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TV series Poltergeist: the Legacy
HELEN SHAVER is a frequent visitor to the land of the unknown. She played Martin Sheen's girlfriend in the voodoo chiller The Believers; the mother of a teenage witch in the recently released thriller The Craft; and Beau Bridges' wife in The Sandkings, the pilot of the award winning The Outer Limits. Now, she's signed up with an ancient organization dedicated to combating the forces of Darkness in Showtime's syndicated series, Poltergeist: The Legacy.
In the weekly series, produced by Trilogy Entertainment, the company responsible for The Outer Limits, the Canadian born actress plays widowed psychiatrist Rachel Corrigan, who first comes into contact with the organization headed up by Derek Rayne (Derek De Lint), and comprising of Nick Boyle (Martin Cummins), Philip Callahan, (Patrick Fitzgerald), and Alexandra Moreau (Robbie Chong) when she and her psychic daughter Katherine (Alexandra Purvis) come into contact with a demon inhabited sepulcher. The demon escapes, appears to Rachel in the form of her dearly departed husband and plants its seed inside her belly.
"I wanted the audience to be seduced right along with Rachel even they know that she is being seduced by an occult being," recalls Shaver, whose many other credits include starring roles in The Osterman Weekend, The Color of Money and Tremors II: Aftershocks. "Initially, Rachel is entranced, enchanted and enthralled as the demon kisses her on the neck, but when it impregnates her she screams bloody murder something that creates a terrific combination of terror and suspense."
In a later scene, Rachel gives birth to the demon's offspring a tension filled moment which proved to be especially challenging for the actress.
"The script said three words, 'Rachel gives birth,' but that's like saying 'Germany invades Poland' because it's a little bit vague," she recalls, "so I sat down with [series creator] Richard Lewis and [director] Stuart Gillard to determine how we were going to do this. Obviously, we wanted to keep it pretty spectacular, so, after many discussions, we decided that my character would be pulled along the floor, up the walls and across the ceiling by this demonic force.
"They used a stuntwoman for a shot where I get slammed against the wall, but I was pulled around on a harness and skateboard for everything else. They don't tell you ahead of time, but when you wear a harness you've still got all your weight pressing down against leather straps, which are on your shoulder. Between that and the screaming which comes out of my mouth when the demon baby emerges from my stomach, I was pretty damn stiff and exhausted the next day."
When it comes to the character's background, meanwhile, Shaver says Rachel's personal history is far from happy.
"In the episode Revelations, we discover that Rachel's grandfather sacrificed his two daughters to the forces of Darkness in return for power," she says. "We also learn that Derek's father, who was also a member of The Legacy, accidentally killed my mother when he discovered that she had ties to my grandfather.
"During her college years, Rachel got heavily into sex, drugs and rock and roll in college in an attempt to drown any remaining memories of her childhood," Shaver continues. "Later, she met her husband, fell in love, went back to college, became a psychiatrist and enjoyed a good marriage. Then, her husband and son were killed in a road accident. As a drug addict, alcoholic, psychiatrist and mother she has now developed an insight into humanity and struggles with the acceptance of this world, while acknowledging that she is supposed to be fighting the forces of darkness along-side The Legacy."
The actress believes that her character's decision to join The Legacy stems from her sense of courage even though the average Jane or John Doe would undoubtedly end up as a permanent resident of the local funny farm as a result of the type of supernatural encounters endured by Rachel and other Legacy members.
"I suspect that she's the type of woman who cries in the privacy of her own room, kneels down to pray like a little child and fantasizes about travelling to a place where no one knows her," she says. "But, on a daily basis, she shows a tremendous amount of ballsiness especially in the episode Town Without Pity."
Written by Robert Masello, Town Without Pity finds Rachel and Nick prisoners of a secret Amish-like community headed up by the evil Reverend Hawking a man who has kept the souls of his followers in limbo since the days of the Great Plague.
"During a sequence where she's about to be burned at the stake, she looks at this guy and says 'what terrible thing have you done that's going to make these people pay?' That's a marriage of intelligence, guts and the ability to speak the truth."
However, Rachel discovers that strength and courage are not enough to keep her from being possessed by the spirit of her dead aunt, a woman who was more than familiar with the Black Arts, in the episode The Inheritance. This time she journeys to the deep South after learning that she is the sole beneficiary to her aunt's house.
"When my aunt's lover died, she kept his corpse and made a broach out of his bones," Shaver says. "So when she willed the house to Rachel, she was actually setting a trap because she intended to take over Rachel's body and transform Rachel's daughter into a child of Darkness. As an actress, it was a wonderful piece of theater because I was able to slowly start seeding in little aspects of that character and eventually become this demented Southern woman. Initially, little traces of Southern dialect creep into my voice, but as the aunt's spirit exerts her hold on Rachel's body, she finds herself playing this strange and haunting little ditty on a piano, while oozing Southern charm, sexuality and power. By the end of the episode, as I'm slamming my daughter's head up and down on the bed. I'm screaming about how I finally had the family that I had always wanted. It's a terrific episode."
Aside from being possessed by the Southern spirits. Shaver recently helped to evoke a demon when she recently directed the Poltergeist story The Bones of St Anthony.
"St. Anthony, who lived in the year 300 AD, started an order of cloistered monks and nuns in Egypt. According to legend, he spent many days fasting in the desert and slew a demon after the creature tried to tempt him into the world of Darkness. Now, a scientist has recovered a piece of the demon's horn and is trying to clone the creature but things go out of control when it escapes from an incubation chamber."
Though a rod puppet was used for the episode's grand finale, Shaver, who was working with costly and time consuming anirnatronics, found herself initiating challenging and creative techniques and strategies to bring the demon to life for the episode's earlier scenes.
"I made the demon real through a combination of sound, fast moving creature POV shots, people's reactions and glimpses of the thing's claw and tail," she recalls. "When the full demon finally appears on camera, it stands about four feet tall and possesses three horns, while its head is colored green, yellow and very slimy brown. In addition, it has an extremely long tail, its backlegs are bigger and stronger than its front legs and its feet are enhanced by long clawlike talons."
Conjuring up a demon was only a cornerstone of Shaver's responsibilities. The actress is quick to point out that directing and acting in the same episode was not exactly the easiest chore in the supernatural world.
"When I'm simply acting, the makeup people obviously make sure that I look nice, but that doesn't happen in ten minutes because my hair needs to be set correctly and my face has to be powdered up so make-up is obviously one of my primary concerns. As an actress and director, however, makeup was just a tiny part of the overall process because I was also concerned with scene structure and the amount of time needed to shoot certain things. Similarly, when I'm acting I can slip into the moment when they roll the cameras, regardless of whether the script, director and lighting is good or bad, but, as a director, that ability completely eluded me because the analytical portion of my mind was very busy and preoccupied with the production.
"When I looked at the dailies I thought 'Oh my God, cut around me, I look terrible!' I mean, my nose was shining and my clothes were wrinkled, so it appeared as though Rachel had a lot of things on her mind and was overly concerned with these bones. I laughed because it was a terrific learning experience."
In the meantime. Shaver believes the show is striking a positive note with the audience thanks to the mass of fan mail which the actress constantly receives.
"I get a lot of mail from people who seem to know a lot about the supernatural. One guy seemed to think that The Legacy was based on an Irish institution which studies all forms of Western mysteries, while other people will ask all kinds of questions about the paranormal. However, I'm not going to get into a major dialogue with people through the mail because I just don't have time for that. Instead, I send a picture of myself and a little note acknowledging their interest."
In many of the letters fans are curious to learn Shaver's own views about the world of the supernatural. While she has not yet encountered vengeful ghosts, demons or any of the many other evil spirits which crop up in Poltergeist: The Legacy, she believes that everyone has experienced some form of paranormal experience at one time or another.
"Like many people, I've known who's calling before I've even picked up the phone. On one occasion I ran into a friend who I hadn't see in a long time. When I gave her a hug and kiss I said 'Oh my God, you're pregnant.' She looked at me like I was crazy, but a few weeks later she called me to say that she was pregnant. That's something which will always stick out in my mind."
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