A seemingly futuristic, sci-fi narrative television show that’s driven by such elements as a planet being stripped of its natural resource, an endless war supported by a criminal government that’s only concerned about its own profits and an AI system that’s equipped with lethal decision-making capabilities is becoming all too realistic. The new futuristic military sci-fi screen adaptation of one of the world’s most popular video game series, ‘Halo,’ is connecting with general contemporary audiences over its relatable themes and messages that have surprisingly become even more relevant in recent weeks.

The space-set action drama’s current first season features nine-episodes, which premiered this week on Paramount+. The inaugural season began streaming after ‘Halo’ was renewed for a sophomore season. The initial season’s debut also comes after the show had its World Premiere in the Episodic Premieres screening section at SXSW earlier this month.

‘Halo’s television adaptation takes place in the gaming universe that started in 2001, and has since become one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time. The drama begins in the year 2552 on Madrigal, a Tier 4 Heavy Water Extraction Planet. Madrigal’s residents are suffering under the ruling of the colonizing United Nations Space Command (UNSC). The inhabitants already on the verge of revolt when the planet is attacked by forces in the Covenant, a military alliance of several advanced alien races.

All of Madrigal’s residents are about to be killed by the Covenant when a group of USNC supersoldiers, known as Spartans, arrive on the planet to stop the opposing alien forces. Despite the Spartans’ arrival and seeming rescue mission, nearly everybody in the Madrigal colonization gets killed, exception Kwan (Yerin Ha), the daughter of a local military leader.

The Spartan’s leader, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 (Pablo Schreiber), is then entrusted with the task of bringing Kwan back to the UNSC command center of Reach. Master Chief’s cargo also includes a strange relic that he found while on Madrigal, which captures the Covenant’s interest.

The relic further garners attention when UNSC leaders learn that when Master Chief touches it, it becomes a source of energy and sparks nostalgic flashbacks in him to a time before he became a Spartan. While Spartans are told not to ask questions while performing their job duties, after finding and touching the relic, Master Chief receives an order that causes him to question his purpose and entire existence.

In addition to Schreiber and Ha, ‘Halo’s also stars Jen Taylor, who reprised her role of Cortana, an artificially intelligent character who’s instrumental in preventing the activation of the titular installations in the video game series. The trio are joined on the television adaptation by Natascha McElhone, Bokeem Woodbine, Shabana Azmi, Natasha Culzac, Olive Gray, Bentley Kalu, Kate Kennedy, Charlie Murphy, Danny Sapani, Ryan McParland, Burn Gorman and Fiona O’Shaughnessy. The show’s first season was directed by Otto Bathurst, who also served as an executive producer, alongside Steven Spielberg.

Ha and Jen Taylor generously took the time the day before ‘Halo’s first season premiered at SXSW to talk abut starring in the drama during a Zoom roundtable interview. Among other things, the actresses discussed that the show’s audience members who are new to the franchise can relate to Kwan’s journey, as she’s also just experiencing and processing her interactions with Master Chief, the UNSC and Covenant for the first time. Taylor also mentioned that transitioning her portrayal of Cortana onto the television adaptation was easier than she initially expected, as she performed motion-capture for both the games and the show, but it was also intimidating to play the same character in two different mediums.

Question (Q): How would you describe the dynamic between John, who’s played by Pablo Schreiber, and Kwan Ha?

Yerin Ha (YH): Kwan’s sarcasm and honesty actually bring out this side of Master Chief we’ve never really seen (before). She’s just a real human being who’s unapologetic for who she is and what she says. I think Master Chief also thinks of her like, Oh, she’s talking to me like this? (My character) doesn’t want anything from him. So, I think that’s why they also have this connection between them.

Q: Do you think Kwan is the way into this world for viewers who aren’t familiar with the video games?

YH: Kwan is the new audience’s eye in. In the beginning, we see that she’s not happy on Madrigal, but all that she knows is this planet and what her dad has been fighting for, (which) is independence from the UNSC. Everything else, like seeing Master Chief for the first time and seeing the Covenant,(represents what new audiences to the franchise are seeing).

It’s all new to her, too, so she’s also processing this information for the first time. I think the new audience will also relate to her and be like, okay, I’m not alone in this journey and world.

Q: Jen, you’ve been voicing the artificial intelligence creation Cortana for a very long time. What was it like transferring this character from the franchise’s video games to its television series?

Jen Taylor (JT): Technically, it’s been a little easier than I expected it to be because I was doing motion-capture for the games, and I’m still doing performance-capture for the TV show. But it’s within a different medium, of course, so it’s slightly different. There are some different technical things. So it’s also a little scary for me.

Originally, I was just doing the voice, so to then to expand that to where I have to figure out how Cortana moves is a little scary. I have to figure out how she gesticulates, which is something I never been something I had thought of before.

Luckily, I was doing that in some of the past games, so this transition was a little easier. But it was intimidating when I had to do that and then this, which has a bigger, broader audience.

Luckily, I’ve got this background and I’m pulling on this technically. But I have to say it’s a little intimidating and scary, but also a little exciting and thrilling at the same time.

Q: Did you change your approach at all knowing that actors would be responding to you rather than players of a game?

JT: I’m always thinking, in everything I do, whether it’s TV, video games or stage work, is of objective. I’m generally trying not to think about how it is coming across.

I’m more thinking about how I can affect the person (I’m acting with) to get what I want? How can I affect Pablo to get what I want from him? How can I affect Kwan to get what I want from her? Not that we have any scenes together, sadly, but that’s what I’m thinking about – What is my objective? What am I going after, what is getting in my way and what would it look like if I get everything I wanted?

(L-R): Actresses Yerin Ha and Jen Taylor, who star on Paramount+’s live-action military sci-fi television series adaptation, ‘Halo.’ Photo courtesy: ComicBook.com.

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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