It’s not too late to catch on to NBC’s new dramatic thriller Siberia. The series, described as mix of Survivor and Lost, debuted on Monday, July 1, 2013 and follows 16 international contestants dropped into the Siberian wilderness with a $500,000 prize waiting for whoever manages to endure the social experiment the longest.
Former Miss Universe Puerto Rico Joyce Giraud stars as Carolina, one of the more level-headed contestants attempting to outlast the competition. In addition to her starring role, Giraud serves as a producer on the series and as such was the only cast member who was aware of each episode’s storylines in advance of shooting. And in support of the show’s debut, I had the opportunity to chat with the super-busy Giraud about what viewers can expect from this engaging series and about why she’s so passionate about Siberia.
Siberia is something we haven’t seen dozens of times before. Is that what grabbed you about it in the first place, that it’s something completely different?
Joyce Giraud: “That’s exactly what grabbed us about it. It’s a whole different genre that hasn’t been exploited on TV. I really love that about it. That’s what my husband [Michael Ohoven] loved about it as well when we first were brought the project. I’m in love with the project. I hope America receives it, and I hope everybody falls as in love with it as we are.”
Given the premise, it seems like you must have been put through the wringer physically while shooting the series. How did you prepare yourself for it?
Joyce Giraud: “I knew it was something absolutely exhausting. Believe it or not, I didn’t prepare for it. I should have. [Laughing] I should have worked out, but I’m not the workout type of girl. I have two boys, two babies, so I feel like I workout every day just running after them. I should have been going to a gym and working out more so that I could be more in shape, because they had us running. Everything you see, it was all real emotion. That’s why I think the show looks so authentic, because we did have scripts but everything was real emotion. I was on the inside so I knew entirely the scripts; our cast didn’t. I was in there to move the story forward at certain moments and hit certain beats and things like that for our cast as one of the producers.
Our cast, a lot of the moments where you see a real raw emotion, a lot of the moments where you see that they’re hungry, we really kept them hungry. We really did method. That’s why it looks so raw and authentic.”
Was the cast given basic outlines of what was going to happen or were they given a script where they had to hit every beat? How did that work?
Joyce Giraud: “They’re given outlines but as we go. We never wanted them to know [everything]. Like, for example, the pilot and Tommy’s death. None of them knew, only Tommy knew and the producers, but the cast didn’t know. They knew he’s disappearing, but they didn’t know the speech from our host that would be telling everyone that it was deadly. Nobody knew, so those reactions are all real like, ‘Oh my God!’ You’ll see as the show develops there are so many reactions where you see them, and you’re like, ‘Wow! These guys are great.’ Yeah, because it’s very real.”
So they didn’t know whether they’d be next in line to be killed off?
Joyce Giraud: “Yeah, they did’t know. A lot of the people, they were always on the edge. Our cast was always on the edge wondering, ‘Oh my God! Am I dying? Am I not? What’s happening? Can you please not kill me?’ They were always on edge because they never knew if something was going to happen to them.”
Where was Siberia actually shot?
Joyce Giraud: “In Canada, in Winnipeg.”
What was the environment like where you were shooting?
Joyce Giraud: “It was phenomenal. I think Canadians are such nice people. We have such a beautiful team, Buffalo Gal’s up there. They just made sure that everything flowed fantastic. That being said, the environmental conditions … I mean, the people were amazing and the crew was insanely great. I couldn’t ask for a better crew because they were all spectacular. But in the summer, we had mosquitoes that were the size of my entire palm.
There’s a moment, I don’t know if you recall from the pilot, where we are crossing a lake. One of the contestants gets dumped in the scene. Neeko [Skervin] literally falls almost to his head in the lake. When we were crossing that, I don’t know if you saw me limping at some moments but I was limping. We were crossing that on day one of production and I’m petrified of frogs all my life because my mom made me scared of them, because she was scared of them. Day one of production, we’re crossing this lake and there was snakes, there were fish, there was frogs, there was everything in that lake. I stepped on a frog and I twisted my ankle, so on day one of production, there I am limping with a twisted ankle. The guy’s like, ‘Oh my God! I think you twisted it. We need to put a cast on it.’ I’m like, ‘Oh no! Not on day one.’
The environmental circumstances were tough. We were hungry a lot of the time. We were extremely hot a lot of the time. We’re extremely upset a lot of the time. We’re extremely exhausted. They made us run a lot, if you saw in the beginning. It didn’t even show how much they made us run. I was like, ‘You guys need to show that more.’ It’s not fair that we ran that much, because we really ran a lot more.”
Joyce Giraud: [Laughing] “Exactly! They made me do all these things that in real would scare me. My husband says, ‘They put a camera to your face and you do everything, but in real life, you see a frog and you run away. You see a bee, you run away.’ That was another thing. There were so many bees. I’m petrified of bees because I have an anaphylactic reaction to bees. We had like a million EpiPens on set, because there were so many bees. When we were shooting I’m all quiet’ like, ‘Oh yeah, there is a bee.’ Everyone else is like, ‘There is a bee! Cut! Joyce, get away from the bee. Get the EpiPen.’ So he says, ‘They put a camera in your face and you’re all good. Then in real life, you become all scared of these frogs and these bees.’” I’m like, ‘Well, I could die with the bee.'”
So will we see characters die off as the season progresses?
Joyce Giraud: “I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that it gets very interesting. I will say that actually in episode four there is a lot of things that happened that you will be like, ‘Oh my God! What was that?’ The show really escalates. At the beginning, of course, there’s a lot of the character development for you to know the people and whatnot. Then after that the show really, really escalates. I hope people give it a break and really get engaged to it, and let it escalate, because if they let it escalate, they will fall in love with it.”
Are we going to find out more about the home life of Carolina? Do we go back and see more of you away from Siberia?
Joyce Giraud: “We stay in Siberia, but I don’t want to spoil it for you again. I can tell you about Carolina. Carolina is from Bogota, Colombia. The reason why she’s there is because her entire family got killed in Colombia and she was the only survivor. She only has her uncle that lives here in the States. He brought her from Colombia to the States. He basically raised her and now he needs an operation. That’s why she’s competing in the show to get the money, because she wants it for the operation of her uncle. That’s Carolina.”
The audience will be latching on to and rooting for different characters as the series goes on. Why do you think the audience should like Carolina more than any of the rest of them?
Joyce Giraud: [Laughing] “I think I want the audience to like all of them, as a producer. I want the audience to like all of them.”
Taking that producer’s hat off, why should we really like your character?
Joyce Giraud: “As an actress, I think Carolina is a very complex character. They will see it coming very soon. I think there is a lot more to her than what you see. I think at the beginning she’s very quiet, and she’s jus observing and taking everything in. Later, you will see that she’s a very complex character.”
And as a producer, what was your main responsibility behind the scenes?
Joyce Giraud: “My main responsibility was to move the story forward. Like I said, we wanted to keep everything very authentic and real, so I had every script and everything, but I needed to move it forward with our cast. Our producers and our director would come to me and tell me, ‘I need you to do this because I need to move this story forward this way.’ Then I would do it. That was my mission as a producer on the inside.”
Did any of the actors take you aside and say, “Look, I know you’ve got the inside scoop. Tell me what’s going on?”
Joyce Giraud: “A lot of them. Actually, all of them. All of them were like, ‘Joyce, tell me.’ Even before we told them that NBC bought us, that we were going to be on NBC, they were always calling. ‘Joyce, please tell us. Please tell us. You’re one of us, you know. You are a producer, but you’re one of us. You’re an actress too, so tell us. Tell us.’ They always try to harass me like, ‘Tell me. Tell me. Tell me!’ [Laughing] I’m like, ‘Guys, I can’t do it. Stop. I’d be betraying my husband.'”
Were you ever tempted?
Joyce Giraud: “I did feel in certain occasions a little bit bad so I would say, ‘Guys, it’s good. Just relax, it’s good.’ I would give them the hope and just a little wink. ‘Hey, it’s all good.’ But I didn’t tell them because then I would be violating our whole confidentiality.”
Do you think it was more difficult for you to actually be a part of the cast and to know what’s going on, as opposed to the other actors who really didn’t know what was coming?
Joyce Giraud: “Yes, it was actually very difficult because it was difficult to play something as a reality when I had lines to hit. They were like, ‘No, no, you need to stick to the script.’ I’m like, ‘Oh God! I need to stick with the script.’ I was like, ‘Okay…’, and they’re like, ‘Come on, you can do it.’ It was something very difficult to prepare for. Having to memorize is not the difficult part; having to memorize and having the others be authentic and tell you something when you know you have to push it forward in a certain direction. That was difficult.”
I’ve seen Siberia described as a mix of Survivor and Lost. Would you say that’s a good description?
Joyce Giraud: “I think it is. I think it’s a little bit of Survivor and Lost and paranormal. That’s how I would personally describe it, but I know that the network does describe it as Survivor and Lost because it is very much Survivor, and it is very much Lost because there is this group of contestants that are going to the island to compete. That’s Survivor. Then, all hell breaks loose. That’s Lost. It is very much Survivor and Lost, but at the same time, there is the paranormal aspect of it. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a whole new thing.”
Can you talk a little bit about working with the series’ creator Matthew Arnold?
Joyce Giraud: “He was great. He was fantastic. I really like him. We worked with him before in Shadow People. That’s how our relationship started. We worked with him on that movie. We loved Shadow People because it was such an interesting concept that really does happen. Did you know about Shadow People?”
No, I don’t.
Joyce Giraud: “Shadow People is this whole thing like sudden unexpected death syndrome in children. If you Google it, it’s a true phenomenon that really does happen. It happens a lot in Indonesia and in Cambodia. It happens a lot. We actually shot in Cambodia part of it. There are these Shadow people that, if you believe in them, it’s almost like a placebo effect. If you believe in them, they come and they kill you in the night. It happened to many, many people. It’s something that when you Google it creeps you out, and you can’t sleep for days because it’s a true thing. We love true stories, and we love true things.”
Okay, I will not be Googling it.
Joyce Giraud: “Actually, watching the movie is better than Googling it because when you Google it, it does freak the bejeesus out of you. If you watch the movie, then you’ll see it as a movie so it’s not that bad. When they first gave me the pitch, I couldn’t sleep for five days. I was like, ‘I’m seeing shadows. I’m seeing them. I’m seeing them!’ When I’d go to the bathroom, I was scared. I would wake up my husband, ‘Come with me. I’ve got to pee.’ He’s like, ‘Baby, go pee.’ I’m like, ‘No, no, I’ve got to pee. Come.’ That’s how our relationship started with Matthew. Then he brought us Siberia.”
And Siberia was totally funded before it went to NBC?
Joyce Giraud: “Oh yeah, it was entirely independently funded. We had Slava Yakovlev and he brought in the financing. [...] We did it all independently financed because we believe in the project that much. We didn’t want it to be in development hell forever.”
You felt that was the best way to go with this project?
Joyce Giraud: “I think so. I think if you have the means and you’re lucky enough to have the financing … I think not just on this, even in the future if you believe in something where you say, ‘You know what? I’m willing to risk this money. I believe in it that much.’ then go for it. I would say people should go for it. Just take a risk. Life is about risks.”
This seem to be more than just a television series, but instead is a real passion project for you.
Joyce Giraud: “It’s entirely a passion project. This is absolutely like a baby. This came from nowhere. It came from just a simple idea. Matt didn’t have scripts or anything. He only had an idea that he’s had since forever. He’s been trying to get this idea going. He’s been talking and talking about it. Obviously, nobody saw the vision until my husband. My husband was the one that actually met with him and saw the vision and said, ‘You know what? I like this. I’m going to hire some writers. Let’s see where this goes.’
Then he asked me what I think. He asked, ‘Do you think we should do this, yes or no?’ I’m like, ‘It sounds phenomenal. Let’s do the writers. Let’s just see where it goes. What do we have to lose? If we lose a little bit, at least we tried and we never wondered what if.'”
How much does the series now resemble Matthew’s original vision for the show?
Joyce Giraud: “I think it’s a lot like his vision. A lot of things changed. We had a think tank. We had a lot of wonderful writers. It’s not only Matthew. It’s his vision. He’s the creator of it, yes, but it’s not only him. We had an amazing, talented team of writers, and we had a beautiful think tank that they would just sit there for hours and throw around ideas and pitch around this and that. I think everybody deserves the credit. We have to give everybody the credit for that.”
As a producer, were you instrumental in casting?
Joyce Giraud: “Yeah, I was in the casting sessions. I did the entire wardrobe. I was very, very much involved.”
How do you have time for all of this?
Joyce Giraud: [Laughing] I love to work. I love to keep busy. I have two babies that keep me very, very busy, and I run a charity that keeps me really busy. I just love to be busy. It’s a passion. When something you do you love, it’s not work anymore. It’s just fun. For me, it was just fun.”
Can you tell me a little bit about your charity?
Joyce Giraud: “My charity is a pageant that I do. It’s called Queen of the Universe. The website is queenuniversepageant.com and it’s a pageant that I do I came from the pageant world. It was by default. It wasn’t by choice, because I was a little bit of a tomboy growing up. I grew up milking the cows with an older bother, and fighting with my brother and running around barefoot in the mountain. I was a little bit wild. I grew up very poor in Puerto Rico. I think pageants gave me the opportunity to see the world and to understand the world, and to meet different people and to expand my horizons. It gave me the platform to be where I am today.
I wanted to give girls the opportunity to have that platform and to use the platform to also promote their charities. I use it to promote UNESCO. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. What they do is we build kindergartens around the world. The way I got involved with UNESCO is my mother-in-law, she created the foundation UNESCO charity for children in need. My husband’s the CEO. They’ve been working on this for almost 30 years. She’s managed to, in those 30 years, build over 400 schools worldwide.
I firmly believe that education is important. I have two boys. I have two babies. I can’t imagine if education was something that was not available to them. I think that’s a natural-born right. I think every child deserves that right. I want to continue the legacy that she’s left. Even if it’s a quarter of that legacy, I want to continue it. That’s why I created Queen of the Universe. That’s, first of all, it’s my charity, so whatever I raised goes to UNESCO. Second of all, I want the girls to create awareness for that. I want the girls to create awareness for all their charities. My one rule is that the girls have to have a charity-based platform. I also don’t like discriminating on girls because they’re single, married, divorced, or have children. A lot of the pageants, if you’re a girl that had a child when you were 15 or 16, or whatever, you can’t be in the pageant because you have a child. Why is that? A child is a blessing. It’s not some big mistake that should deprive you of making your dreams come true. Or if you decide that you’re a lesbian, you can’t be in the pageant because you’re a lesbian and you’re in love with another woman. Why is that? You can do whatever you want to do with your personal and private life. I think that there’s all these rules and all these taboos that pageants put on girls, when a pageant should be something that girls use to empower other women, because you will be a representative and an ambassador of women throughout the world.
In my pageant, I don’t judge. I don’t do those rules on the girls. The girls can be single, married, divorced, have children, lesbian, whatever they choose in life. The one rule is that they have to have a charity-based platform.”
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