When Brian J. Smith's agent first approached him with the offer to star in the upcoming Syfy movie, “Red Faction: Origins,” the actor was less than thrilled.
"I immediately was like, 'No, no, no,'" Smith, who plays Lt. Matthew Scott on “Stargate Universe,” told me in February, admitting that he'd seen many a Syfy Saturday B-movie. “They’re fun for what they are, [but] they’re kind of shitastic. Do you know what I mean? Which is awesome. There is a kind of tongue-in-cheek quality about them.”
“Red Faction,” he said, will be a step above Syfy's movies of the week. ("Mega Python vs. Gatoroid" comes to mind.) "It's definitely quality and it has really, really smart minds behind it. … This is not going to be another MOW. It just isn’t.”
The movie is based on the popular “Red Faction” video games. Andrew Kreisberg wrote the screenplay based on a story developed by Paul DeMeo and Danny Bilson of THQ, the company behind the video game franchis. Michael Nankin directed the film. The film is set between what happens in the “Red Faction: Guerrilla” and “Red Faction: Armageddon” video games.
In the film, which Syfy has announced will air at 8 p.m. June 4, Smith plays Jake Mason, the last surviving son of Alec Mason (Robert Patrick), the man who led the Martian Colonies to freedom 25 years prior to when “Origins” begins. Kate Vernon, Danielle Nicolet, Gareth David-Lloyd, Tamzin Merchant and Devon Graye also star.
Smith said he initially wasn’t all that interested in the movie, until he read the script. He loved the story, and the Jake character, he said, who is a lot different than his “SGU” character, Lt. Scott.
“It was great to play someone who is a bad-ass and knows it,” he said. “I love Scott, but my God that kid has the weight of the world on his shoulders. There is so much self-doubt and angst and just inner turmoil about him—and guilt, Catholic guilt I guess—about everything. He takes responsibility for everything.
“It was nice to play someone who just could not give a shit about what anybody thinks about him. He’s a lot more reckless.”
Smith also jumped at the chance to work with acting heroes Robert Patrick and “Kate-freaking-Vernon,” as he said. Both veterans, he said, nail their performances.
“[Kate] brings a regalness and a stillness to her performance,” he said of the “BSG” alum, who plays The Matriarch, leader of the tribal Marauders sect that fights Jake’s Red Faction Militia. “I just think it’s really going to be fantastic.”
Despite the often difficult filming conditions in and around Sofia, Bulgaria, Smith is happy he didn't turn down the role because it was a Syfy movie of the week.
"It was the best experience I've ever had on a set," he said. "It was incredible."
Smith talked more about his co-stars, the film itself and the cuisine of Bulgaria. But first, here is Syfy’s description of the movie:
Twenty-five years have passed since Alec Mason (Robert Patrick) led the Martian Colonies to freedom … and 12 years since vengeful enemies killed his wife, kidnapped his daughter Lyra (Tamzin Merchant), and left a broken hero in their wake. Jake Mason (Brian J. Smith), Alec’s last surviving son and an officer in the Red Faction Militia, has his world turned inside out when he discovers that now, 12 years after her kidnapping, his sister is still alive. As a powerful new enemy swarms across the planet, Jake goes out to find her, only to learn that his lost sister is one of them … a cold-blooded soldier sworn to destroy the Red Faction. Jake must now battle the relentless regime and somehow reunite a family torn apart by war. Kate Vernon portrays The Matriarch, leader of the tribal Marauders sect.
You’ve obviously seen some of those Syfy Saturday movies. … They’re totally critic-proof. You almost have to revel in the badness of them.
Yeah, exactly. So [when I was aproached] I thought, “I don’t know” and “I'm sure it’s fun, but it doesn’t sound like the kind of fun to be having right now.” … I read and it was really freaking good, like really, really good. I called and said, “Who is directing this?” It was Michael Nankin and I kind of spun that name around my head, because I know I’d seen it many, many times somewhere and then it finally hit me: He has directed some of my favorite “Battlestar [Galactica]” episodes, like “Scar” and I think “Rise of the Phoenix.” I knew with that script and with a director that had that kind of sensibility and came from that “Battlestar” world that something pretty cool could come out of it. Plus, it was the first time I had played a lead; it was a big, meaty, huge role to play with a lot going on and it just seemed like a really cool thing to do.
And it was amazing. ... It was hard. It was very cold. I mean it was like –12 Celsius at certain points, and we were outside quite a bit.
Were you in Sofia or all over the place?
We were in Sofia, but we also went a couple hours outside of Sofia. It was just crazy. It was just this huge—it was an adventure. So many things happened on that shoot that are just insane and I don’t know how we survived them, but we did and we’re all incredibly close.
Danielle Nicolet, who plays Tess in the film, was fantastic and people are going to flip out when they see her and what she does in the film. She is amazing. We got really, really, really close because it was a very difficult shoot. It was just very trying. We were doing day and night, night and day, switching and night shooting and we were in really difficult locations. Again, it was freezing cold. It was nuts! Everybody was getting sick with some kind of—one of the producers went back to Los Angeles with pneumonia.
It was very, very difficult, but amazing. It was just amazing. One of those things you look back on and you shake your head and you go, “My God, not only did we survive it, but I think we made a really good film.”
So is it comedic or is it a drama?
It’s a drama mostly, but it definitely has some humor in it. Andrew Kreisberg, who wrote it, is a fantastic writer. He writes for “Warehouse 13,” so it has some of that “Warehouse 13” cleverness about it and there are some really funny moments, but underneath it all it’s very honest. It’s very real. It’s very grounded and that is what we wanted to do is really surprise people and be one of these movies where it’s actually got some kind of emotional merit to it, not just a sci-fi caper.
Does it have “SGU”-quality special effects, or the usual bad MOW effects?
We don’t know yet. They’re all working on that so that kind of remains to be seen. The thing is, I don’t know how much money they’ve got to work with, but just like anybody else, they’ll do their best. And Michael, who is a genius—like I said he is an incredible director—he has been hands-on with all that stuff and making sure that it’s up to par.
Tamzin Merchant is in it, too.
Yeah, she is incredible. And Gareth David-Lloyd.
Yes, he’s in it. They had to shoot all his stuff out in a week, but he was incredible. He is a really great actor and, of course, Robert Patrick, who was just like phenomenal. It was like a master class watching him work and—
The ever-amazing Kate.
And Kate Vernon, Kate-freaking-Vernon!
Wow, I would just probably not even be able to work.
I know! My God. The first time I met her I think she was in makeup. They were doing some makeup tests on her and I was coming in from my day’s work and she was in there and I just kind of slipped into my chair and tried to get really, really small because I was kind of nervous and I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself. She actually came up to me and said hi and I was like [makes gulping sound], “OK, hi.”
It must have been crazy because you are such a “Battlestar” fan?
Yeah, I know. Ellen Tigh! I kept pinching myself in scenes, “Here’s Ellen Tigh!” And what she does in the film is very different from Ellen Tigh, too …
You’re playing the son of Alec Mason, who is the main guy from the original game, right?
Yeah, Robert Patrick is a guy from the game. He is Alec Mason, who led this rebellion [on] Mars.
It’s a really interesting sci-fi concept. Mars had been settled and people back on Earth started using Mars purely for [its] minerals and mining. So this really oppressive regime got set up. It’s very similar actually to the American Revolution and people rebelled and won their independence. Robert Patrick’s character was the guy who led all that; he’s a war hero pretty much.
When we pick up our story something really terrible has happened to his family. He just couldn’t cope and he is just a broken man. He has this son, who I play, who is kind of trying to distance himself from that legacy and has tried to help his father out. It’s a little bit like “Intervention.” [Laughs.] It’s the son who is just so fed up with watching his father kill himself that he has to kind of cut himself off from that relationship. It was a beautifully written relationship and it pays off really great with what happens.
Do they get attacked again?
Yeah, basically the people who we thought we had defeated came back and the people that are involved in it end up being a surprise to us.
And then you get to be a hero.
[Laughs.] Yes, exactly. … We had a ton of fights, a ton of really cool, huge, huge, huge fights that we shot that we had to rehearse for just an hour. They actually turned out really good.
I saw all your tweets from before filming actually started when you and [producer] Tom Lieber tweeted about the huge meat dishes in the restaurants. You get tired of all that meat?
[Laughs.] I liked it. I'm a meat eater, so I enjoyed it. They do like their meat. They also make this great thing called a Shopska salad, which we all just downed. We were kind of sick of it by the end, because at dinner everybody had a Shopska.
What is that?
It’s basically cut-up vegetables with lots of feta cheese poured on top of it and balsamic vinegar and olive oil just kind of smothered all over it.
Were you over there for a month?
I was there for five weeks. Yeah, it was a big shoot. It was a marathon.
When you’re doing movies, you’re shooting just like TV—some 14 hours days?
Yeah, huge days, huge days. It was massive. It was incredibly tiring. Everybody was exhausted and I don’t know how I didn’t get sick. I do not understand how that happened. I walked away from that whole thing healthy.
That’s good to know it’s going to be a more serious drama.
I'll tell you, actually, I'm kind of glad to hear that people have really low expectations about it. I've read some of the buzz and people are saying, “It’s going to suck. This is going to be terrible! Blah, blah, blah, blah.” That’s good because they’ll be surprised. …
I haven’t seen it, so maybe I'm wrong. But I know what we shot and what we were doing. Just the quality of the actors in this project and, of course, the sensibility that Michael brought to it...
So it won't suck?
No, no, no, no.