Published: Friday, 25 October 2019 | Written by Christiane Elin
SciFi Vision participated in several press roundtables for Apple TV+’s epic series See. Our first roundtable included Director and Executive Producer, Francis Lawrence, and actors, Nesta Cooper (Haniwa) and Archie Madekwe (Kofun).
Francis Lawrence directed the first four episodes and had a lot to do with the look of the series as well as keeping the continuity when bringing other directors on for future episodes.
Nesta and Archie play the roles of Maghra (Hera Hilmar)’s seventeen year old twins and Baba Voss’s non-biological children. The twins have a secret that can change everything what anyone has known for the last 600 years in the post-virus world.
If you want to know what they shared see the transcript below:
QUESTION: I know obviously your characters can see, but you still had to undergo the same kind of training, because you're raised in a world where others can't. How does it affect your performances?
NESTA COOPER: I guess I'll go.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: You didn't give me much choice.
NESTA COOPER: I think the number one thing that it affected in my performance - I don't want to speak for the other cast members, but I know that we had all talked about it, especially at the beginning of the show - was the eye contact thing. But it ended up helping a lot, because in the scenes where Archie and I had each other, we would look each other in the eye. And I think today as humans, having that visual connection is just an easier way to emotionally connect with someone. So, you kind of have to work harder in scenes where you're not looking the other person in the eye. But with Archie, we could look each other in the eye. So, I think that it kind of helps bond us a little bit more and helps me at least feel more ostracized from the rest of the group and the rest of the characters.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: Even as actors, it felt like our little secret; like a scene could be taking place, and we could share looks and glances that -
NESTA COOPER: That's true too. Yeah.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: - the rest of the characters couldn't see. And so, we had almost another language amongst the scenes that nobody else knew. And so, I definitely think Nesta's right. Definitely. It was part of the reason we bonded so quickly, because we had this kind of common ground, this shared thing that no one else could understand.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you, because, of course, you've done action scenes a lot, but in this case, there's a specificity to that. So, how was it getting to what those scenes were going to be, and how you were going to film them? You know, too because the characters can see.
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: Yeah, I mean, that kind of stuff is always really fun to me. I think action for action sake is never really that interesting and always feels pretty empty. And so, to understand A, narratively why the action is happening is very important, and then B, for this world. And basically, every decision we made was sort of rooted in the idea that people were blind, right from every prop and piece of wardrobe and the way villages are built and whether or not huts have windows or not, I mean, every single decision, including the fighting.
So, if you look at the sort of big battle in episode one, we started thinking about it and brainstorming about fighting styles and what could happen and how the different sides would fight and what it would feel like and what it would look like very early in the prep process. We would come up with lists of ideas of kinds of things that would happen, whether it's the guys that are sort of tied to the trees that hang out over the edges, or people with ropes and the kinds of helmets and armor that people would wear, or the sort of almost Judo like style that Jason fights with. Because contact is very important, right? And once you have contact, you don’t want to lose contact. So, we’re sort of building out all these ideas.
Then I would kind of work the stunt team through the narrative beats and the emotional beats that I wanted in the scene using all these kinds of ideas, and we slowly started to build it out.
Then we’d rehearse it on a stage where we’ve created a mockup of the wall with pads and things like that, and we started to sort of shape the sequence like that. And then once the wall was actually built on the location, that action was then transferred there, because, you know, it's a TV show; we didn't have two weeks to film it like you might on a movie. We had about four days to do that sequence. So,it has to be spot on.
QUESTION: But in a way, [because] you had to find new ways, is it refreshing?
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: It's really refreshing. Yeah, because everybody's sort of searching but guided by the same principle. So, it was really fun.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: I think it's important to say that as well, like that stuff, that kind of fighting amongst people that are blind, exists. We had seen that there were real blind wrestlers, like really wrestling, and [it was] like an education for me. I don't speak for you guys, but those things definitely exist, which I thought was incredible.
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: Yeah.
QUESTION: What's something that you each took away from the experience? I know for you it's the whole aspect of how to make a village of all sightless people, and then how do you shoot around that? But for you guys, acting wise, how was this transformative for you?
NESTA COOPER: So much. I mean, this was my first time being able to really have a character that was so well rounded. I always say that Haniwa is super, super tough, but she's also incredibly emotional, which I think you don't normally get with female characters, especially as teenagers. She just was such an interesting and complex person to play.
And then you add that in this world that we kind of are all creating together, but it's also so grounded in reality. Then you add Francis Lawrence to it. And for me, it was just such an incredible experience all around, because I had never ever done it before.
And then, of course, learning about blindness and working with people who are blind, I mean, I was educated every single day on that, and that was really life changing for me.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: Yeah, I think for me, anytime you ever read a script, you just want the world to makes sense. And I've never read a script that despite it being so new and so like never even imagined before, jumped off the page immediately. And I could almost see [it]. It was so visceral, like straight from the page. Then being in a show that has the money and the team to create [it]. I remember, it was episode three, during this slaver fight, I was sitting on the floor, looking at all of the stuff, and I was like, wow, I'm really in this world. [laughs] I was like, we're here. I'm in this world.
NESTA COOPER: Oh. Nevermind, I was going to give a spoiler [laughs].
ARCHIE MADEKWE: It was just phenomenal to be so deeply immersed in something where you had every single element, everyone, and that felt so deeply ours as well. We had almost over a month of prep time, and that developed and continue through, but to create this entire world - like what are games that children play? How do people cook; how do you move? How do you communicate? How much do we cheat when we play games, like all of these kinds of things? It almost felt like theater for me; it almost felt like I've never had that experience on screen. And so, it feels like a real sense of ownership for us. The work and, you [being] guided by Joe Strechay and everyone, it feels like ours...
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: It was also just very challenging, and I mean that in a great way. I don't know if you've met with Alfre [Woodard] yet, but Alfre says that she's always looking to sort of do something she isn't sure she can do. And I think that is probably a feeling we all had going in because of the challenges, which makes it really exciting and really tough, but the fun kind of tough to make and build the world that was as immersive as it was. But you know, part of the goal was to sort of go out to these places and feel it and sort of live it, as opposed to just building somewhere convenient with a big blue screen and you know, dropping them in later. So, you know, we were really in it.
QUESTION: So, it's supposed to take place somewhere in the American South like between Mississippi [and] Pittsburgh?
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: No, not the South.
QUESTION: But in the United States.
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: Correct, it’s North America.
QUESTION: Now for you, how much freedom did you have to kind of really set up and build this world? You had like three episodes to do it. And then how much did that feel unified with future directors?
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: I mean, I had a ton of freedom. I think that, everybody that we brought in was really creative and really involved and really collaborative. It was definitely a collaborative effort. When we pitched it, I had a visual presentation, and if I were to show it to you now, you would go, “Oh, wow, their show actually really looks like that.” So, it does, but there was a lot of thinking by a lot of people to sort of build out the detail with which we did, but I had full freedom to go there and a lot of help from everybody else.
I will say too, and then these two can speak about it, that all the directors that came on after me, I aided in hiring them, and I talked to them. I talked to them about the world. They also all went through the boot camp themselves to get a sense of that. There's a very specific sort of visual style in terms of lenses and lighting and all of that, that I was very specific about with all of them, and they were great carrying that on.
NESTA COOPER: Yeah, they were really good.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: You could tell that as Francis said, you know, he had a hand in choosing everyone, because we all had a common goal of making the same thing. ...But I've never worked with a director so giving throughout the whole thing. Every day, despite Francis not directing those episodes, he'd be there for the other directors, be there for us. And if he wasn't, he'd be a phone call away, an email away. So, the goal, it felt like we were always making the same thing. It never felt like, oh, now it was a completely different show, because they’d all come through Francis's vision.
NESTA COOPER: Yeah. I think one of the things too that's so exciting about this show for all of us while working on it, is that it is challenging, like Francis said, and it's a little intimidating. So, I think, like every episode, I would go on and be like, okay, let's see if I can do this. Everyone was challenging in a different way, but it was so exciting.
And I think the directors felt that way as well. We were kind of all in it together, and because we all had a common goal, and they were so excited to be a part of the project, and because the foundation was laid so firmly by Francis, we didn't really notice any issues. It just kind of kept flowing along. And it's such a specific and unique world that you can't really go wrong once you see the first few episodes, and you know what the tone is.
SCIFI VISION: Your characters have such a secret that they’re hiding the whole time...Like I can tell when my children are not telling the truth. Maybe you guys are trying to cover up stuff a lot, and any parents could tell. So, I was just wondering, is that something that you had to learn how to manipulate your voice for?
ARCHIE MADEKWE: Well, yeah, but without giving much away, there's definitely in this world where people are way more like, you know, in touch as well with their intuition, and our mom is a [unintelligible] as well, which doesn't help with the lying. So, she is very kind of tuned in hearing our voices. She's a mother, she knows us, and she knows her babies. So, yeah, it was difficult.
And again, that hidden language of what we don't say and just eyes and visual things often, you know, wouldn't be necessarily our voices, it would be some visual things, but we'd only be able to communicate between each other...We developed a sign language that we use between hands. You see a moment of that in episode two. So, there are ways in which we were able to communicate, but yeah, not much gets past mom. [laughs]
NESTA COOPER: It is a story about family too. And that's what‘s kind of great about it, is that when you watch the show, it feels at times so fantastical, but really we are so focused on this family of four, of the twins and mom and dad, and you see those nuances of - you can't necessarily tell us -
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: You just cut Paris (Woodard) out like that. [laughs]
NESTA COOPER: I know. I know. I know that was savage. That was savage. I'm sorry.
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: Don't tell Alfre she said that.
NESTA COOPER: Please don't tell Alfre. She won’t cook for me anymore. [laughs]
But yeah, I feel like that's kind of what's fun about watching the show is, can you tell? Does Maghra know if they're lying or not? Like Hera has such a nuanced way of playing her that you can't always tell what she's thinking either. So, we're all kind of tiptoeing around each other, and you explore those different nuances within the family and the relationships, and it's really fun.
QUESTION: So, in casting did you look for, like, being more inclusive, because [you] have people of all kinds, even people with low vision? So, was that something you aimed for?
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: Definitely on that front, we wanted to include as many people as we could find that are blind or low vis.
In terms of ethnicity, I'll say one of the ideas that we - and by we, I mean, me and Steve Knight and the producers - really loved, was with blindness and specifically with hundreds of years of blindness, kind of ethnic prejudice would go away. There’d probably be prejudice of different kinds, like, you know, you might not like the way another village smells or something. But with that, there would be sort of a different kind of mixing, because that would vanish, and that really interested us, sort of blending those lines.
QUESTION: So, after practicing, you know, losing vision, and maybe you also as a director practicing it to direct, do you feel like you maybe increased your other senses a little?
NESTA COOPER: I mean, we have no idea what it's like to be blind. It's such a different experience. We were given the tools to have a tiny, tiny bit of access to possibly experience a little bit of what it could be like. Definitely when we had the sleep shades on, it brought out other senses, but once you take it off, it's like everything is so [distracting]. Vision, especially today like with our screens and everything, it’s so distracting that you just lose it immediately, but definitely when we had the sleep shades on. Archie talks about how it’s a very emotional experience, but, yeah, you kind of fall into this calm almost when you only use your hearing. It's really calming in a way.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: Yeah.
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: I don't know how else to explain it.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: You're very present, I feel. You're very present, and I was very like attuned to [temperature]...
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: Alfre, with taste.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: Yeah, yeah. Oh, really tastes and proximities. You know, if you're walking down a corridor, you could feel the air of an open door. You can [feel] all of those things. Those things with the sleep shade on are heightened but take them off and -
NESTA COOPER: You are definitely more aware of your other senses, though, I will say. And especially feeling people's energy, like if you're in an elevator with someone, and they feel - you know how you can tell when someone's angry when you're next to them? Those kinds of things I became a lot more aware of and just kind of tried to think of it in relation to our world too.
QUESTION: [What was your] favorite piece of world building or lore?
NESTA COOPER: You, go.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: Ever, or in our world in our show?
QUESTION: In your show.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: Oh, wow, okay. I love and have always loved from day one the strings and the knots in which people write and communicate. And I love that in episode two. You would have seen that when Sylvia [Hoeks] realizes that it's a forgery, because every ten they write like a love heart. I love that, and I love that detail, and that was something that we played with. I have on my fireplace at home my own string that I wrote when I went through my ceremony when I got my scars, and yeah, that always I thought was good stuff. I loved it.
NESTA COOPER: My favorite was definitely our language; I love the way that we all speak to each other in the show. Just the different sounds and like haptics and clicks, all of those things are so interesting to me. And yeah, just the language that we created, even physically, like when mourning a person, all of those things were just so original and cool, and I hope that we just continue to explore that.
ARCHIE MADEKWE: Yeah, it was really embedded in ritual and ceremony, and I think you instantly buy into it, because it’s just so rich in that culture. I think everyone parallel's Joe and Francis. Everyone did such a good job of making that just feel so real.
FRANCIS LAWRENCE: Yeah. I like anything that is kind of the sound-based elements of the world building. So, some of it might be the chimes that Jerlamarel (Joshua Henry) leaves to help them follow the trail. It might be the ring that Queen Kane (Hoeks) wears when she wants to silence the group or even the strange stuff that, you know, when she enters the room to sort of set the tone for the meeting, she starts to kind of just sing out a tone that everybody sort of falls into. It was just creating that soundscape for the show that I loved.