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INTERVIEW: Living Fancy-Free with ‘Killjoy’s Sean Baek

sean baek - killjoys
Actor Sean Baek plays Fancy Lee on ‘Killjoys’ (via Killjoys Wiki)

Every organization needs a designated a**hole. That is my gift to the Killjoy collective. The a**hole may not be liked, but he will always be necessary. Because he does what’s needed.”  –Fancy Lee

Fancy Lee, one of the most enigmatic supporting characters of the hit SyFy and Space Channel series, Killjoys, is an example of the rich tapestry of science fiction television that is presently available for viewers. Humour, diversity and an emphasis on loyal relationships are the major themes in this show and at its foundation are rich characters like Fancy, played by the classically trained and talented Sean Baek.

Pop Mythology had a chance to sit down with Sean and learn more about him, his character and just what might lie ahead as the Killjoys power their way through this third season into a hopefully even more explosive fourth.

But first, like all great stories, we had to start at the beginning.

“I think there is a redemptive quality to him … when he came out to John, so to speak,” Sean said, as he began talking about his character. “It’s like, he knows he’s an a**hole, but he also knows he’s got a job to do, as a Level Five. I think that’s a regular workplace thing and I think a lot of people identify with that aspect of Fancy Lee.”

Fancy Lee is a fan-favourite character. Whether it’s as a rival Killjoy, a pawn of the formerly evil Khlyen, or just in it for his own sake, there is a certain finesse about Fancy Lee that Sean Baek plays so well. However, to this reflective and infectiously friendly performer, that’s a surprise.

“I was actually very pleasantly surprised by how people started to relate to the character. When I first got the script for Season One, Episode Six, when I revealed myself as the Designated A**hole [laughter] – that’s not how I would have seen myself, Sean Baek! I try to be nice as I can, but when I got to that part, I thought, I might get hated!”

Sean Baek Kiilljoys
(Syfy/Space Channel)

It’s difficult to reconcile the idea of the ruthless Fancy Lee even worrying about the possibility of being hated, but in consideration, that’s probably why his character resonates so strongly with his viewing audience. That constant internal struggle keeps both Fancy and Sean on their toes, making the performance an organic and vibrant thing to see.

I turned the conversation to Sean’s audition for the role. In my experience, there’s always something significant about an actor and their bid for a character.

“Having played a lot of villains in my theatre career, playing one is a lot of fun,” he explained. Usually I get super-nervous when I get the first call – especially for a role like Fancy Lee. But this was back in 2014? And when I read it, I thought: ‘Oh my God… this guy is so me. When the writing is really good, it’s so easy to absorb the lines and become the character, click with the character and this was one of those rare occasions. I felt more confident when the second call came, because I knew I had done something right with this character.”

There’s something about classically trained actors that make them so well-adapted to the science-fiction milieu. I asked Sean to expand further on this.

“Well, I spent a lot of time at Stratford, educating myself and working with some great, Shakespearean people… that seems to be the trend.”

We brought up actors like William Shatner, Christopher Plummer and other Canadian, classically-trained actors who are able to move beyond the text and gravitate towards a realm of fancy (no pun intended) that Sean is also able to access. One just has to look at the amount of classically trained, theatrical actors who have wound up on memorable science fiction shows like Star Trek to see that Baek is following in the same tradition. Along with the Canadian actors mentioned previously, actors like Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Armin Shimerman, aka Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (who was just recently offered a teaching position in Shakespearean literature), or Robert Picardo from Star Trek: Voyager. If classical theatrical actors can find a home in science fiction, then so can he.

Sean Baek Kiilljoys
(Syfy/Space Channel)

It’s also hard to see the cold-hearted Fancy Lee in the role of a father, but after speaking with Sean, it’s very touching to see Sean (who became a dad recently) as a father and I asked him how he was able to reconcile himself between the two roles. The answer was predictably adorable.

“I never, ever thought I’d use the words ‘amazing’ and ‘perfect’ when it comes to my child, but there I go,” he said. “But it’s a profession, right? At the end of the day, you get off the stage, so to speak. Take off the costume and make your way home to come back to Earth and be a dad. And as my schedule is not as regulated as my wife’s, I wind up doing a lot of the childcare. And I have to say, it’s the best job I could ever have.”

I asked Sean if his daughter had ever seen him on television.

“We watched the Season Three premiere together and it was really cute! We didn’t think she would be able to stay up but she did! At first, when I came on, it didn’t really register, but then her eyes widened and she turned back and pointed at me and said: ‘Da-da! Da-da!’ She was going back and forth and it was really cool!”

Every sci-fi actor has a science fiction film influence in their life that they think about when performing in this genre. Sean was no different. However, the influence he brought up in the conversation was a bit of a surprise, given that his character is a full-blooded space adventurer and mercenary.

“One of my all-time favourite science fiction movies – the movie I first went to with my older siblings – well, let me first say, I know you’re asking about sci-fi influences that relate to Fancy Lee, but the sci-fi movie I always think of is E.T. I just can’t help it – I love that movie! There’s so much character development in that film that I wanted to be Elliott. I wanted to be Elliott so bad that I begged my mum to buy me a BMX bike! I worked for it and I got it! [laughter]”

Killjoys is an amazing show where the story is propelled by an emphatic theme of loyalty. Its quality though is somewhat subdued by the fact that Canadians are reticent to celebrate their own success. However, in the background of Canadian television, Killjoys has a strong presence that should be recognized by its talent and quality but also by its ranking with other great science fiction shows like Dark Matter, The Expanse, or Orphan Black.

The show seems so fluid, that given its theme of loyalty, I had to ask if that sense of familial relationship was present on set.

“It IS that way,” he confirmed. “Hannah, Aaron, Luke… I mean, when I showed up for my first episode in season three, the first thing that happened was Hannah got up and gave me a big hug. There were new members in the production office, so I had to introduce myself, and the other cast members were excited to see me too. It literally feels like we’re a big family and that feeds into the quality of work we do on this show. That sort of love and mutual respect happens on and off camera. That comes from top-down. The executive producers, the directing … from Michelle. It feels like everyone is there to create something really good, and we enjoy doing it.”

Sean Baek Kiilljoys
(Syfy/Space Channel)

Sean went on further with a more vivid example.

“When we shot that winter scene, it was really, bloody cold! The wardrobe department made sure that we had long-johns and thermal underwear! That’s the type of people we work with on this show, and that makes a difference, you know?”

There’s a bond amongst the cast that makes this show stand out. But Sean’s confidence in this show also is a clear demonstration of not only its quality but its heart.

“You know, one of the great things about our show is that it’s Canadian original too. A lot of people forget about that. I mean, Michelle is not only a fantastic writer, but she’s also super-smart; she’s a fast-brain – like one of those people whose mind is constantly at work and thinking about other stuff while she’s talking to you. She carefully observes people and gets their vibe. She knows Fancy, Davin, John … she gets their energy. The cool sci-fi references and dark humour? Hers.”

Michelle Lovretta is the creator and showrunner for Killjoys and Sean asserts that she’s a real talent and someone that Canadian science fiction fans should be proud of. It’s something that needs to be celebrated more in this country. It isn’t until we, as Canadians, get externally told that our quality is good that we begin to celebrate it more ourselves. It’s like we need validation from our neighbour to the south, yet the quality talent is sitting in front of me right now, modestly asserting how great a show that Killjoys is.

I mean, we are currently good enough for filming Star Trek in this city and we celebrate that distinction – why can’t we be prouder of our own work?

Sean certainly is. He knows Killjoys by every script – even the ones Fancy wasn’t in. So I had to ask him: was there a really cool moment that stood out in Sean’s mind in the last three seasons?

“You know, this is my profession, but at the same time, this is also my fun. Not to sound egocentric, but I remember the key episode that pushed Fancy to the next level – episode 106 – when I shot Big Joe. You know; when the warrant became a Black Warrant? Joe was trying to get Dutch to shoot him, but out of respect, Dutch couldn’t do it. Fancy pulled the trigger but it was to make it easier for both Joe and Dutch. It’s easy to look at Fancy as heartless, stone-cold but I think the deeper meaning was that because Fancy respected that relationship and Dutch couldn’t do it – he wound up doing it for her. The next morning, when we continued, the writer for that episode approached me and said ‘that’s the essence of Fancy’. And I felt that too. For the writer to say that I nailed it, that was my coolest moment.”

Sean Baek Kiilljoys
(Syfy/Space Channel)

Speaking with Sean Baek was more than just an interview; it was a chance to listen to a craftsman relate the love and joy of his performing his craft on a personal level. Baek has put so much thought into portraying this character that he even went far to speculate on Fancy’s backstory.

“The reason Fancy Lee likes to be the designated a**hole – and this is just my opinion – in Season One and Two, we saw him work alone and then he gets programmed to be Level Six, right? I think Fancy went through something very devastating in his life. Either he lost his whole family to a robbery gone wrong or he lost everything, like the love of his life or something. Maybe he was a family man … but that’s what made him a stone-cold Level Five RAC agent. That’s how I see it. Something must have pushed him over the edge to make him want to be the top RAC agent he could be. But he doesn’t have tunnel vision so that he loses sight on what’s really important.”

Of course, that’s what we need to find out in Season Four. At this moment, it’s unclear if Killjoys will continue into a fourth season. But that goes back to the earlier point about why does good Canadian television have to face that type of uncertainty when there is quality programming and talent right in our backyard?

Actors like Sean Baek have talent and the type of training to make Science Fiction a recognized and vibrant part of Canadian cultural tapestry. The more shows like Killjoys appear the more opportunity there will be for actors, production staff and writers to add to that entertainment culture. This show has a fairly large following on social media, but how can we get that following to translate into a viewing audience?

At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize this level of quality programming and performance. It was also important to get to know Sean a little more and learn more about his life and his dedication to his craft. If loyalty and relationship-building are key themes in this television show, then with his talent, background and demeanour, it’s clear that Sean fits right in. Maybe Fancy Lee doesn’t epitomize relationships, but it’s clear that there’s no way this show could live… Fancy-free.

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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.