How Red Faction: Origins is a jazzy Shakespearean Martian western

Gather up all the cast and crew involved with Syfy's new movie Red Faction: Origins and it reads like a who's who of science fiction television.

From the story being developed by THQ's Paul DeMeo (The Rocketeer) to writer and executive producer Andrew Kreisberg (Fringe) to director and Peabody Award winner Michael Nankin (Battlestar Galactica) to the outstanding cast, which includes Stargate Universe's Brian J. Smith, BSG's Kate Vernon (you know, the fifth Cylon), Robert Patrick (T2) and Gareth David-Lloyd (Torchwood)—and you have to admit that Red Faction: Origins has the sci-fi television cred to be something special.

Not bad for a movie that explores new territory by bridging the gap between the popular THQ videogame Red Faction: Guerrilla and the upcoming game Red Faction: Armageddon. In what Syfy is calling "an all new chapter in the best selling video game saga," Origins takes place in the year 2125 and follows a family of freedom fighters on Mars and their rebel hero, Alec Mason (Patrick). Things get interesting when his son, Jake Mason (Smith), goes on a quest to find the mysterious white soldiers who killed his mother and kidnapped his sister.

We chatted with director Nankin, writer Kreisberg, and actors Smith and Vernon in a conference call to discuss their upcoming movie, which premieres tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Syfy.

"We didn't make a movie based on the videogame," said Nankin. "We made a movie based on characters' relationships in a world that THQ made a videogame about. And we took the same characters and relationships, politics, infrastructure and environment and we made a movie about it ... like a jazz combo. We had two variations on the same theme rather then trying to convert a game experience into a film experience, which you can't really do."

"This is like a western," said Smith. "This is about as close as I've ever gotten to shooting a western. And it's funny that we actually talked a lot about the film The Searchers while we shot it. So whether it's on Mars or wherever—as long as it's got that humanity in it, it's fantastically awesome to play."

Joked Nankin: "Although it got very annoying when Brian kept asking for a horse."

"There are no horses on Mars, dang it," chimed in Vernon.

According to Kreisberg, the starting point for "me as a writer was the relationship between Jake Mason, who's the character that Brian plays, and his sister, Lyra, and starting with basically what would you say to someone you thought was long dead if you got the chance to talk to them again? That was the starting point writing the script and breaking out the story for me, and starting from that place. It has very little to do with videogame stuff and all the strokes of the game, ships, the explosions, the location, the amazing weaponry ... that's all added on. That's the sprinkles and the sauce. The core of it was just a basic human story. And I think if you start from that place you don't have to worry about the stigma of a videogame."

Red Faction: Guerrilla started from a "real place and character," said Kreisberg. "It all starts with them, and it starts with the world that they created. And it's a great, fun world. It's a rich world filled with great characters who you can take in just about any direction. ... It really is about a father and a son and parental issues, and it's about survivor's guilt. It's about loss and reconnection. I mean all the themes and the problems that people are dealing with, whether it's survivor's guilt or alcoholism, those are the universal themes that play whether it's the 1920s, whether it's the present day or whether it's 300 years in the future on a terraformed Mars."

"Maybe that's because the relationships are so rich," said Vernon. "There's so much potential, ... like a Shakespearean drama where everybody's related with six degrees of separation and the more layers that are unveiled, the more inside you get into these characters. ... The people are really likable, but they're also fighters. They're also warriors. So there's a real mix of action and heart and humanity."

Vernon plays the role of the Matriarch, who's the leader of the reclusive and often bloody Marauders sect, which has allied with the Red Faction to push the EDF from Mars. Quite a different character from her role as Ellen Tigh and secret Cylon on BSG.

"I really enjoyed the challenge of the Matriarch," said Vernon. "For one, the difference for her is that she was very direct. And Ellen Tigh, you never knew what angle Ellen was playing. And that was delicious. ... But with the Matriarch, she was very direct and very straightforward. If this goes to a series, there will be much more revealed in terms of what is really motivating her and how her past circumstances have created a big wound in her. It has to do with her son. It has to do with love, basically, and the sacrifices she's made to follow her destiny, which is to rule."

The role of the Matriarch is "a little smaller on screen than Brian's. He got to act out a lot more then I did. I got to act it out in my mind more, my imagination. But she's definitely someone I would love to explore and to flesh out, because as formidable as she is, she's someone with a really tough exterior. Their interior is as tender as their exterior is tough. And I believe that there's a huge story within this woman, this Matriarch. And I enjoy playing these characters where there's a lot more than meets the eye. And hopefully we'll be able to write it."

As for Smith, he's coming fresh from his stint on Stargate Universe as Lt. Matthew Scott. "It's funny what Kate said about the tough exterior and the sort of gentle interior. I always thought with Scott on SGU, he actually had a pretty tough interior but a really gentle exterior. And it's kind of switched with Jake."

With Scott, Smith said he always felt bad for "the kid. Things seemed to happen to him and he just sort of said, 'Yes sir,' and just kind of took it. Jake is not that kind of guy. He's a very active protagonist, and he's going to go out there and make stuff happen, and he's a damn-the-torpedoes sort of character. And that's the way his life situation's brought him to that point. So that was just incredibly exciting for me to play after two years of a lot of crying and a lot of saluting and a lot of saying, 'Yes sir.' I just ... it was great to play someone who just really didn't stop when he hit a wall."

So might we possibly see Red Faction: Origins as Syfy's next big series or miniseries?

"We're certainly hopeful that if the movie performs as well as we hope, that there could either be future movies or a future series," said Kreisberg. "Red Faction: Origins isn't a specific adaptation of a videogame. It's a brand-new original story that takes place in the universe of Red Faction, and there are plenty more stories to tell. So whether we get to tell them through a further movie or a possible television series, that'll all depend on the fan base coming out and hopefully watching the film."

The way the film ends really "seems to beg" some kind of continuance with the storyline, added Smith. "It does a really great job of wrapping up what the film is about, but also sort of asks a lot of questions about what could possibly happen next. ... And, of course, there's still some ground to cover between the way we end the film and Red Faction: Armageddon. It would be interesting to see what happens."

While Red Faction: Origins premieres this Saturday, the new videogame Red Faction: Armageddon hits stores on June 7.

Here's a preview:

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