Lily Cowles on ‘Roswell, New Mexico’ and Isobel’s Downward Spiral

     March 30, 2020

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In the next episode of The CW series Roswell, New Mexico, entitled “Good Mother,” Isobel (Lily Cowles) is determined to regain control of her life, which leads her to make a risky choice that has potentially very dangerous consequences. With Liz (Jeanine Mason) still hard at work at trying to bring Max (Nathan Parsons) back, Isobel finds herself isolated and unable to turn to anyone to help her through what she’s experiencing, which causes her to further spiral.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Lily Cowles talked about the downward spiral that Isobel is currently on, how hard it can be to pick up the pieces after your entire world has been shattered, the relationship dynamic between Isobel and her mother (Claudia Black), how scary and thrilling it’s been to tackle her story arc this season, how Episode 206 could break the internet, and what it’s meant to the cast of this re-imagining to have some of the original cast involved with and supporting the show.

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Image via The CW

Collider: Clearly, a lot of things are happening this season, and Isobel is just not having a good time of it, right now. How chaotic are things for her to deal with, and does she have a handle on anything, at this moment?

LILY COWLES: Great question. I was really hoping, as an actor, that we would start this season six months in, with Isobel having a little bit of time to process, she’s been seeing a therapist, and she’s a little calmer. But of course, that’s not gonna happen, when you have to let the viewers see her in the trenches. Unfortunately, the beginning of Season 2 is about as bad as it could get for Isobel. She’s lost her brother, her twin, her best friend, the most important person in the world to her. And then, she’s lost her husband, who not only died, but died having turned out to be a psychopathic alien serial killer, who used her body to commit murders and manipulated her. So, she already has a lot to deal with. The world that she knows has already been completely destroyed.

She’s always lived in a pretty restricted gilded cage that she’s built for herself, where everything seems like it’s really fine and everything’s really good, but she’s been very co-dependent on these two men, in her life. Suddenly, her entire world is shattered, so that is already really terrifying, and enough to make anyone lose their mind. On top of that, she realizes that she’s with child, and that she’s carrying as baby, which is something that, three months before this, she might’ve been really happy about. But then, she finds out that she’s carrying the child of this man, who was completely abusive and deceptive, and who totally took her body and took away her own autonomy from her. This is not the way that she wants to find herself pregnant. To be honest, Isobel probably does wanna have a family. I think what she wants most in this world is stability and family and community, and people around her who love her and who make her feel safe. But suddenly, everything has been turned on its head.

She doesn’t have her brother, and her husband was a deceitful liar. And not only that, but now she’s holding his baby. I think this baby represents, for her, the continuation of the legacy of a traumatic abusive relationship and something that has completely ruined her life. She doesn’t think she can move forward with that. I think she feels that she needs to first find herself and rebuild herself, before she can think about taking on raising another life. So, Isobel is in really dire straits, at the beginning of this season, and she finds herself in a particularly bad situation because she really has no one to turn to.

Max is gone. I don’t think she feels that she can talk to Michael about it because he was an unwanted child in the foster care system and he doesn’t feel like someone that she can talk about this with. Beyond that, there’s no medical resources available to her. And of course, Isobel is an alien, so she’s biologically different than a human. She can’t exactly go to a doctor for help through this. She functions as an allegory for people who also find themselves in a situation where they can’t get access to medical care that would help them have autonomy over their own bodies. She’s facing something really bad right now, where she feels very much backed up against a wall and doesn’t have many options. I don’t think that she feels that she can have this child, but what are her alternatives. She has nowhere to turn, which is what leads her to start taking some really drastic measures.

We’ve seen Isobel spending some more time with her mother, to varying degrees of success. How would you describe their relationship, and what do you enjoy about exploring that dynamic?

COWLES: It’s great. We didn’t really get to see Isobel with her mother, at all, before. Isobel has learned a lot from her mother, who is a woman that has, on the front, a very polished exterior, where everything looks good and she’s very much playing by society’s rules. This is who Isobel learned how to behave from. So, we get to see who Isobel has modeled herself after, which is a woman who’s highly attuned to social cues and expectations. There’s no small part of her that really resents her mother for that. She doesn’t feel like it’s necessarily safe to be very vulnerable with her mother. And of course, Isobel is also hiding a giant secret from her mother, which is that she’s not a human being. There’s that complicated factor, as well. She’s hiding something very big from her mother, but clearly, she doesn’t feel comfortable telling her mother that. We can all relate to that relationship with your parent where you’re like, “God, I love them, but they drive me crazy. All of the little things they say, they just know how to trigger me.” She still wants to be close to her mother. She’s in need. She’s a woman who’s completely lost at sea, and she’s reaching out for people. Her mother wants to take her to this warrior class and, at first, she’s a little cruel to her and like, “I just wanna be alone.” But she sees that it hurts her mom and is like, “I don’t mean to make you feel bad, mom. Okay, let’s do it. It’ll be good.” But, it’s wonderful. Working with Claudia [Black] is incredible. She’s so funny and so open. We were really having a good time riffing and doing some fun things, in Episode 2. Ultimately, Isobel doesn’t feel that maybe she can turn to her mother in a time like this, which also probably many young women can relate to, who find themselves in a situation like this. You would hope that your parent would be there for you, and yet so many young women can’t turn to their parents, for whatever reason, and have to deal with it on their own.

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Image via The CW

When I spoke to your showrunner, Carina MacKenzie, and I asked her what she was most proud of with Season 2, she told me that it’s the fact that she was able to really push the stories in bolder directions and shake things up, and have it be a little darker this season. Clearly, all of that applies to Isobel. So, without spoilers, what has that been like for you, as an actor to get to really dig into and explore?

COWLES: It’s scary, and it’s thrilling. I remember when Carina reached out to me, proposing the storyline for Isobel, my initial reaction was just like, “Oh, my god.” I remember feeling light-headed, where I was just like, “We’re gonna have to put Isobel through so much pain, and as an actor, I have to go there with her.” That’s not a pleasant place to go, and yet, as an artist, you hope that you get to represent all aspects of the human character and experience, and at least half of those are not pleasant. So, I felt an enormous responsibility to do justice for this character because I know that she is an emblem for so many women and humans and men, too, in general, who have had to go through enormous amounts of trauma and come out the other side. Trauma and really terrible things can lead us to places that we never thought we could get. We can find inner strength that will surprise us, and that we never would have had to call on, if we hadn’t been pushed. So, there is real value in taking a character to a dark place and exploring these really dark parts of the human condition because that’s also where so much of the beauty of courage and strength and vulnerability comes from. It’s not hard to be strong and courageous when everything is going your way. It really is in those moments of extremis and dire need that people have to step up and they’re called to show their strength. That’s such a beautiful part of life, so it’s wonderful that Carina is challenging us and pushing us to go there. I was really honored to be able to represent this story, although it was also something that I took very seriously because it’s a very sensitive and weighty issue.

Do you have a personal favorite episode that’s coming up?

COWLES: I loved the first three. I loved them so much. Eva [McKenna] is such an incredible writer, and she wrote the second episode. Deirdre [Mangan] and Carina wrote the third episode, which I think is stunningly beautiful. But I will say that our dear writers, Rick [Montano] and Vinny [Ingrao] knocked Episode 206 out of the park. It’s funny and wonderful, and a reprieve from all of the really high intensity, emotional drama. It’s exciting and it’s got action, and it’s got really juicy things. I think it’s going to break the internet. Episode 206 – tune in!

Things have been a little bit different this season. Last season, you had this little alien trio of Max, Isobel and Michael, and it’s different now, with Max mostly dead. What’s that like for you, as actors? Does it feel like a very different experience without that?

COWLES: Yeah, definitely. All of the actors on our show are so fun to work with, in their own ways, so it’s cool when you get to switch it up. I love working with Amber [Midthunder]. I love working with Heather [Hemmens] and Jeanine [Mason]. I love the little Scooby gang that we’ve got going on, with [Michael] Trevino and Tyler Blackburn and Michael Vlamis and Jeanine and I, all working together to like solve the mysteries of the universe. But I definitely sent a message, at one point, to Michael Vlamis and was like, “I miss you! I miss working with you!” I love working with both Nathan [Parsons] and Vlamis. They’re so different as actors, and they’re both so good and wonderful. Vlamis and I get together and we just riff and have so much fun. I hope, in some world, there’s a blooper reel that comes out with all of our riffing ‘cause we’ll just go off. Eventually, the director will be like, “Okay, enough! Just say the lines.” We rev each other up and get going, and it’s so much fun. When I don’t get to work with my bros, I’m like, “Dudes, I miss you!” But it’s also so wonderful to be able to work with other actors and get to know them. There were characters that Isobel didn’t interact with as much in the first season, that suddenly she’s getting to be bumped up against in the second, and it’s really fun to see how the different characters relate to each other and work around each other.

It’s also very cool that this re-imagining of this has been able to include some of the original cast, with Shiri Appleby directing and Jason Behr now guest starring on Season 2. What’s it meant to the cast to see how the original cast is supporting the series, and what’s it been like to have them around, on set?

COWLES: We’re so lucky to have Shiri and Jason supporting us and wanting to be part of our show. When you make an adaptation of an original, of course, you want to do justice and you wanna feel that the people who made the original are supportive of what you’re doing. It means the world to us that they’re both so excited to be a part of it and to work on it. It boosts our morale so much to see them and to feel like we’re a part of this larger legacy of a story that’s being told across generations. They’re so professional and so funny, and they bring their ow flavor of the original, that was so specific and good, with that tone that they had. They bring that into our show, and it’s so wonderful to be able to infuse what we’re making with that OG flavor. It feels really good. They’re both the most gracious, warm, friendly and hysterical people. I have a huge crush on both of them. If I got to out with one, it would be very difficult for me to choose. And that’s saying a lot because Jason Behr is everything that I thought was good and true, as a 12-year-old. But Shiri, man, is something else.

Roswell, New Mexico airs on Monday nights on The CW.

Television