‘Counterpart': Sara Serraiocco on Baldwin’s Strength, Learning English for the Role, and More
The Starz series Counterpart is about the mysterious world that’s hidden from our everyday existence, but that is also a parallel dimension where everyone started the same as their mirror self, and then shifted onto different paths, along their lifetime. When Howard Silk (Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons), a lowly cog in the bureaucratic machinery of a Berlin-based United Nations spy agency, discovers that his organization safeguards the secret of a crossing into this other dimension, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a shadow world of intrigue and danger, where the only person he can trust is his counterpart.
While at the TCA Press Tour presentation for Starz, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Italian actress Sara Serraiocco to talk 1-on-1 about what attracted her to Counterpart, what she likes about playing the mysterious Baldwin (an assassin whose life takes on a new purpose when she is exposed to the other side), that she learned English after being cast in the role, working with this talented cast, how she might feel, if she found out that there was a parallel world out there, and what lead her into acting.
Collider: When you signed on for Counterpart, how much were you told about this story and your character?
SARA SERRAIOCCO: When I got the part, I didn’t know anything about the show. When I got the role, I only got to read the first script, so I didn’t know about playing two different characters. When I realized that I had to play two different characters, I was really impressed. I said, “Oh, my god, this is a huge opportunity for me, as an actress, to grow.” I was fascinated by the philosophical side of the show, and I was fascinated by the surreal side of the show.
Since you didn’t know too much about what you were signing on for, what was the appeal of this show for you?
SERRAIOCCO: It was the character. I loved Baldwin. I loved her strength and her determination. I love the other side of Baldwin, too. She’s vulnerable. She has no friends and no place to live. She has no relationships and she doesn’t know anything about real life. She will that discover that she has feelings that she never thought she could have, during the series. She met her Counterpart, Nadia, in the second episode, and Nadia was completely different. Baldwin hated her because she was a successful violinist, with an apartment in Berlin, a relationship and beautiful clothes, which are all things that Baldwin never had, in her life. They were the same person, but from a certain point on, they began to live separate lives.
Was it challenging for you to identify with Baldwin?
SERRAIOCCO: I’m completely different from my character. Baldwin is really lonely and mysterious. The beauty of my job is that I can be another person, whatever I want.
Had you been looking to work in English, and do you find it very different, acting wise?
SERRAIOCCO: When I got the role, I didn’t know a word of English. I did a self-tape from Italy, and then my agent wanted me to do a screen test in London. I did the screen test, which was a reading and a rehearsal with a stunt coordinator, and then I got the part. When I came here, I spoke with (show creator) Justin Marks and he was trying to explain to me who the character is, and I didn’t understand a word of English. I loved the project, so I tried to do my best. I worked on my English so hard. I’ve been working on my English, every day, and I tried to do my best. Justin Marks, J.K. Simmons, and all of the directors, producers and actors I’ve been working with, were a great help to me on set. They were supportive and they made me feel a part of a family. It’s not so easy to work in the United States when you have to learn another language. I have to get used to not thinking in Italian, which is weird. I worked a lot on the physical side of my two characters. For Baldwin, I worked for a whole month with a professional stuntman who taught me how to hold a gun, and how to run and jump while holding the gun, and everything else that was necessary to make my character realistic. For Nadia, I had to study for two weeks with a violin teacher, who taught me how to hold the violin and how to hold my wrist. We used a double for the playing, of course, but I wanted it to be realistic. Baldwin has a lot of pain in her eyes. It’s not about words and English, it’s about emotions and feelings, which is the best thing for an actress.
How was it to work with J.K. Simmons?
SERRAIOCCO: It was an honor. He made me feel a part of a family, and he was a great help to me on set. I was impressed by his work. I learned a lot from him. He’s really good at switching from one character to another. I was impressed. I’m a young actress from Italy, working with an Oscar winner. It was the Bible for me. I just wanted to learn.
What’s it like to explore the relationship that Baldwin has with Clare (Nazanin Boniadi)?
SERRAIOCCO: I had to work on the identity of my character because Baldwin is a lesbian. She has feelings for Clare because, over the years, they have formed an emotional connection together. They have been working together a long time. Also, Baldwin is lonely and has no friends, and Clare is the only person she has in her life. It was a pleasure working with Naz because she’s really my point of reference, in this show. She’s Baldwin’s handler. She’s everything to her.
How would you feel, if you found out that there was a parallel world out there? Would you want to meet your mirror self?
SERRAIOCCO: That’s too scary! Probably not. But, yes, I would be really interested.
What made you want to be an actress?
SERRAIOCCO: I never thought I’d be an actress. I thought I’d be a dancer. I used to be a dance teacher, but I broke my ankle at 19 years old and couldn’t do it anymore. So, I got an agent, and then I went to the National film school, which is the only film school that we have in Italy. I was lucky. I did my first role, which was a huge break for me to get into the Italian and European film industry, and that won at Cannes in 2013. I learned a lot.
Did you immediately fall in love with it?
SERRAIOCCO: Yeah, since the first day of shooting.
Does your dance background help you with the physicality of a role like this?
SERRAIOCCO: Sure! They were looking for a tiny girl who was able to jump and do some physical stuff.
Are you looking to do more work in the States?
SERRAIOCCO: Yeah, I would like to. I had never done a TV series before. I’ve done a bunch of independent films, which is great because they helped me to grow, as an actress. We have a very tiny film industry, so it’s completely different, but the acting is the same.
Counterpart airs on Sunday nights on Starz.