A decade ago, when Shantel VanSanten was a student at TCU, she thought she had her future all figured out.
She was going to be a globetrotting crusader journalist.
Then VanSanten took some acting classes — “just for fun, just as kind of an outlet for me” — and, lo and behold, she was hooked. “Now I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says.
It’s hard to second-guess VanSanten’s decision to pursue acting instead.
She’s currently the star of The Messengers, a series premiering at 8 p.m. Friday on The CW.
The show is an action-packed, effects-laden drama involving angels, a demon and a battle on earth to stave off the prophesied End of Days.
“I think that The CW is taking a bold risk making a show that grapples with such concepts as faith and free will versus destiny,” VanSanten says.
She grew up in Houston and attended TCU for nearly two years (2004-06) before changing her plans and moving to Los Angeles. Her past TV series include the CW soap One Tree Hill (the final three seasons, 2009-12) and Fox’s short-lived crime drama Gang Related (2014).
In The Messengers, VanSanten plays Vera Buckley, a brash radio-astronomer who is the first on the scene after a mysterious object from space slams into the New Mexico desert.
Vera is also one of five people transformed by the phenomenon. The others are a televangelist, an undercover federal agent, an outcast high school kid and a single mother.
While the wheels of Revelation begin to turn, these five suddenly find they are endowed with extraordinary gifts, from inexplicable strength to the ability to heal others, and they come together as newly christened Angels of the Apocalypse on a mission to save humanity from a dangerous mystery man.
“It’s an interesting journey for all of these characters, but especially for Vera, who starts off as an atheist,” VanSanten says. “The show takes you on a wild ride. With each incoming script, I was astounded by the twists and turns.”
The actress says she was a bit of a science nerd as a kid. “Growing up in Houston, I ended up going to NASA on a lot of field trips with my family,” she says.
So it was a kick for her to play an astronomer in The Messengers and to film scenes at the Very Large Array in New Mexico.
Her biggest acting challenge was figuring out how to play a powerful angel in human form.
“It’s not the kind of role you can research by doing ride-alongs with angels,” she says.
VanSanten and her co-stars filmed for many months before they even saw what their computer-generated angel wings would look like.
“We made lots of jokes,” she says. “Would they be like the wings that Victoria’s Secret models wear on the runway? Would they look like tiny bird feathers? Would the guys have pretty colored wings?
“Then, when we actually saw them, we were astounded by how big they are and how beautiful.”
VanSanten says it has been an interesting experience to film a show so heavy with special effects.
“In the finale, I think there’s only one scene that didn’t have CGI,” she says. “There is so much happening with the impending Apocalypse that couldn’t be created in real life. It can only be done with CGI.
“As actors, it’s a challenge to react to things that you have no idea what they will look like. But the end results have been pretty spectacular.”
▪ 8 p.m. Friday
▪ KDAF/Channel 33