Aug 06, 2014 11:05 AM EST

An In-depth Conversation With The Cast of Lifetime's New Dystopian Show, The Lottery

An In-depth Conversation With The Cast of Lifetime's New Dystopian Show, The Lottery
On August 1, we had the privilege of participating in a press conference with two of the stars from Lifetime's dystopian suspense thriller drama, The Lottery.  Athena Karkanis (Chief of Staff Vanessa Keller) and Yul Vázquez (President Thomas Westwood) share some insight into their new show while avoiding any spoilers.  They were only slightly concerned about revealing too much about the storyline and upcoming events as they both pointed out that they, too, were very much in the dark as they often do not know the direction that their characters will take until they receive the next episode's script.
For those of you who have yet to delve into the sometimes confusing cornucopia of events that comprise The Lottery, the year is 2025 and five years since the last child was born.  Amid a global  crisis with humans facing extinction, and after years of research, fertility specialist Dr. Alison Lennon (Marley Shelton) and her team are able to fertilize 100 embryos.  The government takes control of the lab and "the monumental scientific breakthrough."  Avarice, control and ambition take over as the President (Vázquez) must determine how to proceed and decide just who will carry the prized embryos to term.  Enter Chief of Staff Vanessa Keller (Karkanis) who in an effort to further her aspirations and create "our moon landing," convinces the President to hold a national lottery to determine which women will be selected as surrogates.  As the events unfold, it is political interests and greed that drive the conflict and conspiracy surrounding a basic, now coveted, personal freedom…motherhood.
As it relates to the infertility issues of today, Athena reflects, "It really is a thing that a lot of women are dealing with.  And I think more so these days because women are waiting longer.  Women are pursuing careers and waiting longer to have children.  And just culturally, I think we've sort of are maybe growing up slower.  I don't know."  
Further adding, "…that is also a theme…of women who had pursued careers and then suddenly this infertility crisis hit, and they had no idea that would happen.  They sort of thought that it would always be there for them.  But it's also interesting in this time when we're also sort of facing and dealing with issues of overpopulation to kind of think of this, you know."
Athena also opened up about her character, Vanessa, a determined White House Chief of Staff who is "always kind of striving to be more.  It's sort of inferred in the pilot episode that she is maybe hoping to be president one day, and you sort of wonder if that's behind her motivations for pitching 'The Lottery'."  Still, she points to the "struggle with that choice and with the consequences, and [we] sort of see [the characters] coming up with alternatives on how to solve this." 
As for the possibility of Vanessa becoming pregnant whether for personal reasons or political gain, Athena clarifies that her character might likely be "the only woman in the world of this show who isn't desiring that." 
When later asked how her personal relationship with Nathan (J. August Richards) might serve as a catalyst she offers that it "definitely informs some of the decisions that she will make further on in the series.  I don't know if I would say that it brings out vulnerability, but almost the strengths.  I think it pushes her to be braver than she may be to take some risks that she maybe wouldn't have taken before.  It's…I mean I can't say too much because I don't want to give it away, but yes, that relationship is going to inform a lot of what she does in the coming episodes."
For his part, Yul shares that "it's interesting because there was a scene we shot in the pilot where it was exactly what you're describing that for some reason they chose to cut from the pilot because maybe it hit the story a little bit more.  But you saw a very vulnerable side to the President.  And that's just one of the things that was interesting to me."  He stresses, "it was important to me that they wrote to that effect, that they wrote that it wasn't just a guy standing there, giving speeches.  That it wasn't…that you saw the human side of this man." 
When pushed to elaborate on his relationship with the First Lady (Shelley Conn) and whether it serves as a catalyst to further drive him or show a vulnerable, sensitive side, Yul tells us, "I think that's starting to come out.  I mean some of the inner sanctum scenes in the White House with Vanessa and Darius (Martin Donovan)…you see the President…you see that he's emotional. That this guy has got stuff going on in there.  But I'm hoping that they bring more of what you just mentioned, which, unfortunately, they chose to take it out."
As far as the President's blindness to the military threat to keeping his political office, Yul clarifies that "he's not blind to anything.  He is behaving a particular way right now…It's the way that it's…there's something which I cannot tell you but that you know they're coming.  That will explain to you why he's behaving the way he's behaving and why it might seem to you that he's blind to the military situation."
Yul tells us that he does not, personally, see his character as a villain as "from an acting standpoint, you cannot ever think your character is the villain because then that's just acting…you can't operate from that…"  Athena jumps in to agree adding that "…the writers have done a really good job of not writing people who are clearly good or clearly bad, because real people aren't clearly good and clearly bad.  And, I mean even Darius who sort of seems like the bad guy, his motivations are…he thinks he's doing the best thing for the country and for the human race which is facing extinction.  So, I think everybody is kind of just doing what they think is best even if that sometimes means that someone is going to lose, or someone is going to get hurt.  But it's sort of, you kind of weigh out the pros and cons, and sometimes you have to make those choices as you do in life."
Both Athena and Yul shared their delight for scenes with Martin Donovan who plays Director of the U.S. Fertility Commission, Darius Hayes.  Athena points out that Vanessa and Darius "don't necessarily see eye to eye on a lot of issues…and I have described it as, we have a lot of scenes where it seems like we are playing a tennis match in the coming episodes which are wonderful and enjoyable to play as an actor…" Yul further reinforces the sentiment saying, "Darius is, you know, he's a great person to volley against…I mean for everyone, so, yes, you'll see it's going to get a little contentious."
There were common threads in their respective responses...
"We haven't seen that yet."
"We don't have the answer to that yet."
"The writers haven't told us yet.
After all, they, like us at home, must anxiously await from week to week until they receive the latest script.  Yul does tease with a few hints revealing only that what they've already shot is "really interesting and it's really gorgeous the way that that's been shot and laid out…the show will take us "into a magical world…that's all I can say about that, but yes, I think you, you know, I think it's going to go smooth and then it's going to go, 'oops, I spilled my drink'."
We'll just have to keep tuning into the intrigue to find out.
Athena Karkanis most recently played "Detective Dani Khalil" on the AMC series Low Winter Sun opposite Mark Strong.  Prior to that, she was already well known in her native Canada for her roles as the wunderkind languages specialist in the award-winning CBC drama The Border; the fastidious object of affection in the quirky single camera comedy Almost Heroes; and as the spoiled child star turned ivy leaguer in the popular dramedy The Best Years.
Karkanis recently appeared as a short-fused Parisian gangster in HBO's Transporter series. Other recent television appearances include Supernatural, The Firm, Lost Girl, Covert Affairs, Murdoch Mysteries, Republic of Doyle and The Listener.  Horror fans will know her from her well-loved performance as "Tomboy" in George Romero's Survival of the Dead and her recurring role as "Agent Perez" in the Saw franchise.  Karkanis' voice can be heard in countless cartoons and video games. She is classically trained in theatre and has appeared on stages in New York, Toronto, Montreal and regionally in the United States and Canada.  Karkanis has a degree in Political Science from McGill University, speaks seven languages, has traveled the world, studies belly dance and runs marathons.  She currently resides in Toronto. 
Yul Vázquez is an accomplished actor seamlessly moving between film, television and stage.  With over 40 film credits, he will next be seen in Kill the Messenger starring opposite Jeremy Renner and directed by Michael Cuesta.  Other upcoming projects include the DreamWorks animated feature B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations with Bill Murray and Seth Rogan; Anesthesia; and The Cobbler, opposite Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman and Steve Buscemi.  Vázquez's recent film credits include Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks; Rob the Mob, opposite Michael Pitt; Runner Runner starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake; Glass Chin with Billy Crudup; and The A Team opposite Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper. 
Vázquez has amassed numerous television credits.  He recently starred as "Victor Lazaro" on the Starz drama Magic City, opposite Jeffrey Dean Morgan.  Vázquez's other roles include "Christian" in The Good Wife, "Detective Anthony Nikolich" on HBO's Treme and "Pedro" on FX's Louie.  Over the years, he also had roles on some of television's most popular shows such as Seinfeld, Sex and the City and The Sopranos.
Vázquez was nominated for a Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award for his portrayal of "Cousin Julio" in the Broadway production of The Motherf **ker with the Hat opposite Chris Rock, Bobby Cannavale and Annabella Sciorra.  He is a founding member of the LAByrinth Theatre Company with additional credits including The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, The Stendhal Syndrome and The Floating Island Plays.  Vázquez resides in New York. 
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