Jaime Murray talks about the complexities of Stahma Tarr in Showcase’s ‘Defiance’

by W. Andrew Powell
Jaime Murray in Defiance

Jaime Murray brings a level of charm, class, and intelligence to all of her roles, but in the case of Stahma Tarr, in Showcase’s Defiance, she turns intelligence into pure and almost frightening cunning.

The English-born actress, who also plays H.G. Wells in the series Warehouse 13, also starred in Dexter, and Ringer, before she landed the role in the new Toronto-based series, Defiance, which also features Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Mia Kirshner, Stephanie Leonidas, Tony Curran, and Graham Greene.

Set on Earth in the year 2046, after the planet has been wildly transformed after a group of seven alien races fought with humans for control, and squatting rights, Defiance is practically a period Western drama. Once the dust settled, after uncontrolled terraforming, Earth was like a new, wild frontier, leaving the humans and aliens in a hostile environment that has forced them to group together to survive.

At the centre of one of those groups of aliens and humans is the town of Defiance–formerly St. Louis, Missouri–where life always seems to be interesting as the settlers battle for survival against outside forces, while forces inside vie for control over the fledgling city.

Recently, actress Jaime Murray chatted with press about her work on Defiance, and here’s what she had to say about the series, her character, and some of her roles on other shows.

Catch the finale of Defiance on Showcase this Monday, July 8 at 10:00 PM (ET/PT).

Question: What attracted you to star on Defiance?

Jaime Murray: “Really what always attracts me to a role is character and relationships and I certainly think that Stahma’s character and relationships are really complex, so I knew that as an actress I would find that challenging and it would kind of keep me busy and kind of keep me rooting around for new things to portray about this woman. And when you take on a new role you kind of, you know this is somebody that you’re going to be with for a while and is this an interesting person to spend your days thinking about.”

“You know it’s funny, Julie Benz, who is one of my good friends from Dexter obviously is playing Amanda on Defiance, and often we’ll hang out, particularly when we’re in Toronto filming the show, and we’ll sit there for the evening kind of talking about our characters and sometimes I’ll say to her isn’t that funny we’re sitting here talking about two women that don’t exist. And we’re talking in depth about how they feel about stuff. So it’s a funny situation when you’re on a TV show, and you know often you, hopefully, you’re going to be with these people for years and years. So you have to–you don’t necessarily have to like them and I certainly often play difficult, or troubled, or complex, or you could, if you judged them, you might say that they were bad women–so you don’t necessarily have to like them, but they certainly have to be interesting. You have to understand them or be willing to.”

Question: After playing H.G. Wells on Warehouse 13, Lila on Dexter, and now Stahma, do you have a favorite character?

Jaime Murray: “You don’t ask an actress which is their favourite character, that’s like Sophie’s choice. They’re like your little children. I mean I kind of–I love them all for different reasons I mean- and you know you feel kind of quite protective of them. I certainly loved the journey I had on Warehouse 13 with H. G. Wells because first of all I really started out as antagonist and I suppose I was the villain of a piece in that first season, but it wasn’t – you kind of always had an understanding that there was a lot more going on with H. G.. And then I had two more seasons to rectify that and turn that around and kind of you know, I really went through a full spectrum of emotions with that character and her relationships with the Warehouse and with the people in the Warehouse really, really changed. And you know with this season that you’re just seeing now, it’s cathartic playing somebody who does wrong, but you understand maybe why she made those choices. And you understand that maybe she wasn’t in her – the right state of mind. And arguably anyone who does anything truly kind of immoral or bad isn’t in their right state of mind. And then she – I feel as though in this season maybe you’re going to see a chance of her now everything has been taken away from her… and sometimes you’re defined by the strongest emotions. And I certainly think that she was driven by sadness and anger for such a long time and I kind of felt a real vulnerability about her when those two very powerful emotions are taken away.”

Question: Did H. G. Wells influence how you played the role of Stahma for Defiance?

Jaime Murray: “Well they’re certainly very different roles, but it was my first out and out sci-fi show I’d ever been on. And you know, I certainly from being on Warehouse 13, I understood the scope of sci-fi and I understood that the stakes are just so high on these shows – it’s good versus evil, it’s life and death, it’s courage, and hope, and bravery, and ambition, and all sorts of very powerful driving forces in sci-fi.”

“The other thing that I particularly liked about Defiance is it’s you know you’re talking about a world 35 years in the future and you’re talking about a world with seven species competing for a space on this planet and it’s so skewed and it’s so fantastical that as a viewer you can watch it and, it’s not like you’re holding up a mirror and, obviously because it’s such a different world that you’re showing, but actually all the themes that you’re talking about are so relatable.”

“But… I feel as though as an artist I’m able to play with issues like, for example, with Stahma and you know whether it be in the marital home or whether it be because of how the repressed her gender is and her in the society that she comes from–back from her own planet or whether we’re talking about the caste structure from her own planet. They’re all interesting themes to be discussed but in a very new way.”

“In fact through investigating and looking at what it is to be alien it forced me, it forced Jaime, to look at again with fresh eyes what it is to be human. And it’s just an interesting way of investigating old and important themes. And themes that hopefully the viewer, you repackage them in a way that the viewer isn’t saturated with and bored with them and kind of look at it–can look at them with fresh eyes and maybe kind of take them on board in a different way.”

Question: Now that you’ve worked with American crews and Canadian crews, what do you find the differences are behind the scenes?

Jaime Murray: “Oh, you know it’s interesting that you ask that. I was back in the UK publicizing Defiance, because the great thing about Defiance is it actually aired all over the world at the same time, so not long ago back in my home town of London and people were asking me about the move to when I first came to the USA. And I said I’m actually not particularly a very brave person. I actually – I couldn’t quite like fit. I don’t think at the time I wouldn’t have ever made the move to the USA except that I was on this TV show called Hustle and it got bought by an American station who wanted us to film two episodes of Hustle in the USA.”

“And so I went over with my cast and everything and suddenly I’m filming in LA, and I suddenly realized that there’s something very universal about a film crew. And where I felt all this fear about making that move actually a film crew in Toronto or the USA or London, there’s a real similarity. There’s a comradery and you know within a couple of days everyone’s taking the mickey out of each other and you know there’s a short hand and it’s kind of a universal, it’s a universal thing – a film crew.”

“What I would say is I’ve noticed – I would say that when I first went to the USA I thought because we spoke the same language obviously we were all speaking English and the you know it was just going to be warmer and it would be slightly different and slightly more glossy. But actually the more time I’ve spent in the USA the more different I’ve realized, there are cultural differences between Americans and the English, that I hadn’t fully acknowledged when I first came to the USA. But I think that Canadians are much closer to the English. I feel like they are only once removed whereas I think America is kind of four or five times removed from England. And also you can get a good cup of tea in Canada. The Americans can’t make a good cup of tea.”

“They don’t know how. You’ll ask for a cup of tea and they’ll kind of like, they’ll make it with hot tap water and you know kind of spit it back out in the cup.”

Jaime Murray as Stahma Tarr in Defiance

Jaime Murray as Stahma Tarr in Defiance

Question: What I’ve really, really loved with your character on Defiance is how she’s hinted at kind of being a bit of a puppet master so to say. Will we be seeing a little bit more of how Stahma may be the person calling the shots?

Jaime Murray: “I think that – I think the thing about Stahma is, that the real difference between Stahma and Datak is, Datak is really at the whim of his ego, so if in a moment he needs validation or he needs to be seen as the big man or whatever it might be, he will just take action in that moment and he needs validation. Stahma however doesn’t really need validation, she just needs what she wants. She needs what she needs.”

“And she’ll often go about it silently to get what she needs and she doesn’t need any validation whatsoever. In fact she’ll give validation out, she’ll give Datak whatever he needs in order to get what she needs. So I think that she’s that silent assassin really. But she’s not showy about it, it’s not like she’ll kind of ever say anything. There’s never a part of her grand plan which is full recognition and I think that those people are the people that truly wield power really.”

Question: Considering the marriage between you’re character’s son, Alak, and Christie, does Stahma really like the future bride of her son?

Jaime Murray: “I mean, I think that, I think it could be a lot worse. I mean I think that she feels a great curiosity and I think she does feel affection for Christie. The thing is about Stahma is that nothing is black and white. Obviously Christie would not be allowed anywhere near Alak if there wasn’t something in it for the Tarr family. And you know the McCawley minds and the power that the McCawley’s wield within the town of Defiance is certainly very attractive to Stahma, and now Datak. If you remember rightly in the pilot, he was completely against it until she gently reminded him how useful this could be to them as a family and their credibility in the town.”

“However I think that Christie is a very sweet girl considering she’s a modern girl and I mean even more modern because she’s five years in the future. It’s probably reaffirming to Stahma where she comes from a world where women are very submissive and it would probably be much harder for her if she was dealing with you know your average flaky teenage girl.”

“And also it’s something quite comforting, she probably feels as though she can really control Christie. There’s such an innocence and a sweetness to her that Stahma’s going to know which buttons to press and so really she’s – it’s probably a quite comfortable situation to be leading her son into yet another situation that Stahma can have full control over.”

“You know it probably it would probably be very worrying if – well I doubt Stahma would allow it, for Alak to be marrying somebody who would be taking him away from Stahma.”

Question: What is it like to work with Tony Curran who plays Datak Tarr?

Jaime Murray: “Tony’s become one of my really close good friends, I feel immense affection for him. And it’s just so great working with somebody that you genuinely have such good feelings for, because often as an actor you know there’s – I guess what’s good about Julie and I sitting there talking about these made up people for hours on end, there’s a certain child-like quality that you have to have to share these fantasies with people, share these stories that you’ve made up in your head with people and these ideas.”

“We all did that as children freely and as you grow up you stop doing it because you feel a bit silly, and you have to be silly to an actor really. You have to be able to be prepared to come up with an idea that other people won’t particularly like or try something which is dreadful and then you present something else which is equally dreadful and then finally you come up with something which is brilliant and kind of weird that works for them and strange. But you can only really do that if you’re with somebody that you really trust. I’m lucky that on the cast of Defiance there’s a whole bunch of actors that I trust, but I’m particularly lucky that one of the ones I have a really special relationship is Tony Curran because obviously he plays my husband.”

“So yes, it’s good fun. And when the three of us all get on set you know and I’m with Alak and Datak, we just have a ball.”

“In fact it’s funny because I don’t know whether it’s because we’re both from the UK but back home we have our own TV shows and sitcoms and funny little sayings and adverts that you grew up watching and you know the jingles from and when you go to another country you kind of lose a lot of those points of reference.”

“Whether it’s the biscuits that you had and you dipped in tea or whatever and I’d say that to an American and they’d look at me like I was potted. In fact it took me, I’ve been in the USA for six years now and now I’ve got really close friends, American friends here and often I’ll talk to them and I’ll use a turn of phrase like ‘Bob’s your uncle’ or I don’t know, ‘I’ll be out here’ and – silly little phrases that I say – and they’ll look at me like I’m mad and now they’ll tell me ‘I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.’”

“Where as you know I’ll say those things to Tony and he instantly knows what I’m talking about and he’ll come back with another silly phrase or another silly jingle or a funny accent from the north of England or whatever, we can – we’ll sometimes banter backwards and forwards and Julie Benz will walk into the makeup truck and she’ll be like ‘I have no idea what you people are talking about. I don’t know what you’re talking about. In fact I can’t even understand you’. So we have a way of a tone.”

Question: You’re going to be in a horror movie coming up, can you talk about that?

Jaime Murray: “Yes I went and shot Fright Night Two straight after I finished on Defiance and it was interesting actually. I started reading a lot about the vampire myth, and I was playing the vampire in Fright Night, and there’s a lot of kind of… Freudian analysis of the vampire myth because it’s a, it’s been a very popular myth for the last couple of hundred years.”

“And the more I read about it the more it reminded me of the Castithans you know they’re very narcissistic and they’re very self serving and they really kind of use other people for their own ends. And even the way she is with her own child, Alak, there’s something very vampiric about her. So hopefully when I come back this year I’ll use that to flesh her out even more.”

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