This fall, SyFy is bringing a whole new look to the story of “Van Helsing” when it premieres the new show with a female lead. We caught up with Rukiya Bernard, who plays one of Vanessa Helsing’s crew, to talk about how this show is breaking barriers, the importance of inclusion in casting and more.
How has “Van Helsing” challenged you as an actor?
The show has been such a wonderful experience, a challenging one, but a beautiful experience non-the-less. As an actor, I found it challenging trying to figure out the physical and emotional traits of my character, Doc. She’s complicated. The creators of the show have designed the vampires more as monsters who like blood and not your typical black caped Dracula “I’m going to suck your blood, ah ah ah” type vampires. They’re grounded characters and are very varied in vampire type. Doc is also very complex in her motivations. So determining my movement, why I moved in certain ways, what was driving the movement, what emotional reactions do I have different than how a human would react, all of that was a fun challenge to have; an actor’s dream really.
What surprised you about the process of working on the show?
I was surprised to see how deeply emotional and poetic the show is. Neil Labute and the writers have created this dystopian world where we are exploring the depths humans will go to survive and live. It’s dark. I love this aspect of the show because when I was initially cast I thought to myself, “Cool, I get to be on a show with vampires that probably has lots of action and blood and gore. Great!” But then I read the scripts and wow, was I shocked and uncomfortable with a lot of it, in a good way. I’m an idealist and it had me question what I would do if this were real and would I be so ideal? It is great writing, and yes, there’s lots of blood, gore and action.
How did being on “The Stagers” help prepare you for this show?
If we’re talking about the dystopian world of interior design where two home stagers are fighting over the same couch and coffee table and if they don’t get the couch or coffee table, the client will rip their head off (verbally) and not pay them, then yes, “The Stagers” and “Van Helsing” have a lot in common. No, but seriously, “The Stagers” was an HGTV reality show about home staging where we were transforming average homes into show home looking houses within a week. I love interior design but they’re two very different shows and experiences.
This “Van Helsing” is women-centric as opposed to previous adaptations of the story. How has that heightened the story/message?
Yes! We have a She-ro! Kelly Overton does such a great job of leading the show. She’s so truthful in her experience as Vanessa, yet understated in every word that she says. I think this is where the audience gets to experience the message because if the world has gone upside down and survival is on a minute-to-minute basis, then the current idea of typical gender roles and behavior is also thrown on its head.
The importance of inclusion (be it racial or gender) is a hot topic today. How do you think we can make it something that sticks rather than just an issue-of-the-moment?
Man we might need another interview for this question. It’s huge because inclusivity on screen is only a part of our collective systemic problem. But one thing the TV and film world can do to sustain this movement (and we are starting to see this), is to just hire diversely. A lot. All the time. Period. Producers should be casting based on character and not because of the race, gender and/or sexual orientation of a person unless they absolutely have to for the integrity of the story. Art is a reflection of life and vice versa. And in this day and age, the audience is becoming more diverse culturally and in its views. The audience wants to see this reflected on their screens. It’s got to change and Shonda Rhimes, Kenya Barris, Jenji Kohan, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, Syfy channel in general, are doing so. “Van Helsing” has done a great job of casting based on character and I’m really proud to be a part of a show that has done so.
Beyond all the vampire hunting, what’s coming up next for you?
I’ve made a few appearances in movies which will be doing the festival circuit including PHIL, directed by Greg Kinnear and LITTLE PINK HOUSE, directed by Courtney Balaker. However my next endeavor, which I’m so excited and scared to do, is to live waste free for a month. My sister-in-law has been doing it for a number of months and has me looking at all the waste I create in my household. I must do better, so in the fall we’re going to do a month of waste free living. Wish me luck!
“Van Helsing” premieres September 23 on the SyFy Channel.