Actress soars on “Manifest,” shares fond memories of Detroit

Kurt Anthony Krug
Special to The Detroit News

The wife of the hero on a television series is often lovely and supportive, as well as one-dimensional and boring.

 However, “Manifest” creator/executive producer Jeff Rake promised actress Athena Karkanis that wouldn’t be the case for her character Grace Stone.

 “We had a long conversation about it. He told me his plans for her and where the character would go – he sold me. I was convinced,” said Karkanis, who has homes in New York City and Toronto. “I read the script and loved the mystery. I loved the human drama around it.”

 The premise of “Manifest” (its season finale airs Monday on NBC) is Montego Air Flight 828 experiences severe turbulence traveling from Jamaica to New York City. When the flight lands, more than five hours has passed, but to the outside world, more than five years has passed while the passengers were in the air.

In that time, the passengers were declared missing and presumed dead. As they reintegrate themselves into society, they learn their loved ones are no longer the same people. Furthermore, the passengers begin experiencing guiding visions – referred to as “callings” – about events yet to occur.

Athena Karkanis (left) plays Grace Stone on NBC's "Manifest." Jack Messina (right) plays her son Cal.

 Ben Stone (Josh Dallas, “Once Upon A Time”), Grace’s husband, is a math professor who was on Flight 828 with his son Cal (Jack Messina, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) – who’s now five years younger than his twin sister Olive (Luna Blaise, “Fresh Off the Boat”) – and his younger sister NYPD Det. Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh, “Valor”). Ben works relentlessly to make sense of the callings and learn what really happened to 828, but shadowy elements in the government work against him, as do Flight 828 hate groups.

While Ben was missing, Grace had a relationship with Danny (Daniel Sunjata, “Rescue Me”). However, she broke it off upon Ben’s return. Despite some bumps, Grace and Ben rekindled their relationship, and she became pregnant with their third child. As a result of her pregnancy, Grace, too, has experienced callings.

“The theory is because the baby is Ben’s – fetal cells can cross the placenta and affect the mother’s DNA. The writers thought it was an interesting way to bring me into the sci-fi aspect of the show. For me, it’s great for my character to explore,” said Karkanis.

Despite having a complicated pregnancy that nearly killed her, Grace gave birth to a baby girl named Eden in the March 16 episode.

“At this point, we all know the baby’s OK and that Grace is OK and everyone survives that ordeal,” explained Karkanis. “The big thing leading up to the finale is Zeke (Matt Long, “Ghost Rider”) and his survival because he (represents) everyone else. Toward the end, the Zeke and Michaela story gets quite emotional and beautiful – I’m gonna leave it there.”

Karkanis wouldn’t say anything else, except the Stones will face new challenges by the season finale. She did say the audience will be one step closer in learning what really happened to Flight 828.

“One step of how many steps, I don’t know. There are definitely major puzzle pieces that get put into place towards the end of this season,” she said. “(Rake) has a very clear vision of what this story is… I don’t know what he has planned for us – he doesn’t tell us too much – I don’t know anything about what’s in store for the next season or seasons. I think he’s got this story figured out in his head – he has a pretty good idea how it’ll end and how we’ll get there.”

At this time, it is unclear if “Manifest” will be renewed for a third season.

Outside of “Manifest,” Karkanis has appeared in two “Saw” films, had notable roles on the TV series “Zoo,” “Suits,” “House of Cards,” “Almost Heroes,” and has also done voiceover work.

Karkanis played Det. Dani Khalil on AMC’s 2013 police drama “Low Winter Sun,” which was filmed and set in Detroit. On “Sun,” detectives Frank Agnew (Mark Strong, “Sherlock Holmes”) and Joe Geddes (Lennie James, “The Walking Dead”) murder dirty cop Brendan McCann (Michael McGrady, “Beyond”) and make it look like a suicide. When they learn Internal Affairs was investigating McCann, their cover story falls apart.   

“The script really took me the first time I read it. I was like, ‘Wow, this is gonna be really great!’” said Karkanis. “I liked how they were writing this underdog character. She was this one good (person) – I hate breaking people down to good and bad, especially since that was a big part of the show because people can be both. Even she was (bad) over the course of the story because she had to betray some people she cared about to carry out this thing she thought was more important. I liked that she had a quiet strength and was underestimated by the other characters, but in the end, she was the one who brings it all to a head. That was a real treat for me to delve into that.”

Karkanis has fond memories of living right behind the Wayne State University track in Detroit.

“I remember I was doing the Chicago Marathon that summer, and I would do all my speed workouts on the track,” she said. “It was wonderful. I was right at home in Detroit. I look back on that time so fondly – I loved working on that show, I loved Detroit, I loved the actors I was working with, and I’m still in touch with some of them… It was such a great time.”

She continued: “Michiganders are like Canadians – they’re just really nice people… There’s an open arms welcoming feeling in the culture in Michigan that I found, at least. Detroiters have this resilience because Detroit has been through so many ups and downs. It’s not a hardened, jaded resilience but a tough grit yet there’s kindness and humanity as well, which I found beautiful.”


Season finale is Monday

10 p.m. on NBC