The Man in High Castle is an extremely ambitions series. Chronicling the events twenty years after the Allied forces lost World War II, the US is split between Nazi and Japanese control. At the high level, the forces in power are vying for more control of the fractured North American continent. Caught in the middle of everything is Juliana, an American living in San Francisco under Japanese Imperial rule who happens upon a piece of contraband that could be the key to fixing everything. I got a chance to sit down with the actress behind Juliana, Alexa Davalos at New York Comic Con to talk about the influences of the character and the prospect of working on such a complex show.
Can you talk about how you got involved with the project?
Yeah, I read it. I was in England at the time and I read the script and I auditioned with an iPhone. Thank you, technology. I was very much a Luddite, and still am in part, but that kind of shifted things for me a little bit, and it went from there.
This is a fascinating premise. What was your impression of it?
It’s fascinating because I’ve always been interested in this idea of what if. I think we all walk around in our lives thinking ‘What if we hadn’t met so and so, or hadn’t been there at that time on that day.’ We live in a world where we question things and I think this is an incredible opportunity to take those questions into a world that is then visceral. It sort of blows open the doors of your imagination, like what could have been and what would have changed and what the world would have been today had it unfolded differently. It’s an incredibly immersive world and it takes up all of our headspace. We live in it.
Did you read the book before you read the pilot?
I had. Years and years ago a friend of mine was absolutely obsessed and in love with the book. I had read it a long, long time ago. It stayed with me and when this came up it felt like a little sign from somewhere. A gift.
Do you have any interest in historical fiction outside of Man in the High Castle?
I have to say this is my first real experience with it. Yes, history is something I’ve always been in love with in kind of an odd way. I do a lot of period work. World War II specifically is an area I seem to find myself in quite often.
This being another period piece, and being a kind of alternate 1960s, do you approach it differently than you would otherwise?
Yes, I think the world she’s living in – I mean yes and no. I think people who are marginalized and living in oppression and living under occupied rule, that’s something you connect to for many different reasons and many different eras. In a way it was the same, but I think because it’s so fantastic to wrap your head around what it’s like to live in Japanese occupied territory within the United States, there’s different elements that come into play. And mainly physicality I think and mannerism. She being in the world of the Japanese has a certain level of that demure physical comportment that wouldn’t be elsewhere. It shifts things for sure.
Is there anything about this series that you think is going to surprise fans of the book?
Yeah, I hope in a good way. [laughs] I think because it’s serialized television, the idea is to basically stretch it as long as we can, as much as we can. We’re taking little pieces of the book and it’s very slow unfolding. So I’m sure there will be questions of ‘what about this?’ and ‘this didn’t happen.’ I think the answer is not yet. The idea is to move forward as long as we can, so we have to savor those little pieces.
How different have you seen Juliana between the book and what you’ve filmed so far that you can tell us about?
There are differences, for sure, in terms of her dynamic with the Frank character, with the Joe character. That’s a very different scenario within our series, and that obviously changes things. But who she is in the book is in there and is sort of seeping out, so we see more and more and more of who she is.
Does the first season encompass the whole first book, or does it go beyond where the book ends?
Oh, no, no, not even. We’re just unveiling little tiny – Frank is brilliant at pacing serialized work like this. So no, we’re nowhere near the end of it.
Is there anyone specifically in the cast that you were excited to work with that you’ve heard of before?
Oh my god, DJ Qualls. Hands down. I want to hug him always, even just looking at him. He’s incredible. Rufus Sewell is an incredible actor. My God, his work in this is just… Yeah, I will spoil nothing. He’s extraordinary. Rupert Evans, amazing work. We have a really beautiful group of people. The throughline with all of us is how much we love this part, which is not usually the case. Often people are there just to do a job and that’s fair, but that was not the case here.
When we first meet you in the pilot you’re doing martial arts.
Did you learn to do that for that scene?
Yeah, for her it’s integral to who she is. In the book it’s Judo and in our world it’s Aikido. That was a very specific choice. Yeah, there was a lot of preparation. I am too meticulous I would say about things like that, so I put a ton of time into training and not just for the choreography, but for her physical movement and the way she carries herself.
You said that was a specific choice to go from Judo to Aikido. Was it your choice?
No, that was a choice that Frank made. I think there’s a sort of grace and a dance element to Aikido. It’s a little bit more gentle. It’s a little bit more moving meditation, actually, when you do it. I think that was important for them. They wanted to sort of shift that sideways.
It seems like the show is kind of fractured, so you have what’s going on in yours and you have the Japanese imperial story. Did you guys meet? Was the filming kind of separate? Are you guys meeting for the first time at stuff like this?
Oh, no we spent a lot of time together, but as far as the storylines go, at this stage in the game they are fairly separate and that is just starting.
When you think about how this project was greenlit too, it’s amazing in showing us the future of entertainment and how you already have such support from subscribers.
It’s kind of magical. When you think about the way that network television, for example, there’s executives making decisions about whether or not things move forward. In this case, we’re making this for the people. That’s why we do what we do. The fact that the people get to see it and appreciate it, or not, or express themselves and be part of it is kind of a beautiful thing. Brand new. It feels like we’re on the brink of something really special.
Was the production different for this TV show versus other shows you’ve worked on because it’s for Amazon, because it’s for streaming?
Yeah, I mean Amazon, I have to say, the level of freedom and liberty – which is ironic considering the story we’re telling – the level of freedom in making this project come to life, the collaboration and the constant creative exchange with everyone, with Frank, has been amazing. And all of us, that we have a voice, that we have a say in the development of our characters. It’s been creatively one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of.
So since a lot of people will watch this the same way, in a sitting almost like a movie. What do you hope that they’ll, from start to finish, take away from it?
It’s such a difficult thing because I think art is so subjective and I think people sort of sit down and, you know, you and I would absorb something completely different from the same material, so I hate to kind of blanket statement what I hope they take away from it. It really, really inspires imagination for me, this piece, because there’s this endless possibility. What if? What if this had happened? Where would we be? What would America be? Where would we be? Once you unravel that one little thread, you pull that one thread and the whole thing comes apart. That’s what we aim to do is to get people thinking and questioning and hopefully they love the characters. That’s my personal hope, is that they connect to us, that they love these people. That makes the story.
How would you prefer to watch a show like this? Would you kind of spread it out? do you think you would you go through it all at once? Are you a fan of binging shows?
I just started this new world of bingeing. I couldn’t wrap my head around it until recently and now I understand that there is that incredible impulse to just, you know, just one more. I think, thankfully, this show has that element that makes you want to keep going forward. But it’s like a book. I feel like in today’s day and age we’re reading novels in a sense by watching television in this way. If you want to read a chapter or two, or three, or seven, that’s up to you. The freedom of that is beautiful.
Matthew Nando Kelly is an incredibly cool and handsome staff writer for Pop-Break who was allowed to write his own bio. Besides weekly Flash recaps, he focuses on film, television, music, and video games. Matthew also has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he discusses pop culture related brackets with fellow Pop-Break writer DJ Chapman. He has an unshakable love for U2, cats, and the New Orleans Saints. His twitter handle is @NationofNando. Did we mention how handsome he was?