One of the most compelling new characters of the fall TV season is Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) on the NBC drama series Blindspot. She is a beautiful woman with no memories of her past, found naked in Times Square with her body fully covered in intricate tattoos. And while the FBI begins to follow the road map on her body into a larger conspiracy of crime, she’ll start to uncover the truth about her identity.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Jaimie Alexander talked about how crazy it was to shoot the pilot’s awesome opening sequence, contorting herself to get inside of that bag, playing a bad-ass chick who’s human and not a superhero, the contrast of that to Lady Sif from the Marvel movies, getting to further explore the character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., what she enjoys about playing a character with no backstory or history, the approach to the action, and just how quickly they’ll start giving answers.
Collider: This pilot has one of the best opening sequences in a TV pilot. What was that like to shoot?
JAIMIE ALEXANDER: It was insane! I went through seven hours of tattoo application, and then, when I came out to Times Square, it was scary. There was not a car in the street, and there was not a person walking around. It almost looked apocalyptic. I thought, “How did we do this? Where is everybody? I can’t believe we were able to do this.” We have no visual effects in the shot, at all. We didn’t paint anything out. We had a very slim amount of time to get all the shots, and we just nailed it. We had a lot of help from the NYPD, and we had 150 production assistants there, just keeping everybody back. Every time I opened the bag and came out, it was intense. It was scary and eerie and epic, at the same time.
You seemed genuinely freaked out, coming out of that bag.
ALEXANDER: It was extremely cold, so I couldn’t stop shaking. It was a gnarly winter in New York, so it was intense, but it was all so perfect for the scene and the character. I have no complaints. It was well worth it.
Were you really inside of that bag?
ALEXANDER: Yeah, I actually was in that little bag. I had to contort myself. Actually, the first take, I laid on the trip wire to open the bag and everybody was far away because it was a wide shot. There was a huge bull horn situation. I was like, “I don’t think they know I’m stuck,” so I started rolling down the sidewalk in the bag ‘cause I was going to ruin the shot and I wanted them to run in and get me out. And when they came and were like, “What are you doing?,” I said, “I was on the trip wire. I didn’t see it.” It was a black wire and the inside of the bag was black, so I couldn’t see it when I was in there and I couldn’t see it. With the tattoos, you can’t really feel materials on them. But then, I got it down. It made everybody laugh, so that was a bonus.
How awesome is it to be playing such a bad-ass chick?
ALEXANDER: I’m continually making sure she does not turn into a superhero. That seems to be the default. It’s like if you have a strong, tough woman, she has to be a superhero or it’s not justifiable. But, this is based in reality. She has a specific skill set that she learned and it all has to be believable. If she’s fighting in the kitchen and she sees a metal pitcher full of ice water, she would use it as a weapon ‘cause she knows that maybe the guy is bigger than her, but she’s faster. We incorporate all those types of moves. I can use sharp elbows, I’m fast, I have long legs, and I can do a choke hold. We’re making it really realistic, so it’s going to be very relatable. And we have so many great military guys that are training us right now.
Is it fun to be in the superhero world in the movies, and then be in this more human and ground world on TV?
ALEXANDER: Yeah. Lady Sif is graceful and she has a lot of fancy weapons. It’s wonderful doing that sort of thing, but then it’s really great to be in a really brutal bar fight situation with hand-to-hand combat. Lady Sif doesn’t do that as much.
Obviously, in the Marvel movies there are so many characters that it’s hard to give enough time to everybody, so it’s really cool to get to see Lady Sif on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and learn more about who she is.
ALEXANDER: Yeah, and I wanted to do that because I love playing Lady Sif and I love everybody at Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Clark Gregg is a good friend of mine, and they’re all amazing over there. They have such a good time and they’re such a tight knit family. A long time ago, before I did my first episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., he asked me, “Would you want to come on the show?” I was like, “Yeah, man! I would love to!” I didn’t really think much of it, but I love him and I love to work with him. And then, all of a sudden, I got a call a week later. I was like, “Yeah, I can do it! Let’s get the armor!” The thing with the show is that I don’t have as much time to gain weight for Sif, so that was hard during the episodes where I’m in civilian clothes because I’m pretty slim when I don’t train a lot. That’s been a challenge even with Blindspot because my hours are so crazy that the only physical training I’m getting right now is the fighting. And I try to do yoga when I can to make sure that I’m flexible and that I’m not going to tear any muscle or pull anything. Right now, we’re in the beginning stages of this series, so it’s about finding that balance and carving out little bits of time to do things like that.
What’s it like to play a character where you don’t really have a backstory or a history?
ALEXANDER: There’s no guidelines to Jane, and I like that. I’m not a formally trained actor. I just go off of my basic instinct and gut intuition about how a scene should go. I like to be in the moment and improv and find it that way, and this is the best character to do it with because there’s no right or wrong since we don’t know who she was. Our amazing show creator, Martin Gero, is really good with me about not giving me too much unless I ask for it. I won’t read the next episode until the last day of the episode we’re currently shooting because I don’t want to know too much. And I’m blessed with very fast memorization skills, so I don’t have to read it too far in advance.
Jane Doe seems like a character that, even if you find out little pieces about her, those might not even actually be true.
ALEXANDER: Yeah, there are a lot of twists and turns that will happen, but they’re all going to make sense for a greater purpose. We have a great puzzle master that’s come onto the show to work with us, to make sure that all of the tattoos are linked properly and that the riddles make sense and will tie in later. It’s super amazing to have all of those resources to make the show a really good show.
Is it difficult to find a balance with the way you perform the action because she’s an expert, but she doesn’t know she’s an expert?
ALEXANDER: Yeah, and that’s why, when we create the fight scenes, we do it based on gut instinct. In the pilot, I fight these two men in a kitchen and in a hallway. She just clocks the fact that there’s a pepper mill on the counter and she grabs it and uses it to fight. It’s instinctual fighting. It’s nothing fancy. It’s all about the gut primal instinct that she has that guides her through these fights because she does shock herself. My motto for playing Jane is, “Confidence is silent, insecurities are loud.” When she’s feeling insecure about something, it’s going to be very present. When she’s confident, she’s very centered and tactical. That is the only guideline I’ve given myself for Jane.
Because this woman doesn’t know who she is or what the motives are of anyone else around her, she has to have some serious trust issues. How hard is that for her?
ALEXANDER: All she has is her gut feeling about people. The thing is that this show moves at such a fast pace that you start to get answers in the pilot, and then you get a lot more in the second episode. We don’t hold back, and there are no filler episodes. Every episode is action-packed with crazy stuff, so much so that it’s stuff you see in films. There’s never an episode where we’re all going to be at the FBI talking, for budget reasons, or somebody is out of town that week. It’s literally go, go, go, all the time. Television is competitive now, and the great stories live on television right now. I’m finding that I’m enjoying television more than film, these days. That was my motivation to take a TV show. If I find the right character, I don’t care if it’s a film, a television show or a play, I’m gonna do it. Everybody crosses over and it’s just one big pool of stuff now. I just loved Blindspot, from the beginning.
How bad of a situation could this woman have been in to end up like this?
ALEXANDER: I don’t know. Whatever led to this, which I honestly don’t know, it will make sense and be heavy enough for someone who has had her memory wiped and her entire body tattooed. What’s so awesome about it is that the tattoos are a character on the show, just like New York is. New York City is always a character in whatever it is that you’re filming there. It just adds an edge to the show. It’s that little dose of heightened reality that makes it entertaining.
Blindspot airs on Monday nights on NBC.