Zero-Gravity Sex and Three-Story Sets: 10 Things to Know About Syfy's 'The Expanse'

The Expanse Still H 2015
Jason Bell/Syfy

The Expanse Still H 2015

Syfy's upcoming thriller The Expanse, based on the best-selling Leviathan Wakes book series by James S.A. Corey, is set in space, 200 years in the future.

But it turns out extraterrestrial sex scenes aren't ideal in zero-gravity space, series lead Steven Strait (James Holden) told The Expanse panel at Fan Expo Canada over the weekend. That fact, as well as a few other reveals, emerged at the fan event in Toronto that included panel appearances by Cas Anvar (Alex Kamal) and Florence Faivre (Julie Mao).

Before the Q&A, Canadian fans first viewed the pilot episode for The Expanse, which stars Strait as a rogue ship's captain and Thomas Jane as a hardened cop. The first two episodes, directed by Terry McDonough (Breaking Bad) and set to debut on Dec. 14 and 15 on Syfy and on Space in Canada, kick off with a case of a missing young woman that opens the way for a space opera about mankind colonizing the solar system.

The series, shot in Toronto on giant soundstages at Pinewood Toronto Studios, hails from Alcon Television Group, with Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of Men, Iron Man) on board as writers and exec producers.

Here are the 10 biggest reveals from the 2015 Fan Expo Canada event:

1. Going horizontal in zero-gravity isn't easy when scenes are shot with wires and actors are wearing harnesses. "We tried to make it as real as possible. But it's humanity and we're in space and people are still having sex," said Strait, who plays a water miner-turned-ship's captain. "I was concerned when I read the script. I thought, 'How are we going to pull this off? I don't want this to seem hokey,'" he added.

Aiding the extraterrestrial hanky-panky was a professional sex scene choreographer. "We actually had a choreographer, an Italian choreographer, who kept calling out 'throw your head back!' Thanks, Roberto. Think about it. The smallest little movement of going round, there's no resistance. So it's very delicate," Strait recounted.

2. The Syfy series will faithfully follow the three-book series that includes Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War and Abaddon's Gate. "The series is based off of these beloved books," Strait said. "So our novelists were in the writers' room every step of the way, and on set everyday, which was great for us with technological questions, like, 'How do we walk with the gravity boots on?'"

3. The only deviation in the TV series from the book franchise is bringing Shohreh Aghdashloo's character, Chrisjen Avasarala, from the second book to the early narrative for The Expanse. "The luxury of television is you have time to explore characters and justify every step of the way," Strait said. "This was a conversation that the novelists and the head writers in the room and director Terry McDonough, who set the tone for the show, had as we wanted to make sure that this show had characters in a realistic sense to draw the audience in. The scope is so large, the effects are crazy. But if you don't care about the stories, it doesn't matter. And, at the end of the day, the tone (of the books and TV show) is similar."

4. Cas Anvar found in his Alex Kamal character the perfect role for an avowed space geek. "I get to play a character who is a Mars-born fighter pilot, ex-Navy, and with a Texas accent — It's kind of a geek boy's wet dream," Anvar told the panel. "It's a dream role, a character that's a hero, lots of adventure, with undertones of Firefly, Battlestar Galactica."

5. The Expanse was shot on the three biggest stages at Pinewood Toronto Studios, using giant sets and interiors, in addition to green screen scenes. "We actually shot in space," Strait joked, before citing giant sets and interiors on the Toronto soundstages. "We shot right here in Toronto, on three of the largest sound stages in North America, full of sets that we were constantly destroying, I mean every three weeks," he recalled. "They had to rebuild three-story-high sets. But it really helped. As an actor, you walking into these spaces and it legitimately affects how you perform, and the believability you have for your own work."

6. Zero-gravity calls for being weightless, but still having mass to move around. "You're not light as a feather as you float about. You still have inertia and mass," Anvar explained at the fan event. "So it takes a lot of effort for you to move from one location to another, even though you're not being drawn down by gravity. You can't just push and then fly across. It takes effort and you move slowly because it's a lot of mass and weight."

7. Alpha House star Florence Faivre plays Julie Mao, the rebellious oldest daughter of Jules-Pierre Mao, as a badass and a rebel. "She's a very strong person. She's a tough girl. She grows up in one of the most powerful families in the galaxy, but gives it all away for the benefit of the people. She's all about justice, and does martial arts," Faivre, who was making her fan convention debut, told Fan Expo Canada attendees.

8. The second episode picks up right where the pilot episode cliffhanger leaves off. "The reason why we're showing the first two episodes back-to-back is because they really are in-step," Strait explained. "It's one movement, and it picks up right where we left off. I don't want to give too much away, but nothing is precious. People you feel are established from the beginning, you lose them. It grabs you by the throat, and just doesn't let go."

9. The Expanse book series is more story-driven while the upcoming Syfy series is more character-driven. "These are character-driven books, but they have a different priority," Strait told the Toronto panel. "The plot has to move faster. With us, we want to push the plot, but we want to make sure you're really invested in these characters, as much as you can be."

10. The world of The Expanse is not set 5,000 or 10,000 years in the future. Instead, space is just being colonized in a relatively new future. "To me, the compelling story is our fumbling into space," Strait explained. "We're doing OK, but it's not going great. It still hurts when you're moving fast, and it takes time to go from place to place. This is not too far off, and we're out in the middle of nowhere mining ice because water has become a huge commodity," he added.