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FILMED in Vancouver Canada, Poltergeist: The Legacy, a series about the eponymous San Francisco based organization dedicated to fighting dark forces, constantly requires creator and co-executive producer Richard B Lewis and his production team to invoke fresh and invigorating spectral villains.
"Oftentimes we'll come up with a cool villain, but we'll eventually realize that it's too close to something that has already been explored," says co-executive producer Mark Stern of the series which moves from Showtime to The Sci-Fi Channel for its fourth season. At the time of this writing, the show is scheduled to debut early next year. "Quite honestly, I think that happens to every series as it enters its third or fourth season. To counteract that problem, we're exploring the possibility that Kat [Alexandra Purvis], the daughter of Legacy member Rachel Corrigan [Helen Shaver] will become a witch next season. That's likely to place a new spin on the show."
Kat's induction into the dark side will be initiated by Miranda, a 200- year old witch, who appears to the youngster in the form of a young girl. "It s a very allegorical teenage angst story in which Kat starts to buck against her mother's authority, so Miranda is going to capitalize on that problem," Stern reveals. "Usually we don't serialize the show, but early in the season Miranda will start to indoctrinate this character into the dark side. Then we'll have an episode in which Kat becomes a full fledged witch."
And that's not all. Lewis reveals that Legacy member Alexander Moreau [Robbi Chong] may become a villainess during the upcoming season. "We're really turning up the heat," he says. "To date, Alex has always [been] a loyal respected member of the Legacy, but she'll soon start to doubt this organization. Basically, a demon is going to walk Alex through the most recent history of the Legacy and say 'you guys are supposedly fighting the dark side, but suppose you're as insidious as the very forces you're combating?' She discovers that Legacy head Derek Rayne [Derek de Lint] may have been acquitted of murder under the cover of the Legacy, so everything that she's learned through this organization gets thrown into question. Since the foundations of her beliefs are now falling apart, she'll be easily seduced into becoming a force of evil but the other Legacy members are going to remain unaware of her conversion."
Stern is especially fond of those third season episodes where occult forces attempt to entice Legacy members into becoming a part of their dark universe.
"These villains play on our characters' weaknesses and desires," he continues. "They find a chink in our characters' armor and use that chink to their own ends. They're also the most interesting villains because they're incredibly dimensional, smart, manipulative and formidable. Philip D'Arcy, the vampire in the two-part episode which opened the third season is a wonderful example."
Entitled Darkness Falls, the episode in question begins in New Orleans, where Alex Moreau is attending a college reunion. Justine, a former college friend-turned-vampire bites Alex and begins a transformation that will be completed when she completes her first kill. Meanwhile, Philip D'Arcy professes his love for Alex and asks her to live with him in New Orleans.
"As the episode begins, this character is a charming man who has very straightforward concerns for Alex," says Anthony Palermo, who played the vampire. "When we see the character in New Orleans he is trying to persuade Alex to join him in the art world. We don't automatically know that he intends to stamp his claim onto this person, but we soon realize that he's a multi-layered, seductive and intelligent creature who can play people. When he meets Rachel at the Legacy house, he exhibits genuine concern for Alex. However, we learn that he's manipulating everyone since his goal is to transform Alex into a vampire. Once he makes his intentions clear, this character is very cold-blooded. His designs are set on Alex, so he doesn't want to waste his time fighting her friends."
Dream Lover is another episode where evil forces attempt to induct a legacy member into the world of occult evil. This time legacy member Derek Rayne is seduced by an archaeologist friend, who is possessed by an ancient spirit inadvertently freed from the shards of an ancient urn.
"This creature is a succubus, a legendary monster who seduces men and kills them," says Crystal Chapel, who played Derek's seducer. "After researching a ton of information about the succubus and its mythology, the producers and I discussed this creature's origins and abilities. That proved helpful because it set the tone for the entire show. Initially, the character is very fragile, very susceptible to possession by evil forces because she's totally devoid of life experiences or self esteem. On some level I can relate to that because we all feel lost at one time or another, but I exaggerated those emotions by creating stripping circumstances. I imagined a life without self-love, self-respect and the ability to interact with other people. I tried to imagine the emotions that would surface if this person took a wild drug that touched her sensuality. She certainly takes that journey, but, instead of embarking on a pill trip, she's possessed."
Chappell is especially fond of the episode's finale the confrontation between her character and Derek. "She controls Derek and tries to ensure his demise, but when he extracts this thing from her body, she's back to that fragile person. We should have had a scene where Derek and the real Jessica react to each other after this passionate love-making. She wakes up, extremely shy and Derek says 'Hey, we've just had this big romp on the bed'. Her reaction would have been really interesting. "
Mark Stern is particularly proud of Seduction, in which an ancient artifact brings Alex, Kristin (Kristin Lehman) and Rachel under the influence of Nicholas Oldman (John Pyper Ferguson), an expert on Far Eastern artifacts. It turns out that Oldman needs the three femme fatale spook-busters to invoke Boh Jing, an ancient and immensely powerful spirit.
"Oldman uses these women's desires and twists them around," he says. "Deep down inside, Kristin wants to be a painter, so when Oldman makes that desire very seductive, she falls into this bizarre fantasy. She paints strange twisted Van Gogh landscapes which are rotten at their core. With Alex, Oldman unlocks a gluttony, which causes the character to eat lavish foods, something, which, again, is not quite right. So, instead of being a character who merely throws lightening bolts at people, Oldman is a subtle, interesting and intelligent being who forces our characters to fight themselves to stop the evil. Rather than slog through dirt, wind and ram to jab this guy with a stake, these characters must combat their own internal urges and desires."
When it came to getting into character, Ferguson, who had also appeared on shows such as The X-Files and The Outer Limits, sought help and inspiration from several forms of material.
I often danced to The Rolling Stones' Sympathy for The Devil in my trailer, so I pretended to be Mick Jagger," the actor laughs. "I also listened to Carmina Burana, which is often used in battle scenes. That invoked a certain type of aggression that would ultimately allow my character to be considerably more direct and untouchable. He thinks that he's unbeatable, so he can do anything without worrying about payment or discipline. This guy, who has been around for about 2000 years, loves to live and experience life in every form possible, so he's particularly enjoying a time when transportation is so easy and quick. With the help of Bo Jing, Oldman wants to achieve world domination - even though he's merely a demon. He yearns to move up the evil corporate ladder and become top dog."
Aside from those characters dedicated to drawing Legacy members into the world of darkness and evil, there are forces, which the producers hope generate sympathy from the audience. A case in point is the recent The Internment, in which Mortal Kombat veteran Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, plays the entity Sam Tanaka, a former Japanese internee who runs a spectral town which materializes every year over the site of a Japanese Internment camp.
"Tanaka feels terribly wronged, so we have this interesting, dimensional semi-tragic, semi-villainous character who would invoke great sympathy from anyone on a personal level because he died in an internment camp. But, his determination to detail and kill innocent people within the confines of this ghostly town is completely wrong, so he's expressing himself in a negative manner."
"Most of the world doesn't know about the Internment issue," Tagawa adds, "so I jumped at the opportunity to appear in this episode.
"When the character was originally conceived by the writers he was just plain evil, but whenever I'm associated with supernatural evil, people automatically think Mortal Kombat. I wanted this guy to be totally removed from that world, so instead of giving Tanaka a strong persona, I made him weak via glasses, a slight limp and a very soft spoken voice."
Meanwhile, Stern believes that another sympathetic villain can be seen in the episode Hell Hath No Fury, a story in which a San Francisco detective uses the forces of darkness to extract a revenge against the killer responsible for the death of his partner.
"It's a very interesting villain because he's a former ally of our team," Stern says. "He was the Legacy's inside guy at the police department, so this episode is like the death of a regular character. Like Tagawa's character, we wanted a simple emotional back story for the character's villainy, something which would justify his actions. So we turned this police detective, a man who upholds the law, into someone who kills. We came up with an idea, which enabled this character to kill people who have escaped justice. So, through the Legacy, he acquires a staff with a special Greek symbol. When this symbol is branded onto a person. Furies creatures from Hell descend on the victim and rip their heart out. A grisly form of justice."
Those characters who find themselves on the wrong side of the Furies include Darren Harding, a cop-killer who wins an ill-deserved acquittal, and his attorney. "Of course we're not justifying the vigilantism of Frank's actions, but we all understand why Frank feels his action is justified," Stern continues. "We're not saying you've got to unleash Furies on everyone who escapes justice in the court system, but most people will identify with this character's plight."
Stern also created villains with a humorous touch for the world of the Legacy. He is especially happy with the recent episode Irish Jug, which guest starred Rene Auberjonois, best known for his performance as shape-shifter Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Directed by Martin Cummins, who plays Legacy member Nick Boyle, the story shows what happens to Derek Rayne and his friend Milo (Auberjonois) when they each become possessed by the spirits of two long deceased Irish brothers.
"Every season offers one show which doesn't take itself too seriously," says Boyle. "A spirit enters Milo, and another spirit enters Derek. They're not murderous ghouls, they're con men and petty thieves who broke into this house in Ireland during the 1700s. The house was inhabited by a witch who promptly stuck them in a jug, so they emerge from the jug thinking that it's 1780 but they're in 1998 San Francisco. Initially these guys think that they're in Heaven because they don't smell horse manure everywhere, but when they realize their location, they decide to eliminate other members of the Legacy house."
Finding the balance between fun and danger is just one of the many challenges facing the Poltergeist crew.
"In one scene Rachel and Alex, who have spent the evening watching Kat perform in a play, return home completely oblivious to the events which have befallen Derek and his friend. After Rachel gives Derek a goodnight kiss, Rachel and Alex go to their respective bedrooms. The spirit turns to Rene and asks 'As far as you can tell, am I married to either one of them?' But light scenes can cause the entire episode to be all fun and no jeopardy. So, to create the essential sense of peril, our entities are determined to remain in this house, which is filled with incredible wealth, and rid themselves of the women, who are the only people who can expose them."
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