‘The Nevers’ Cast on the Rarity of Telling Multiple Stories About Complex Women
Actresses Eleanor Tomlinson, Elizabeth Berrington, and Ella Smith dig into their characters’ twists and turns.
The HBO sci-fi/adventure series The Nevers is set in 1890s Victorian London after a supernatural event has mysteriously given certain people, most of whom happen to be women, various unusual abilities. As its core is the friendship between Amalia True (Laura Donnelly), a resourceful widow who has never shies away from a fight, and Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), a brilliant inventor whose creations are often far ahead of their time, as the two women attempt to find and protect the gifted from those who wish to annihilate them.
During a virtual junket for the new show, Collider got the opportunity to chat with co-stars Eleanor Tomlinson (who plays Mary Brighton a woman pursuing her dream of singing on stage), Elizabeth Berrington (who plays the streetwise Lucy Best, a woman whose turn led to personal tragedy) and Ella Smith (who plays Desirée Blodgett, a prostitute with the ability to make everyone want to open up and share things with her) about why they wanted to tell this story, which funny line was actually ad-lib, the experience of shooting the sing in the park, how dangerous some secrets are, and how rare it is to have so many complicated female characters on one show.
Collider: When something like this comes your way, where there are so many story threads and characters, things to explore, and a blend of genres going on, what most excited you about this? Was it your character or was it something with the project over all?
ELEANOR TOMLINSON: For me, it was the ensemble piece, it was everyone attached to it, it was this fantastical world with such a visionary at its helm, and this opportunity to really fall into this immersive experience. It could be so magical and so real, at the same time, and so relatable.
ELIZABETH BERRINGTON: Yeah, I would agree. The delight was such beautiful writing. The writing is really quite unique and fresh. The fact that we’re on the project long enough to really invest and discover a character and spend that time on screen and spend that time paying with new friends in this wonderful world that’s been created and built. It just ticks all of the boxes.
ELLA SMITH: For me, I love watching other people misbehave, and this is a chance for us all to misbehave. You can label it that. I don’t think they’re misbehaving, necessarily. That’s a really joyful thing to do in this world, even in this modern world, for a group of women to behave so terribly, both for the great good, in many ways. It’s a joy to do that and it’s not often you get to roll about in the mud like that.
Elizabeth, your character has a moment where she says, “If you can look a man in the eye, you can stab him in it,” and I love that because it seems like good and useful advice. Did anyone ever give you equally good and useful advice that you could apply to some aspect of your life, even if it wasn’t quite that dramatic?
BERRINGTON: Nothing with a violent twist. I can hear my dad saying, “Life’s not a rehearsal.” I remember that as something that somebody said to him when he was 18. It’s quite a classic thing that people say, but he said it to me in my life, in the early days and that resonated. I can still remember that. Stories along that line, just making the most of what you’ve got, being positive, going forward, and thinking the best of people is some of the most useful feedback that’s come my way.
Ella, I love that your character is a woman who knows the hand she’s been dealt, makes the best of it, fully embraces and accepts who she is, and has body positivity for days. If you’re going to play a prostitute with a power like the one she has, is there something freeing and fun about playing someone like her?
SMITH: Absolutely. You just described it, really, for what it is. To play a bold character like that, takes a certain amount of guts and a certain amount of life experience. In terms of her past, in Victorian times, that was a career for women. She’s really just a working girl. But the times are getting rough. People who are Touched and have powers are being sent out of society and they need a safe haven, and Amalia has created something incredibly necessary for them. It was lovely to play that kind of bombastic character and it will just be amazing to see where it will go next.
I also love the moment where she refers to her chins.
SMITH: That was actually an ad-lib in the read through. The joke was supposed to be, “I’m keeping my chin up,” and in the read-through, I said chins and it stayed. Luckily it stayed. I don’t usually do that, but it was just a fun moment where I though the writer was probably too polite to write that joke.
Eleanor, what was it like to do the scene in the park, performing that song in front of everyone, and what was it like to hear what the song would sound like?
TOMLINSON: It was really terrifying. I was told that I would then also be singing along with it. I was like, “I can’t sing that high.” And it was also in a different language, so it was ver challenging, but great fun and just so amazing to see Joss [Whedon]’s vision with it. The first scene that we shot was in the theater, surrounded by this blue light that was emitting from her. And then, we did that differently, the second time we did it because we had the outdoor element and we had drones flying around. It was incredibly moving. I don’t think I knew how moving it would be until I watched the episode and was like, “Oh, that’s amazing.” It was really quite something. I showed it to my little brother and I turned to look at him to watch his reaction, and he was crying his eyes out. For me, that means that it’s done what it was meant to do. The audience could feel what we wanted them to.
There’s something so tragic about a woman finding her voice, and then having it silenced in that way. What was it like to shoot that moment with her being gunned down and having everyone around you?
TOMLINSON: It was incredibly emotional. Obviously, there was a lot of pressure because I wanted to get it right. I don’t think I’ve ever been shot before and it’s quite a weird thing We rehearsed it and I’m not very good with loud bangs, so it was quite scary. But in the end, I think we managed to make something work, and the visual effects really made it very, very powerful. There is very interesting imagery there, in this woman that has finally found her voice and is speaking up for all of the women there, and some men as well, is then silenced. it was very powerful.
How long did you have to shoot that for?
TOMLINSON: I remember being in the part for a few days.
BERRINGTON: There was a great deal to do, on the day of the song. For us, it was just so haunting to watch Eleanor. Hearing the music, and then seeing her, take after take, every single time, it just got you right there. It was incredibly powerful. The beautiful slow-mo quality that Mary has and that Eleanor portrayed and how she played it, it was just the most exquisite physicality. It was one of those no acting required days, really, because every time she opened her mouth and every time you heard the song, you just knew where you needed to be. When she gets silenced, it was so shocking. And it was pretty cold. It was freezing and Laura [Donnelly] was in her underwear in the cold.
Elizabeth, all of the characters in this show have secrets, but how dangerous are the secrets that your character is keeping?
BERRINGTON: She’s tormented by her power. She’s only revealed to Penance about when she realized she had thn pwer because she’d done this dreadful damage to her baby. That’s really shocking. And then, there’s a duplicity to her behaviour and what she’s doing in the orphanage and who she’s in cahoots with. She’s been made a promise by Massen that he can cure this power that she as, or this affliction, I suppose. That’s how she’s seeing it, at that point, having killed her baby. That’s why she’s gone on the double agent route. She’s tormented and she’s lost everything. She’s lost these new companions and this new family and she’s been kicked out of town and ostracized. I was sad when Joss first told me that was gonna happen. I was like, “Oh, no!” Very early on, when you read those scripts and connect with them, you can feel the bond between them all. I do remember our little chat, the day he revealed to a few of us who was a double agent and some of the girls were like, “Really?!” That was tough. It’s a credit to the incredible writing, that you’re torn about what’s happening.
Ella, what do you love about the mother-son relationship that you have in this and getting to explore that very unusual dynamic?
SMITH: There’s so much more fun to be had with that. I’ve discussed that with Philippa Goslett, who’s our showrunner in charge of the next block [of episodes]. There are so many opportunities to have Desirée be one of those loving mothers who just gets it wrong quite often, and happens to talk about her sex life and career in front of him. There was this idea that she’s one of those mother hens who chucks the chick out of the nest way too soon with the hope that he finds his feet. There’s something very heartwarming and that gives a lot of empathy to the character of Desirée. As much as she can be a comedic foil at times, there’s so much heart and longing in her to be a good mother and to protect her son against the world that she’s seen, which is pretty ugly at times. There’s something interesting going on with her power, where she hears a lot of people’s stories and she has a son who can’t speak. There’s something to develop there, in the future.
I love all three of these characters because thy’re such interesting women with such complicated stories.
SMITH: Absolutely. It feels like you could do a spin-off show with any one of these characters and run for a few seasons. That’s always a good thing.
BERRINGTON: For an audience tuning in to the show, it is unusual to have a drama where there’s so many women and the stories are so rich and the characters are so fulfilled. We don’t get to see that very often. That’s why a show like this really stands out. It’s very satisfying to watch us, as a woman, but also guys. Guys don’t get to see female characters, particularly brilliantly fleshed out ones, and certainly not in our storylines, like middle-aged women or working class women or women who are not completely perfect. These stories are presented to us and that’s quite revelatory, really.
The Nevers is available to stream on HBO Max.
Original article at Collider.
This article has been reproduced for archive purposes.