Into the Badlands 305, Gaius Nathaniel and Odessa

Interview: Into the Badlands' writer-producer LaToya Morgan chats about Season 3 and future projects

Contributed by
Jun 11, 2018

Now in its third season, AMC's Into the Badlands has definitely made a name for itself—but then again, how many other post-apocalyptic martial arts dramas can you list off? The good news is that the niche Badlands has carved out for itself in the realm of Peak TV is a thoroughly entertaining one, full of rich character moments, ridiculously good fight sequences, and the drama of love and loss—all taking place in this retrofuturistic world.

We've spoken with Badlands writer-producer LaToya Morgan previously about Season 2, so we figured it was well past time for us to check in with her again about everything that's going on in Season 3. We chat about the strong, powerful women of the series, some specific moments from "Carry Tiger to Mountain" and "Dragonfly's Last Dance" (which she wrote), which characters she enjoys writing for the most, and what non-Badlands projects she's working on for the future. Spoiler: it's a LOT.

One of the best parts of the show is that there are so many complex female characters. What's compelling is that they all have their own separate strategies for how to navigate the world of the Badlands and how to survive and get a leg up in certain situations. I talked to Al at the beginning of the season and when the show kicked off we learned that two of the biggest groups right now that are fighting for control are led by women: the Widow and Chau. In the episode that you wrote, there was a great flashback scene for her that alluded to a little more of why there's some tension between the Widow and Chau now. So it feels like this fight might have some more personal reasons other than control of territory. 

Absolutely. 

We've already seen some pretty devastating effects so far, but what kind of ripple effect is this war going have for the rest of the season? 

Yeah, that's a great question. I think those were several questions within that question. So, to start with, one thing that I think was really exciting to do this season, which was to really deepen the backstory and the relationship between Minerva/the Widow, and Chau. And I was very excited to really dig into that flashback scene. We get to learn small things, like Chau's first name is Juliette, you know? Little things like that. You get to really see the dynamics of that house. So you see Alexander Chau, who is her father, a descendant of Horatio Chau, who rules with this iron fist of no mercy, and you very starkly are able to get from that scene that Juliette takes like a fish to water to that, more than her brother, Gaius. In that scene, you also see that she's going to become the Baron that we all know. You also get to see the connection between Minerva and Gaius, even though it's very short. 

The shorthand for that is that this is a girl that he's seen around the house and that he has a little bit of a crush on, a little bit of connection between the two of them, which is sort of already verboten. And then she accidentally drops this tray, and he cuts his hand, and you never make a Baron bleed in the eyes of his father, so he must bring down punishment on her. I think my other favorite thing about that scene is you just get to see the pure strength of the Widow, even as a young child, where she's taking this horrible beating, but she didn't cry. She was not going to be broken, even in that moment. 

So, I love setting all that stuff ... But you really get to set the table for this rivalry between these two very different but also very similar women. They're very strong, they're both great fighters, but they just see the world in different ways. That even comes down to the costume choices, right? So, Chau's always in white, and the Widow's always in black. It's just great contrast between the two of them, and I think that because of that history, they really don't want to give in either side. 

That's why we start the season there at this stalemate, and as the season progresses, Chau's troops really outnumber the Widow's. So the Widow has to become a little more crafty in the way that she attacks. But I think over the course of the season, the Widow's eyes also start to open to the great toll that this war is taking on her people. We see in a couple of the upcoming episodes that the war starts to come home for her. 

We've heard a lot about the Widow's backstory, and we've gotten glimpses here and there. What we've been told is that she was married to somebody who was abusive, and she basically found a way to kill him and take over as Baron. So, given that the show is starting to actually show us some of these little vignettes into her life, is there a possibility that we're ever going get more of a glimpse into what she was like before she became the Widow? 

Yeah, we talk about that all the time in the writers' room, and I know it's something that both Al and Miles are interested in exploring. I know I'm excited about it. It's just a matter of, how much can we fit into each episode, right? So we only get 42 minutes. Trust me, there have been times where we have pitched some awesome stuff for backstory that we just had to cut because we just needed to push the story forward. So, it's something that we think about a lot, all the time. For the Widow especially, and some of the things we know that we've talked about that we want to include, is things like her relationship with Bajie, and just showing pieces of that. Him being her Abbot, and all that stuff. We've really done a lot of discussions about that in the writers' room, and we want to bring it to the forefront. If we ever get the real estate to do it!

There's definitely a ton of moving pieces on the show, so I can understand. You're basically spoiled for choice on how much awesome you can fit in!

It's true! We have an embarrassment of riches, because we have a pretty big cast, and every single actor is absolutely amazing. I almost lost my shit when we got Lorraine [Toussaint] to sign, because I've loved her work for so long, and I think she is phenomenal. So the opportunity to write for her this season has been the highlight, I have to say. 

I talked to Babou as well and he gushed about getting to work with her, and he's one of the cast members that really gets the chance to have the most intimate dynamic with her as an actor. 

Yes. And he's been phenomenal, too. There is nothing that we talk about in the writers' room, that we put in scripts, that we ask our actors to do, that they cannot do. They're always so prepared, they are always so honest and authentic in the way they portray it. So it has just been a really wonderful gift to work with so many talented people. 

Into the Badlands 302, Lydia and the Widow
I know I keep bringing up the episode that you wrote this season—

Please do, I like it! 

There are so many good scenes! One of my favorites is the brief conversation that we get between Lydia and the Widow, when they're standing up above the wall, just talking about surviving their terrible marriages. To me, it felt quietly powerful, in a lot of ways. There's a reason they're both alive while characters like Quinn are dead. 

That's actually one of my favorite scenes, so yes, let's dig into it. 

Their dynamic, to me, is so fascinating. I'm wondering what your feeling is. Are they doing a 'keep your enemies closer' type of thing? Or do you think that they've actually started to really trust one another? 

Well, for me, one of the things that I was always talking about in the room — especially for this scene — is I personally am a fan of the show. So it's easy for me to write for this show. I love all the characters. And I wanted to really focus on the idea that you can have two very strong powerful women, and they don't always have to be at odds. 

So Lydia has a completely different way that she approaches ... She fights, as well, but she fights in a completely different way. She is more strategic, and she's a survivor, and so she uses her weapon, which is her ability to talk to people. And the Widow is a great fighter, and she needs someone who's strategic, and I wanted to show that they could, a: work together, but I wanted to show that they could share a little bit of the softer, more vulnerable side to them. 

Because this unexpected thing happens when Gaius shows up, and the Widow, who's always strong, and always is ready to fight, she's caught off guard. So she's a little bit thrown in that scene, and she's looking for something to steady her, and Lydia being the strong woman that she is, she gives her some really great advice in that moment, on how to survive, but also how to win. 

Lydia as a character, for me, has been one of the most ... maybe not unexpected, but just a delight, because we've seen her emerge from the background. She's definitely on the board, on the Badlands, and imparting advice to characters like Tilda, but also is definitely a strategist and someone that shouldn't be underestimated. Like I said before, I love that the show gives us so many different kinds of women that are smart in different ways, and know how to play to their strengths in certain ways. 

Yeah. Yeah, and I have to give a shout-out to Orla Brady, who is absolutely lovely as a person, but such an incredible actress. I think that what she brings to the character is this strength and this toughness, and this, of course, epic beauty, because she's absolutely gorgeous. I love that when she's on screen, you lean in because Lydia is always thinking five or ten steps ahead of everyone, which is what I love. To be able to show that there's women who have an assortment of strengths and that they can also show that vulnerability to each other, was really one of the highlights of the episode. 

I'm glad you brought up Gaius already because I—

The Baron of thirst traps, yes!

The Baron of thirst traps, Lewis Tan, who is wonderful. I know there was a big online push for him to be on the show. He's been working in the industry for a long time, but I think also came onto the radar for a lot of fans on Twitter after working on Iron Fist. So, when I talked to him, he actually named you as the person who hooked him up with Al to get the conversation rolling, which ultimately led to him being cast on the show. 

Yep. 

I'm a real fan of the fact that there... seems to be the potential for a little romance, maybe? 

I like to call it #Minervus. Yes, why not? Why not ship it? I'm already on the bandwagon for it!

Into the Badlands 307, Minervus
Al already told me that we were going see romances, potentially, for the Widow and Lydia this season, and I know we've already seen a bit of this. We know now that Lydia and Nathaniel have a history.

Yes! I'm a very big proponent of this in the writers' room!

I'm so glad! I'm so happy, it's like, "More, yes, more love, more romance, always!"

When you talk to Al again, Al will tell you, I am the one who's always like, there has to be more romance, there has to be love in the middle of all this death! 

As Gaius, Lewis brings this vulnerability, but then also this... steely badassery? I don't know how to describe it, it's just there. His scenes with Emily so far have been phenomenal. 

Yes!

When I talked to Emily, she said that [the Widow] might be a hard egg to crack, but didn't really want to give too many spoilers. So is there anything you can tease in terms of the #Minervus storyline? 

Well, I will say that ratchets up a bit in my next episode, which is episode 3.07. So there's another installment of Minervus in that, and I read your interview with Emily, and I absolutely agree. I think that they have a kinship, because they have the same strengths, and they also have the same vulnerability, which is why we saw their connection as children.

I think the people have this sort of ... They have this pre-conceived notion about the Widow, that she's completely tough and hard all the time. She's still a woman, and I think that's one of the things that I talked about a lot in the writers' room, which was peeling back those layers so that we can see a little bit of that. And still, of course, keep her as the strong badass fighter that she is, but also show that she's not a monolith. She has other shades to her character that I know Emily, who is a phenomenal actress, would love to play. 

In terms of the Lydia-Nathaniel relationship, I think the thing that I love most about it — even though so far we haven't gotten a lot beyond an almost-kiss-

Wait, can we just pause for a second? 

Yeah. 

And just say, it's just on a purely shallow tip because I love Sherman Augustus. How dope does he look in that blue coat and bowler hat? So dope! Epic in that outfit! I love it so much. And then you put the two of them together because they're both so painfully good-looking. I mean, come on. Come on, how can you not root for that? 

Into the Badlands, Nathaniel Moon

I just love that not only is it a romance where we find out that they actually had something in the past, [but] he apparently tried to get her to run away with him! I mean, how could you say no? That's where I have to suspend my disbelief!

Well, she says, I think ... I can't remember if it's episode two, it's an early episode where she basically kind of admits that she's made the wrong choice, because she was afraid, and I think there needs to be some clarity as far as ... Moon was not Quinn's Regent. Waldo was Quinn's Regent, and Moon was the Regent for the Widow's husband. And so, some people have been confused, like, "What? What's happening? This was happening under Quinn's roof?" And all this stuff, and I'm like, "No, no, no, no. That's wrong." So let's clear that up.

Of course, they had interactions, and they had their secret affair, and — in my mind, hopefully, Al will agree with this one — that they were very much in love, and they were gonna run away, and she got cold feet and kind of basically left him at the altar. He went on and had another family, but he never forgot her, and she never forgot him. So this is an interesting time for both of their characters to decide whether or not they really wanna try to see how that relationship could be, now that they're older and wiser. 

That's another aspect of the relationship that I really like, is that it's a romance between two older characters that we don't often get on TV. And it's kind of a second chance thing. What happens when you run into the one who got away, after however many years and you've both led separate lives and been married to different people, and had your own children? What happens? And then also, to take all that and put it into the Badlands has just made for some really compelling scenes. I love the scene where he confronts her about the note that she sent to Tilda because there's just so much fantastic tension. So I'm really hoping we'll get to see more of that down the road. 

Yes. There's definitely going to be more. I have to give some love to Michael Taylor, who wrote that initial scene of them with the note because I thought it was really beautifully done and crafted, and just the little things. The way the scene opens — if you're a writer, I just love the way he tied it into the handwriting and the kind of drink that he likes, and how he likes that drink. I just thought it was really thoughtful, and just good writing. 

I'm gonna cycle back a little bit, because I did bring up Lewis, and then we got a little sidetracked with all the romance.

Oh yeah, wait, Lewis! How could we — no! Let's go back! We can't forget about Lewis!

We're talking about romance on the show, and how can you not fall in love with Lewis Tan, even just a little bit?

Yeah, you have to. The man is gorgeous, by the way, and such a nice person. I got a chance to hang out with him some on set when I was in Ireland, and he was absolutely lovely. He's very dedicated to his craft, both the martial arts and his acting. You can see, sometimes ... This is a little bit off track, but I just have to say that for people who are trying to break into the business, obviously, he has familial ties to the business, but that didn't necessarily make all the doors open for him. I can say that he is a testament to hard work paying off, you know? Just constantly working, constantly putting yourself out there, putting yourself up for stuff. And I think people should pay attention to that, because if you do put in the hard work, sometimes the stars align, and it works out. 

Through the power of social media, in spite of the fact that sometimes it tends to be a trash fire. He has a great social media presence, and I think he's managed to use that well to foster connection, and it has maybe, at least in part, led to some great opportunity — and, as we've seen, eventually led to him talking to Al and getting cast on the show. 

Just have to ignore those times where it's a dumpster fire! Well, I'll just say, social media is, and can be, an amazing thing. I will never forget, I believe it was my wonderful Twitter friend, Rebecca Theodore-Vachon, who was tweeting about Lewis Tan, and I didn't see Iron Fist. So I was like, "What is this video that she's tweeting about?" And I saw it, and I was like, oh my god, this guy is amazing! How is he not like, the lead of a show or at least on our show? On somebody's show!

And so when I saw the video of him doing all his martial arts, I went and looked up his clips from Iron Fist, I immediately showed it to Al. I was like, we've gotta get this guy. And credit to Al for immediately watching it, and immediately listening to me, because I'm usually right. He totally reached out to Lewis — on Twitter, by the way! And that's how the whole thing started. So it can be an amazing tool, and I think when it's used in the right way, and of course, with equal amounts of common sense and compassion, I think it can be a really fantastic for people to find out about things that they might not have known about. 

It was definitely one of the ways I found out about the show, to begin with, and it's been one of the ways that the show's fans have been able to come together every week and livetweet. How much does the fan response factor into everything behind the scenes? And how much are you keeping an ear to the ground to see what fans respond to? 

I mean, I personally keep an ear to the ground. Because I am a Twitter junkie, I hate to admit. I wish I wasn't. I think that it doesn't necessarily affect the way we tell stories, because usually when the episodes air, we've already finished in the writers' room, and we've already made the decisions. 

But I will say, we think a lot about what characters are working, what characters need to be serviced more. We think a lot about that, and I am usually the person that someone eventually during the day, in the writers' room, looks to and says, "What does social media say? What are they saying on Twitter?" And so I am gladly that person because I love to see the fan response. I am one of the people who loves to livetweet, it's just fun to me. 

It doesn't necessarily lead to complete story overhauls or anything like that, because as a creator, I think it's very, very difficult to have that in the back of your mind and really, truly tell the kind of story that you want to tell. Al and Miles are telling the kind of story that they want to tell, and I'm happy to help them do that in whatever way I can. 

Into the Badlands 304, Sunny and Bajie

On a personal note, are there any particular characters that you have the most fun writing on the show? 

Without question, the most fun to write is always Bajie, Nick Frost, and his relationship with Sunny, which has become this really lovely bromance. So I have the most fun writing for them, but I have fun writing for all of them, just because I really love the show. I love just any type of fight scene. So whoever that is, if it's the Widow kicking ass, if it's Sunny in close quarters, if it's a big fight, like in episode five with the big fight at the refugee camp. 

That was probably one of my favorite fights that I've written because it was so big, there were so many moving parts, and there were so many moments between characters that I loved, that over the arc of those first five episodes, got to pay off. Everything that I wrote in the script, the fight team just made a thousand times better, because they're so damn good at what they do until they just elevate everything. It was just great to see what was, of course, a really badass fight become epic in their hands. 

It's a great character moment for a lot of the cast, too. On the scale itself of how many characters are involved, it's so epic, but then I was just sitting there the whole time going, "So many of my faves are helping each other and I'm having feelings!" People coming to each other's rescue. You see Nathaniel and Odessa working together when previously they'd been against each other. I was just like, I'm having so many emotions right now! 

I was like, you guys, you can change anything you want, but I have to have this moment between the Widow and Tilda. I have to have this moment where she's like, "I have to save her." One of the things that we have progressively gotten better and better at over the course of these few seasons is to of course have these really fantastic fights, but really have them have emotional resonance, and really great character moments within the fights. Part of the Widow's drive — when she hears refugee camps, she knows Tilda's there, she's like, "We gotta go! We gotta go there." So I love just seeing Emma, where she literally throws her out of the way and is like, "Let Papa take care of you!" It's great. 

What are you fangirling over at the moment, in terms of any books or TV shows or movies, anything that you've been really into lately? 

Okay, two things immediately came to mind when you said that. The first is Killing Eve
Yes!

Because that show is everything, and I love it so much. The performances are phenomenal, and it's just a cool story! I like living in that world. I think one of the things that sometimes get lost in this era of peak TV, where there's so many shows and so many platforms to watch them on, is that you kind of want to live in those worlds. You want to come back to them. So I love that show, and I want to come back to it every week, and I can't get to it fast enough.

Another thing that I'm super excited about is the trailer for Widows which just came out. This movie with Viola Davis, um, Michelle Rodriguez, an amazing cast. And I saw some kind of heat masks, I saw some machine guns, I saw some explosions. I was like, "Hell yes! I'm there on day one for that!" 

Outside of Badlands, I feel like you have your finger on so many other things. Are you working on anything else right now that you can share with us? 

I have a deal at AMC, so I am working on a couple of pilots for them. One is inspired by the book They Can't Kill Us All, by Wesley Lowery, who's a Washington Post reporter. It's about the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, so I'm super excited about that.

Then I'm working on another project, also based on a book, for AMC. It's completely different, it has a sci-fi bent, and it's about time travel. I pitched it as basically Hidden Figures with time travel. So that one's super fun. Genre-specific. I love genre stuff, and character-driven genre, of course, so that's my bread and butter. So I'm really excited about those two things.

On a feature front, I have a movie that I'm trying to get ... We have some pieces that are being packaged, that are ready to go, and trying to find financing for that. It's a gritty crime thriller. I love that kind of stuff, which is why I was so excited about the Widows trailer. 

And then I'm plotting a graphic novel that hopefully one of my favorite comic book companies is gonna pick up. We're in conversations about that now. Always writing, which is what I love to do. I'm very grateful that I get to do it every day.