On the NBC drama series Blindspot, things with Sandstorm keep ramping up while Shepherd’s (Michelle Hurd) goals and motives are still mostly unknown. When the FBI team gets a major break in discovering Shepherd’s true identity, it leads Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) to learn just what his connection to Sandstorm is, and that Shepherd believes Weller, Jane (Jaimie Alexander) and Roman (Luke Mitchell) will each play their role when the time comes.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Michelle Hurd talked about the appeal of such a deliciously evil character, the Star Wars influence on the Shepherd-Remi-Roman relationship, where Shepherd’s humanity comes from, whether redemption is possible for someone like this, learning her real identity, why Shepherd is so interested in Kurt Weller, and what’s still to come from Sandstorm. Be aware that there are some major spoilers discussed.
Collider: Shepherd is a character that’s been very mysterious, from the beginning. We don’t really know who she is, what her true motives are, or if she’s loyal to anyone. When you signed on for this, were you told any of that, or have you been in the dark up until now, as well?
MICHELLE HURD: It’s interesting, I didn’t get a lot of information. I got this interesting concept that was like, “If this is Star Wars, Jane/Remi is Luke, Roman is Darth Vader and Shepherd is the Empire.” With that, I was like, “Okay. All right. Let’s do it!” The thing I really like about her is that she’s an interesting villain. This is the actor saying it, but we have to remember that Shepherd was betrayed by her country and the government. The people that she had working in her battalion were completely wiped out. They were given terrible things to do that people don’t want to speak about, but they did it, and then they were wiped out and almost forgotten. She’s righteous, loyal and maybe a little crazy, but she’s a very driven, focused woman, and she’s been betrayed. There’s a real reason why she’s doing all of this stuff. Albeit she might be a little off. She might not have every screw completely tight. It’s funny, I say that, but I still want to defend her. I think it’s the way that we get when we’re like a dog with a bone. We get really driven about something. When something goes wrong in your life, you want to fix it, but you don’t necessarily realize all the collateral damage that happens because you’re focused on that one thing. Shepherd is really driven to right this wrong. She feels the government has betrayed the people, and she’s the people.
From the outside, Shepherd is a bad guy and some might call her a terrorist, and it’s hard to see her as anything else, especially the more people she murders.
HURD: That’s something she’s gotta work on!
As the person who knows her better than anyone, except for maybe the writers, what do you think makes her human and gives her humanity?
HURD: I think it’s the fact that she is really committed to the cause and to the people she felt were her family. Her soldiers were her family. She was a real patriot. She was committed to this country and to keeping it safe. She drank the Kool-Aid. She bought it, hook, line and sinker. And then, the people who she felt were keeping her on the good path and sold her a bill of rights, basically lied to her face and betrayed her. It’s the betrayal that makes her so human. Her heart is broken. She brought people who were innocent into a place that was dangerous for them, and she got them killed. She feels incredibly responsible for that and incredibly betrayed. Those are very human qualities. It’s not that she’s completely psychotic and killing willy-nilly. She has such strong values. I think she really believes in truth, justice and the American way, and the fact it was betrayed in such a violent way, she just can’t get over it.
You often hear talk about bad guys finding redemption. Is that possible for a character like this, or is she just way past that?
HURD: If Shepherd’s memory was erased and information was newly presented to her, you never know. That’s how it worked, with Jane and with Roman, although Roman is still psychotic. She’s really just a loyal person. She’s just a righteous individual. Now, there is a tiny bit of narcissism in her. She’s like, “This is the way. We have to do it like this.” Although, she does make adjustments. When things don’t go exactly right, she’s very apt at changing her path to get her goal. But, I don’t know. I’m not sure. Does everybody get to redeem themselves? Does that happen in life? I don’t know. Also, maybe it’s a bittersweet thing. I don’t know where we’re going to end up, but it could be some kind of weird bittersweet thing where she believes in her cause to the end. That could be interesting. I mean, I love this job, so I would love for that to happen, but whatever.
In this next episode, we finally got to learn that her name is really Ellen Briggs. When did you learn what her name is, did that change anything about her for you, and do you think of her as Shepherd or as Ellen?
HURD: I think of her as Shepherd. I learned her name when I got the script. Reading it, I was like, “What’s her name? There’s her name!” It was interesting ‘cause I thought, “Hm, that’s my name. This is who I am. I’m discovering all this history.” If you think about some of our most awarded soldiers, who have done these amazing things, they were little munchkins, at some point. They were kids that were doing their thing, and then they became these amazing soldiers and generals, etc. That’s how they identify themselves, but that’s not who they were when they were younger. I think that maybe Shepherd is the person who was born after Ellen was betrayed. She had the kids call her Shepherd, and not Ellen or mom. Maybe there’s a little bit of a delusional thing going on, where she’s creating her flock, but I think that’s what happened. When the betrayal happened, she made a choice and she said, “I have to own the deaths of all these people, and I have to make it right.”
It was interesting to get to see Shepherd interact with a young Weller. Why do you think it is that she became so interested in him?
HURD: I think she’s actually drawn to strength and fearlessness and the possibilities. If you remember Roman and Remi when they were little, after the soldiers had kidnapped them and trained them, and then the Army came in and rescued them all and said they were almost impossible to reform because they were too aggressive and violent, she took them into her house. I think what that was, was that she saw this raw energy, passion and possibility. These two little creatures were not uncontrollable. It was beautiful that they were out of control, so to speak. She was drawn to their fearlessness because she sees that in herself. And when she saw Kurt and started tracking him, she saw the same thing in him. He has a desire to right things. He wanted to protect his sister. As a kid, he punched a security guard in the face. I think she saw that, and that’s what she’s attracted to. I always joke that I think she fills up her whole Sandstorm group with all of these people that are a little bit off, but who are willing to walk into the fire for her. That’s what drove her to Kurt, to Jane and to Roman.
Shepherd seems very sure that everyone is still going to play their role in her plan, no matter what happens. Is she really as sure of herself as she seems, or is that a lot of posturing?
HURD: I think she is. She’s not narcissistic. That’s not who she is. She was hurt when Roman left her. Because she is so committed to her cause and she knows that what happened was wrong, she says to Kurt, “We’re doing the same thing! We’re fighting for the same cause! Don’t you see that?!” She was an excellent soldier who followed everything by the letter of the law, and they turned around and betrayed her. They killed everybody and tried to erase her from history. In her head, she really does believe that, when presented with a situation in the future, he will not be able to deny it. There will not be a choice A or B. It will just be an A. There will not be any wavering or negotiating. He’ll have to do it, too. I do think she believes that. Clearly, she is like a dog with a bone. She only sees this one way, but it’s the way that she thinks is the right way. She’s committed. I’m on her side.
We know that Shepherd still has this big plan, but we still don’t really know what that is or how it’s going to play out. What can you say to tease what we can expect from her, before the end of the season?
HURD: What can I say? It’s so yummy! No matter what happens, Shepherd is determined to complete Phase 2 of her plan, and come hell or high water, she feels she’s gonna do it. She’s going to right the wrong.
Will we start to learn just what her plan is soon?
HURD: Yeah, you’ll know soon. It will be clearer. There’s going to be a real clear “Oh!” moment in a few episodes.
Shepherd seems to like to hurt people in a very personal way and so that they know she’s the one who’s doing it. Is there a specific reason for why she likes to play things that way?
HURD: It is interesting, isn’t it? She does allocate a lot of stuff, but then when it comes down to a one-on-one, she takes it on herself. She’s the boss and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. I also think she wants them to see that she’s not afraid of them. She wants the person to know it’s her. She’s saying, “I’m here. I didn’t send somebody else. I can get to you. It’s not a problem for me to get to you and to control you once I have you. I’m not afraid of you.” I think she does it on purpose. If she could, she would just go through every single person in the FBI and visit them at home. She wants you to know that she’s here, and she’s not going anywhere.
What do you most enjoy about playing this character?
HURD: I have to say that I do enjoy her. As an actress, I’m of a certain age and I’m the little ethnic lady that I am, and I’ve been in this industry for a couple of decades, and I have to say that this is one of my most favorite characters that I’ve ever portrayed. There are so many different things about her. She’s interesting, she’s smart and she’s delicious. Yes, she’s a little off, but aren’t we all?!
Blindspot airs on Wednesday nights on NBC.