Tahmoh Penikett is used to genre fare. With major roles in “Battlestar Galactica” (Karl “Helo” Agathon), “Dollhouse” (Paul Ballard) and a recent arc on “Supernatural” (Gadreel), the out-of-this world elements of his newest show, “Riftworld Chronicles”, aren’t exactly new to him. What he’s less experienced with is the format.
“Riftworld”, which premiered on July 14, is a web series that airs on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s online comedy channel, Punchline. Unlike Penikett’s previous show work, its first season consists of eight episodes, each of which are under 10 minutes. Starring opposite Erin Karpluck (“Being Erica”), he plays Alar, a realm-jumping wizard who finds himself stranded in Toronto, where he must team up with a journalist to find his way home. “I think there’s a little something for everyone in this,” said Penikett.
Blast’s Georgeanne Oliver spoke with Penikett about the web series format, working with Karpluck, and the future of the series.
Blast: You’re telling stories in 5 to 6 minute episodes instead of 45 like with “Battlestar”. Do you like telling them in shorter snippets? Do you find them easier or limiting?
Penikett: I think it’s great. You hook the audience in a different way. We’re all very distracted and our attention spans are very, you know, limited. If you look at your normal magazine articles, compare them to things that are online now, they’ve been cut by a fifth at least. People want to read things in snippets. Maybe in a sense that’s where we’re heading with web series.
If I’m speaking from a fan perspective, I personally like a little bit longer [episodes], you know, half hour or an hour. I want a little bit more of a drawn out story, little bit more of a character arc. The fan response has been overwhelming so far, but the problem being one thing I’m seeing from everyone is, like, they want more. They clean through, you know, all eight episodes. In one session, they’re done. They binge-watch all of them and they’re just craving more.
Blast: Do you know if there’s any talk of making longer episodes or longer segments at some point?
Penikett: That’s always been the dream. I think that’s always been the ultimate goal for Jonathan Williams, the creator and director, and production people. Given the, you know, the tremendous response already, I’m sure we might be doing more. I don’t know if it’ll be in a web series format, though.
Blast: You still have bigger companies like Netflix and Amazon that get a lot of the attention. Why should people stop binging Netflix and check out something like “Riftworld”?
The audience that’s going to be attracted to something like this is going to be people who appreciate genre. Genre, fantasy, sci-fi, comedy. We’ve got our romantic comedy elements, we’ve got a little action. It’s very quick and easy to watch and often times people are stuck on their phones and looking to pass some time.
Blast: A lot of the humor comes from [Alar] being this creepy man on the street who’s essentially stalking this woman and he doesn’t understand. How did you make sure to make him likable?
Penikett: Well I think, you know, the first step is just making him, making Alar completely, you know, sincere in his intentions. This man, as odd as he looks walking around in his dragon-scale vest with no shirt on in the middle of downtown Toronto, he’s obviously pained and concerned about getting back to his world. The audience can’t help but have compassion for someone like that when they see that they’re obviously concerned about this thing that they believe in and they’re obviously working towards it.
Blast: So the bond with Kim that’s obviously at the center, it’s a very non-traditional, often weird bond but it plays so well. What did you and Erin do to make sure it seemed organic?
Penikett: We didn’t have to do a lot. Erin and I are old friends together. We went to acting school together for a couple years 15 years ago. We’ve also been roommates before in LA. We’re dear friends. She’s amazing at things like this. She has exceptional comedic timing.
Blast: One of the biggest parts of your character is this ridiculous, wonderful, strange costuming that you have. Were you involved in that process at all?
Penikett: I wasn’t involved in the process at all. The vest is incredible. It’s heavy, heavy leather. It fits perfectly. I can be honest, I’m not really a fan of the pants. The pants were a hazard, if anything. They’ve got a lot of loose, flowing parts that would constantly catch on things. I’d be taking out extras and old people walking by and dogs and cats. I almost killed myself with those pants a couple times.
Blast: This is quite a character, obviously. How did playing him compare to maybe more traditional parts you’ve had in the past?
Penikett: It’s different than most of the roles I’ve done because number one, it’s comedy and, you know, the only time I’ve been allowed to do comedy really has been in theater school. Anybody who knows me knows that I love to laugh, I love to make people laugh. It’s something that brings me a lot of enjoyment. I hope it opens up more doors and that I can do more.
Blast: What’s next for you?
Penikett: We’ve got a couple projects that I can’t yet speak of because the contracts aren’t done. I’m taking some time to do some writing for myself. In terms of work and what I want to do, as an artist I always want to be challenged. I want to do things I haven’t done before.
Blast: In terms of writing, are you interested in writing for the entertainment industry or is it a more personal thing?
Penikett: I’m interested in writing my own projects. I’ve always been interested in directing. I’ve worn the producer hat more than a few times now for some smaller projects and I kind of want to wear all three hats and bring to life some of my own projects here soon.
Blast: In terms of the future of the show, what can viewers expects from Al and from the series?
Penikett: I think we’ll see a lot of things. There’s gonna be a showdown between Alar and the assassin that’s been sent to get him. Hopefully we’ll meet this evil sister that he talks about who sent the assassin after him. We’ll learn more about these dark forces that he’s worried about that are threatening his home world. We’ll see some of the other creatures and the other characters that Alar speaks of from his world and hopefully we’ll see some more magic.