“Mad Men” in space? Tricia Helfer climbs aboard Syfy’s “Ascension”

Ascension Syfy Ryan Berenz

Tricia Helfer admits she has somewhat of a soft spot for science fiction. But there’s a good reason.

“I started my career with Battlestar Galactica,” the 40-year-old actress explains. “And I got lucky for my first job to be on something that was so character-driven and something that made people think.”

It was that combination of strong characters and storylines that drew Helfer to her latest TV project: Ascension (on Syfy Mondays at 9pm ET/PT beginning Dec. 15) a six-part series inspired by Project Orion, a real top-secret space mission authorized by U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Ascension is a complex drama ensconced in sci-fi adventure and wrapped up in a murder mystery. The story revolves around the inhabitants of the USS Ascension, a massive spacecraft that has been on a covert mission since the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, sending 600 men, women and children into space on a 100-year quest to save the human race by populating a new world.

“I was fascinated by the idea,” says Helfer. “I thought it’s interesting to have this alternate reality, sort of a ‘Plan B’ for humanity. For me, it was all about the characters and the ‘what if’ stories. What if these people were in space on this journey?”

The series opens 50 years into the mission, with those aboard the USS Ascension contending with a number of conflicts, including the first ever homicide on the spaceship. Brian Van Holt stars as William Denninger, the current captain of the ship. Helfer costars as his wife, Viondra.

“She is very manipulative and wanting to make something out of her life,” Helfer explains. “She gave up the right to have children, so she feels that she is sort of the mother of the people on the ship — the mother of humanity in a way.”

The Denningers have both worked their way up from lower-class beginnings to the top of the ship’s hierarchy. And although the show is set in the present, Ascension is filled with lots of retro elements in terms of fashion, music and attitudes. “A lot of their morals and their values that we’re dealing with are still from the early ’60s,” Helfer points out. “The ‘woman behind the man’ is still much more [common] than we would see in our society here on Earth today.”

Ascension Syfy

Photo: Credit: Jan Thijs/Syfy