The Cast of The Ark on the Sci-Fi Show’s Characters and Secrets

Feb 3, 2023

Adding the words “… in space” to the end of any title creates immediate sci-fi imagery that’s usually pretty interesting, if easy. It’s a good descriptive tool for recommending and reviewing certain shows and films. For the new original Syfy series The Ark, one can imagine The West Wing in space — a group of people, stranded in space, try and make important democratic decisions for the crew, all while walking and talking in a very Aaron Sorkin way. Or perhaps one could think of J.J. Abrams’ Lost in space (no pun intended) — after a breach of the hull, a group of people try to survive while maintaining the artifice of their secrets.

Finally, there’s the Don Draper of space — Lt. Sharon Garnet is a commanding presence who takes charge when everything goes wrong and all the commanding officers are killed, trying to outrun her secrets and past all the while. Garnet (Christie Burke) is the first to wake up from cryo-sleep when the spaceship, which was sent to find hospitable life as 22nd century Earth suffers a fate wrought by climate change, war, and industrialization. The ship is badly damaged, and the Lieutenant wrangles up the remaining higher-ranking officers and some young whiz kids to try and survive their aimless drift throughout the cosmos.

The Ark has a large ensemble cast that bounces off each other in the claustrophobic confines of the titular ship. Richard Fleeshman, Christina Wolfe, Reece Ritchie, Stacey Read, Shalini Peiris, and Ryan Adams star alongside Burke as various members of this forsaken crew. The cast spoke with MovieWeb about The Ark, their secretive characters, and the surprising trajectory of the show.

Christie Burke as Lt. Sharon Garnet

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Garnet is the first character we see in The Ark, and though the show doesn’t have a strict protagonist, The Ark establishes an audience connection with her, something which is complicated by the fact that her story is unreliable. “Jonathan Glassner and Dean Devlin and the writing crew really did an amazing job at allowing that kind of complexity with her,” said Burke. Glassner (Stargate SG-1, The Outer Limits) and Devlin (Independence Day, Godzilla) created The Ark, and imbue it with the same passion for sci-fi and ambiguous characters found in much of their work. Burke continued:

For me, what was always so important whenever I would talk to Dean or Jonathan about Garnet, was that she wasn’t a saint. Yes, she decides to take charge even though she doesn’t really want to take charge, but we have to see her be relatable in the sense that she does fail at it, and she’s not always great at that, and she’s not always right. And that was really important to me. I think with any character who holds their cards close, who doesn’t really say too much, and who is always thinking, they’re naturally suspicious. Whether she really is suspicious and there’s more to her than meets the eye — you’ve got to watch the show.

Stacey Read as Alicia Nevins

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Read plays Alicia Nevins, one of the characters who begin the show as undervalued underlings, but whose intelligence and abilities are discovered and tapped into when things go wrong. “Alicia, as a character, she’s fantastic,” gushed Read. “I absolutely love her. I love how she starts off in this place where she is in waste management, she knows that she’s very intelligent, but in her brain, she’s just like, ‘Oh, whenever people need me, if I can help out any way, then I’ll provide that service. But you can tell she’s very socially awkward as well. She’s very afraid to push any buttons at first, but I really love how she grows more confident as the series goes on.”

Ryan Adams as Angus Medford

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Adams plays a similarly awkward young person as Read, a kind of dorky young adult who hid some soil from Earth as a stowaway and uses his botanical intelligence to try and grow food. If the ship wasn’t in constant crisis mode, Alicia and Angus would probably never be discovered as the geniuses they are. In a way, the ship’s damage both endangers and liberates them.

Related: The Ark Review: Syfy Spaceship Drama Navigates an Enticing Mystery

“I mean, there are no positives to the danger that they get in each episode, but if there was a slight one, it would be experience,” said Adams. “And what Angus and Alicia need is experience, because they are nowhere near as used to this kind of danger as Garnet, Lane, and Brice. So what is great is with every obstacle they encounter, if they’re able to overcome it then they’ve been growing as a person. And with every episode, we do see them grow, until the later episodes in the show, we start to see slightly different versions of these characters. They’ve grown, they’ve grown up, and they’ve really come into themselves and become more confident.”

Christina Wolfe as Cat Brandice

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Cat is another character who is forced to become the best version of herself, despite being an exceedingly superficial celebrity influencer. When garnet recognizes her social skills, she appoints her as the head of mental health on the ship, and the task seems to push Cat into becoming a less selfish person (or at least use her powers of manipulation for good). “It’ll be difficult to talk about it in detail without giving away spoilers, but she very quickly needs to find a way to pull her weight, because from episode two she’s told that if she doesn’t do this, then she’s going to be put on waste management,” explained Wolfe. She continued:

So she’s like, “Okay. I’m going to do my best.” But the cool thing about Cat is that somehow, even though it kind of appears quite effortless, she’s quite good at her job. She’s a good reader of people, even though she’s not qualified. She doesn’t come to it from an intellectual way. She is a master manipulator, and because of that, she understands people and she ends up actually being quite good at her job. So I thought it was really an interesting way to write a character, that on the outside, she appears like she would fail. But actually she ends up being quite an asset in a way and finds her own power.

Shalini Peiris as Dr. Sanjivni Kabir

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Dr. Kabir is arguably more competent than most of the crew, though she is horribly overwhelmed as a result of it. A medical expert forced to treat and care for a crew of tired, weak people, Kabir cares about the ship to the point of personal exhaustion. “I think I instantly connected with her,” said Peiris. “I think she is a person who operates very much from her heart and genuinely cares about people. And that shows in her work. I can imagine her being the kind of kid who would have grown up always wanting to be a doctor, or to do something that would be helping people. She’s thrown in the deep end right from the very beginning.”

Peiris highlighted a fascinating facet of The Ark, something that the show does just as well as a series like The Bear — the honest depiction of stress in a high-intensity environment. “What was really interesting is kind of having come through this recent pandemic, and then seeing the enormous pressure on healthcare professionals around the world,” added Peiris. “Just the weight of that responsibility is more than I can imagine, being a doctor in life, in like a war zone or emergency, where the stakes are so incredibly high.

Reece Ritchie as Lt. Spencer Lane

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Lane is another highly competent and professional crew member, and perhaps a bit envious that Garnet has sort of taken over command. He’s suspicious of her, frequently butting heads with her decisions. “I’ve got to give credit to Dean Devlin and Jonathan Glassner, because they have set these characters up, and you’re meant to buy into what you think they are,” said Ritchie. “That’s the whole idea. Then gradually, piece by piece, they described each of them as their own specific onion, the layers just keep getting peeled back, and suddenly you end up with an apple or a banana, and you’re not quite sure how. So with Lane, he is set up as this kind of stoic, pragmatic, logical guy, but actually, throughout the season, things start to change slightly.”

Secrets and Lies on The Ark

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Devlin and Glassner created a collaborative, interesting environment on set, not only allowing a good deal of freedom but also changing things up in unique ways. “Each of us were given a secret,” explained Ritchie, “we were taken into the office, and we were given a secret to bear under the dead of night and not to divulge to each other or to anyone else. And that, I think, really gave us something on the screen because it allows you to really invest in the given circumstances of these characters, in the knowledge that they will eventually kind of evolve into something else. So yeah, he does start off, I think, rightly suspicious of Garnet and her plans, because they might die at any moment if one wrong move is made. But I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“We don’t make you wait that long,” joked Fleeshman. “We don’t do like a Lost trajectory, of where we never actually find out what the hell the secrets were. Certainly this first layer is very much revealed about all of our characters by the end of the series.”

Related: Exclusive: Dean Devlin and Jonathan Glassner on Their Tense New Sci-Fi Series The Ark

“There were a lot of questions I still had about Garnet that were never answered,” added Burke. “So I feel like the audience is in for a treat, because if we hopefully do get a second season, I just feel like there’s still more to it that we don’t know the answers to.

“That’s what’s so good about these guys,” said Ritchie. “They think in so many layers simultaneously, like things that you didn’t think were relevant suddenly become the centerpiece of a character or a situation. Things that you thought were definitely going to be the main danger, they just kind of fade into the background, maybe to return in another season, maybe not.”

How Devlin and Glassner Worked with the Cast

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“So just subsequently after we would finish filming,” explained Fleeshman, “they were watching the daily rosters, and they would like to have phone calls and say, ‘Did you see that moment that just happened between Reece and Christie? Did you see that thing between, like, Brice and Lane?’ They were writing in real time, and so something we’d have done in episode three that sparked an idea might have appeared in episode nine as a starting point. That was very exciting, because it’s in the moment. That’s how they were. They were sparking ideas.”

“They also gave us license to kind of add our own little touches to things,” added Ritchie. “It’s really difficult to create a show that has to move and build so quickly, but also allow your actors to have a little bit of artistic freedom, which I really respect about them.

“What was such a lovely surprise was,” said Wolfe, “I think at the beginning, I was quite intimidated by the thought of doing a sci-fi show with such powerhouses of sci-fi. But they are such genuine collaborators and genuinely, I think everybody was so perfectly cast, and that’s because they really knew these characters, but they also really could read us so well. And so that dialogue was there from the very beginning.”

“I think fans are really going to enjoy just seeing where these characters go and just sticking with them in every episode,” concluded Adams, and hopefully audiences agree. The Ark is produced by Electric Entertainment, Balkanic Media, and PFI Studios, with the first of 12 episodes airing February 1, 10 pm EST on the Syfy channel.

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