Anna Paquin on Electric Dreams' 'Sarah': 'She is traumatised and feels guilty for being alive'

Interview with Anna Paquin for ELECTRIC DREAMS

How do you describe this episode? 

The story takes place both through the eyes of George and through the eyes of Sarah. We enter the episode through Sarah’s eyes and the way that the episode starts, there’s been some large trauma in her life and she is desperately unhappy and her wife works for a tech company and gives her this opportunity to go on a virtual reality “Other life”, to basically take a break. But a lot of the experiences and things that are happening are strangely similar, and reminiscent, of a lot of the things that she was really trying to escape from in her life.

How do you describe your character? 

Sarah is a futuristic police detective. She has a flying car and all kinds of interesting toys and gadgets that you would sort of imagine in the future. But, other than the trappings of science fiction, she is a character that is very deeply grounded in the reality. She was the sole survivor of a massive massacre of a bunch of fellow police officers and she has PTSD and survivor’s guilt. She is on a headlong dive off the deep end and is not really sure how to get herself out of that. Ultimately, it’s a story about a woman in crisis and her wife trying one last shot to see if she can save her and save their relationship through this virtual reality program.

What is unique about the world that your character lives in (or the world of the episode, overall)? 

Well, even though it goes back and forth between the future and present day, and there are many elements that don’t exist in real life, or maybe they will in 200 years. It’s very grounded in the emotional story that is happening for both George and Sarah. So, even though they are in different times and different places, it’s basically about the effects of trauma on a human psyche and the idea that you can run from your problems, but ultimately, if you haven’t dealt with it, you haven’t changed anything. And I think it is really interesting taking these very powerful, very real human stories and putting them in these exciting larger than life worlds, because I just think that it’s an interesting way to get the audience into what feels like. It is glossy and fun and has actiony-sci-fi stuff, but is actually, very emotionally intense as well. And I think it’s really beautifully handled in the script.

What is Sarah’s emotional state at the start of the story? 

Sarah is traumatised and she feels guilty for being alive. She feels undeserving of the gift of life, so to speak, and is very self-destructive. She seems to be drinking herself to death, and is desperate for something to make it stop. And this virtual life, feels like an exciting, and possibly sort of magic bullet answer, but ultimately, proves to be as unhappy and unfulfilling, because she’s still who she really is. 

Your character is linked to Terrence Howard’s character in a very unique way, but you never film scenes together. Can you talk about that link, and the process of playing that connection with another character that Sarah has never met?

He’s George and I’m Sarah and when we jump back and forth from the present day to the future, we are basically playing the same person. So, as far as the way that we have approached that we’ve done a bit of spying on each other on set, he was shooting some of his stuff first so I came and hung out and watched and it was interesting to see. We’re not miming each other, but just getting a sense of what the other person’s performance is going to be like and what their energy is and their body language. All of the events, choices and conversations that take place in both worlds, the other person playing the character is supposed to be aware of them. Everything that happens to George also has happened to Sarah, even if they’re not immediately aware of it when they’re in their own realities. It is supposed to be the emotional underpinning of the character. So that was definitely something slightly different for both of us and I found it quite fun.

Can you talk a little about Sarah and Katie’s love? What makes Katie so important to Sarah’s world? How do they balance each other, or complement each other as characters? 

Katie is obviously standing by her woman who’s gone through trauma. She’s been patient; she’s obviously waiting it out. But, there’s that certain point where somebody doesn’t seem to want to help themselves. I think it’s getting to the point where she’s not sure how much longer that is sustainable in a relationship; watching your partner go off the deep end. She is willing to do - or try - anything to help Sarah, and I think they’re at that crossroads in their marriage. She’s the one that gives her the key to this virtual reality program, in the hope that it will, literally, give her a break from having to feel all the things that she is feeling in her everyday life. 

What has it been like filming with Rachelle Lefevre? 

Rachelle is wonderful. And we’ve had a great time, there’s a lot of technical sci-fi kind of dialogue, so it’s been fun figuring out how to tell the emotional story within the exposition and the very unemotional language of the future world they’re living in. So having to explain to the audience what’s going on and explain in a whole new world, but also maintaining the emotional line. Rachelle’s wonderful and incredibly talented and she’s making some incredibly technically dialogue sound conversational and beautiful and just like two people sitting in their home talking.

What are your personal thoughts on virtual reality technology? If you were given the same type of device that Sarah has would you use it? 

I’m not sure I would be a candidate for the virtual other life. I feel like I’m not very tech savvy, and a lot about that sort of thing sounds quite confusing and I tend to not like to meddle with things I don’t understand very well.

Philip K. Dick’s stories have a universal theme of humanity. Can you elaborate on the humanity and theme of this episode? 

Well, one of the things that’s interesting that’s explored in this episode is how technology is touted as something that is going to be helpful and great and a positive influence on us as people. But it ultimately is kind of impersonal and ends up creating obstacles for people. I’m sure that if Sarah had just toughed it out a bit longer, eventually she might have actually gotten her life together, but, this idea of the quick fix is… “Well, if I go somewhere else, I’ll be someone else and it will be fine, and everything will be fine.” And that’s not really how life works. That’s not really how emotional recovery and reality work. The humanity of these characters gets eclipsed by the technology, because it gets to a point where they aren’t sure what to believe any more, nor what to trust or what’s real. That’s fascinating.

Can you talk a little about the production design, costumes and look of the episode? What stands out to you personally? How has it helped you get into character? 

The design in general is not too modern or futuristic, which I think was interesting as far as informing of the tone of the world that we’re creating. This is actually quite grounded in reality. So, a lot of things that are supposed to be from the future are not that different and are just an extension of the technology we have already so it feels quite like a logical progression. As far as the costumes, it’s not crazy out there ideas, but there is a slightly “otherness” feel to the general look of it. But not distractingly like, “Oh, nobody is ever, ever going to dress like that”, or have things that look like that. I think it walks that very nice line as far as not being distracting but being interesting and intriguing and feeling like it could really exist.

When you read the script did you connect more with George (character in the present) or Sarah (character in the future)? Why? 

Well, I actually read it as one character. And I didn’t feel like George and Sarah were actually two different people at all. I think the way it’s written maintains that integrity throughout, and ultimately the struggles that they’re both going through and the challenges that they’re facing are based on the same emotional truth. And they’re just slightly different circumstances, and it just felt like two, very well actualised explorations of the same person going through two different life choices, life paths.

How has it been working with Jeffrey Reiner? What is the collaboration process like? 

Jeffrey’s been absolutely wonderful. He’s incredibly collaborative and very funny and smart and fun to be on set with. And he really likes the material and understands it and understands the emotional beats of it and I think has a really good handle on the “Sci-Fi-ness” verses being a very human story underneath. I’ve had a great time. I’m kind of bummed we’re only doing one episode.

Are you keen to do more scifi in the future? 

I’ve done a lot of genres in my career - as far as characters or stories that exist in other worlds - and what fun is that you get to tell interesting and powerful stories but you have some fun to spice up the options for what can happen to a character in these set of circumstances. And that’s really fun, I’ve had a great time.

October 11, 2017 12:48pm ET by Channel 4  

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