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In our first part of the series of interviews, I talked to Michael Dorman (Gordo Stevens), Sarah Jones (Tracy Stevens) and Jodi Balfour (Ellen Waverly)
What drew you three to the project?
Michael Dorman (MD): For me, it was more the relationships, and the relationship, this love affair. What happens in the trajectory of this love affair, less about space and more about the human element, which comes out throughout the season.
Sarah Jones (SJ): To be honest, having the opportunity to work with Ron Moore was really exciting because I was only given the first couple of scripts so I didn’t really know where that was going to go with Tracy, but after speaking with Ron and having a really thorough lovely conversation, it only made me want to work with him more, and I got very excited about what Tracy was going to do.
Hell, who doesn’t want to work with Ronald D. Moore?
DR, MD, SJ, JB: (laugh)
SJ: I know, I know!
Jodi Balfour (JB): Yeah, similarly to Sarah, it’s tough to fully answer this question in detail without giving any spoilers away, but I was honestly quite ignorant about “space stuff,” as I like to call it. That’s really professional. Hashtag “space stuff.” (laughs) So, I had a lot of learning to do, so that in and of itself really interested me, so that really draws me to the craft of acting is how much any given role forces us to learn, forces us to research and get to know an area of interest that we might not have beforehand. So it’s a combination of that major learning curve I knew I’d be taking on in the role itself, which gets super complex as to all the characters on the show, which makes it so wonderful. But I was really invested in who this woman was and the kind of exploration we were going to do, not only on the moon but also in her personal life.
SJ: I have to say what I love about the show is truly an ensemble show, and that’s how I prefer to work in storytelling or that there is more of the whole body community as opposed to—it’s not an easy feat, but as we know, Ron knows how to tell those stories very well. He’s an expert in storytelling in that way, so it was really exciting to be apart of a team and an ensemble cast.
And now just walking in, we have Wrenn Schmidt, ladies and gentlemen! She plays Margo Madison. Alright, I’m going to continue the question with Wrenn here.
Wrenn Schmidt (WS): The writing.
The writing? Awesome. Alright. Short, sweet and to the point!
DR, MD, SJ, JB & WS: (laugh)
My next question with Michael and Sarah. Tell us about the dynamics of the Stevens, because it was a very interesting arc that I saw for seven episodes between your two characters.
MD: Any role that I’ve played, there’s tiny pieces of me in every role and then you just embellish whatever is needed for the role. In this instance, I’ve been a husband. So, I know what that’s like, so all I have to do is shift what I was doing as a husband in this environment in being. Gordo is an infidel. And then from there, it’s almost like it’s uncovering a layer of what’s happening with him mentally. He uses speed as being cars, rockets, whatever it is.
Ladies, drinking, anything like that to sort of hide from looking at himself in the mirror, and then the way that sort of manifests in the relationship, which is not conducive, you know? He’s not forthcoming with is truth. And then he’s got this wonderful woman who’s supporting him and he can’t see that because he’s blind to himself, first and foremost. And then he’s blind to the beauty of what’s actually around him; his kids and his wife.
SJ: Well, I will say that—everything Michael said I agree with. But Tracy is a bit of a reluctant housewife in that her dreams certainly weren’t to be the housewife of a hotshot astronaut at NASA, but living vicariously, in a sense, through her husband because they share a lot of similar passions and they’re both very passionate people individually enables her to see the big picture and take one for the team, if you will, and support her husband’s career, which yes, he does take advantage of.
But when the tide turns and things start to shift, it enables them to sort of see another side of the street on their lives and in their partner’s lives—but the unique thing the Stevens’ do have, which I loved, is that despite their challenges, and even their shortcomings, they’re really quite close. They really are best friends, which I think is very unique to that time period, in a way. And certainly in contrast to the Baldwins’ relationship, which I also like.
MD: Yeah, yeah. Very clear vision of love, what a relationship is, what it could be or what it should be.
SJ: Right, but they live in the fire. That’s where they live. The Stevens live in the fire.
Absolutely. I’m going to take it to Joni and Wrenn. What is the most fun aspect of playing your characters? Especially you, Margo. You have one of the best story arcs I’ve ever seen on television in space exploration.
WS: How many episodes have you seen?
WS: Ahhh! And
SJ: We’ve got a hell of a show review. So, we’re excited about that.
WS: There are so many, that I’d say it’s hard to choose. I feel like the kind of thing that initially was exciting to me is that she’s a character full of opposites. I feel like she’s both one of the most brilliant people in NASA. She’s also socially inept. (laughs) So, you put genius and a woman at that time who’s also not good at the social “P’s and Q’s.” I don’t know, she steps on it a lot.
So, for all the things that she does brilliantly and all her talents, she kind of undercuts herself in a really humor way, so that was really fun to play. I love research. I was a history major in college, so any show like this for me is like…I get really excited about it to the point that all of these people are tired of me being like, “did you guys know that you can…
DR, MD, SJ, JB & WS: (laugh)
WS…there are three stages and the third stage is actually two stages…” So yeah, I get really excited about that. And then I feel like the writing that I mentioned, we have such a great cadre of writers who give us all amazing storylines to play. And then last but not least, least, people. Margo’s really fun to play, but you can’t play a character in a vacuum, and we have an amazing cast, so all of the recurring characters in mission control, all of the actors are so much fun. And then as Margo kind of went further into mission control and I got to do some scenes with these guys. That was really fun. And seeing that—and now I’m just rambling—yeah, she’s a really, really fun character. And the whole Von Braun relationship was…I don’t know. You get handed that as an actor and you go, “oh my God, this is Thanksgiving dinner. The Thanksgiving dinner buffet. How many times can I go back?”
SJ, MD, JB: (laugh)
WS: It’s like, maybe shooting episode six with Colm (Feore). I would say in those two days we did like, 20 pages, and I felt that for me, they were two of the most exciting days for me in the whole season. Sorry.. Blah! I hope some of it makes sense.
JB: Um…what she said? No.
DR, MD, SJ, WS & JB: (laugh)
JB: You know, again, I don’t know how much I can say, but for me as an actor, I think it’s a giant gift when you get given a role in which you have to conceal certain aspects of yourself or be really good at compartmentalizing the sort of living dual lives in a way, whether that’s where you come from and you don’t want people to know that, or what you want and you don’t want people to know that. It’s really fun to play with guarding something. I really can’t say too much at all. I’m probably toeing the line very steeply right now. (laughs)
But yeah, it’s really, really wonderful to play somebody who’s deeply complicated and three dimensional within this context, within specifically NASA in 1969 and 1970, all the way through where the shows goes to in season one. And those are real constraints. That was a very specific place to work and a very specific time in history, particularly to be a woman and one of the first women in a very male dominated environment. So yeah, all those things are like, restraints and then to try and flesh out who this person is in those constraints is for me, anyway as an actor, a dream. Hilarity, and then yeah, like Wrenn said, you do that with an incredible script and wonderful actors and it’s like, it’s nothing not fun about that.
WS: I don’t mean to butt in—
SJ: Butt in!
WS: I can’t remember the last time I got to work with this many female actresses—that’s redundant. This many females, and all of us be roughly the same age. Usually—it’s not like I haven’t worked with an actress on a television show, but it’s usually, “oh, I’m working with this young actress who’s playing my daughter,” or “I’m working with a woman who’s playing my mother.” It’s so rare that you have four actresses that are all around the same age getting to work on a show together, but also with each other. That’s rare, and really exciting.
SJ: I agree.
As you probably know, one astronaut in Apollo 17 drew his daughter’s initials in the moon sand. My question to all of you is, if you could leave one personal item on the moon to be your legacy what would it be and why?
MD: That’s a tough one. I hadn’t even thought of what I’d leave regardless. But if you were on the moon, what would you leave?
JB: I don’t have an answer. I’m just going to say Burning Man rules. Leave no trace. I don’t know. Does the moon need more stuff that isn’t from there originally? That’s a lame answer but…
It’s not a lame answer. It’s a good answer.
JB: It’s in my mind. I feel like Schmidt over here has goody waiting to come out of her mouth.
WS: I don’t know. I always liked the mantra, “this is the process.” So, I don’t know maybe something, but it wouldn’t be writing out “this is the process.” Just some token…I’m still wishing I drank some coffee this morning.
DR, MD, SJ, JB & WS: (laugh)
WS: I’m trying to get my brain…I just need some fuel to get back.
MD: My eyes. I think I’ll leave my eyes up there. I’ve got to lose something.
SJ: You’ll need those to get back.
MD: No, but the thing is if you’re leaving something it’s like, “if I have to lose something, I’m going to leave myself through my eyes.
Well, this is what I would leave. I would leave my Space Camp pins.
MD, SJ, JB, WS: Aww!
These are from 20 years ago.
MD, SJ, JB, WS: Ooh!
I bring these because every space interview I do, I bring these for good luck.
JB: Aww, that’s a great answer!
Without telling any spoilers, what about a favorite scene?
WS: I can answer that. Well, I have two. Episode 6, The Von Braun stuff. I call it the Von Braun ice capades.
DR, MD, SJ, JB & WS: (laugh)
WS: That and there is something Michael and I worked on in episode 10, and there was kind of stuff with Jodi and with Sarah, although we didn’t actually get to shoot it together.
SJ, JB, WS, DR: (laugh)
WS: It was the day we all showed up to the trailer and we’re all like, “I don’t know if we’re going to do it. I don’t know if I can do this.”
SJ: It was an insane day!
WS: It was like having to shoot a short play over and over and over again. It’s like 12 minutes, which in television shooting a 12-minute scene. I just remember at the end of it I was like, “we did it! We did it! We did it!”
DR, MD, SJ, JB, WS: (laugh)
WS: We’re leaving on time! We did it!
JB: There are air high fives happening currently.
SJ: Those are our favorites.
JB: No, it’s so true. Often the days that are the most daunting end up being the most satisfying, because it really does challenge what you think you’re capable of. I think my answer came to me while you were saying it. I can’t remember, actually, what episode it was, but there is a scene that I just loved doing so much. In fact, I’m not going to finish this because it’s too spoilery, but similarly at the same time, what
Wrenn is talking about the final two episodes were really physically and emotionally demanding and similarly I would go to work with my body extremely tired and have to do a whole bunch of more exhausting things and it was some of the most creatively fulfilling and satisfying stuff. So yeah, the final two whoppers.
SJ: Well, in terms of just enjoying a shoot day, which came as a surprise to me, but now looking back I shouldn’t have been that surprised, because I love being outside. Actually, I loved shooting the desert stuff. I loved it!
I loved that scene!
MD, JB, WS: Yes!
SJ: It was such a great shoot day! I loved it!
JB: The whole crew hated those days, but I think all of us loved it.
SJ: We were climbing on mountains, we were climbing up rocks, hence why the crew hated it. Because they had to haul all the equipment up, but we didn’t have to. We got to enjoy the hike. But that was nice just to be out in the fresh air. But what I’m really looking forward to seeing, I’m really looking forward to seeing episode 7 and see what Joel, Chris and Michael have in store for us. I’m really looking forward to that. Yeah. Very excited.
MD: If I’m honest, I’d have to say the first read-through was my favorite. I mean, the show itself was amazing, the experience was amazing, great people. I’ve made some good friends. But the first read through—I’d never been to a read through like that. When I walked in, I had no idea what to expect, but I knew something special was about to happen. And from there, it’s gotten better and better. The scripts I’m reading at the moment just go from strength to strength and I’m really, really happy to be apart of it.
SJ: Yeah, I think there was this collective of relief after the first week. We’re like “Oh! This is a great group of people. This really makes a lot of sense now. This is going to be fun.” And it was. It didn’t disappoint. I don’t know, everyone else isn’t speaking up, so maybe it wasn’t fun for the rest of them.
MD, JB, WS, SJ: (laugh)
SJ: It was fun for me.
Thank you Michael, Sarah, Jodi and Wrenn for the wonderful interview! Stay tuned for Part 2 as I talk to Joel Kinnaman, Shantel VanSanten and Creator/EP Ronald D. Moore! For All Mankind NOW AVAILABLE on APPLE TV+