Interview with Vagrant Queen’s Jem Garrard

We’re so excited to introduce the showrunner for Syfy’s new hit series “Vagrant Queen”, Jem Garrard. This female-centric show has quickly stolen our hearts with its kickass characters, gorgeous sets and over-the-top approach to everything. 

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Jem Garrard with the cast of “Vagrant Queens”

Vagrant Queen is a spectacular comic written by Magdalene Visaggio. It has such a huge, sweeping story, what first peaked your interest?

I was a fan of Mags before Vagrant Queen came out. After shooting Killer High with Blue Ice Pictures and SYFY we were looking for another project to collaborate on, and so Mags was one of the comic writers we were talking about. When VQ came out we all had the same response to it: we were excited! It was a unique take on the hero’s journey set in an epic space opera playground. I was drawn to this very personal mission that Elida is on, it was something I could see adapting well for screen. And I loved the banter between Elida and Isaac, that was very fun
to write.

The style of illustration by Jason Smith is so spectacularly colorful and exciting, and somehow you’ve managed to really capture that essence on-screen. Going into production, how did you work to ensure that?

It was always important from day one to create a colourful show. Of course the comic had a bit to do with that thanks to superb colours by Harry Saxon, but we also wanted to create a sci-fi fantasy show with a rich colour palette. I’ve seen monochromatic colour schemes done too many times in genre, and the worlds I really enjoy are bright and colourful. GOTG, Thor Ragnarok, Fifth Element, Firefly did that really well. Ultimately our show is a lot of fun, it needed a whole range of colour. In pre-production we would make sure all costumes had pops of colour, but it wasn’t random, characters were assigned colours. You’ll see that Elida is red, Isaac is blue and Amae is green. The Loyalists world use a lot of gold and green in their palette, the Admiralty use blacks, greys and blues. Each planet we visited had its own look and feel and our sets were designed this way, each episode has a different palette. Even in post, our vfx team make sure lasers were a variety of colours!

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Jem Garrard with the cast of “Vagrant Queens”

How closely have you worked with Visaggio on writing and running the show?

Mags wasn’t involved in the adaptation. But when she read the pilot I got a message from her telling me how much she loved it. She’s been nothing but supportive of the project, she even visited us on set in Cape Town!

Adriyan Rae embodies the kickass, supercharged, don’t give a shit attitude I was hoping for as a fan of the comic. Can you talk a little bit about the search to find the right Elida and how you knew Adriyan was the one?

We searched everywhere for Elida. When Adriyan’s audition came through we were all really excited. I was in Cape Town at the time in early pre production and Blue Ice messaged me to see if I’d seen the new tape come in from LA. I pulled it up on my laptop and must have hit replay ten times. She had such a fantastic energy and could play the line between drama and comedy so well. I totally believed her as Elida, she had the badass exterior, but underneath that were so many layers. And that’s Elida. Underneath this tough exterior she’s a total goofball too.

What are you hoping the audience’s biggest takeaway this season will be from the show?

Honestly, I’d love our audience to fall in love with these characters like I have, like the entire crew have. It’s a super fun show, and we go on an epic adventure, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is character. Investing in this team is most important for me. And of course, I’m very excited for audiences to see a black queer female lead in sci-fi. I hope the takeaway is that we rally behind and promote more diversity in genre.

What was the biggest challenge you had in setting up this season?

I think the biggest challenge is staying true to the comics whilst creating something that works in the TV landscape. Some storylines work well on page, but don’t necessarily adapt well, and so making sure we were true to the story of Vagrant Queen whilst becoming our own entity was an interesting challenge to navigate. But I had amazing writers on this, and I’m proud of what we created.

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Jem Garrard on set

Syfy has done such a great job in giving us content featuring strong female characters. Everything from Lost Girl to Wynonna Earp, and Vagrant Queen will be no exception. Are you interested in female-led stories specifically?

Absolutely. I’ve seen the male lead story. I’ve seen them all. I don’t think you can offer me something new there.

Where did your love for science fiction first stem from?

My mum instilled in me a love of story. I was a big book worm as a kid, I would read everything, but was particularly into fantasy and read Tolkien and Lewis at a young age. In my teens I started reading Asimov, Bradbury, Le Guin and many others and my love for sci-fi started expanding to film and tv as well. I couldn’t really describe my fascination for it until I was older and realized that growing up in a poor working class neighbourhood as a queer woman, I was an outcast, and it was a genre I felt safe in. A genre that embraced being different, it helped me find my voice.

If you were going to have a cameo on the show, what type of alien would you most want to play?

I would want to play an alien with heavy prosthetics. A character you wouldn’t know was me, one I could have full reign to go crazy with. I think there’s something freeing with prosthetics in that way, the same way masks were used in theatre to show extremes in psyche. I’ve already started thinking up my season two cameo.

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Jem Garrard on set

Is there anything else you’d like fans to know?

Our fans have been amazing. Our ‘Vagrants’ have shown so much love and support for the show. I’m so excited for them to see where the season takes these lovable characters. It’s quite the adventure and I only hope we get to continue the journey for many more years.