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Van Helsing's Jennifer Cheon Garcia Talks Ivory's Journey And Teases Wheel Of Time - Exclusive Interview

SYFY's post-apocalyptic vampire series "Van Helsing" has faced a lot of ups and downs over the course of its five-season run. It earned cult status and a dedicated fanbase, but also dealt with questions as to whether it would return after its fourth season. Once that hurdle was overcome, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, halting production and casting into doubt whether the cast and crew would be able to put a bow on things.

Thanks to some of the most successful safety protocols in the biz, however, "Van Helsing" persevered, and is now preparing to air its final slate of episodes. For actor Jennifer Cheon Garcia, it's a bittersweet experience. Her character, Ivory, dealt with her own convoluted journey, going from antagonist as leader of the vampiric Sisterhood to protagonist when she was made human by Violet Van Helsing (Keeya King), embarking meanwhile on a romance with Jack Van Helsing (Nicole Munoz) that has faced its share of turbulence.

Now, with the fifth season careening toward its conclusion, the actor took time out to chat with us about Ivory's arc, her favorite moments from the series, and her upcoming work on Amazon's "Wheel of Time" adaptation.

Jennifer Cheon Garcia reflects on Ivory's arc

It's been a very long journey for Ivory on "Van Helsing." How do you feel about the characters' arc and where she is now as the series heads toward its conclusion?

Well, without giving any spoilers, or getting a very mean letter ... no, I'm kidding. I've been really, really pleased, actually. It's been the most incredible experience of my life thus far. I've never been able to have a character like this and go through such extremes: Vampirism, and then finding the humanity in all of that. So it's been an incredible journey and I'm a little sad that it's coming to an end. But I'm actually really excited that you guys get to see it and enjoy the journey with us.

How did you feel about the transition that Ivory made from villain to one of the good guys?

Well, I always love a good redemption story, so that was great to be a part of that. It was so much fun being "bad," a villain, and then getting that chance to find her humanity and find the good in humanity. That is something that hits close to home because we've been cooped up inside and kind of watching the different sides of humanity, the ugly and the good, and what a ride that is. So it was really great to put that part of life into art, kind of breathe through it that way and then try and understand a little bit more.

What are the biggest challenges that you faced as an actor in making that transition, and in playing the character in a different way than you had previously?

That's a good question. Well, I wanted to focus with her, because when she was ... technically, when she was human, it was hundreds of thousands of years ago. So, life as a human back then is very different to how life as a human would be during, well, an apocalypse. I mean, just certain things like flashlights, and guns, generators and things like that, really absolutely had no place in her life. Also, just the way that the different tribes were coming together in order to fight this evil.

So, it was important for me to find the innocence in her, maintaining still her inner warrior, and her fighting, and her strength. But finding that vulnerability and finding that little sweet spot between where she can still be powerful and strong and show that sense of almost being a child again, just being thrown into this. But in this new world, the only thing that she does know is those guys are bad, these guys are good and I'm going to help them and that's going to be step one. Then, she'll figure out what the next step is after that if she lasts that long.

How Jennifer Cheon Garcia put her own spin on vampirism with Ivory

Vampires have a long history in pop culture. When you were starting out with Ivory, was there anything that you drew from that legacy to create the character? And was there anything that you wanted to avoid in order to make it your own?

You know, when you first get the role, there's a part of you that wants to play it a little safe so no one thinks you're trying to be too imaginative or not understand. But luckily, it was a great collaboration from both ends and we were able to find that sweet spot with it. Obviously, when you click on a show and you're expecting that vampire glory, I wanted to give that, but I did want to show more. My take on her was just a little more fed up. I kind of wanted people to try and understand the other side in a sense. Because, I mean, right and wrong, it's about perspective, and you might think someone is the biggest, I don't want to swear, but just the meanest person. Then, you end up understanding what that person went through and what that person is fighting and what that person has experienced and all that trauma that is the reason why they are those things. 

So, I was trying to kind of play with that with the vampirism and how she was following what she thought was her leader. Then, she found out that there was no loyalty there, too. Then, she ends up finding a partner in Scab, and then taking back her sisterhood and what she believed her sisterhood was, because what mother was doing with her sisterhood was not ... even within evil, there was still corruption. So, I was trying to bring that into her perspective a little bit for people to see. Hopefully you guys saw that.

Jennifer Cheon Garcia and Ivory in action on 'Van Helsing'

One of the interesting things about your skill set and career is that you bridge that gap between stunts and acting, and action has been such a big part of the show. Can you speak to that aspect of things with "Van Helsing" and, in particular, if you've had a favorite action sequence that you got to perform over the run of the series?

Generally, sometimes for insurance purposes, they don't let you do it. But I was really excited that they let me do it. But then again, I wasn't getting lit on fire or anything crazy. So, I was lucky in that sense, but a stunt that I was so excited that they let me do was actually in the last episode when we were in the cave. Alex talks about how we kind of got to a big hole in our journey and he was like, "Well, you know, I hope you like Indiana Jones." And she's like, "Who?" And then she jumps and she grabs this cable and swings to the other side.

When I read that, I was like, "Oh, are they going to let me do that?" So that was probably, out of everything that I've done so far, that was a true, true stunt. You really are on a harness and jumping through it and having to hit that mark. So that was really, really exciting for me. But, I mean, I'm addicted to all of that action stuff. Whenever I'm reading a script and I see that there's an action scene I'm just like, "Yes, it's going to be the best day."

Did any of that, the way you approach the action of the show, affect the way you approach the character of Ivory from a characterization perspective?

I feel like all of that is really married to each other because it says a lot about who she is, her physicality. She has to be the type of person that can do those things, that the audience would believe can fight, can jump over that; that she has that ability. So, I do find that you could also tell a lot by a character in the way they fight, how she was a very hand-to-hand fighter. She wasn't just the type that was going to sit from a high tower and shoot you, although she has done that before.

But, yeah, I think it kind of does go hand-in-hand. Everything that a character does, whether it's the way that they sleep or the way that they eat, or the way that they cry, or they don't cry, the resisting crying, I think says a lot about that character. Whether they just kind of let it all go or how emotional they get through things, I think, really does tell you a lot about who they are. It gives a good texture to it, I think.

A little ditty about Jack and Ivory on Van Helsing

So, moving from fighting to romance, Jack and Ivory, it seems like there's a lot hanging in the balance with their relationship as we head into the final episodes. The last episode really got into this question of whether love and romance that's true and good is possible in the middle of what is essentially a war. What can we expect out of that relationship as we head towards the finale?

I was really happy to read that there was going to be a bond and a connection, and something like love, because at the end of the day, what are we all doing this for? What are we fighting for? I think anywhere that there is chaos, there is love. Because frickin' let's go, you know what I mean?

So I was happy that there was that, because that's what you have to remind yourself, to find that closeness and define your family. That's something that I really love about this show, too, is that all of the Van Helsings and the rest of the cast that are on this journey with them, they've all formed their own family. I love the fact that it didn't have to be of blood, or it could have been Nicole and Kee's characters are half-sisters, but that's still a sister. That's the thing I love about my sisterhood is that they all come from different blood families, different ethnicities, and they were still able to form their sisterhood. That's a message that I feel is within all of that chaos in the show, and the reason why we keep coming back for more, and why we keep wanting to live is because we want to make sure that the people that we love won't be alone and they'll have strength to keep going and keep fighting a good fight.

What's it been like being a part of a relationship that a fanbase gets invested in? Have you felt that vibe from the "Van Helsing" fan base?

Oh my gosh, yeah, I have. I've heard the most beautiful stories about people who can relate to that story. Or, I heard from a fan that she actually came out to her mom because of that story because it sparked a conversation that they she didn't know how she was going to have, and she said that's how they got talking about that kind of relationship. That she was able to say, "Well, yeah, I'm in a relationship like that, but minus vampires and that stuff." It was beautiful to hear that because that's what I love about my job and about my art is that those two things are coexisting together. I get to tell certain sides of my past love history through my work, and I can show the badass side of life, and the real side of life, which is falling in love and it maybe blowing up in your face or getting complicated, and then you've got to figure it out and then you've got to get your heart broken ... or maybe you don't get your heart broken and you know what I mean? It's that chance.

How the 'Van Helsing' cast feels about the fans and finishing the show

Is the impact of that kind of fan investment something that is taken into account on set or when you're making creative decisions around the characters?

I mean, I think with any story that I tell, I always want to be respectful to that story and the fact that when you're talking about love, and you're talking about partnership, that it's respectful of that experience that someone goes through, the weight that it might carry with them. What a lucky place to be, because sometimes we might be feeling a certain kind of way, and you're having issues on how to process it. Then you hear the perfect song and all of a sudden you can just breathe again. You have somewhere to put it. So, that's what I feel so grateful for is that I can be a part of maybe someone's healing process, or where they can put that emotion, or they can understand it, or they can deal with it with that tool. That's what I think movies and music and all forms of art help us to do, is to understand that emotion.

What's one thing that you think fans should know that they might not as the series has towards its ending?

Well, a fun little fact, actually: The last episode, in which we did all the cave stuff, that exact cave was the same one in which I fought Scarlet Van Helsing and her mom. It's the exact same cave that I actually was supposed to die in. Yeah, Ivory was supposed to die in Season 2, in the finale, but they filmed two alternate endings. So, we didn't know which way they were going to go and it wasn't until Roland, who plays Scab, called me and said that he was doing ADR and that we lived that I knew. I was just jumping up and down. I was like, "Oh, we still have jobs, man." So, that's a fun little fact.

How did the cast feel as you got to the end of the series?

Oh man, it was bittersweet. Especially the episode, not last week, but the week before that, when we were filming Julius' death. When Julius' character passes on and when we saw that on the day and we knew that was happening, that was when it actually really hit us, because you can't have "Van Helsing" without Julius. So, that was a really emotional day for everybody. And I think we were all just really excited that we got the chance to finish, because we were the first show, at least in Canada, to go back to shooting after lockdown. Back in March of 2020, we were an industry that didn't know if it was ever going to come back. Working on set is a very intimate thing. It's tons of people around and you need all of those people to drive the ship so that we can deliver the show.

So, we really, really had no idea how that was going to happen and if it was ever going to happen. So many times with shows you get canceled, and then you never really get to end it. So, we all felt really, really fortunate that we got that process to say goodbye, and that we got the chance to wrap it up, to say goodbye and pay homage to how long we got to spend with those characters and each other. So, I think at the end of the day, all of us were just grateful.

How Jennifer Cheon Garcia got into character for 'The Wheel of Time'

What kind of prep did you do to get into the headspace of your character for "Wheel of Time?"

A lot of reading.

Did you finish the series?

Oh, gosh no. That was a lot of books and I have ADD, so sometimes I'm reading, I'm just like, "Oh my gosh, I have to read that page again." But that's the great thing about the internet is that you're able to zero in on characters. But I have to say, one thing I can say about this is that it's the first time that I've been a part of a show and a story that is really, really coveted. People really have such a ... even a better understanding than I do of her, I feel, sometimes. They really have had this character with them longer than I've had it. So. I understand that and that pressure, I'm just like, "Oh, please, please, please like her."

But, yeah, I mean, I can't say too much about "Wheel of Time." But it is ... I can't wait for you guys to see it. It looks so, so dope. The cast that they have put together, I just, I love every single one of them. They're such wicked people. I can't wait for you guys to meet them.

Is there an aspect of the show that you're most excited for people to see?

Honestly, the cast. We have people from all walks of life. I just think to myself when I was growing up, if I saw a cast that was that diverse in that way I ... I don't know. It made me emotional when I was sitting in the table read and just seeing how different everybody looked, and how we're all part of telling this story. Again, I just feel so grateful that I get to be a part of that, and that change. It's really exciting.

So, you're now entering into this big franchise, and you've appeared in the DC Universe on "Supergirl." Is there another big franchise about which you're like, "Man, I really wish I could get my hands on that?"

Well, the answer is always Catwoman. I always wanted to be Catwoman. But Zoe Kravitz, I feel like, is going to really nail that and I don't think I'll be seeing that part ever. But another one would be, I really want to break gender barriers within characters. So, I would love to take things that are so iconically male and make it female. Like I'd love to be the next Joker, or the next Zorro, or the next Indiana Jones, or you know what I mean? Just, let's start playing with it. That's the great thing about this business and this art form is that you can change it, and why not, you know?

SYFY's "Van Helsing" wraps up its run with a three-episode blast on June 18, followed by the series finale on June 25.