Our penultimate interview with the cast of Eureka is with none other than Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who portrays Dr. Allison Blake on the series.
In our discussion with Salli, she talks about her roots in both Chicago and acting, her initial reluctance to join the series, whether Sheriff Carter (Colin Ferguson) is Allison’s “soul mate,” 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: Thank you, Salli, for sitting down with us. How is family life treating you? How is Trey [Richardson-Whitfield’s son]?
Salli Richardson-Whitfield: Well, things are very busy. [Laughs] You know what, the little boy is so darn cute to me. I think because it’s the second kid. He’s really smart and he’s like a kid already — he’s not like baby any more. No trouble.
SFS: You were born and grew up in Chicago and cut your acting teeth on the stage, working in theater productions there. Between the stage and the screen, do you have a preference?
SRW: I think it’s something completely different. I really do like doing film. I like the opportunity to really get it where you want it, very specifically. Though I do miss — I have to go back to Los Angeles this weekend. I can’t say what it’s for because it’s a secret, but I’m doing a performance this weekend for something and it’s live stage with singing. I’m really nervous and excited about it. There’s just something different about that audience there.
SFS: Tell us a little bit about how you got your start in the industry itself, post-college.
SRW: Well, you know in Chicago, funny enough, I learned mostly about marks and the technical side of acting from doing industrial films. In Chicago, they do a lot of McDonald’s industrial films there and you’d have to go and really learn how to cook the stuff. So while you’re talking you have to cook, and you have to hit certain marks and I really learned how to do that.
So by the time I got a few little parts in Chicago movies — I think I did Prelude to a Kiss, just two or three lines — at least I had an idea of what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t completely green and that’s how I got start, doing little bit parts and then saved up some money and moved to L.A. at 24. Bought a $700 car and drove up!
SFS: You’ve been taking roles in films and television since the early 90s, but one of your more prominent earlier roles didn’t let viewers see your face because you were a voice on Disney’s Gargoyles cartoon. To this day, it still has a very devoted fan following. How easy does voice work come to you? Do you find it difficult or easier than doing screen?
SRW: Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t know that it was so hard to get a cartoon. It was just one of those jobs, I went in and auditioned and I’m like, “Ah, I’m never going to get this. Nobody wants to hear my voice in something.” And I get this great show and just did it and never really did anything else after that.
SFS: Are you open to going back to it?
SRW: Yeah, I’ve been starting when I’m home. I’ll go in on some voiceover auditions. It’s just that I’m here so much I haven’t necessarily had the opportunity. But I would love, love to do another cartoon. It was a lot of fun.
SFS: What attracted you to Eureka and the casting process for it?
SRW: It’s very funny because in the beginning, I wouldn’t go in on the audition because it’s shot in Vancouver. I love Vancouver, it’s very nice, but I didn’t want to be away from home and it’s hard to shoot here. But it just kept coming back around and I tested for other shows and didn’t get it and they kept asking. It was like, “But you really should come in on Eureka.”
Then when I saw the script, there’s not that many roles that are this challenging and well-rounded. And what I liked is that, initially — maybe I saw one other woman of color at the audition — that they were so open to cast me even though I don’t think the character was necessarily supposed to be a black woman. They just went with me because, when I came in, they thought I perfectly fit with Carter. So they were just kind of blinded to everything else and I really appreciate them looking at it that way. It’s been a great role that’s grown and gotten better and bigger.
SFS: In what ways are Allison and Salli different, and in what ways are they alike?
SRW: Let’s see. Well, I’ve found over the years that we seem to be very much the same. I now have two kids, I have a boy and girl in the show. I find Allison is very strong, can pretty much deal with anything and she sort of has both sides to her. She can be hard when she needs to and soft when she needs to.
She’s probably a little more emotional than I am in real life. Maybe it’s some Chicago south-side thing. You’re not going to see me crying too much, but [as Allison] I do a lot of crying lately. But I actually feel like I’m just doing me, saying Allison’s words. Very close.
SFS: Allison’s had a lot of roles within the series over the course of the last few seasons. First starting out as a liaison for the Department of Defense, then as head of Global Dynamics. And now in the altered Season Four timeline, she’s the head of medical science at GD. Yet her constant role for most of the series is being a mother to an autistic child. Your portrayal of that aspect of Allison comes across as very natural and very effortless. How important was it for you to capture that aspect accurately?
SRW: I didn’t really have to play it any differently. Like I said, I have children and you just love your children no matter what the issues are. I think a lot of that is due to the writing. They write everything very nice and delicate and sincere. And really, if you just do honor to the words that they’re putting on the paper, it’s all there for you.
SFS: For the first three years of the series, viewers were treated to the love triangle between the characters of Allison, Jack Carter [Colin Ferguson] and Nathan Stark [Ed Quinn]. In your mind, what were the qualities in Jack that led to such heavy flirtation and why did she ultimately choose Nathan, even if that happiness was short-lived?
SRW: The thing with Carter is that you find that “soul mate.” You may be with someone else but then all of a sudden you meet your soul mate. It’s easy and the humor works perfectly. I think in Allison’s mind, she went, “You know what this is with Carter. Nathan, I know what that is, I know what that love is and that safeness and what he is to my children and all of that.” Do you give up “safe” to go for “maybe this could be what we think it could be?” I think that she went the “safe” route.
SFS: At the end of the first half a Season Four, we actually have — finally — Jack and Allison building a relationship that fans have been clamoring for since the beginning. Should it continue or could Eureka fall prey to that Moonlighting curse where the lack of that romantic and sexual tension ends up hurting the show somehow?
SRW: I think it’s best if we don’t stay happy.
SFS: Is that a spoiler? [Laughs]
SRW: No, no, no! I mean, because I think that no matter what, even if we are together, there’s always going to be some little wrench thrown in there. Even if you’re still dating and there’s a wrench thrown in there and I won’t say any more! [Laughs]
But what do you think? I think it’s kind of fun to see us back and forth with each other.
SFS: You get shows that do that back and forth, like Bones where it’s getting to the point now that the back and forth is getting frustrating after so many years. But I think Eureka‘s struck a really nice balance. I expected it to happen, but I didn’t expect it to happen already here is Season Four … that they finally at least got to some point.
SRW: I wish I could tell you, but it’s not anything in stone either way. [Laughs]
SFS: I don’t want to know! I’m just enjoying the ride!
You’re filming Season Five as we speak, and you’ve lived with this character for years now. What aspects of Allison would you like to see explored going forward that haven’t been touched on yet?
SR: Honestly, I don’t know what there could be. I mean — oh God, you guys haven’t seen that episode. [Laughs]
I would love to do something bad, like be a little evil, just because that’s fun. But pretty much, so far, I kind of get to do everything. I’ve had fights, I’ve had love interests, I can be strong, I’ve been crying. So I think I’d like playing it a little bad. Somebody could overtake me and I could be evil or something. I don’t know, it’d just be fun not to be Allison because Allison’s really nice and loving.
SFS: What qualities do you think Eureka has that are allowing it to stand out from some of the rest and what do you think are some of the issues within the genre itself where high-concept shows just aren’t attracting the necessary audience?
SRW: I think for us, we’ve been very lucky that season after season, it actually has gotten much better. This season that’ll be coming up that you guys haven’t seen yet and the one we’re shooting right now. Not that I didn’t like the first seasons but I am so proud to be a part of it now. The writing and the stories are so much better, so we’re actually growing and I think maybe other shows started great and maybe got stale. I think we finally, in these last two years, have really found what the show should have been all the time.
Then, also, we really have fun characters. I think people really care. I think with maybe V and some of these other shows, they were trying too hard to make it something in particular. Sometimes when you push these shows too much, people are expecting too much and we were just sort of a little creeper that crawled in there and all of a sudden you like us.
SFS: Where would you like to see yourself in the industry 10 years from now? Still enjoying it, back on stage?
SRW: Well, last season I directed an episode. I’m directing another one this season, and I’m in the midst of trying to get together a project — an indie — for me to shoot during our next break. I really like doing that, that side. But I’m hoping once this ends — I don’t know, 10 years from now, I want my own show. I think I know what it entails now. I know how much responsibility it is and I think that I’m at that point in my career that I can carry a show. Sci-fi or otherwise. That’s what I’m looking to do.
SFS: Any other upcoming projects that are in the can that you’ve worked on that haven’t actually made it out yet?
SRW: I have a film with Mario Van Peebles that I did during our last little hiatus, called We the Party, and just over this break I had this movie called I Will Follow come out that has been doing wonderful. Literally, like a week before I came here, I’m just doing press everywhere. So I have been able to get some good indies in during my break.
SFS: Any message you would like to give fans of both Eureka and the sci-fi genre in general?
SRW: Just, really look out for this season, and next. This stuff is so cool right now, I wish it wasn’t going to take so long for people to see it, because we’re having so much fun and the stuff is just so cool. And look out for my episode! [Laughs]
And the guys finally got me doing Twitter and stuff and I really enjoy answering people’s questions. I really do. I mocked everyone for so long for tweeting, I’m like, “Ah, don’t you have anything to do with your life?” Because they’re all on the phone every second. And now I did it. It’s really nice when people can go, “So, when are you guys coming back on?” or “What is he like?” or “Blah, blah, blah,” and you get to answer. I like doing that.
Interview by Chad Colvin
Transcription by Lahela
TOMORROW: SciFi Stream’s Eureka interview series concludes with actor and series star Colin Ferguson!
Season 4.5 premieres on Syfy on July 11 at 8/7 p.m. (E/P). Season 4.0 is available on DVD today.