abnormal deformities and all sorts of stuff on the show. So we’ll get to see some really fun stuff. For me, part of the fun in that is how political we got to go with the show. All covered up in this little wrapper of blood and insanity that is Blood Drive. You’ll see there are a lot of political statements being made throughout the show.
The police collect their quotas in teeth. Did they get this on the streets from LAPD?
Yes, again, that is another establishment that James Roland wanted to throw a little shade at.
Your great uncle Severo Ochoa was a biochemist who won a Nobel Prize. What would his thoughts be on how you increase adrenaline on the show?
I think that my great uncle, I want to say he’d be proud of the work I’ve done. But I don’t think that he would necessarily endorse the scientific fact behind Blood Drive, whether it be on the brain bombs and the adrenaline and how that impacts them or the cars running on blood. And there’s so much more to come on the show that I can’t talk about. But I don’t think it’s based on scientific fact in any realm and you just have to be okay with that. You also have to be okay with 1999 being the future.
Nobel prize winners are one thing, but what would Stanislavsky say about the method you use to increase adrenaline?
Look, Grace, my character, it takes a lot for her to get excited, and this goody two shoes cop sitting next to her in a car, no matter how fast it’s going, has to work pretty hard to get her there. I think it’s fair. It takes a lot.
Do think this is ground that will continue to be broken and changes the rules of TV or will the backlash break it?
We’re ready for both of those simultaneously. The feedback that we’ve gotten so far has been, people who’ve stumbled upon it or seen the screenings, they’re already an audience that has to be a little bit intrigued by what it is we’re making. So we know it’s slightly skewed, but it’s been very positive. But then you also have the people who come out and say “what the fuck did I just watch? This is not okay. You can’t air this.” I think we’re ready for both. We find it humorous, because, again, this show does not take itself very seriously. It was made to be entertaining and boundary-breaking and fun and gory, and all those things that we love getting to see. So, I think we’re ready for both. We’ll see if I have to not be online for a couple months after it starts airing, or if it’s just a hit among the audience. What do you think?
I hope it continues to move forward and these boundaries continue to be knocked down. With cable, it seems that that’s the way it should be. You work on Animal Planet, this is the law of the fittest.
Animal Kingdom, which has no animals in it, is a family of surfers, drug dealers, heists, a corrupt matriarchal family, and it’s TNT, and it does the same thing. It is about survival of the fittest. It is about the animal kingdom in a very social way. Who reigns in the kingdom, who is in charge and who’s the king. I think that kind of applies on both. I think on Blood Drive, it’s more like Grace against the world, at the beginning of the show, and we get to see her reevaluate, maybe, certain decisions that she’s made and certain behaviors, thanks to Arthur. But I think she’s on a mission. There’s no stopping this woman. She has it in between her eyes that she’s going to go save her sister and win this race. I love that. She’s determined. She doesn’t care if there’s an animal around her, or if there’s a kingdom around her. She doesn’t care if it’s in flames or burning down. She is set for her goal.
The show is going to be breaking quite a few boundaries. When you’re making it, do you know you’re doing things that aren’t normally done on TV?
Yes, we definitely knew inside that Camaro on the finish line that that is something you had not seen on TV before. We were very aware we were taking a big risk. I think at some point we wondered if the studio was even going to air it. Sometimes, even in 3 and 4, which you’ve seen, with Roday who was amazing as a director, and having him there was a lot of fun too, because he’s been in our shoes. We got to learn a lot from him. Sometimes we’d do things and he’d say, “you know, I put it in the cut, but I don’t know if they’re going to air this.”
I don’t know, the Roxy [Mimi Kox]-Christopher stuff, there is some stuff in there that were like aaach. Fifteen in episode 3? Sure, maybe I don’t know. It was definitely one of those things that we were very aware that it was a risk, but we were all standing behind doing something different. We’ve all seen procedurals and TV shows that play it safe. We wanted to do something out of the box. Now, hopefully, people don’t walk out of the theaters when they see it. Or they don’t get up set and change the channel and start boycotting Syfy for it.
When they run an episode like “The Fucking Cop” or “The Fucking Dead,” how do you think it will show up when you hit info on the remote?
Ah, right? I have no idea. A lot of asterisks?
Blood Drive premieres on Syfy on June 14th.