Vampires. They’ve been popular in entertainment and culture for centuries. From literature’s Dracula to the pop culture hit Twilight, people have been fascinated and captivated by tales of the mythical bloodsuckers. In their new series, Van Helsing, the Syfy network takes a strike at the classic trope.
Set in an apocalyptic vampire world, the series follows Vanessa Helsing, a distant relative of the famous vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing. But Vanessa can’t save the world on her own. Joining in on the adventure tale is Canadian actress Alison Wandzura. A familiar face having appeared in The X-Files, iZombie, Mistresses, Age of Adaline, and Once Upon a Time, Wandzura took some time to sit down with The Hudsucker to talk about Van Helsing, women in entertainment, and her rescue dog, Cheetah.
The Hudsucker: In literature Van Helsing is a character from the Gothic horror novel Dracula. Your new show, Van Helsing is a contemporary, apocalyptic descendant of sorts from that story. Can you tell us a little bit about the setting and the story?
Alison Wandzura: In Van Helsing, the occurrence of a natural disaster has allowed for vampires to surface and overpower humans. Vanessa Helsing, our show’s lead character, is part of a group of human survivors who are living as refugees, holed up in an abandoned hospital. Essentially Van Helsing is a story of survival. It’s been related to civil war and occupation, and in that way, there are parallels to the current world situation.
The Hudsucker: You play Nicole—is she a vampire?
Wandzura: Nicole is a spitfire! She likes to call the shots, which doesn’t sit well with some of the survivors, including Vanessa. She is cold and calculating, but I have imagined what she must have been through to make that her modus operandi. We’re talking about people who have lost their homes, their families, their entire lives and are forced into a “kill-or-be-killed” game of survival. I like that Nicole isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and calls BS when she sees it. And she carries a really big metal pip like it’s no big deal.
The Hudsucker: Vampires have long been a popular subject in stories and lore as well as entertainment. How do you feel Van Helsing fits into that? How is Van Helsing different from other vampire stories we have seen (such as True Blood)?
Wandzura: There is none of the glamorization that you typically see in vampire shows. If you’re looking for Twilight or Vampire Diaries, you’ve come to the wrong place! You immediately get a sense that these characters have been through hell. It’s gritty and feels very real. There are ties to genre in that our lead character has special abilities to combat the vampires, and of course no shortage of bloody imagery. The vampires themselves have an intricate social system that I find fascinating, from vampires who are no more developed than wild dogs to elite vampires who hold all the power.
The Hudsucker: What interested you about Van Helsing?
Wandzura: When I heard Neil LaBute was involved I was like “where do I sign up?” I have a background in theater and my training involved working on Neil’s plays, like The Mercy Seat. The fact that he became the show runner of a vampire series was surprising but really cool. Reading the scripts, I was impressed by how much depth there was to the characters. You find yourself wanting to know more about the history of each character because the writers have done such a good job in making them relatable.
The Hudsucker: In addition to Van Helsing you are also working on a movie, Story of a Girl. Can you tell us a bit about that project and what drew you to it?
Wandzura: Story of a Girl is part of Lifetime network’s “Broad Focus” initiative to get more women into directing, writing, and producing roles. That itself was a real draw for me. The icing on the cake was that Kyra Sedgwick is directing. She is one of the kindest, most authentically appreciative directors I have worked with. I look at her and think, “I want to do what you’re doing.”
The Hudsucker: We’ve read that you are very interested in promoting the work of female directors, writers, and producers. Why do you feel it is so important to create those spaces within the industry?
Wandzura: Currently the majority of stories on-screen are not being written, directed, or produced by women. There are many men out there who do an excellent job of telling female stories. Xavier Dolan, for example, is a director and writer whom I have great respect for. However, if more women are enabled to step us directors, writers, producers, we’ll start seeing stories about women that are more complex, more interesting, more inspiring, and more real. I’m dying to see more of the female perspective on issues like human rights, equality, and politics. It just makes sense to me that we be equally represented.
The Hudsucker: In addition to your work promoting women in entertainment, I read that you have a rescue Chihuahua named Cheetah. What is the best part of having a rescue dog?
Wandzura: Cheetah, my little diamond in the rough! She’s a survivor who was found on the street in California on her own, at only a few weeks old. The thing that warms my heart the most is how much progress she’s made from when she first stepped pay into her new home to now. She was a wild one at first, but it’s amazing what having a loving home can do to shape a dog’s behavior. She’s still got that feisty personality, but she feels safe and comfortable now, she’s chilled out a lot.