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BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Tricia Helfer and Horror Mogul Jason Blum on Their Syfy Miniseries ASCENSION

Premiering November 24th, Syfy’s Ascension, produced by Jason Blum – of Paranormal Activity and Insidious fame – is a six-episode miniseries starring Tricia Helfer and Cougar Town‘s Brian Van Holt. It looks to follow in the footsteps of the network’s 2002 Steven Spielberg-produced miniseries Taken, another tale of alternate history that won an Emmy. Ascension details the voyage of its titular spaceship, manned by six hundred people and secretly launched by President Kennedy in 1963. Taking place fifty years later, the story, according to Syfy, begins when “a mysterious murder on board the ship shakes the 600-strong crew to its very core.” Helfer (who plays the “beautiful and manipulative” Viondra Denninger), Van Holt (who plays William Denninger, the ship’s captain and husband to Viondra), Blum, and his fellow executive producer Phil Levens (of the 2008 Knight Rider and Smallville) appeared at the Television Critics Association’s Summer Press Tour in LA last week to prepare us for what we hope will be an epic as successful as the last space-bound Syfy miniseries in which Helfer starred, a little thing called Battlestar Galactica.

On Blum’s move from low-budget horror films to TV…

JASON BLUM: We did not keep the budget as low on this as we did in our movies. My long-term goal is to do very, very low-budget television. I’m newer to TV than I am to movies. So we’re starting out [in] a more traditional way. So this budget is a more traditional budget, but hopefully, I’ll be here in a couple of years, and I’ll be talking a very, very low budget series. However, this is not the one.

On the show’s premise…

JB: Fifty years ago, the U.S. and world is in turmoil, and Kennedy is told that America may end. So he’s going to send six hundred people to a place that takes a hundred years to get to. So the people on the ship, only some of their children, but most of their grandchildren, are the only people who are going to arrive at this new world. The ship really looks like it’s completely contained. It feels like a cruise ship. It’s enormous. He sets these people on their journey fifty years ago, and the show opens directly in the middle of their journey. So a lot of the people who started on this ship have died. It’s their children, their children’s children who are going to get to where they’re going. And there are a lot of conflicts going on. Should they turn around and go back to Earth, which they’ve lost touch with? They have no idea of what Earth even looks like now. Should they continue? Also there’s been a murder on the ship, which never happened before. Essentially, the ship is like a time capsule. It’s like there’s another civilization that’s continued 50-years parallel to our civilization… Their technology has developed differently. Their culture, art, song, music, all that stuff is developed but differently than it has on Earth.

TRICIA HELFER: A lot of their morals and their values that we’re dealing with, though, are still from the early ’60s. Brian and I play a married couple, the captain and his wife, and there is definitely the “woman behind the man” still much more than we would see in our society here on Earth today.

On whether the miniseries will lead to a full series…

JB: When we were developing the show, we’d ask Phil different questions, and he would say, “Oh, yeah, that happens on the fourth episode in the third year, we explain that question.” So in his mind, this series continues about eight and a half years, but right now, we just have the first six [episodes].

On the process by which Ascension‘s six-hundred passengers were chosen…

Phil Levens: The selection process was chosen for genetic diversity. One of the interesting things I had read at one time was that that forty-seven people might have crossed the land bridge from Siberia to North America, and out of that, they were able to create a genetic population of hundreds of millions. So out of these original six hundred, we have to have all different sorts of ethnicities and people from all over the world to re-create what’s viable and important in humanity going forward. Basically, like one of the characters says, it’s a lifeboat for humanity.

On Helfer’s return to science-fiction…

TH: It feels great. You know, I started my career with Battlestar Galactica, and I got lucky for my first job to be on something that was so character-driven and something that made people think. That’s what drew me to [this] script initially – I was fascinated by the idea. Sitting down with Phil, he told me that this was sort of loosely based off of a real project, Project Orion – that was around ’57 to ’65 – about sending a ship, nuclear-powered, nuclear propulsion. I thought it [was] interesting to have this alternate reality, sort of a plan B to humanity. For me, it was all about the characters and the stories of “What if?” What if these people were in space on this journey? They don’t know if Earth still exists – my character was born on the ship. My character is a very strong believer in making it to Proxima, and that’s all she knows. That’s probably all she’s going to know. I was drawn in by this woman that’s very strong. She’s very manipulative and wanting to make something out of her life. She gave up the right to have children. So she sort of feels that she’s sort of the mother of the people on the ship, the mother of humanity in one way, if Earth did blow itself up.

On whether the show will feature extraterrestrial life…

JB: We wouldn’t out-rule it.

Here’s Ascension‘s teaser trailer…

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