TORONTO – Werewolves have been howling loudly at the spotlight in recent years through various films and TV series — “Twilight,” “True Blood” and “The Mortal Instruments” to name but a few.
But the sexy new supernatural thriller “Bitten” offers a rarely seen take on the moon monster mythology: a furry female lead.
The werewolf figure is well suited to women because both are “so affected by mother Earth and the cycles” and face societal pressures concerning image, says Laura Vandervoort, the Toronto native who stars as four-legged fanged protagonist Elena Michaels.
“(Elena is) suppressing this animal inside of her and trying to just maintain this perfect facade, whereas her true self is in New York as this werewolf and just letting loose, and I think a lot of women have trouble being themselves,” she said in a recent telephone interview.
“So it’s interesting if you think about it from that perspective while watching it, that she’s trying to keep this perfect image.”
Premiering Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on Space in Canada (and on Monday on Syfy in the U.S.), “Bitten” is based on the New York Times bestselling “Women of the Otherworld” novels by Canadian Kelley Armstrong.
Vandervoort’s Elena is an orphan who grew up in the foster care system in the U.S. and became a werewolf when a professor she fell in love with (Greyston Holt) bit her to protect her.
In the series premiere, she’s working as a photographer in Toronto and trying to carry on a new life away from her wolf pack in upstate New York. She gets sucked back into life there, though, when a “random mutt” breaks the rules by killing humans for sport and her strong tracking skills are needed to catch the culprit.
Co-stars include Greg Bryk as pack head Jeremy, Paul Greene as Elena’s unsuspecting boyfriend Philip and Michael Xavier as Elena’s therapist/fellow pack member Logan.
“It’s very ‘Sopranos’/’True Blood,'” said Vandervoort, who grew up in Toronto’s North York area and is the third cousin of acting great Gordon Pinsent. “It’s an adult show and it’s about the relationships and not just the fact that we’re werewolves. It’s the family dynamic.
“It’s protecting your family at all costs, and if that means murder — as much as Elena hates who she is — you protect your pack.”
The Los Angeles-based Vandervoort, who’s twice made Maxim’s list of Top 100 hottest women, came to the series after playing key roles on series including the “Instant Star,” “Smallville” and “V.”
With a second-degree black belt in Shotokan karate, she did “93 per cent” of her own stunts “except falling down the stairs.”
And she had to quickly get used to doffing her duds in front of the camera crew (when Elena is about to become a werewolf, she completely disrobes and folds and stashes her clothing in a safe place — even if it’s outdoors — so it won’t get ruined during her beastly transformation).
“Also, as silly as it is, she doesn’t really wear any jewelry because why would I take my time changing if there’s an urgent situation? — ‘Hold on, I’ve got to take my earrings off,'” she said. “So we’re being as realistic as we can with the concept.”
Vandervoort also had to get used to gorging on a lot of meat during scenes in which Elena’s animalistic appetite takes over.
“I don’t eat a lot of red meat, so our props guys were amazing in substituting tofu or turkey bacon wherever possible,” she said. “The guys love it, because they are working out hard and have this appetite.
“But on the show for me I’m like, ‘I can’t eat another bite of this, I’m sorry,’ and it’s just like, ‘OK, stuff it into your cheek.'”
The wolves are created through CGI. Vandervoort said during shooting, the producer’s German Shepherd would stand in for the creatures so the cast and crew could gauge the size.
The creators scanned the actors’ eyes and superimposed them onto the CGI wolves so audiences could feel their characters’ presence.
“Every day I kind of would hit every emotional obstacle, whether it be a really romantic loving scene or out with a girlfriend, or if someone is dying and I’m covered in blood and I’m crawling on my belly in the dirt,” said Vandervoort.
“It’s such a vast range for a female to get to play on television that I loved going to work every day and coming home and being exhausted but feeling like, ‘Wow, I did that and I didn’t think I was capable.'”