Like many TV sci-fi “scientists”, Killjoys’ Zeph can’t afford to specialise – so far we’ve seen her skills as a midwife, hacker, biochemist, doctor… something the actress who plays her, Kelly McCormack, laughingly acknowledges.
“I know! Whatever med school she went to is like really really good. She’s done some quantum physics; she’s going to get into microbiology at some point; she’s an agriculturalist… it’s pretty funny.”
Despite being more at home chopping logs in a forest than chopping up brains in a lab, actress Kelly McCormack has quickly established herself as a fan favourite (and writers’ favourite) as the awkward, no-nonsense scientist Zeph in Killjoys.
Recruited by Dutch in season three to help her explore her link to Aneela and the Lady, Zeph’s growing success as the RAC officer who’s become indispensable to Team Awesome Force mirrors Kelly’s own skyrocketing career as a multi-talented actress /writer/producer with her own production company. She is soon to be seen starring in A Simple Favour alongside Anna Kendrick and Blake Likely, with more movie projects on the horizon.
Kelly grew up in British Columbia, Canada, in a family who enjoyed the outdoors and spent a lot of her childhood living in remote areas appreciating nature. Playing Zeph is perhaps channelling that inner tomboy.
Her character’s evolution into badass warrior nerd is certainly timely given the current TV landscape, and Kelly is also a strong supporter of the Me Too movement. We meet up with Kelly on set in Lucy’s lounge, with more hair and more smiling than we’re used to seeing on Zeph. So as we sit down to discuss her role on Killjoys we have to wonder, how has Zeph flourished in the midst of a war?
“If the war has been good to anyone maybe it has been good to Zeph,” says Kelly. “Last season was about her acclimatizing to a team, because her science and her lab’s the only thing she’s accustomed to trusting. So last season was about her trusting the team and now she’s like, ‘Oh, I can bring something to this dynamic!’ That is, in terns of her talent, intelligence and science savviness. So I think she’s really leaning in which is fun!
“And the stakes in general for the show are getting so high, and of course the alien that they’re fighting is biological so of course she’s using biological weapons to help Team Awesome Force fight. So the war has kept her busy. Also everyone grows under high pressure situations and Zeph is put under many so it’s kind of a rapid year of growth – she kind of becoming a woman in a way.”
Another formidable woman is assassin princess Dutch (played by Hannah John-Kamen) who brought Zeph onto the team, and someone she still looks up to.
“I feel it’s an older sister vibe or best friends vibe but she still has a lot of affection for Dutch and is attracted to her energy, and sense of self. It’s like Dutch just does Dutch and it’s rubbing off on Zeph; just accepting who she is with her lack of filter, weirdness and her eccentricity, plus knowing she knows what she can do better than anybody else. The Dutch/Zeph relationship only gets stronger and deeper and richer.”
It seems there’s more of art imitating life on the Killjoys set with Kelly and Hannah sharing the same sisterly vibe.
“Working with Hannah is a dream. She is a machine. She is so intelligent. And affluent with empathy and emotion and layers and subtext and character – she just knows her character inside and out. So when I first got on this show I definitely looked to her in terms of what are the ins and outs of this world and what journey have they been on before Zeph shows up. Hannah is so kind and everyone adores her. She shows up everyday and does it all, like her own stunts, knows all her lines… I am constantly in awe and impressed by everything she does.”
From sisterly love to the romantic kind, Zeph has had a busy time this season. Her relationships with Team Awesome Force have encouragingly moved forward.
“I think when Zeph first showed up she pegged Johnnie as being the other scientist on the block. So there was an antagonistic sibling rivalry. But last season she was also trying to get some action from whoever was around. She had a crush on Johnnie but doesn’t everyone? She’s had a crush on Dutch. I think her and D’avin are pretty much the only two who are like, ‘I respect you, you respect me, never gonna happen!’”
Kelly does love working with Luke Macfarlane who plays D’avin, and it seems that interplay will feature more prominently over season four.
“A lot of times this season D’avin and Zeph will be left to run things because Dutch is off doing something with Johnnie, and the two of us often have scenes together where we’re updating each other. It’s like, ‘So, Aneela – this is what’s happening with her. What’s happening with Dutch?’ We’ve had a number of those scenes where it’s just D’av and Zeph trying to right the ship and it’s always really funny!”
Pip is one of the newest recruits to the war effort. Nicknaming himself ‘The Mouth’ he is known for his ability to open doors and find almost anything with his list of criminal contacts and hacking skills. With Pip’s reappearance Zeph has put to bed her awkwardness around the Jacobis and has taken charge in the bedroom. Something that, surprisingly, will ultimately shed a little light on Zeph’s backstory.
“Pip is this new surprising entity in Zeph’s life. Her value system is so attached to her science and her need to save everybody and keep them alive that there’s this kind of added element with this young juvenile man that she can ‘think’ with. She’s definitely having a friends-with-benefits relationship with Pip! And he wants more and I think she’s trying to figure out how to fit that into her life.
“But also we’ll find out more about where Zeph comes from, why she might be resisting any kind of deeper intimacy with Pip and how that filters in to who she is and why she is the way she is. Why she resists certain things you’d typically expect a young woman to want. The character’s so well written and I’m so thankful for it because it’s a profile of a woman who wants all these different things and is thrown all the conventional things a woman’s supposed to want and she’s like, ‘No, it’s not for me.’”
One thing Zeph is not, is typical, and Kelly offers some clarity as to whether Zeph is autistic.
“We talked about Zeph being on the spectrum in general terms. I was never like giving her the head canon of being autistic. It’s not like as an actor you go, ‘Okay, I’m playing this character on the spectrum.’ That’s not a helpful tool, necessarily. But I think in the future, people who are on the spectrum and who are incredibly gifted and have that wild imagination and intensity that today makes people uncomfortable, in the future that will be celebrated and capitalized on.
“I have a good friend who is an artist who lives with autism and his relationship with his art reminds me of Zeph’s relationship with science. He has an unending well of love and affection for his type of art and I think that’s what Zeph has for science.”
So who is the bigger nerd: Johnnie or Zeph? “I think maybe Zeph. I think Johnnie is really good at science and is the science dude and tech guy, but I think there are other things he wants in life, like space goats, and he’s much more capable with interpersonal skills. But Zeph really wants to explore the world of science, and do all that in a big way.”
Killjoys season 4 currently airs on Syfy channel in the UK and Space channel in Canada.
Interview by Tanavi Patel
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