Lost in Time: Interview with Continuum's Rachel Nichols

By , Contributor

Showcase/Shaw Media

Rachel Nichols as Kiera Cameron in Continuum

When you work as a police officer, you never know what dangers might be awaiting you when you walk out your front door every morning and head for work. Continuum’s Kiera Cameron knows that only too well. A wife and mother, she is also a Vancouver CPS (City Protective Services) officer who is responsible for maintaining law and order in a society that, in 2077, is run not by governments but big business.

Kiera is commended when she helps bring down a terrorist group that is determined to topple the corporation. The terrorists are convicted and sentenced to death, but during their execution something happens that sends them and Kiera back to Vancouver, British Columbia in 2012. Despite being marooned in a world that is now alien to her, the CPS officer must carry on with her mission to track down and arrest these fugitives before they can change the future. While her character might feel like the proverbial fish out of water, for actress Rachel Nichols, who plays Kiera in this new Canadian sci-fi/police drama series, the role is not as foreign to her as you might imagine.

“Kiera and Rachel are a lot alike, which is great and terrific fun, too. I sort of get to enhance some of my regular characteristics because in many ways Kiera represents a super version of some of those,” explains Nichols, taking time for a chat before heading off to work on the Continuum set. “She’s a law enforcement officer from the future and someone who has always been a very good student as well as smart, quick and witty, not to mention a real ball-buster. Kiera is definitely stubborn and tries not to follow her heart, but sometimes does.

“My character has this half all-business brain, and then, especially given the show’s time travel element, this other kind of tortured soul inside her. The latter was, I think, the jumping off point for me as far as the complexities of the role and what I really wanted to work on. I’ve never played a wife and mother before. That’s new for me and I love it, but then, of course, I’ve never played a wife and mother who was sent 65 years back into the past and constantly thinking about her family and wanting to get home.

“At the same time, Kiera understands that she’s here for a reason. She’s doing the same job she was doing in 2077 and fighting the same terrorists she was fighting in the future as well. There are only a few people in 2012 that even come remotely close to understanding who Kiera is and where she’s from, which is incredibly lonely for her. Also, she’s very much out of her element here in the present. I mean, there’s no running water in 2077, Kiera has never seen a horse before, she has never driven a car, etc. There are a number of levels to the character and I wanted to treat each one of them with respect as well as grace and, hopefully, fingers crossed, I’ve managed to do that.”

In Continuum’s opening episode “A Stitch in Time,” a last minute change leads to Kiera being present in the execution chamber when the individual who inspired the revolt against the corporate grip on humanity, Edouard Kagame (Tony Amendola), and his fellow terrorists are being put to death. At the last minute there is a violent electrical surge followed by a blinding light that envelopes the terrorists and Kiera, causing them to vanish. They wake up at night in the middle of present day Vancouver. Although unfamiliar with her new surroundings, Kiera puts that aside and immediately gives chase to one of the escaped terrorists. It was the beginning of a wild adventure for the police officer as well as the show’s cast and crew.

“We were spoiled for this episode and the one that followed [“Fast Times”] because we had this brilliant director, Jon Cassar,” says Nichols. “I don’t think anyone else could have done it. He really knew what he was doing and launched the show. It’s quite a complex series and you could ask Jon any question about a character and he’d have the answer. We shot those first two episodes together; the schedule was all mixed around and we were filming parts of episode one and then parts of episode two. It took 17 days, I think, to finish both episodes, although it’s a bit of a blur because I moved here [Vancouver] on January 5th and began shooting on January 10th.

“The work was all very fast-paced from day one. On the first day of shooting I was in the police precinct - which is the main spot that we’re in when Kiera is in 2012 with Victor Webster’s character of Carlos Fonnegra - and I just remember thinking, ‘Okay, here we go. We’ll be going full steam ahead for the next four months.’ So it was definitely exhilarating along with a little bit intimidating, but it was everything I’d hoped it would be because they [the producers] had put together a great group of people.”

Shortly after arriving in 2012, Kiera makes voice contact with Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen), a tech savvy teen who our heroine discovers has a great deal to do with how she and the rest of the civilized world functions in the future. He becomes an important ally in Kiera’s ongoing challenge to live in today’s world along with fighting the futuristic terrorists. She is also befriended by Carlos Fonnegra, a detective in the Vancouver Police Department. Using the advanced technology she had with her when she was transported into the past, Kiera is able to “assign herself” to Carlos’ precinct. Her fight unexpectedly becomes theirs when the terrorists make a surprising and bloody strike at the local authorities.

“Alec is Kiera’s lifeline,” says Nichols. “In her time he’s basically the ruler of the free world and an old man [played by William B. Davis], and in 2012 he’s a 17-year-old genius who at this point has only just started to invent the technology that runs the world in 2077. Through various channels and mechanisms that you learn about in the first episode, Alec is the voice in her head. Although he’s just inventing the technology that she has come back in time wearing, he is able to communicate with her via that technology.

“So he’s one of those people who understands who she is, where she’s from, why she’s here and is her friend, helper, confidant and eyes in the sky. Their relationship only grows stronger and more personal as the episodes progress. He’s just 17, though, so there’s nothing flirty about it. Alec and Kiera aren’t going to fall in love at some point. In some ways she is maternal towards him as well as in awe of him, and I don’t think that ever changes. He doesn’t really know who he’s going to become one day, and we’re on very parallel planes, so as far as Alec is concerned, my character couldn’t survive in this time without him, and I’m beginning to think that he couldn’t survive without her, either.

“With Carlos, he’s this good person and salt of the earth. He’s a beer drinking, football watching, man’s man and really good cop whose moral compass is intact,” continues the actress. “Kiera befriends him through sort of shadowy channels in the first two episodes because they’re both investigating the same crime so to speak. Unfortunately, she can’t share with him. Kiera can’t say, ‘Hey, I’m from the future. Can you help me track down these criminals?’

“So they have a very interesting relationship in that she’d love to be able to tell Carlos the truth about everything. Meanwhile, he’s always sort of joking/half telling the truth and saying, ‘Ha, you never let me in on what you’re doing.’ Partners are supposed to be totally honest with each other, and Kiera would love to be honest with him, but she can’t. They’re very good friends, but unless we jump the shark down the road, I don’t see a romantic future for Kiera and Carlos. He becomes her first real friend, though, that she more or less spends every waking minute with.

“As their relationship gets stronger, it’s also more heartbreaking for her, so there will come a breaking point. I don’t know when, where or how, but he’s eventually going to find out. If Kiera ever gets to go home, I hope Carlos discovers the real story.”

Besides having a favorite director in Jon Cassar, Nichols has a favorite Continuum episode as well as a favorite moment. “There is an episode we did that involves a storyline with Kiera’s grandmother,” she reveals. “One of the reasons it’s my favorite is that I became dear friends on-set with the actress that they cast as my grandmother and we had a fantastic time. I love the action that took place in this episode, and there’s a wonderful parallel between the good guys and the bad guys.

“As far as a favorite moment is concerned, at the end of episode two, Kiera is basically arrested by the good guys in 2012 because they think she’s a bad guy and that she’s been lying about who she is, which Kiera has, but, again, my character is from the future and that explanation wouldn’t go over very well. In this scene, Kiera is handcuffed to a bench at the police precinct and what happens after that is very powerful as well as moving and there’s a flashback to Kiera’s family, too. That’s all mixed up in a couple of scenes that I think for me had the most impact. I cried when I watched them, and I never cry when I watch myself, ever. At that moment I thought, ‘Wow, we’re doing this right,’ and that was pretty awesome."

A small town girl from Maine, Nichols never seriously entertained thoughts of pursuing an acting career until she was in her late teens. “I always joke that models, actors and musicians seemed like these intangible people because you never saw any of them in Maine, or at least I never did,” recalls Nichols. “In second or third grade, I desperately wanted to be Paula Abdul, and I told my mother that I should probably choose someone that fewer people wanted to be so that I’d have a better chance at being her. That was my rationale.

“I think I always had a performer somewhere inside of me, even though, believe it or not, I was quite shy in high school and before that I had a very shy side that I didn’t really shed until my first year at Columbia University. Like much of my freshman class, I thought at the time that I was going to go work on Wall Street. That’s what I wanted to do. I figured I’d wear a power suit, carry a briefcase and trade and yell and buy low and sell high. I always say, though, that no matter what career I chose, I think I would have been happy because I’m a happy person and I’d want to choose something that I enjoy doing. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I’m in the position that I’m in now because I do love what I do, but it was something that wasn’t really a part of my life until I moved to New York and was at school.”

While studying at Columbia and later graduating with a double major in math and economics, Nichols was spotting by a modeling school and did work for such brands as Guess, L’Oreal, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Nicole Miller. She later broke into the acting world when booking a job in an episode of Sex and the City. That was followed by a role in the feature film Autumn starring Richard Gere.

The actress’s other big screen credits include Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, P2, Charlie Wilson’s War, Resurrecting the Champ, Conan the Barbarian, A Bird in the Air, G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra  and the upcoming I, Alex Cross. She also played Gaila, an Orion cadet at Starfleet Academy, in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek.

Star Trek was awesome,” she enthuses. “Everyone on it was lovely, including Chris Pine [Captain James T. Kirk] and J.J., who, of course, is just great. A full body scene involving my character took something along the lines of six hours in hair and make-up, and because they were trying to keep my role a secret, anytime I left my trailer I had to be covered in a big black cloak. We all rode around the studio in golf carts and I had to drive around in one that was covered in a black tarp. It was very top secret, but at the same time exhilarating. I will tell you, though, that I’d find little bits of green in the strangest places for days after filming,” jokes the actress.

On TV, Nichols portrayed Rachel Gibson in the last season of ABC’s spy drama Alias as well as starred as Special Agent Rebecca Locke in The Inside. The actress also guest-starred in Line of Fire and played the recurring/series regular role of Ashley Seaver in season six of Criminal Minds.

“My friend Rod Lurie created Line of Fire, which only ran for one season, and I did the two-episode finale of the show [“Eminence Fire”],” she says “I played a drug addict whose boyfriend is released from prison and the two of them decide to go on a killing spree, killing the children of the FBI agents who put them away. They both get taken down and my character finds out that her boyfriend got AIDS while in prison and he’s given it to her. It was quite dark and it took my parents a very long time to watch it because of that. That was my first time playing a character that was completely not me and it was really exciting.

“And then I loved Criminal Minds. I loved that I could show up in season six of a series and everybody was nice and welcoming. Thomas Gibson [Special Agent Aaron Hotchner] is lovely and he became a good friend of mine very quickly. I promised him that I would learn how to golf properly so that I wouldn’t embarrass him any more,” says Nichols with a chuckle. “You couldn’t meet a nicer guy than Joe Mantegna [Special Agent David Rossi] and a funnier guy than Shemar Moore [Special Agent Derek Morgan]. I have nothing but great things to say about Criminal Minds. They’re a real family on that show and it was comforting to have that.”

Every actor has his or her own definition of what makes a career in this business rewarding, and Nichols is no exception. “There are various pieces that make an acting career rewarding,” she notes, “one of which is the ability to reach out to people because of the notoriety that you have. By no means am I super-famous. I don’t get stopped in the streets and I’m rarely recognized, but I work with a couple of charities that mean a great deal to me. One of them, Lollipop Theater, brings movies that are still in theatres to children in hospitals, and I’ve worked with them for a very long time. Thanks to my job, I’m able to bring causes like this to the forefront of peoples’ minds, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social forums.”

At the time of this interview [late April], Nichols and the rest of the Continuum cast and crew were prepping to shoot the season finale. Looking back at the show’s 10-episode first year, is she pleased with how her character’s story arc and the overall story of the series has unfolded?

“Yes, very much so,” says the actress. “When I was on Alias I would be so excited to read the next script. Not because I wanted to see how much I was working or if I got to do an awesome fight scene or gun battle. I was a big fan of the show and I just wanted to know what happened next. That’s it, and it’s the same for me on Continuum. Since I began working on the show I’ve only ever read one script at a time. They’ve told me, ‘We can send you the series bible and you can read everything,’ and I’ve said, ‘No, no, no. I’d rather be on a need-to-know basis. I just want to read each script one at a time,’ and that’s what I’ve been doing.

“The writers on Continuum are brilliant and [executive producer] Simon Barry, who created the show, has enough ideas to last a number of seasons. I think that’s a real telling point if you’re excited about a show or if you like the storylines because when you get a new script you sit down right away to read it. I’ve been blown away and totally surprised by some of the things we’ve done on this show. As exciting as it for me to be playing the lead character, I think it’ll be even more exciting for those watching, or at least I hope so because I believe Continuum has the potential to be one of those shows that people just want to know what happens next and can’t wait to watch.”

Continuum premiered Sunday, May 27 at 9:00 p.m. EST/PST on Canada's Showcase network. The show's first season will continue to air on that same day/in that same time slot. Please note, all photos above copyright of Showcase/Shaw Media.

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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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