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“Going Ravin Mad!”
By Ian Spelling
You might be a fan of Roswell’s Max, Isabel or Michael, but the real star of the show is newcomer Tess, played by Emilie De Ravin.
Ian Spelling went for a close encounter.
Emilie De Ravin swears that she never thought of Tess as pure trouble. “I didn’t think that,” insists the actress, who co-stars on Roswell as the show’s long-discussed, now much-debated fourth alien. “When I read the script, even before I shot anything, I thought she was interesting. She had no human side to her at first, none whatsoever. She had been raised by this cold-blooded alien (Nasedo, played by Jim Ortlieb) and had had no human contact until she met up with Max (Jason Behr), Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and Michael (Brendan Fehr). Even at the beginning I didn’t consider her trouble at all. I could see how the fans could think that, because of the break-up of Max and Liz (Shiri Appleby). But it’s not that she came along wanting to do that. She came along telling the aliens what they had to do pretty much, to keep the world going so that it was not destroyed. This season especially, there’s been a lot of development for Tess. We’ve seen her emotional side. She and Max are getting really connected, which is nice I think.”
As fans of the sophomore sci-fi series know, Tess arrived on the scene late last year – in Crazy; Tess, Lies, and Videotape; Destiny and so on – and quickly emerged as a pivotal character, one with very blonde hair, extremely blue eyes and decidedly mysterious motives. Not only did her presence precipitate the demise of Max and Liz as the show’s Romeo and Juliet-like couple, but it set the stage for the series’ rapid transition from romance with a sci-fi twist to sci-fi with a romantic twist, a turn of events that quite probably saved the show from cancelation at the end for the first season and helped it gain a wider audience during its second year. Many regular views, however particularly Max-Liz loyalists, took an instant dislike to Tess and they made their feelings crystal clear via assorted online diatribes -and even whole web sites – aimed at the character. And none of the Tess detractors seemed to complain too much when the character seemingly got beaten to a pulp every other episode.
“I was online the other day; it has actually gotten a lot better,” De Ravin says with a chuckle. “There are so many pro-Tess sites now, which is really nice to know. It never bothered me personally, though, because Tess is a character. People are realizing that her intent – on a personal level – was not to break up Liz and Max. And it wasn’t. That was clear to me from the start. As I said, she came in telling Max, Michael, and Isabel what they had to do to keep their species alive, and that didn’t involve Liz. She didn’t have anything against Liz, but that was the fact. If they didn’t break up – as we found out in The End of the World – the world would be destroyed. Without Tess doing what she did, the world would be destroyed. So it was a very big deal. She was bringing them to the realization of what they were put on Earth to do.”
Fortunately, De Ravin’s co-stars – who’d already been together for the better part of a season when she stepped on to the set at the Paramount Pictures studio lot for the first time – took less convincing than the fans. “They were quick to accept me,” she says. “I was really surprised. I was thinking, ‘Oooh, what are they going to think?’ But everyone was really great and very accommodating and sweet and very helpful in every way they could be. So being the new girl wasn’t a problem at all for me, which was great. We all work pretty well together.”
Prior to joining the cast of Roswell, De Ravin had spent more than a year (covering parts of two seasons) playing the recurring role of the demon Curupira on syndicated fantasy series Beastmaster, which films on location in her native Australia. The producers of Beastmaster let De Ravin out of her contract early so that she could take on Roswell, and her final episode of Beastmaster – in which Curupira gets trapped underwater; remember, demons never really die – has yet to air. Even with so many days of Beastmaster under her belt, however, the actress found it a bit of a challenge to portray Roswell’s alien newcomer. “It’s hard because you can’t just say, ‘OK, I’m going to draw from this life experience’ because, obviously, I haven’t had any alien experiences and I haven’t had that many life experiences as a human,” says De Ravin, who turns 19 on December 27 and speaks with hardly any accent. “It’s not like anything really terrible happened to me that I could draw on. So it’s hard sometimes to draw on emotions and associate with something that’s happened to me. So the challenge is to make my scenes emotional and also realistic, even though, in some ways, it’s impossible to make it realistic. What you want is for it to be realistic enough for the audience, so that they see you as an alien, so they believe you as the character.”
De Ravin reports that she couldn’t be happier with the goings-on to date this season. Tess has figured prominently into the action in such episodes as Skin and Bones, Ask Not (with its playful and sexually-charged moments between De Ravin and Nick Wechsler’s character, Kyle Valenti, aka Liz’s former beau), The End of the World, Harvest, Wipeout! And the dupes duo of Meet the Dupes and Max in the City, which featured the actress as both Tess and her overly-pierced counterpart, Eva.
“This season has been great,” enthuses De Ravin, who gave up a fledgling career as a ballet dancer to pursue acting, first in Australia and then in the United
States. “We’re all really happy with it. It’s been fantastic. It’s a lot more exciting this season. We’ve all been able to expand our characters, which is a real opportunity for us as actors. I’ve gotten to develop the character and, in the Dupes episodes, play a variation on the character. I think Tess has gotten to really connect with the other three alien characters, especially Max. Something real has come of those two, which is interesting since they were husband and wife in their other life.
“I thought the Dupes shows were really interesting, actually. We had a lot of split-screen stuff. We had scenes (where the aliens and the dupes were) talking to each other. It was craziness. We were supposed to be from New York, so we were acting like street kids who get by living on the street and stealing stuff. It was wild. We had these New York accents and these crazy outfits and hairstyles and a certain attitude. It was hard acting pretty much to nothing. And we had no time to get ready for the shows. The episodes just kind of happened. We just got the scripts and it was like, ‘OK, let’s go.” On a film you might have a few weeks to get the accent and the attitude and the look right, but we had like a week to do it. When we saw it put together, though, it really worked. I loved seeing Tess talk to Eva. For the four of us as actors, it was a really good acting exercise. So we did those two episodes and we believe that the dupes are coming back for me at some point.”
And what has De Ravin yet to do on Roswell, as Tess, that she’s eager to try? “Ooh, I don’t know,” She replies, obviously caught a little off-guard by the question. “Tess has really become a pretty well-rounded character. She’s still got a lot of emotions to explore. That’s the main thing I guess I’m looking forward to, really. She has, in the second season, definitely expanded in that respect. She has shown a more human, emotional side, but she’s only just realizing that she’s half-human/half-alien. She’s still getting used to that and also to her powers. She’s got these powers she’s just learning to use and probably other powers that she doesn’t even know she has yet.”
Given the fact that Roswell is doing so well in the ratings these days, chances are that it will be around for a good while. And that means De Ravin should have plenty of opportunities to explore every facet of her character. Tess could wind up in the arms of Max, especially since he still believes that his beloved Liz slept with Kyle (even though she didn’t). She might wind up with Kyle, despite his penchant for porno magazines and books about Buddha. She may even end up all alone. Of course, if Roswell stays on the air long enough, she might indulge in all of the above more than once. “I like the idea of that,” she says of a busy and long run, though it means lengthy stretches of time away from her family and friends in Australia.
“The show is changing a lot. The viewers don’t know what to expect next. A lot of different things can happen. There are more storylines. It’s more suspenseful now. It moves really fast. It’s all very exciting.