“She has balls.” – Shantel VanSanten
The Messengers is unfolding on The CW and Vera is my favorite character. She’s the scientist out in the desert with her coworker Alan when she blacks out. All the main characters black out in the pilot but she’s the first one to come face to face with The Man (Diogo Morgado – http://nukethefridge.com/2015/04/14/the-messengers-exclusive-diogo-morgado-on-the-man/) and driven to discover her gift and prevent the apocalypse.
I got to meet Shantel VanSanten when The CW presented The Messengers to the Television Critics Association. We sat at the bar and talked about her character, Vera, with some hints as to how it’s going to unfold. The Messengers airs Fridays at 9 on The CW.
Shantel VanSanten: Yeah, I fell in love when they sent me the script for her. I thought what an interesting, fun [character]. I’m obsessed with science. I grew up in Houston for part of my life so NASA was nearby and I got to play a radio astronomer. That aspect of it was so much fun. She’s so different than who I am so I like a challenge. I like things that scare me.
Nerd Report: Are you not that sort of intrepid investigator in real life?
Shantel VanSanten: No. I think I have ways of controlling life but she’s very free-spirited in a certain sense, kind of always wandering and searching. If anything probably a little bit more lost. I think there’s a part of her that feels driven in her field if you will, but in her personal life it’s stifled. You find out from the pilot that she has a son that disappeared and she hasn’t seen him, so I think she just dove into work and disappeared into it. I can relate in real life to that but not to that extent. Also she’s an atheist. She questions and doesn’t really believe in faith and is always searching for solid answers for things. I’m much more of a faith based person and everything happens for a reason. That’s the polar opposite of who she is.
Nerd Report: Vera packs heat too.
Shantel VanSanten: Yes, she does. She has balls. It’s funny, because there will be times I’m saying something and I’m like, “Don’t I sound like a bitch?” They’re like, “No, you sound like somebody tough.” I don’t know, I feel like I sound like I’m being bitchy. They’re like, “No, it’s great.” I think in life maybe I’m a little bit more polite. She just says what she feels and flies off the wall with things.
Nerd Report: Have you used guns before in other roles?
Shantel VanSanten: Yes. Yes, I did. When we shot Gang Related we did gun training because playing an assistant district attorney, of course you would’ve carried a gun. That was a dangerous job. It is in real life. I grew up in Texas so you grow up shooting guns a lot. It’s funny because I remember when I was shooting the pilot, Steven Williams was directing it and he said, “You look too comfortable with it. Vera wouldn’t know how to hold a gun like that and point it at somebody’s face. You need to be a little bit more nervous.” I had too much gun training. It was supposed to be uncomfortable that she would have it because she lives alone in the middle of nowhere. She wouldn’t necessarily know how to put it in somebody’s face and threaten them.
Nerd Report: Are Vera and Alan purely platonic?
Shantel VanSanten: I think that they’ve worked together for a while. I love the relationship they created and in real life Craig [Frank] and I are really close and got on just instantly. So we have really great chemistry. I think the writers were smart to allow you to see both of us before you know anything else would ever develop. It’s this weird thing of their personal lives kind of stop on this show because there’s an impending apocalypse. You don’t really have time for your personal life when you need to save everybody else in the world and you have these moral dilemmas. Your personal life kind of gets set aside. It’s this struggle for Vera because personal things do come up. It’s the hunt for where’s here son along with saving the world and does she sacrifice going to see where her son is versus saving possibly 30,000 people from a tragedy. They put you in a lot of moral dilemmas and struggles. That’s the interesting part of creating TV.
Nerd Report: How did the role of Vera come to you? Did you audition?
Shantel VanSanten: I did. I went in. So Gang Related had ended and my character died in the finale. A week later they asked me to come in and read for it. I was hesitant because I had been on The CW before. I was like, “I don’t know.” I wanted to find a really gritty role I could sink my teeth into. Then I read about Vera and I thought there were so many interesting aspects of her just from the pilot that I really loved and had never played before and I was like oh, I’ll give it a try. I went in and auditioned and they were like, “You’re exactly what we’re looking for” and I’m like, “What?” It felt really good to walk into a room and be able to play something in a way that they felt confident that I was Vera. It kind of happened really quick, like within the span of three days. I guess that’s when you know, for me at least, that’s when it’s meant to be.
Nerd Report: Have you ever been on a show where you don’t know what’s coming next?
Shantel VanSanten: Yeah, I didn’t know I was going to die on Gang Related. I didn’t know when we shot One Tree Hill I was going to get shot. Luckily when you have great producers and creators, they tell you in advance. They say, “Oh yeah, so this script is coming out and this and this is going to happen, but don’t worry.” TV, you never know. They have ideas going into it and they’ll tell you, and it usually goes off the path.
Nerd Report: Some are more mysterious than others though, and The Messengers is more like that.
Shantel VanSanten: I always say I feel like, and I hate to compare, but Heroes, because we have these gifts. Mine doesn’t come until later. I think I’m the last person to find her way to mine and mine, I’m not searching for it. It just kind of happens and it’s an interesting thing because our gifts come with a cost. We’re not superheroes. We can’t just use them whenever we want to. For us, we have this gift for when we can use it, because maybe you could die if you use it. There’s always a cost for using them. It’s a very interesting set up that way because I love comic books and superheroes. So for me, I’m like, “Wait, I’m sorry, what? It’s limited?” You think that you’ve been given this gift and you want to use it all the time.
Nerd Report: Which episode do we find out Vera’s gift?
Shantel VanSanten: Not too long into it. I think she resists a lot of things from that kind of world, especially religion being atheist and wanting proof of things and searching the universe for answers. She’s not the kind of the person who’s just going to jump right into believing that kind of stuff.
Nerd Report: Does seeing the wings freak her out?
Shantel VanSanten: Yeah, I think all along she’s very resistant even though the signs are right in front of her face. Seeing those types of things but still questioning, still being unsure of what it means, where is it coming from. After so many circumstances happen, you can’t deny it anymore.