Produced by the SyFy channel in conjunction with THQ, "Red Faction: Origins" is a made-for-TV movie designed to bridge the narrative gap between the events of 2009's Red Faction: Guerrilla and the upcoming Red Faction: Armageddon. Set halfway between the two games, the film focuses on the character of Jake Mason (Brian J. Smith, "Stargate Universe"), a Red Faction soldier and son of Alec Mason (Robert Patrick, "Terminator 2," "X-Files"), the player character in Red Faction: Guerrilla. We spoke with Smith earlier this week, chatting about the production of "Red Faction: Origins" as well as his involvement in "Stargate Universe."
WP: You are playing the role of Jake Mason in the upcoming TV movie, "Red Faction: Origins." How familiar were you with the Red Faction series before the SyFy role came up?
BJS: I wasn't that familiar with it. When I first got the script, actually, I had no idea that it was a video game. (laughs) I think I was kind of relieved at first. I've been working on "Stargate Universe," which was something that came from this very long, established franchise, and I was really excited to do something that wasn't attached to any kind of franchise and was really new. Then about a few days later, I heard it was from a video game. I thought, "Oh, great." (laughs)
WP: You started out as a stage actor and hadn't intended to get into a full-time role in television with "Stargate Universe." How do the preparations differ when you're going for a standalone role versus coming into, as you put it, an established universe?
BJS: Well, there are expectations involved in a franchise, and I think it's one of the things that ended up hurting us with "SGU." There was such an established tome and a way of shooting and a way of writing. I think even acting styles were very, very different. I remember asking the producers, "Should I watch the other Stargates to get an idea for what we're trying to do here?" The answer was always, "No. We're trying to do something very different here. We're trying to go outside the box and shake things up a little bit as far as tone and shooting style and how it's going to be acted." They actually didn't encourage me to watch the other shows. I went ahead and watched them anyway because the way the Stargate works is so complicated, and I wanted to have some working knowledge of what the hierarchy is and what the Stargate program is, which is a really specific thing. It would help me figure out who [Lt. Matthew] Scott was a little bit, as far as where he stands in the echelon of things.
For Red Faction, it's a different thing because it's a video game. One of the things that I did was I went back and looked up the previous story lines, what had been established, and I kind of wanted to have some familiarity with what the weapons were and just how the world felt. The thing that was emphasized for me was that Red Faction: Origins is a story line that takes place 25 years after Red Faction: Guerrilla. Twenty-five years is a long time, and it's a very different world at this point. The fashions change, technology changes, so it wasn't an attempt to do a straight, verbatim translation of everything that was in the game, which I think would've been a mistake in the first place. In a good way, it left us a lot of freedom to find what this world would look and feel like 25 years after the game. At the same time, we still want to have enough Easter eggs in there for people who played the game to understand what's going on and enjoy the story and see some things that they're familiar with.
WP: With "Red Faction: Origins," did you have a larger budget to play around with more effects, weapons and toys on the set? Or is the movie more character-focused?
BJS: Well, the movie is definitely character-focused. Really, it has to be. If you're going to take something based on a video game and turn it into two hours of television drama, it has to be about the story. It has to be about the characters.
One of the things that the video game does so well is that it literally puts you in the character's shoes and you're controlling it, taking your own risks, making your own decisions sometimes, and failing or succeeding based on your own skill level. You're much more involved. That's the fun of gaming. I'm a big gamer. I spend way too much time on my Xbox. (laughs) It's kind of embarrassing. I always play games like Elder Scrolls and Battlefield: Bad Company and Call of Duty, things like that. I'm much more of a shooter or straight fantasy kind of guy. I'd never played the Red Faction game before, so the world is a little bit new.
That being said, we live in the age of CGI right now, and you can create a whole world for not a lot of money in front of a green screen. You see shows like "Sanctuary," which is on SyFy, and that's pretty much shot in front of a green screen, and we did a lot of that for "SGU" as well. These guys are getting so good at it that you can create a whole set, a whole world for a fraction of the cost of going out on location.
WP: Does that make things more difficult for you, acting in front of a green screen versus acting in front of something tangible? How does that change your job?
BJS: Well, it's not as fun. (laughs) I'll be honest. I love going out to location. I love the whole process of going out a day early. You stay at a hotel, you wake up at the buttcrack of dawn, and you're going to this place that's usually pretty unique. If you're going to a location for some kind of sci-fi shoot, you know you're going somewhere pretty cool. The opportunity to go and see those places is one of the reasons why I love to be an actor. At the same time, it puts you in a really definite environment, and it helps you feel like you're really there. With a green screen, you have to use your imagination a lot more, and you really have no idea how it's going to look, how it's going to turn out. You're always amazed that sometimes they'll build whole sequences of shots based on reactions that you had to something you saw in your head — an explosion or a ship flying past or a city burning below you, things like that. It's really incredible what they can do.
You know, we shot this on not a lot of money. When I originally read this script, I thought, "Wow! SyFy is going to make a $40 million film! This is fantastic!" You just don't have the money to do that. I don't know exactly what the number ended up being, but it certainly wasn't $40 million. The thing that's really exciting is that when I went back and saw it — I finally got a cut of it — it looks like a big, cool, expensive feature film. One of the reasons for that is that Michael Nankin, who directed this baby, was really insistent on not going pure green screen for this film. We went to a few locations that nobody had seen before and would help us create a mood and environment for this world that would be really unique and would also feel very tactile and textured in a way that you can't always get when you do CGI.
We shot in Bulgaria — right outside Sofia, Bulgaria — and there are locations there that have a great rusted-out, abandoned, Soviet feel to them, like Eastern Soviet Bloc, and it really helped the story because this is a world that was originally set up as a mining colony for the folks back on Earth. The Earth Defense Force, the EDF, were the people that were the controlling interest. They sensed that the world would look like this once the EDF had been kicked out, and it definitely has this feeling of a city that had been developed by a very big, industrial, almost socialist- or communist-based society, and then had been completely abandoned. That's exactly what you have in Sofia and Bulgaria in general: huge, huge, huge factories that have stood empty for years and are just kind of rusting and falling apart. As we know, when the Soviets finally left and let the Bulgarians run their own show, they left behind infrastructure that was just massive, and a lot of it is not being used.
WP: Destruction is a big part of the Red Faction games, and I'm guessing there are a lot of explosions in the movie. Did they let you tear anything apart while you were on set, or was that reserved solely for the special effects guys?
BJS: (laughs) That was really a special effects type of thing. I'll be honest: It is a lot of shooting and firing, and there are some sweet gun battles and shuttle action and stuff like that, but the majority of the script is about this kid trying to find his sister. You're not literally going around with those big, crazy Red Faction guns and blowing holes through walls and things like that. Again, it's something that the video game does so well, and if we had $40 million or $50 million to throw around, I'm sure that's something that could have been in the equation, but watching it, it's nothing that I thought anybody would miss.
WP: Both Jake Mason from Red Faction: Origins and Lt Scott from Stargate Universe are military men, with one key difference: experience. How do the two roles compare, and how did you shift from one to the other?
BJS: Well, actually, one of the things that I really liked about Jake Mason is he actually is a really good soldier, and he joined Red Faction, which, since they kicked the EDF out, has kind of the all-purpose militia, police force and security force. They're kind of like the Army, Marines, Navy and police all wrapped up in one. He's risen through the ranks; he's a very, very, very good soldier. He's very competent and very confident, and I think the reason for that is his dad completely fell apart when his sister was kidnapped and his mother was killed when they were very young. He kind of disappeared into this role of being the best Red Faction member that he could possibly be. It's made him very, very, very good. He's very tough, and he's very much a badass. I wanted to do something like that because for the last two years, I've been playing someone (laughs) who is completely doubtful of himself, hasn't really quite found his way, and really, only at the end of this two-year journey that we had with the show did he really start to find himself. Jake Mason knows who he is. He knows what he wants, and he's not afraid of busting in some skulls or having someone say, "No." He'd kill them and go ahead and do it anyway. I found that really cool.
WP: Very nice. Is there anything else about the Red Factions: Origins film that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
BJS: It was one of the best experiences that I've had in front of a camera in my short career so far. Michael Nankin, who people are going to know from "Battlestar [Galactica]," was incredible to work with, and that's kind of an understatement. There are very, very, very few directors out there who know how to direct actors, and he has a fantastic sense about storytelling and how actors work. Even people who had one or two lines during the day would be like, "My God." He really gets in your head and tries to help you out. Just working with him was a really great experience, and it was also really great when I watched the last cut of the film to see the kind of care and that same thoughtfulness and creativity went into the editing. Putting together the story in post[-production] that went into it when we were shooting it. I've kind of stopped calling how I think people are going to react to things, but it's just a really good film. Everyone's really proud of it. I know that SyFy is really kind of shocked at how this thing turned out, and there's been talk that if this thing sees some good numbers and gets some good interest when it airs on June 4, there's a pretty good chance that this might go into series. So we'll see.
WP: What do you think about being a stage actor who's sucked into TV? Would you be up for another series?
BJS: Oh, heck yeah! One of the first things that I did when I got back from Bulgaria was tell my agent, "I want to do a play. I need to do a play. It's been two years since I've been on stage."
WP: I understand that right now, you have a play going on Broadway, Little Black Dress.
BJS: Yeah, we opened on Thursday, May 5. It's an off-Broadway play, really small, just four of us. It's a really small house. Nobody knows we're there, (laughs) and nobody knows about the show. It's actually better that way because it's a very experimental play; it's certainly fun for us, and the audience has been enjoying it, but it's just so different and so much more risk involved than anything you can do on television. You have to step back and do those things every once in a while, or your career becomes about contracts — getting on a series and staying there. It's just not the kind of career I'm interested in having. I'd like to say that I did it all at the end of the day: did a film, did a TV show, maybe did a series, and did some theater. Hell, I'll voice a commercial. (laughs) I just want to try it all.
WP: If any of our readers want to find out more about the play, what would be the best way to go about it? Is there a Web site for the play? Is there anything online to look up?
BJS: The best way to find out anything about the show is to get me on Twitter. I check my Twitter account — actually I uploaded some pictures from "Stargate Universe" because Monday was the series finale. I like to really interact with my Twitter followers, and if anyone has any questions about the play or wants to see it, they can contact me there.
WP: Aside from the photos, did you have any special plans or celebrations for the series finale? You obviously wrapped filming quite a while ago, but while the final episode was airing, did you do anything special?
BJS: I did some live tweeting while the show aired just to answer any questions that anybody had or anything like that. Then I have to get back to work. We have the [Broadway] show starting up again. Get right back on the board. That's the actor's life, I guess, but hey, whatever comes up next, I have no idea. We've got our fingers crossed for "Red Faction: Origins" maybe going to series. You never know. These things happen or don't happen purely on a whim. We'll see. I'm just white-knuckling it right now, just holding on and going for the ride and seeing what comes up. Whatever the universe wants to throw my way, I'll take it.
WP: Thanks a lot for your time. We're definitely looking forward to checking out "Red Faction: Origins" when it airs on June 4 on SyFy.
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