SDCC 2018: Cast & Executive Producers Talk New SyFy Space Thriller ‘Nightflyers’

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Based on the novella by George R.R. Martin, Syfy’s new psychological space thriller Nightflyers promises an intense blend of science fiction and horror. Set in 2093, the adaptation follows a group of scientists who embark on a journey to find alien life on the fringes of our solar system. But aboard their ship The Nightflyer, the mission soon begins to unravel as horrific events threaten to shatter the crew. While the series was adapted for Syfy by Jeff Buhler, Martin will serve as executive producer of Nightflyers, which teases Game of Thrones-esque gore and terrifying sequences set against the backdrop of space.

Syfy unleashed Nightflyers at San Diego Comic Con, treating audiences to a violent teaser. We sat down with executive producers David Bartis and Gene Klein to get the scoop on this horrifying, bloody cosmic adventure. On what attracted him to the project, Klein praised Jeff Buhler’s adaptation for television. “How unique it is. […] Jeff brought a really authentic, unique vision to an already interesting piece of material. We talked about adding a layer of honesty to the craziness.”

Bartis agreed. “It was such great storytelling. We’re character driven…we’ve never done horror before; we’ve done scifi. We approach this from as much of a character place as possible, and I think that’s one of the things that made it feel different.”

The teaser revealed the place the characters are in following certain events on the ship, but Nightflyers will backpedal, laying out just how everyone’s arrived to this point over 10 episodes.

“The first season follows the arc of the novella. We set up and end the show so that it can go further, but we really follow the template [Martin] laid out in the book,” Bartis said. “The book’s only 100 pages, so it’s not Game of Thrones where there’s multiple books and hundreds of pages, so it’s basically a launching point.”

Both Klein and Bartis were adamant about maintaining the spirit of the source material. The entire premise of Nightflyers is first contact. And while there’s mentions of alien contact and alien species in the novella, they thought it would be more dramatic to approach it as if this is the very first contact with alien life.

“No one’s ever seen an alien species before,” Bartis said.

“Well, our characters haven’t,” Klein countered, laughing.

Nightflyers is considered a space thriller, taking inspiration from such films as Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it was pitched partly as “The Shining in space.”

“We’ve rubbed up against all of them, but hopefully we’re defining our own world,” Klein said.

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Viewers should prepare themselves for the the horror that awaits aboard The Nightflyer—the show boasts plenty of psychological creepiness on top of more graphic horror.

Bartis explained, “It’s visceral. There are some jump scares in the show, but I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘jump scare show.’ We tend to rely more on feeling dread for the characters.”

Expect a lot of character death, in Martin’s usual style. “We knew doing this show that there’d be fans of Game of Thrones who would expect that. And we felt there was an obligation to deliver on that,” Bartis said.

“When we hurt characters we make it characters we’ve invested in,” Klein clarified.

Some of the cast of Nightflyers also took time to speak with us about their characters and the core themes of the series. Gretchen Mol (Boardwalk Empire), who plays Dr. Agatha Matheson, found herself intrigued by her character’s brutal journey. She wondered just how Agatha’s character arc played out. “In the first 10 pages of the script, I was sold. I wanted to just do the things she did, and I was really curious about how she got there. […] I was just fascinated with this woman,” Mol said. “Hopefully you will be too.”

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Mol and her cast mate David Ajala (Fast & Furious 6), who portrays Roy Eris, riffed about the perils of acting within the scifi genre, joking around about the difficulties of holograms. Ajala’s character communicates entirely via hologram, which presents some unique emotional and physical challenges for both the actors and the characters themselves. It’s also a struggle for the actors to keep major plot details a secret, but they had fun trying to work around it to give us as much as they could.

“It’s a level of suspension of disbelief,” Mol offered, referring to the world building in Nightflyers. “Once you’re given that information you have to accept it within the rules of the world. It just is.”

Jodie Turner-Smith (The Last Ship) was eager to work on Nightflyers as Melantha Jhirl. “I was excited to play someone as interesting as Melantha. The fact that it was something George R.R. Martin was a huge draw, because obviously I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones. And then the biggest thing for me was when I read that first script. I read the teaser and I was like…wow. I love the writing, the characters; the fact that it’s coming from such great source material.”

Turner-Smith dug into Melantha’s backstory a bit, explaining her arc as someone who’s genetically super. Her entire future has been planned for her, and she’s trained her whole life for this specific mission. So, what is it like for someone not able to choose their own destiny? “On paper, yes, she’s genetically perfect, but she’s still human,” Turner-Smith said. “How do I find the humanity? What are the ways in which she’s not perfect?”

“I think that’s why the show is going to work. There’s very specific journeys for these characters,” Eoin Macken (The Night Shift), who plays Karl D’Branin, agreed. “And the question is, what do you need to sacrifice?”

The theme of sacrifice is woven into the central plot of the show—both personal sacrifice and sacrifice for the greater good. D’Branin is obsessed with finding alien life, and he’s hoping they can help save the world. Macken explained that there’s a very personal reason for D’Branin’s search, but his own goals could cause a rift within the group and put other lives in mortal danger. There are incredibly high stakes, and the characters have to consider what exactly their goals may cost them.


Their mission also pits science against a leap of faith. Macken further explains that the audience will get the gist of their mission and why they’re looking for alien life in flashbacks, but the characters don’t really know what the aliens could be capable of. Are they able to help at all? Are they good or bad? They’re running on theories without much solid evidence, and that’s bound to create conflict.

“We have no idea what we’re flying into,” Turner-Smith added. “But we have this radical belief in his vision of the world. That this technology, this alien technology will help humanity survive.”

The characters’ own fears also add to the drama and thematic elements. “This sort of claustrophobic cabin fever,” Turner-Smith teased. “What’s really more harmful to us as humans? Is it really what’s outside of us or is it us?”

Nightflyers has plans to expand beyond its first season based on the reception from audiences. There’s plenty of potential for it to continue past the events of the novella, and as the first season closes, viewers will understand all of the different directions it could go. There isn’t a specific release date yet, but Nightflyers is expected to premiere this fall on Syfy.