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After season three of Manifest wrapped filming, Melissa Roxburgh was in career limbo. The missing-plane drama, which aired on NBC at the time, had yet to be renewed for a fourth season — but, it hadn’t been canceled either. It was the height of the pandemic, a period when everyone had a lot more time on their hands for stressing out. “It had been really quiet at NBC, so we were gearing up for it,” she says of the looming cancellation, which eventually came down.
The producers of the show were shopping it around to networks, hoping someone would pick it up and allow them to complete a still very unfinished story, to no avail. Then one day Roxburgh turned on her TV, queued up her Netflix app, and saw Manifest — the show’s entire back catalog — right there in the top 10. “I texted [showrunner] Jeff Rake and told him to turn on his TV,” she explained to THR over Zoom from her New York apartment. “We were both like, where did this come from? We just couldn’t believe it.”
The star of the fan-beloved series describes a “snowball effect” that culminated in what is now television-industry lore: Netflix, seeing the rabid fan response to the streaming episodes, gave Manifest a whole new life. The first 10 episodes of what will eventually be a 20-episode final season drop Nov. 4, and in honor of the premiere Roxburgh spoke to THR about the emotional roller coaster of being brought back from the (network) dead.
What were the final days of season three like on set? Did it feel like the end of the show or was it just confusing, emotionally?
It was honestly horrible because it was still during peak covid, so we couldn’t do a wrap party or anything. So we just sort wrapped the season and that was it. If we had ended the show there, we all would have been a little bit depressed — I’m happy that Netflix brought us back, not only to finish the story but to give everyone a proper goodbye.
There was a moment where fans of the show were looking at the season 3 finale as the series finale. How would you have felt about that being the end of the story specifically?
I mean, I think the fan fiction might have gone off the charts. They would have come up with some creative endings for the show, and that would have been fun to see. But in all seriousness, Grace dies and the last conversation Jared and Micaela have is that it should have been Jared [who married Micaela]. So there were a lot of loose ends that would have been disappointing to finish on. I remember really feeling like, something’s not quite done here. I walked up and down the stages of Silvercup Studios and just thought, this can’t be the way we end this.
What was that negotiation process like to return for season four and with a new network?
There were a good two to three months of emotional downs when we knew we were getting canceled but hadn’t gotten the official word. Then once Netflix came into the picture, there was another month’s worth of ups and downs because we didn’t know what that exactly meant or what it would look like. There were talks about an hourlong movie, about six episodes just to wrap things up. By the time we heard we were getting 20 episodes, we’d been angry, happy, sad, all of it. It was an obvious yes because it was the best offer for the show.
A lot of people in the crew had gone off to other jobs by the time we were renegotiating for season four, but our core people did stick around. Our DPs were the same, our camera operators were the same, our producers were all the same.
Did you notice anything starkly different about working with Netflix as opposed to when it was more strictly a network show?
I noticed that we had more freedom. Netflix bought us for a reason, and it felt like they trusted those creatives on the show to keep doing what they had been doing. They had their input, but there was just a lot more trust and freedom from Netflix as opposed to NBC. I also think that cinematically the show looks a bit heightened as well. I’m curious to see what the fans think if people can notice these differences because we felt them so much on our end but I’m not sure if you can sense creative freedom onscreen in that same way.
What did you want to see for Micaela in the final season?
I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m really happy with what they did. She becomes this strong leader type who is making the best decisions and thinking about other people rather than just herself. She becomes a selfless character, which I think was her best-case scenario.
Did you have any predictions for plot points or, God forbid, an ending?
I gave up trying to predict Manifest at the end of season one. (Laughs) The writers have such creativity. So I don’t think I gave it proper thought going into season four because I knew what I could think of wouldn’t match what actually happened. There are definitely some parts that I’m still confused on (Laughs), if I’m being completely honest. But I think they did a really good job of bringing in Easter eggs from the very beginning.
Can you remember any of your early theories about the show that got debunked?
Oh, I definitely thought it was the Government at fault for everything. I thought they were playing with physics, and maybe wanting to use it to control the world one day. My theory was that Vance and the Major were all behind it.
How did you find out what the end game was for the show?
In season three they had us film part of the ending. That’s when I found out. I don’t even think they wound up using what we filmed, but Jeff decided that since we were filming it he would tell us more about what was going on. But the script delivery has been the same for every season, we would get them about a week before, so we didn’t have the details of the final episode until we were really in the thick of it. It was so complex that even while we were filming the finale, we didn’t have the entire script.
What was it like reuniting with the cast for day one of working on season four?
We all came together for a table read and then went to dinner. We’d obviously kept in touch during that time, but we were also welcoming a couple new actors. I’ll say that Ty, who plays Big Cal, blended in so quickly. And Holly, who plays Angelina and has a bigger role in season four, it felt like they had been right there since day one. That doesn’t usually happen on a set, and I think it’s a testament to who Jeff picks.
To get a little bit superficial, with Micaela no longer a detective, were you hoping you’d get into some different wardrobe?
I actually had my family text me a couple times throughout the show being like, “Are you wearing the same outfit in every episode?” Donna [Maloney], our costume designer, is so wonderful but Micaela has her staples. She does a sweater, the jeans, the boots and that’s all you get. Honestly, by the end, I was like just put me in a dress. I don’t care what the scene is, just put me in something different (Laughs). I sort of tried coming back in season four with slightly different hair. I did really like the necklace that she wore in seasons one through three and wish I had taken that home.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Manifest season four begins streaming on Netflix Nov. 4.
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