Improv And Transcendence In Ronald D. Moore's Virtuality

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Ronald D. Moore's TV movie Virtuality is a deep-space odyssey, a fake reality TV show, and, yes, a virtual-reality nightmare. But it's also an intense theater piece, full of improv. We talked to stars Siena Guillory and Clea DuVall. Spoilers!

In Virtuality, Siena Guillory plays Rika Goddard, the ship's exobiologist who's trapped in a passionless marraige with Roger, the ship's psychologist and producer of the fake reality TV program the ship's crew stars in. And Clea DuVall (Carnivale) plays Sue Parsons, the ship's brash pilot who's already drawing comparisons to Starbuck. Both actors went on a conference call with reporters today and talked about how they approached their characters in this TV movie (which could spawn an ongoing series). Virtuality airs this Friday night at 8 PM on Fox.

I hadn't realized, until listening to both actors, just how much of Virtuality was improvised. Apparently Peter Berg (Hancock), who directed the pilot, is a huge believer in letting actors run with their scenes and create their own interpretations of their characters.


One of the coolest parts of the pilot is Sue Parsons' relationship with some of the other female characters, especially the computer scientist and reality-TV show host Billie Kashmiri. Sue is constantly sniping at the naive, privileged Billie, but then after Billie suffers an extreme trauma inside the virtual-reality world (which feels real even though it's just VR) Sue and Billie suddenly share a moment of closeness, and they have a really intense scene together, which feels like it could be the foundation of a really interesting friendship. You don't see such complex relationships between two women in science fiction all that often.


So I asked DuVall what she thought was going on between the two women, and whether it was in the script, or improvised:

It was in the script, and also improvised. It was a combination of the two... I thought a lot about my character, because she's kind of a hardass and kind of a jerk, and a handful to deal with..and I really tried hard to understand her and why she was so guarded and so protective of herself. And [I tried to think] what it was about this girl that really ticked me off... I sort of went inside myself and tried to find the parts of myself that I don't think are there, the jealousy and the competitiveness, and I used that, I used my own personal shortcomings, to fuel this character. But then understand, but then being able to see her as human and seeing the parts of Billie that were like me.


So was Sue angry at Billie because she saw Billie as a younger version of herself? DuVall explained:

[Billie was] somebody that was given the position they were given, because they had certain advantages that I wasn't given, and that jealousy of being born into good stock. Versus having to fight tooth and nail to get there, because my character was put through the ringer so much to be there even though she was one of the most qualified.


Meanwhile, Siena Guillory says Rika Goddard "hates having her privacy invaded" (in the reality TV show) but "she's also desperate for adventure." Rika is an "introvert but oversexed," she adds. "The fact that we're geeks doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to be handling our emotions, so we're all prone to exploding emotionally."

Both actors raved about the creative freedom they were given during the shooting of this pilot. "Of course I said everything that was in the script, but being able to build on it and find things that were in there [was terrific]," says DuVall. "Them trusting us so much also gave us the confidence to trust ourselves."


"They were so brave and didn't assume that the audience was stupid," adds Guillory. "They lent us that bravery and allowed us to inhabit the roles."

And even though Virtuality is about being trapped inside a cramped spaceship, and trapped in the not-quite-real performance of reality TV, and even trapped inside virtual-reality modules that turn into a horror show, Guillory says the show, in the end, is about limitless possibilities:

It's all about the fact that the possibilities are endless, and that's what the whole show is about. There are no limitations, and everything we grew up with here on Earth, in terms of "This is your life, and this is who you are, and you will die [isn't necessarily true]. And you can be anywhere and be anyone, and anything is possible and it's incredibly dangerous and exciting.


As I mentioned, Virtuality airs this Friday at 8 PM on Fox.