Torchwood: Meet Esther

Exclusive chat with Alexa Havins, who plays Esther Drummond, the naive CIA agent with ambitions

With Torchwood getting its UK premiere on BBC1 at 9pm tomorrow night (Thursday) SFX has an exclusive chat with Alexa Havins, who plays deskbound CIA agent Esther Drummond. Esther has dreams of getting out into the field, but you should be careful what you wish for… you might end up becoming part of Captain Jack Harkness’s dangerous world.

You can read more of this interview in the next issue of SFX (#213) out at the end of July.

Did you go back and rewatch the previous series of Torchwood for research?

“I watched some, more because I wanted to make sure I understood the sense and the feeling of the show – the pacing, the banter, the sprinkling of you’re in an extreme circumstance but there’s some dark humour. I just wanted to make sure I had the feel and overall tone of the show. But I didn’t want to get too crazy about watching and watching and watching, just because I thought the character I was playing, Esther, it’s okay for her not to know all this. She’s not in the know, she doesn’t know what Torchwood is, and I think with her being naive and myself not being so well-versed in it played in my favour.”

Did the fact it’s a co-production between Starz and the BBC make it feel different to what you’d worked on before?

“If it had been this whole revamp and recasting and finding the American Captain Jack it would have just been ludicrous, It would have been laughable and lost. I really was most intrigued and drawn to it because it wasn’t a remake, that it’s a continuation, it’s your same two heroes and they just happen to pick up some American souvenirs along the way. I’d be like, ‘I’m your American tour guide; Torchwood’s American tour guide.’ I’m always with the new viewer, like you want to know who Captain Jack is? So does Esther, so I’m going to find out. Come with me into the world of Torchwood. It’s nice, it always feels like I’m the eyes of the new viewer. I was so honoured that I was along the lines of Gwen, how she was introduced. Esther’s not the level of badass that Gwen is; she’s her own self, and she’s naive, but I feel like that makes her enduring. John and Eve and Mekhi, they had these characters that are very strong and focused, and then there’s Esther who’s finding herself. She has this big journey of finding herself from start to finish, a personal journey and a professional journey. She’s ripped away from her desk and thrust into the world of Torchwood on the run.”

Did you get to shoot much action?

“I did, a little bit. I kind of liked it a little too much. I was hungry for more, I loved it. I was a little bit of a tomboy growing up. My mom was like, ‘You’d be the scrappiest one in all the sports – like sliding into home play – but you’d have pink ribbons in your hair.’ So I’ve always been dancing this fine line of being athletic and loving… I so enjoyed doing all the fights. There’s great stunts: high falls and fire and guns… You name it… Eve’s character has a rocket launcher a bazooka or something, something badass level that she is…”

But Gwen wasn’t like that to start off with… You’ve got time to catch up!

“You’re right. She found herself, she started as a little beat cop but she caught on and gives the men a run for their money. It’s such a fun character for her. I love Eve.”

You have a pretty big stunt in the first episode…

“I do, yes. It was pretty much baptism by fire. ‘Hey welcome, and we’re doing this huge stunt and you’re going through this glass window and you’re landing in a fountain.’ They didn’t let us do the high fall, but I did end up in the arms of Captain Jack, so I think I probably made plenty of people jealous.”

As a newbie, did you feel welcomed into the Torchwood family?

“Absolutely. I think the reason for that was John and Eve and Russell and Julie. From the first second… Voicemails calling me, warm, welcoming, like genuinely excited to have me a part of their production. And John and Eve set just a standard on set of just kind of friendly and fun. This is what we do for a living, but we have fun. I always say we get paid to play. John’s always dancing and breaking out in song, and making all of the entire crew roar with laughter and Eve is just focused and so brilliant on set, but fun. And they literally welcomed us with open arms. I think that was what made the difference.”

You didn’t get to go to Wales, did you?

“No. I’m a little part Welsh, so that’s why I’m really hoping we can do a promotion there. If not I’ve told Eve that she’s going to have a guest in the Fall.”

How did you get on with the Welsh accents?

“I love it. How can you not love it? It’s warm and it’s inviting, and, oh my goodness, anything that reminds me of Eve is a positive thing. We had a good time together on set. We were like two little schoolgirls. We’re both moms to two little girls, and we had a lot of similarities and had a nice time. I think they enjoyed the California time. As much as they didn’t want to leave home I think they embraced the warm weather and living by the Hollywood sign and hiking and 80 degree weather. That’s another thing: when they filmed most of the Wales section it was January and February, so maybe I dodged a bullet not braving the cold on the beach in January.”

How does Miracle Day affect Esther?

“I think it’s a test of human nature. It makes her grow up a lot, it affects her that she finds herself quickly. She’s an optimist and the glass is half full person, so she’s invested in finding what’s behind Miracle Day. But it does bring out the best for her. It affects her because she has family that she’s away from. It’s a really lonely world that she hasn’t experienced before, and you see her slowly grow out of it, and she catches her stride a few episodes in.”

What’s Esther’s relationship with Rex like?

“She’s got a crush! She tries… Rex is like gruff and focused on work, and that makes him come off a little like… Once you see episode one, he’s a little uncaring, a little cold. And then here’s sweet Esther pining for her boss; she has such a crush on him and Esther thinks there’s just something sexy and romantic about him being on the field and doing all his fieldwork. And they do work well together. If you strip their feelings away they’re a good team. She’s got a little bit of love for him and she works on him throughout the season, but he’s a tough one.”

Did they send you on a CIA boot camp?

“You know, they didn’t, and there’s a part of me that really wanted to do that, but then it would take away from Esther’s… I feel like it would have made her too slick, too trained, too perfect, too in sync with the rest of the Torchwood crew. I’m glad in a way it wasn’t intense weapons training because you’ll see in the first episode two there’s a moment where she has to quickly put things together and she’s got to save herself and she gets out quickly, and it’s interesting watching her put that together and stumble. She’s stumbling as she goes because she’s never done it before, and with too much training I feel she might have been a little too Angelina Jolie/Salt. One could only hope to reach that level, but I love doing the whole CIA thing. That’s one of my favourite genres to watch, the CIA, the international espionage, the Bourne-type things. So it was me dabbling in that world for a moment.”