“I’ve been reading film scripts for over 30 years,” says Helix star Billy Campbell, “and I could probably count on my hands and feet all the truly, truly great scripts I’ve read. The rest are, to various degrees, garbage.”
Campbell, a veteran of big screen features like The Rocketeer and Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, says, “the hour-and-a-half format of telling a story is unnatural. You either have to do like they do in Bollywood movies and have a four-hour movie tell a story or do like European films do. They tell small, intimate human stories. Moments in people’s lives. That’s more appropriate to the format.”
That opinion may explain why he’s been spending more and more time on the small screen on shows like Once and Once Again, The O.C. and The Killing.
His latest project, the sci-fi series Helix debuts on Showcase on Friday. Produced by Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore, its sprawling story of a deadly disease outbreak couldn’t fit into a 90-minute film.
“Television is a place where you can tell a great story,” he says. “You have the time. AMC coined the phrase, Slow Burn Storytelling. You have the time to develop characters, develop storylines in a way that is not artificial. Or doesn’t seem to be artificial.”
The pilot script for the Montreal-shot series appealed to the ruggedly handsome actor because he’s a fan of science fiction, horror and speculative fiction.
“When I read the pilot script the first thing that popped into my head was The Andromeda Strain, then John Carpenter’s The Thing and a little bit of Walking Dead popped in there as well. We don’t have zombies. I think what we have is a great deal scarier than zombies. What we have are living human beings, terribly infected, who have a pathological compulsion to infect others.”
He describes the show as “intense, but still an escape.” But an escape from what?
“There seems to be an obsession with not just speculative fiction but stuff that is not our real life. I couldn’t say why, except to think that perhaps we’re so unhappy with our present lives. We might need to get away. Some people like to escape by being scared.”
As an actor on the show he says the most exciting part of the process is “to come to work and try to do the next outlandish thing they’ve written. That’s exciting.”