We Talk Sci-Fi And Zero Gravity Sex With The Expanse’s Steven Strait
If you don’t know who Steven Strait is A) shame on you and B) that’s probably going to change very soon. In Space’s upcoming sci-fi series The Expanse (actually, you can watch the premiere online RIGHT HERE), Strait plays Jim Holden, a somewhat reckless young man who takes position as captain of a rogue ship called The Rocinante. For more intel on the series and Strait’s character, read on!
Space: What’s it like adapting such a unique series of sci-fi novels?
Steven Strait: It was amazing. I was a fan of the books before I got involved, and what I loved about them is they have these three very distinct tones: there’s a noir/detective element to it, there’s a political thriller element, and for us who are trapped on this ship it’s an ensemble survival tale. When I was reading the books I was so stuck by how James S.A. Corey [pen name for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck] managed to use these three tones to push this narrative forward. That translated completely into the scripts.
Are there any particular deviations between the book and show?
The only way it deviates is the Chrisjen Avasarala (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo) storyline is pulled from the second book. But other than that it’s almost exactly the same. We have the authors in our writers’ room, and one of them is on set every day. We didn’t want to mess with what worked so well, and the books themselves are very cinematic.
How closely does your performance mimic the books?
I mined the first books for as much information as I could find about Holden’s backstory: where he’s from, how he grew up, his experience in the navy… being kicked out of the navy. I wanted to build a personal history so everything he does in the first episode feels justified.
In the series premiere, Holden suddenly has a lot of responsibility dumped on him. What do you think about the way he handles it?
The wonderful part of playing Holden is his enormous arc and how fast he has to change. He’s very cynical, self-absorbed, and guarded when we first meet him, but it’s all kind of a front. When he answers the distress call and the subsequent events happen, that kind of thrusts him into being this figurehead of sociopolitical tension. For a guy who’s spent his whole life running from any kind of responsibility, I think he handles it as well as anyone possibly could. At the end of the day he’s thinking less about himself and more about answers because he’s driven by guilt for the events that transpired.
What do you think motivates Holden to log that distress signal from the Scopuli after he’d initially resisted doing so?
At the end of the day that was really there to show he has a moral compass that’s just been buried by years of disillusionment. When push comes to shove, Holden is a good guy who tries to do the right thing. But there’s nobody on this show whose black and white—they’re all varying shades of grey. When push comes to shove he does what he thinks is right, not what’s necessarily right.
How do the technical complexities of the show’s special effects affect your work as an actor?
As many effects as there are, most of the sets are practical. They were built in some of the largest sound stages in North America—and we’re constantly blowing up sets every week. For us actors, trying to place yourself in this imaginative world is easier because of how intricate and beautiful these sets are. It’s a huge luxury not to have green screen all the time—and there is some green screen—but we always did the best we could to make things feel as realistic as possible.
You’ve talked about the show’s debt to classic sci-fi. Are there any specific aspects of the genre you were trying to avoid?
There’s definitely a lot of classic sci-fi in the show, but at the end of the day it’s only a couple hundred years into the future. There’s no hyper drive, space travel is hard on the body, and it takes a lot of time to get from place to place. We wanted to stay away from the idea that it’s some kind of utopia, or a place you’d choose to be if you were given the option. The look of the show definitely harkens back to early Ridley Scott. We also didn’t want to spend too much time explaining all the technology and give too much exposition. We wanted to focus more on the people.
The show as a whole has been compared to Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica. Are there any influences you drew upon in shaping your character?
For me, because I’m only responsible for Holden’s story, the research I did other than the books was Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, who so perfectly captures the reluctant hero. I watched Blade Runner a couple times, but I also wanted to avoid the trappings of copying someone else’s performance. I wanted to make Holden a real guy with real flaws who grows into a similarly flawed character with more responsibility.
Saving the best for last, how exactly did they rig that zero gravity sex scene?
Funnily enough, the only concern I had with the script was how we would pull this off without looking ridiculous. Because I had to lie back while someone was on top of me, we’re both on wires being moved by people in another room. I had actually injured my ribs not too long ago, so I told them, “Look, I only have about 30 seconds of looking natural before I start weeping.” But we shot it fast, got it done, and it looks pretty cool. It also adds a sense of realism to sci-fi that you don’t normally see.
Watch the series premiere of The Expanse here, and check out the two-night broadcast premiere December 14 and 15 on Space. It looks every better on the big screen!