HOLLYWOOD — Talk about girl power. Or, in this case, girl with no power.
Winnipeg-born actress Tracy Spiridakos will become TV's latest kick-ass heroine this fall when the J.J. Abrams-produced NBC drama Revolution premières. In the series, set in a near-future world in which all forms of electricity have suddenly ceased to function, Spiridakos plays a young woman on the trail of a marauding band of militiamen who have killed her father and kidnapped her brother.
Charlie Matheson is one tough young lady, handy with a crossbow and perfectly willing to throw a punch or a kick if the fighting gets into closer quarters. Following her father's dying-words instructions, she seeks out her estranged uncle, Miles (The Twilight Saga's Billy Burke), a former U.S. marine living a reclusive life in what's left of Chicago some 15 years after the power went out, and together they set out on a rescue mission the show's producers and stars clearly hope will last several action-packed seasons.
"It's a big step for me, no question," Spiridakos told the Free Press during an interview at the Beverly Hilton Hotel after flying in from the show's shooting location in Wilmington, N.C. "This was my first pilot season in L.A., and it was crazy-intense. I did a lot of auditions — I probably went out on about three a day, for about a month and a half. And then this one came along, and I guess it was just the right time and the right fit."
Pilot season is a rite of spring in Hollywood in which hundreds of production companies audition thousands of actors and writers in order to find just the right combinations of talent to create what they hope, against exceedingly long odds, will become TV's next prime-time sensation.
In the case of Revolution, which has a large cast, it was a painstaking process.
"When you're casting a pilot, especially a pilot that's an ensemble like this, you see everybody on planet Earth," said executive producer Eric Kripke (Supernatural), who partnered with Abrams and director/producer Jon Favreau (Iron Man) on this show. "There's literally hundreds and hundreds of actors, and great ones, too. But you just have this image in your head of who you need this person to be.
"Jon and I really went through the whole process in lockstep, and we would argue and debate whether this person would be right for this or that, and then all of a sudden our casting director, April Webster, who's a genius, ran into our office and showed us a tape of Tracy from Canada. And we took one look at it, and we said, 'That's her.'"
Spiridakos, an Oak Park High School graduate, met with the show's producers, then was called back for an audition, and then returned for a formal screen test before finally finding out she'd landed the role. And apparently, somewhere along the way, someone in the actress's manager/agent assembly might have told a little white lie.
"We asked if (the actors) had physical ability," Kripke recalled, "And we heard — from Tracy's reps, we believe — that she was a black belt, only to find that she had maybe gone to a couple of kickboxing classes."
The 20-something Winnipegger was more than willing to 'fess up.
"Yeah, they had actually heard somewhere that I was a black belt or something," Spiridakos laughed. "I can't lie to save my life, so when they asked me, I said, 'Uh, no.' But I did do kickboxing for about a year in Vancouver, and when I was growing up, my brothers and I play-fought all the time, so I was ready for it."
The pilot episode of Revolution was shot in Atlanta before the production relocated to its current North Carolina base.
"Shooting the pilot was a lot of fun," she said. "The biggest challenge was the elements — it was really hot in Atlanta, and we were wearing all our leather gear. Other than that, it was really cool. Our stunt co-ordinator, Jeff Wolfe, knows exactly what he's doing and how to teach us to do things in a safe manner. It's very physical, but it's run so well that it's a very smooth process."
Asked if she'd suffered any injuries during the physically demanding sequences shot so far, Spiridakos lifted her left arm to reveal a large bruise on the inside of her elbow.
"That's from hitting my crossbow with my elbow when I'm running," she explained. "I knew that it would be a very physical, action kind of show. And I welcome that kind of stuff — I'm a little bit of an action-adventure junkie, so when this came up, I was like, 'Yeah. I'm in. Let's do it.'"
Prior to making her first TV press-tour appearance, Spiridakos travelled to the massive Comic-Con fan gathering in San Diego, where she and her castmates were mobbed despite the fact the show is still weeks away from its première. It's a level of notoriety she's unaccustomed to, and Spiridakos admitted to being a bit leery of what lies ahead if Revolution becomes as big a hit as past Abrams projects like Alias and Lost.
"I don't know how you prepare for that," she said. "I mean, I'm just a little Winnipeg girl. I guess we'll have to see what happens. Everybody involved in the show has been putting forward a very positive vibe, which is great, but as far as how my life is going to change, I don't know.
"The reasons I got into acting are so different from that aspect of it; I guess it comes with the gig, so I'll just roll with it and see what happens."
It goes without saying that there's a lot of excitement back home about Spiridakos's Revolution-ary career step.
"Oh, it's been great," she said. "My friends and family have been freaking out; they're all super proud of me, which is really cool."
Three years ago, when Spiridakos was starring in the youth-oriented Teletoon series Majority Rules, her parents, George and Anastasia, would hold weekly "Tracy Thursday" viewing parties at their St. James restaurant, Olympia Diner.
"And now this one's going to be their Monday-night thing," she said (Revolution premieres Sept. 17 on NBC and Citytv). "It's great — they're just so proud that their little one is out there chasing her dream and being successful at it."
Spiridakos added that she'd like to get her parents, along with her two brothers, to visit her on the set in Wilmington sometime soon.
"I really hope so," she said. "I'm so close with my family, and I'd love to share this (experience) with them. Running a restaurant takes a lot of time, so I don't know how often they'll be able to escape, but I'll try to get them down at least once — especially my Pops, because he's never actually seen me on set, doing what I do. I know he's really proud of me, and I'd love for him to be able to watch it all happen."
After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.