Vagrant Queen Is the Diverse, Queer Show the Sci-Fi World Needs RN
'Vagrant Queen' Is the Diverse, Queer Show the Sci-Fi World Needs RN
PRIDE chatted with showrunner Jem Garrard about SYFY's latest action-packed, badass, and queer AF new series!
Adapted from writer Magdalene Vissagio (who we interviewed last year!) and artist Jason Smith's comic series of the same name, Vagrant Queen is making its debut on SYFY this weekend, and from the looks of the trailer alone, it's the diverse, queer science fiction series that so many fans have been waiting for!
PRIDE chatted with writer and series showrunner Jem Garrard about adapting Vagrant Queen from the pages of comics to the small screen, how the cast was brought together, and what it was like creating a show that was inclusive from the very beginning!
PRIDE: What was your introduction to the Vagrant Queen comic series? How did you come across it, what made you love it, and what was the thing that made you want to adapt it for a television series on SYFY?
Jem Garrard: I had been a Magdalene Visaggio fan for a while. I think every comic of hers is just packed with such fun, unique, and exciting stories and characters. I came across Vagrant Queen and had just done a project with Blue Ice Pictures and SYFY called Killer High. And so, we were looking at comics, we were looking at stories, and we all really liked Vagrant Queen. We hadn't seen anything done like that before. It's set against this sort of big, epic background. It's essentially a space opera, but about a very personal journey told against that backdrop. We were excited to tell this sort of more intimate story about this former queen going on a rescue mission, and it not being a story about necessarily good and evil, monarchy versus the revolution. It was just a very kind of more intimate story about this young woman trying to find her place in the world, and reconnect with her long-lost mother.
A woman trying to find her place in the world is still a very timely and relevant topic, especially now that more women are starting to get their time on screen, which is very good.
So, Magdalene Visaggio and Jason Smith have really created an amazing work of art with the original source material. What was it like to adapt that for TV? And were there any challenges you faced when it came to choosing what to include in the show versus what was in the comic and vice versa?
Yeah. Obviously, you want to make the best version possible. And so, when we started adapting this, there were only six issues. I wanted to use as much as possible. And then the challenge is, obviously, giving it life past those six issues. Like, what is this third season arc going to be? And then, obviously, giving the series life for future seasons that kind of surpass the comic book arc. So, we wanted to be true to the comics but make sure it had life past that as well. Since shooting, Vault has picked up Vagrant Queen for more issues, so that's going to be exciting to see what Mags and Jason bring to the new one, and what we can take and use from that in future seasons.
As a creative and a showrunner, who and what were some of your inspirations? And what kinds of shows, and movies, and comics, and other media were you watching when you were growing up?
I watched a lot of sci-fi and fantasy growing up. I grew up with The X-Files and Star Trek, and I was a huge Simpsons fan. But I've always been a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy. I would read a lot more, actually, than I would watch when I was younger. So, I was reading a lot of fantasy novels and Tolkien when I was young.
In the (writer's) room, a few references that we kept going back to when we were writing this were very, totally along the Guardians of the Galaxy line, and what Taika Waititi did for Thor: Ragnarok. Those totally seemed very fitting with the sort of fun, bright, irreverent tone we wanted to bring to Vagrant Queen.
That's exciting! And do you remember when the first time you ever saw yourself reflected on the screen or on the page was?
Well, no. I don't really remember that too much. I do know that there wasn't a lot for me growing up where I saw myself, you know? Your favorite characters were often male characters because those adventures were had by male characters. So, yeah. No. I can't actually remember the first time. It was more of a gradual thing that happened. So, the more you read, and the more comics I would read as well. And then, obviously, in the last few years, there's been a lot more interest in female characters, but I still think we have a long way to go.
A lot of the sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero comic genres are incredibly diverse in print, but it's still taking what seems like eons for it to actually reflect it screen and TV. So, what was it like to create a series that, from the get-go, was incredibly diverse from the beginning?
Oh, yeah. It was a dream project. And I'm so grateful to SYFY that they were fully supportive of all those divisions I wanted to make from the get-go.
This is a diverse show, but in the room, we'd always describe it as, "This is a galaxy without labels." So, while we have labels here, we wanted to write these characters that, when they exist in this world, this character happens to be queer, this character happens to be gay. It's not really ever spoken about. It's just a thing. And so, we kind of joke that, yeah, this galaxy doesn't have labels, but it's very important for us on earth to see it right now and to just know that it can be done. It was just such a freeing experience to be able to write these characters, and not have to worry about a network would say no to another diverse suggestion. SYFY just really allowed us to write what we wanted and who we wanted, and kind of put these characters in lead roles and give them adventures and stories that we just don't really get to see often, especially in this genre.
Well, that's amazing that you got that kind of support, especially since a lot of other networks and studios like to straight-wash stories. So, that's amazing.
Was it cool and inspiring to see all these LGBTQ+ characters and women go from the page to, in real life, on-screen? What was that feeling like?
It was exciting. One of the characters I created for the show that wasn't in the comics is one of our leads called Amae. And we decided early on that she would be gay, but we wanted to give her a lot of qualities that you don't see when you have a gay female character in sci-fi. It was actually pretty funny in the audition process, the amount of people that we had showing up playing this really hard, tough mechanic in a tank top. And here, we were like, "No, no, Amae is not a very typical character in any way." And so, it was really great working with Alex McGregor, who played Amae, and creating that character together because she was new. She was, out of Elida, Isaac, and Amae...we had a lot more to discover with her, and it was great watching her over the early days and weeks of the show, just really make that character her own.
And speaking a little bit about that, a diverse set of characters calls for a unique, diverse cast. Can you talk a little bit about the process of casting and working with all the obviously incredible actors who are set to star in the show?
Yes. We lucked out with our cast on this show. They're phenomenal. We were searching for Elida everywhere. We were holding auditions in the States, and Canada, and Europe, and obviously, locally. When I say locally, I mean in South Africa, where we shot. And yeah. We saw a lot of people. And it was sort of later in prep that Adriyan Rae's audition tape came in and we were blown away. She really managed to play the line of drama and comedy really well. And we got in touch, gave her some notes, gave her some new scenes, and as soon as we saw that tape again, we knew that we found Elida. She just became that character on set. It was hard to see her as Adriyan sometimes. She's just Elida.
I've been a fan of Tim Rozon from other shows, from Wynonna Earp and Schitt's Creek, and it's funny now when I watch those shows or when I see him play anything other than Isaac, it's bizarre because he was just the perfect Isaac. And then, our other lead, who plays our villain, Commander Lazaro, Paul du Toit, he is a local. He's a South African actor who just beat out everybody else that we were watching. He's just so exciting to watch. His performance, he's a scene-stealing, that guy. He sort of has an electric presence about him on screen. So, we were very excited when we found him. And then, you know, a lot of our other cast, we were really excited to cast. I think we had about 160 speaking roles who were South African. These are South African actors, and the talent pool there is just incredible.
And just to wrap things up, a lot of LGBTQ+ shows are either ending or getting canceled this year, and I know this is an exciting one because it's going to be a new one, and I can tell from the trailer that a lot of fans are going to flock to it. So, what message do you hope this show brings to both fans who are going to love the series and maybe even the other kind of fans who might be wary of this type of thing but who are going to give it a chance and look at it because there are so many people to look for and so many themes that are universal in it?
Yeah. I think that's a really good question. The biggest thing, I think, in terms of what I think people get from it, not just the LGBTQ+ community, but the wider community, is that this can be done. We can write these characters in these genres. I think, often, when you write gay characters that are especially not the lead, and it's often, them being gay is the point of their story. That's their arc. There's something to overcome there, or there's something that...it's often very much part of their narrative. We didn't want that to be the case with Vagrant Queen at all. It's just, "Hey, this happens to just be the case. And so, write these character the way you would any other character." Just to show that this can be done, and hopefully, enjoy it and want more. Hopefully, the takeaway is that other shows decide to write more characters like that.
Vagrant Queen premieres on SYFY tonight, March 27, at 10pm, with new episodes following every Friday!