Exclusive: Into the Badlands' Babou Ceesay discusses the intensity of 'Moon Rises, Raven Seeks'

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Apr 29, 2018

Spoilers within for the Into the Badlands Season 3 episode, "Moon Rises, Raven Seeks."

After the return of Into the Badlands last week, fans have been clamoring to unlock the mystery behind some of Season 3's newest characters—including Pilgrim (Babou Ceesay), whose followers made quite a memorable entrance for him as he and his caravan left a swath of bloody Clippers in their wake. 

On this week's episode, "Moon Rises, Raven Seeks," viewers got a little more insight into the relationship between Pilgrim and his priestess, Cressida (Lorraine Toussaint), as well as their master plan for the Badlands. SYFY FANGRRLS had the opportunity to chat with Ceesay about his approach to the character, working with Toussaint, Pilgrim's first big fight scene and what's to come this season.

Your character is among the newest additions to the Badlands cast this season, and there's a lot about Pilgrim, as of now, two episodes in, that still feels very mysterious. How much did you know in advance about Pilgrim before you were cast on the show? 

I knew quite a bit, but not all. It's 16 episodes. I didn't know very much what happened past episode 6, but I saw enough complexity there that I thought, "Okay." When I met Al and Miles, they gave me a bit more of an idea as to where his character goes. It gets dark. I thought, "This is an opportunity." Not only that, I had the opportunity to do some martial arts, which has been amazing. 

In this episode, in particular, we finally kind of get to see Pilgrim in action. How much of the choreography do you try to take on personally versus some of the more intense stunts? 

The most intense stunt towards the end of the season, I start taking a bit more of an active role, being hung on wires and so on and so forth. In that first fight, I do a bit of the wire work. What's hard on wires is getting off the ground—getting off the ground and getting your bearings when you're in the air, especially when you're spinning. That takes a little bit of acrobatics and time.

Laurent Ponselle, who's my stunt double in this—who basically plays quite a significant amount of the role, if you really think about it—does those kinds of bits. When it comes to the kicks, punches, and when I'm already on the wire in a specific position where landing is all you need to do, I jump in and do those things myself. From the beginning, I thought, "You can either be terrified of these fight moves and you'll have some fun, or you can go in, get injured, and have a lot of fun." 

The thing that makes that fight really interesting is that Pilgrim's blindfolded the entire time, so it begs the question: does he have some kind of special gift or ability that we're not aware of yet? Is there anything you can hint at in that regard?

You're very astute. [laughs] You're very astute. He does have a particular gift. I don't know how much I can give away, but let's just say his gift... if the dark chi is the yin, then his gift is the yang. 

One of the relationships that we start to see a bit more of in this episode is Pilgrim's relationship with Cressida. We don't know their backstory, but from what we've seen so far, it feels like there's a really strong intimacy between them. What's it been like working with Lorraine [Toussaint] this season, and did the two of you collaborate offscreen to establish your characters' relationship? 

100%. Lorraine is a goddess. She approaches work in a way that I've never really seen up close. She won't allow a scene to just kind of slip by and be a nothing scene. As far as she's concerned, we have to figure out everything. This is from the moment we get to set... even before set, when we're in the makeup chair we laugh and chat and joke a lot. There comes a point where we just start talking about the scene, and then we really focus in. Then when we're there rehearsing, we figure out what's right for us.

There's been moments when, off-camera, we've really figured out the complexity of our relationship. There's a maternal bond there. There's also a potential romantic bond there. We cross a lot of boundaries, in terms of our characters, which is also extremely interesting. That's a storyline that develops very nicely. 

What's fascinating about Pilgrim is he evokes shades of these leaders who can get people to follow them. Did you draw on any real-life inspiration for him, in your approach to the character? There's a lot that feels like it was maybe inspired by some of the more extreme leaders that we've seen in history. 

I didn't have to look very far in terms of even recent history, with ISIS and some of these more charming people who can convince you to do things that you wouldn't normally. When I started off, I had to really try to tap into the truth of what he was saying. You've got the Badlands with the Barons, and the cogs, and all those systems, but he can't even get his head around [it]. He's coming from a place where there is a sense of equalness. There might be a master, but there's transparency. You see a lot more of that in the episodes.

In fact, I've gone out of my way to make sure that happens in scenes, where it might be that I pull a character aside to have a quiet one-on-one. If I've got all my acolytes there, I'm like, "There's nothing secret. Let's just say it out in front of everybody. Let's have this out in front of everybody," always. That's a very powerful way to manipulate people, actually. If you have it out in that kind of open way, they feel that you're transparent and they trust you more.

It gets a bit trickier as we go further into the series. Even I started to find it hard to justify some of his behavior without reaching for Hitler or reaching for Stalin, to really understand what drove him. 

I do want to talk a little bit about that suspension scene at the end of the episode because we've seen some pretty brutal things on the show, but in terms of being viscerally grisly, that might take the cake, as far as Badlands is concerned. 

It takes the cake. We talked about that scene for episodes. 

It's intense in a lot of ways. I'd love to talk to you about filming that moment. It definitely seems that Pilgrim looks to Cressida for guidance, even while his followers are looking to him in turn. 

Yes. I mean, she's a High Priestess. In our society, we don't want to differentiate. It isn't that someone always knows the answer. Now, Cressida is a seer. She has a position of power in the group. Maybe I have strength in terms of what I can do physically, but in terms of her ability to see what's happening, it's deep—and the group is aware of it. She's the one who has led us here, [and] they know I consulted her. 

In that moment, I end up right opposite her, aware of what we're about to go through [and] the excruciating pain she's about to experience, being pulled up by her shoulder blades on those hooks. These are rituals that used to happen in the past, that people would do... they feel that when you reach that level of pain, you see clearest. Even in that moment, because there's so many layers to their relationship, he struggles with it and has to ask forgiveness before he carries out what he does. 

On so many levels, so many things happen that it's intriguing and extreme. Even I think it's a bit strange, but... I'm sorry, Daniel Wu has just driven up. Today was my last day on the shoot, and he's taking me to dinner. He's a lovely guy. We can still talk, he won't mind.

Are there any other intense moments you can tease coming up this season?

Yeah, there's a lot of very intense moments. Our group in general, as well, has this level that we push for. Of course, all the other characters are going through their own depths of misery, you'll see what I mean. Even from watching the first episode, there's a sense that things have just gotten much more deep, much more detailed.

There are definitely a few. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but there's a couple moments I can think of in Pilgrim's storyline... I've already thought about four just off the top of my head that will challenge viewers on a very deep level. That's what I feel, anyway. I mean, it challenged me. The sacrifices he has to make and things that happen on screen... people won't expect it. 

Into the Badlands airs Sundays at 10/9c on AMC.