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Montreal's Anna Hopkins on playing a propagandist in sci-fi series 'Defiance'

TORONTO – Montreal-born actress Anna Hopkins studied propaganda films in university but never expected to be shooting them herself.

Hopkins, 27, plays tough soldier and documentarian Jessica (Berlin) Rai in the second season of “Defiance,” premiering on Showcase Thursday. Her character produces films in support of the Earth Republic occupation — and they include the actress’s own handiwork.

“My character does film a lot within scenes, and sometimes they would use that footage to be her actual films,” said Hopkins, who took “mini-film lessons” from director Michael Nankin on the art of propaganda.

“It’s found in a lot of Leni Riefenstahl films that she shoots from below, especially for authority figures. So (Mayor) Niles Pottinger, my boss essentially, I shoot him a lot and so I need to make him look as grand as he can,” she said in a phone interview.

“Defiance” is set in the year 2046, after a war with aliens left Earth scorched and both humans and extraterrestrials on the edge of survival. In the town of Defiance, formerly St. Louis, lawman Jeb Nolan (Grant Bowler) struggles to keep the peace.

The town is actually located on a sprawling set in a suburb of Toronto. Hopkins said that between takes she enjoys exploring the makeshift city, which has a grim post-apocalyptic look, covered in debris and dust.

Her character is a soldier of Earth Republic, a military government that has occupied Defiance. Rai believes in her films’ messages because she grew up during wartime and now sees the government as a means to unite and protect at any cost.

“I remember the character description (executive producer) Kevin Murphy wrote after the audition was, ‘a militarized version of Holly Hunter in “Broadcast News,”‘ and that just made me go crazy because I loved that movie and I loved her in it,” said Hopkins.

“She’s really tough, really passionate about her beliefs. She’s really not scared of anything, which is really fun to play. She also fights a lot.”

Hopkins appeared in the 2010 film “Barney’s Version,” alongside Dustin Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. The Concordia University graduate has also appeared in TV series “Nikita,” “Arrow” and “Stephen King’s Dead Zone.”

After she learned she had won the role of Rai, she obsessively watched the entire 12-episode first season of “Defiance” in two days.

“I love the wild west, post-apocalyptic aspects of it. There’s so much room for these incredible storylines and this variety of characters,” she said. “I didn’t know much about where my character was going, but from seeing season 1, I knew it was going to be something interesting and unconventional — and I was right.”

She said the cast and crew, including Murphy, known for his producer role on “Desperate Housewives” and “Battlestar Galactica” spinoff “Caprica,” immediately welcomed her.

“They’re all really excited about the show, which is a real asset when you work on a project. When people are passionate and excited about what they’re doing, it’s the best.”

Follow @ellekane on Twitter.