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SYFY WIRE Into the Badlands

Exclusive: Into the Badlands' Ella-Rae Smith on Nix's choices in 'The Boar and The Butterfly'

By Carly Lane
Into the Badlands 304, Nix

This week, Into the Badlands saw several decisive shifts take place, as former enemies decided to team up in pursuit of a common goal. Not only did the Widow (Emily Beecham) and Bajie (Nick Frost) agree to put the past behind them and work together, but the Widow and Sunny (Daniel Wu) are actually — albeit begrudgingly — fighting on the same side now. We never thought we'd see the day.

However, one of the episode's most drastic change-ups happened when Nix (Ella-Rae Smith) decided to officially defect from Pilgrim's (Babou Ceesay) cause, turning her back on her former leader and his plan to take over the Badlands in favor of aligning herself with Sunny.

SYFY FANGRRLS had the chance to chat with Smith ahead of tonight's episode, where she offered a behind-the-scenes look at some of her character's big moments, talked about her love for filming those epic fight sequences, and teased how Nix's choice is going to impact the growing conflict on the horizon.

Your character’s experienced a lot of change just over the course of this season, especially given how we first meet her as one of Pilgrim’s acolytes. What’s it been like to explore that transformation with Nix as her eyes have been opened to some harsh truths about her mentor?

In this crazy made-up world. I've always found it really useful to relate it to the real world in terms of making sure the performance feels really truthful. I look at that whole journey as the moment you realize that your parents aren't these perfect angels, when you've realized that your parents are real people. Nix realizes that Pilgrim, who she's viewed as a father, is actually kind of evil. Not just that he has flaws, but maybe everything he believes in and everything she's been taught to believe in is wrong and is a bad thing and is the evil thing in this world. It's like a coming of age story, but Badlands style.

Into the Badlands 310, Nix
From the first episode you were in, you got to really kick some ass on the show. This week, we get the fight between Nix and MK and his confrontation of her. How much of that did you get to do personally on your end, and what's your favorite part about getting to do those fight sequences in general?

First of all, that first fight scene was [my] first week on set. It was like the craziest introduction into the world of Badlands. I think it kind of showed me the ropes. I love that first fight scene, [but] the fight with M.K. is a really cool one because he's so charged with emotion and Nix doesn't want to fight him. It was really interesting, the emotional dynamic of it. Also, it's double dark chi fight, which is pretty cool. There's a contrast between M.K., who's obviously fighting dark chi and is full of anger, rage, and emotion — while, with Nix, I would always try to make it look more controlled and something she doesn't really think about doing, sort of a methodical process.

Generally, with fight stuff, I'm not a trained martial artist so it was my first experience holding a sword, being on Badlands. The wider shots, with those crazy spins and jumps, aren't me. The close-up ones, most times you can see my face, are very clever editing. I love doing the fight scenes because they're so different. I've never done anything like that before, and it's a completely different way of working. It's amazing to see all of these highly skilled martial artists doing their work. It's really something I never thought I would be doing, such a cool experience. It made me learn a lot about myself and about something I otherwise wasn't interested in. 

You make a good point. Any of these sequences in the show, they all serve a narrative purpose. 

Exactly. They're like this climax of these emotional stories. The climax is the fight and the fight tells a story, always. That's what I love. I love the end of that fight as well, when Sunny comes in. I don't think Sunny would want to hurt M.K. When Sunny and M.K. have their first fight, Sunny's a bit hesitant. No one really wants to hurt M.K., but he's just being such a dick to everyone. Sorry, I probably shouldn't say that. 

It's okay. I think a lot of people at this point are like, "M.K., come on!"

Seriously. Other than Pilgrim, he is pissing everyone off. He has good reason to be in this state he's in, though. Every character's the way they are for valid reasons. M.K.'s been through a lot. It does make sense, but I know what side Nix is on and I'm on Nix's side.

Into the Badlands 304, Nix and Cressida
One of the dynamics we’ve seen explored somewhat is the one between your character and Cressida, who seems to pick up on Nix’s doubts and concerns long before Pilgrim even does. What’s it like to play those scenes opposite Lorraine in terms of two women who are sort of doing this dance around one another trying to figure out what the other knows?

First of all, Lorraine is just amazing. She's an incredible actress. Watching Lorraine become Cressida is really just incredible, such a transformation. Working with her is a joy. [But] I think Nix is generally weary of Cressida — and when Nix does figure out that Pilgrim's killed Castor, that's when she stops caring and stops being afraid. She needs to find out the truth for herself. When she confronts Cressida, she's a little stronger with her. It's when she's reached the point of no return.

At the start of the season, I don't think Nix would have stood up to Cressida in any way. She wouldn't have had the bravery to do that, but [now] she's decided she's done and she doesn't care at that point. 

Nix has had her eyes opened in many ways about the gift and what it can do — first, M.K. taught her how to activate it without needing to cut herself, and now Ankara’s demonstrated how it can heal rather than necessarily hurt. How is this new knowledge going to impact how she approaches the use of her gift going forward?

M.K. teaching Nix that she can activate her gift without hurting herself makes her more powerful. That's a powerful tool for her to use. We see her do that when she stops Pilgrim punching that acolyte. We see her use it for good. Knowing that she can control it is pretty major. Obviously, we've had stories of other characters where the gift has always been known as a bad thing, but she's realizing that this dark chi could actually be used for good, and she feels like she can redeem herself from all the bad things she's done because of it. She's killed a lot of people without really thinking about it, just because that's what she was told to do. She was part of a community that celebrated her for this defect she had, which is the gift. She realizes how much bad she's done and she can change that. She can rewrite her story and be good. That's why she helps Sunny, and that's why she's been so brave and stepped away from her old life and everything she's known because she wants to help and not hurt people anymore. 

Now that Nix has decided to essentially defect and tag along with Sunny, how is that going to affect her relationships with M.K. — and eventually, with Pilgrim — especially heading towards the end of the season? 

She's definitely made an enemy in Pilgrim and in M.K. I don't want to give away too much... Let's just say that she's made enemies, and because she's betrayed Pilgrim so strongly, she will become one of his biggest enemies. Plus, she's got inside information. She's been part of that community, she knows how he works. She is probably one of the biggest threats against him.