Our next chat in SciFi Stream’s exclusive interview series with the cast of Eureka features actor Niall Matter — who plays physicist and bad-boy-turned-good-guy Zane Donovan.
In our chat with Niall he discusses his roots, why he got a late start with his acting career, the best and worst parts of Zane, the ever-evolving romance between Zane and Jo Lupo, and much more!
Special thanks go to the Syfy network, NBC Universal, Vancouver Film Studios, Jaime Paglia, Matt Hastings, Eric Wallace and the entire Eureka production team for their support and graciousness.
SciFi Stream: How are you? How’s life treating you? What’s new in your world?
Niall Matter: Really good. Well, actually, I was sick the other day but I’m good now. But back up in Vancouver. I just drove up from Los Angeles and had quite the drive up. I can’t really go much further into it, but two days took me about five to get here. It was bad … I’m not even kidding. [Laughs]
SFS: A story for another time.
NM: Uh-huh. Yeah. [Laughs]
SFS: Tell us a little bit about how you got your start in the industry. You actually started appearing on roles a lot later than some of your fellow cast members as far as age-wise. What else did you do prior? Was acting your first choice?
NM: Well, I started at age 13. That’s when I started writing and directing my own short horror films, I guess. I went to high school and they had a course called Communications Technology, so I got into that and the drama instructor at that school thought that I should get in front of the camera, so I did. I studied at Vancouver Film School at age 20 and then I went back to the oil fields, because I did that at age 17.
It’s all kind of like my timeline is all messed up, but I worked eight years on the oil rigs, basically from age 17 until 25. I had a really bad accident that got me out of that, so I moved back to Vancouver full time — I had kept a place here for years and wasn’t even here. I would just fly in and out.
So I came back to Vancouver and lied my way into a bartending job. Actually, the guy that hired me is one of my best friends now. He still doesn’t know to this day that I lied my way into the bartending job. I mean, really, how hard is it to pretend that you were a bartender before? Sure, I messed up a few drinks, but I played it off, “Oh, my bad! Brainfart. Big deal.”
I think only a month and a half into me bartending, I booked my very first professional role. It was for Syfy and it was Beyond Loch Ness. I was co-starring with Brian Krause from Charmed.
SFS: Don S. Davis …
NM: Don Davis as well, who was a lovely man. I was really upset when I heard about his passing.
Yeah, Don was in that, Donnelly Rhodes was in that, Carrie Genzel was on board, Sebastian Gacki, Neil Denis, Serinda Swan, my ex-girlfriend, who’s actually doing great now. [Laughs] She was in that, that’s where we first met.
That’s when I began, and I got thrown right into it. It was right into a lead role. I was really fortunate, actually, not to have to go through the one-line parts here and there, the smaller actor, principal player stuff. I don’t have any of that on my resume. It’s just been lead and recurring, so I’ve been really fortunate that way. But yeah, it definitely did start late.
SFS: Although it was a very minor role overall, I’m proud to see you have some Stargate roots. You played Lieutenant Kemp on Stargate Atlantis. Did you enjoy the time that you were there, the couple of episodes you were in?
NM: It was so short, it was very brief. I do remember Jason [Momoa], he was a great guy. He was a really, really great guy. Didn’t really get to talk to Joe [Flanigan] very much. I was working beside Kavan Smith, who is now working with us here, which is great.
Yeah, I was Kavan’s right hand man in that. It’s actually interesting because last season — I think it’s in an episode that you guys haven’t seen yet, the back half of Season Four — there’s a moment between our two characters where I befriend him and it kind of reminded me of [that].
SFS: Talk a little bit about the casting process for Eureka. What attracted you to the project?
NM: Man, that’s a long time ago now. The long and short of it, I came back from Toronto, I had just finished filming. I was the lead on a series called The Best Years. With my first two weeks of being back here, I had an audition for Stargate Atlantis which I ended up booking and then a Dr. Dolittle film [Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief ] which I ended up booking, as well. Then Eureka came about. It was the third one within a two week span. Those were my three auditions.
When I got the breakdown for Eureka, I read the character description of Zane and I just thought, “This is me! I’m this guy!” I was feeling really confident going into the room and Tim Matheson was the director and when I walked in and I did my first read, I could tell that he was in. I think you just have to convince the network and the studio execs after that, right? But I felt really confident in the fact that I would book the role, because I didn’t know very many guys in this city that had that kind of quality.
I think it comes from being in the position I was in on the oil rigs. It put me in a position where I knew a lot more than a lot of other guys out there, because of my education, because I’m a third generation oil-rigger. I was knowledge-based out there, I wasn’t necessarily the grunt that was lifting everything. I had my position, which was a higher position than most people out there, because of my brain, because of my knowledge.
I was familiar with that position and how that hierarchy tumbles and how guys challenge you and I saw that very much in Zane, so I was able to transition that into this character. I think that really helped me when I went into the room, because I was able to embody that.
SFS: He starts off as such an X-factor, rogue element when we first see him, so much so that even when he was offered the chance to stay in Eureka I honestly didn’t fully expect the character to actually return much. I figured he’d stay in town but we won’t see a whole lot of him, let alone that he becomes a full-time cast member starting in Season Three. Was it intended from the start for the character to be one that was going to be at least recurring?
NM: I don’t think so. I don’t think it was and if it was intended to keep him around, I wasn’t informed of it. Whether that was to have the studio in a better position to negotiate a contract with me or what, I’m not sure, but I was not aware of any recurring capacity whatsoever when I was hired. And I definitely was not expecting to come back as a regular in Season Three.
What happened was, I moved down to L.A. after filming that second season with them when I did five episodes. I went down to L.A. and I was testing for a lot of different things. I was testing for different pilots and I believe what happened was, Eureka got word of that and they’re like, “Oh, well if we want to keep this guy, we’re going to have to step up to the plate and see if we want to bring the character back.” I think that might have had something to do with the decision-making, as well. [Laughs]
SFS: What does Zane bring to the mix in the overall fabric of the series now?
NM: Now? Now, he’s not so much of the rogue outsider any more, he’s definitely working with the team. He definitely has a vested interest in this town as he knows that he’s now been in love and he’s experienced many different things through being in this town. And I think he enjoys the responsibility.
It’s not like Zane didn’t want to give back in the beginning. I mean, he stole money and then donated it. He was always someone that wanted to give back, he just didn’t necessarily agree with authority.
SFS: He needs to be challenged, I think.
NM: Yeah. He needs to be challenged, if he’s not challenged he’s bored. And you see that if he’s not challenged, if he’s put into a lab that he doesn’t necessarily think is where he should be, he’ll make fun of it and he’ll do things he shouldn’t be doing.
SFS: By the beginning of Season Three, we end up seeing Zane enter into a tumultuous but continually improving relationship with Jo Lupo, at least until the Season Four premiere. What does Zane see in Jo and what do you think draws Jo to him?
NM: What draws Jo to Zane? I think that she sees that he’s really looking into her as a person and really wants to get to know who she is. He is really smart and initially she was really intimidated by his intelligence because she thought that he was putting her down, when he wasn’t necessarily putting her down. He just was putting his foot in his mouth constantly. He actually really respects her and her opinion and she sees that.
SFS: Flip it around. What does he see in her?
NM: The same thing. She listens to him and for someone to be in a position of authority and not just turn her back on him, I think that opened his eyes to a completely different aspect in life.
SFS: You’ve been creating and shaping this character for several years now. Going forward, where would you like to see Zane go? What aspects of his character would you like to see touched on that haven’t been yet?
NM: You know what? There are aspects of his character that get touched on, and I have to tread lightly. But in the premiere this July, there are sides of his character that the audience will see for the very first time ever. It was actually really enjoyable to get to play those sides of him. I can’t really get into what those sides are.
I’m definitely enjoying the action-driven Zane now. He’s very much turning into, for lack of a better term, “leading man”-ish action hero. That’s been interesting to develop that road with him because, initially when I came on the show, I was 161 pounds. I’m six feet tall, I was like a 161-pound skinny, lanky dude. Then I decided, just in my personal life, “I’m going to bulk up,” so I did it. I bulked up to about 190 pounds and the show was like, “Okay, we’ve got to incorporate this now.” Getting to do that stuff is pretty cool for me.
SFS: We’ve witnessed the demise of several sci-fi shows lately, like Caprica, Stargate Universe, and V. Fringe just barely got picked up for another year. Yet shows like Eureka, they flourish, the ratings are good, sometimes record-breaking depending on when they air.
NM: Yeah, and they seem to keep on picking up more.
SFS: What qualities does Eureka have that’s allowing it to stand out from the rest?
NM: Well, Eureka‘s different from any other show that’s on TV. I mean, it’s its completely own entity. Every time I recommend someone checks it out, the first thing they say back to me is “That’s a quirky little town, I’ve never seen anything like it.” And at first, most people that I tell, they say, “It’s kind of weird,” and then they go back for another episode and they say, “I dig it! It’s different, but for some reason, I want to know what’s happening now.”
So it’s got this weird angle and it hooks people in a weird way because, yes, it’s science fiction, but it’s science fiction with a lot of fun.
SFS: I’ll completely admit, I didn’t start watching it until it showed up on Netflix and the first couple of episodes, I’m like, “Yeah, this is pretty good,” and by the end of Season One it was like crack. [Laughs]
NM: The tone of the show — it’s very funny. I don’t know what it is that hooks people. It’s just different than anything else that’s out there. It is the right mix. And I mean, Colin Ferguson, he’s a huge reason. His comedic timing is amazing. The stuff that he is able to pull off. I’ve seen episodes before where I wasn’t on set to see what he did on the day and when I see his work, it’s just genius. His comedy is genius.
SFS: Where would you like to see yourself in the industry 10 years from now? Still in it? Still enjoying it?
NM: Oh, yeah! Absolutely! Definitely would still love to be in the industry 10 years from now. No offense, but hopefully not on Eureka! [Laughter] I would love to be directing. Ten years from now puts me at 40. I would love to be directing, I am hoping if I stick with this franchise for much longer, I’d like to get a directing episode with these guys as well and start that aspect of my career.
SFS: Colin’s done it, Joe’s done it …
NM: Salli’s done it. Yeah. You know, that’s where my interest really lies. I never intended to become an actor, ever. I didn’t want anything to do with it. It just kind of happened.
SFS: Any upcoming projects, non-Eureka-related, that are in the can?
NM: No. You know what? In between seasons this last year, I just went traveling. I took off, I didn’t even audition. I went over to Europe for probably over a month and a half and then back home with my family in Edmonton, Alberta, where I grew up. Stayed there for a month and then down to L.A. When you’re tied into a series, you can’t go after pilots, so your time is pretty much taken.
SFS: Any message you want to give fans both of the show and just the sci-fi genre?
NM: I just hope the fans keep on enjoying and keep on watching. We’re happy to have you. And I’m on Twitter now, so if you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m not that funny and I’m not that smart, but I’m on Twitter. [Laughter]
Interview by Chad Colvin
Transcription by Lahela
TOMORROW: SciFi Stream’s Eureka interview series continues with actor Neil Grayston!
Season 4.5 premieres on Syfy on July 11 at 8/7 p.m. (E/P). Season 4.0 is available on DVD today.