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Since Netflix announced the cancellation of The OA in early August, devoted fans and disciples of the mind-bending sci-fi series have been grappling with the news in disparate ways. Some fans have seized on the revelations in the show’s second season finale and insisted the cancellation is actually a ruse, an extension of the series finale's meta-narrative; many others have waged campaigns on Twitter and in real life, hoping to #SaveTheOA. It’s unclear just how many people watched creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s show — Netflix doesn’t release those statistics — but that audience’s obsession cannot be questioned.
On Monday afternoon, a digital billboard in Times Square paid for by devoted fans pleaded with Netflix to reverse the cancellation, and series co-star Jason Isaacs expressed just how much the show meant to him, too. In a conversation with SYFY WIRE initially focused on his role in another Netflix series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Isaacs, who played the villainous Dr. Hap in the show, expressed his appreciation and solidarity with the OA fans — and shared some difficult news about the reality of the show’s demise. The British actor also discussed his role in Star Trek: Discovery, the mysteries surrounding his own ending in that series, and his long run with both fan theories and NDAs.
I know The OA meant a lot to you, as an actor and audience member. How did you take the news of the cancellation?
I was heartbroken it was over it, because I think it's one of the most original — or maybe the most original — and special series I've been in. But more importantly, it affected people so profoundly, so much more than just watching the story. People were helped by it, many of them. There was a man recently posted an incredibly moving story about how it helped him through the death of his son, and there were many instances of that, people who faced all kinds of challenges who were inspired by it. To say it had a message is to take away from the art of it, I think, but somehow there was still a human connection.
It's very sad, but it's such a positive show that I had to take from it the gratitude for having made two seasons, for Netflix for having had the balls to commission something so extraordinary and unlike anything I'd ever seen before, and then the fans for embracing it. They are meeting even as I speak to you now, they're doing flash mobs of the movements, and they're demonstrating, and they're waving placards outside Netflix headquarters.
I can't judge anyone at Netflix for doing their job. I don't know what they're job is or how they decide what they do. I wouldn't want their job. I'm just really glad that we got to do the two seasons. I'm personally heartbroken that we're not making anymore, but not for my employment prospects, but because I was a fan. I'm dying to see — because I know they've got it mapped out. I'm hoping one day they'll sit down with me and talk me through season three, four, and five just as a fan so they can finish the story for me.
Between The OA, Star Trek: Discovery, Harry Potter, you’ve been in a lot of shows and movies with beyond-passionate fandoms.
Well, it's always the writers. I'm lucky. If I was broke, I would be out there making D-movies, and you'd see me, I don't know, touting around machine guns and working with action stars of the '60s who've had terrible hair transplants. But as it is at the moment, and it's only at the moment, I'm lucky enough to be able to try and choose great writers, and if you hitch your wagon to really talented artists, you look much better as an actor. It's been a privilege to be around the Star Trek fans, and the Harry Potter fans, and The OA fans, and the Star Wars fans from Star Wars Rebels, and these are passionate communities.
It always boils down to a person in a room, a man, or a woman, or a team of them sitting in a room, and dreaming up stories, because the technology may change, but we've always gathered as human beings to be told stories, originally around the campfire, because that in many ways stories are what bind us together as human beings. Our ability to imagine outside ourselves is maybe what separates us from the animals.
Do you spend a lot of time reading fans’ thoughts and fan theories? There are often mysterious surrounding your characters, particularly with Star Trek.
The sensible and cool thing to say is, no, I just do the work and move on, but the answer is I read every single punctuation mark and syllable. It's exciting to know that people are as engaged imaginatively in the show as we were when we were making it, and particularly the projects I care about. The last years, I've been blessed [to be] in a bunch of stuff I thought was great. I've been in plenty of stuff I thought was mediocre or instantly dismissible, but with Star Trek, and The OA, and the Potters and stuff, I'm continually excited and inspired by how much it's engaged people.
Frankly, having done this for decades, there've been periods of time and phases when I'm very bored of it, and very bored of myself, and I'm very bored of the bland stories that are being told to fill the gaps between commercials, so to get to be in things I think put something useful, interesting in the world, and Death of Stalin and Hotel Mumbai, which is coming out soon in Britain, I've had a bit of a run. I'm probably due for another couple years of some really awful rubbish, but I'm trying to be grateful where the good stuff comes.
What are your favorite Star Trek or OA fan theories?
Oh well, look, mostly the thing about Star Trek is people want to know where's prime Lorca, because mirror Lorca swapped, so obviously prime Lorca's somewhere. Did he die? Is he alive? Will we ever see him again? The answer is it's Star Trek. If you know anything about Star Trek, everything is possible. It should happen when people least expect it.
Do you have theories on that?
Yeah, I have a ton of theories. I also talk to the writers relatively regularly, and I'm pretty used to not disclosing too much having been around Potter, but it started with me in Armageddon. I was in Armageddon. I remember asking to read the script before I went in to audition. They said, "Well, there isn't a script." I said, "There must be a script. How are you going to make the film if you don't have a script? It doesn't make any sense."
They let me go to the office early, and I read a script in a glass-sided room, and the assistant who gave it to me, it's printed on dark red paper. I probably wouldn't be able to read it now at my age, and he said, he handed it to me, he said, "You have one hour. Please don't read it out loud." So my experience with nondisclosure agreements came very early, and I'm pretty tight-lipped.
I’m not looking for spoilers here, but I wonder if you knew all along about the big Lorca twist, or if you were told at some point as you were shooting the season? Because that’d impact the way you played the character.
I knew everything. If you watch it more than once, and dare I say that most Star Trek fans have it watched it more than once, you'll see that I drop a million breadcrumbs and clues all the way through. In fact, it's a bit like The Sixth Sense. You watch it a second time, you just keep slapping yourself in the forehead and go, "Duh. I'm such a moron. How did I not pick that up?"
No, I knew all the way through. I knew exactly what was going on, exactly what... because then I had that thing that all actors are desperate for, which is I had a secret. I knew what I wanted, and I knew how I was lying and manipulating to try and get it, and then how those plans changed along the way. Otherwise, you can't play a scene. You can't play a scene with a secret if you don't know what the secret is.