The Netflix series Black Summer is a terrifying look at life for the survivors of a cataclysmic event that forces ordinary people to fight for their lives as they face off with the infected. When Rose (Jaime King) is torn from her daughter, she vows that they will be reunited, but as civilization collapses due to an outbreak that brings the dead back to life in their most feral form, that becomes a journey far more harrowing than she initially expected, forcing Rose to figure out just how far she’s willing to go.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Jaime King (in what is the best performance of her career, so far) talked about the appeal of Black Summer, why she felt so connected to her character, the dream of working for a company like Netflix, why she throws herself so fully into each role that she plays, what she grew to appreciate about Rose, the terrifying real-life experience she had when she was injured on set, the real world parallels that this story has, and how she can’t wait for the opportunity to continue to play this character, if the series returns for Season 2.
Collider: This is such a great binge show because the tension is so high that you just can’t stop watching to find out what’s going to happen next.
JAIME KING: Oh, my god, that’s so good. I’m so interested to know what people think of this, not from an egotistical point of view, but because it’s just so different from anything that I’ve ever done and because I love this story so much.
There are also a lot of storytelling devices that are different from what we typically see.
KING: 100%. Thank you so much. That’s why Netflix is amazing. You get to get away with things that you would never get away with. They let you break cinematic rules and television rules, in a way that few people have ever done before. I have a lot of friends that are filmmakers – like Nash and Joel Edgerton and David Michôd – and when they started working with Netflix, they were like, “They’re amazing!” You get hired, a lot of the times, to make things, and then people want to change your voice and the direction, and Netflix is like, “We celebrate your direction. We celebrate who you are. We’ll let you push the bar.” They are so dialed in. That’s why they’re extraordinarily successful and why every artist wants to work with them. They allow you to do things that other places could never conceive of. It’s heaven.
The last TV series that you did was The CW’s Hart of Dixie, which I adored, and I loved you in that, but it was clearly a very, very different character than the one you’re playing in Black Summer.
KING: Thank you! I love Lemon. She was rich, complex and fascinating, and I was lucky that my showrunner really let me fly with that and make her who she was. But, this is obviously completely different.
If you were going to sign on to do another live-action series, was it important to you to find something so very different from the last one?
KING: It’s funny because I don’t ever think of it like, “Oh, I wanna play something completely different.” I can’t say never. I definitely think about, “Yeah, I wanna play things completely differently,” but what I go for is women I can play that are rich, complex, interesting, imperfect, messy and beautiful, internally, and yet fucked up, at the same time. I’m not really interested in playing the straightforward characters. I’m interested in showing women that who we are as women is fascinating and multi-dimensional, and that we’ll walk through fires that few could ever imagine, and survive them. This story was so important to me because, when I got the script, I was actually in Paris, and I literally got on a plane and flew back because I was like, “I have to do this.” It literally spoke to my soul. It was one of the best scripts that I have ever read, in my life. It spoke to everything that we’ve gone through in this country. It spoke to my soul, as a mother who has lost her children, and who has gone through many losses of babies, and who has had to do everything that I could to keep my child alive. If I hadn’t been a mother, I don’t know if I could’ve played Rose. I could approximate playing Rose, but I don’t wanna approximate. I’m not here to approximate. I’m here to tell the truth. I’m very specific, in terms of, if I feel like I cannot fully merge myself with the character, then I won’t do it. I’m not playing somebody and I’m not playing at something. I’m here to look at what’s inside of me, and the truth and shadows that are there, which is not easy. Merging that with the character is where the truth lives.
Your performance in this is just so remarkable. This woman has everything ripped away from her, so early on, and she has to find some way to keep going and keep finding the strength to continue. That’s what makes Rose so fascinating to watch and follow on her journey.
KING: Thank you so much. I really, deeply appreciate that. I remember when I was doing press for a film with Sam Jackson, and we were at Comic-Con. I asked him about his favorite movies that he’d done and his favorite characters, and about reviews, and he said, “I don’t read reviews because, if I believe all the good things that people are saying, then I’m gonna believe all the bad.” And yet, with this one, I actually really wanna know if people care about my performance, and if it comes across and hits them in their heart because Rose hit me in the heart. When I go in and do what I do, I do it with such preparation, care and discipline, and with this, I cried for months and months and months and months, to the point where people thought I was crazy. With Rose, I really, really want to know how women feel about her, and how people feel about her, and how it comes across because she’s that important to me. I just want to know that I told her story.
With everything that she goes through, over the course of these episodes, what most impressed you about who she became, by the end of this journey?
KING: I had a really strong realization that took my breath away, one day. I was missing my friend. My best friend, Elizabeth Kemp, passed away. She was my teacher and mentor, and I was caring for her, until her passing, and I was just really missing her. Elizabeth ran the Actors Studio, and after A Star is Born, she became sick and I cared for her until she passed away in my arms. I just needed to talk to her, and I was literally talking to her in my heart, about Rose. And then, all of a sudden it hit me that it’s the ordinariness of people that is so extraordinary. Rose is someone that came from Omaha, Nebraska. She’s the Midwestern woman who has been with her husband since forever, and who loves her child and her husband more than anything. What struck me was that we don’t change and become something extraordinary. Everything that we are to become is already within us, it’s just that we haven’t allowed it to be revealed yet. It’s those moments where we have to dig so deep inside of ourselves that, all of a sudden, the character of who we are and our traits come forward, but they’ve always been there. There just wasn’t a necessity to go to those places yet. So, that was a big realization. People change and they walk through a fire, and then they become this bad-ass, raw, dynamic, brilliant human being, but do believe that’s already within us. It’s just the circumstances that pull it out. That was a really big thing for me to realize, and it gave me comfort.