Sense8 is an overwhelmingly ambitious new show from the Wachowski’s (The Matrix) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) which is currently blowing people’s minds on Netflix.
It’s the story of 8 strangers who become connected through a terrible shared event. Their link has a massive effect on their daily lives and as they try to adjust they learn about a shadowy group which will stop at nothing to put an end to their strange new existence.
There’s a lot to talk about in Sense8, so luckily we got the chance to catch up with two of its stars recently. Brit Tuppence Middleton plays Riley – an Icelandic DJ living in London while sci-fi veteran Daryl Hannah (Blade Runner) is the mysterious and powerful Angel.
Here’s what they had to say about the massive production of the show, it’s themes, understanding the script and keeping away from Twitter!
So what’s this all about!?
DH: So Sense8 is about these eight characters from different parts of the world and different economic, racial, sexual orientations – as different worlds as could possibly be. Who all of a sudden through witnessing this tragic vision, this catastrophic vision begin to recognise that they are connected through their senses. That they can see, feel, hear, and smell what the other people are experiencing. And then they begin to realise that they can connect and help each other through those senses as well. And then they begin to realise that they’re being pursued and hunted somehow because of that capacity…
Did you understand everything in the script at first?
But you both wanted to work with the Wachowskis?
TM: We put our trust in them. And it was just really exciting when I read the first few scripts and the last few weren’t completed when we started so we learned what was happening to the characters probably halfway through the project. But it was always changing, because they’re very spontaneous and they’ll take inspiration from whatever’s happening. They might change a scene last minute, or someone else is in the scene or we’d do both in two different countries. Everything was being rewritten as we were going along but the basic arc stayed the same but there were lots of twists and turns.
Were you able to contribute to the character?
TM: Yea they’re really receptive to collaborating if you have ideas. They’re open to talking about that.
DH: They’re so fluid and so creative and collaborative.
Have you seen all the episodes?
DH: Yea we all watched them
TM: We watched them together as a family
DH: About a week and a half ago!
Wow. Have you watched it with people outside that family?
DH: No one else has seen it apart from Netflix probably!
TM: Tomorrow everyone gets to see it but apart from that just us
Are you expecting people to get it first time?
DH: Oh yea, when you see…
TM: When you see the whole series it’s such a journey.
DH: Yea it makes sense. But it’s not like some of those series that are just constant mysteries and they never add up. This definitely makes sense but I think people are going to be so blown away. People are going to have their minds completely blown! There are not only specific things that you’ve never seen on film before but there are just so many different permutations it goes through. It’s unbelievable! It’s so great. All of us were just so proud and there were many moments when we were all just staring at the screen screaming at it! [screams]!
T Yea even though we had done it but half of the storylines we hadn’t seen and some of the things was shot differently. Even when we were there! So it’s so strange. I think people are going to respond really well and what’s nice is that it’s available globally with Netflix in so many countries and it’s so representative of people all over the world that its really important that it reaches everybody because it covers such a wide range of people and cultures and religion and sexuality it’s so representative of the real world that we live in today.
And do you think people can handle that?
TM: I think it’s about time they did!
DH: But it’s really entertaining and funny
TM: It’s not like you’re bombarded with messages.
DH: It’s not pedantic in any way. It’s a piece of entertainment but in the best and biggest sense of the word. But the global scale of it is something that gives it even more humanity if possible.
We’ve only seen three episodes, will your character Daryl be around a lot more?
DH: Well there are some aspects which are still mysterious towards the end, there are still some questions left open. Obviously a great bulk of them are answered but by the end there’s still a possibility for more. You’ll see!
A possibility for another season?
DH: We don’t know if we’re going to one or not.
They have mentioned a five season arc that’s been written. Has anyone mentioned that to you?
TM: No, no one’s talked to use about it, you’d have to ask Netflix about that! But we just had such a great time filming this one…
Have you signed on for more if it’s a success?
TM: I think most of us would happily sign away our lives!
DH: I think all of us would be thrilled to do it again.
TM: The opportunity to work with them was great!
One aspect of the series is this concept of complicated and tangled up sexualities. Is that something that’s interesting to play with, the sexuality?
DH It’s out there, the sexuality.
TM: The sexuality. Um… I think to me it was never… it was just something I thought was representative of friends that I have. And its a shame that it’s taken until now to see this on screen. It shouldn’t be anything shocking or crazy but unfortunately in some places it still is. And I think what the show is saying is that everyone is the same. We’re all humans and we all feel the same things and these others things don’t matter. It’s just a part of who we are and how we live our lives and it’s important to recognise that it’s no big thing. I described that really badly!!
With that kind of adult content, certainly more than what you can show on network TV, do you think this could only really be made on a platform like Netflix?
DH: Absolutely, there’s no question. I can’t imagine any other place they would allow it.
The show has also been labelled as sci-fi, do you think that’s accurate?
TM: No. I’d say it’s a drama.
DH: I think it really bridges so many different genres because there’s obviously a thriller aspect, comedy, fantasy,
TM: And drama – I think it’s really easy to box it in and say it’s a sci-fi because the Wachowskis have made it and they have a history with sci-fi but I think it’s really not that. And although there may be some sci-fi elements I think all of the… supernatural effects, they weren’t green screen. It was all camera trickery and it was us ducking out of shot and doing this and that. It was great old fashioned filmmaking.
Daryl you’re known for movies, was working on a series a very different experience?
DH: I was anxious about it being different but it was exactly the same. And all good. We shot it just like a movie and I was relieved actually because I’m not sure how comfortable I would be with one of those series where you have a new director every week and you don’t get the script til the next week and you do it a week at a time. It seems a little strange to me. But this was shot exactly like a big budget movie.
A lot of big actors are moving to TV now…
DH: Well yea because TV was so much more limited before but this is not TV, it’s actually something else. I think Netflix is creating a new storytelling paradigm in a lot of ways because this is uncensored storytelling. It can be as long as you want or as short as you want. You can have different content that needs to be told within that story framework, rather than being limited by what your advertisers say.
If you had opened the script and it was a two hour movie would you have been as interested?
DH: Oh no I would have been just as interested, really it was the Wachowskis and being part of something that they envisaged. Because they have such a unique voice and they’re so creative.
There’s a recurring theme of trans-identity in Sense8. And it’s a subject which Lana Wachowski obviously knows a lot about, did she ever talk to you about it?
TM: I mean she’s talked to us about it I suppose but not in a way where it’s ever been…
DH: It just is.
TM: Yea we’ve always known her as Lana. Some of the press for this show have focussed on a DJ from Iceland, a Matutu driver from Nairobi and there’s a trans woman from San Francisco. And she’s the only one who seems to be defined by her sexuality as opposed to her job. She’s also a hacker and a blogger and I don’t know why people have latched on the fact that she’s transgender. Yes it’s a part of her life but the point is that is just a part of our lives and an important thing to remember. It shouldn’t be something which is this unnecessary focus.
DH: And we were talking at lunch that after its mentioned and you understand its part of her character and who she is, it’s not really dealt with again. You just get to know her as her and her life.
TM: And of all the characters she has the healthiest relationship in the show. She and her girlfriend are happy and supportive and yea it’s a funny thing how people always go to there. I guess it’s something people are interested in.
I suppose there aren’t many trans characters on screen.
DH: And one of the great things that Lana and the Wachowskis are doing with this show is that they’re normalising it.
TM: It’s nice to see a show which is representative of all these people globally. And people watching will see themselves in the show. It’s not just that we’ve made a show about white British people for the whole world. There’s so many different aspects to the show in terms of genre and the issues it deals with and the characters its follows.
We’ve only seen three episodes so far, is there any great scene coming up to look out for. Something you really enjoyed?!
TM: I don’t know how much we’re allowed to say!
DH: Yes there’s some great stuff.
TM: There’s some really great sequences.
I saw someone holding a rocket launcher, how does that come about?
TM A rocket launcher, yea that’s Max’s [Riemelt] character involved in organised crime and he’s pretty bad ass. He gets to do some cool action stuff. Yea and there’s just a lot of things which haven’t been seen on camera yet.
DH: There are so many great things I don’t even know where to begin. But I also don’t want to blow anything.
Are you ready to be approached by people who have seen it?
DH: Well she’s got a good disguise on [indicating Tuppence who today has short dark hair, quite different to the shaggy white blonde of her Sense8 character Riley]
TM: No one’s going to approach me!
Do you use a disguise Daryl?
DH: I can’t say! [laughs] No I’ve been working since I was really young so I know how to bob and weave. I’m pretty good at it.
Are there certain movie that people always remember you for?
DH: It’s weird. I get a little bit of Blade Runner, I get Splash, and I get Kill Bill or Steel Magnolias. I get a whole range of them. And its weird how they stay alive for some reason.
Anything for you that you look back on fondly?
DH: There are a small handful of things that I look back on fondly and now this has entered that handful which is really exciting. Because after having worked so long you know when you’re on something unique and special. And the whole time on it I was like…
TM: Guys, appreciate this! This is amazing! You have to know this doesn’t happen a lot!
Did you have the same feeling on Blade Runner?
DH: I did for sure. I mean even though it wasn’t my first big movie I was just living in paradise on that film. Just looking around, ‘Oh My God, I’m in another world!’ You can really feel it.
And the same for Kill Bill?
DH: For sure. You can tell because when something gels it gels. And when it’s there it’s happening and people are in the zone. It’s the same thing for sports or anything.
And you’ve been there when it’s not happening.
DH: Yea and it’s frustrating because there’s nothing you can do to force it.
Will you guys be watching Twitter when Sense8 launches or you going to keep away for awhile?
DH: This series is very dense, there’s a lot to take in. A lot of different themes. I think it’s going to take a little while for people to absorb it all.
So maybe you’ll stay away for a bit?
TM: I usually stay away from Twitter and everywhere after something I do comes out. Yea… I just did it and enjoyed it. I’ll see.
DH People online tend to be kind of trolly anyway. All the people who love it won’t say anything and the people who don’t will.
TM: The ones who love to just say things!
DH: And that’s true about anyone and everything.
There’s a lot of talk about the Wachowski’s for Sense8 but it was also written by J. Michael Straczynski. Did you have much interaction with him?
DH: He popped in and out more.
TM: I think their process was more before we started filming. So we saw him every now and then. He was very involved.
DH: He was present but he’d pop in and out.
Did you all get into a room together at the start? Was there a rehearsal process?
TM: Yea at the beginning in San Francisco.
DH: You did the read through, I didn’t really go to that.
T We were all together to do a few rehearsals and cameras tests and created our looks. And so we had a lot of time together then and as it went on we split off a bit more as we travelled. But for the most part we travelled as a group. Which was really nice, it was like being on a school trip! [laughs].
It seems like for some scenes you would shoot one side in, say, the UK and then the other in Africa, presumably days or weeks apart. Did you have to try to remember that performance?
TM: Yea we did. But then also on some days it would be like you can’t remember what you did and the Wachowskis would just say – we can do it exactly the same or we can try something and be influenced by our environment and make it a bit different. They didn’t have any restrictions on that. So that was an interesting way to play it. But weirdly you kind of click into a routine and once we started and established filming most scenes in both countries; it felt like the natural thing to do!
Which is insane!
TM: Let’s just do this in four different countries! Why wouldn’t we film this scene three times!? So yea we got used to it quickly.
Daryl at this point in your career do you have a lot of scripts coming in all the time? What are you looking for?
DH: I’m not necessarily looking for anything at this point in my career! I just have a lot of other creative projects on my plate that I do or that I’m invested in. Don’t get me wrong I’m thrilled to do something great or good if it comes along. But I’m not particularly ambitious in terms of looking for stuff.
And Tuppence do you feel like you’re kind of starting out, getting some real attention?
TM: Its weird, I was saying this to someone else. I’ve been working seven years which feels to me like a long time and whenever you’re in something and it gets a lot of press or you’re in a few things at the same time it looks like you’ve just blown up. But you’re just – I’ve just been like working for seven years! It’s been a really gradual build. It’s weird for people to say you’ve burst on the scene, I’ve more been climbing up the hill. So that’s a weird misconception. But it’s great to be involved in anything that does well.
And now you’re shooting Dickensian?
TM: Yea just started filming that. I’m playing Miss Havisham when she’s younger. That’s all I can say!
All 12 episodes of Sense8 are on Netflix now.