Do you have an overwhelming craving for new sci-fi but you can’t quite scratch that itch? You come close but it’s just out of reach. J. H. Wymen knows a thing or two about checking off all the boxes and giving the audience what it needs. He’s not a doctor or a cook but he always has the right prescription and the best recipes for entertainment. Best known for the incredible Fringe series, followed by the Almost Human series. J. H. has the Midas touch and the creativity of Merlin when he launched the new series DEBRIS. This story is as rich in its writing as it is in the cast. To borrow a line from a great film… ‘if you build it, they will come’, and they did.
Norbert Leo Butz (Bloodlines, Fosse/Verdon), Jonathan Tucker (Kingdom, Westworld), Riann Steele (The Magicians, NCIS – New Orleans), Scroobius Pip (The Letter for the King, Taboo) and Vancouver’s own Jennifer Copping (Mother of All Lies, Van Helsing). This story commands an audience and this cast is completely star studded with diamonds.
If you haven’t seen Debris, let me catch you up to speed. When wreckage from a destroyed alien spacecraft scatters across the Western Hemisphere, it soon becomes apparent the pieces are messing with the laws of physics, changing lives in ways we can’t comprehend. Award-Winning Actress Jennifer Copping joins the cast of NBC’s Monday night TV series Debris as Julia Maddox, wife to Craig Maddox, played by Norbert Leo Butz. Jennifer brings it every time to every production, to every performance. Jennifer has a theatre background and she brings the stage to the people in Debris… and I definitely applaud that. Okay, I’m sitting back down.
Outside of Debris one of Jennifer’s career highlights was her Best Actress Leo Award as Jade in the feature film, Becoming Redwood written and directed by her husband Jesse James Miller. Jennifer Copping should be quite familiar to you thanks to her film and TV credits, which include The CW’s Riverdale, Fargo, Bates Motel, Continuum, Once Upon A Mattress, Slither; Supernatural, When Calls The Heart, Mother Of All Lies, Van Helsing, Travellers and the feature film Rabbit currently airing on Superchannel.
Debris airs on NBC Monday nights at 10:00 pm EST/PST and is produced by Frequency Films and Legendary Television in association with Universal Television and created, written, and executive produced by J. H. Wyman.
Jennifer and I had a quick discussion about her playwriting skills before we jumped into the Q&A about Debris. In addition to landing her new role on the incredibly exciting new sci-fi series Debris, Jennifer has co-written her first feature length play, entitled Round 8. I could have discussed the subject of writing for hours and was thrilled to know that we are both passionate about art.
Jennifer Copping will be on next Monday, May 24th episode and if you already have short nails, invite a friend over because it will be Intense!
HNMAG “I know that writing for theatre is so different from writing for film or TV, isn’t it?”
JENNIFER “I would think so. The only other writing I’ve done besides theatre has been for a short film that I made. It was so much fun and I think I’ll do a few more. I’m a bit hooked, Darren (laughing).”
HNMAG “I understand that your husband also works in the film industry. Who was the first one to work in the industry?”
JENNIFER “… Me (laughing).”
HNMAG “Would you say that you inspired him to work in the industry?”
JENNIFER “We were living in Los Angeles and there are so many jobs out there in the film industry. He’s always loved writing and had been writing… and I believe his first official job in the industry was an assistant editor on a reality TV show. He’d drive out to the valley and they were in this warehouse, which was beside the set of Big Brother. I remember that he’d come home with stories about things he’d overheard or seen. He was working graveyard shifts. It was a crazy job but he learned a lot. He was writing on the side and I was pursuing my acting career. We spent 5 years there and I would say, that’s where he realized where his career was going. He’d first been a golf pro, then he was a tenor sax player in a band. His journey into filmmaking took some turns but he’s officially been doing it a long time.”
HNMAG “This new show Debris, can you tell me about the storyline and how it was created?”
JENNIFER “I can say what I think I know but I’m not completely certain what the truth might be.” The show was created by J. H. Wyman and I believe he had been creating it for a while. In an interview, he has said that he knows what the first line of the show is going to be and he knows what the very last line will be. I think he’s got a pretty intense bible for it. I do know that he’s been living with it for awhile because he said that he’s imagined for years – who Julia was. When he saw my audition, he said “there’s my girl, I’ve found her.” It was a really cool conversation that we had before my first day of shooting. He was giving me as much backstory as he could, as well as encouraging me to create some of my own. Our storyline has a pretty deep and traumatic event that’s happened which fuels what’s happening to the Maddox family in the show. You only get to see my character quite sparingly in the first season and we’re all hopeful for a second season. I would definitely love to do more, that’s for sure!”
HNMAG “I was told that your theatre background had helped you to land this role. Could you elaborate on that?”
JENNIFER “When Joel (J. H. Wyman) saw my audition, he felt that I understood the character and that I had a certain depth that he was looking for in terms of the way I tackled the material. He then reached out to some of his relationships he had developed in Vancouver from his years of running Fringe that was shot here. He had mentioned that he was thinking of hiring this actress and wanted to follow up with his instincts, that I was the right person. That’s when he learned of my thorough theatre background and thought that I might be a great fit for Norbert. Norbert Leo Butz (Bloodline, Fosse/Verdon, Mercy Street) has an extensive theatre background and it’s amazing what he’s done in terms of film and TV but on stage, he’s won 2 Tony Awards – which is the ultimate prize in theatre. I was over the moon to be able to go head-to-head with someone of his caliber. He’s such a kind, warm and funny human as well and really into the work. When Joel (J. H. Wyman) is looking to cast his main players in his projects, number one is – kind and good people. He was looking for a certain chemistry in the relationship with Craig ( Norbert) and he saw that in me and felt that it was because of the things I’ve done and the roles that I’ve played.”
HNMAG “Have you been in much sci-fi in the past?”
JENNIFER “I would have to stretch my brain right now. I had a guest spot on Continuum when it was around. I did a guest spot on Travellers… and going way back, I was in Stargate, The Outer Limits – so I’ve definitely done a fair bit of sci-fi but never as a recurring character. I’m very excited to be part of this show.”
Picture Courtesy of NBC Debris
HNMAG “I had read that you play the role of a troubled mother who has concerns over her son. Did you have to do any special preparation for your character?”
JENNIFER “So far, the viewers have met our son Dario – who’s in a wheelchair and really not able to communicate. He’s able to lift his arm but it falls back down, he’s able to move his eyes but he’s not able to speak or do anything for himself. He’s 17 yr.’s old and has been that way since he was 4. In Eps 109 there is a big reveal about what happened. Suffice it to say, Julia has a lot of deep guilt, trauma and PTSD, which has really affected her marriage with Craig (Norbert). It’s something that they’ve been working through in therapy. They both love each other deeply but she’s really at her last straw, with their current living condition and she wants something to change. He’s also in the CIA and can’t talk about his work, so I don’t know anything about the debris, he can’t tell me anything which is a big chasm. He doesn’t want to talk about the past and wants to move on but I’m stuck there, I do want to talk about it and work through it with him. It’s tough to have a relationship like that, so they’re fighting to save it for themselves and for their son, which is what is really happening.”
Jennifer went on to say that J. H. Wyman gave her the idea of what the trauma was and what happened, but he also gave her free license to fill it in with her own back story. She says it’s every actor’s dream. She describes it as sense memory work, where an actor will close their eyes and recreate the event with all their senses – what did you smell, what did you feel, what did you taste, what time was it, what was the air like, was it raining?
“When you recreate the scene, it’s very visceral and very real for you. I did that work a couple of days before shooting that big scene. It was some of the deepest and most realized work I’ve ever been able to do on screen with an actor that was equally open in going there. It was quite exciting and one of the producers said it was his favourite episode of the season so far.” -Jennifer
HNMAG “How long does it take to film an episode?’
JENNIFER “I believe it took 8 days, but it usually takes 7-10 days.”
HNMAG “Is the first season all finished shooting?”
JENNIFER “Yes, the entire show is wrapped right now and they’re waiting to see if it will be renewed for a second season.”
In addition to being absolutely thrilled and over the moon to be on this series, Jennifer also wanted to give tremendous praise for the other 2 lead actors Jonathan Tucker (Kingdom, Westworld) and Riann Steele (The Magicians, Ant-Man and the Wasp). Jennifer says they are both incredibly stellar. She hadn’t had the chance to do any scenes with Jonathan yet but she says that I seriously need to check him out in Kingdom. I did and he is magnificent, he’s sporting an 8 pack – which should be illegal? She met him on the last day of shooting and confessed to being star struck over his tremendous body of work. She was also able to meet Riann and was slightly flabbergasted that Riann was also a fan of Jennifer’s work on the series. Riann is a British actress with an extensive theatre background and her portrayal as Finola Jones is pure magic.
HNMAG “Is this series shot throughout Vancouver?”
JENNIFER “I was mostly out in Langley and Surrey, that area.”
HNMAG “You are writing a feature stage play, how long would that be in terms of pages?”
JENNIFER “It’s 2 acts and 100 pages long, however there are 1 act plays and also 3 act plays, it’s not written in stone. I also want to mention that I’m co-writing it with another writer, Robyn Ross.”
HNMAG “What else do you have in the works, what’s next?”
JENNIFER “I’ve got a couple irons in the fire in terms of roles that I’ve read for and am being considered for. I’m ready for work and would love to do another job. I find it very invigorating being on set and creating these characters. Sometimes in our industry we have to wait a long time between jobs and sometimes the competition is pretty fierce. This pandemic has created opportunities for actors that maybe weren’t getting in the room to be seen but we’re all self-taping for auditions now. Even my audition for Debris was a self-tape, I never met anyone and there were no call backs. It’s giving more opportunity but it’s bringing more competition. I’d like to keep it rolling and would love to be on another set next week – bring it! (laughing)”
HNMAG “I’d like to ask you a couple fun questions before wrapping this up if you don’t mind. You have 50 miles to travel and 3 modes of transportation… a hot-air balloon, a speedboat or a horse, which one would you choose?”
JENNIFER “Well, I had a horse when I was younger, so I’m going to go with the horse but I’d probably be pretty sore after 50 miles (laughing).
HNMAG “Would you rather take part in a demolition derby or a pie eating contest?”
JENNIFER “The pie eating contest. I love pie!”
Picture Courtesy of NBC Debris
With over 30 years of experience, Jennifer’s passion for performing began at a very young age. She continues to study and hone her craft as an actor, director, teacher, mentor and theatre creator. Aside from acting, she is an instructor for the Langara College Film Arts Department and Railtown Actors Studio. Jennifer has directed many plays and musicals over the past 15 years. Most recently: Zastrozzi: The Master Of Discipline; City Of Angels and Good People and she recently wrote and directed her first short film: The Masks We Wear.
Her proudest accomplishments are her 22-year marriage to filmmaker Jesse James Miller and being a mother to their two beautiful boys.