From the minds of Lana and Andy Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski comes the 12-episode, mind-bending Netflix series Sense8, about eight people connected all around the world who, after experiencing a violent vision, are able to see, feel, hear and talk to each other, as if they are in the same place. While they are being hunted by an organization that is out to do them harm, these eight individuals from very different backgrounds must quickly adapt to this new ability and to each other, and figure out what all of this means for the future of humanity.
At the press day for this thriller that explores identity, connectivity and humanity, actress Jamie Clayton (who plays Nomi, a transgender woman in San Francisco) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why it was so important for her to be a part of this project, the experience of working with the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, being a part of something so special and unique, getting to play the big and small moments, that viewers need to approach this with an open mind and be willing to go on the ride, when the answers will start to come, and that this is really more of a 12-hour movie with three acts. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this?
JAMIE CLAYTON: I auditioned, through the typical process for any actor. I found out about the project in November 2012. Either Variety or The Hollywood Reporter dropped the story that Netflix had dropped the show, and I immediately sent the article to my agent and said, “I want to be on this show.” A year went by, literally, with no news and no nothing. And then, they began thinking about casting and someone reached out to my agent to check on where I live and what my availability was and whether I was interested in auditioning for the part. My agent called me really late one night, which was strange because she never calls me that late. She said, “I just got this phone call, checking your availability for basically all of next year, about that show that you emailed me about a year ago.” I was like, “Oh, my god!” So, they sent a couple of scripts, but I didn’t really know much, other than what was in those first two scripts. And then, I did a taped auditioned and they liked me, so I went to Chicago and auditioned for them, in person. Weeks later, I went through the whole chemistry test process, and here I am.
What was the appeal of this project for you?
CLAYTON: It was a combination of a lot of things. For me, the biggest thing was to be able to work with Lana [Wachowski]. To be able to be on a set with someone who is trans, who is directing me, who had written this part of a trans character was a dream come true. I thought to myself, “I want this experience. I want to be able to do this.” It’s so rare in Hollywood. There’s more opportunity that’s being presented, especially really recently, for trans characters on television, but I thought, “Shit, when am I going to get to play one that’s actually written by someone who’s trans.” I knew that that was really special. That was my number one reason. Number two, I’m a huge science fiction fan, and I’m a huge fan of JMS (J. Michael Straczynski). To be able to do something that’s cross-genre – it’s thriller, it’s sci-fi, it’s drama, and it’s all of those things – with the emotional depth of all of the characters and the human nature of it, it’s deeply personal, for everyone. You get to know each character – all eight of us, around the world – on a very deep, personal level, and then you come to realize, “Oh, my god, they’re all the same person, dealing with the same thing. It just looks different.”
What was it that really set this show apart, for you?
CLAYTON: It’s so special and it’s so unique. I’m a huge television fan, in general. I love TV. I love movies. I always have. It’s what I do, and I love it. And I can’t think of any show, or anything, that touches the amount of diversity that we have. It’s nine cities in eight countries. There’s ethnic diversity, gender diversity, sexual diversity, and everything. There’s so much diversity, in this one show. Each character could be its own show, but we’re putting them all together. Everybody just is, and we’re all human. And then, we show up to help one another, and we don’t even have to ask. There are no questions asked. We just help.
At any point, along the way, did you want your questions answered, or were you good with not knowing exactly where things were headed?
CLAYTON: The only time I ever really asked questions was when I was so bloody exhausted from filming 16 hours a day, six days a week, in San Francisco and then Chicago. I was first up, so we started in San Francisco, where Nomi lives. Basically, every single scene that you see that’s in San Francisco, we shot at the very beginning. The only time I ever asked a question was when I was so tired, I was like, “Where am I?!” There was always someone there saying, “This is what’s going on,” and I’d say, “Okay, great! Let’s move on.”
What was it like to have such a range of moments, whether it was the huge Pride scenes or the small moments when Nomi is in the hospital? How great is it to do all of that, as an actor playing one character?
CLAYTON: I love that you asked me that because it’s something I’ve dreamed of doing. I think it’s really rare, as an actor, to be able to play a character that goes through such an emotional arc. As everyone else watching gets to see the journey that Nomi, and everybody, goes on, the emotional journey that Nomi goes on is so vast. It’s being at Pride and being super happy, and the being in the hospital against her will. There are all of these things taking place that are absolutely terrifying. And as the story unfolds with Nomi, I had stunt training because of some amazing things that happen. To be able to do all of that in one character, it was my absolute wildest dream come true. I’m absolutely ruined. I can’t play any other characters. They create these environments on set that are so incredibly warm and inviting, and everyone is so happy to be there. It was an absolute joy, working with them. I’d done other jobs before, and I’ve done other jobs since, but nothing is like it.
When we first meet Nomi, she’s in a very loving relationship, but she doesn’t have that with her own family. What was it like to explore those two sides of her life?
CLAYTON: I thought it was really important. When we did the table reads, I was really blown away. Overall, I was blown away with all of the characters, the complexity of the dialogue, and the subjects that they touch on. But with Lana and Andy [Wachowski] and JMS, when it came to Nomi, they did such an amazing keeping it to real and so personal, but without it being offensive or gratuitous, in any way. The stuff with her mom in the hospital, I think is so incredibly important because it’s real. There are mothers out there that are like that. You can see that her sister is conflicted. She’s stuck in the middle. She wants to accept, but what do you do? I love the line that’s delivered by Nomi’s mom when she says, “I’m your mother, and I’m never going to stop loving you. It might be on my terms, but I’m going to love you.” I feel like that’s such a human thing. There’s this selfishness in society with, “I’m going to do it, but I’m going to do it my way.” But, we have to learn to adapt to people and changes. Change is good. I just love those scenes with her mom. I really think that people are going to understand that. People that don’t know the experience of being trans are gonna think, “Oh, wow!” At Nomi’s most vulnerable, in the hospital, her mother comes in and it’s just awful.
Are you prepared for the response that this character is going to get from viewers?
CLAYTON: I hope that all of the characters are important. The amount of stuff that I learned about all of these countries, all of these places, and all of these people dealing with all of these issues blows me away. Of course, I love Nomi. She’s close to my heart. I hope that people see her and love her. Everybody is going to find someone, some place and some thing on the show that they can relate to, and I hope and dream, for a lot of people, that it’s Nomi.
This show is clearly like nothing that we’ve seen before. Is there anything that viewers should know, going into watching this?
CLAYTON: I just think you need to know that you’re about to see something that you’ve never seen before, and that you’re likely to never see, ever again. Go into it with an open mind. Don’t think about the other projects that the directors and creators and writers have worked on. Go into it ready to be thrust into this world and taken on a ride that you’re not going to want to get off of. As I was watching, I was so blown away by the amount of talent in this show. Just get ready for something really unique and really special.
By the end of the season, will viewers really know who Nomi is and what her journey is, or will we be really anxious for more?
CLAYTON: I think that, as the 12 episodes unfold, we get to know all the characters. For Nomi, we do get to know her in a very intimate way. The physical, emotional and mental journey that she goes on, in this first season and in these 12 episodes, is epic. We do get to see a lot of different sides of Nomi, and it was so fun for me to play all of that. By the end of it, I think the take-away will be different for everybody, like how excited they are by who and what and when, and how much more they want to see. I’m hoping that everybody will want to see more, but I’m thrilled with what we did with these 12 episodes. It really is a 12-hour movie, done in three acts, with the first four episodes, the second four, and then the last four. It’s an epic, massive, beautiful thing.
From what we learn about Nomi, it seems like she’s been searching for who she is for awhile now. Is who Nomi is when we meet her who she is comfortable with being, or is she still searching for that?
CLAYTON: In the moment when we meet Nomi, we see her with Amanita, her girlfriend, played by Freema Agyeman, who’s just absolutely brilliant. I couldn’t have done this without her. The chemistry between the two of us is great. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her. When this starts, we see Nomi in this incredible place that she’s gotten to in her life, and she’s really, really, really happy. But just like all of us, we are constantly changing and constantly evolving because of situations that we get ourselves into or that are being put upon us, like the situation that she gets into in the hospital and the situation with her mother. Nomi can’t be the same person, after that happens with her mother in the hospital, that she was before the hospital. We’re constantly evolving and constantly changing. What’s really special is that the viewers are going to get to see how Nomi evolves and adapts and becomes stronger, weaker, more vulnerable and more confident because of those situations. It’s going to be really special.
Will viewers start to get answers about what’s going on pretty quickly, or will that evolve over the course of the season?
CLAYTON: Answers come when the questions that are being asked need to be answered. I don’t think anything is given away too quickly. As I was watching the first four, I kept thinking, “Wow, the pacing of this is really good.” Right when I would start to miss someone, their storyline would come back. There are always going to be people that are thrilled, and there’s going to be those people who want more. Hopefully, they’ll find a happy medium with the pacing. There are lots of questions. Lots of questions do get answered, but a lot remain. But you will get answers about a lot of things, which is great.
This project seems to have really personally affected everyone who was involved in it. How did it affect you?
CLAYTON: Working with the [Wachowskis] and being on set with them, they have this way of curating groups of people. The actors, the crew and every single person on set wanted to be there and was grateful that they were there. The friendships that I formed with the other actors, getting to travel all over the world, in planes, trains, automobiles and hotels, being in these other cultures, eating different food in each country, it’s an intimate thing and a human experience. The friendships and the memories that we shared, I literally get emotional just thinking about it. I never dreamed, in a million years, that I’d get to travel all over the world with these incredible people and do this amazing thing. And now, everyone is going to get to see this art that was created. I think this is an incredible opportunity for the [Wachowskis]. With this whole debate about long-form storytelling vs. short-form storytelling, they’re so good at telling stories full-stop, and this is the first time they’ve done a TV show and gotten to do this long-form storytelling. It’s 12 hours, so they really get to show you a side of themselves with these characters, that they’ve never been able to do before because they have so much more time to do it. It’s such a unique, amazing opportunity, and I think people are going to be really thrilled with it.
Sense8 is available at Netflix on Friday, June 5th at 12:01 am PST.