With mere hours before the premiere of Apple original drama ‘SEE’ on Apple TV+, we’re celebrating by sharing a spoiler-free transcription of an exclusive cast and creator panel held as part of MCM Comic Con following a screening of the shows first episode in London last week.
Series Creator Steven Knight and Director Francis Lawrence were joined by Alfre Woodard (Paris), Archie Madekwe (Kofun) and Jason Momoa (Baba Voss) as they opened up about budget rumours, acting blind and the productions creative freedom.
Q: Can I start with asking, $15 million an episode?
FL: No. I’ve seen the reports that this is the most expensive show ever made which is not true. I don’t know where people got that story. It wasn’t cheap but it’s definitely not the most expensive ever.
Q: I read that you guys did some incredible stuff. The locations look amazing. Did you drain a river?
JM: Francis is a visionary. Francis was like “What’s under this lake? Drain it.” Sure enough there were these stumps.“This is going to be amazing because civilisations would have cut all these down. I want grass everywhere.” So for about three months they just sat and they seeded this grass and then we showed up. Then we filled it back up once the village was gone. That’s the kind of vision that comes with these guys.
AM: What Francis wants, Francis gets.
Q: Let’s talk bout the sheer size of production. Talk about the locations and where you guys went to film.
FL: We shot in British Columbia which is in the North-West of Canada. Just above the North-West of the United States. We were based in Vancouver but we ended up shooting a lot in Vancouver Island, then up toward Whistler and out in the desert sometimes.
Typically we were a good hour and a half to two hours away from where we were all living. We were really going out into the wild. We didn’t step foot onto a soundstage until we were on episode six. Everybody had to brave the rain and the cold and the mud and the animals.
Q: What’s it like being out on location for you guys as actors? Presumably when you are doing your scenes it’s great and kind of busy but on those moments of downtime what are you guys doing in the middle of nowhere?
FL: Jason plays bass guitar a lot. He would wonder around with his bass guitar.
JM: I have a problem keeping still so I travel with a bunch of toys. I’m like “Oh look, Squirrel!” and I just wonder off. It makes me sit.
AM: I think that it definitely kept us in it. I think when you go to a sound stage you have distractions like your phone. You can go and sit down in a nice warm room and things like that. I sometimes get distracted. I found that it was way nicer just being out there together, knowing we were there doing the work.
Q: Let’s talk about that battle. Wow! One thing you take from that battle is that this is a TV show of a grand scale. It’s pretty brutal.
JM: A lot of it was set in stone with Francis and everyone designing everything. You come in with a couple of ideas but that whole beautiful and amazing scene had been crafted and written way ahead. I’ve just never done a fight scene where you can’t actually look at someone before you’re going to get hit. It was basically like fighting with a blindfold. The whole technique of learning different ways to grapple and stay connected to the person that you’re going to hurt. Then the whole idea of covering up with scent so we all know who’s who. When you see us spreading that stuff on us thats so we can smell and know who we are. It’s tough. It was hands down the toughest fight scene I’ve ever done. We’re on a wall, in the rain and mud wearing like a football. Just hardcore leather.
Q: In this you all have tribal markings. Is there hours in make-up to get these tribal markings on because they look pretty authentic.
AW: Some people came in two or three hours ahead of the pre-dawn call. I made sure that mine were on my neck in the beginning but I convinced them that I’d spent a lot of time and money making sure that my neck never wrinkles. I didn’t want to scrub on it so I said put it more on my face. That was the great thing, no makeup but tonnes of tribal markings.
FL: What I will say is that the foundational element of the show in terms of design on all fronts – and this came from Steven – was the idea of blindness. Everybody is learning to live blind and everyone has evolved to live blind. Part of the reason that they have these markings in scarification and not ink is because it’s tactile. The idea is that we’re working in all the other senses. It’s about touch, it’s about smell, it’s about temperature, it’s about taste. For this tribe and the people that populate the show its a tactile sensation as opposed to something that visually represents something to somebody.
Q: Did you have a blind school? How do you learn to be blind? We take for granted the fact that we can all see. To take that away, does it genuinely enhance your other senses?
AM: My character can see but I’ll speak for everyone and say that you never learn to be blind. We were taught by Joe Strechay a particular set of skills that people that are blind use day-to-day and we could use those skills. We developed and enhanced those skills that Joe taught us to create this world but you never learn to be blind.
Q: What kind of skills are they? I’d imagine in a fight scene without sight you’re going to get hurt?
JM: You get hurt. Like any fight scene it’s definitely choreographed and blocked out for safety. We spent a solid month on that first fight scene to get everything ready. It’s very intricate – with the camera and all the other elements it was a full on dance.
AW: We spent a month in training to be just introduced to the skills that people who are blind use to navigate the physical world. Not only the primary actors but everybody. At least three hundred people including the stunt artists. We were introduced to the same language. Some of us had to change are approach to acting beyond bringing a character from the page. Then the people who had to do action had to marry the way of moving about with their very daring stunts.
Q: Did you find any of your senses to enhance in any way whilst impairing your vision?
FL: I don’t think we found that other senses were enhanced but I think when they did the training they would be taught some skills by Joe Strechay our consultant, and what they discovered was that they would focus more on the senses that they’re not used to focusing on. For everybody it would be something slightly different. I think Alfre took taste, some people could feel temperature. I think Sylvia (Hoeks) said she got really focused on temperature changes and that could help her navigate through a space. It wasn’t that it was enhanced but without that dominant sense – when thats taken away from them briefly -you then start to focus on these other senses and learn how to use them. People then adapted those feelings into their character.
Q: I’d like to talk about where this concept comes from Steven. Where did this idea come from and when did you decide pitch it to Apple?
SK: Ideas come from mysterious places. I think its probably the same place dreams come from. Sometimes when you’re thinking about something it’ll come to you but this happened to come to me when I was in L.A. and two days after the idea I thought about it, the family and the journey and happened to be getting a lift from my favourite producer in the world, Jenno Topping. I got in the car and she said “What are you working on?” and as I told her the idea she began to drive slower and slower and by the time we got to Santa Monica she said that she wanted to do it. I then wrote the first two hours, we then took it around town and it felt that Apple’s new venture and this ground-breaking idea worked. The great thing that Apple did – and hopefully will continue to do – is leave the creative people alone and give us space, rather than what the BBC do.
It gives you space and gives you room to do stuff. We got the best possible people.
Q: Earlier this year you guys were at the keynote and teased the show and one of the things Apple talked about was the fact that they wanted to leave the creative geniuses alone. Is that one of the things that appealed to you about doing such a big show like this for Apple TV+?
JM: I’ve never had a script come to me that was this great. There were a lot of actors in line before I could get there. Steven’s script was the best I’d ever read. That was amazing. Francis’s level of direction and Apple being able to launch a new platform was sort of surreal. Then to be one of the lead characters… I literally read three pages and called my agent back and said “Book this.” They were a little worried and said “You’ve done this” and “You’ve played the barbarian in these type of roles but I really want you to read it.” Once I read it I realised that its not about that. Its about a man trying to keep his family together. When I had a conversation with Steven he told me his whole idea and I was blown away.
SK: In truth theres only one man on earth who could play Baba Voss.
JM: Thanks bro. Thanks for writing it. I really needed a job. I needed good material.
Q: I read this was the part you always wanted to play… In terms of the roles you could be a part of you felt this was the one that most spoke to you?
JM: I really feel like my career up until now has lead me to being ready to play this character. I feel like the characters that I’ve played had never got to exercise the rest of their life. Maybe they died off. I never felt there was to much of their past that we saw but this starts at the beginning and we’re going to arch through the whole thing. We’re going to go through all of these beautiful colours and I’ve never had that experience with my other characters. I feel like this has everything of me and obviously the challenge of being blind. These eight episodes are unbelievable and its hands down the best work that I’ve ever done.
Q: Alfre, what kind of development did you go into to find your character?
AW: Honestly my rep said, “There’s this script that I’m going to send you that Steven Knight…” and I said “I’ll do it.” “No, No. Francis Lawrence is going to direct…” and I said “I’ll do it” and he said “read the thing first.” I read it and I’ve never turned pages so fast and I’ve never said “Oh my god. Oh No, Oh Shh…”
I was so ready for it. I just wanted to be in it. Especially after being so villainous (in my previous roles) I wanted to be a nice woman and all. I found Paris through the blindness sensitivity training and working with a guy who helped us with movement and discovering our tribal and our cultural anthropology. In the process of that, I never go to work without a good script. I was able to find Paris and then I loved her.
Once she helped birth babies into the world – whilst I was squatting. I haven’t squatted since I was a cheerleader. Squatting for three days! – and those babies were only two weeks old. The baby that sees the hawk – that baby weighed 12 lb after two weeks! They said “Don’t worry” and the other baby, she weighed 11 lb. Then we had to lather them up with KY jelly and jam. I remember being closer to god in those moments. I said “God, if I drop the babies I’m going to have to jump off the mountain.” It was easy to get into it once they thrust me into it!
Q: Archie, to go to this level after your other projects, what was that like for you?
AW: Obviously its huge but you don’t really think about it when you first get into it. You read the script and fall in love with the world. I went for a screen test with Francis and then all the pieces just started adding up.
We meet, we’re on set and we all just start getting on. There was one moment I remember. I was sitting thinking, holy s*** this is massive. It was during the ——— fight and I was sitting in the middle of the set, looking around me thinking, this is insane. I’d never been part of fight scenes like that. It was a learning experience but you don’t enter the world thinking “Oh my god, this is so massive.” I just tried to get my head around the character and the world and how exciting all of those things were. When I first read, I read for another role. Then I remember being sent the script for Kofun and was told that he could see and I thought, well that’s s***. The whole world is blind and (my character) can see? Boring… Then I realised how much these twins mean to the story.
Q: I read that you guys are on season 2 already? Jason don’t hurt me!
SK: We can’t possibly say.
JM: I’m just visualising the things I’m going to do to you.
The first three episodes of ‘SEE’ will be available to watch from Nov 1st on Apple TV+ with the remaining five episodes available each Friday thereafter.