Rachel Nichols interview: Continuum, Alias, Conan and more

As season one of Canadian time-travel crime show Continuum begins on Syfy, we chat to Rachel Nichols about sci-fi, G.I Joe, Conan & more...

With film roles in Star TrekConan The Barbarian and G.I Joe: The Rise Of The Cobra, and TV appearances in the likes of Alias, Rachel Nichols has registered on our geek radar for some time now. Her lead role as cop-from-the-future Kiera Cameron in Syfy’s newly acquired Continuum (the first season of which begins airing tonight in the UK) looks to be the part that will fully integrate Nichols into the geek canon.

We caught up with the star of Continuum to talk sci-fi, tough women, fight scenes, and why Canada is the future of television…

How would you describe Continuum to new viewers?

The quickest and easiest way to describe the show is that I’m a cop from the future fighting criminals from the future, in present day. The show opens up in the year 2077 and we are about to put the worst terrorists in the world, a group called Liberate, to death for crimes they committed against humanity. You soon find out that while they were in prison, with the help of whom we don’t know, they created a time travel device that creates a wormhole that sucks us all back in time. I, and all of the members of Liberate get sent back to present-day Vancouver, so we all land at the same time in this world that none of us have seen before. We’re then battling each other like we were 65-years in the future, except with entirely new equipment and a need to get home as soon as possible.

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How did you approach the ‘fish-out-of-water’ element of Kiera’s character?

When I first read the script it was an incredible role, and there were elements that were familiar to me just from past work. The physicality, the fight scenes, and the handling of weapons were all very familiar, but this is the first time I’ve ever played a wife and a mother so that was something new that I wanted to tackle. That was the great thing about Kiera, she’s driven and strong and motivated and likes to be right, so those are characteristics that I possess as well as things different about her and aspects that I had never played. It was the best of all worlds. 

The show deals with some brave ideas, were you nervous about touching on such controversial topics?

One of the great things about the sci-fi genre is that you can kind of get away with a bit more when talking politics, making social references or dealing with very hot button topics because it is sci-fi. Of course, in 2077 corporations rule the government and the government is no longer what it is today and we can equate that to seeing signs in certain arenas.

Yes, there are certain statements we make but it’s more along the lines of suggestion of what could happen way, far in the future and that’s the great thing about sci-fi. I wasn’t nervous about it because it’s a thinking person’s show and there are elements for everyone. We didn’t make any blanket statements we just said ‘Hey, what if this actually happened in the future?’ That allows us to ask the questions because we’re not saying anything will actually happen.

Where do you see the show going five seasons down the line?

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I just recently watched all ten episodes and I’m very interested in seeing where the show will go because at the end, there are so many questions being asked. Not least of which is how many people came back? Are there other levels of living, and what exactly is the space-time continuum? Are there alternate universes? Are there people who have gone back before? There are so many questions and we don’t know if Kiera will ever get home. There’s change that she experiences through the first season, as well as everyone goodies and baddies alike.

Kiera comes back from the future and she knows who she is and what she does, she knows she’s fighting for the right side, but very quickly in 2012 she has to question her position, and her entire moral stance. Her belief system is turned upside down by realising that maybe black and white, good and bad aren’t that easy to discern. In a nutshell there are a lot of places this show can go so I’m not worried we’ll run out of material. 

Do you have a favourite episode?

I have two actually. There’s one episode where we deal with relatives, with the Back to the Future question of whether altering something in the past will change the future. Then there’s another where the terrorist gang takes over my brain, unbeknownst to me, and I go on a crazy Terminator, insane Keira, trip. Every episode is extremely different and very exciting, but those two are my favourite because they have epic fight scenes. 

While working on films like G.I. Joe and Conan, you did a lot of physical training, was the action on Continuum something that came naturally this time?

I started dealing with weapons on the first show I ever did, The Inside, but I didn’t really do any physical stuff until Alias. I loved it and thought it was so fun and so cool. A fight scene is like a dance, you learn the moves and then run then run them all together, and the more you do it the more fluid it becomes. It’s a really sexy rough-and-tumble dance and I’ve been really drawn to it. People ask me about fighting in real life and, honestly, it wouldn’t look as graceful as it does in film and TV. Every role that I’ve done before this had a physicality to it and that really lends itself to preparing for Kiera. We’ve got a great stunt crew on the show so that helps a great deal as well. If you’re going to do fight scenes and stunts you’re going to need a team that knows what they’re doing.

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Is playing strong women something that’s important to you?

It’s been kind of a happy accident, as I don’t think I was necessarily drawn to it initially. I had a couple of jobs that lent themselves to that and now I’m very drawn to it. There’s something really rewarding about playing a girl who can survive on her own, and who can do the fights and shoot the guns, but also at the same time still be a woman. Kiera is very much still a woman desperate to get home to her family and her son but she has this other side to her that I loved playing. It really puts women in the bad-ass role, and those great role-models are important for young women. There are a lot of characters for young boys to look up to and I think girls deserve that too. 

It’s sadly unusual for a female character to be married with a child back home, can we expect a possible romantic storyline for Keira in present day?

I can’t really give away too much but I can say that, yes I am married with a child at the beginning, but there are certain circumstances that become known in the future that may make it acceptable for me to potentially have a love interest. You only see a little glimmer of it in season one so for right now that’s all I can say. It’s something I do want people to think about, though, because it lends itself to more questions in the first few episodes. 

It seems harder and harder to find a hit sci-fi series, what do you think it is about Continuum that’s made an impact?

I think the really cool thing about Continuum is that it’s not just sci-fi and it’s not just a cop drama, it’s really got elements of everything. For people who like the cop genre and the procedural and the solving of some sort of case every episode, they’ll get their fill, but the people who really like sci-fi do as well between the time travel and elements of the future that I bring back with me to the present day. And the people who just want a regular drama, it’s about relationships and family and love. There are all those elements there, because I’m in a place I’ve never seen before without my family and I’m forced to survive. Then I’m forced to trust people that I wouldn’t ordinarily trust, and there are so many elements to the show that it can’t really be pigeonholed into one area. I think if people give it a chance, they’ll be hooked.

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Canadian TV has been getting more prominent across the world in the last few years, was Showcase more open to the show than U.S. networks may have been?

It’s interesting because when I decided to do the show it was only going to be in Canada, but then it snowballed and was reviewed so well, and I’m really happy that we did it in Canada as they wanted to shoot the show in Vancouver anyway. They didn’t want to pretend Vancouver was New York, and it’s a very futuristic-looking city perfect for the show. I don’t really know the whole story behind it but now that it’s becoming international it’s really exciting. With other shows like Lost Girl, maybe Canada is the future of TV.

Continuum season one starts on UK Syfy on Thursday the 27th of September at 10pm.

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