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SYFY WIRE Foundation

Foundation's Lou Llobell talks about Gaal Dornick's brainy strength

By Tara Bennett
Foundation Lou Llobell

From the first episode of Apple TV+'s adaptation of Foundation, Gaal Dornick has been the audience's avatar into the complex world of the Galactic Empire. A brilliant but sheltered young woman from the deeply religious planet of Synnax, Gaal was an outsider in her own world and continues to be one as she travels to Trantor to study with mathematician Hari Seldon (Jared Harris).

In just two episodes, actress Lou Llobell ably charms the audience into falling in love with Gaal, an earnest and hopeful young woman who more than holds her own in many rooms full of men. Having disappeared from the narrative in Episode 2, Dornick is finally back in this week's new episode, "Upon Awakening."

SYFY WIRE got on a Zoom with Llobell to talk about how Gaal is the emotional heart of the adaptation and how she will rally back from the events at the end of "Preparing to Live."

Gaal carries a lot of the emotional weight in this Foundation adaptation. How did you approach humanizing her, knowing that you needed to make the audience care about the story through her emotional arc?

I think David Goyer has done an amazing job of writing these scripts in that way and with these characters in that way. I think every single character has relatable qualities about them. They're real human beings. They're not superheroes. They're natural people, so that I think is the most important thing. They're human stories and human situations. They just happened to be set in the future, so that wasn't very difficult to do. She's an amazing character and I think she's super relatable to the audience. And I think the audience needs someone like her to have an "in" as someone they can rely on and count on to also be in the same position as they are in. Gaal does that pretty well. She doesn't know anything that's going on and everything happens that she's finding out as we, as the audience, also finding out which I think is a pretty good trick to have.

What was your first scene to shoot?

It was in Iceland on an ice lake. It was cold. I was freezing. It was that shot in the trailer where I'm on the boat leaving home and it was super sad. It was actually a really good place to start because really, that is her start and her beginning. I was very lucky that I got to start really where Gaal starts her story.

You get to play a lot of things in Gaal's life from her love affair to showing how the math works. What was most challenging?

That [math] scene was like, five pages. I was so stressed out thinking, "I don't know how I'm gonna learn this!" I did take after take with no one because it's a computer and there's no one there. It was just someone doing the voiceover. I was acting with myself. I'd already been by myself for two days on that set, and I had two more days to go by myself before Jared (Harris) joined me. It was the most difficult week of my life but I was so satisfied when I finished. It was the best feeling, that sense of power and control. I hope that I can portray her as her really taking control of that moment and really being in her element. I think the crew looked at me like, "Are you kidding? How did you do that?" [Laughs.]

There's a broad maturation of Gaal from "The Emperor's Peace" to "Preparing to Live." Talk about going from the fish out of water to showing us a much more confident woman in just two hours.

The difference between Episode 1 and Episode 2 was just like the best thing for me. We worked on 1 for quite a long time in comparison to the others. And I was so excited because I was like, 'Oh my God, I can finally do something exciting and be a person and not just have things happen to her!' I could finally take control and feel like I was part of a group of people and part of a community of Gaal, which was so wonderful. She really does grow a lot over those two episodes. And then she's out again. When you pick her up again, you pick her up straight after Episode 2 and that's a pretty amazing thing, because so much time has passed, but Gaal is still the same Gaal that you see in Episode 2, which is a really cool thing. And there's also trying to maneuver what this new world is but it feels to her that things have just happened to her, but the audience has seen so much.

Gaal and Raych's love affair was short but vitally important. What do you think it meant to her and especially coming from such a religious, sheltered life?

Gaal and Raych (Alfred Enoch) and Hari are a sign of hope and new life for Gaal. These are people that she would never have encountered in her old home. These are people that are brand new and shiny in experiences and relationships. She's never experienced these things before. I also think that the jump between [Episode] 1 and 2, the most important thing for me was making sure that Alfie and I could portray them being so in love and having experienced so much between what you don't see, to really sell the fact that the end of these two is so heartbreaking. You really want to be invested in them. You want to root for them. You want to fall in love with them, with their love and what that relationship is, but we didn't have very much time to do that and show that on camera.

We finally get Gaal back in "Upon Awakening." What does that trauma at the end of "Preparing to Live" do to her, and how does it set her up going forward?

I think that Gaal gives up. She finds out all this information and she's like, "I'm done, I can't do this. I'm alone. I don't know where I'm going, I don't know where to go, I can't take control of the ship." There's nothing that she can do to save herself, or so she thinks. And then that moment happens and her math brain goes on, and that's where you see her brilliance. I was so excited to be able to see that because you can really see her in her element. And she's alone. She's not forgotten all the things that have happened. She's not forgotten that she's lost hope. But she's seen a little glimpse of hope and a little glimmer, just like she did before she left Synnax when she solved the proof, and she was able to leave and save herself. Those are the moments that I think she's just so driven, that even when she has lost, or hurts, just the slightest little bit of hope can pull her back. That's an incredible quality to have and something I can probably learn a lot from Gaal.

Many sci-fi stories present women in a position of power as being very masculine in terms of their physicality. But Gaal's power is in her role as a scientist and a mathematician. She's incredibly smart and empathetic because of her talents that are happening inside of her head. What are your thoughts on portraying that kind of woman to audiences?

I think it just shows power that is not like the obvious kind of power. You have to be strong. I mean, those things are also really powerful and really interesting and I think that is good to portray. That's wonderful. But I also think there's power in stillness and silence and trying to figure things out in your head and doing it in such a way that you're not just doing it selfishly. Gaal doesn't seem very selfish to me. She seems like someone who wants to be part of the Foundation. She agrees to it because she wants to save humanity. And she wants to try and save a piece of every single part of humanity, not just the humanity at the core of the universe, but to keep a little bit of something from everyone else. She's emotionally aware of the people around her and her surroundings. I think that's a very important and strong way to be in something. It shows strength and courage and power as well in its own way.

New episodes of Foundation air on Fridays on Apple TV+.