How did you get caught up with the show?
My agent told me there was this new project happening called Wynonna Earp, and sent me the script and the material. Funnily enough, I turned it down. I said I wasn’t interested. Not based off of the content, but based off the fact I just wasn’t in the right head space to want to audition for anything at that time. I’m not really doing acting over the summer. They said I could do the audition tape at home.
I read the title and the premise, and what really caught my eye was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Justified”. I’m a huge fan of Justified and I’ve worked with Jeremy Davies, I think he’s a character and a great guy. So I read the script and it was my character was what really drew me to this part. I was like, “wow, it’s a Western but my character doesn’t really follow the conventions or the norms of being a small town police officer. He’s actually a member of a Secret Service organisation” – this was very interesting and exciting.
That’s the long-winded answer. I got the call from my agent, auditioned, met Emily and now I’m on the phone with you!
What did you get told up front in terms of who Dolls is, and his backstory?
The breakdown that I got was very descriptive, comparing him to Tommy Lee Jones with a bit of Tom Hardy. There were elements that he was extremely stoic and complex and very passionate about his job, about law enforcement. He was very black and white about his job. That was a character that I had yet to portray – so I wanted to get involved with it.
Emily didn’t say very much; well, she said enough! She said, “Wow, Shamier, you hit it on the head. You’re the guy!” She told me that at the first meeting and she told me that at our last meeting in Los Angeles. Beau Smith and everyone who saw my tape felt that I resonated with it, and that I was Dolls.
I was actually the only guy at the screen test – the final stage of the audition from whom they’re going to select – so I was competing against myself. They were so certain that I was the guy.
I know from other conversations that they had the first five scripts written before shooting began, but the rest was being written as you went along. Were there elements that were emphasized in the later scripts as a result of what they saw?
One hundred percent! I started taking off my shirt a lot more – they saw I loved to work out. I didn’t love it that much but every time I got a script, Dolls was shirtless, Dolls was taking off his shirt, Dolls was half-naked… Guys, what are you doing? That started developing a lot more, and I think that was probably just for the pleasure of the people writing it. That was very flattering.
Also, the relationship between Dolls and Wynonna. When you get a project like this, there’s always the difficult love triangle, the relationship between the male and the female lead. But I really think that the writers saw what Mel and I were doing, what they were seeing on the dailies, and were just building our characters based off the relationship we were organically building throughout the season. That developed into the season finale, and the kiss in [episode 12] didn’t feel forced. Melanie and I also spoke to each other: it was very organic, and we earned that moment, as opposed to it being a very cheesy moment.
Were there any specific points you suggested or discussed with Emily to make that build better?
Honestly, when I spoke with Emily, we spoke a lot about the dynamic between the two characters, and giving Dolls an ability of showing his skillset when it came on to fighting and when it came on to showing that this guy was very proficient in his tactics, gun-handling. The questions were: how much do we want to see Dolls fight? How much do we want to showcase his ability, his hand/eye coordination? How trained is he? That’s what we talked about and what we got to see the whole season.
Talking of the fights, Tim Rozon said to me that you were a ninja…
(Laughs) Wow, that’s very kind of him to say.
Thank you. I love, love, love martial arts. I’ve been doing martial arts for many years, and our stunt coordinator Steve was so gracious to incorporate some of my personal attributes and my style of fighting. That was something that was in the writing originally, but they definitely indulged it a lot more once they realised I had a passion for the stuff.
I had no stunt doubles; all the stuff you see on screen was done by me. We had a lot of rehearsals and worked very hard at it. A lot of the stylistic things you may see is a lot of just me, from my personal training.
Including the way he is during the big raid in episode 11?
Yes. I actually went to a school of criminology; I wanted to be a police officer before I was going to be an actor. I had to do a lot of training. I went to the SWAT base to the shooting training, tactical training, so a lot of that is actually based off of experience.
On set I didn’t need much advice from our advisors, if I can say that: Steve was, “Shamier, you’ve got a handle on things.” I got to pick my own gun, the flashlight on the firearm; my vehicle, I got to design how I wanted it to look. They were so collaborative.
It was such an amazing experience being able to play a cop on TV even though I wanted to be one in real life.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
The biggest challenge for me was actually not smiling; I love to smile, I love to crack jokes. Tim and I are jokesters, we prank each other a lot. Dolls has been developing, he’s loosened up, but at the beginning, it was difficult for me not to smile and be such a straight shooter. I’m not a straight shooter in real life – I love to have fun. In a couple of hours I’m going to DJ a huge party: I love to have a good time. Transitioning into Dolls and becoming this rock-like character who rarely smiles was difficult; the directors had to ask me to stop smiling off screen because they could even see the subtle smile in my eyes in the first few episodes. I had to come on set being in the zone as Dolls, and I had to tell the crew, “Guys, please don’t take offence if I’m not smiling at you. I need to embody this and not just act it.”
What do you think drives Dolls?
It’s funny that you ask that because my acting coach and I have a little secret that I have in the back of my head, that I keep, that’s Dolls’ secret that the world will never know.
As for onscreen, what I think drives him is his passion, his passion for the task ahead, and just making sure that he completes it. Even with all the obstacles, he still tries to stay on track; this is what needs to happen. Even in the last episode: “forget Black Badge, what we need is you, Wynonna” – and that’s what drives him.
I think that’s something that definitely evolves over the season. At the beginning it was definitely work for Dolls. It was definitely just getting the job done, but with any human being you have a personal connection, even your associates, your employees, because you’re with them and you’re working so closely with them. Over time there’s a personal connection and that’s why he refers to her as “my deputy”, “my person that’s working for me” when somebody makes a personal jab at Wynonna.
I think it all mushed together, but I don’t think he loses sight of what has to happen. They work so closely, they protect each other, and now he has that personal connection, if not a little more, given the entire season of growth.
Fingers crossed the series goes again, what would you like to see?
I would love to have him spend a little more time with Waverly Earp. Dominique is such a lovely actress; we haven’t spent much time together on screen. We had a little scene, a heart to heart, a couple of episodes ago; I’d love to see that with Waverly.
I’d like to indulge a little more into his origins. A lot of fans want to know what Xavier Dolls’ origins are. Where does he come from? What was his childhood like? Was he married? Did he have kids? We don’t know any of these things and I think that’s something we should really explore. Hopefully Emily and the writing team will dabble into that: he’s so interesting. He’s loved by so many. You just want to know, who is this guy? And why is he the way he is? That’s what I’d love to see if I was watching.
Wynonna Earp airs on Syfy in the US, and begins on Spike in the UK on Fridays at 9 pm from July 29
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