For All Mankind Season 2: Talking with Wrenn Schmidt, Krys Marshall, Jodi Balfour, and Sonya Walger [Exclusive]
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
One of the hooks of For All Mankind is that it’s very much a story about the women of NASA. In Season 2, we explore the journeys of the women in the program, either through their own service or through their family affiliations. Four of those women–JSC head Margo, and astronauts Dani, Ellen, and Molly–find themselves in much different territory than where they tread in Season 1. I had the chance to chat with Wrenn Schmidt, Krys Marshall, Jodi Balfour, and Sonya Walger, the quartet of actresses who play these powerhouse characters, earlier this week during a press day for the second season.
All count themselves extremely fortunate that they’ve been given the gift of playing a continuous character over the course of successive decades (and will again when Season 3 begins production.) In Season 1, Margo was working her way up through the ranks inside JSC and had her world blown up when her mentor Von Braun was outed, and ousted, for his Nazi ties. Dani, Ellen, and Margo were recruited into the astronaut program for what was initially a vanity stunt and then all three proved their mettle.
When we pick up in Season 2, nine years later, Margo is running JSC, Ellen and Molly are wrapping up a stint on the moon, and Dani’s ready to resume active duty following the death of her husband. So, each actress has been allowed to play significant beats in the course of their characters’ lives. Here’s what they had to say about that opportunity.
Walger points to Molly’s physicality as being extremely helpful in inhabiting her character as she faces new challenges this season. “It’s a rare privilege. I’ve never done it before. I’ve played a flash forward scene to myself as an older woman, but I’ve never played [someone] consistently ten years older than I am,” she says.
“It’s not just an aesthetic. There’s an emotional component to watching someone add those years to you every day. And then the weight of that, but it’s so humbling and refreshing playing somebody who doesn’t care about her appearance. Once I’ve been through that [aging] make up, I don’t think about that again.”
“It becomes much more physical because Molly’s been through the mill a lot in Season 2 and it’s taken a physical toll on her. Something astronauts talk about when they come back is that sometimes the muscles haven’t quite accommodated themselves to gravity again.”
“There can be some aches and pains, not to mention, she’s had a quite significant experience in the first two episodes. So she’s dealing with the after effects of that and I wanted to explore what toll that would have taken on her body a little bit.”
Balfour was thrilled to have so much of Ellen’s arc laid out before her. “I’m the kind of actor that wants all the scripts, as soon as humanly possible, because I love to chart a journey. I love to know the beginning, middle, and end of something. I can blame the theater on that, maybe, so I bring that up to say that it’s an incredible thing to have such a span of time to do that with,” she shares.
“Of course we don’t know how the show ends and we don’t have that to play with, but there really is an opportunity to explore the evolution of the human being in much more depth than we ever do. Things like the aesthetic part of it become a real treat. It’s really creative. You get to decide why a person looks the way they do. We all get up in the morning and we make a decision to present ourselves in a certain way.”
“For me, it’s [also] much more about where she’s at emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. What’s happened because of who Ellen is and the things that she’s been dealing with and how’s that impacted her, ultimately, or how’s that been not allowed to impact her.”
Portraying a a character across multiple decades is also a first for Marshall, who plays Dani. She says their showrunner helped set the tone. “At first blush, it can be very intimidating, because there’s just so much change that happens in a person over the course of a decade. One of the things that Ron Moore, our showrunner and executive producer, said to us when we got our Season 2 pick up was, ‘You guys got a good thing going. Just keep doing that thing,’” she recalls.
“It reminded us that we didn’t have to put anything on it. The thing will be good enough. So having that kind of hot air taken out of the anxiety energy was a really good thing. Coming into Season 2, I had to remind myself that yes, Dani has totally changed, but the [core] of who she is remains the same.”
“She’s still an incredibly intelligent astronaut and scientist. She’s still a curious mind. She is still very grounded in the Bob group. She doesn’t let her ego get too far ahead of her. And so I held onto those things and then just the words on the page that I received in the early episodes of Season 2 informed me of how she had changed and where she lives today.”
For Schmidt, coming back to Margo followed significant personal changes offscreen. “The conversation that Ron had with all of us felt very freeing. My life, between our two seasons, had changed quite a bit. When we came back into Season 2, my daughter was four months old. In between seasons, I’d become a mom and we’d moved [cities] and house. I was incredibly tired and juggling more than I’ve ever juggled in my whole life,” she says.
“I felt like with what Ron said, going back into the script, I realized, [I wasn’t] a woman on her own lifting a 500-pound barbell. These writers and all the incredible team have built a world in which things have changed. The audience is going to see that NASA is very different. They’re going to see that the technology is different [and Margo is in a different place].”
“All of that [external staging has] already been done, and what can I do with the script that’s here? I felt like a lot of that was about just Margo’s confidence and how she interacts with the people around her, how those relationships have changed now that she is the boss and she’s not struggling to rise through the ranks.”
“It was a little bit [of letting go and learning to] play the scene and own the fact that you are in a different place in your life and let that inform [the character]. Don’t try to put all that stuff away. Just let it be there. It’s going to change how you are on film and then just do your homework. Do your work, do the same stuff you did for Season 1.”
The first three episodes of Season 2 and all of Season 1 of For All Mankind are now streaming on Apple TV+. The remaining seven episodes of Season 2 will be released every Friday.
Photos Courtesy of Apple TV+.
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