Colin Ferguson, the Canadian-born actor who anchors the ensemble cast of the quirky sci-fi series Eureka, has been floating around TV screens for a few years, being cast in pilots that just never seemed to take off. His role on the U.S. version of UK hit Coupling fizzled, but served to get him some notice in the industry.
In 2006 he was cast to star in yet another pilot, for a new series to air on Sci Fi, about an everyman who ends up living in a community of geniuses. The charming brand of humor delivered by the high-concept show was perfectly suited to Ferguson, who had trained on improv stages in Montreal and with Second City in Chicago and Detroit.
To his surprise, Eureka, which is lensed in Vancouver, was a hit, and is well into a third season on Sci Fi, which placed a 21-episode order (it airs on Tuesday; Canada’s Space premieres Season 3 on Monday, Sept 8).
In an exclusive interview with CinemaSpy, Ferguson talked about the importance of his improv roots, his connection to the two Steves (Colbert and Carell), the dramatic changes that have impacted the town of Eureka in Season 3, and what it’s like to be part of the quirky show that could.
Blaine Kyllo: I’m recording so that I don’t have to type while we talk.
Colin Ferguson: I’ll try to be really brief so you have to type less.
Blaine Kyllo: No, don’t. I would not want to limit you.
Colin Ferguson: [laughs] The scope and depth of my thoughts are intense, Blaine.
Blaine Kyllo: Are you in Vancouver?
Colin Ferguson: Not right now, no. I’m in Los Angeles.
Blaine Kyllo: How far into production of Season 3 are we?
Colin Ferguson: We’ve shot the first eight. I go back on September 13 to shoot the remaining 13, and I’m actually directing the first one back. That’ll be fun.
Blaine Kyllo: How will that change things?
Colin Ferguson: Not very much. I’ve witnessed far more talented directors than myself and seen every single set that we’ve shot in, so I sort of know where the cameras go at this point. There’s not a lot of discovery. But I’m looking forward to being responsible in that capacity, and I think I’ll do a good job of it.
Blaine Kyllo: Do you have aspirations there beyond this single episode?
Colin Ferguson: Absolutely. Television directing is very different from film directing, and every varies project to project. Television has such a narrow band of creativity for a director. You really are locked to plot, act structure, commercial break, this is how you shoot this character, this is how you shoot this set, this is the look of our show. You really are walking a path, you’re just deciding the beats that are going to be played out.
Blaine Kyllo: So you’d look to take on directing for the big screen?
Colin Ferguson: Yeah, I would think so. That would make me happy. As well, pilots would be interesting, because at that point you really are creating the look of a show. That would be really interesting.
Blaine Kyllo: That also comes with producing responsibilities as well, doesn’t it.
Colin Ferguson: Yeah. Or maybe my aspirations aren’t in directing, but I’ll use the experience to be creative in another capacity. I’ll probably be producing at some point, so having some directing experience is invaluable.
Blaine Kyllo: Is writing something that will come up for you? Your experience with improv means that you’ve effectively got writing experience.
Colin Ferguson: I do a lot of writing now anyway. I’ve written stuff before, and I’m doing a four-part comic for the show.
Blaine Kyllo: Is that getting published with [comic publisher] Boom! Studios?
Colin Ferguson: Yeah, I had a meeting with those guys. We were supposed to - as always happens when I get together with [co-creator of Eureka Andrew] Cosby - come up with a one-episode, “Oh, the actor’s going to write one.” And we concocted this impossible four-part, time travel, crazy thing that was so cool it was like, “Well, we’ve got to do it.” So then we had to go to the money people and it’s now a four-part comic as opposed to a one shot, and they jumped at it.
Blaine Kyllo: So you’re already a producer.
Colin Ferguson: Exactly.
Blaine Kyllo: What is it like to be part of this quirky little show that suddenly gets a 21-episode third season?
Colin Ferguson: It’s great. It’s interesting. There’s good and there’s bad to it. All you want when you start out is to do a show that lasts. You want to know if you can do it. You want to know if you can be a part of something that people want to see. You want to know if you “have it”.
Blaine Kyllo: Spoken like somebody who’s been around Pilot Season for a few years.
Colin Ferguson: Yeah. This is probably my eighth pilot. And I’ve had pretty good luck with them. I had three or four go to series. Not that they lasted, but . . . . And then you get into your third year, and you get the 21 order, and you’re, like, “Yeah, 21!” And then you look at your contract, which is for eight years. And all of a sudden you go, “Oh, my god. Eight years?” [laughs] Thats basically a decade when you get the pilot year in there. I’m going to be living outside of my home for eight years? The reality of that sinks in and you realize you have to go about it differently to make it more livable.
Blaine Kyllo: Does that mean you’re moving to Vancouver?
Colin Ferguson: No, it means I’m going to try and get back home a little more often. In years past what I would do is put 150 percent in. I didn’t come home once, I was working on the weekends. Even this year over the first eight [episodes] I worked 21 days in a row through the weekends. You look at that and wonder if you can do eight years of that. I think I’ll burn out. So now I’m shifting to a different gear and trying to make sure I get home more, make sure I stay rested a little more, so that I’m into it.
Blaine Kyllo: Because after 21 episodes, it becomes an exponential drain on you.
Colin Ferguson: And you take the first three seasons, I’ve only ever had a day and a half off. Over three seasons. So it’s like, “Yeah, you’re probably going to go a bunch of seasons,” and I’m looking at it [laughs] and going, “Okay, we’ve got to change this business model, ‘cause I’m going to snap. I’m just not that strong.”
Blaine Kyllo: Were you surprised, of all the pilots that you’ve been involved in, that Eureka was the one that made it to third season?
Colin Ferguson: Yes, and to be frank, I was surprised I got the role.
Blaine Kyllo: Why?
Colin Ferguson: Well, there are pilots like this every year where you’ve got an ex-Federal Marshall and he’s going to be new sheriff of the town, and I go in the same room with the same guys. Usually there are guys who are significantly bigger than me and they’re chiseled and they do this hardened, [speaking in a raspy, Eastwood-like voice], “I’ve seen the world”-type thing. And those are the guys that usually get it. And I’m, “Good on ya.” I do what I do, which is a little quirky and a little weird, and the writers usually look at me and cock their heads and go, “That’s interesting. Thanks.”
Blaine Kyllo: What was different this time?
Colin Ferguson: This time I did my thing and [co-creator] Jaime Paglia was in the room, and he said, “That’s exactly what we’re looking for.” So it worked this time. And I was pleased.
Blaine Kyllo: The show is very clearly built around [Sheriff Jack] Carter and his experience in this bizarre place. At the same time it weaves in a lot of the ensemble that has made other quirky shows like Eureka so successful. How do you walk that line?
Colin Ferguson: It’s a tough one to walk, primarily for the writers. We heard, over the first two seasons, what a nightmare it is trying to service so many characters. You’ve a cast of eight characters, you’re trying to tell a story in 44 minutes and 30 seconds, and you have a main character that you want in every single scene. That’s a bit of a dance. And of course the network is paying every actor whether they use them or not, so the network is saying, “Get everyone in. I don’t care what the plot is. Get everyone in.” [laughs] Consequently, you’ve got the writers pulling their hair out trying to fit these plots together so they can get every character in. It’s hard.
Blaine Kyllo: But there’s some really great casting that’s happened that has helped to make it easy for these various, wacky characters to come together.
Colin Ferguson: My favorites are Neil Greyston, playing [Douglas] Fargo, a guy from Vancouver - a local hire, I guess you’d say - who is such a lynchpin character. So popular. He’s also the voice of SARAH [the smart home in which Carter lives]. At the comic conventions he’s unbelievably popular. You get guys like Matt Frewer who come in bring so much energy, Joe Morton, who’s obviously a fan favorite and brings knowledge and passion to what he does. And this year we have Ever Carradine coming in, who plays my sister [Lexi Carter], she’s great and brings a really fresh feel to the show, which is important season after season. And you have Frances Fisher [playing Eva Thorne] who comes in and brings this grounded, “evil, yet is she?” quality to everything she’s doing. We really have so many tones coming in from the characters that have been cast.
Blaine Kyllo: The chemistry with you and Ever was instant.
Colin Ferguson: Yeah, it was. I’d love to say we worked on it and we’re just that good, but she’s so much like my sister that we just started making fun of each other out of the gate. And she looks like my sister. She probably gets that from every set that she’s worked on, she’s awesome. But we clicked immediately.
Blaine Kyllo: The relationship between Carter and his daughter has also developed a lot since the beginning. Zoe Carter has evolved from being this angst-ridden teenager to actually finding a place for herself. The relationship there has matured. How has that been different to play this season?
Colin Ferguson: This season, probably it’s been similar to last season, but just because she’s older now. I met Jordan [Hinson] when she was 13. We both tested. Neither one of us had the job, and we were testing off of one another. There were two daughters and two fathers. So we were all mixing and matching, and that’s when I first met Jordan. She turns 18 this year. It’s been unbelievably satisfying being able to watch her grow and handle what she handles. That is probably a big part of the relationship. We actually do care about each other a lot. If I could have a daughter it would be her. She’s an amazing girl. It’s been great. Her, the character, yes she was the bad girl, she was involved in credit card scams and running away from home. And over the past three seasons she’s really mellowed and as my character has learned how to be a part of a community and a part of a father-daughter relationship, her character has learned to be a daughter in that relationship, and it’s been really lovely.
Blaine Kyllo: Watching that maturation over the past couple of seasons has actually been quite fun.
Colin Ferguson: I’d love to go back and watch the beginning and see little Jordan, when she was 13. She’s always been so tough. It’s amazing. I remember when we were shooting a scene in the pilot, she’s 13 years old, it’s the middle of the night, she’s on this ridiculous child contract that means she can only work eight hours and she can’t work past midnight, and she’s so pissed off because all she wants to do is to do her work. She’s up in Vancouver, she’s out of the country, and they want to send her home because it’s 12:30. And in her mind she’s like, “I’m only here to do this one thing. Let me do it.” I think on that day they actually turned a blind eye and let her do one extra take. It was in the middle of pouring rain and she’s wearing this crop-top jacket and she’s soaked and everyone’s freezing and she’s insisting on doing it one more time.
Blaine Kyllo: Welcome to filming in Vancouver.
Colin Ferguson: Exactly. It was all she wanted to do. So you let her do it and then you send her home. She can go home happy. That seems to be a little less cruel.
Blaine Kyllo: Talk about the love triangle of sorts between Carter, Blake, and Stark.
Colin Ferguson: At the end of Season 2 you see Nathan Stark propose to Allison Blake. And she accepts. So there’s going to be a marriage. My character, historically speaking, has had this future relationship that got wrecked through time travel and he’s come back. So he knows he’s supposed to be with Allison. But she’s about to marry another guy. My character is very good friends with her and begrudgingly friends with Stark so out of respect for those relationships, he takes a step back and has to watch this union progress. Hoping that it’s not going to go that way.
Blaine Kyllo: Let’s talk about your improv training and your experience in Montreal and Detroit and what the improv training does for you as an actor. How does that fit in your tool belt?
Colin Ferguson: There’s actually a bit of history to it. When I moved from improv to scripted television and film, in my head I said, “Well, I can’t use any of those skills anymore,” and I sort of put them in a closet. And I really handcuffed myself for a bunch of years, thinking that I had to do everything as scripted, as written, “this is the bible, this is the script.” At a certain point, I was working on a silly movie of the week - in Canada - and I was working with a director who said, “Can you just improvise this?” And I hadn’t done it in years, and I was like, “Of course I can.” So we blow through it and do the scene, and its great, not because it’s so good but because it has so much life. He ends up cutting that scene into the movie and when it airs that was when it dawned on me there was a reason I did it in the first place. That’s one of the ways that I can bring life to it. It was after that moment that I started trying to incorporate it whenever I could, because it seemed like that’s when people respond to the material more. I should qualify “improvising.” I don’t think it’s riffing until you’re blue in the face. I don’t think it’s taking a 6/8 page scene and turning it into a two-page scene. The improv that I came from you respect scene length, you respect the rules of the improv, so when you transfer that over to film, it has a beginning, middle, and end, you can adjust things in the middle, but you have to respect that arc. So that’s what I think improv is to me and that’s what I try to bring to my work.
Blaine Kyllo: That’s one of the things about improv. There are rules and that’s sometimes the fun in the exercise is to mix those rules up and see what happens.
Colin Ferguson: Exactly. That’s what I love about it, especially when you’re on stage with a group of people who all know the same rules, and you can see when someone bends it. And it’s almost more fun knowing that they’ve bent it. I love that. But I find a lot of people who don’t know a lot about improv think that it’s, “Grab an idea and run with it.” I don’t even know what to do with that when I’m on set and somebody does that. I just sort of look at them, “I don’t know where you’re going.” It’s a big ol’ field.
Blaine Kyllo: But giving yourself permission to draw on your improv experience has made you a better actor?
Colin Ferguson: All of a sudden, people were looking at me differently. All of a sudden I was getting different responses. All of a sudden people were saying, “You’re great in that.” As opposed to, “Mmmm, that’s a nice movie.” Not that I was great, but there was a life that came from it. I think I’m supposed to be thinking. It made me a better actor. I was probably not very good out of the gate, and I had to wait for everything to come together before I improved.
Blaine Kyllo: Timing is everything.
Colin Ferguson: Absolutely.
Blaine Kyllo: Do you still take the stage to do stand-up at all?
Colin Ferguson: No, not so much anymore. I have an old routine that I could probably dust off and pull out, but I’m working on other stuff. My days are pretty busy.
Blaine Kyllo: You’re tangentially tied to a whole whack of stand-ups that have parlayed careers out of that, aren’t you.
Colin Ferguson: Yeah, and it was having worked with them that I know that’s really what they should be doing. When I was working on Second City, I don’t even think they’d remember me now, but on the main stage in Chicago at the time it was Steve Colbert, Steve Carrell, Amy Sedaris, all on one stage. There were only seven people on stage. So it was this all-star group, and I knew that I was okay at it - obviously I was okay at it - but they were in a different . . . that’s what they should be doing. Whereas I knew I was going to incorporate it in a different way, ultimately.
Blaine Kyllo: That’s kind of an illustrious group to be on stage with.
Colin Ferguson: I only did one show with them, we actually went over to Detroit and main staged in Detroit, but it’s funny to have been able to watch their rises over the years.
Blaine Kyllo: How was that different than the group in Montreal that you started up?
Colin Ferguson: It wasn’t very different. Largely the same. Different exposure level, and Second City is significantly more political, in its tone, significantly less rules. The Montreal group was a very rule-based, game-based, almost Theatresports-based.
Blaine Kyllo: But that’s true of improv in Canada, isn’t it. It all came from Keith Johnstone at the University of Calgary.
Colin Ferguson: Pretty much. Is that Loose Moose? Yeah, that’s where the roots were, and everybody took it in different ways. I would say that Vancouver Theatresports is most like Second City than the others. Although everybody was doing really interesting stuff when I was around. We would improvise movies every Tuesday. Full movies. So in that experience, you would break down what your standard movie is. They’re all so formulaic, it’s pretty basic. You break it down and improvise it scene-by-scene. It was almost like we were writing a movie every Tuesday. So the skill set . . . it helps you . . . all of a sudden you get on set and you’re trying to do some scene, and you’ve got so many experiences in your head. “I’ve improvised a lot of things, we sort of know where this goes.” You’re not very afraid of it.
Blaine Kyllo: Which brings us right back to writing, because improv is so much like writing.
Colin Ferguson: I’m now with a group - Andy’s group and Boom! - that I feel a kinship with that I haven’t felt since I was an improvisor. We riff really quickly, we break stories really fast, and things just get done. I found when I wrote in the past, between my improv years and now, I would get bogged down. “This is taking forever, why is this taking so long?” So it’s nice to have gone through ten years of incubation to be back where I started.
Blaine Kyllo: It’s also the chemistry that you share with a particular group of people.
Colin Ferguson: Yes, and that’s one of the things about the show, as much as anyone would love to take credit for any part of it, we just got lucky. It’s a great group, everybody complements each other in interesting ways, and I think that’s part of the charm.
Blaine Kyllo: It definitely has its own unique charm, and it’s a joy to watch. The third season has been really strong.
Colin Ferguson: Thanks. I think that . . . . I was going to be all complimentary about a show that I’m on and that felt weird.
Blaine Kyllo: You’re allowed to. I think they call that “servicing the work.”
Colin Ferguson: [laughs] Yeah, okay, we’ll talk about the work. We’re really happy with it. Everybody keeps fighting to make it better. Nobody’s ever content. If we’re getting great ratings on our show, we want better ratings.
NOTE: At this point, the interview shifted to a discussion of events that have occurred in episodes of Season 3 that have already aired on Sci Fi in the U.S. So there are spoilers ahead for Canadian readers who have not yet seen up to the end of Episode 4, “I Do Over”.
Blaine Kyllo: Did you know coming into Season 3 that Ed Quinn [who plays Nathan Stark] was leaving the show?
Colin Ferguson: Yes.
Blaine Kyllo: So you had anticipated that his character would also be exiting.
Colin Ferguson: Yes, we all knew in the off-season.
Blaine Kyllo: You kept the secret really well.
Colin Ferguson: Yeah, it’s one of those things that it’s great to see someone go off and do other things, but Ed was a friend of mine well before this show. We met when I was doing Coupling back in the early 2000s. So he’s been a very dear friend for a very long time and he’s one of my lifelong friends. So it was sad to see him go on a selfish level. He’s a very good friend and I love him to death and I see a lot of him still, but it was like, “That sucks for me.”
Blaine Kyllo: Why does it suck for you?
Colin Ferguson: Because he’s such a good friend. He’s a great energy and he’s bombastic and loud and fun and it’s great to have him on set. And it’s sad to see change. He’s going and Ever’s coming in and it’s both great and sometimes a little hard. And I love that relationship on the show.
Blaine Kyllo: There was a fun and interesting snarkiness between the two of you.
Colin Ferguson: There really was. And he’s so good at . . . because he’s so smart, and he’s also built like an American gladiator, so he’s got this frat boy thing that he can lord over you, but at the same time with such a care he has for everybody. And it’s clear beneath whatever he does that he genuinely cares about everybody, so he can get away with it. I think the begrudging respect that the two had for each other, because they saw the validity of each other’s point of view, but also hated where they were coming from. It made it a lot of fun.
Blaine Kyllo: How many episodes have you shot since Ed’s departure?
Colin Ferguson: Three.
Blaine Kyllo: What has his departure from the set done?
Colin Ferguson: It’s a bunch of professionals, so you say goodbye and everybody moves to the next shot.
Blaine Kyllo: Let me rephrase that, because I was getting at how much people have said they’re going to miss that dynamic between Carter and Stark. Is that one of the reasons that Ever is there? To try and get that dynamic with a different character?
Colin Ferguson: I think that’s the reason Zane [Donovan, played by Miall Matter] might be there. I think Zane steps in - I do a lot of stuff with him in the tail end of the season - but I don’t know if they’re trying to replace any relationship, but they definitely have plot functions that they need to fill. Ed was great a delivering all the science stuff. Science stuff with attitude, make a cutting joke and we’re out. He did that a lot in the scenes, so now they have different characters trying to throw the science stuff. Zane does a lot of it, Joe Morton [as Henry Deacon] does a lot of it. I think [Eva] Thorne [played by Frances Fisher] may have been the evil part of Ed’s character if Zane is the science part of his character. But it doesn’t work the same way.
Blaine Kyllo: I’d like to talk about filming the “I Do Over” episode [Season 3, Episode 4]. It had a very different feel to it. You didn’t quite know why until the end, but it felt different than any other episode of Eureka.
Colin Ferguson: Yeah, and surprisingly - or not - it was my favorite of the season.
Blaine Kyllo: How was filming it different? It was emotionally charged in a way that no other episode has been.
Colin Ferguson: Filming it was a bear for me. Because I was the engine in just about every scene. We as a cast really like it when we get to do a serial type of episode, where we get to have character . . . it’s been described to me as a ripple effect, where there's a big event and it ripples through a bunch of episodes. But the ripples are more little scenes and mentions, but those episodes, those turning point episodes are so much fun because you get to do so much more acting. There’s a lot on the line. You’re dealing with the other characters, something’s going on in their life as opposed to both of you staring at some experiment that’s gone awry. So it’s really fun for us. We all enjoy it, we all work a little harder, and we love to watch them but we have a different perspective on it than the fans do.
Blaine Kyllo: The last scene in that episode with Salli [Richardson, playing Allison Blake], when you take the same lines that have been repeated throughout the episode, but twist them subtly so they have a completely different meaning given the context of the situation, what was that like to film?
Colin Ferguson: That was a hard one to do. The difficulty with an episode like that is a production difficulty, where all the times you repeat the scene you shoot them back to back because they are all in the same location. So by the time you get to the end of the episode, you’re a little burnt on that location. You’ve been shooting it all morning, you’ve shot four different scenes in it, it’s basically the same dialogue just skewed differently, so by the time you get to that last scene, your mind is just mush. So that scene was hard because it was the most intense one that we had, so what they let us do on that one is we did it as scripted a couple of times, and then they let us riff, and what that was great for was being able to - you referenced it earlier, I come from improvising, and that breathes life into what I do when I get to make stuff up as I go along. I stick pretty much to it, but it livens things up and you get to feel a lot more and put out a lot more wattage. So they let us do that, and that worked really well. And then we got back to the script and did it properly after that.
Blaine Kyllo: So the ability to get off script for a while, if nothing else, re-energized the scene.
Colin Ferguson: Yeah, you remember why you’re doing it in the first place.
Blaine Kyllo: Isn’t that why improv exists?
Colin Ferguson: I think so. I love it. But the hard bit in a scene like that is because the dialogue is repeated all the way through it, you get to that final scene, and let’s say you do a take that you knock it out of the park, but you’ve said sort of the wrong line. You have to go back, even though it may have been a genius read, but it doesn’t match the other lines.
Blaine Kyllo: And that’s something that’s important for that episode, the repetition of that dialogue.
Colin Ferguson: Yeah, and in some of the scenes the repetition of the line works better than in other scenes. But you still have to repeat it. You try to ramp it up but just to be able to talk like this about one scene just shows you how fun it is to shoot an episode like that. There’s so much going on you get to be very busy, which is why we all do it.