Summer Glau has already appeared in such well-loved sci-fi franchises as Firefly and Terminator. Now she’s stepping into a brand-new sci-fi universe. Glau narrates the audio version of Alternis, the new sci-fi thriller from serialized fiction publisher Serial Box. Alternis is about a high-stakes video game that could prevent or set off the next World War.
Alternis is created by Andrea Phillips (Revision), and follows video game designer Tandy Kahananui as she discovers that the game she created is being used for a top-secret project to keep the world from plunging into war. Next, she joins Team USA in a game where nations compete for real-world resources, and not everyone is following the rules.
Glau is best known for playing River Tam ins Joss Whedon’s Firefly and the movie Serenity. She’s also played terminator Cameron Phillips in Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. She’s appeared in Angel, Grey’s Anatomy, The Unit, The 4400, Alphas, Dollhouse, Arrow, and The Cape. ComicBook.com spoke to Glau over the phone about bringing her talents to the new Serial Box series.
Also, ComicBook.com readers interested in checking Alternis out for themselves can get 10% off a season pass by using the promo code alternis10cb. The first two episodes are available now.
ComicBook.com: What can you tell me about the story of Alternis?
Summer Glau: It's a series of 10 episodes of a story about a woman named Tandy Kahananui. And she is the creator of Alternis, which is a virtual reality game. And she's kind of stuck in a corporate job that she doesn't love, and as soon as she gets home, she starts working on her world. And one night, when she's working on creating a new story, she is visited by the FBI. And they take her and explain to her that her game is being used as the seed for a bigger game that the government has created to try to help different countries work together, work out their problems, to try to avoid a World War.
And so she's thrown into her own game, which turns out to be somewhat like her game that was other unexpected twists and turns, and she's put onto team U.S.A and has to bond with these characters immediately, who are kind of suspicious of her because she's shown up late in the game. And she's trying to decide how much she should disclose to them or not. And it's a story ultimately about her coming into her own and trusting herself, and trusting her instincts, and trying to win the game with this team of hers.
This is sci-fi, of course, but where does it fall on the scale from action-heavy sci-fi to more ponderous material, even compared to some of the other sci-fi projects you’ve been involved in?
Well I can say, it certainly is action-packed. It's a crazy ride. And you know, it's virtual reality, so that fits into the science fiction genre. But there's also some really moving moments between the characters and some really funny moments as well. It's different than anything I've done before though because it's exploring virtual reality, which I am not well versed in myself, I had to learn a lot of the rules of how to play, and some of the terminology that I wasn't familiar with. But I think it's something that we are increasingly all going to be influenced by, and more involved in year by year.
There have been other stories about these kind’s of games and virtual worlds — Ender’s Game, Ready Player One, etc. — but Alternis is interesting because it comes from the perspective of the designer. I was going to ask if you had a familiarity with game design going on or did a lot of research, but it sounds more like its some very convincing acting?
[laughs] Well, I certainly got the fish out of water part down, and sort of the wonder and feeling like I'm flying by the seat of my pants, because the project came together rather quickly, and I got into the studio, and I felt like, "Wow, this world is just coming at me like a train." And I'm meeting all of these characters, not just on my team, but from all different countries with all different skill sets. There's so many rules to know, and strategies. It was pretty exciting for me. I'm really interested in it, and I think that it's something that we should all open ourselves up to. The idea is really fascinating.
Can you tell me about more about the character of Tandy? Who she is and how you get into her headspace?
Absolutely. You know, Tandy resonates with me in particular. She has this dream. She has this world inside her mind, and she's creating it on her own, that she hasn't shared it with the world yet. And there's a part of her that doubts herself. And throughout the process of being thrown into the game, she's being criticized. They don't know that she's the creator of the game for a while through the story. And so not only does she have her self-doubt, but she's being faced with constant criticism. And she really struggles to decide to stand up for herself, to reveal herself, to take charge, to be the one to say, "No, I think we should go this way or that way." I really understand that.
In my life, I think that a problem a lot of people have is being the hero of your own story. And obviously, she's very talented, and she has so much to offer the world but she's been holding back. And the game kind of forces her to confront that doubt, and those fears. And I loved watching her throughout the series start to make those choices, to step up and decide for herself and for her team, "No, I trust myself." And she's really coming into her own. She's very compassionate. She really starts to build unique bonds with each of her teammates and I think really starts to build a better relationship with herself, too, throughout the course of the story.
I’ve always wondered about actors taking audiobook jobs because on one hand you’re narrating, which is acting but not really playing a character. But you’re also playing a character, because you’re narrating from Tandy’s point-of-view, but then you’re also performing dialogue for several other characters. It seems like a lot. How do you handle all of that?
Well thanks for asking. I've been asking myself that as well. I've kind of been watching myself go through the process. When I was sent the story and the idea, it was an immediate yes, because I listen to audiobooks and podcasts every chance I get. I absolutely love this medium. It works for me in my life right now, you know? I'm a mommy to two young girls, and I don't often get to sit down and watch a show like I used to. And so audio has really given me this new access. And I wanted to somehow find my way into storytelling this way.
But when they sent me the story and told me I was going to be narrating, I pictured myself as if I was reading a book. But when I got into the studio, I realized I need to connect all of these characters, uniquely, and come up with ways to differentiate them. And I find myself being hesitant, also like Tandy in the story, I don't know if I trust myself. I'm going to go for this voice. I'm going to try this sound. And because there's so much story to tell, I can't micromanage myself through the process. I can't say, "Oh, I want to go back and do that line 10 times." I kind of have to find a flow, and just trust that I'm going to get that character across, get that moment across, and that the audience is going to be along for the ride, and that it's all going to come together as a whole. But I'm constantly saying, OK, keep up with the momentum. Stop when you need to, but keep going. Let the voices out. And it's a great exercise as an actor.
Audio fiction is going through a boom right now, with fiction podcasts and audiobooks getting a lot of new attention and a company like Serial Box making waves by signing deals with Marvel and things like that. As someone in the entertainment industry, was this kind of audio work on your radar at all when you were starting out? And have you been aware of the surge of popularity it's experienced?
I didn't think about it much when I first started. Although, when I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived next door to a library, and I didn't have any money to go to the movie theater. So I would check stuff out. And sometimes I would check on those books on the old cassette tapes. And I loved listening to those. And as an actor, you kind of eat that up with a spoon, because you're being entertained, but you can also use what you're not seeing to kind of imagine story in your own way. And I like that aspect of reading or listening to audio. Everybody is kind of seeing their own story on top of what they're hearing.
And I didn't think about it much when I was working, mostly on screen. I didn't think about doing audio much. But since I've moved from LA to Texas, and I'm focusing mostly on raising my little ones, the audio side of things has really been a big part of my life now. My hands are always busy. I'm always doing laundry or doing the dishes or cooking dinner, and this is my way of still getting access to the storytelling.
Many fans know you best as River Tam on Firefly, a show cancelled too soon. Creator Joss Whedon has said in the past that he’d entertain the idea of reviving the show in any form that involved the original cast. After your experience working on Alternis, do you think the audio format could work for Firefly, as maybe a full-cast recording type of thing?
I think that would be such a great way to do it. There have been moments when I've been in the sound booth by myself, and I've been bringing these voices to life on my own, and I visualize them being different actors. And it's brought back flashes of that very first table read that I ever had in LA. That was with my Firefly cast and it was a magical moment for me too. We all had our scripts, and we were all reading our roles, and it was the different voices coming together and making the story come to life. And so it's cool that you mention that. I can absolutely see that being something that the fans would enjoy.