Bitten: The Popular Novel Comes to T.V.
By: Lynn Barker
Starting this coming Monday on the Syfy Channel, you can check out a different type of werewolf on TV. “Bitten” centers on Elena Michaels (played by Laura Vandervoort of “Smallville” and TV’s “V” series), the world's only female werewolf who, years after being bitten, is working as a photographer in Toronto and trying to keep her supernatural existence under wraps. She's forced to confront her past, though, when bodies turn up at a werewolf sanctuary and she’s asked for help by her pack leader. The show is based on the "Otherworld" book series by Kelley Armstrong.
Recently, Kelley and Laura sat down with reporters to talk about what is new and different about their new werewolf creation and how it differs from “Being Human” and “Teen Wolf”.
Q: How did each of you begin your involvement with Bitten? For Kelley, what was your inspiration for the book series? And for Laura, how did you first get involved in the TV series?
- Kelley: Okay. For the books, Bitten actually came out of an X-files episode. I was in a writing group. And as part of a writing group you're expected to actually write new stuff. I was trying to come up with an idea, sat down and watched X-Files. It was way back in their first season. Their one and only werewolf episode. It was your typical big guy who changes into some beast like thing and goes around slaughtering people under the full moon. And I said that's not how I would do werewolves.
- And for a writer, that then sparks how would I do them? And I wrote a short story with this character named Elena and I loved that world so much that I wrote a book.
- Laura: I had no idea it was (inspired by) the X-Files. That's really cool for me to know as well. I loved X-Files. I actually received an offer for the role, which was amazing, first of all. And ended up speaking to (the producer) on the phone just to get an idea of the premise of the show and how it would look and how the wolves would be done.
- I heard how passionate he was about the project so it just sounded like something I'd really been looking to do; a character who is both flawed and strong.
Q: Did you then read the novels?
- Laura: I read Women of the Otherworld and Bitten and did a bit of research. And as soon as I realized the amazing quality of what was there I jumped on. And we did some auditions and chemistry reads with the guys and we just sort of hit the ground running.
- It was the most challenging six months I've had thanks to Kelley and the writers. Every day was a challenge for me. And there were days where I didn't know if I'd be able to handle the emotional side of it or the physical side of it or just being in every scene. And I did. And I'm so grateful for the experience.
Q: Since one of you created werewolf Elena and one of you plays Elena, kind of tell us a little bit about her and does your interpretation of her kind of differ from each of your versions of her?
- Kelley: “Bitten” is my first published novel. So it was way back. And I wanted to create a character who would be a werewolf and be uncomfortable with that role, but ultimately come to embrace it. At that time, we saw (being a werewolf) as a curse, something that you wanted to end to get out of. And I wanted a character who, while she would feel that she should think that way really deep down doesn't. And Bitten was about coming to understand that what you think you should be is not always what you're meant to be.
- Laura: There's a lot of parallels with Elena in the show and women in general. Elena flees to Toronto to try to hide who she truly is and try to have this almost perfect image of what she feels people need from her, but she's just pushing down the animal inside of her. A lot of the skeletons in her closet are explored this season. You learn a lot about her history and some of her demons come back.
- Every episode was shocking to us when we'd read it. We had no idea where they were going to go with it. So I think even if you're not a supernatural fan you're going to find something that you truly love about this show. It's not just about the werewolves, it's about the characters and their relationships and it's just very layered.
Q: There is a martial arts scene with the characters Elena, Nick, and Clay. Laura, I know you have a background in martial arts. Are you glad to be able to exercise that skill in this role?
- Laura: Yes. I grew up doing martial arts. So Elena feels like the other part of me. I relate to so much about her. Obviously, not the werewolf part, but the fact that she can take care of herself physically. I think it was great that the writers wrote in some extra hand-to-hand combat scenes. And especially in the finale. We have this epic fight that I just had a great time doing. And we had great stunt coordinators that help us so as incorporate the animalistic side to the fighting. Most of the actors on the show are physically able to do the fight scene sequences.
Q: The Syfy Channel also has the show “Being Human”. How do your werewolves differ from theirs?
- Laura: Our werewolves are actually more down to earth. They’re life-sized to any other wolf. It's not a fantasy show. It's as realistic as we can be with the situation at hand. The wolves have the actor's eyes and their fur is the same coloring as the hair. Obviously we are dealing with a mythical idea of werewolves, but we're trying to make it as true to life as we can. And that's making sure the werewolves aren't any different from a typical wolf.
Q: Also how is the show different from “Teen Wolf”?
- Kelley: My book was written in the late 90s when I didn't have to worry about what else was out there. My point of reference was, like, the wolf man and American Werewolf in London. So, I didn't have to do that where I'm saying “okay, what's currently out there and how can I be different?” If anything, the fact that I wrote about werewolves was a huge strike against me because nobody knew how to sell a book where the werewolves weren't monsters.
- I built my story from folklore. I'm a huge folklore geek and I went through everything I knew about werewolves. And cherry-picked what bits of folklore made the most sense if putting it into a contemporary context where I want people to believe that the werewolves could actually live next door.
- Laura: Well I love Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf (the movie) and that's about it. I really don’t watch a lot of werewolf TV shows. But I know there are some out there. They are for younger audiences and I think they're more geared towards the teens. Bitten is very much adult in that it's risky and it's raw. Our werewolves are cultured. Our pack alpha, played by Greg Bryk, is just very intellectual and artistic. And they sit down to nice meals in a beautiful home and they only kill what's necessary for food or to protect. They're very educated. And so they're not monsters even though Elena has trouble at the beginning seeing herself as anything but a monster.
Q: Laura can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between Elena and her pack?
- Laura: It's complicated. She grew up in a foster care system so never really had much of a family dynamic. So once she's Bitten into the pack it's conflicted because she is the trade. It wasn't by her own will. She had to survive it on her own. But, at the same time, she finally has a family that she's always wanted and people who will look out for her.
- So she's torn between, you know, what she's always wanted and how she got it. She is their best tracker and she does love them all equally in different ways. She wants to help them and help the family.
Q: Can you talk about the special effects; make-up and prosthetics etc.?
- Laura: Well, we don't have to do the furry prosthetics in the makeup chair for four or five hours in the morning. We have a wonderful visual effects team that some of them worked on the Life of Pi on the tiger's fur. They can make the fur move. We also have a German Shepherd that will run throughout the scene and we'll get the motion of the dog (motion capture) and then capture that onto camera with our visual effects wolves. It's more of the transition from human to wolf that the actors portray; the bones shifting and snapping and contorting. And then after that it's all visual effects with the actor's eyes.
Q: Elena is a strong female character. Can you talk about her as a role model for girls?
- Laura: I grew up as tomboy and I wanted to be not necessarily a role model, but I would go to Comic Conventions after playing Supergirl (on TV’s “Smallville”) and I'd see, you know, 8 - 9 year old girls who look up to superheroes. But those superheroes are in tube tops and short shorts. And it turned me the wrong way. I wanted to always play women that I would be proud of young girls looking up to. Obviously the show isn't necessarily for young girls, but Elena is an individual. She speaks for herself. She always comes out on top. She's strong. She puts these boys in place when she needs to in the pack. And I love that about her.
Q: Kelley, how do you feel about what the showrunners have done with your book and characters?
- Kelley: I was so thrilled with the early scripts I read. I was so thrilled with the writing and how they got the characters. And yes, there are changes, but there should be. And I was quite happy to leave it in everyone's capable hands and just step back. This is my work envisioned by other writers and by actors. But it's not supposed to be my books translated to the small screen.
Q: Laura, what female action heroes did you have growing up?
- Laura: I grew up watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the original movie and Sarah Michelle Geller’s TV series. That's sort of what got me into martial arts when I was younger. And so I sort of idolized them. And I think that's really what's directed me towards some of these roles. Then the Alien movies for sure. There's been a bunch of action heroes that I've looked up to. But also just actresses in general. Like Meryl Streep but action is just where it all started for me.
Q: Elena really munches down tons of food but stays slim. How do you explain that one?
- Laura: (laughs) It’s funny. The producers, we did an eating scene and they came back to me the next day and said we loved seeing Elena eating on camera. We want to do it more. And I just thought “oh no”. When there is no one around Elena she stress eats or she has to hide her appetite from her human boyfriend. So when he's not around she's scarfing (sic) down the bacon. The crew and I would have a good laugh because the director wouldn't yell cut. So I'd keep having to eat and stuff my face and stuff my face. And eventually the crew would laugh and we'd cut and, you know, had a good time. We had a big breakfast scene and the boys, after three hours weren't looking so good after sausages and ham and all of that.
Bitten starts Monday January 13th on the Syfy Channel!