From the minds of Lana and Andy Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski comes the 12-episode, mind-bending Netflix series Sense8, about 8 people connected all around the world who, after experiencing a violent vision, are able to see, feel, hear and talk to each other, as if they are in the same place. While they are being hunted by an organization that is out to do them harm, these eight individuals from very different backgrounds must quickly adapt to this new ability and to each other, and figure out what all of this means for the future of humanity.
At the press day for this thriller that explores identity, connectivity and humanity, actor Naveen Andrews (who plays Jonas, the mysterious man determined to bring eight strangers together) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what attracted him to this highly ambitious project, the incredible learning experience he had working with the Wachowskis, their talent for presenting something on an epic scale that has an extraordinary intimacy, why he found the entire thing to be quite life-changing, and what it was like to shoot so many separate stories in different locations. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of Sense8?
NAVEEN ANDREWS: Well, I don’t want to walk down the same old street. When I met the Wachowskis, I told them I hadn’t read anything like this. That’s the kind of thing that I want to do and that I seek to do, and to get the opportunity to do that is very rare. What I learned from actually doing the piece, and working with them and with my fellow actors, was that what’s on the page isn’t necessarily what you feel or see on screen. I learned more from watching Lana [Wachowski] with the steadi-cam [operator], following him and whispering to him. And then, they’d reshoot the scene in a completely different way. That process, which if you’re an outsider would be unsettling, was, for me, the way into where they were coming from. That was a new experience for me. For me and Daryl [Hannah], our roles in this first season are necessarily keys for the sensates, so that they have some understanding that what’s happening to them is real and not bullshit.
If you didn’t really know how this would all work until you got on set and were shooting it, what was it that ultimately sold you on this project?
ANDREWS: Before getting involved, I was aware that their great strength was to present something on an epic scale, but at the same time, to have extraordinary intimacy. To pull that off is very, very difficult. Not many people can do it. Also, they were very loving people, which is rare. I can only think of maybe one other director who had that, and that’s Anthony Minghella.
Did you know what you were getting yourself into, as far as the scale and scope of this?
ANDREWS: You mean in terms of the piece, but personally, I found it quite life-changing, really. It’s the idea that, if we’re all connected, than what does that mean and what are you going to do about it? Because we are all connected, whether we like it or not. In London, someone tells Riley (Tuppence Middleton) that, with the world being as fucked up as it is, isn’t it a legitimate choice to check out? And I used to live like that, when I was young. I made that decision, consciously. We emphasize our differences by nationality, race and financially, particularly in terms of what’s going on, right now, in America, and the rise of Fascism in Europe. It’s quite prescient that we’re coming out with this piece, at this time. It’s our common humanity that defines us. Margaret Thatcher famously said, in the 1980s, that there is no such thing as society. Well, there is.
Which of the Wachowski previous work had spoken to you?
ANDREWS: The Matrix and V for Vendetta. But, this is personalized in a different way. I know they put themselves into everything that they do, but with this, they’re invested, so strongly, in it.
Who is Jonas, and how does he connect to the story being told?
ANDREWS: I would say to approach this character like a channel into the world that the sensates inhabit. It’s unsettling because you’re not quite sure whether it’s benign or malevolent. I felt that about the whole piece. There’s a sense of menace throughout, as well as the sweetness, light and love.
The cold open to this series really sets the tone for what this show will be. What was that like to shoot?
ANDREWS: That set was extraordinary. And the place that we were in, in Gary, Indiana, was so rundown. On that day, two white tigers that some dealer had kept escaped and were out on the street. So, the police were at the end of our row, looking for these white tigers. It was bizarre.
How did you find working with Daryl Hannah?
ANDREWS: When we first met in San Francisco, we were both saying, “We have all these questions to ask!” I think Daryl actually wrote them down and presented it to them, but they were never answered. You only found out where you should go, and what to do and what not to do, on set, by feeling them.
With so many characters in so many stories, what was your shooting schedule like for this?
ANDREWS: It was so disparate. You could spend a few days shooting a scene in Chicago, but you might have to finish in Berlin, in a completely different set for the same scene, four months later. That was extraordinary. But that’s why it was good to have those relationships with the actors. We kept talking about it to keep involved, so we weren’t outside of it.
Did you work throughout the entire production?
ANDREWS: You’d go away for a few weeks, and then you’d have to go to Reykjavík and be there for awhile. It can get cold there, but it’s beautiful, as well.
By the time we get to the end of the season, will we feel like we know who Jonas is and what his purpose is, or will we still have questions and be anxious for another season?
ANDREWS: I would hope that you’d be anxious for the next season. It comes back to that dynamic of walking down the same street twice. You don’t ever want to walk down the same street, do you?
Did you know that the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski set up a five-season arc, and is that something you’re game for?
ANDREWS: I spent six years of my life doing Lost, so I’m aware of the parameters and what it could involve.
What was it like to have an experience like the one you had on Lost, where you’re a part of something that people still talk about, all this time later?
ANDREWS: I’m still outside of it because I didn’t watch it. It’s hard to say because it’s the past. It doesn’t occupy my thoughts, at all. I’m glad that people enjoyed it. They don’t say, “I hated it!” I guess that’s a good thing.
Do you think people will approach you about Sense8 to ask you just as many questions as they did about Lost, when that was on?
ANDREWS: We’re living in a different age now because of Netflix and the cyber world. The way people can communicate with each other about their questions and thoughts is on a different level entirely.
When you find a project like this, that pushes you and your own thoughts and it’s not just an acting job, does it affect the kind of stuff you want to do, after that?
ANDREWS: Of course! Otherwise, you limit yourself to a very small pond. I guess it’s risky, but I’ve always been that way. I don’t know if I’m going to change now.
What gets you to say yes to something? Does it have to be there in the script, or do you also want to meet whoever is responsible for the ultimate vision?
ANDREWS: It’s an instinctive feeling. Sometimes in the past, maybe I’ve been wrong. I’m prepared to admit that. But if I feel like, “Oh, my god, what the fuck is this?! Woah!” then it’s usually a good sign.
Sense8 is now available at Netflix.