She's gone from another cheery afternoon in Walford to Mr Hyde's saucy PA - and from there, the lead role in a big-budget SF TV series beckons. Against all expectations Michelle Ryan is the new Bionic Woman By Jes Bickham and Frederick Published: DEATHRAY #5, October 2007
It's been quite the ride for Michelle Ryan. She's most famous for her turn as Zoe Slater in perennially miserable soap opera EastEnders, but has lately been making waves due to her role in Stephen Moffat's Jekyll, playing Katherine Reimer - employed by put-upon Tom jackman to keep tabs on both himself and his violent alter ego. It's her newest job that really threatening to catapult Ryan into the big leagues, however - as Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman in the US TV re-imagining of the hoary old series. It's being produced by Battlestar Galactica's David Eick - a man with some obvious pedigree when it comes to translating rubbish 70's shows into critically acclaimed dramas - and hits the US this autumn. We caught up with Ryan on the even of her biggest break yet.
How did you get your part in the series? "I have to say it was really easy for me, it was kind of effortless. I was making a horror movie [Flick] with Faye Dunaway up in Wales and I literally got the call. I put myself on tape and then I got a call saying that NBC wanted to fly me over, so one minute I'm driving myself four hours up and down the motorway to get to a location, and then I'm being flown first class to LA! And then I'm kind of being offered the role two days later. I honestly thought I wanted to sign with a really good agent, and have that experience - but then they told me I had the role, and I was totally overwhelmed."
How is it different working on an American show compared to a British one? I don't really see it being too different: the scale of it is different. We were shooting the promo the other day and everything is on a much larger scale. The budgets are bigger, the effects are bigger. The other thing is I've relocated my life to Vancouver - and I'm moving out of home. I still live in England, so this is my first time living on my own, and I was really nervous at first. I wasn't sure I was going to sign for seven years. I didn't know if I wanted to completely make that leap, but then a friend of mines was like, 'Don't analyse it - just go for it'. A director friend of mine told me you should always go where you're wanted. If you walk into a room and everyone's excited about you, that doesn't happen very often - especially if you're and unknown who doesn;t have a long list of films. I just felt that maybe I should go for it and just take that leap of faith, and that's what Jaime does with being bionic. It's like, 'OK this is what life has dealt me' and I just needed to go for this."
So this is a big step, not just in terms of your career, but also your personal life? "I was living with my family, and all the jobs I'd got had been sort of on location, or at EastEnders, which was a half hour drive. So this is a complete change. I called my dad and said, "Dad, I changed a ligthbulb... I did my washing..." My friend, who has two kids, says, "Michelle you're so funny. I've been washing my kids' clothes for years!" But it's good for me. It's good."
Will you be doing another season of Jekyll for the BBC? "I don't know if they're going back for a second series, and if it does I won't be there. I have to agree, it's beautifully shot - and visually it's different from what the BBC normally do. I like the fact that Katherine was mysterious: she was a psychiatrist, and she was there for Tom's character, and it's quite good she leaves at the end. She helps him overcome those obstacles and then she sort of disappears. I kind of like that."
Were you alwasy into acting, even as a child? "I think I was acting from a young age: I always used to put on plays for my family - it was always something I wanted to do. I got this feeling that I couldn't do anything else but acting. It's like, even in school I'd work hard, then I'd be looking out the window, drifting of, thinking, 'Oh, I just can't wait to get to my drama group.' It's always something I wanted to do.
How did you physically prepare for the role? "I've been trekking up mountains, I've been working with a personal trainer and acting coach, a dialect coach. As far as research, I've been reading characters from Shakespeare, some strong characters and just sort of working and finding that inner strength. And working out how Jaime will end up once she goes forward with being bionic, which is so much bigger than her. The moral debt she has to repay, the financial debt she has to repay. This ends up not just being about her; it ends up becoming something much bigger. So I've just been doing all of that really."
So what type of powers does Jaime have? "She can leap off buildings. She has incredible hearing and sight and vision. It's great, doing all of those things, doing those big stunts being on a harness. Even when I'm doing a promo where there isn't any dialogue. I still feel stronger and empowered doing this kind of role."
Did you see the original show, The Bionic Woman? "I've seen a couple of clips. I remember as a kid seeing them and remembering Lindsay Wagner looked like a very sweet, nice lady. That was sort of my memories, but I haven't seen it, no."
Do you see Jaime as conflicted? It was something they toyed with in the original series... "I think it's going to be really important for Jaime to hang on to her identity, and not let the machine take over. I think she realizes that she really has to own being the bionic woman. She doesn't want to be dictated to by the Corporation or Jonas [director of the bionic programme, played by Miguel Ferrer] or anybody she needs to become stronger. She doesn't want to lose the human side of herself. I think she can learn from the mistakes of Sarah [Corvus, the 'original' bionic woman] but I do feel the line she throws to Jonas at the end. She's like, 'By the way, Sarah Corvus says hello'. She's kind of realizing that this woman could help her. And that's a little dig to Jonas, like I could handle myself."
How is Jaime's relationship with Sarah? "I think they're always going to be 'frenemies'. Friends - but they don't really trust each other; they both have an agenda. I think as they go along they will learn alot from each other. Sarah is saying things like, 'You need to cut out all of those weak sides of yourself, that's what I'm doing.' but I think Jaime doesn't want to do that. She will lose her human side. I think Jaime is working out who she could trust. She's had this relationship with Will [Jaime's boyfriend and bionic scientist], and she thought she could trust him. Now she is really unsettled. Everything she believed to be true is not, and she's lost a baby, and she's bionic, and she has all these personal issues and obligations to deal with. I think at first she's reluctant to accept she's bionic. She wants a normal life and she doesn't want to be distracted to. There's alot to work on."
If you could save someone's life in this manner, would you do it? "If you had a loved on that you knew you could save but their life would be changed forever, would you make that choice for them? I think people are wondering why is Jaime angry that she's been saved? Well, she's not been saved with no strings attached. She's been saved but she has to go on and fulfil these obligations. It's definitely a moral question. If a loved one of mine was laying there and I was going to lose them I would do what Will did, but then you kind of feel like it's not really my choice to make."
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