Hero In the Making: Interview with Eureka's Niall Matter

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Eike Schroter/Syfy

Eureka's Zane Donovan (Niall Matter)

As Zane Donovan on Syfy’s Eureka, actor Niall Matter plays a bit of a bad boy techo-wiz with a criminal record. His character is introduced in the season one episode “E=MC…?” having been arrested for crashing the New York Stock Exchange. However, rather than sending Zane to jail, the authorities felt his talents could be put to good use in Eureka. Despite the occasional lapse, he has managed to stay on the straight and narrow for the past five years. This surprised everyone, most of all Deputy Jo Lupo, who ended up falling in love with Zane.

An unexpected trip back to 1947 by five of Eureka’s residents in the fourth season premiere “Founder’s Day” changes the timeline once they return to the present. In Zane’s case he has slipped a bit back into his old smart alec ways and, while not committing any more crimes, is not quite the model Eureka citizen or Global Dynamics employee. In the season 4.5 opener “Liftoff” he takes a shortcut when helping repair an old space capsule, which puts him and Douglas Fargo in danger when the capsule is accidentally launched into space with them onboard.

“To date, this is probably my favorite episode of Eureka to have worked on, the reason being because I had so much fun with Neil Grayston [Douglas Fargo],” says Matter. “It’s hard to believe that two guys trapped in a small capsule all day long would actually be enjoying themselves, but we did. Neil and I have become really good friends and we joked around the entire time we were filming ‘Liftoff.’ That was important because if either of us were in there with someone we didn’t get along with it would have been hell, especially because it was very hot in that capsule. You’d think we would have been at each others’ throats, but we weren’t. We just had a blast the entire time and I’m very pleased with how that episode turned out.

“When I watched the final product you could see how much Neil and I were into our characters. I liked that because there was a kind of a paradigm shift where Fargo became more of the hero who knew what to do, while Zane clammed up. That was interesting for me to finally get the chance to show that side of him, and then through Fargo’s words my character finds inner strength again and they both end up having to help one another to save their lives. This was the first time I’ve ever filmed anything on any production I’ve been a part of where, at the end of our very last day of shooting, the crew erupted into applause. I remember looking over at Neil and we both had huge grins on our faces because we had never experienced that before.”

The altered timeline Zane is more or less the one that Eureka fans have come to know and love over the past five years, but season 4.5 has allowed Matter to reveal more sides of his character.

“Right out of the gate with ‘Liftoff’ I was faced with the challenge of discovering Zane’s fear and playing that in a very realistic way,” notes the actor. “I had to try not to make fun of the character but actually embrace the fact that he’s legitimately scared for his life, because I don’t think someone like him encounters that too often. However, when you’re put through such an extreme experience like being accidentally shot into space onboard a capsule with no oxygen, I think fear is going to rise to the surface and win over your emotions,” he says with a laugh.

“The writers also began exploring the more physical side of my character. At first it was a bit of an adjustment for me because I hadn’t really been given an opportunity to do that type of stuff before. I’m athletic, though, so I took to the challenge and have loved every single aspect of every single stunt I’ve had to do, and that carries over into season five, too, which we’re shooting at the moment [mid-August]. I’ve gotten to do some intense stunt work and I’ve been enjoying myself because that’s what I was hoping for when I did the ‘revamp’ on myself and put on the muscle that I have. I was looking to do more action on Eureka and the writers have facilitated that quite nicely for me. I’m hoping that I can transition into more of that type of work when the series ends.”

In the season four opener “Founder’s Day” Zane proposes to Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra), but she hesitates and is then whisked away to 1947 before giving him an answer. In the altered timeline, Zane and Jo were never a couple. In fact, he is rather antagonistic towards her, and Jo is forced to hide her true feelings for the Zane she fell in love with. There is, however, some sexual tension between the two, and in ‘Liftoff’ it is intimated that Fargo told Zane about the altered timeline. His and Jo’s relationship subsequently begins to take a different turn.

“My character grows throughout the rest of season 4.5 in regards to his relationship with Jo because of that information from Fargo,” explains Matter. “Zane is the type of person who likes to understand everything about something. He needs to take something apart, figure out how every individual piece works, and then put it back together again. I think that’s how he approached his relationship with Jo. So knowing that he and Lupo were once in love, Zane then needs to take everything apart if you will, see what’s at the root of him that was attracted to her as well as what’s at the root of her that he was attracted to, and then try to figure out if they can be in love again. As it turns out, they can be. That’s sort of how I look at Zane and approach him.”

At the end of “Liftoff,” Fargo, who in the alternate timeline is director of Global Dynamics, is summoned to Washington D.C. to appear before U.S. Senator Alice Wen (Ming-Na) and the Technology Oversight Committee. The senator tells Fargo that GD has been chosen to head up the six-month Astraeus mission to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Because of his criminal record, Zane is not eligible for the mission. Nonetheless, he sets out to show Senator Wen and her committee what they are losing out on by not allowing him to apply for the Astraeus program.

“There’s one line, I believe, that my character says,” recalls Matter. “It’s when someone else is talking about space. I can’t remember Zane’s exact words but he says something like, ‘I was an eleven-year-old boy once,’ meaning that every kid dreams of going into space and that’s part of why Zane wants to do it. The much bigger reason, though, is his wanting to be accepted into the community that he’s grown to embrace and love. Zane wants to do something good and be part of something like this because he knows that he can help. I honestly feel that my character is of the opinion that if he’s part of the mission, that something could go wrong and he could lose the people who do go.”

In the season 4.5 episode “Of Mites and Men,” Fargo, Jo Lupo, Dr. Holly Marten (Felicia Day) and Dr. Isaac Parrish (Wil Wheaton) are confined together in a small space as part of their testing for the Astraeus mission. Much to their chagrin, they discover Zane hiding in a closet. He has been put with them at the request of Senator Wen to further test the applicants’ mettle. Shooting this particular episode was a double-edged sword for Matter.

“I tend to get a little bit claustrophobic, so I did not enjoy the confined space we were working in,” says the actor. “It was very cramped, and for me because I had more height than everyone else, the ceiling was pretty close to my head. I felt like I was getting squished, which is not a terribly comfortable feeling.

“On the other hand, working with every one of those amazing actors was the only way I got through that. I enjoyed getting to go back and play more of the annoying, snarky Zane, but for a purpose. He was there as part of the test and I knew it was building up to that reveal. I got to sing as well, and I even received a lot of Twitter messages from people saying, ‘Wow, you can actually sing, too.’

“So I had a number of different elements to play in this story, and I had a ball working with Wil Wheaton. I love that man. He cracks me up all the time, but the particular scene that cracked me up was when the mite dropped on his head. We did that so many times and every single time he did it in a totally different way and with a totally different girly scream.”

 

Although he cannot go into any specifics, Matter strongly hints that the season 4.5 finale is sure to leave fans on the edge of their seats. As for Eureka’s fifth season, the start of filming earlier this year meant business as usual for the show’s cast and crew, or did it?

“It’s more like we were all launched back into our roles,” says Matter. “The fifth season opener is probably one of the most intense episodes of Eureka that I’ve seen to date. I had the liberty of actually watching it and it’s incredible. The scope of it, the size of it, the excitement, it’s like you’re watching a feature film. It’s pretty cool, and with Zane, in particular, he really becomes a man and someone who people can count on.  He starts caring for other people and putting them before his specific needs and even his own life at one point. Zane truly begins to embody the hero I think people knew he could be. He doubted himself a little bit at first, but now he’s starting to embrace that.

“I have to say that I’m very pleased with every single thing I’ve gotten to do in season five, and when it comes to Zane’s relationship with Jo, I think that will carry on until the end of time or the end of Eureka.”

 

Sadly, Eureka is ending much sooner than its fans as well as Matter and everyone else who works on it were ever expecting. Having announced that the series would return for a six-episode sixth season, the network later rescinded their decision and the show was cancelled.

“I was extremely disappointed when I first heard the news because I knew we weren’t prepared to say goodbye to Eureka and do it justice given the amount of [shooting] time we had left,” says Matter. “When I got to the set the next day a lot of us were talking about that and wondering how we’d be able to change things up and give the fans a good payoff with a series finale as opposed to a fifth season finale.

“We then caught wind that Syfy was working hard to get us one more episode so that we could actually do that and deliver a series finale. Once we got word that was going to be the case, a lot of us became a lot more OK with the situation. Everyone was still obviously incredibly disappointed to say goodbye to the show and we’re going to miss it a lot, especially the fans. However, knowing that we have the opportunity to go out the way we want to go out and give our fans something that they can be satisfied with is a good feeling.

 

“The writers have been down in Los Angeles working on the final script. I’m going to be very excited to read it, but also really sad when I read the last line at the end of the script because that’s the end of the show.”

Looking back over the past five years, what has Matter enjoyed most about his Eureka experience?

“The thing I’ve enjoyed most about this show is that it’s actually a total collaboration, from the producers to the writers to all the actors and the crew, and it operates like a really tight-knit family,” says the actor. “All any of us have ever wanted to do is pull together to bring the best product possible to the fans and hope that it’s enjoyable. If someone is taking it too seriously or not seriously enough, it doesn’t work On Eureka, though, we’ve found the perfect match and everyone is in the same boat together.”

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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