Fieldingon Film had the recent opportunity of interviewing Neil Napier, who currently plays Dr. Peter Farragut on the SyFy Channel’s Helix.
FoF: Tell us a bit about yourself.
NAPIER: I was born in Montreal, Canada. Both my parents taught at CEGEP (sort of like Quebec’s version of Junior College); mother taught English, father taught Theatre. I am the youngest of my siblings. My eldest sister Carla, who died when I was 18, was an actor in Montreal; sister Monika is a professor of art in Montreal; brother Eric is a musician living in Vancouver.
I have many interesting memories of growing up, one of which was a feeling of being a black sheep in my family: they were all artists and academics while I was quite a proﬁcient athlete and not really interested in the arts (or academics) other than listening to music. I guess it took me until my early 30s to give in and join the dark side. 😉
FoF: I read that you started acting in 2000, after spinal surgery. What were you doing before that? Did you ever have an interest in acting?
NAPIER: I had brieﬂy studied theatre back in 1990, but it took a back seat to athletics, and I never really thought about it again until 2000, when I was recovering from a spinal surgery. I had a chat with an actor friend, and that conversation planted a seed that I still can’t seem to shake. Around that time I had been working in construction, the service industry, and had just completed studies in personal training when my focus shifted to the path I am currently traveling.
FoF: What would you say was your “breakout” role?
NAPIER: I would say that one “breakout” role I had was in a small Montreal theatre production back in 2002. It was the lead in Steven Berkoff’s West, a role that really allowed me to explore my craft, and it crystallized in me the desire to vigorously pursue acting as a career. Since then I have garnered some attention for a few minor roles in a few major ﬁlms, but I am hoping that Helix will continue to reach a signiﬁcant and enthusiastic audience, and that Peter Farragut will continue to be along for the ride.
FoF: You’ve worked with some impressive directors: Renny Harlin on The Covenant, Zach Snyder for 300, Tarsem Singh for Immortals, Roland Emmerich for White House Down, David Twohy for Riddick … do you have a “favorite” experience with any of them?
NAPIER: I have to say that I have been very lucky in that I have had uniformly positive experiences with all the directors I’ve worked with, but I was quite struck by Tarsem, when after the ﬁrst table read of Immortals, he brought us all back to the studio and took an hour or so to walk us through all the maquettes and art concept photos. He has a profound understanding of art and art history, and I was thrilled that he shared his vision for the ﬁlm with us.
FoF: When you were cast in 300 and Immortals, did you have to undergo a physical fitness regimen? After 300 came out, many magazine articles talked about the “extreme” bodyshaping that the main characters had to undergo. I wondered if that was the “norm” on that set.
NAPIER: I have always kept myself pretty ﬁt as a default, so I wasn’t “treated” to the brutal boot camps that 300 and Immortals offered…
FoF: Pros/cons of doing TV vs movies or video games?
NAPIER: Acting in ﬁlm, television and videogames presents different challenges. Film and television are quite similar except that generally in ﬁlm there is more time, so there is more opportunity for rehearsal and for multiple takes, but still in both you just focus on character and relationship and then you sort of tune the performance as the shots move closer in. The primary challenge in acting for videogames is that they shoot all camera angles and sizes (master, medium, close up, etc) in one shot because there are 60 to 90 cameras capturing all the action in 360 degrees. And there is a helmet camera for the facial capture. They see EVERYTHING! And they shoot very fast, so it’s helpful to develop a skill for memorizing a scene quickly and then emptying your brain and learning the next one. Oh and getting used to wearing Velcro tights to work.
FoF: How long did you have to spend in makeup for Helix? What was that black stuff that was coming out of your eyes/mouth?
NAPIER: First off, a big shout-out to the mad geniuses at Adrien Morot Makeup FX. They designed and executed the makeup for Helix, and it was an honour to wear it! There were two states of makeup for Peter: Vector and Super Vector. The ﬁrst one took about 1.5 hours to get in and 30 minutes to get out. The second state took 2.5 and 3 hours to get in and 1 hour to get out. It was well worth it, as I feel that it was a very elegant design that allowed me to still play the man beneath the monster. Oh, and the black goo was delicious; a non-toxic slurry that tasted like chocolate, strawberry and almond. Mmm!
FoF: Your character on Helix seems to be a bad guy. Did you always know how the character would develop? Do you know how the character will change next season? Will he have a larger role?
NAPIER: Well, it does seem by the end of season one that Peter is a “bad” guy, but I prefer to say that he is an “imperfect and conﬂicted” guy. I was learning as we went along what Peter’s fate would be; each script was a learning experience, and that made it quite exhilarating as we moved through the ﬁlming process. As for season 2, I am excited to see how Peter changes and how prominent he will be in the story.
FoF: When you auditioned for Helix, was it for the character you played? Had they already cast other actors? Any notable “experiences” working on the show?
NAPIER: I had originally auditioned for the role of Balleseros (which is played by Mark Ghanime), but then I was brought back in to read for Peter. By the time I was brought on, I think Billy (Campbell, who plays his brother, Dr. Alan Farragut), Kyra (Zagorsky, who plays Dr. Julia Walker) and Hiro(yuki Sanada, who plays Dr. Hiroshi Hatake) had already been cast. I had many notable on-set experiences while shooting Helix, not least of which was assaulting my friend, Kyra in a shower. I actually loved shooting that scene because Peter and Julia’s whole history plays out silently in a few moments. And what really made it work, I think, is that Kyra has such a profound capacity for simultaneous strength and vulnerability.
FoF: When I saw your name listed on the credits for Riddick, I was pretty excited, and then you didn’t make it very far. How was your experience working on that movie?
NAPIER: Ha! Yes, Rubio (his character) met an untimely and nasty end in that one! I had good fun hanging out with those crazy mercenaries on the set of Riddick.
FoF: You have been in films/TV shows from all genres, but is there a genre, or a few genres, that you prefer? Why?
NAPIER: I must say that shooting sci-ﬁ and action/thrillers is an awful lot of fun!
FoF: Hobbies? What do you like to do in your spare time?
NAPIER: When I’m not on set or in studio, I like to spend time playing hockey, running, practicing yoga, and trying to get better at guitar.
FoF: Favorite movies, books, music, TV shows?
NAPIER: Favourites: Movie – This is Spinal Tap. Book – Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Music – Tom Waits, Andrew Bird. TV Shows (at the moment) – Justiﬁed, Newsroom, Luther.
FoF: Plans for the future?
NAPIER: My plans for the future are to continue to do the work I love. Hopefully Helix has a healthy future, and I get to spend some of the next ﬁve years with that fantastic cast. I am slated to appear at my ﬁrst two Cons later this year (Sacramento and Tyler, TX) and would love to do more. In the meantime my wife and I are working toward spending more time in Southern California. Onward and upward!