Season 1 of Syfy’s The Expanse earned praise from both fans of the book series and critics alike. The show has drawn comparisons to Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica, often being called a hybrid of the two. While that’s impressive company to keep, it’s doesn’t mean Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham ( the authors behind the pen name James SA Corey) or showrunners Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby are about to rest on their laurels anytime soon. In fact, they saw their inaugural season as a bit of a learning experience and planned to come back bigger and better in Season 2.
First, a quick recap: Last season left off with Miller and Holden finally coming together and finding Julie Mao, or at least what was left of her. But the discovery of her body left the detective and Rocinante crew with more questions than answers, namely identifying the strange blue goo that killed her, where it came from, why she was killed and how any of this came to be. Adding to the wtf-ness for viewers was the revelation that Julie's own father was behind the production of the unnamed bioweapon that killed her.
As the show readies to head back into production April 20, I spoke with Ty Franck and Daniel Abrams about what’s in store for Season 2, the diversity of their cast ( for which the shows been praised) and the big casting news for fan favorite and certified badass Bobbie Draper.
I spent a little time on Reddit and saw some of the fan casting that was happening for Bobbie Draper. It seemed like the one name everyone threw around was Gwendoline Christie, which, I mean she’s tall, which is about the only thing she has in common with Bobbie Draper.
Daniel: I think it’s really interesting seeing how everybody has the actors who they loved in iconic roles in other shows who they want to bring into ours and it seems like a terrible plan. If you have Gwen or Katee Sackhoff, you’d just be remembering the other thing that they did and not really be thinking about our show.
Ty: It’s interesting to me how it seems like people have this tendency to boil character down to a single attribute and then cast for that single attribute. So the people who want Bobbie to be kickass want to cast Gina Carano because Gina Carano can kick ass, and that’s like the only thing those two have in common. Or Gwendoline Christie because she’s tall, which is the only thing her and Bobbie have in common. What we really tried to do was get more than one. We wanted many of the attributes of Bobbie in common with the actress we cast as her rather than just focus on a single thing.
What were some of those attributes?
Ty: Definitely her identity is very tied in with her ethnicity, so we wanted a Polynesian or Samoan actress. She is very physical, so we wanted an actress who was very comfortable being physical. An actress who never appeared to be intimidated in any situation who could occupy as much space as any of the other cast could and be intimidating to them. Attitude is part of it, and of course, you want someone who can actually act.
Daniel: And we do put that character through the wringer. I mean, she has a lot of range she has to have. Somebody who’s uncomfortable be strong and vulnerable and intelligent wouldn’t have worked.
Ty: It’s not a one-note part.
Would you say this has been the most difficult part to cast so far?
Ty: Yup. The only other one that came close was Julie Mao. The difference here is Bobbie has a lot more screen time than Julie did in the first season. So the stakes were even higher for us to get this right.
And Bobbie plays an important part in the books. So … who’s playing Bobbie?
Ty: So, we found an actress in New Zealand named Frankie Adams. She’s been a local star in NZ for a while and played a variety of parts and is also an amateur female boxer. And she’s 6 feet tall. She’s tall, she’s athletic, she can act, and she’s Samoan. She had a lot of range to her. People in the States haven't seen her before, so she’ll seem knew to them even though she has a lot of experience. I think people are going to be really excited to see her.
It sounds like you found a unicorn.
Ty: I think we have.
You guys have been hailed for the diverse cast of the show, which obviously we know is in line with the books. I know from talking with Ty that it’s not just in front of the camera. Can you talk a bit about creating a truly diverse cast and crew?
Ty: It takes a fair amount of work whether or not the talent is there, and I agree the talent is there, but the mechanisms by which you acquire talent haven’t caught up to the talent pool yet. Casting agents definitely work with us to find the diversity that we want, but they end up having, say, 9,000 white guys that can play a role versus 20 non white guys for it. You have to know that going in and be dedicated to working a little harder and casting agents are going to have to work a little harder to get the diverse cast that you want.
Daniel: It’s hard to address a large systemic issue when you only have control over one part. We have this one little slice we can play in, and we have the influence and do the things we can do, and we can have make some decisions about our project, it’s just a drop in a bucket. That said, I do think that drops are how buckets get filled up.
Ty: You do what you can do with the access and influence you have, and you hope that you’re making things better by at least a little bit. If enough people do that, then things will get better.
In Season 1 you made same noticeable changes, like bringing Chrisjen Avasarala into the fold much early than she appears in the books. How true are you staying to the books and how much are you deviating? How do those decisions get made?
Daniel: There’s this great book about translation that talks about what issues or part of the translation you're privileging. We did a really interesting thing with this show in privileging the story over the plot. We wound up with different things happening, things shake out different ways. People are doing things in different orders and events happening in the show that didn't happen in the book. Characters get dropped and put together all in the service of having the character arcs and the meaning of the story and the effect of the story be the same.
Ty: The short answer is, we’re going to have some things different from the books this season and we’re not going to spoil it and you have to watch the show to find out.
Daniel: Only the right things will be different.
Let's talk about the appearance of Bobbie Draper. She doesn’t show up in the books until Caliban’s War. So, are we to assume that that’s where we are now in the show and that this season is pulling from that book in particular, or are you sprinkling aspects of multiple books into this season?
Ty: Well there's about a third of Leviathan Wakes that didn’t get covered in the first season, so we still have to wrap that up. There will also be stuff from the second book. The first book will get finished and the second book will be dramatized.
Daniel: The series isn’t really an adaptation of each individual book in chunks, it’s an adaptation of the whole story. Things that showed up in book 5 or book 3, if it’s organic and it makes sense to have them come earlier, then we’re going to do that. In Season 1, we pulled some stuff from short stories and from the novellas and that’s all part of the universe and all part of the story moving forward.
Ty: And we’ll continue to do that, to pull from the novellas and short stories. Mark and Hawk know where the story’s going. They’re very conscious of getting this all in.
You guys received a lot of praise for Season 1 and are even Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Does this add pressure going into season 2 or does it motivate you? Has it impacted you or the story at all?
Ty: Honestly, not at all. The plan from the beginning was to be better in Season 2, anyway. You learn a lot. Our showrunner has been working on TV shows for 20 years and he has said every show finds its footing in its second season. We knew that there would be things we learned in the first season that would make us better in the second season. When we got all those great reviews, that was great and I was happy about that, but it didn’t change our commitment to being better when we came back.
In addition to this big casting news, is there anything else you can tell us about Season 2?
Daniel: Without being specific, having read all of the scripts and seeing all of the outlines and knowing how the story plays out, I expect season 2 to be better.
Ty: I think we’re going to blow people out of their chairs with our first episode and we’re not going to slow down from there.