From the minds of Lana and Andy Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski comes the 12-episode, mind-bending Netflix series Sense8, about eight 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, actress Daryl Hannah (who plays an otherworldly figure named Angel) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what attracted her to this highly ambitious project, why she was drawn to the Wachowskis and their style of artistic expression, how challenging some of the moments were to shoot, that she never could have expected how it all turned out, the incredible personal experience this was, what makes her decide on for a particular acting role, and what makes her to decide to put her focus elsewhere. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this?
DARYL HANNAH: The casting director, Carmen Cuba, came to me about meeting Lana and Andy Wachowski, for which I was already like, “Yes!,” about a role called Mr. Whispers because they wanted to maybe do an androgynous thing with the character. So, I went to meet them, and I only had read one or two paragraphs. I believe one of those paragraphs were words that ultimately Jonas says, and not even Mr. Whispers. I didn’t know anything about it. During the meeting, they said that they wanted to put me in the role of Angel, even though I’d never heard of that role. I was like, “What?! I can’t be Mr. Whispers?! Okay, then.” I was just really happy. I don’t have the vocabulary to express my admiration for Lana and Andy, and their creative process, their brains, their human empathy, and everything they try to express with their endeavors.
The Wachowskis seem to have the entire vision in their heads, but they don’t necessarily share that with anyone else.
HANNAH: They really do. And not only do they really have the vision all there and they don’t share it, but it’s also constantly evolving. Even though they really have it and they know how it’s going to work, they also still are drawing inspiration as they go and it all weaves into their complicated tapestry in a way that you can’t possibly figure out how they do it.
What is it about the Wachowskis that allows so many people to take a leap of faith to work with them?
HANNAH: They’re true artists. They really are trying to say something and trying to create something original, and there aren’t that many people who do that. When you’re an actor, that’s what you dream about, that’s what you wish for, and that’s what you live for, unless you’re just a personality, which is a different thing.
What was it that ultimately sold you on this project? Was it the story, was it the themes that are being explored, or was it the character?
HANNAH: I knew nothing. Honestly, it was really just them, initially. The themes that they explore were the extra frosting on the cake. When I met them, we just talked about who we are and what we’re all about. We talked as friends. It was so weird because some of the themes we’re exploring in the show were themes we talked about in that meeting, without me knowing what the show was about. Outside of my film work, my advocacy and activism is centered around inter-connection and inter-dependence. I remember that we were talking about mushrooms and the root systems of mushrooms, and that ended up being in the script. I don’t know if that was written before, or if it’s just coincidental that we all knew about that. There were all of these different themes that were already cross-pollinated. It couldn’t have been a better fit for my interests, both in entertainment and in life. It was great.
The cold open for this show and the introduction of your character is so intense and emotional. What was it like to shoot that?
HANNAH: It was really difficult because so much of it was by myself. I had to create the whole story when I didn’t really know what had happened to my character to get her to that point. I had to do much of that scene with Jonas and Mr. Whispers without them there, both physically and emotionally. I had to do it all, many times, sometimes with them there and sometimes without them there. It was actually a hot summer night when we shot that in Gary, Indiana, in this burnt-out church. I had to shiver all night, but it was a hot and sweaty night. And forcing yourself to shiver is one of the hardest things on your muscles and isometrics.
Obviously, it was emotionally really difficult, too. At that point, it was just easier to stay in it, rather than trying to come out and go back, and try to get back into that level of depth of pain and struggle. So, I just stayed in it for the whole time we were shooting it, and we shot that scene for over nine hours. I actually had felt like I had gotten hit by a truck, and I slept for 20 hours after that. I’ve done stunts before. I’ve been smashed through walls. I broke my elbow on one movie, and I’ve broken vertebrae. But, I was in more pain doing that emotional scene and shivering than I have been with a lot of my actual stunts.
Angel really is the most mysterious figure, in the beginning of this story. We don’t know where she came from, or how what she did leads to everything that happens. What should people know about Angel?
HANNAH: I think that’s something where you have to grin and bear it for awhile. She obviously, in some metaphorical sense, gives birth to their awareness of themselves as sensates and of each other. We don’t really know that much more about it. You will learn more things, but I won’t say what they are.
Once you learned where everything was going, by the time you got to the end of the season, did it end up anywhere like how you expected it would?
HANNAH: I couldn’t ever say that I could expect the kind of things that Lana and Andy could come up with. My imagination is different from theirs. I don’t think I could have imagined a lot of things. There were some things that they told me that I can’t share, but I was like, “Oh, my god, that’s so frickin’ cool!” It’s so perfect, too. They don’t share too much, but when they tell you certain things, you’re like, “Oh, my god, that makes so much sense!”
As storytellers, the Wachowskis seem like they’ve been a bit confined by the structure and limited time of film, and this seems like a more suited way for them to tell a story.
HANNAH: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. It’s a new storytelling paradigm because it has the epic grandiosity of film and the cinematic quality of it, yet you can go to much more depth without it having to be just a crappy sequel that’s trying to milk the same storyline, over and over, as many times as you can. These are organic storylines that get more profound and deeper and more intertwined.
Do you feel that you not only went on a character journey with this, but also a personal journey, just by being a part of it?
HANNAH: For sure, and not only in the relationships that we all forged. The whole cast really bonded in an incredible way. I have so much love for all of the actors, for the project, for Lana and Andy, and for our crew. Everyone gave their best. Everyone was fully committed. It’s just so great to be a part of something that everyone believes in and everyone is really there, 110%. That doesn’t happen that often. We all have Lana and Andy to thank because they were really specific about who they hired and how they went about the process. It was important to them to have that experience.
Does that make you both want more seasons to explore, and wish that every job could live up to that?
HANNAH: For sure, and that’s a challenge. I’ve been working for 30-something years. If there was ever a complaint on the set and anyone was like, “Oh, this trailer sucks!,” I was like, “Zip it! You don’t even understand. This is going to be one of the best experiences of your career. I don’t care how famous you get, or how many movies or TV shows you do.” When it’s good, you’ve gotta appreciate it. Even if the movie comes out good, it doesn’t mean the experience was good. This was both. This was an incredible experience. I really was trying to encourage the actors to appreciate it while it was happening because sometimes it’s only in retrospect that you understand when those moments are. When you get older, you have a much better sense of when it’s time to really recognize that you’re fortunate and that you should appreciate your circumstances.
This business clearly has a different set of standards for women than it does for men. Do you find it difficult to navigate that, find jobs that you want, and still feel creatively satisfied in what you’re doing?
HANNAH: It’s rough to feel creatively satisfied, as an actor, for the most part, because you don’t initiate your own work. You have to be invited to the party. You have to be invited to work, which is weird. That can be frustrating. But gender inequality is pretty similar through almost every industry, unfortunately. That’s something that we’ve just gotta change, and that’s one of the themes that Lana and Andy explore, too. They don’t necessarily give directives or answers, but they bring up those questions because it’s something we need to pay some serious attention to. It’s ridiculous, especially in the movie industry. The movie industry had it better in the ‘30s and ‘40s, in terms of gender equality, than it does now, both in payment and in job ratios. It’s ludicrous. Are we in the modern world, or what? I guess not. That’s why I don’t watch TV. I think that tends to polarize us and diminish important issues. The theme of inter-connectedness, which Sense8 addresses, is probably the most profound theme that you can address, in dealing with the crises that we face.
Because you have so many different things that your attention is focused on outside of acting, what gets you to say yes to an acting job?
HANNAH: I love working with the best directors in the world and great material. If I get an opportunity to do that, I’m going to do it. On the other hand, if something doesn’t really hold a candle, I’m going to put my efforts where I can be the most effective.
Sense8 is available now on Netflix.