Kathryn Hahn, Giancarlo Esposito Among Actors Staying Grounded in Fantastical TV Settings

As television explores increasingly sophisticated depictions of fantastic worlds - areas of science fiction, fantasy, superheroes, horror, and other imaginative leaps - supporting actors face a unique challenge: how to create characters that blend seamlessly with the narratives of reality while resonating with assignable human emotions and motivations. And there is no one-size-fits-all formula for this. The main actors in the alternate universes of television approach their roles from as different directions as the landscapes in which they play.
In the midst of the decades-long sitcom incarnations and the fourth wall-breaking reveal of Agatha Harkness in "WandaVision", Kathryn Hahn decided that her character Agatha herself was playing.
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“Because I had the luxury of knowing who she was, I was able to be an actress alongside Agatha,” she says. "That was liberating for me because I could really play the role of every trope in every decade and just have so much fun."
Hahn also wanted to dig up emotions, especially for Agatha's motivation to play with Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen). "Actually, she's pretty lonely," says Hahn about her character.
“She has basically lived without her circle for centuries, trying to find someone powerful enough who could potentially be an interesting sparring partner. And she finally found someone. "
Just as Agatha is part of a larger Marvel Cinematic Universe than just this one Disney Plus Limited series, Giancarlo Esposito's Moff Gideon in “The Mandalorian” had to fit into the larger, rich “Star Wars” mythology. So preparing for the role included taking a deep dive into the lore with executive producer Dave Filoni, researching fallen empires in the real world, and reviving Peter Cushing's elegantly authoritative performance as Grand Moff Tarkin.
"I wanted Moff Gideon to be smart and sensible and yet have something behind his eyes that connects him to a deeper spirit of mythology," says Esposito. “Not just your average bad guy - a guy who is in control of things but doesn't reveal how he knows everything. I wanted him to control the chaos. "
Esposito adds that the costume, which included riding breeches, a cape, and heavy boots, "grounded me and made me feel powerful, like Darth Vader without a helmet". In the meantime, steering a TIE hunter and wielding the dark saber transported him “into a world in which I was graceful, eloquent and wild, but also physical. These are the steps I took to really feel like I existed in this world. "
As Asta Twelvetrees in Syfy's Resident Alien, Sara Tomko grapples with the revelation that the man she thought was the city doctor and a new friend was really an alien. For the majority of the first season, however, her character doesn't know this and just thinks his behavior is a bit weird.
“Unlike other science fiction material, this is much more of a small town family drama,” she says. “It was more like, 'Oh, this is this woman who lives in this small town and has a lot of feelings. Now she has to find out how to deal with this new guy who is really weird. ""
Tomko leaned on human self-centeredness for the role: “When you think of yourself, which you are most of the time, you have no idea what's going on in front of you. While so many people witness how bizarre Harry is, no one really thinks, 'Oh, he must be an alien.' "
This method is also easy to apply to the scene where Asta learns the truth. “It became: 'I have a lucid dream. Is this really happening? Oh god, you're bleeding - I know how to take care of people. I don't know what's going on, but at least I can shape this wound into the right shape, ”she says.
Seeing America's black experience through a horror lens offered "Lovecraft Country" 's Wunmi Mosaku the opportunity to really explore the psyche of her character. She needed to understand the motivation behind Ruby's transformation into a white woman and the physical and emotional pain that followed from the HBO drama.
"Because she felt so close to me in so many ways, the supernatural side was shocking because I'd never seen anything like it," says Mosaku. “But it has explored more of humanity. It actually makes you feel more real because you are not hiding things. You don't store anything deep down in their dark pits because it's too painful. You actually explore everything. "
The mix of supernatural threats like shoggoths with everyday threats, including being evacuated by the police, heightened instinctive fear.
“Now your heart beats for two different things at the same time. Fear is personified, ”says Mosaku.
Although NBC's "Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist" is not exactly fantasy, it has its own unique rules: Your heroine hears her surroundings break out in "heart songs."
"Everyone has their own mask," says Alex Newell, who plays Mo. “When you ask someone if they are okay, they usually say yes, even if they are not. [But] your heart will say whatever it needs to say, like it or not. And I love that we can be so honest in these songs, whether it's good, bad or ugly. "
When Newell sings songs like that, "it's about feeling the song," says the actor. "Having to internalize all the lyrics in all the songs, the mood and the tone and what the lyrics say, and why the author selected this song for that particular moment."
Feeling a connection to their role and the material certainly helps all of these actors penetrate their characters.
For Carl Lumbly, whose "Falcon and the Winter Soldier" character Isaiah Bradley has a tragic superhuman backstory, it was crucial to recognize the metaphorical quality in its roots. (The super soldier was created in an experiment inspired by the Tuskagee study.)
“There is the wealth of superpowers that we as humans have that are sometimes amplified in these stories - compassion, the ability to change your mind, to realize that you are on the wrong path and that there is a chance of salvation there when you are taking certain actions, "says Lumbly. “What grounds you in your own life is the same material that grounds you in the world of the fantastic. The challenges of a fantastic world are no more than the challenges of the world in which we live. "
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