‘The Orville’: Adrianne Palicki on the Incredible Sets and the Hopeful Side of Sci-Fi
From creator/executive producer Seth MacFarlane (who also plays Captain Ed Mercer), the Fox space adventure series The Orville follows the U.S.S. Orville exploratory spaceship and the missions that it goes on, 400 years in the future. As its human and alien crew face the mysteries of outer space, they realize that they’re never too far away from their own everyday problems and issues.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Adrianne Palicki (who plays the captain’s ex-wife and First Officer Kelly Grayson) talked about how she got involved with The Orville, how cool it is to get to work with so many close friends, the incredible sets, the balance of dark and light on the series, exploring the hopeful side of sci-fi, whether she’s a Star Trek fan, what pilot director Jon Favreau was like to work with, having Charlize Theron guest star, and why there are so many possibilities for future seasons.
Collider: Is this show as much fun to make as it seems like it would be?
ADRIANNE PALICKI: Not to be cheesy, but it’s magical!
What’s it like to get to work on a spaceship?
PALICKI: That thing is huge! It’s built into the ground and it’s two stories. That bridge is huge! It’s fun. It’s playtime.
How did you get involved with The Orville?
PALICKI: I’ve known Seth [MacFarlane] for almost a decade. We’ve been really, really dear friends. I read the script and I was immediately in love with it. Seth was like, “How would you feel about doing this? Are you interested in the role of Kelly?” I was like, “Yes!” I went through the process, but there was so much support and love from him, wanting me to have this part. I have to tell you, the first five minutes into reading the script, I was like, “I’m in! I have to play this character!”
Were there any mishaps during the scene that we first meet Kelly in, in the pilot?
PALICKI: It was horrifying because they didn’t know exactly how much. There was a prosthetic and the first time, there was so much that it completely covered me and completely covered the bed. I lost my mind, I laughed so hard. It was hard to come back from that. I was like, “I can’t laugh in every take. I’m going to ruin the whole thing!”
Is this a situation where, the more serious things get, the harder it is to maintain your composure?
PALICKI: Absolutely! And we’re all friends. I’ve known Seth for a long time. I’ve known J. Lee for a long time. Scott [Grimes] is one of my dearest friends. We just have the best time on sest together. We all love each other. It’s one of the first casts I’ve ever been with, where we wrap on Friday and all go to dinner on Saturday together.
What most appeals to you about this character?
PALICKI: I love her so much because she is funny, she is smart, she is strong, and she’s usually right. I love that there is so much there for Kelly. As an actor, I get to play the comedy, the drama and the tears, and have action sequences. I get to do everything in this one character, and it’s so cool. It’s a dream.
As you got deeper into the season, what was it that most surprised you about what this show has evolved into, and what do you think will most surprise viewers?
PALICKI: I had read the majority of the scripts before we started shooting, so I had an idea of what it was going to be. It deals with a lot of social issues. It deals with a lot of what’s happening now, in a very interesting way. But the throughline is that the heart of the show is the relationships between these characters. It’s gonna be something that’s shocking because it’s not a broad comedy. It is a dramedy. The comedy comes out of the drama and the stakes. You need those moments of levity when sometimes the stakes are higher than others. Some episodes are going to be a little bit darker, and some are going to be a lot lighter. That’s the fun balance of it. All of the episodes could almost be stand-alones, except for the fact that you have these characters that are evolving.
Is Episode 3 the darkest that this series will get, or will there be other episodes that are on that level of heaviness?
PALICKI: There will be some that could possibly be heavier than that. Not every episode is gonna have a happy ending, and that’s what I love about this show. It’s going to be constantly shocking for viewers.
Is it exciting to be on a show that explores things that you might not be able to explore without that sci-fi layer to it?
PALICKI: That’s exactly what I wanted to do this project. I’m so proud of it, and I’m so proud of what we’re getting to say. I think Seth and the writers do a great job of not finger-wagging. It’s just thought-inducing. That’s where that happy medium comes into play. There’s a good balance in that, on this show. It could so easily lean to one way, but I think they do such a great job of balancing that. It’s supposed to make you think, and I’m really proud of that.
There’s such an earnest optimism to this TV series that’s not around much anymore. Did you know that you’d be exploring the hopeful side of sci-fi?
PALICKI: Seth will tell you that he got so sick of all these dark, futuristic movies about devastation and the world ending. Why can’t we have a future that is about space, and that’s interesting, goes to different worlds and planets, and is bright and happy? That’s how I felt when I watched the pilot, originally. I felt like I was watching a show from my childhood, in the late ‘80s, sitting there with my parents and having that hopeful, good feeling. To me, that was what drew me to it. It’s hopeful, it’s bright and it’s happy. You want to see where these characters go.
Were you, personally, ever a Star Trek fan?
PALICKI: I would watch it with my family, but I wasn’t a Trekkie. I was not Seth. I absolutely enjoyed watching it, but it never really resonated with me. It’s cool because we get to tip our hat to the show, but it’s also it’s own thing, which is cool. It’s not Star Trek.
What’s it like to put on the uniform and walk onto the sets for the ship, especially when everyone is together? Does it make you stand and carry yourself differently?
PALICKI: Oh, yeah, it gives you really great posture. They’re a little stiff. Our costume designer, Joseph Porro, did a fantastic job of creating this world and making it fresh and new. There’s a hat tip to the old school Star Trek, but in a different way that’s colorful, vibrant and new. You feel authoritative, walking around in those things.
Have you had a favorite moment, working on the ship?
PALICKI: You know, there are so many moments. Working with this cast is an amazing thing! It’s bizarre that we don’t work on location and we still see each other on the weekends because we all love each other that much. It’s special. The most amazing moments for me, on set, are always when somebody breaks and we can’t stop laughing. You just see the joy come through. It’s probably once a day that somebody breaks and starts cracking up.
Does one person tend to be the one most responsible for that?
PALICKI: Oh, yes, Scott Grimes! He’s just become one of my dearest friends and I absolutely adore that guy, but he can just look at me the wrong way and I’ll start laughing. It’s ridiculous!
We’ve only just started to see the tech that these people have access to, living so far into the future. Has there been on the show that you wish you were able to have, in your own life?
PALICKI: Oh, my god! If I could have the pocket size laser that you can take around and it heals you in five seconds, that would be very, very convenient. It not only heals you, but if you disfigure your face, it will put it right back. It’s cool! Also, the food simulator would be really cool. I could have a lazy day at home and be like, “I need a pizza!”
There’s such an interesting dynamic between Kelly and Ed because he seems to like to keep reminding her of how much she’s wronged him. Will he ever give up with that and stop rubbing her face in it?
PALICKI: I think that will always be a part of the dynamic between those two. I don’t think you want to lose that completely. It makes for a really fun little thing between them because they have it toward each other. She has her own stuff on him. It’s fun! It’s also nice to get to see that relationship again and wonder, will they or won’t they? That’s going to be a throughline for the series. They obviously love each other, but there is a huge thing between them, rightly so.
Jon Favreau directed the pilot, and the director of the pilot always gets to set the tone, look and feel for the entire season and series. What was it like to be in his hands, and how did you find the experience of working with him?
PALICKI: I absolutely trusted him, implicitly. He was such a huge part of sitting down with us and creating these characters with us. I sat down with him and Seth multiple times and went over the script and ideas. He was just so hands-on and so lovely. It’s always nice working with a director that was once an actor. An actor’s director is just so lovely and respects your choices. Even if he doesn’t find them to be the right ones, he can find a way to not make you feel like crap about them. I really, really appreciated working with him. What a kind soul!
Did you get to work with Charlize Theron, when she guest starred on the series?
PALICKI: I did! It was awesome! I was like, “Another tall blonde on the show!” I’ve known her a little bit, just through Seth. It was so cool to work with her and have her on set. It’s so cool that she wanted to come and play with us.
You’ve done a lot of action work, in TV and film, and you do some on this series, as well. Is that something that you enjoy and that you’re comfortable with, or are you surprised that your career has taken that path?
PALICKI: I love it and I enjoy doing it myself. It makes me feel strong and empowered, and I love getting to learn new things. It fell into my lap, in a weird way. Being tall and strong lends itself to do these kinds of characters. And then, once I did Wonder Woman, that was it. I love it!
What have you most enjoyed about getting to be a part of telling this story, as this character and working with this cast and crew?
PALICKI: It’s original. Doing something that’s not been done before is always exciting, but getting to do it with friends is even more so. We spend so much time together. Not only is the cast my family, but the crew is. I look forward to seeing them, every day. Without every single one of these people, this show would not exist. We have some of the most amazing prop people in the world. We have some of the most amazing make-up artists in the world. We have some of the most amazing costumers in the world. Everybody on this show is state of the art. It takes an army.
Does it feel like there’s still so much more story to tell, in future seasons?
PALICKI: Oh, absolutely! As long as we keep the consistency of the relationships, we could do anything. We could go to any world. That’s the fun thing about space. It’s like comic books, where you can create anything. We don’t know how many galaxies are out there. We don’t know how many planets are out there that we haven’t seen. It’s so cool to create those stories.
The Orville airs on Thursday nights on Fox.