Defiance is takes place in the not so distant future where aliens and humans coexist on a war ravaged Earth. The city that was once known as St. Louis is now known as Defiance. There we meet a slew of people including the snarky alien town doctor, Doc Yewll played by Canadian actor Trenna Keating. Doc Yewll is considered one of the breakout characters of this show, and I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Trenna Keating about her. The interview took place over Skype and after talking about our addiction to coffee for about five minutes we proceeded to the interview which, by the way, was a lot of fun.
In this interview she talks about her character on Defiance, the challenges of playing an alien, the appeal of snarky characters, and her love for TV and especially Arrested Development.
First of all, congratulations on Defiance getting renewed for a second season.
Thank you! Yeah, that was really exciting for us. I’ve been on shows before and you always hope and things sound good, but you don’t want to get your hopes up because things can happen, so I was thrilled to find that out.
Definitely, and so what inspired you to become an actor?
You know, I wanted to ever since I was a kid. When I was in elementary school in about grade four or five I did a play, Dracula, and I knew right then and there that’s what I wanted to be. I never changed my mind ever since. I was actually talking to my mom about it the other day and she said that I had said to her, “I want to be an actor, but I can’t because I live in Saskatchewan and people from Saskatchewan can’t be actors!”
So, my mom said, “Well, lot’s of people from Canada have become actors.” She started buying me books about Canadian actors and started cutting out articles from newspapers about them. She said she always thought it was something that would eventually go away and I’d change my mind and be something more stable, but it didn’t happen that way (laughs).
That’s awesome, and you became a Canadian actor. Congratulations!
So tell me about your character Doc Yewll on Defiance.
Doc is, of course, the doctor in the town of Defiance and she’s an alien. Her race is called Indogene and there are only a few of them in the town. She’s very much an outsider just because of that alone, but also the way she behaves certainly makes her an outsider. She’s a bit of a misfit. She’s very scientific and mathematical in her thinking and everything is very cut and dry with her. She doesn’t really understand how a human ticks and I don’t think she’s particularly interesting in founding out how they tick. She’s interested in her job, she’s a genius in her own way, and she keeps to herself. I think she holds her cards pretty close. Also, she’s very snarky and cut and dry and her bedside manner is less than wonderful (laughs). She’s a lot of fun in that cranky sort of way.
She sounds like a lot of fun. What’s your favorite thing about playing her?
I think I get some of the most fantastic lines in the show. The writers are fantastic. Because she’s so cranky and so completely unapologetic about who she is I get to have a lot of fun with her. I think there’s something so refreshing about getting to play someone who doesn’t give a shit because it’s so different from the way that most of us normally behave in society. So, it’s fun and the other people in the town put up with her because she’s good at her job, not because she’s nice to be around.
In other interviews you’ve said that you’ve drawn inspiration from Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones) for Doc Yewll. What is it you think is so appealing about these kinds of characters?
I think it’s that “I don’t give a shit” attitude that they have. I think there’s always something interesting about people who don’t blend well and people who are so in their own brain. The other character that I sort of refer to is Bishop in the TV series Fringe. They are sort of alien in their own way because they don’t fit in and they don’t understand why they don’t fit in because in their mind it’s the rest of the world that’s not quite there and has the problem. I just find them really interesting and hilarious. I love people like that, I love people that are a little bit off the wall and different (laughs).
And they’re also utterly pragmatic.
Yes, absolutely. Well put.
You have to speak an alien language on the show. What is that like?
I haven’t had to speak it as much as some of the other actors, but what I have done is a lot of fun and also really difficult. I’m blown away by some of the other actors, like the guy who plays Sukar and the girl who plays Rynn, these people do entire scenes in it. I’ve only had to do a few lines and, I’ll tell you, it took me a long time to learn those lines (laughs). They send you an mp3, David Peterson is the one who wrote the languages and he does Game of Thrones as well, so he’s created these and he sends us on mp3 of him saying the line. We memorize it and then send it back to him and go from there. It is a lot of fun and it’s definitely a challenge. I find it quite difficult, but I’m just hoping that it gets easier the more you do it. It must because some of the other actors are quite stellar at it and I’m sure there are going to be people out there who know the languages before I do! (laughs). I think it’s great.
What is the most challenging thing about playing Doc Yewll?
I think initially it was just getting used to the whole process of being in a prosthetic and figuring out how to maneuver that. I think that was the biggest thing for me because I’m a little bit claustrophobic. The idea of being locked in latex for many hours a day was a little bit terrifying to me. That was definitely a challenge that I had to overcome. Also not just learning the alien language, but the jargon, the way she speaks, and making it sound like your own. Like talking about arcs, and thinking, “What is this? I have no idea what I’m saying!” (laughs).
I try to draw pictures and my partner draws pictures for me because he understands it in a way that I don’t. He’ll say, “No, this is what it is.” Now I can memorize the line because I have an image (laughs).
What are some of your favorite television shows to watch?
I came to sci-fi a little late in the game, so it wasn’t sci-fi I have to say. I was a huge fan of Firefly before getting into Defiance, but that was sort of my only sci-fi show that I watched. It’s a whole new world that has opened up to me now that I am doing it. I am a huge fan of Damages, Dexter, Mad Men, Fringe, and House of Cards. I’m a bit of a TV junkie. I just finished House of Cards and thought that it was fantastic. There are a bunch of shows that I really need to catch up on, like I really need to see more Orphan Black and Continuum. I think there’s a lot of great shows that are coming out right now that are sci-fi and the writing on them is spectacular.
I totally know what you mean with needing to catch up because there aren’t enough hours in the day to watch all these shows.
I know! I have a list so long of ones I have not seen yet that I must see. Like, I haven’t seen Scandals yet!
Totally, and you have to allocate certain days of the week, like, “Ok, today is the day when I sit myself down and marathon this.”
It’s true, absolutely. That’s kind of how I like it because I have Netflix and I like being able to watch them just one right after the other.
Me too and then you’re spared the pain of having to wait a week for each episode.
I know, I mean Defiance is the only one I’m watching week by week and it’s painful to have to wait that whole week in between!
It is! How did they ever do it before the Internet and Netflix?
Seriously, thank goodness for the Internet.
OK, so what is your dream role?
You know, it’s funny because I was thinking about that the other day because in a lot of ways never in a million years did I ever think I would be on a sci-fi show playing an alien because that was so far away from what I wanted. Somebody asked me yesterday what my favorite movie was and I am a sucker for period pieces. Sense and Sensibility is my favorite movie and it is the only movie that I will watch over and over again. There is that side of me that would really love to be in a period piece film. That being said, I love comedy as well and perhaps it’s my strength, and the character of Doc Yewll is so much the kind of thing that I love. I’m a huge fan of Arrested Development and that kind of comedy. I feel like Doc is a little bit that cut and dry kind of comedy, so in some ways I have gotten my dream job with Defiance. Although, I wouldn’t say no to being on Arrested Development.
You just want to put that out there, I totally understand.
Everyone always tells me that I look like Judy Greer, so if anything ever happens I could step in.
It’s always good to have a back up plan.
That’s right, that’s right.
And I think that it’s very considerate and compassionate of you on behalf of the people of Arrested Development.
I like to give back (laughs).
So should Judy Greer watch out now since you’ve put that out there?
She might want to, yes, she might want to. If she sees someone giving her the stink eye from across the room, she might want to step aside (laughs). I’m a huge fun of all of them, her included. Ahh! I love that show more than anything. I’m so excited for the new season. That is the one TV series I will watch over and over again. I don’t usually watch TV over again, but that one I have seen several times.
It’s so good. So for my last question, what is your favorite comic book movie?
Oh, I don’t think I have one! Well, hmmm… I did really like Iron Man. That was sort of one of those where I didn’t know anything about it because like I said this was so not my world, so I remember being completely captivated when I did see it. Yeah… Spiderman was meh. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. There were things I would have changed about it. I don’t know if that answers your question or not (laughs).
It totally does, Iron Man is an excellent choice. And since you mentioned Firefly and Arrested Development earlier I will not judge you for not having an immediate answer to that question.
Yes, okay! Phew!
Photos by Michael Halbwachs