There are certain roles that seem made for a specific actor or actress. That’s certainly the way Vancouver native Kelly McCormack feels about playing Zeph on Killjoys, the new scientist Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen) recently added to Team Awesomeforce. With Johnny (Aaron Ashmore) away, Dutch and D’avin (Luke Macfarlane) needed a new nerd to help them out, but now that John’s returned things could get interesting.
“I just basically played myself in the audition. My brand of humor is all over the place and most the time casting directors will say ‘dial it down, be more serious and be more feminine.’ Luckily, Michelle Lovretta and Jason Knight, the casting director, said ‘Nope! We want the Kelly special,’” McCormack recently told The TV Junkies. In addition to the opportunity to play a role that she connected so strong with, McCormack also tells us how grateful she was to learn from Killjoys creator and showrunner Michelle Lovretta.
Those lessons are definitely ones she’ll take with her moving forward in a career that spans acting, writing and producing with her production company Floyder Films. The company has recently partnered with CBC on a new digital original series, The Neddeaus of Duqesne Island, which debuted June 26 on CBC Comedy. McCormack is also a trained singer who recently visited Taipei for the prestigious World Stage Design Festival, where Killjoys costar Thom Allison performed with her in the opera, Charlotte. She spoke with us about the many hats she wears when it comes to work and what she enjoys so much about Zeph.
The TV Junkies: How did this opportunity for Killjoys come about?
Kelly McCormack: I love talking about this because it was such a fun one. I was supposed to move to Los Angeles in January and was only in Toronto for a couple days to sublet my apartment. My New Year’s resolution was to lean in and be more myself in auditions, not trying to be a blonde, twenty-something actress, but instead be my regular vintage t-shirt, tomboy, dress like a boy in the late 90s weirdo self. I read the breakdown and it said ‘ex-farm girl turned androgynous tomboy science nerd who doesn’t have a filter and always wants to be right,’ and thought ‘OK, so me?’
So I didn’t go to Los Angeles, ended up shooting for four months and everything changed. I’ve been lucky enough to work in this industry a long time, but when you’re like ‘I’m going to be myself,’ and it gets instantly rewarded, that’s not what usually happens. With the push and pull of the industry it’s really nice to see they just want me for who I am.
TTVJ: I think that’s a lesson I’ve personally started to realize as of late, that when we show who we really are and really be our true selves, that is when people seem to respond the most.
KM: It’s so weird because it’s a lesson we give to other people all the time, but it’s the hardest one to hear yourself. It’s such a simple thing, “be yourself!”
TTVJ: What’s it like joining a show like Killjoys where the core group have been together for a bit now? They seem like they’d be so fun!
KM: I was really nervous because I like being cognizant of people’s vibes and chemistry together, the three of them are THE nicest people on the planet and so welcoming, but they also are like best friends. They laugh between takes, goof around, they sing, have inside jokes and are so lovely, but I still felt like the new girl. They did everything they could to make me feel welcome, but slowly I was brought into the fold and now think of them as family. I know the fans can probably feel this, but it’s so unlikely that there would be no bad apples, and yet, there isn’t. It’s just the best group of people and everyone loves what they do.
TTVJ: Zeph joined the team because they needed “a new nerd,” but now the old nerd, Johnny Jaqobis, has returned. Given that, how do things go between Johnny and Zeph?
KM: I don’t think Johnny is too stoked about Zeph’s presence. In the last episode, Zeph says that the sim was ‘obviously designed by a gadget head,’ and that’s Johnny. Johnny is very big into tech, computers and the gadgetry of science, and Zeph is much more into biology. She notices D’av doesn’t sweat, she can figure out a contagion and is just much more of a biological scientist. She’s kind of a necessary entity for the team because they are fighting a biological agent with the Hullen.
Johnny isn’t so stoked about her being there. Zeph also really idolizes Dutch and she has a lot to prove. She always wants to be right and isn’t used to working in a team environment. Johnny is “the other nerd,” so it’s adversarial and she has a lot to prove with him, but at the same time she deeply wants his approval. It’s that fun, complicated relationship of people who are of the same mind. Aaron is such a dream to work with.
TTVJ: You can definitely get from Zeph that she’s not one to easily back down or think she has made a mistake.
KM: When I first got hired, I had a meeting with writer Adam Barken and we talked about why that is. I don’t like the idea of someone always wanting to be right because of ego, and honestly, I don’t think women can even relate to that because we’re not afforded the opportunity. Usually, in my own life or with other women who always want to be right, it comes from a place of wanting to belong, feel validated or be seen in a way. With Zeph, science is everything she has and everything she knows, and it’s probably been her only friend for a long time. She’s a bit of a loner, doesn’t have many friends and is not good at making them. It’s so much of her identity that she doesn’t understand she needs to open it up.
TTVJ: At The TV Junkies we really are interested in promoting female creators working in the industry. I know you have a production company, Floyder Films, and I assume that has to be a bit of a risk to start, both professionally and financially. How did that come about and what made you decide to start your own company?
KM: It came a bit out of duress as a couple years ago I was broke, I had a play fall through and had all this time on my hands. I had been writing for a long time and wanted to make a movie. So I wrote a movie in two weeks, we shot it in two weeks and we produced it for $1000 with a bunch of my friends. It was crazy and did really well in festivals. It’s called Play the Film and I actually co-produced it with Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black).
After that, it just happened that I started producing because I love bringing people together, creating a space to create and connecting other people. It became clear that I needed to create a really, incorporated, thoughtful idea of the type of art I wanted to seek out and projects I wanted to develop. My production company Floyder Films started and I get inspired by stories that focus around the topic of gender pain, or dispel the expectations of masculinity and femininity in interesting ways. So my company is named after my dog Floyd who is a huge, 70 pound, terrifying boxer with the most masculine exterior, but the most feminine personality. I thought ‘OK, I’ll incorporate my company and immortalize my dog!’
When I get cast as just an actor, it’s so lovely because I can just focus on that. What Michelle Lovretta doesn’t know though, is that I secretly watched her do her thing and I was so inspired! I learned so much just from the way she carries herself, talks to people and it can’t be said enough that so much of the tone of the show, and every single person she brings on set, it’s like she hand picks them in her own image. I want to know everything about her, be around her, shadow her, the way she talks, she’s just so not trying to be some version of what people think showrunners are. She just is.
I meet actors that have been on her shows, and they all have a common denominator in that they are an original person who is kind. She just knows how to pick them and yet, all she does is give it up to people. She’s so funny and I’m a bit obsessed. She has no idea I have learned so much as a producer through reading her scripts.
TTVJ: I always say I’d be totally down if she and Emily Andras [showrunner, Wynonna Earp] started ruling all of TV.
KM: I know! It’s just simple things too. I say this all the time when people ask ‘how is the industry going to change to be more diverse? How is it going to change to include more women? How is it going to change to include people with physical impairments?’ All it takes is one person above the line to draw a line in the sand and say ‘you know what, this is what we’re going to do.’ If they have put themselves in a position of power, a position of authority and a position of respect then they can make that call. The reason it’s not happening is because Hollywood is run by people who want to make the easy decision, sit in their Rolodex and call the people who have already made the money. Whereas Michelle Lovretta, she says it is hard to find these people, but takes that little extra time to put the calls out and that’s all it takes, which is why the future is female!
TTVJ: You’re also a very talented singer. Can you tell us a little about that and the tour you’re on? Did you do any singing on set with Hannah, Luke or Thom?
KM: I started really young singing classical music and doing opera. Around 19 or 20, I realized that my personality is not really fit for the opera world and I transferred more into musical theater. I moved to New York and started doing experimental, bizarre operas and singing in a bar. Now, as a singer, my next feature film that I wrote, Sugar Daddy, I play an electronic pop musician. So I’ve done a real 180 on my musical styles. Thom and I were doing a new chamber opera and did it in the Luminato Festival in Toronto, and then were asked to perform it in Taiwan.
In terms of on set, Luke and Hannah make up musicals on set all day, Aaron and Thom join in. It’s a lot of singing and I desperately want to join the Killjoys musical. There’s like the TV show and then the off, off set musical that’s going on which is live and real. I desperately want to join it, but I also know they have their own thing and I’m new. Hannah and Luke have a song for every place in the Quad, and when I first joined I asked them questions, they’d give me the rundown on every city and then sing the accompanying song. I wasn’t joining any musicals yet, but fingers crossed!
What do you think of Zeph so far? Add your thoughts in the comments below!
Killjoys airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on Syfy and Space.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.