Alfre Woodard probably can’t even count the number of acting award nominations that she’s received at this point, and she’s walked away with multiple Emmys, a Golden Globe, and some Screen Actors Guild awards. She’s always looking for new challenges, though, which is why Woodard signed onto Apple TV+’s See, in which she plays Paris, the spiritual leader of Jason Momoa‘s Baba Voss character. The series, directed by Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games franchise, I Am Legend) and written by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders), situates itself within a post-apocalyptic version of North America. Following a devastating virus, Earth’s remaining occupants are all blind, other than two mythical twins, and Paris is instrumental in helping her village survive.
Paris is a character of mysterious origin, and Woodard explained in press notes that she wanted to play the character because she enjoys embarking on new adventures. That’s especially the case because See shot in extremely remote (and very beautiful) locations in British Columbia. However, Woodard looked forward to doing two different things: “[L]earn the language of portraying blindness, and flourish in a challenging physical environment.” Many low-sight and blind actors appear within the series, but for the majority of the actors, including Woodard, a “blindness bootcamp” got them up to speed. Woodard was gracious enough to speak with us (both individually and as part of a roundtable) about why See is so epic, and what it’s like to film a visceral and potentially dangerous scene while pretending to be blind.
Let’s talk about how people are calling this series “epic” and “sweeping.” Those labels get swung around a lot with showrunners trying to create the next Game of Thrones, so what does See do differently to be epic?
I was attracted to Steven Knight’s vision because it reminded me of mythology. I did say, “Ah! This is epic.” It reminds me of the Greeks, of what I know of Greek mythology, and I’ve done Greek plays, so that’s the reality. It’s a step up because it becomes, well, the stakes are always higher in an epic piece.
How did the task of “going blind” affect how you tackled portraying Paris?
I think the way that you come to any character differs. You take the training, the very quick, one-month training that we did with Joe Strechay, our consultant and our guru of many other things other than just how to maneuver the world, and not just the physical world, but depending on your acting style and how you normally approach your work. Then you’ve gotta take that training and how you’ve gotta figure out how to portray characters and how to tell stories without something that you usually use with the camera, which is having people see into your eyes to get to your thoughts behind your eyes. Everybody was different because everybody has a different way of working.
There’s one scene in particular where your character goes through a lot. That’s when you’re midwifing a baby into the world, and another one makes its presence known, and you start shouting for a knife to save a child’s life. There’s just this enormous amount of trust involved from all parties, right?
Let me tell you. We had two two-week-old babies. We were in a cave with water pouring in, and the babies had to have K-Y Jelly and blood put on them. I was squatting, and I haven’t squatted since I was a cheerleader. I was squatting for hours, and those mothers, well, of course they were young because no one else would have given us those babies. I’m a cook, and I can handle, like, a five-or-six-pound chicken or ham or roast, but these babies are two weeks old. Roman weighed twelve pounds at two weeks, and Theta, the small one, weighed eleven pounds. And they were slippery. And I couldn’t get my back working. I have never prayed so hard and focused so hard as the continuing task of pulling those babies out all slippery. All of us were completely charged with taking care of those babies.
Speaking as a woman here, all of this hits hard. I imagine it felt exponentially more difficult to portray Paris trying to keep it all together.
Well, the other thing that I thought was that we don’t know all of the things that are stored in us, you know, before we had memory, but we know that we’re all so impressionable about what we learn so much, quickly, in the first three years, more than the rest of our lives. It was sacred to me, that those mothers didn’t know those babies yet. And they were with the circus folks.
No seriously! In the woods, in the forest. And I just kept doing a thing, you could call it a prayer, call it whatever, but I kept honoring the fact that we were the first people that those babies were with. And that was deep.
You might be their adoptive mother, in a way?
Oh, we still check on them, we do.
Apple TV+’s ‘See’ will premiere on November 1.