I hope you’re ready for another tour de force performance from Yvonne Strahovski because that’s exactly what she delivers in Stateless which is now available to watch on Netflix. In this edition of Collider Ladies Night, Strahovski looks back on her journey to Hollywood, beginning with her penchant for spoofing commercials as a kid. After making the move to the US, Strahovski would go on to work on Chuck for its five-season run, see Dexter through to its controversial conclusion, and score Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her work in The Handmaid’s Tale, and then some. Now that list of accomplishments grows via Stateless.
The six-part series addresses the refugee crisis by putting the spotlight on one particular detention center in Australia. Strahovski’s character, Sofie Werner, is inspired by the true story of Cornelia Rau, an Australian citizen who unlawfully wound up in such a facility for ten months, sparking a significant amount of media coverage and a government investigation.
Again, Strahovski’s work in Stateless is truly jaw-dropping. Sofie’s deeply internal struggle is downright devastating and Strahovski brings such nuance, heart and sensitivity to every single beat of it. But, there is something about Stateless that was a bit of a head scratcher upon release; it’s a show about the refugee crisis with four main characters, and three of them are white. Here’s what Strahovski said when asked if that was a concern when she first signed on:
“Well, look, I think there’s a lot of things to discuss about that. I think it’s definitely a big point that it is a white Australian woman that is the Trojan horse into this story. I think there’s something to be said for the fact that a lot of people need that Trojan horse to be the white Australian woman for the rest of the stories to be relatable. Certainly in real life, when there was a white Australian woman in a detention center in Australia, it brought a huge spotlight to what was going on in the detention centers there, which were at the time on shore. Now we have offshore detention centers in Australia.”
In addition to Sofie, there’s also Jai Courtney as Cam, a guard working at the facility, and Asher Keddie as Clare Kowitz, the detention center’s new manager. “There’s three white main characters and then a non-white main character, and we’re talking about statelessness.” Strahovski further explained:
“I think one of the positives that come out of a story like this is that we’re showing the experience of a detention center and how it fails people essentially through different angles. You’ve got the experience of a guard who is working there who is morally challenged by what he’s witnessing and having to do. You’ve got the experience of the bureaucrat, the government official coming in who’s helping run it, who has to be the face of it and how that challenges her integrity. And then you’ve got Sofie, the Trojan horse coming in. And then you’ve got Amir, so incredibly played by Fayssal [Bazzi] who represents the now 80 million displaced and stateless people in the world. For me, that’s the heart of the series and that’s the thing that I think is the most important.”
This is well worth emphasizing further; Fayssal Bazzi is phenomenal in Stateless. Amir’s desperation to build a better life for his family is palpable and ultimately turns heartbreaking as this flawed system fails him. Here’s a good guy with a heart ready to explode with love for his family who’s being treated like a potential threat to society at every turn. Sofie may be the Trojan horse of Stateless, but in the end, it’s Amir’s story more so than any of them that leaves you with the need to act.
Strahovski also noted an especially moving experience she had on set courtesy of the background actors selected:
“The thing that was the most profound for me on set is having all of our background artists be not actors but people who had, in their lifetime, been displaced, stateless, gone through a detention center. That, to me, was the biggest moment of, ‘Wow, this is now sort of a very real experience.’ To hear firsthand of people having their families killed, people not knowing whether their families, their husbands, their kids were alive or dead for five to six years while they’re trying to escape a country because it’s a life and death situation because they will be killed. And coming, and going on this journey and ending up in a detention center; where is our humanity at this point on the other end for them?”
She further highlighted one particular background actor who has an especially big presence throughout the series:
“One of the gentlemen that we worked with had been in the detention center up the road from us and had experienced that for however many months he was in there. The man that you see sitting on a chair in the compound … he sits there in his suit with his suitcase by his side. Burhan [Zangana] plays that man and speaking to him, just so many stories and he represents a real person who did that because they couldn’t go anywhere. They’re stateless. They’re not able to start a life anywhere. And so, to me, that was important and I kept asking, ‘Why come here? Why relive this? You’ve been through so much. Why come here and be part of this?’ And a lot of people said, ‘Because this is the story we want to tell. This is the story that needs to be heard and we want to tell this story.’ And that to me was the most powerful thing out of everything.”
For more on Stateless and Strahovski’s journey in Hollywood, check out her full episode of Collider Ladies Night in the video at the top of this article. And if you prefer to listen to the conversation in podcast form, we’ve got the audio embed for you below:
- 00:37 – Strahovski revisits her childhood and knowing she had to be an actor.
- 01:39 – She used to spoof commercials and make her own documentaries as a kid.
- 02:57 – Making the leap from making videos as a kid to deciding this was the career path for her to pursue; her parents weren’t thrilled at the start.
- 04:25 – The personal challenge that almost stopped her from coming to Hollywood.
- 07:08 – Strahovski revisits the decision to change the spelling of her last name.
- 08:40 – Strahovski revisits her experience working on Chuck; learning how the industry worked through that show.
- 09:58 – The very fast paced nature of making a show like Chuck.
- 11:15 – Strahovski talks about her interest in producing and directing.
- 12:57 – What it was like joining Dexter in the seventh season; how the show helped her go beyond what she was known for in Chuck.
- 15:43 – Strahovski looks back on Dexter‘s controversial series finale.
- 17:28 – Strahovski talks about playing a character who’s very difficult to have sympathy for in Handmaid’s Tale.
- 19:00 – Given what’s going on in the world right now, does Strahovski think any of that will follow her back to the Handmaid’s Tale set?
- 20:39 – Did the phone call from Cate Blanchett for Stateless come out of the blue?
- 21:35 – Strahovski talks about working with the two Stateless directors, Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse.
- 22:57 – Strahovski addresses telling a story about the refugee crisis with a white woman serving as the main character.
- 25:44 – The Stateless background artists are individuals who have really been stateless.
- 27:47 – What can viewers do to take action and make a difference?
- 30:20 – Spoiler Warning! Strahovski looks back on the scene in Stateless that reunited her with an acting teacher.
- 32:44 – Strahovski talks about carving her path predominately through television.
- 35:20 – Strahovski teases The Tomorrow War.