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Interview: Kandyse McClure of ‘Ghost Wars’ Talks Power of Television

Erin Graham ’19 / Emertainment Monthly TV Editor

Emertainment Monthly: You’ve done a lot of sci-fi, paranormal, and thriller shows, and I was wondering if something sort of pulls you toward those roles, or if there’s something you love about those genres in particular.

Kandyse McClure: It’s funny, I don’t really watch horror films [laughs]…I guess that once you start down a particular path, you work with the same community over and over and it’s definitely where you gravitate to. In terms of the characters, obviously over the course of my career things have changed. We’re seeing more diversity on television. It’s such a hot topic lately. But back then it was a lot less mainstream. The fact that I’m in an interracial couple, or I hold a certain position, or I’m seen in a certain way, was kind of less of a big deal in genre television then than in a lot of mainstream. I appreciated the kinds of characters that I could play: they weren’t just roles—i.e. the girlfriend, the sassy best friend—that were so predominated by my look and less about the quality of my work, or what was interesting about the role. So I really find the sci-fi genre to be a lot more expansive and it brings up a lot more opportunities.

EM: Would you ever consider writing, or being a director, in any sense? Or is it acting that has really drawn you in?

KM: You know, I never intended to be an actor, there’s a funny story about it. When you look back at it, all of my family would say, “Of course you were gonna be an actor, you were putting on stage shows for the neighborhood since you were five years old.” Growing up in South Africa, in a regular, middle class neighborhood, it just wasn’t a consideration. Every day that I come to set, I just pinch myself. I took some time off recently, some personal time, I moved away and started looking at where else my interests lay. I do a bit of directing on a really small scale…it’s less for me, definitely not something that floats my boat! But writing and producing, absolutely. I’ve always written. I have journals and books, all kinds of stuff. I don’t know if I have the courage yet to let anybody really read it. My mom’s a writer, she’s the same way. And producing, I love it. I love the problem-solving aspect of it, and bringing all these departments and ideas together. You’re kind of the ‘behind the scenes’ and you take something from being a dream and then one day everybody’s standing around in a location somewhere and it’s happening and it’s there and it’s right in front of you. It’s a great alchemy. It’s pretty magic.

EM: Your new show ‘Ghost Wars’ is about a kid that’s battling prejudices and his own personal demons. Is it difficult to strike a balance between this paranormal narrative and maintaining the more human parts of your character and the narrative?

 KM: For me it always starts with the emotionality, what the human would do. [My character] Landis Barker is a theoretical physicist. I am not a theoretical physicist, nor am I going to learn to be one in two weeks [laughs]. It’s the writer’s job to make me sound really smart, and it’s my job to figure out how she’s reacting in her environment, what’s going on with her as a person that’s relatable. What’s great about this show is that it’s written from this very…human kind of place, searching for answers, what that really means for each character when you run up against things that you don’t understand or scare you or challenge you. It’s a great gift in that way. When we’re shooting, they don’t make it about the green screen…no cardboard cut-outs of ghosts we’re supposed to react to [laughs]. They really keep things as grounded for us as possible. We always have a person in the situation to react to, and it’s less about imaginary things floating by. All that magic happens after we’re done.

Kandyse McClure as Landis Baker in SyFy’s new show ‘Ghost Wars’. Photo courtesy of SyFy.

EM: There’s a variety of movies that you’ve starred in over the years. Do you approach film roles different than you approach TV roles?

KM: In TV, you have to be really self-responsible—I mean, you always have to be self-responsible—but in television you go onto set knowing you’re not going to get a lot of time, there’s probably not going to be many rehearsals, the director’s being pulled in a lot of different directions and is not always going to have the time to talk through things with you. It’s also very fast moving, very fast paced. I’ll do as much prep as I can beforehand, talk to directors and producers and other cast members and do my own coaching. I have a framework, an idea that I can work from once I get there, ideas in my pocket. If this doesn’t work, let’s try that. Be a lot more solution-oriented. It’s all about the prep, when you get there on the day: whatever happens, happens. Be there with the other people. With film, you get a lot more time. There’s generally the rehearsal process beforehand, directors are on hand to have meandering, esoteric conversations with you about character and motivation. What I like about television is that you have a much longer arc to tell the story. There’s a lot more room for breath in certain things. You have the time to kind of weave in layers or aspects. They’re both positive things. It’s also great about film that it’s so project based.  That there’s a beginning, middle, and end. You shoot less in a day but it’s more intense…the physicality of it changes as well, if you’re thinking about how you’re living inside the frame. There’s positives, I think, to both.

EM: You got back from San Diego Comic Con recently, and you’ve attended these conventions in the past. Do you enjoy these conventions, and what’s it like to be able to directly interact with a passionate group of fans?

KM: I learn so much from the fans, it’s crazy. Passionate is an understatement. Highly informed. I remember, even on the show I did previously, we’d go to these conventions and we’d have fans tell us about ourselves and our characters, how they related to them, and how they saw them interacting with other characters in a way that would always astonish me. I would learn so much. I think it’s really important to connect with who’s on the receiving end of the work you’re doing. It’s not like stage where your audience is immediate and present and you can get that feedback, that connection to them right away. We’re in the studio, it’s all very disconnected. Those conventions, those moments, are the time where you can see and hear and feel what you’re really doing, what the real impact is, and how it’s affecting people. You know, we may not be curing cancer. But I’ve been in this business long enough to know the power of film and television and entertainment, to get people through hard times, to help them understand new perspectives, to help them challenge long held beliefs about themselves or other people. I’ve heard it bring families together, to cross cultural grounds, to people who are in dark and lonely places, finding solace and finding a way out through their favorite shows. And I believe in the power of that.

The ‘Ghost Wars’ cast at SDCC. Photo courtesy of Horror News Network.

EM: Do you have an ideal project that you’d like to work on or create, especially in today’s time, with a push for diversity? Anything you’d like to see, or be in, or be a part of?

KM: Here in Canada we have a long running series called Heritage Minutes. They highlight an aspect of significant Canadian history. I learned about this woman named Viola Desmond, who was—we don’t really like this comparison, but it is the most apt and descriptive—but she was essentially Rosa Parks nine years before Rosa Parks sat on that bus. Viola Desmond sat in a movie theater. And I played her for the Heritage Minutes and it was a really significant moment for me.

EM: Would you be interested in starring in more biopics?

KM: It is mostly what I gravitate to. What was I asked the other day…if I could play any historical figure, who would it be? Eartha Kitt! Eartha Kitt, Josephine Baker, Viola…I’m from South Africa. There’s a long history of people, mixed race people, that you don’t often get to see in new and interesting ways on television. In South Africa and abroad, I think that’s a universal story. I think it has the potential for a cross-ver, and I think there are so many stories in South Africa, within that community, that we don’t get to hear about that I would love to see more of.

You can catch Kandyse McClure in her new show Ghost Wars, which is set to come out in October. Watch the trailer for the show here. 

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