Thanks to technology, it’s not easy for an actress to maintain that precious air of mystery these days.With just a cursory glance at Alberta native Tricia Helfer’s Twitter page, for instance, you will quickly discover that she remains friends with former Battlestar Galactica co-star Katee Sackhoff, indulged in tequila on New Year’s Eve, has a soft spot for kittens, signs petitions against puppy mills and is annoyed when restaurants keep their air conditioning too high.
If that’s not enough information, her official website includes an “Ask Tricia” section, where fans can send in queries for the 37-year-old to answer in a video-blog Q&A.
It’s true that social networking has created new fan-outreach possibilities for celebs, but where to draw the line is occasionally a bit fuzzy, the actress admits.
“In acting, in our world right now, you have to be somewhat accessible or it’s taken as a slight,” says Helfer, on the phone from her home in Los Angeles where she’s doing a round of interviews to promote the new TV adaptation of John Grisham’s The Firm. “It’s like: ‘What? You don’t want to speak to me?’ But if you’re too accessible, then some of the allure and mystery disappears. As actors you have to have a certain amount of allure and mystery, or people think they know you and why would they want to go see you in something?”
Good point. On the other hand, Helfer could probably indulge in Charlie Sheen-like levels of online oversharing without chipping away too much of her allure.
Which is why the statuesque former supermodel is so effective as Alex Clark, the senior partner of a powerful law firm that hires our idealistic hero Mitch McDeere in the TV sequel to John Grisham’s book and the 1993 film it was based on. The story takes place 10 years later, with Josh Lucas taking over the lead from Tom Cruise. Now with a wife and daughter, McDeere emerges from the Witness Relocation Program and reluctantly agrees to align his struggling practice with Kinross & Clark, but only as an associate. On paper, this means he won’t have to dirty his hands aiding and abetting the soulless corporations that the firm has as its major clients.
But he soon finds himself descending into the same murky world of organized crime and immoral law practise that he encountered a decade earlier. Kinross & Clark have plenty of shadowy secrets and it’s in Alex Clark’s best interest to keep them covered up.
“Alex Clark is definitely an alpha,” says Helfer. “She does not suffer fools. She has had to play and get ahead in what is predominantly a male world. She’s all about work and has made some questionable choices along the way that has gotten her into the position she’s in now. She made the choices, maybe morally wrong choices, but he’s preserved her work and clients. And it’s snowballing to the place now where she can’t get out even if she wanted to.”
Which, for now, seems to place her somewhere in between the black-and-white worlds of villain and victim. It also ensures she keep at least some of her mystery intact.
Of course, Helfer has negotiated this territory before — as “Carla,” a mysterious member of a shadowy intelligence group in Burn Notice and as equally mysterious secret-agent handler Alex Forrest in Chuck, for instance. But she is arguably still best known as Number Six, the leggy “Cylon” in the cult classic TV series Battlestar Galactica.
In what could be have been played as a straight antagonist was instead infused with vulnerability and mystery by Helfer’s nuanced take on the role.
“As an actress you look for all different types of characters,” she says. “It would get boring if you just played one type of character all the time. Alex has a lot of characteristics of a lot of other characters I’ve played. But then she has a lot of different characteristics. Later in the season, you will start to see a little crack in the facade of the strength and icy demeanour.”
Growing up a shy farm girl 20 kilometres outside of Donalda, Alberta, Helfer admits becoming an actress was never an expectation. But at 17, she was discovered by a modelling agency while standing in line at a movie theatre. She became a top supermodel for nearly a decade, landing on the covers of Vogue and Cosmo and even posing for a Playboy centrefold. In 2002 she turned her attention to acting, landing the coveted role of Number Six a year later despite some early concerns that she was too green a thespian for the part.
Late last year, Helfer received another boost to her cult status when the failed pilot for a TV show named 17th Precinct popped up online and started to get a following. This was again due to technology. Traditionally, TV pilots that have been turned down by networks never see the light of day. But because Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald Moore was behind the supernaturally themed pilot and it starred alumni Helfer, Jamie Bamber and James Callis, devoted fans treated it as an unofficial reunion.
Which brings up the question: would she ever consider a Battlestar reunion? The Peabody Award-winning show, which ended in 2009, is still considered a classic by sci-fi fans.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I’d certainly be up for it if everybody else was involved. But I think it was something that had it’s time. Ron Moore . . . said from the beginning it would be a five-year run and that’s what we did. I think show’s should end when they are interesting and ahead. It’s better to go out on a high note.”firstname.lastname@example.org