7:30am PT by Jackie Strause
'Sense8' Star on Emotional Finale and Potential for a Sensate Universe
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the full second season of Sense8.]
Sense8 viewers were likely too wrapped up in the high-octane chase of the second season to see that mutual proposal coming.
After setting up the concept of eight global strangers who are mentally and emotionally linked to each other in the first season, the second season of the sci-fi series — created by Lana and Lilly Wachowski with J. Michael Straczynsk — charted the "sensates" as they clawed their way out of the tentacle-like grasp of an organization that is hunting their kind. But just as the season was barreling toward the finish line, Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton) and her girlfriend Amanita (Freema Agyeman) decided to steal a small moment for themselves.
"Lana is really interested in the idea of life happening. It doesn’t stop," Clayton told The Hollywood Reporter about the showrunner's surprising plan of events for the couple, who has come to be known as "Nomanita." Amid their mission to save one of their own, Amanita, the non-sensate girlfriend to transgender hacktivist Nomi, delivered an impromptu and heartfelt proposal complete with the ring she had hidden in the closet of their San Francisco apartment. Nomi replied with a ring of her own and a resounding and tearful yes. "That’s the beauty of love. When you’re really just on the same page."
Sense8, which released its second season May 5 on Netflix, continues to be hailed for its LGBTQ inclusiveness. The season, which was filmed around the world, opens with the eight characters of all different races and sexual orientations "visiting" each other to answer one question: "Who am I?" The moment "sums up the series," says Clayton. "Nomi’s line — that 'labels are the opposite of understanding' — is one of my favorite of the series. It’s so distinct."
Speaking about the surprise engagement for the first time outside set, Clayton found herself getting emotional while reliving the moment she first read the script. Here, in a chat with THR, the actress breaks down the events of the second season, what it was like to film an interconnected and timely love story across four continents, and if there has been any chatter about a third season — or a future Sense8 wedding.
How did you react when you first read the script and see Nomi and Amanita get engaged in the finale?
I get choked up talking about it! We had this amazing crew filming behind-the-scenes as we shot the season, and there’s footage of us reading the script for the first time. We read the scripts cold at the table reads, so everyone is hootin’ and hollering and it's an incredible experience. When we got got to that part of the script, I remember getting this feeling in my stomach and having that exact feeling you would get, I assume, when someone is proposing to you or when you are proposing to someone. Just that overwhelming sense of warmth. I started crying as I was reading what was happening with these two characters as they were talking, and I was crying so much that I couldn’t see! Everybody lost it at the table read.
What was it like to film the scene?
Months and months after that first read is when we filmed it. It’s this very intimate set of Nomi’s apartment in San Francisco, which is actually in Chicago, and it was the last scene we were doing that day. I remember Lana just really taking her time with Freema. Freema is the one who has the bulk of the dialogue, she basically gives the whole proposal speech, and I remember Lana taking her time with her and that signaled to me that this probably came from something very personal from Lana. A lot of the show has come from Lana’s personal experience. Then Nomi leans over the bed and grabs the box and takes out the ring that she bought before as well.
Nomi and Amanita both wanted to propose. What does that say about their relationship?
It's just another testament to the strength of their relationship and how they're on the same page. That's the beauty of love. Even if you take two different roads, if you end up at the same place, that's the most important part about love.
If there were to be a third season, has there been any talk about a Sense8 wedding?
The minute that we did the table read, that was my first question: Will there be a wedding? Just look at what happened with Nomi’s sister’s wedding and imagine the high jinks that could ensue at Nomi’s. I don’t know how or when or where it would happen, but I want that to happen. It would be like all of us sensates standing up there!
The second season delved much more into Nomi's personal story and family life. What was important to you when it came to exploring more about Nomi?
I was really excited to get to revisit Nomi's family. Her father was alluded to in season one, but we didn't get to meet him. The moment when Nomi gives the speech at the rehearsal dinner, and you get that flashback with Teagan and the cupcake with Nomi in the hospital [after her gender reassignment surgery] is really special. I love showing how some family can be supportive and some can't, because that's the case a lot of the time. On the flipside, there's chosen family. I was really excited that Michael Sommers was coming back as Bug. The dynamic between Nomi and Bug is really special, and unique and it shows this tether to her previous life and how there’s no judgment there. I love that you get to see Nomi's family and her chosen family.
The proposal comes right as the season is building toward this action-packed ending. Why is it important to show the personal stories amid all the sensate drama?
The discussion I had with Lana when we started to do this season was that she was really interested in the idea of this really insane thing happening to these people who have been reborn as sensates. In so many shows where something like this happens, where people get abilities, you miss out on the actual storylines of their lives. You wonder, "Didn't that person have a job, or wife? What happened to that?" While this sensate thing is happening, their lives continue to move forward. You see that with Teagan's wedding, Kala (Tina Desai) moving into her new home with her husband and with Capheus (Toby Onwumere) struggling to get his town in Kenya water. Everybody’s lives have to continue. We can't just drop everything and become sensate. I love that you get to see these characters in their actual lives and then how the sensate part interacts with that.
The underlying message of the season is that the sensates are being hunted, to possibly be exterminated, because they're different. Why is that message paramount right now?
It's so important. Anyone watching and who is a fan has a level of intelligence where they can pick up on that message. HBO's True Blood did something similar by comparing vampires to what was happening all over the world with LGBT people. They had posters on the show that read, "Fangs must die," where they were using "Fangs" instead of another expletive. I picked up on it. Being someone who is under the umbrella, who is other and who is a minority, I'm always really sensitive to those things. For the writers and creators to throw in things like that was so brilliant and they've done the same thing with Sense8. The writers are making a comment about the world that we are living in, and it's a gift if you're open to being able to see that. You realize it's the world we live in and we have the ability to change it if we say something.
Why do you think people react to the sex in the show, instead of the violence?
It surprises me. I don't understand why people have such an issue with sex. I don't know that I'll ever get it. But no one has an issue with violence. I've seen shows on network television that are so violent in a 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. timeslot, and they never show sex. The sex that we're showing, those people aren't actually there. You're seeing the bodies, but the fans understand it's this emotional connection. There's that really cool conversation between Nomi and Amanita while they're on their little sex-nic when Amanita says, "I can feel these other parts of you." She says, "Sometimes you're really sensitive." And Nomi says, "That's Kala." And she says, “Other times you get really aggressive." And she says, "Oh, that's Wolfgang (Max Riemelt)." These are parts of her personality that we all have living inside of us, and when you're with someone that you love and that loves you and that you are safe with and when it's consensual, you can explore these parts of your personality, there's nothing wrong with that. Sex between consenting adults is an amazing, beautiful thing. But nobody consents to violence. Nobody wants violence. When the human body fits together however you want it to fit together with whoever you want it to fit together with, it's a miraculous, messy, fun, sloppy game of Tetris that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy if they want. I don't know about you, but I never want to get into a gun or a knife fight.
This season sees the sensates becoming much more connected, providing for more scenes with you all together, many physical and requiring choreographing. How was filming different this time?
Season one was all about the sensates getting to know what it meant to be a sensate. Now that we know more how to visit and share and we're gaining control over it, we are together a lot, so the choreography is interesting. For example, the scene where Riley is meeting the old assistant in the abandoned building and she walks toward the bottle on the table that says "Drink me." As she's walking we all pop up into frame. We were told to all squat down on the ground and hug our knees, and as the camera is moving past, we got a tap on the shoulder and very slowly, like liquid, we would pop up into the frame. Especially when all eight of us are in a scene, it's very interesting to make sure we're all doing the right thing and facing the right way, finding our light and not blocking anyone out. To see the way it all comes together in editing always blows my mind. With most acting experiences, you shoot a scene and then it's over. With us, we shoot a scene and then two months later, you pop up in another city and we're shooting that same scene again from a different perspective. I'll walk into my trailer and there's a costume that I've already worn seven times.
What was the most physically demanding scene you shot?
The most terrifying scene was actually the first scene we shot, when we are all being hanged when we [rotate into Sun's jail cell]. We filmed it on a stage in Berlin because they had to make sure that it was really safe and in a really controlled environment, and it was terrifying. I couldn't watch my castmates do it. I was crying. That was really, really, really difficult. And then to revisit it months later on the houseboat in San Francisco when Nomi gets Tasered and I have to fall out of a chair and onto the floor to be shocked. I am under no illusion that I did not have to do any fight scenes, but our schedule was insane. Everyone was in every city, every minute. Lana wants us there all the time, and sometimes we don't even talk in the scene. Nomi is the only one missing from the restaurant fight scene, it was rewritten that way at the last minute. She hits her head and loses her ability to visit and share, temporarily, because she's knocked out. I'm curious if the fans are going to pick up on that that's a thing that can happen.
What is the most mentally and emotionally challenging part of filming on a show that has you traveling around the world — to 16 cities and 11 countries — for months at a time?
The jetlag and the traveling make you physically and emotionally exhausted. The crew goes the longest, but none of us go home, and there was one point where I didn't go home for over four months. Everyone's tired and exhausted, but you show up. After Nomi hacks Sun out of jail and they escape and she steals the bus in the parking lot. They were filming that particular scene at sunrise to get that really beautiful light, and then we all show up and we all have one line! We were all waiting probably 15 or 16 hours. Sometimes we're held at basecamp while Lana is rewriting and rejiggering scenes. But we are all in every city all the time.
Lily Wachowski took a step back this season and sister Lana Wachowski took over as head writer and director. What was it like working with Lana as she stepped into that role?
It was hard. But it was brilliant. You see the result that we got, and sometimes to make a really nice cake you have to get the kitchen really dirty. So we got the kitchen really dirty, and now there's this really nice cake that we get to serve up to the world.
The role of Capheus was also recast, with Toby Onwumere stepping in after Aml Ameen's departure. Why was it important to keep that character?
We met Toby while filming in Mexico, and I didn't work with him for a while. He popped into San Francisco and has a few cool scenes, but one or two of them I wasn't in because he was visiting and taking my place. I love him, he's awesome and really understands the message of the show. He was willing to do everything that needed to be done to get this character's storyline back up off the ground and onto the screen, which is what needed to happen. I'm glad they found him because the Capheus storyline this season is one of my favorites.
The introduction of other sensates this season kicks off the potential for a Sense8 universe to be explored. Have you gotten the sense that this show could go on for multiple seasons?
I know that when they pitched the show to Netflix, it was with a five-season arc. I don’t know what they’re thinking at this point, but one thing we thought about as a cast was how interesting it was that you meet new sensates and a new cluster. If ours was written with five, it's insane to imagine the story possibilities that are there if you keep meeting sensates. But I'm not a writer. I'm an actor. This season went in a direction that I couldn't have imagined. J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis came up with this totally crazy-pants, off-the-charts idea where nothing like it has ever been done before. It's resonated so deeply with so many people and then so many other people hate it, which I love. People who understood that you were watching an origin story unfold the first season can now watch the actual story as it's propelled forward.
How this season ends, with almost all of us [minus captive Wolfgang] in the back of that van, it’s crazy that we’re all together physically for the first time. There are scenes where we’ll all together in an emotional sense where we’re all visiting and sharing, but that was emotionally different for me as an actor. I remember getting in the back of that van and having a little moment, saying something to Freema like, "Shit, we're all actually here." There was a weight to that. It echoes the season one finale in that it was a visiting moment in the boat, and now we're all physically there in the back of a van. Maybe if there is a season three we'll all end up in the back of a train or plane! Seems to be a theme. But whatever they want, that's what I want.
What did you think of the second season of Sense8? Tell THR in the comments below.