Alphas Q&A with Ira Steven Behr, Ryan Cartwright and Azita Ghanizada

Alphas was recently able to sit in on a Q&A with executive producer Ira Steven Behr and stars Ryan Cartwright and Azita Ghanizada of Syfy’s newest original series Alphas. Alphas premiers Monday, July 11 at 10:00 pm on Syfy.

How did each of you become involved with Alphas?

Ryan Cartwright: Okay. Yes. I think I was the first actor on board. I was having another fun horrible pilot season in LA running around doing my monkey showings trying to get a job and then this really good script turned up and I just wanted to be a part of it immediately.

And went into the audition and it was a tricky role for me because the character has autism and it was a bit intimidating. But then once I’d signed on one good piece after another fell into place and everyone that got on board after that and that was already on board that I met was fantastic and smart. So I was super happy to get it.

Ira Steven Behr: I had taken a year off actually to finish up a novel I had started a couple years ago and decided to finish it. And I just turned down TV work for a year, which did not make my agents happy or my wife.

She wanted me out of the house and as soon as I was done I called my agents and said let’s see what’s out there. And one of the first jobs I went on was Alphas and I saw the pilot, which I thought was really interesting and I really liked the characters, which is what I really look for in a pilot.

And I met with Zak and Michael Karnow because it’s really important you know, if you’re going to be the show runner it’s always nice if you can get along with the guys who thought up the project so there’s not going to be any kind of tension.

And we got along really well and I just thought the possibilities for a really good show were there. So and I had been doing a dance with the Syfy Network for about ten years of them offering projects and me turning them down or me going to them and it not working out.

So I figured you know what, let’s just end this once and for all and let me do something for Syfy. And here we are.

Azita Ghanizada: You know, I was the last person cast. I think they had a hard time finding Rachel. She was originally written as somebody kind of very different than what she has become now that Ira and Zak and Michael and everyone else in the writers room have really dug their teeth into her.

And so, I think in my real life I’m a little bit more ballsy and courageous than Rachel is and so I think people had a hard time originally seeing me as that. But I kind of went in and rearranged bits and pieces of myself and understood very quickly what it was like to live in a conservative home.

I’m a child from Afghanistan and grew up with very strict parents in the United States and that was part of Rachel’s journey from the pilot, kind of not fitting in at home was something I responded to. And I just kind of went in and did it and they hired me, those silly bastards. And I got on a plane, I went to Canada and we really you know, kind of found it on the day.

It was like building a play every day when we were shooting the pilot. We really kind of found all the nuances and it was such a new experience and I really credit Zak Penn and (Jack Bender) and everybody that was there that just really kind of helped fill her out flesh and bone. And now even so even after the pilot meeting Ira and everybody else in the writers room, kind of took a step back and just saw the character and decided to kind of build so much more of a story for her that I respond to even more so.

And it’s been really interesting. I mean if you liked the pilot Jamie, you’re going to love the series. I think all the characters get faster and sharper and I think the writing, the stories that they’ve been breaking are just so cool. And the concepts are just so awesome. It’s just from the pilot it only goes up and that’s just a really cool feeling because the pilot was cool to me.

And the series has just become even cooler. So I’m lucky that they were foolish enough to cast me in the first place. You know, so that’s how I got involved. I lied. I acted my way into this job.

What was it particularly about Alphas that attracted you?

Ryan Cartwright: For me, I was actually excited by a lot of the good humor in it because you know, I love comedy and been in really good comedies and stuff. And a lot of the pilots that I was going up for were comedies (and good comedies).

But they didn’t compare because the comedy was kind of just a lot wetter and not as real. And the humor in Alphas from the people trying to rub along I’ve realized is actually a lot funnier and drier and more real and comedy is best when it comes from a real place. So that really excited me. Yes, I really liked the comic element of the characters’ relationships with each other.

Ira Steven Behr: My answer is pretty much in line with Ryan’s. I’ve done a lot of genre television and it’s always been a struggle, one that I have kept fighting sometimes when fighting will seem to be the most ridiculous thing to do.

And I wish I would have just stopped fighting but I was always fighting to try to get humor into the shows. And it wasn’t always easy and sometimes it was impossible. And here was a chance, I mean like right there on the plate to do honest, real character driven humor in a show that had enough other elements in terms of you know, drama and mythology that the humor was going to be woven into that fabric in such a way that it could not be pulled out.

And I thought yes, finally, they can cut this, they can cut that but they can’t cut it all, in each episode. So and as it turned out much to my shock, everyone was really serious about the humor and they were not you know, turning around and saying you know what, second thought, screw the humor.

They actually have supported the humor and as long as it stays as Ryan said, as long as it’s real I think it will remain a really important part of the series and a really true and unique part of the series.

What kind of journey is Gary on this first season?

Ryan Cartwright: Well, he’s gone straight into the deep end now that the team has suddenly like properly stepped into the arena. Obviously they’re still having therapy and it’s an ongoing process helping.

Dr. Rosen is helping everyone with the down sides to their abilities and stuff and their own neuroses and everyone getting along. But also now there’s just a ton of action and it’s gotten seriously dangerous and it’s at a certain point now for Gary where he is having to decide himself and also those around him are having to decide whether it’s even right to put a person like Gary in these dangerous, life threatening situations.

And it’s very interesting because it seems like it actually is the best thing for him in a way because he is his own person. And even though he is making decisions within a limited capacity it’s still his decision. So it’s a very trying time I guess for little old Gary but he seems to be having fun so let him get shot at.

Where is this first season going to take us?

Ira Steven Behr: Well, oddly enough in about 3-1/2 hours I will be going into the network and pitching the final episodes of the season and telling the network where the series is going.

So I’m going to be very interested to see if they agree with us. One of the things that really appeals to me about the show is you know, in line with some of the other stuff that I’ve done is that this is a show that is going to evolve and is always evolving and is not a cookie cutter kind of series where every episode is exactly the same and plays out basically as the episode the week before and the episode the week after.

So this show is evolving. It evolves in five episodes and it’ll evolve more when we get to the tenth episode. And so I think what’s obviously going to happen without giving anything away is this is a group of people who are not really your first choice to be an investigative unit or to be going out into the field and getting shot at as Ryan said.

They are kind of working for the government but the government doesn’t totally know whether to trust them, they don’t know whether to trust the government. They’re working against this organization of alphas called Red Flag and Red Flag keeps telling them that they’re on the wrong side. And it’s a very precarious position to be in.

And as we like to say in the writers office, the center cannot hold. Eventually you know, things are going to start cracking. You know cracks are going to appear on the surface and I think by the end of season one there will be cracks appearing all over the surface.

Ryan and Azita your characters both have disabilities – with Gary’s autism and with Azita’s character while using one sense she’s disabled in terms of others. Has there been a concern for sensitivity of how people may view those portrayals?

Azita Ghanizada: Well, I mean for Rachel at least, going into something that is so special and it’s so unique because when she goes into any of her senses the rest of her entire body shuts down.

So every other sense is asleep and kind of finding that we kind of found it and we rooted it in as much humanity as possible. So it’s as honest as possible. And in that way we’re kind of if we keep it as real and as close to the bone as possible I don’t really think that there would be anything in there that would offend anybody hoping, knock on wood.

That’s definitely not the goal. I think the goal is just to communicate how much it affects her emotionally to have these special abilities and how vulnerable it makes her both physically and emotionally. And I think kind of conveying those emotional and physical things, I think that will affect the audience more than insulting anybody for sure.

Ryan Cartwright: I think with Gary I think everyone was very sensitive to the portrayal of him from day one. And everyone has been – we’ve been very careful but then once we knew we had the character we have been careful to make sure that we actually utilize him and make sure he’s a real person who will do big, old things.

Because I think the main things a lot of the time when people, when they create roles like this is to mollycoddle the character and to try to play it too safe with regard to what you end up doing is just patronizing the character and the condition. And you want the person to be a real person and I think once we knew that we had this guy and that he was real and that he was off the page, we all felt confident enough to just run with him.

And I’m supersensitive to the idea of anyone being offended by it and I feel completely confident that he’s fine. He’s a real person now. He’s his own person so I think everyone will be very happy. I’ve only heard nice things so far. So I mean we’ll see.

Azita Ghanizada: And just to add on to that I think what’s so great about our characters actually work from a position that could be considered disabled is truthfully they are so special because of their disabilities.

And I think that’s really a key element is that what would be considered a disability is really their gifts and it makes them unique and it makes them an alpha and that makes them special. So if anything we’re really applauding the fact that you know, this thing that could be considered odd, which is why they’re a band of misfits that come together and need each other really to work together in this unique way, it’s really special.

If anything it’s more special than just the disability that other people would see them as having and other people have seen them as having a condition or whatever it is, is really what makes them so unique and gives them the ability to be alphas.

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