Nearly every episode of Altered Carbon has a kill-or-be-killed action sequence, a nude scene, or a difficult-to-conceptualize moment where someone is riding someone else’s body – sometimes all three at once. This is a show where multiple actors play the same character, where the body is but a sleeve that people wear and discard like used clothing.
It can make the portrayal of those characters a little challenging, because it requires many of the actors to essentially play multiple parts, and to share their character with someone else. So SYFY WIRE asked the cast of Altered Carbon to share the hardest moments on the show to conceptualize and execute, and — surprise, surprise — it wasn’t all null-gravity knife fights.
**SPOILER ALERT: There are spoilers for Altered Carbon below**
Renée Elise Goldsberry (Quellcrist Falconer)
The better a scene is written, the harder it is for Goldsberry to play. “The more epic it is, the more frightening it is to think, ‘Oh my god, we have to pull this off,’” she explained. And so while she liked shooting at a location that helped fulfill the vision of the show, the suspension bridge scene where her character recruits Takeshi Kovacs in Episode 7 was especially daunting.
“When we finally get to see Quell on her own world, in her own time, when she’s not a version of what Kovacs needs, wants, or is dreaming of, and she finally speaks, that was challenging,” Goldsberry said. “Who is she? What is she? How do I get out of my head? How do I really just kind of look at him, and talk?”
The actress said that being on the bridge wasn’t just scary, but also “incredibly romantic,” since she got through the scene by looking deep into Will Yun Lee’s eyes, “to discover who those two characters were.” “It was really beautiful,” she said.
Will Yun Lee (Takeshi Kovacs)
Lee and Kinnaman play the same character, but in separate bodies. (Lee’s is the original body, and Kinnaman’s is a rental.) So even though Lee helped brainstorm moments for the character, they weren’t all for him to play as an actor – not that he minded.
“This is an example of how well the show worked,” he explained. “We actually all talked and developed the characters together. Dichen [Lachman] and I were talking about how do we connect the two of us, so that the audience believes that we’re siblings, that there is connective tissue, even when we’re in separate bodies?”
Lachman came up with an idea borrowed from a traditional Tibetan greeting, touching foreheads. Viewers see the actors who play Takeshi and his sister Reileen as children do it at pivotal bonding moments, and then see Kinnaman and Lachman do it as their final goodbye in Episode 10. “For it to make the screen, to make it to the other side of Joel’s body was so rewarding,” Lee said. “It felt like we were in the process of creating with the creator of the show.”
Joel Kinnaman (Takeshi Kovacs)
Not only does Takeshi Kovacs struggle with the fact that he’s not in his own body, but he’s also got residue from his sleeve’s previous owner, a cop named Elias Ryker, a cop who had been in a romantic relationship with his partner, Kristin Ortega, and retains a chemical attraction to her.
When Kovacs starts feeling the pull of those same pheromones with Ortega (played by Martha Higareda) and the two finally act on it in Episode 5, “it’s such an Altered Carbon moment,” Kinnaman said. “It’s a love triangle, but I’m two parts of the triangle. It’s completely going through the same kind of thing that you would with jealousy for someone’s ex, only that I’m jealous of the body that I’m wearing. I’m jealous of myself, in a weird way.”
The jealousy manifests itself when Kovacs asks Ortega to explain the scars on his sleeve, and the two start touching. “I love how it was completely logical, even though it’s so odd,” Kinnaman said.
Martha Higareda (Kristin Ortega)
It’s not every day that you have to fight a succession of naked women, but that’s what Kristin Ortega has to do when she stumbles upon Reileen’s “womb,” where she stores at least half a dozen clones for backup, and Reileen needlecasts into them one by one to take on the intruding cop in Episode 8.
“I have a lot of admiration for Dichen, who plays Reileen,” Higareda said. “She carried that scene just like her body was nothing. She was impersonating this beautiful woman who was so powerful, she could care less if she were naked or not.”
The scene took four days to shoot, and was tightly choreographed, since it required “all these beautiful women,” as in the multiple body doubles who resembled Dichen Lachman. “I loved the moment we had as women just sharing this space together,” Higareda said.
The actress also loved the result of that scene, which is that Reileen borrows Kristin’s sleeve and takes it for a ride in Episode 9. “I got to play Reileen!” she exclaimed. “That was so much fun. That’s losing the accent, moving as she does, while being naked with Joel in front of me, and the whole crew, for the whole scene. You’re vulnerable, but because it’s Reileen, you get to play it powerfully.”
James Purefoy (Laurens Bancroft)
Of course, nothing is more powerful than a god. One of the scenes that made Purefoy accept the part of the long-living, mega-rich “Meth” Laurens Bancroft comes in Episode 5, when he visits the descendants of plague victims in a restricted-area, sealed-off refugee camp, doing what his wife refers to as “ministering to the masses.” Guards warn, “You touch them, you die,” but Laurens touches them freely, because prolonged skin contact is not a danger to someone who has a nearly endless supply of backup clones. What does it matter if this particular sleeve dies? And walking among them — flaunting the ability to die and be reborn — gives him a charge.
“I loved this idea,” Purefoy said. “I loved the duality of being so monstrously egotistical that you would keep coming back, week after week after week, dying and being reborn, dying and being reborn, and still coming back. They would see you as a living god.”
Bancroft rattles off the names of gods and figures in various mythologies — Odin, Jupiter, Zeus, and Colossus — to underscore what he means when he says, “I give them something to believe in.”
Bancroft deems dying on the people’s behalf a “sacrifice,” but Kovacs calls him out on it and calls it “theater,” pointing out that if Bancroft truly cared for the plague carriers, he could buy them new sleeves. Instead, he prefers to be worshiped. “The contradiction between being selfless and selfish was fascinating,” Purefoy said. “And it was probably true. You can be selfish and still help someone.”