‘Devs’ Star Sonoya Mizuno on the “Subversive Nature” of Writer/Director Alex Garland

     March 12, 2020

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From creator/writer/director/executive producer Alex Garland, the limited series Devs, which is available to stream at FX on Hulu, follows software engineer Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno), as she tries to investigate the ultra-secretive development division of the cutting-edge tech company that employers her, following the murder of her boyfriend (Karl Glusman). As Lily gets in deeper and the extent of Amaya CEO Forest’s (Nick Offerman) commitment to the Devs project is pushed to the limit, the success of the company’s covert work is threatened, which could result in dire consequences for everyone.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Sonoya Mizuno, who also previously worked with Garland on Ex Machina and Annihilation, talked about her reaction to her first read of the scripts for Devs, the journey she takes with her character, why she grew to love Lily, what she enjoys about Alex Garland as a collaborator and storyteller, her hope to work with him again, and why she likes the life experience of working with the same group of creatives.

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Image via FX

Collider: When I started watching Devs, I couldn’t stop watching it, and I binged the entire season. I had no idea where it was going, so I was compelled to keep finding out. Did you feel the same way, reading the scripts?

SONOYA MIZUNO: I did, actually. I remember, I couldn’t put it down. It was a lot. It was eight scripts, but I definitely felt that, the first time I read it. I couldn’t put it down because it felt like a thriller, but I was also so impressed with the way Alex [Garland] interwove these huge themes in such a human thriller drama. It was very compelling, reading it.

Your character, especially, goes on such a huge journey because her entire world gets turned upside down.

MIZUNO: Yeah, it’s such a journey. That was one of the things which felt so exciting and terrifying about it. For any actor, it’s a dream to do something like that, which is so emotional, physical and intellectual. It was really going somewhere.

Did you have a different appreciation for her, as you kept going on this journey and learned about what was going on?

MIZUNO: Yes, I did. I learned about her more, as we went along. And that wasn’t just myself learning about her, but it was informed by the way Alex wanted scenes to be played. Oftentimes, I would think, “But wouldn’t she do this? Wouldn’t it be like that?” For example, in Episode 4, when there’s been the crash on the freeway, and she goes to Jamie’s and calls the police, she says that Kenton was trying to take her, or something. I said to Alex, “But why doesn’t she tell him that she’s just been in a car crash?” If that was me, I’d be like, “I was just in a car crash.” And he was like, “But that’s the whole point of Lily. That’s not the thing that’s important to her. What’s important to her is this whole thing that’s going on, that she needs to put stop to.” So, it would be things like that. And then, I’d be like, “Wow, she’s so strong. She’s so hardcore.” And I grew to really love that about her because that’s not really how I operate.

Even her going to Jamie, after so much time had passed, and expecting that, out of nowhere, he’d just be willing to do whatever she wanted him to.

MIZUNO: Yeah. A big part of creating her was how she reacts to situations. What she does, at the end, is something that no one else does, so she has to feel, inherently, deeply different. And so, what can we make about her that’s different? One of the main things was how she reacts to the situation that she’s in. Going to your ex-boyfriend to get his help, apart from being really awkward, takes a lot of courage. And then, on top of those things, there was the way she looks and the way she dresses, and all of those things, which we thought very hard about, to make her this unusual outsider.

Do you feel like her ending is something that she chose, or do you feel like her ending chose her?

MIZUNO: That’s the thing, it’s so paradoxical. She didn’t choose any of it. All of these things, for all of these characters, were chosen for them. One has a lot of relationships, when they’re in their teens or 20s, perhaps. When you’re in your late 20s to early 30s, those relationships change a bit, what matters to you changes, and your understanding of love changes. People talk a lot about how you become an adult when you’re 18, but we would talk a lot about how you become more of an adult when you’re in your late 20s and early 30s, and you settle a bit. I felt like this was her journey, to that point.

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Image via FX

What do you like about Alex Garland as a collaborator and storyteller?

MIZUNO: He’s an excellent, brilliant writer, but there are two qualities, which I always feel attracted to in his writing, and it’s subversive nature of his work and the elegance in his work. Somehow, I feel that I connect to that, in a deep way. I used to be a ballet dancer, and I feel like something innate about that form of expression, on a deep level, relates to his work. That’s my sense. And then, he is extremely collaborative, with actors, with Rob Hardy, the DoP, and with everyone. It was a very collaborative set, and we rehearsed a lot. We filmed in blocks, and before each block, we did about two weeks of rehearsals. We’d talk about the scenes and about words that we wanted to change. It’s really nice for an actor to have a director who is so in the pit with you, and also so respectful of all the work that you’re doing because it is a lot of work. So, he’s a great collaborator. There was a real learning curve on this, as well, because there was a lot of stuff I had to do by myself, like the hacking. I learned that, for someone playing a lead, there is a lot of solo acting, which is actually much harder than I imagined. You really have to tell a story and take the time to show the beats of what’s going on because you’re not saying anything. That’s something he really helped me with.

Alex Garland has talked about his desire to write and direct another project, with this same cast. Are you game for whatever he comes up with?

MIZUNO: Yeah. I think it’s a really fun idea. He knows everyone now, on a personal and artistic level, so it’s a chance to really write for them, which is both fun for him and fun for us. I hope it happens.

When you do a project like this, that is so interesting and complex, does it change how you want to approach other projects and how you look at material?

MIZUNO: Yes, definitely. You can’t be [too selective] when you’re starting out. Ex Machina was the first job that I did, and it was the first movie script that I’d ever read, in my life, so I had a high bar. But it was the first one, so it wasn’t like I was going to turn down other work. I just wanted and needed to work. But it’s a different feeling. There are all sorts of reasons one might choose to do a job, which could do with family, location, money, and what have you, but it is a different feeling, doing something which feels meaningful. They don’t come around that often, and it’s a total life experience. And also, working with the same people again is a life experience. Me, Alex, Rob, and one of the guys who wrote the score did a music video together, as well, so we’ve worked together four times. It’s a life experience. It’s not like a lot of jobs where you get together and you all become best friends, and then never see each other again. It’s something that I’m really grateful for.

Devs is available to stream at FX on Hulu, with new episodes on Thursdays.

Television