INTERVIEW: Kristian Bruun on being the underdog in ‘Red Rover’

I’m a science-fiction loving geek, but I’m a sucker for the underdog. Of course, that framed the basis for my conversation with Kristian Bruun.

That was assuredly one of the draws that attracted me to the film Red Rover (directed by Shane Belcourt). The fact that it had somewhat of a science fiction aspect to it captured my attention as well. You see, I’ve always felt that the best science fiction stories should be about the betterment of humanity in some way. In this case, we are looking at the betterment of Damon, played by Kristian.

Kristian is well known for his portrayal of Donny Hendricks on Orphan Black, Bruiser Jackson in CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries, Handmaid’s Tale and in a sci-fi series I particularly enjoyed, Deep Six. He’s got a penchant for sci-fi and It was an interview long overdue, given his sci-fi and Canadian television presence. I remarked about this to Kristian.

“Yeah, come on, John! Do your job!” he joked.

But, you see, that’s the nature of Kristian Bruun. He’s a seriously talented actor who takes pride in his craft, but when you speak to him, it’s a relaxed occasion that involves thoughtful reflection and insightful conversation. His choice of characters are thoughtful and insightful roles.

Which is the case with Damon. If you haven’t seen Red Rover, then it deserves a view. I mean, I’m a soft touch, but you don’t have to be to appreciate this film. There are ranges of compassion and the audience feels them with this movie. It’s one of those films that actually includes a mark in the point of decision between hitting rock bottom and then making a decision to better oneself.

I like to think that Red Rover is a science fiction. Yet, it’s more about the humanity than the science fiction.

“I think there is hard sci-fi and then soft sci-fi. I think our film falls into the second category,” Kristian tells me.

Of course, I can’t argue with that. After all, it’s not like the story actually involves being on Mars, or we even see training equipment, expensive CGI or what-not, but we do know that the central point in this film is about deciding if life on Mars will be better than life on Earth.

Damon has to make that choice. Damon, a geologist, could be a worthy addition to the “Red Rover” project: a reality-TV media drive to attract a team of worthwhile specialists who could actually spearhead the colonization efforts of terraforming Mars. Of course, glamour aside, it’s a one-way trip that forces one to leave everything on Earth in favour of a new future on Mars.

A little background. Damon is a guy whose girlfriend left him after going to Australia and finding her soulmate and brings her back to Toronto. The house that Damon and his girlfriend bought together now sees Damon living in the basement of his own home he co-owns, while his girlfriend lives upstairs with her new lover. Damon has lost his job and essentially feels that there is nothing left for him here on Earth.

Until he meets Phoebe. Played by Cara Gee (The Expanse), Phoebe is an artist, making cash by handing out pamphlets about the Red Rover project. They meet, build up a friendship and eventually Damon has to decide what is better: a future on Mars or throwing away a future here on Earth?

This film delicately steps into the boundaries of sci-fi but doesn’t really get its feet wet. It manages to somehow use the trappings of sci-fi to still manage to accomplish its goals by bettering humanity – one person at a time, in this case. We grow to understand Damon better and, in the process, he becomes a more insightful and appreciative person. Of course, he does this, laden down with the baggage that his struggle can load upon him. I put this to Kristian.

“I don’t think I’ve heard a better description,” he tells me. “Yeah, Damon is a complex character in some ways but in others, he’s just like all of us looking for happiness. One moment, he has lost everything and then he meets Phoebe which opens up a whole new world of possibilities.”

Which totally drew me in. Like I said, I have a soft heart.

“Me too,” Kristian shared. I asked him about any similarity to Donny.

“I think that’s just me,” He said when I asked about this. Donny Hendricks in Orphan Black is undoubtably one of Bruun’s most recognized characters. They clearly share some characteristics: gentleness of spirit, thoughtfulness and a sense of respect.

“I think Damon is a bit like Donny in the beginning. But he doesn’t have an Alison Hendricks to see him through,” he offered.

A proto-Donny, I suggested.

“Yes,” Kristian laughed. “I can see that.”

Personally, I think it’s the characters that really make this film. It’s an endearing film with, like Kristian says, a relatable character who invites the audience to feel inspired. As I mentioned before, I really enjoy a good underdog story, but this is an underdog whose path to victory isn’t unachievable; it’s within him to succeed, as it is in each and every one of us to succeed.

What really worked for me was the science fiction angle. We have a geologist, a reality-based TV show, CGI about space travel and that sets up a character that not only I could relate to but that I would be interested in. For others, I can see Phoebe being the interest. She’s a free spirit, immersed in the arts and represents a vibrancy about humanity that makes us a redeemable species. Who wouldn’t be attracted to her? This is a film that has a variety of characters who would appeal to a wide variety of audience. The idea of going to Mars, while a sci-fi subject, is a metaphor that can be appreciated on a variety of different levels, giving the film that latitude of accessibility.

I asked Kristian what would be his greatest take-away from the film.

“This was a chance for me to see how I could handle a leading role. But it was also a chance to work with such great people. Sugith (Varughese), Cara (Gee), Shane, Morgan (David Jones), Meghan (Heffern), Anna (Hopkins), Josh (Peace) – I can’t begin to say enough about them all. It was a wonderful experience, a stellar cast and a character that I could really relate to.”

When you watch Red Rover, you clearly come away with a sense of validation. There’s a great deal of anguish and tedious soul-searching for Damon in this film as he navigates away from his ex-girlfriend, his narcissist boss – sources of his frustration with his life. You immediately sense this nice guy’s loneliness and Kristian makes this character easy to understand and appreciate.

Who hasn’t been rejected in life? Who hasn’t had poor relationships with their boss? Sci-fi aside, these are things that are universal and this story is about how Damon betters his life in response to these sources of negativity in his life that actually drive him to chuck it all in. But, at the same time, the drive to become part of such a monumentally historic project to terraform Mars is what makes him a better person. I’ve said that the purpose of science-fiction is the betterment of humanity.

In this film’s case, it’s the betterment of humanity, one person at a time.

It’s a great underdog story with a bit of a paradox. We want Damon to succeed, to help him defy all the things that have been lobbed against him. But, if he wins, he gains an unknown future on another planet; if he loses, what is there to discover about the place that is driving him away?

Of course, paradox is another great sci-fi quality that often gets overlooked. However, I think it’s the heart of this story. The choice that Damon has to make not only betters him physically, mentally but it also as a person. His identity, his ethics and his direction are all affected by the decision he has to make. After he makes that decision, he is assuredly better for it, whatever that choice is.

I enjoyed seeing the process of Damon making that decision in this film. I think we’ve all been in his shoes. The journey is universal and can be appreciated by a diverse audience, and Kristian Bruun is the perfect casting choice to usher that journey in.

Let Red Rover call you over.

Red Rover is available on demand on Apple TV, Google, Prime Video and other cable providers.

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About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.