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First published as a cycle of short stories during the 1940s and now debuting as an original series from Apple TV+, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is a dystopian science-fiction thriller that chronicles the epic journey an ensemble of characters goes on to save humanity from the fall of the Galactic Empire.
Using the past as a teacher, the character of Gaal Dornick (played by Lou Llobell) writes the “Foundation,” a guidebook for survivors on how best to rebuild civilization. In the books, Dornick is a man. So is the character of Salvor Hardin, the first mayor of Terminus City on Planet Terminus (in the TV show, the character is played by Leah Harvey). And both are assumed, by default, to be white, making the show’s color-blind casting choices notable, as both Llobell and Harvey are young, Black, London-based actors starring in their first major television roles. The 10-episode series, which premieres Sept. 24, also stars Lee Pace and Jared Harris.
Harvey, age 27, grew up in London, while 26-year-old Llobell, born to a Zimbabwean mother and Spanish father, grew up in South Africa and Spain. Though the characters they play are planets away onscreen, behind the scenes the two actors have built a real friendship, finding common ground in the newness of their shared experience on set. Says Harvey, “From day one, we helped each other cope with the challenges that come with doing a big job like this, and we’ve become incredibly close.”
As an artist, how do you bring emotion to a text that’s so scientific and mathematical?
LOU LLOBELL I think that was one of the joys of what [showrunner] David Goyer has done with these scripts is that he has added a level of humanity and emotion and real depth of feeling and relationships to this story.
How does living in a science-fiction universe change your relationship to the present reality?
LEAH HARVEY I felt like I was on another planet most of the time, but I was just in Iceland. (Laughs.) It’s kind of hard to differentiate the realities that you’re in when you’re so embedded in the show. Because it’s so deep — it’s so detailed as well — that it’s not hard to imagine that you’re on another planet.
How did working as a Black actor in this universe impact how you played the role, if at all?
HARVEY I love the fact that, like being a Black person, I get to exist. And that’s a protest in and of itself. So just by existing I’m making a statement in this industry. And the wonderful thing about this is that Salvor isn’t Salvor because of her skin. Skin has nothing to do with her character, which I hope is clear when you watch the show. And it has nothing to do with the story, which I think is brilliant, because it’s just showing that we’re normal people, and that’s actually a blessing because a lot of the time I’m asked to play parts or to read parts of people who are going through some kind of hardship because of their skin color, which is completely valid and very much a story that needs to be told. This, however, is just a story about people connecting, people going through challenges. And I feel like that is as much a contribution to the cause, you know, as shouting about the cause.
LLOBELL I always say this: I don’t think I ever saw anyone that looked like me or similar to me in any position like this onscreen. It’s just so important to have these voices and these people be seen as equal to everyone else. And again, the stories are not about these people being of color or being women, they’re about everything else. And they just so happen to be people of color and women, and it means that you don’t even have to notice that that is the case. And that’s really powerful because we’ve had to fight very hard to get to this position.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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