On The Run
As Kimberly Sayers, Megan Ward keeps watching the Dark Skies. She talks to Simon Bacal about the alien threat ...
When she first received the script for NBC's weekly one-hour science fiction series, Dark Skies, actress Megan Ward discovered that the first page consisted of a cover letter written by the leading character, John Loengard. The show claims that aliens, known as the Hive, have been manipulating the course of historical events as a means of ensuring a gradual take over of the human race. Loengard (Eric Close), a child of Kennedy's New Frontier, assumes the burden of making the public aware of the aliens' intentions.
"The letter revealed that the information disclosed in the script was true, and went on to say that the names had been changed to protect the identities of certain people," says Ward, who plays Kimberly Sayers, Loengard's girlfriend. "I read that and thought 'Okay, am I about to read something that's going to truly scare me or is it going to be a very clever writing device to pull me in?' Well, as I turned the page and read through the plot, I felt it was the most interesting script that I had ever read because it possessed a strong combination of history, science fiction, drama and strong character story telling."
Created by Bryce Zabel and Brent V Friedman, the series begins with an idealistic Loengard and Kimberly, two newly appointed members of Kennedy's government, arriving in 1960s Washington DC only to discover that everything is not as idealistic as it apparently seems on the first glance. Shortly after his arrival, Loengard finds himself working for Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh), the head of Majestic-12, an organization determined to keep the alien menace secret from the public at all costs. After an alien ganglion -a nasty creature capable of fastening itself onto the human brain and grabbing control of the human nervous system- nearly kills Kimberly, Loengard breaks away from Majestic-12 and, together with his girlfriend, hits the road in an attempt to alert others of the aliens' intentions. But, Majestic 12 are never far behind.
"This role was imperative for me because I knew that I would enjoy playing a character who was so strong, ambitious, brave and far from boring," Ward says about the show which stretches from the 1960s to the year 2000. "At the same time it's difficult to play a character like Kimberly in 1964, the year when the show starts, because she simply didn't exist. But, for the sake of dramatic storytelling, she has to be a little bit ahead of her time, so I'm forced to combine 1964 sensibility with a 1990s personality and character responsibility -something which presents immense challenges."
One such challenge materialized when the pilot was re-shot to increase the level of suspense, as Ward vividly recalls -"When we shot the first few episodes Kimberly was supposed to possess the physical strength to shoot a gun and enter into a very scary situation if necessary, but, quite honestly, I felt that she had not really earned that ability yet. So when we went back to re-shoot the pilot episode, the writers added a scene where John hands the gun to my character and tells her to shoot it. When she shoots the gun off for the first time, you can see her gradually gain the confidence to handle that weapon- something which is really important for the character's integrity and believability since she must possess the ability to fight on a physical level if she's going to save the world from this hideous menace."
Ward initially felt that her character lacked the passion and exhilaration that Loengard exhibited when it came to waging the ongoing struggle against the alien Hive. "Whereas John volunteered for the fight, I always felt that Kimberly was a victim of the situation, so I seriously believed that she would go home and make the choice to go back on the road. Well, lo and behold, in the episode Hostile Convergence, she does go home to celebrate her sister's wedding, but after the alien Hive comes after her family, she realizes that she cannot do too much about her current situation, so she decides to go back on the road."
Unlike Loengard, however, the actress does not believe that her character is driven by a single vision of saving the world -a trait which, Ward believes, adds a certain degree of unpredictability to Kimberly Sayers.
"On many levels she often finds herself caught between John and Bach when it comes to the problem of the Hive," she continues. "For example, Inhuman Nature, an episode in which cow mutilations were the result of the Hive's desire to create perfect hosts for the alien ganglions, contains a sequence where John, who's feeling very inadequate, just doesn't know what to do with the fight. Well, Kimberly offers him the opportunity to back out and wait for Bobby Kennedy to become president so that something can be done about the situation. She says, 'Hey, we don't have to do this. Bach has a family life, so he's not living on the road, eating take out food and living in the back of a beaten up old car. Who says that we have to do that?' John doesn't know what to say, but he can't stop the fight because as far as he is concerned going back home and living a normal life would be nothing short of surrender and retreat. Kimberly, on the other hand, would see the situation as an opportunity for her and John to live their own life without worrying about the fate of humanity and the entire world. And that's really interesting because Kimberly can step back and see the big picture, while John can't always do that. Single vision and determination obviously give John the power to continue the fight week after week, but Kimberly bears the brunt of sacrificing a normal home life for the sake of this journey."
Besides the previously mentioned adventures, that journey has encompassed episodes such as Moving Targets, a tale which says that the US Army Air force shot down a space ship in Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947 after aliens demanded the unconditional surrender of the human race; Mercury Rising, in which the alien Hive threatens the US space program; and A Dark Days Night, in which the The Beatles world famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan show becomes a medium through which the Hive intends to send subliminal messages to abductees who, in turn, will become disillusioned and suicidal.
"We have so many interesting and creative story-lines that our character development has suffered to some extent, because the re-telling of a big historical event takes up about forty seven minutes of the show," Ward says. "However, we should have seen the characters understand the consequences of their actions and how those consequences affect their relationship and their places in the world, but, again, the focus of the show has been on things such as ganglions and underground space ships. On the other hand, I'm always confident that things will change for my character in future episodes."
Careful not to let the ganglion out of the bag, Ward does not want to reveal too much information about those changes, but she does offer a tad bit of information which, she hopes, will keep viewers watching and guessing. "Kimberly's motivations will completely flip-flop, so she won't necessarily be around with John all the time," she says. "I know what's going to happen, but I don't know how it's going to unfold. I don't see marriage in their future, but I do see a baby. As a result, I'm really intrigued to see who Kimberly will become when she finds herself in the middle of new and unexplored circumstances."
Ward's involvement in Dark Skies is an integral part of an acting career which has required tough decisions, challenges, persistence and determination. Born in Los Angeles and raised primarily in Honolulu, Hawaii, Ward, the youngest of four children, landed her first professional acting role (the part of Pease Blossom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream) at the age of twelve at The Talent Development Center - an organization founded by her parents, who are stage actors. After spending several of her teenage years modeling for American and Japanese magazines, she moved to Los Angeles, where she reverently pursued her acting dreams.
"When I first moved to LA, I was a nervous wreck because I had to get an agent and go on theatrical auditions," says Ward, who enrolled in college for one year and began studying at Los Angeles' Loft Studio to hone her acting skills. "After a couple of months of auditions I got a part in a commercial which never aired because the product never came out -but I got my SAG card. That I had to go on auditions for the cute girl who makes eyes at the lead guy on TV shows to get to a place where I could ultimately audition for more credible and legitimate films and television shows."
Eventually, Ward landed roles in such films as Crash and Burn, Trancers II; Arcade, Amityville 1992: It's About Time and Encino Man. "Encino Man was my big break because it was my first studio film," say Ward about the comedy which charts the exploits of a California based caveman. "Sean Astin falls in love with my character -but I end up going to the high school prom with the caveman. I was the female lead in the movie, but Sean Astin and I had a lot of storyline that was cut out because Pauly Shore and the caveman tested higher, so we received a pretty good introduction to Hollywood.
"Unfortunately my brother was killed in a road accident the same week that I got the role, so I was obviously going through a very tragic period," Ward continues. "I got this really charming studio movie, but when my brother died the rug was pulled out from under my feet -so I didn't know whether I should still do the movie. However, everybody was incredibly supportive- especially Les Mayfield (director), who held my hand the whole time. It was a strange time in my life because I was very sad, even though I had initially been excited that I had landed the role. At the same time, the job proved to be a wonderful diversion during the mourning period because I was able to occupy my mind."
Ward's other feature film credits include Freaked, a film which co-starred Keanu Reeves and Randy Quaid and last summer's Warner Brothers comedy, Joe's Apartment, a story which featured dancing cockroaches.
"I don't have anything definite lined up at this time, but I would love to do a romantic comedy about a group of people who learn and change throughout the course of the film -something which evokes memories of The Big Chill and One Fine Day," remarks Ward, whose television credits include the Class of 96, a series which followed the lives of six freshman college students, Aaron Spelling's NBC series Winnetka Road, and episodes of Sons and Daughters, and Out of This World.
"Romantic comedies are fun filled stories based on real human issues, so I want to create a flesh and blood character who has a real history and who isn't dependent upon supernatural and out of this world circumstances. I love that stuff, but I'm really looking to play a simple character who isn't going to cause people to say 'Well, we have to believe that she's strong. Otherwise how can she win the war?' Instead, I want to do a real heartwarming story which will hopefully make you feel good at the end of the day."