Kelly Overton will probably always be known as Vanessa Van Helsing. That’s how much she’s made the iconic vampire hunting surname her own after five seasons of the SyFy series Van Helsing, which takes its final bite out of a post-apocalyptic world tonight. While there have been plenty of Van Helsings in TV and film (like the Hugh Jackman movie), none of them have been as good as Vanessa.
Ahead of the series finale, Kelly took some time to reflect with me on the character and what she’s brought to it over more than 60 episodes. It hasn’t been an easy part to play; the series is physically demanding, packed with a dense mythology in which characters routinely are killed off, and oh yeah, she was pregnant during the show’s second season. So as much as Van Helsing has been Vanessa’s journey, it’s also been Kelly’s, too.
“it’s something that I worked my whole career for,” she told me. “I went to school in New York and did that. And for me then, it was being on Broadway and I did that; I started on Broadway. I came out to L.A. and it was like, you get your own show, and then you get your own show that goes and is successful in a five-year run? So I feel accomplished as an actor and as a career woman…It’s meant a great deal to me. I’m super-grateful and just thankful that the cards played out that way. That I was able to get the experience.”
No one can say that Van Helsing is going out with anything left on the table. In five seasons, the show has gone through countless heartwrenching moments, different time periods, and more heroes and villains than a Marvel movie. It packed so much into every episode, so what was it like to realize that the journey was finally coming to a conclusion? To finally see an end to everything Vanessa has gone through?
“Every year that you have is a gift…Every year you’re kind of ready for it to be the end, hoping it’s not,” Kelly said. “I feel like when you’re told ‘Okay, this is the end,’ you’re like ‘Well, yes. That makes sense.’ And for five years, like, wow, what a run. I was really happy with how they were ending the show. And I was so, so glad that the fans are going to have the closure.
“Knowing it was going to be the last season, it was really hard to start shooting and then have to stop because COVID hit,” she added. “There was this big question mark for a while of, will we get to finish? Will we even get to finish the fifth season and tell the rest of the story? So not only making it five years, but then being able to finish production during a time where shows still weren’t up and running, just felt like a double gift.”
While Van Helsing is known for its no-holds-barred action sequences and high body count, what made the series a cult hit was the incredible cast it assembled. Like the characters, they were a journeyman group who went above and beyond to get the job done, and didn’t get enough attention for it. Surrounding Kelly were people such as Jonathan Scarfe, Aleks Paunovic, Jennifer Cheon Garcia, and Missy Peregrym, with fantastic villains played by the likes of Christopher Heyerdahl, Laura Mennell and now Tricia Helfer.
Unfortunately for fans, most of the characters tended to die, which had the bittersweet effect of making the actors’ contributions to the show even more meaningful and poignant.
“It was the relationships and those stories that were the most meaningful and satisfying to me at the end of our journey,” Kelly explained. “The funny thing is, for a show that went five years, it’s not like you had that core group from season one that just stayed in the hospital for five years. Vanessa, especially, did not get to build on relationships for five years with characters. I think the only two characters that she really got to do that with were Axel and Julius, but even those two, not really. So the guests and the actors that came were really impactful and delightful to me because I got to keep working with new people.
“There were some really special characters,” she continued. “I immediately think of Hilary Jardine as Susan. I think that character and that relationship really meant a lot to people and impacted a lot of people. By killing off a lot of people and constantly bringing in new people to interact with Vanessa, I got the opportunity to work with people that were really amazing, and have some really special connected moments briefly with characters. If you think about it, Vanessa never had some big love interest; she never got to stick with one character for very long. So those guests really did mean a lot to me. And to her, I think.”
That highlights another example of how much Kelly was able to accomplish in Van Helsing. She didn’t have the chance to build close, layered relationships the way that other actors on long-running shows do; some of the biggest parts to a character can be the bonds they form with others and how they’re affected by those people. But it felt like she did; although many characters were loved and lost, those relationships felt as genuine and complex as if they’d been around for seasons.
And while there’s been a lot of violence in the show, at its heart is something that Kelly brings to the table and that’s always shown through—a warmth and a love. She has a certain grace that keeps the series, even at its most crazy post-apocalyptic bleakness, from feeling completely lost. As long as she’s on screen, as long as Vanessa is still fighting, there’s still something to hold onto. And that’s something that’s been important to Kelly from the very beginning.
“A mother’s love will always be synonymous with the show for me. I was a new mother when I signed onto the show. And one of the reasons I loved and signed onto the show was because it a mother’s journey and a mother’s love in the heart of the character,” she explained. “Then I completed my family during that time. So the mother’s love, that is always going to be one of the big things that I remember and take away.
“But also, the action,” she added. “The action was such a dream come true for me and so unique. Only once in a while does something like this come along, and I would count myself lucky if I got to do it again in the future. Having been able to do that for five years and live out that dream of mine to be an action star, that was a dream come true.”
It’s clear to see her fingerprints on the role of Vanessa, but with how long she’s spent on Van Helsing and how much the show has required of her, has she been affected by playing the toughest vampire hunter that TV has ever seen?
“It’s a dichotomy in itself because I think the character and the actor are always very separate. I am not Vanessa, Vanessa is not Kelly,” she said. “But at the same time, when you play a character for several years, you learn something from your character. And also as an actor, you bring what you’ve learned in your life to the character. So in those ways, I think they both affected each other.”
If nothing else, Van Helsing made clear that Kelly Overton is a star. Vanessa Van Helsing is a role that most actresses couldn’t play—it’s physically and emotionally demanding, in a world that’s constantly changing, where there isn’t a safety net. The stunts alone might exhaust even the most talented actor. But Kelly took on that challenge, and all the responsibilities that come with being number one on the call sheet, and she did that for over a half-decade. She is everything we want our leading actors to be and then some, not to mention she’s definitely earned her permanent badass credentials.
After spending several years saving the world, it probably won’t surprise anyone that Kelly is taking a well-deserved break. “I’ll take time from acting until the right thing comes along,” she said. “But I’m really busy. I have two e-commerce businesses that I co-founded and design for. One is called Benevolence LA, and it’s primarily a jewelry company that gives to charity. The other e-commerce brand is called Craft & Kin and they’re more home goods. I’ve been running and designing for those for almost six years now and really enjoying that.
“So much so that I’m about to launch my third company, which is a skincare line called Body Surf, and its ingredients are marine-based. It’s also going to be a lifestyle brand, so we’ll have things like beach bags and blankets. It’s something that I get to do with my family and include my children in; a it’s very family-friendly brand. It’s something I’m really passionate about and have been working on for over a year, and I’m about to launch that.”
So while it might be some time before she sinks her teeth into another acting role (pun not intended), Kelly Overton isn’t going anywhere. And that’s great news for the rest of us, because whether it’s redefining a classic role or just being a strong woman off-screen, she’s the kind of person we can all look up to.
The Van Helsing series finale airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on SyFy.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.