Taking Charge: Interview With Eureka's Erica Cerra

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Art Streiber/Syfy

Brains and beauty: Eureka's Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra)

Five years ago Eureka’s Deputy Jo Lupo thought for sure she was in line for a promotion when the then-sheriff of the small town retired after an encounter with a tachyon accelerator. Unfortunately for her, the job went to ex-U.S. Marshal Jack Carter. Despite her disappointment, the no-nonsense Jo carried on, and she and Carter eventually became quite the dynamic duo of crime fighting.

On the romance front, Jo became involved with Zane Donovan, a computer hacker who turned over a new leaf and began working for the local think tank Global Dynamics. In the show’s fourth season opener “Founder’s Day” he proposes to Jo. However, before she can give him an answer, she and four other residents are sent back in time to 1947, which is when Eureka was initially established as a top secret, government-run research hub. It was the start of a new chapter in Jo’s life, and the actress who plays her, Erica Cerra, took that on with great zeal.

“I was thrilled when I found out they were sending Jo and the others back to 1947,” recalls Cerra. “There were some new writers who started on the show that season and I think it not only gave Eureka a new feel, but it also was a good opportunity to incorporate the ideas of those new writers into the series.

“It also gave us actors more to work with as well. Sometimes after a couple of years on a TV show there’s the danger of you starting to feel like you’re doing the same sorts of things. However, in this case we were made to feel like we were doing a brand new show."

“When it comes to shooting the fourth season opener, I had a ball. The fight scene I did with the soldiers was awesome. The stunt guys I worked with were amazing at their jobs and they made me look very cool and exceptionally strong. So getting the chance to do that sort of stuff was really fun. I also enjoyed the scene in the jail cell with Fargo [Neil Grayston] where he sets himself on fire, and also the one at the end of the episode with Niall Matter [Zane Donovan]. The entire thing was actually a blast because I was given so much to do as Jo, so I had a fantastic time.”

Jo and her fellow Eurekans manage to make it back to the present, but to an alternate timeline. Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) is still the town’s sheriff, but his deputy is a humanoid robot named Andy (Kavan Smith). As for Jo, she is now head of security at Global Dynamics. Having traded in her deputy’s uniform for business attire, she finally gets to take charge while continuing to do what she does best, but this professional shakeup is more than just about enforcing security protocols and ordering people around.

“I love Jo’s job change because it’s allowed the writers to give me more storylines where Jo has her own cases and gets to do much more on her own,” notes Cerra. “I mean, initially they gave her the chance to fall in love, have her heart broken and then take on this new job and be in charge. All that has provided me with some wonderful new acting challenges where I’m getting to drive a lot of scenes. That’s been a nice opportunity insofar as seeing if I could do that and, if so, if I could handle the pressure and the responsibility. So far I’ve been extremely happy with how all that has turned out not only in season four but in five as well, which we’re filming at the moment [late July]. I’ve had a ton of different storylines, be it with Jo’s job or her relationship with Zane, and that’s been great.”

When Jo and the others ended up in Eureka’s alternate timeline she was understandably upset to learn that the relationship she and Zane had never existed. This version of her former boyfriend was just as brilliant but more like the egotistical smartass she had first met. Despite their continual butting of heads, Zane felt there was something more between him and Jo. In the fourth season Eureka episode “Liftoff,” Fargo felt Zane deserved to know the truth about the “other Zane” and Jo. Since then, the relationship between the two has taken a more positive turn.

“In the beginning the way that relationship unfolded was very sweet, almost like a childhood relationship,” says Cerra. “It was like both characters were thrown together and everything was glorious and almost sugarcoated. What I think is really great about the shakeup in season four is that they’ve allowed us to dig a little deeper with Jo and Zane as well as have more emotional opportunities with them. It’s been a terrific [acting] challenge for me and I think for Niall, too, in that it’s given us a chance to develop a much more real and adult relationship between Jo and Zane.

“The episode [“Reprise”] where Zane [accidentally] burns down Jo’s brand new house was a blast to do, from him starting the fire to the scene at the end with him and Jo. I think that was supposed to be their first ‘real’ kiss after their breakup, and it was quite a passionate one, too. They spent a lot of time sort of disliking each other, or him disliking Jo and her pretending to dislike him, so it was nice payoff.

“Niall and I have good onscreen chemistry and from the get-go when the two of us met we hit it off really easily. Funnily enough, he and I were talking about this just recently. We have this great friendship but we also sometimes bicker, which is so bizarre,” says the actress with a chuckle. “Niall and I will have these silly little disagreements and he’ll tick me off or I’ll tick him off, and I think the fact that we're such good friends lends itself to our characters’ relationship on Eureka.”

In the next couple of weeks, production is scheduled to wrap on Eureka’s fifth (and what now appears to be the show's final) season, which Cerra hints is going to be one that audiences are not going to want to miss. “The fifth season opener is going to be a lot of fun,” she reveals. “The season 4.5 finale has a bit of a surprise for my character, actually for the entire show. I wish I could tell you more without spoiling it, but I will say that the episode is going to throw the audience for a loop once again, to the point where everyone is going to say, ‘What the heck?’ There’s a very good chance that viewers are going to be upset with us, but they’ll learn to love us again, I promise.

“I’m so happy with what they’re doing with Eureka,” continues the actress. “I think it’s gotten better and better. It’s just so neat for a show to be going into its fifth season and getting more interesting, which is incredibly gratifying for all of us.”

Although she had garnered a varied and impressive list of credits prior to booking her role on Eureka, working on the show and playing Jo Lupo has proved a unique professional as well as personal experience for Cerra. “I’ve not only learned quite a bit about myself but also about the business of this industry and technically how to improve my abilities as an actor,” muses the actress.

“There are certain things, like where to stand for a shot and where you’re being lit from, that you only really learn over time working on a set. Having gained more confidence in such things has, in turn, made me a better actor because I’m now less concerned with the technical aspects and more focused on the performance.

“As far as playing Jo, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey she has gone on, from being, I guess, this real tight hard-ass to becoming more of a likeable character and an open human being. It’s been a great ride on the emotional roller coasters Jo has gone on and working with all the fantastic actors I’ve been able to work with. So it’s been a really good experience all around.”

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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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