Eight actors tell The Hollywood Reporter about overcoming complicated shoots, physical demands and one very cold pool in order to pull off some of the most memorable moments on TV.
Giving birth to a snake — out of your mouth — that was a tough day. It was the very last episode, and we were all so exhausted. And spending eight hours crying and screaming is always a challenge. But that's the thing about our job: It's so rewarding afterward because you feel like you've given it your all.
All the physicality, we made it up. What would it feel like to have a snake moving inside you? I thought of it very much like an abortion — she had been preparing to have a baby because that's what was promised her. This is what [she's] always wanted. And even though there's a side of her that doesn't quite believe it — there's probably something underlying the whole thing that's telling her that it's too good to be true — everything you really wanted is a beautiful newborn baby. And then the birth and seeing the creature afterward — she's just given birth to an actual danger [and feels] remorse and sadness about wanting to believe something so badly. — AS TOLD TO MAYA TRIBBIT
The breakup scene in front of the Pantheon was challenging because of the logistics and production and camera movements, but also because of the emotion. There's a fine line with Emily. She's expecting Doug (Roe Hartrampf) to come to Paris and really excited about it, but then in this call, she realizes that he's not coming. Therefore, she has to choose between herself and her journey — what she might gain from all of these exciting things happening for her and self-growth — or staying in a relationship where clearly the other person isn't as willing to give as much as she is. There are these ups and downs, a complete trajectory that she's not expecting. At the same time, she's being stimulated by what she's looking at — the Eiffel Tower is right behind her. The shot of the rotating camera, which [moved] counterclockwise to the way I was moving, gave this idea of the confusion that's going on and [in] Emily's head. — AS TOLD TO M.T.
I'm assuming anyone would think that any of those crazy emotional scenes would have been my most difficult, but the most difficult one that I had on this entire project is in the pilot. Michiel [Huisman] and I had final scenes on the top of a hotel in this gorgeous pool with the backdrop of Thailand. It was really incredible, but the hotel wouldn't allow us to use the pool [until] 2 in the morning. So we had this long wait for this romantic scene. And this had been a long day. Now, I'm not a complainer. I really don't say "I'm tired." Every word is a yes — we're going to do it. So we wait all day. It had been the longest day I think I've ever had in my career.
And I go, "You guys, how's the pool? Is it warm?" They're like, "Oh my God, it's warm. It's going to be really nice. You're going to be fine." I get in the pool. It was the coldest fucking pool I've ever been in. I start shaking. Michiel gets in and I go, "Michiel, am I like a wimp here?" He's like, "No, it's freezing." My teeth are chattering, and now I'm just getting to the point where I can't even talk. I can't talk and the entire scene is supposed to take place in the pool! I said, "I can't physically talk in this water." I had lost it. I had it up to here. I couldn't do it. So, they were like, "Well, what are we going to do?" We did it, but it's funny, my producers, to this day, give me shit. They're like, "Oh, the pool all over again." — AS TOLD TO M.T.
I think it's in episode eight, this long sort of action-y one shot that starts upstairs in the Night Car and works its way down the stairs. And then the camera comes downstairs and then we meet it back downstairs. These one-shot deals are tricky from a choreography standpoint. It was just a long, hard week. We couldn't quite get the take. And it was one of these moments where [my character] Layton is doing a lot of killings, and it got really late while we were there — and I just got really sick of killing people. The thing that started out fun wasn't fun anymore by the time we finished.
[Plus], the biggest thing we had to conceptually wrap our minds around every time on [set] is which way is up-train and which way is down-train. [It] ended up working in our favor because the end of that scene is showing the battle taking its toll on Layton. The deaths are supposed to be weighing really heavily on him. So I think it reads that way from a character perspective — but really I was just tired and sick of being there. — AS TOLD TO M.T.
The scene that scared me most on paper in terms of the danger of being crap as an actor was in the last episode, the scene in the car with [my character's son, Henry, played by Noah Jupe]. I just thought that whenever actors try to go a bit crazy, big danger signs come [up]. I remember in the lead-up to that having a lot of ideas and jotting down a few improvisations and things to try to make it all work better in my head. And in fact, it occurred to me that we should sing.
What really makes that whole sequence work is Susanne Bier, who directed the whole series, and her clever idea to intercut it with the actual murder. It's such a horrible juxtaposition of this man driving along on a sunny day with his child, trying to be normal, when in fact he's a sociopath. While he's singing, "With my hands on my head …," [it cuts to him] smashing someone in the face with a sculpting hammer. So I was saved, to a certain extent, by the edit. — AS TOLD TO TYLER COATES
The physicality of the role was crazy. The emotional toll was great. There's one scene that asks for those things in conjunction all at once. It's in the second episode. We shot the scene from the ceremony to sprinting through the house, finding Leti (Jurnee Smollett). Then the long walk all the way down and getting to the car and seeing my father, Montrose (Michael K. Williams), alive and seeing Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) there — all with no dialogue.
It's a scene that asks for physicality — to be sprinting. And then to go through the relief of saving oneself, then the fear of, "Is my entire family doomed?" In the huge relief of seeing Leti, Atticus thinks, "OK, we're good." But then he realizes that his uncle and father aren't there, and with no language, understanding what has transpired. The moment of getting there and seeing my father, who I did all this for, and my uncle, who did all this for me — and that I had failed him in an ultimate way and that he had lost his life.
We had had my grandmother's funeral the day before I landed in Atlanta. I had an opportunity here to experience something, the catharsis — to gift myself that catharsis. I feel that with acting, you're in service of something else. And for me, I was like, "I'm in service now of the me that didn't get to mourn my grandmother." And I sat back and I conjured.
And when Leti and I got to the door, I was feeling with so much grief, real grief — it's always got to be real — and all the colors of it, the anger, the disappointment. And out of that moment came the emotion, but also the line, "I'm sorry, Uncle George," which was not written in the script. — AS TOLD TO M.T.
The most unique and challenging and complex character scene is the ninth episode of the season. Lalo [the Salamanca family leader, played by Tony Dalton] is in our apartment, and Jimmy's talking about his story of how he got stuck in a desert and was attacked and made his way out. Lalo is very threatening and sort of toying with Jimmy, who is usually not at a loss for words. In fact, he often shines in moments exactly like that, where it's sort of a game of words and argument. But he's had this experience that has devastated him and left him with a degree of PTSD that neutralizes his natural skills. It's weird to play that guy at a loss for words.
It's supremely important that I feel supportive of my character Jimmy and empathetic toward him. I want him to be who he is, and I find that I embrace him. I do want him to make healthier choices — do I sound like an L.A. parent? — AS TOLD TO T.C.
Probably the thing that was the most challenging was, in episode six, the section of a show where Cynthia Nixon's character and myself are watching a puppet show. It is a puppet show that, through Mildred Ratched's eyes, becomes a reimagining of the most traumatic day of her childhood.\
But the day we shot it, everybody else in the room is watching the puppet show. They think it's a particular story that they're all watching — "Hansel and Gretel." Mildred is seeing a different story, which is a reenactment of her adopted parents' murder.
So the writers came up with telling this backstory in a kind of creative way. When they were filming the audience, which included myself and Cynthia, we weren't able to watch anything up [onstage]. The cast all had to see the good puppet show because they're all supposed to be laughing and finding it charming and uproarious and delightful. And I am supposed to have this isolated experience of being outraged, horrified and traumatized by what I'm seeing. So everyone in the room was having a different experience than Mildred was. And so what I had to look at up there was not in fact what I was supposed to be seeing. So it involved a lot of my own imagination and kind of having to sit in a very dark place for hours and hours on end while trying to re-create this moment to try to shed light on some of Mildred's childhood trauma. — AS TOLD TO T.C.
This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.