Exclusive Interview with Killjoys’ Tamsen McDonough
Actor Tamsen McDonough continues her series regular role in season two of the hit sci-fi adventure series Killjoys currently airing on Space (Canada) and SyFy (United States).
Space Channel’s top-rated Killjoys follows a trio of reclamation agents as they chase deadly warrants throughout the Quad, a distant planetary system on the brink of a bloody, class war. Leading the Killjoys team is Dutch played by Hannah John-Kamen, John played by Aaron Ashmore and D’avin played by Luke Macfarlane.
Tamsen provides the voice of Lucy, a small artificially intelligent spaceship owned by Dutch and used as interplanetary transportation as well as a working and living space for the Killjoys team. Lucy has become a fan favorite with her sassy personality, loyalty and obvious fondness for John. She’s often referred to as the fourth Killjoy.
Tamsen McDonough was born in Vancouver, British Columbia and began her formal acting training at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Her love for acting started at a very early age when she played an orphan in her grade three production of Oliver Twist. From there, her acting bug fed on student films as well as shorts and indie projects.
Since then, Tamsen has appeared in various film and television projects including The Incredible Hulk, Murdoch Mysteries, The Jon Dore Show, Grey Gardens, Chloe, Motive, Lost Girl and The Bridge.
Outside the acting world, Tamsen enjoys activity dates with friends, like trapeze, archery, and go-karting. She’s always on the hunt for great drag performances and the perfect mockumentary. She is also passionate about writing and has recently created the comedy web series Miss Odette’s Modern Handbook to Manners in which she stars.
Here’s how our conversation went:
Jumping right in, I remember listening to an interview you did with The Quad podcast where you talked about your first voiceover session there.
Yeah, it was neat because by this point I had now met everybody so it really felt I was doing scenes with the actors this time instead of watching TV. The first season it was a bit more—not watching TV, I guess is the wrong term—sort of a little separated because I hadn’t met anybody. So this season now I’ve met everybody, so popping my lines in here and there really felt like I was doing the scenes with them, which was really fun.
That was actually one of my other questions because I remember Aaron talking about an interview last year where they had an A.D. reading all of your lines. So it’s different this time around?
Yeah, I mean they still have—if I’m not on set they have the A.D. reading the lines. I was there at one point, but it’s still the A.D. when I’m not there. He’s a very nice guy but it’s still a dude who’s kind of shouting the lines from the side (off-screen, of course). It’s pretty funny.
Before I jump into any more questions about Killjoys, and I know that’s what we want to promote, I want to take just a minute to talk about some of your other projects. Specifically, something I laughed at when I saw the trailer—I’m loving it already—Miss Odette’s Modern Handbook to Manners.
Oh! (laughs) Thank you! It’s still a bit rough because we’re still in the process of getting it all together, but we thought, ‘Hey, let’s just throw out something to hopefully’—and it sounds like it worked in your case—‘whet people’s appetites.’ We’re currently in Post just trying to edit the first episode, so it’s a lot of fun. I’m the writer, one of the producers and one of the actors on it.
I think it’s similar to Seinfeld in away. It’s sort of the same mockumentary style that Seinfeld used. Seinfeld took a small thing that everyone could get on board with and then took it to the Nth degree comedically. That’s what we’re doing, we’re taking hugging—it’s, it’s a tricky thing. For modern manners these days, hugging can be tricky. So we took real stuff and everybody—whenever I tell them we’ve done this series about modern manners and what the first episode is, I go, ‘Oh, yeah! Then there’s such-and-such a hug!’ And everyone always chimes in with their—’It’s so great!’ I love the fact that it creates this conversation. Whatever etiquette it might be…I have a few more episodes planned. One will be probably sidewalk etiquette. (laughs). They sound ridiculous with the manners but they are! And people forget because we just do them every day.
You’re right. It’s something people take for granted.
Exactly! It just washes over them. They don’t think about it.
So what inspired you to come up with this idea? Was there any one moment?
There was, actually. I was just telling a friend about this recently. I was in high heels—and I’m a tall person, to begin with, just over 5’9” and then I’m in heels; I like to wear big heels so I was over 6’, probably closer to 6’2”—and a shorter male friend of mine came up to me, and he’s a little insecure, and I try to bend down to hug him, and he’s like ‘Don’t bend down! Don’t bend down!’ So I said, ‘Dude, you’re not gonna hug me and put your face right in my…area…’ (laughs). This is not a motorboat situation here.
That got me thinking, my gosh, there’s the tall girl hug. I was talking to a friend and I said this is actually a problem. And she said—she’s 5’3”—‘Oh, you know what my problem is? Guys always want to pick me up because I’m short!’ And I said, ‘Really, what else do you have when you’re a short girl?’ And then I talked to guys and said, ‘What are your problems with girls?’ ‘Oh, my gosh, if they have large breasts I don’t know what to do! I try to come in there—and then there’s the car hug, and I almost clocked a friend in the face one time.’ here’s all these situations that kind of wash over us and we forget. So that was the original and I started to sort of realize: I’m an awkward person, I get into these awkward situations all the time…and they just started coming fast and furious.
There’re all these situations that kind of wash over us and we forget. So that was the original and I started to sort of realize: I’m an awkward person, I get into these awkward situations all the time…and they just started coming fast and furious.
I already know that’s going to be something that’s going to take off. It’s absolutely amazing to see.
I hope so.
I can’t wait. So, jumping into Killjoys here—I only have a few questions. I do recall there was a line from last season (and I’m sorry to say I don’t remember exactly where) and they talked about Lucy being one of the most advanced ships in the Quad. The writers are amazing on the show; will we ever get to see maybe in a flashback like a Lucy-centric story, where she was made or how Dutch came to own her?
I don’t know about the backstory. I haven’t heard anything about backstory. There is some stuff coming up, though. So just stay tuned. There’s definitely going to be little—well actually, yeah, that’s exactly what it is—just more information, I think. I can’t talk about it but just keep watching. There’s gonna be some fun stuff coming up. These writers have some little tricks up their sleeves.
I know some of the things we’ve heard—and I remember you talking the other day on Twitter about it, as well as in other interviews you’ve done—but there’re a few other sci-fi shows that have done like-minded things. One of them, I guess you could call it the sister show that Killjoys has right now, Dark Matter, there’s the ship controlled by an A.I. Andromeda back in the day had this. Star Trek to an extent. Is there any interest or any possibility of seeing ‘Android Lucy’ or ‘Hologram Lucy’ or anything of that nature?
As an actor, we’re always hoping for more for our characters. We’re always fighting for our characters, whether the character’s a good guy or a bad guy, we’re always fighting for them. That’s our baby. I would, of course, love to see more for Lucy. She’s a pretty happy ship. She’s doing her thing. So whatever’s going to happen happens and I just sit back and take a look at these scripts and freakin’ enjoy.
When voicing Lucy, what sort of direction were you given for her or were you primarily responsible for how her personality turned out and her interaction with Johnny and whatnot?
There’s always a collaboration of course. The writers are going to give you something. Michelle was there, and the directors are going to give you something. There’s actually quite a few people there. All these amazing producers and directors and showrunners and so on, so everybody was there working on it. It was kind of a workshop idea. They’d given me a really great character description, and it was also, I was told—things always get lost in translation—but I was told that it was partly inspired by a character I did on Lost Girl, which was a very smartass, intelligent but smartass attitude-type character. So they said, ‘We really like what you did with that. Work with something along those lines.’
The funny thing was, it wasn’t intentioned, but I’m sure you’ve read Aaron talking about this, it wasn’t intentioned for there to be chemistry between John and Lucy. On my character sheet—and again, you’re always fighting for your character—on my character sheet it said she has a fondness for John. And you see a picture of Aaron Ashmore and you’re like ‘You bet she does!’ (laughs). I think the warmth came through very easily because when I do the voiceover, I’m watching the screen. I’m seeing the scenes happening. They’re all edited together, and a lot of the special effects are in there. I’m one of the last things that goes in as far as I can tell, to sort of round things out because sometimes they throw some extra lines in there if there’s a hole or whatever. So I’m seeing the way he’s talking to her and responding to that and I think it came across flirtier and warmer than they initially expected, and the fans picked up on that and away we go! We’ve got Lucy!”
It comes together so perfectly that it just seems so smooth. For me, watching from home, being able to sit down and see that relationship the editors and post-production team put together with the cast, it’s just so amazing.
They are so good. They are so, so good. Especially in the second season when I got to know everybody, I really—for me, I am interacting. But that’s them and how clever they are because they’re on-set listening to the off-set A.D. sending them lines and they respond so well. I mean, that’s just a testament to their great acting ability.
So was there—again, I remember you talking in previous interviews about drawing information from different sources—I was hoping we could take a moment to talk about maybe some of the inspiration that you have while working as Lucy. I remember you talking about Knight Rider being an idea as well as Firefly – looking at all these different things.
Yeah. And one that I forgot to mention at the time, which is actually a big one for me, is C-3PO. An A.I. who, you know, you kind of think that there’s feelings in there. It’s not just a hunk of metal wandering around (or in Lucy’s case, flying around). There’s—I don’t know, again, fighting for my character—I think she might have feelings. I think she does, when D’avin doesn’t like her she’s a little miffed by that, and it came out in her tone. And when John’s being extra flirty she responds in kind, and she’s a little scared of Dutch, of course, you know, as everybody is. (laughs).
Well, one of my favorite scenes with Lucy is still when Dutch is locked out in quarantine and she’s tells Lucy, “Johnny’s in trouble!” and Lucy opens up immediately.
[Makes whooshing sound] “The door opens! I love that. I loved it. Well, it’s so much fun. I get the script and I see what’s happening and it always takes an extra few minutes in the booth because I’m just giggling away and laughing and trying not to have too much humor in my voice when I’m saying these things.
What’s something you’d say you’ve learned throughout your time here as Lucy that’s helped you develop this outlook on life – a life lesson if you will?
Well, something that I’ve really realized just over the course of Killjoys is—just responding to fans and chit-chatting with fans on Twitter and doing interviews and so on—is that I always really enjoyed sci-fi and fantasy and so on, but it’s something I never delved into too much. I’ve sort of bounced around with lots of different interests, but it’s really let my—the side that was always there, I just didn’t realize how big it was—my geek side. It’s really sort of allowed me, like almost given me permission to have this geek side. Everyone should have a great geek side. I’m allowing and enjoying this side a lot more and chatting about great sci-fi and great TV and cool stuff with people all the time. It’s been cool saying, ‘Yeah, it’s okay to be a real geek.’ Letting that side out a little bit more. It’s been fun.
Hey, it’s okay to let it out. Geek is cool now.
Geek chic. (laughs).
Sadly, this is my last question, so I want to make it a fun one. What would you say, if you weren’t Lucy, of course, would be one of those roles you’d be interested in trying? What other roles appeal to you?
For me, I call myself a character actor, and it’s something I’m always striving for. To me that’s the pinnacle: to be somebody that can smoothly move from various roles and various sizes of roles and various types of shows and movies and shorts and all these kinds of things. That’s why I wrote a very sturdy comedy to come off of Killjoys because there’s a lot of great dramas that I’ve been doing. It’s something I like to—I want to try everything. People are so interesting, good, bad, ugly, whatever it is, it’s just so interesting. I know it’s cliché, but I just love stories. I love being a part of them and I love getting to bring it to people. So yeah, I want to be a Dutch-type character at some point, and I also want to be a Pree-type character and geez, a Johnny-type character.
Killjoys airs on Syfy Friday’s at 9/8c PM.