Imagine “Fear the Walking Dead” without zombies and you have some notion of what to expect from The CW’s “Containment”, a thriller about a spreading virus in Atlanta that features Spokane native Trevor St. John in his first prime-time series regular role.
St. John, a 1989 graduate of West Valley High School and a 1993 graduate of Whitworth College, previously had recurring roles in prime-time shows, including “The Client List,” and was a regular on the daytime soap “One Life to Live” from 2003 to 2010.
“It has the same kind of pace as an independent feature film,” St. John said of filming “Containment.”
St. John said on the soap he averaged 30 pages of script per day; on a prime-time drama that shoots over seven or eight days a lead actor might film nine pages per day.
“If I ever hear an actor on a primetime show complain about pace, I just shake my head and think, you have no clue what speed is,” he said in a phone interview earlier this month from his home in Los Angeles. “My fellow actors were absolutely shocked when I told them the most pages I did on a soap was 83 in one day.”
In “Containment,” St. John plays Leo, a journalist who sees a conspiracy in the official story spun by CDC leader Sabine Lommers (Claudia Black, “Farscape”), who heads up government efforts to quash the outbreak of a mysterious epidemic.
“When you get something (like ‘Containment’) where you have 13 episodes versus a soap that does almost 300 per year, you’re talking an entirely different animal,” St. John said. “With only 13 episodes, (the writers) don’t have to explain so much and when you don’t feel the need to explain so much, the writing is instantly better. I don’t want to disparage the soaps, but it’s really hard when you have to put on five shows a week, it has to move slowly to fill an hour with exposition. But if you’re going in with just 13 episodes, it’s more concentrated and you can have a lot more occur, more structure, more turns and a lot more points of departure.”
St. John grew up in Orchard Prairie and he gets back to Spokane yearly to visit his mother, Lorna St. John, and his stepfather, Don Hamilton, founder of Spokane’s Hamilton Studio.
“I was more of a jock in high school,” St. John said, noting he played football and baseball. “I didn’t do any plays in high school. I got interested when I went to Whitworth.”
He auditioned for a role in “As You Like It” in college and landed the lead role of Orlando.
“It just kind of blossomed,” he said. “It felt like I had some natural ability and I went from there.”
Hamilton helped St. John film a demo reel at Hamilton Studios where he and a fellow college actor performed a scene from “Death of a Salesman.”
“He was really influential,” St. John said of his stepfather. “While I was in college he directed a film, ‘Holy Days,’ so I was always around the business and around the essence of film and television.”
St. John intended to go to New York for theater work after graduating from college, but after working as actor Aidan Quinn’s stand-in on the 1993 shot-in-Spokane movie “Benny & Joon,” casting director Rick Montgomery told St. John he should go where he knew people, so St. John ended up in Los Angeles.
St. John was cast in “Containment” after a guest role on “The Vampire Diaries.” Writer Julie Plec is executive producer on both series.
“I had worked with him briefly on ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and was impressed by the depth of his intelligence and his extremely nuanced acting,” Plec said. “Everyone on set at the time talked about how good he was. It was great to be able to work with him again.”
St. John initially auditioned for a different role on “Containment” but producers liked him for the part of Leo and upped the role to a series regular, developing the character differently than in the Belgian TV series “Containment” is based on.
“Casting Trevor challenged us to take a role that had been clearly defined in one way by the writers of the Belgian series and expand our vision of it to fit him as an actor,” Plec said. “He is a thrill to write for because he can do anything.”
The Leo character is barely glimpsed in the “Containment” pilot but Leo becomes integral to the story in episode two.
“When we find him he is in the throes of a fact-checking error, which has really caused his career and reputation to plummet,” St. John said. “He’s trying to claw his way back into the mainstream and this story falls in his lap. He thinks if he can get an exclusive and break something, then he can get back. He has a suspicious mind and feels maybe what the politicians and people in positions of authority are telling the public is not quite accurate.”
For “Containment” St. John traveled back and forth between the home he shares in Los Angeles with his wife, Sara Apelkvist, and his 9-year-old son, and Atlanta, where the series was shot.
In addition to “Containment,” St. John recently filmed a role as a track coach in an independent feature, “Crossing the Line,” and he’s acted in several short films, including “Dreamliner,” shot at Hamilton Studio.
“These shorts, the things you do on your own, those are the things I’m really interested in,” he said, “other than ‘Containment,” which is what I’m most excited about.”
Contact freelance writer Rob Owen at RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.
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