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J. Michael Straczynski and the Cast of Netflix’s SENSE8 Look Ahead to Season 2

Netflix’s Sense8 has proved to be the on-demand network’s first big hit within the science fiction genre, focusing on a race of beings across the globe gifted with the ability to enter each other’s minds. At last week’s Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles, J. Michael Straczynski, who co-created the series with Andy and Lana Wachowki, appeared alongside executive producer and frequent Wachowskis collaborator, Grant Hill, as well as stars Jamie Clayton, Brian J. Smith, Daryl Hannah, and Naveen Andrews to discuss the show’s first groundbreaking twelve-episode season, and drop a few hints about where a potential season 2 might take its heroes…

On whether the characters will take on each other’s abilities…

J. Michael Straczynski:
Yeah, we’re looking at expanding that as far as logic goes. What’s kind of fun about the characters is that what they’re sharing are not necessarily superpowers. They have ordinary abilities, and we’re trying to say that there is value and merit and power whether you’re an actor or you are a martial arts person or a bus driver. You have something to contribute. Some of the hardest parts of making that process work visually was in choreographing this entire thing. So, for instance, in the scenes with Sun, we had to stage her fights both in Korea and in Nairobi twice. She would literally start a punch in Korea and then finish that punch in Nairobi. That process of really making that work visually was very involved, very detailed, but sells the illusion of it.

On the feedback they have gotten now that people have seen the whole first season…

Grant Hill: The whole reaction overall has been wonderful. I mean, you see it in the streets. You see it in the public media. You see it online. You know, and it’s gone so well. There are always going to be people who…it isn’t their sort of thing, but you’ve got such a broad platform, and the overwhelming enthusiasm has just been great.

JMS: It’s been fun. I was at Comic-Con in San Diego a few weeks ago, and a massive, huge crowd showed up. What you realize after talking to them is that very often they’ve seen the show three, four, or five times. Some people have seen the show six times. And each time they go through it, they learn something new about it, about the characters, about the story. And that’s been fun to see that evolution happening.

Brian J. Smith: We launched the show, what was it, June 5th? I had to leave New York for about a month, and I was out in Rhode Island. I came back about a month later, and it was around the time of Gay Pride in New York. And that was crazy. The people coming up and wanting to talk about the show and wanting to talk about the sexuality in the show and Jamie’s character, the reaction we’ve gotten from the LGBTQ community has been overwhelming and very moving.

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On the status of season 2…

JMS: We’re still awaiting word. We’re in the process. We’re waiting for a final determination. We’re cautiously optimistic, but ultimately it’s Netflix’s call.

On whether, if they are renewed for another season, there is a five-year plan for the show…

JMS: The way that the Wachowskis and I tend to work, as we created the show together, wrote it together, we are long-game kind of people. We look down the road to say, “Okay. We’re setting this up now. Where is this going to go?” That doesn’t guarantee we’re going to go five seasons, but for ourselves, for the writing process, we need to, kind of, know where we’re going, where this all pays off, what this means. So season 1 is like the origin story. Season 2 has its own particular arc. And we’ve figured it out from there. But to spoil that here would not be in the best interest of the surprises we have in mind.

On collaborating with the Wachowskis…

JMS: If they have their strengths, first it’s action and character, then plot and structure. I think they would agree that’s kind of their dynamic. I’m a structure demon, so I’m really focused on keeping the story going from here to here to here so it all makes sense in the end. Light on action, decent on plot. So the good thing is that you lay our two skills over one another, and it’s a perfect fit. So the collaboration process was a great deal of fun for all of us. We learned from each other’s strengths and compensated for each other’s weaknesses.

On whether the show would have bigger mass appeal with kids if there was less sex…

Daryl Hannah: We had pretty big mass appeal. [Laughs.] There’s a lot of stuff that’s not for kids, you know, not just sex.

On playing a transgender character…

Jamie Clayton: It was a really special opportunity because it’s never been done before with a trans character as far as being written and directed by a trans woman. So I knew, going into the project, that I would be protected and represented in a way that trans people have never been represented before on television. The experience was overwhelmingly positive, and I’ve never felt as safe on set. I trusted the Wachowksis and J. Michael Straczynski and everyone explicitly. I was willing to do anything that they wanted me to do. And I love Nomi. I love the character. I think that she really represents something that we haven’t seen before, which is what the whole show represents. It’s empathy. And these people come together to help each other, and it doesn’t matter that they don’t speak the same language, look like each other. It doesn’t matter their gender or their sexuality. It’s empathy. So, I knew, going into this, in my gut that if I was ever going to have an opportunity this big in Hollywood, that it was going to be Lana that was going to do it. And man, she frickin’ did it.

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On whether the Wachowskis will do more movies of if they’re focusing on TV now…

GH: I can’t ultimately speak for them, but just from observation, I think they’re always going to go backwards and forwards between various formats. As they bring something new dramatically and creatively to each of their stories, they’re always exploring, they’re always pushing the boundaries. This is sort of an extension of that process, that they’re doing it with a different format. This was not a film format. It was a format that suits itself ideally to the slot that Netflix have given us. And yes, it was a fantastic experience, and we hope to continue having that experience. But I think it’s all about exploration.

On whether the cast was separated for most of the experience of production…

DH: We actually all traveled together all the time and were together pretty much all the time. So it was like a big circus troupe.

JC: As we would travel, everyone sort of got time off in whoever’s city it was because then they were sort of the lead. So when we moved on to Chicago, it was Brian’s turn. So he was working every day, and then the rest of us would have an opportunity to bond and get to know each other. But yeah, like Daryl said, we were traveling together all over the world, and so there were moments where we all got to get to know each other and explore the cities.

On whether Kala and Riley will demonstrate some survival skills that are useful to their cluster in season 2…

JC: Well, Kala, she’s a chemist. And she also makes the bomb for Wolfgang to escape.

JMS: If you look at the opening of the show, Daryl’s character is looking through tins, trying to find certain drugs to keep Whispers out. These are drugs that will block him, presumably. Kala is a chemist working for a drug pharmaceutical company. So there are areas we can look at and say, “We can see where this character might go and what purpose she might serve down the road.” And for Riley, there are skills she has that we haven’t necessarily seen yet. But people are saying, “Why are we seeing her character so much?” We are, I believe, defined by our secrets and by the burdens we carry. And everything in Riley’s character suggested that she had somehow withdrawn, that she was waiting to die. The slow revelation of that secret over the course of the show, that, when you realize by the last episode why she wants to die, changes your perception of her enormously. Now, she may or may not have a skill right now that will contribute. Doesn’t mean that she won’t demonstrate that later on. Capheus’s skill is he can drive. Most people in this room can’t. I can’t, as it turns out. But that saves Nomi’s life at one point. So it’s a question of valuing what you have as you already are rather than what do you bring to the party. It’s who you are that has value.

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On Naveen Andrews and Daryl Hannah’s characters and what their investment is in helping the cluster as its de facto parents…

I think it’s a number of things. Obviously there is the species survival element to this thing. Also, they birthed this new cluster they feel responsible for. They are their children in that respect. I think all those come into play in life and self-interest. We make the red herring in the course of the show where Irsa says that they birth clusters and then betray them. Whether that’s a true story or not, we will have to determine down the road. But I think as characters, as actors, I would say their main interest is in protecting their children.

Are you a fan of Sense8? Let us know below!

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