Imagine a man with the technical genius of Iron Man’s Tony Stark, combined with the existential angst of Batman’s Bruce Wayne, and you have Evan Cross.
Then, throw some anomalous time-travelling dinosaurs into the mix and you have Primeval: New World.
The brand new show, which premiered on Monday October 29 at 10pm ET, is a spinoff of sci-fi staple Primeval, a British creation that has been thrilling and scaring fans for five seasons. In the original, a team of scientists and military mavericks track anomalies in the space-time continuum which tend to spit out creatures – and people – from the past or our future, and make sure they get back to the right time so as not to upset the balance of things. Now, however, the anomalies are beginning to show up in North America and they realize it’s time to set up a brand new team to police these happenings before things get out of control.
Enter Evan Cross. You know his face from other sci-fi staples such as the recently concluded Eureka, Warehouse 13, and Stargate Atlantis, and now Vancouver’s Niall Matter (who gave the fantastic character analogy above) steps up to take the lead as the genius inventor with inner demons to rival any creature coming through a time-travelling anomaly.
Matter is one of those actors who seemingly shows up from nowhere and grabs your attention and refuses to let go. His first acting role was one of the leads in Beyond Loch Ness, followed by a successful audition, while shooting the above-mentioned film, for the lead role in the series The Best Years. Since then he’s become a favourite for guest star roles on shows like Melrose Place, 90210 and Fear Itself, and a stellar guest turn on sci-fi hit Eureka led to the producers bringing him on as a full-time cast member for the remainder of the show.
Now, with Primeval: New World, it is Niall’s turn to carry the lead playing scientist Evan Cross, as the prehistoric action takes over downtown Vancouver in this North American spinoff.
I had a chance to interview him for Cadencemag.com while he was in Toronto promoting the show, and discovered what it takes to fight dinosaurs while channelling your inner genius:
First of all, how are you feeling about the show?
I’m feeling great about the show, I mean, it’s nice to have something to base it off of, too; with the original UK series Primeval it had so much success and we kind of followed the same sort of business model, so to speak, with Primeval: New World. It’s not a remake, though, it’s a spinoff, but at least you can look at the original one and see its track record. And, you know, hope for something similar to that occurring for the show. Hopefully.
Shooting just wrapped in July, and now the first episode is on Monday.
Yeah, we wrapped I think July 18, and the first episode is October 29. So there’s a lag-time between filming the first episode – which was actually March 7 we started that one – to the time it actually airs. But that’s because our show is so sci-fi heavy they need time to put all the CGI in, and the work they did in the show is incredible.
Yeah, I took a look at the trailer last night, and the graphics look better than the original Primeval.
Well that’s what we’re hoping for. We’re hoping for – cos whenever you make anything you want it to look modern, and you want it to look like it’s cutting edge technology, and cutting edge CGI, and I think thatPrimeval: New World is on par with that.
And was it all CGI, or were there any animatronic puppets?
All CGI. The creatures are all CGI. There might be some bits and pieces, like if something gets cut off a creature or something like that happens, then sometimes if an actor is picking it up and touching it, then those will be real props that we brought in and used. But for the most part our show is entirely CGI-creature based.
So what was it like running away from imaginary dinosaurs?
Well, that’s the thing, you said it, it’s all your imagination when you’re running away from something that’s not there. And what we actually do on set is we use a male stand-in, his name is Chuck Campbell, and he puts on this big grey suit, and he chases us around. I had a tough time the first week because I was laughing a lot, but by the time the end of the season came, Chuck was so involved with being a creature and a dinosaur, he would move however he thought they were moving as well. It actually helped a lot to have him there, give all the actors a common eye line, which is so important when you’re doing CGI. Because if you’re all looking in different places, then the audience won’t believe it.
So the past couple of months, you mentioned a lag time between shooting and now that it’s screening. What have you been up to the past couple of months since you wrapped?
The show wrapped like middle of July, and what I do after I’ve wrapped something, I almost always take a trip, and try to get to Europe. So I took about a month of my time, and came back to my home in Los Angeles in September. And then in September I’ve just been taking care of my place down there – as you can imagine the tasks and all of the chores and stuff kind of get neglected for five months, six months, while you’re filming. So I came back to a home that needed a lot of attention. So I was taking care of a lot of that. October-wise, I’ve just been going around promoting Primeval (New World). We just came back from MIPCOM which I’m sure a lot of people don’t know is where all of the broadcasters and networks go to buy TV shows, to sell their shows. EOne took us there, because EOne is the distributor of Primeval: New World. Great people, they took us over there and introduced us to a lot of really cool people, and I think it was a successful trip.
Nice, very cool. And you’ve become kind of a recognized face in the sci-fi/fantasy genre shows. I mean, Stargate Atlantis, Eureka, Warehouse 13 – which I haven’t yet seen but keep hearing it’s a good show – but now you’re the face of the brand new Primeval, and of course everyone’s going to kind of be looking at it because it’s a spinoff of a beloved show. Does it worry you that you might get typecast in the genre?
Well the thing is, typecast is a term that’s usually used to describe playing the same character all the time. And my characters, none of them are the same, which is great, although all of them are in the sci-fi genre. So that is kind of the saving grace. Cos yeah, of course, as as any artist worries, or any actor worries, you don’t want to just get pigeonholed into one genre right? And actually my intention when I was done Eureka was not to do sci-fi for awhile, I wanted to move away from it. But when this script came across my desk, the character of Evan Cross, it happened to be what I was interested in looking for. It just happened to be back on sci-fi. And the thing is, there’s no better place for advancement that within the same genre you’ve already been working in, right? I might not have been given the opportunity to be the number one in a major drama somewhere else. So you want to take the opportunity that takes you to the next level and I really and truly believe that Primeval was that opportunity for me, and the correct opportunity to take, and I had a blast filming it.
Speaking of, your career is the actor’s dream. Your first role was a relatively major role, like a lot of actors do commercials, they do a little bit, then they get a bigger role. You started off right off the bat.
Yeah, I’ve never really had smaller roles. All actors say no role’s a small role, and all that stuff, but I don’t know if that’s to make them feel better (laughs). I’ve been very, very, very fortunate. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I auditioned a lot. Yeah, I worked the oil rigs for eight years, but it’s seasonal work, so when I wasn’t on the rig I was back in Vancouver hitting the pavement and auditioning, and I just…I wasn’t booking anything. I just couldn’t book anything. I would get sent in for the small roles, and I would get feedback from the casting director through my agent saying, Look, he’s a lead actor but he doesn’t have a resume, so I wouldn’t get the small role. So then I’d go in for the lead roles and they’d say, yeah, I mean, he’s great, he’s definitely a great actor but he has no resume. So I was kind of in this weird position where no one would take the chance and hire me until Maureen Webb who’s the casting director who cast Beyond Loch Ness, and that was my first major role, and it was number two! Brian Krause was number one, from Charmed, and I was number two. So obviously stepping into that I felt a little bit intimidated because right away, right out of the gate I had a lead. And while I was filming that, I booked another lead role in a series called The Best Years, which I flew to Toronto to film, actually, I filmed down here. And it’s just been lead role, and guest star role, and lead role after that. It has been a dream come true, it really has been, and now I’m to the point where I’m being more selective about what I do and what I want to do, and I really wanted to get into action and do more of an action hero role and that’s where Evan Cross came in.
Nice. Tell me actually about your character, because you did mention that even though it’s sci-fi they’re all different characters, and you said there was something about it that drew you to this role.
Yeah, the thing about Evan Cross that drew me to him is that he is pained, you know, he is a damaged man. He loses his wife and because of that there is a big void in his life, so he was described to me by Martin Wood as being similar to Bruce Wayne meets Tony Stark, and those are both very flawed men. You know they have a lot of pain, there’s a lot of pain behind them. They’re very intelligent, and they look out for the interests of other people, which is something that Evan does as well. I mean, he is sacrificing himself on a daily basis for other people, and to kind of understand these anomalies he is coming at it from a scientific approach but also at the same time realizing that humanity comes before all else, and you’ve got to preserve people’s lives at all cost. And you also have to preserve these creatures’ lives, these prehistoric creatures’ lives as well, which is something that we learn throughout this series. Because if one of those creatures is lost that could change our present time, and you don’t want to do that, that’s the Butterfly Effect, it’s the ripple effect. You never know if you change one thing from the past what it could do in the future.
It’s like the Ray Bradbury Story, “A Sound of Thunder”. When I read that I was nine or so, and it kind of scared me into not wanting time travel to exist!
Yeah, time travel is one of those things where it could be really great or could be really scary.
Speaking of, have you watched Looper?
Yeah, Looper’s great, it’s a really good film.
It looks really good. I mean it’s like, time travel is invented…and the mob uses it. It’s like, …okay?
Yeah, but you know what though, they would be the first in line, you know? I believe it! But some of the films we’re seeing these days, in the sci fi genre specifically, just phenomenal! And you’re able to escape into the world. One of the first ones that did it to me in a while was Avatar, when that came out. And apparently there was some sort of medical condition afterwards because people wanted to stay in that world. And I’m like, what?
Yeah…I don’t know if I’d want to be a giant blue person.
Yeah, me neither.
Coming back to the dinosaurs, the quality of the CGI is really, really good. It reminded me ofJurassic Park which kind of started this whole craze. But the animation that’s come since then, do you think it’s going to get to a point and just plateau, or do you think there’s still so much more they can do in terms of realism?
I don’t know…I do believe that there’s still more we can do to get to a certain level of realism, but I mean, what I’m seeing now, we’d be pretty hard-pressed to do it. Things are looking incredibly realistic now, and very, very scary. I mean, we’re to the point now where they could re-create actors if they wanted to, with CGI, and just have a voice-over artist come in. I hope that never happens! (laughs) But the CGI is becoming so incredible, and seeing some of these creatures come to life through CGI…cos when you’re shooting on the day, obviously you hope for the best, and you hope, oh man, I really hope this creature looks fantastic. Because the creatures, they’re the lead of the show. They’re our co-stars and they need to look good too.
Vancouver is the setting of Primeval which is unusual because anywhere in Canada is usually “Boston”, or “Seattle” or “New York”. So what was it like filming in Canada as Canada?
Filming in Canada as Canada was nice for a change, because I’ve been a part of American productions that always filmed in Vancouver, and we’re always hiding the city, but being able to showcase the city was nice for a change. We weren’t worried about something being behind out head, or “Oh no, don’t walk over there”, you know? There was none of that. You could go where you wanted to go, and in fact you were encouraged to stand in front of things or move in front of things that were visual landmarks that would identify Vancouver. Because that’s what we want to do with this show, Vancouver’s a beautiful city, one of the most gorgeous places on the face of this earth, and it should be showcased. I’m glad we had the opportunity, and I hope the audience responds not only to the show, but to that city, and they want to come see where the show is shot.
Like the CSI shows, it’s almost always city specific – CSI New York, CSI Miami.
So what was your favourite part of filming Primeval: New World?
You know what, every single show is different, and every single cast and crew dynamic is different. I thought that it wouldn’t get any better than the cast and crew in Eureka, but I was proven wrong when I started working on Primeval: New World. The cast got along right from the beginning, I just love working with Sarah Canning, my co-star, and Danny Rahim. Danny Rahim was actually my roommate in Vancouver and he’s just such a bright energy, and he’s very funny, we had a lot of laughs living together. And then the crew we had, the crew in Vancouver, I can’t say enough about them, they were fantastic. They had everybody’s back, and if for any reason you kind of looked a little bit down, or you were having a hard time, you would have like the focus puller come up and quietly say, hey man, are you ok? Is there anything I can do for you? I mean, that level of care for each other is really rare to find in the film industry, and to have that on the show was such a blessing because it was my first lead, and to have that support around me was much appreciated, and I’m very thankful for it, and I hope we get to carry on with the same cast and crew.
Nice. And the show itself is described as having an older, darker, scarier tone than the originalPrimeval. What can you tell me about how that plays out in the story?
The original Primeval was maybe a little bit of a farce within itself, they played a lot with comedy, and I love that because it’s British humour. Our show doesn’t drop into that very much, our show is kept on a much darker level, and I think that’s based around the death of Evan’s wife, and secrets that Evan keeps. Because Evan is a very secretive man and he is keeping things from other people that the audience gets let in on right away, but the other characters don’t, which is a fun ride for the audience to kind of be let in on the secret right away, right out of the gates, and Evan has to walk a fine line between his thoughts and what he lets out into the world.
So, quick question, if you are being chased by a dinosaur, what is the best advice you’d give to get out of a sticky situation like that?
Make sure you’re running with someone slower than you. (Laughs)
Catch Primeval: New World on Monday nights at 10pm ET on Space Channel, and follow the action on the show’s website at primevalnewworld.com