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INTERVIEW: Colony’s Sarah Wayne Callis

The Walking Dead alumnus and now Colony star playing Katie Bowman spoke to us about the first season before the finale aired.

I just want to talk about, Katie’s always being pulled in both directions, obviously from the Resistance and from her husband. Can you kind of talk about playing that dichotomy in your character?

Sarah Wayne Callies: I think it’s called being a woman. There’s something I think about being a working mom. Almost every working mother I know feels a constant sense of guilt and failure that either you’ve devoted so much time to your family that the people at work are feeling like you’re not sufficiently contributing, or that you’ve poured so much of yourself into your work that you’re (unintelligible) sufficiently there for your family.

And so obviously in Colony, that’s heightened because Katie’s work is no longer running a bar. Katie’s work is, you know, undertaking Resistance with an eye towards (degrading) not only her family but her city and possibly her species. But I think, you know, as we see in episode nine, part of the cost of that work has been…not seeing what’s going on in her own house with their children. And so you know, I mean, when it comes to playing it, it’s not real hard for me to go down that road, because every morning I leave my kids and I go to work. I’m a breadwinner for a family. It’s war.

And I observe in my life that none of my male colleagues speaks the same amount of kind of internal tearing that all the working moms I know feel, and I don’t know quite why that is, but I think maybe culturally we need to soften things a little bit for those of us who are trying to do the family and the work thing, because it does tear you up a little bit in ways that I think we probably could improve.

Was there anyone — either a character or a person in particular — that you kind of were inspired when you played her? Or did you just take everything from the script? Obviously, you added your experience as a mother, but was there anything kind of else that you brought into it?

Sarah Wayne Callies: Yes. This is going to sound a little crazy — Joan of Arc. I realized – sounds kind of, I mean, it started as a bit of joke, which is that Katie is from New Orleans, which is why the bar is what it is. And another term for a bartender is a barmaid. And so the Maid of Orleans is what they used to call Joan of Arc. So it started as like I just had this weird brain fart and I emailed Ryan and Carlton and I was like clearly you based this character on Joan of Arc. And they laughed and we thought it was weird. And then I was like, let me just go watch a movie about Joan of Arc. And I went in the back and I reread Saint Joan. And I do think there’s something interesting to the idea that Katie, like Joan, is a true believer. And Katie, like Joan, runs face first into that role where your ideology meets the reality of trying to mount a resistance.

And so in that sense, I think they both go in, you know, giving that they’re doing quote unquote “The Lord’s work” like I am doing the moral, ethical, right thing, and I have no qualms about that. I might be afraid, but I won’t let my fear stop me from trying to do the right thing. And then all of a sudden, these are women neck deep in politics and ethics for which they’re not equipped. And they have to catch up very quickly. So, you know, it did start as (stuff) that there was something that I found actually very cool about it. Juan Campanella also had us watch a movie called the Battle of Algiers that immediately became one of the best films I’ve ever seen. And there was a lot in that film about femininity as a tool of war, which is why I put Katie in dresses and try to kind of articulate a femininity in her characterization.

Tony Tellado: Hi, Sarah. Big fan since Prison Break and of course The Walking Dead and now Colony. So you’re doing a great job.

Sarah Wayne Callies: Hey, thanks.

Tony Tellado: Wanted to ask you, that very cool argument in that fantastic backyard that you have on the show between you and, you know, your husband when you’re arguing back and forth and he’s like, “I saved you,” and you go, “I saved you, too.” From your point of view, to me I thought it was really a game changer in their relationship. You know, how do you feel about that?

Sarah Wayne Callies: Yes, I agree. I mean, I think in way, the whole first season builds to that conversation. Will and Katie, I think that in a way, Will and Katie learn that love is not all you need, in the first season, that these ideological differences really may become profoundly problematic in their marriage. And I think there’s a (unintelligible) of trust that over the course of the season but that really culminates in that final argument. It’s a tough thing to come back from.

Tony Tellado: Yes.

Sarah Wayne Callies: And, you know, particularly I think when Will says to Katie, “You put the noose around those kids’ necks,” meaning Rachel’s son. That’s a huge bomb to drop on someone, and certainly people say things in the heat of the moment that they don’t mean, but I think that’s one of those arguments in a marriage that’s going to take them a long time to recover from.

Tony Tellado: Yes, definitely. You know, another thing that I love about her is when, you know, she’s already been in killing situations and just, you know, we really see it through the eyes of the audience how she reacts to the killing. Like, you know, Broussard, he’s more used to it. But, you know, for her it’s all something very alien to her. Kind of speak to how that kind of weighs on her as well.

Sarah Wayne Callies: Well, you know, I mean Katie is — among the people that we see in the Resistance — Katie is one of the few I think that we really get to know who doesn’t have any experience tactically. She’s not military trained. She’s not law enforcement trained. You know, she knows how to shoot a gun because she spent time in New Orleans and her husband’s a former Army Ranger, but there’s not – I think all of the things that you have to do internally to get right with the idea that you might have to take someone’s life, Katie hasn’t done that stuff, because she’s a bartender. And she has had the great privilege of never having to get her hands dirty in the name of anything she believes in — you know, liberty, free society, et cetera.

And so, she’s unprepared for – she’s thrown in the middle and she doesn’t have the coping skills. I’m sorry. Give me one second. (Unintelligible). Yes, ma’am, I am. 2:30. Thank you. Sorry. Every 20 minutes this hotel has been trying to convince me that I have to check out.

Yes, so she doesn’t have the emotional framework to do the work that she’s doing, and so it takes an enormous toll on her. And I think by the end of the season, it wouldn’t surprise me — and I don’t know anything about season two — but it wouldn’t surprise me if she started season two as a confirmed pacifist, just somebody who refuses to take arms again because the cost has been so great.

Tony Tellado: Yes. No, she’s great. I mean, I just think it’s a great part for you. I really do, you know, it’s really cool.

Sarah Wayne Callies: Thanks. I love her. And you know, she’s closer to me than anybody I’ve ever played, which is a little terrifying, to be honest. I feel more exposed in her skin than in anyone else. But, she’s sensational and you know, the fact that Ryan and Carlton have articulated her so well, with such complexity. It’s a huge gift. I love playing her.

Why do you think that Katie hasn’t told Will about her part in the Resistance, even before he kind of got forced into fighting the Resistance? And maybe even more importantly, do you think you could keep a secret that big from your husband?

Sarah Wayne Callies: Well I will say that Nelson McCormick, who directed episode six, came to me at a certain point during the filming and he said, “I don’t think your husband should watch this episode.” I said, “Why?” He said, “No man wants to know his wife can lie this well.” And that gave me something to think about.

I mean, first of all, I don’t think Katie was very significantly involved with the Resistance until Will was forced into collaboration. You know, I think these were people in her orbit. I think she warped, you know, she might have taken a flyer from here to there, but she was not neck deep with them. And I think she makes the decision to join their work fully as a response to Will’s forced collaboration. And it’s partly as a means to protect him, but also a need to balance this (unintelligible) just thinking, you know, I can’t stomach the thought of being a collaborating family. That’s just sort of more than I can take.

And she doesn’t tell him, because it’s the best way to keep him safe. You know, I mean, Juan Campanella, the director of the first three episodes, grew up in Argentina under a dictatorship. He talked to us quite a lot about just those conditions of knowing that people disappear all the time and knowing that information can be an extremely powerful but also very dangerous currency. And I think for Will to have plausible deniability, if he was ever questioned about his wife’s activities, could save his life.

And so Katie would never want to put him in a position of having to withhold information that could kill him.

Do you feel that you have a responsibility to portray women in a way that other women can identify with?

Sarah Wayne Callies: You know what’s seducing? I’ve had this strong woman question a lot in the last couple of months, and what I found myself thinking, I think all women are strong. I think just getting through the day, making whatever 60 cents on the dollar and having to put up with the high heels and the way men treat you and the way men look at you and the double standards of beauty and aging and everything else. You know, I kind of feel like sister, if you just get from the beginning of the day to the end, you’re strong. You’re a warrior. Because God knows you’re doing twice as much and you’re not getting twice the compensation.

I don’t know. They seem to be the roles that I get cast in. I don’t know that I feel a responsibility to play strong women. I think that’s just how they come out of me. But I do feel a certain responsibility, particularly as a mother of a daughter, to try and work with certain kinds of other aspects of my business that can be problematic, you know, about vanity and commodification of women’s bodies and stuff like that. It’s a tricky line to walk, but you know, I certainly am trying not to get wrapped up in aging.

I’m trying to promote images of women’s bodies as having to be hypersexualized, having to be super thin. I’m aware of that, I think in a new way, having a daughter who will be growing up looking at those images and contending with her own relationship with those images — not only of me, but of women all over. You know, it’s the reason I turned down the cover of Maxim, because I knew someday — I didn’t even have a kid then — but I knew that someday I would have a daughter and I didn’t want her to look at an image of her mom like that and try and find a way of folding that into her own sense of sexuality and femininity and identity as a woman.

I don’t know that I’m doing very well, by the way. I don’t know that I’m succeeding. But I am doing my best to contend with those things.

Was that something that actually made you want to take the role of Katie? And what else actually drew you to that role?

Sarah Wayne Callies: You know, I mean, the thing about Katie, as I said, she is closer to me than anyone I think I’ve ever (been cast). And that scared me enough that it made me want to do it. I tend to walk towards things that scare me. But Katie also was every bit as fully developed and articulated as Will in this story, and I think often wives and mothers are accessories to leading men. And it felt to me, reading the pilot script, that Katie’s philosophical universe was as fully represented as Will’s, which made it a really exciting exploration because you can present two very different ethical responses to a dictatorship, to an occupation. And you could have a real dialogue because they were two fully articulated human beings. One happens to be a woman. One happens to be a man.

And I think that dialogue actually is the reason that I wanted to take this job, because I think it’s a really important time right now to be talking about the role of citizens in resisting oppressive governments.

What do you hope people take away when they watch the show?

Sarah Wayne Callies: You know, I hope primarily people take away a sense of entertainment, because none of us want to do homework. And I wouldn’t want to show, as ideological and political as it is, I wouldn’t want it to feel like homework.

I’ve said this all over the place, but the first season of Battlestar Galactica was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, because it was so entertaining and I loved watching it. And it was one of the most salient discussions on the Patriot Act that I saw anybody having anywhere.

And I would be so happy if Colony followed in those footsteps — of a show where you just care so much (unintelligible) people and it’s such an interesting and unique world. And while we’re doing that, we’re also talking about the genesis of resistance and the nature of resistance and the definitions between resistance and terrorism, and governments and oppression and repression. That would be – it’s a really tricky balance. It’s a very difficult line to walk, but I think if anyone can walk it, it’s Ryan. You know, it’s Ryan Condal and Carlton Cuse. And I’m sort of along for the ride doing my best on my end. Does that make any sense?

Broussard and Katie have kind of become confidants over the course of the show so far. But the history between them is still a mystery. Can you shed any light as to how they became friends and how they kind of grew to trust each other over everyone else?

Sarah Wayne Callies: You know, I think part of that has to do with the history of a bartender and a patron, you know. Broussard and Katie got to know each other before it all happened. And I always imagine that, you know, he’d come into the bar between deployments and she recognized in him a man like her husband — someone who’s, you know, a military man and somebody who’s been through some stuff and someone who needs maybe a little bit of space to deal with what he’s been through and what he’s seen, a space not to be judged and a space maybe not for anyone to say I know how you’re feeling, because in my experience, a lot of vets feel things that no one can understand.

And so, I think they developed a respect and a friendship before it all happened, before it all went down. I don’t know if they will go this route or not, but something Tory and I talked about is a possibility that when the arrival happened, he was in the bar and he was one of the people who helped Katie get out. Tory and I talked about it. We shared it with Ryan and Carlton. I don’t know if they’ll build that into our backstory, but.

So I think part of it has to do with that kind of history. And I think another part of it (unintelligible) I think (we all) have a gut feeling about the people in our lives that we can really trust. And it doesn’t – sometimes it happens right away. Sometimes it evolves over time. But there are people in your life that you just go ok, I’m all in. I trust you. And I think Katie brings that trust out in Broussard and it’s a trust he doesn’t have for many people.

And I think she just absolutely trusts him, which is why, you know, Quale’s orders to have her killed I think really shake Katie to her foundation, because she sees that Broussard is contemplating it. It’s his nature as a man who follows the chain of command is contending his (unintelligible). Yes.

So when he emerges up the other side of that as a human being, I think then he becomes somebody that like – I think that does bring them ironically closer together.

It seems like there are a lot of fans who are not happy with Katie, who really feel like she should be doing what she can to protect her family. And you know, in the argument with Will she says that she’s protecting basically everybody’s families is kind of her attitude I think.What would you say to those people who are saying Katie needs to get out of the Resistance work and follow Will?

Sarah Wayne Callies: Should the French Resistance have given up and followed the Nazis? There’s – the history of civil society is the history of resistance. And I think Katie’s perspective is it’s not enough to just raise children. You have to raise children that are free.And you see it in her daughter that this little girl is getting used to it. She’s only eight. And so, her memory, the longer this goes on, her memory is more and more a memory of checkpoints and breadlines and curfews and people being afraid of their government. And I think Katie feels very strongly that the greatest act of love is fighting for her children’s intellectual and creative and spiritual freedom.

The characters of Katie and Lori Grimes in the Walking Dead, they’re sort of in a similar situation — they’re trying to hold their families together and preserve some degree of normality despite, you know, what’s a big shock to the society they live in. So, can you compare and contrast those two characters a little bit?

Sarah Wayne Callies: I think the main amass of difference between Katie and Lori, who feel incredibly far apart. I mean first of all, when you start the show at the beginning of Walking Dead, even before the apocalypse happened, Rick and Lori’s marriage was really in trouble. We met them at a time when even though they had a long history together and a ton of love, they weren’t – it wasn’t working between the two of them.

And when we meet Will and Katie, they’re rock solid. They’ve been through incredible challenges and they are having a very difficult time individually, but I think they’re doing a wonderful job of supporting each other and they love the shit out of each other.

So right there, you know, sort of setting off on different tracks. And then Katie has available to her what Lori never did, which is a viable alternative for the life, the circumstances of the life that they’re living right now, right? You know, there’s no like zombie resistance movement. Nor is there a collaboration movement because zombies don’t represent an opinion. They don’t represent – they’re a threat. But they’re not organized and they’re not intelligent and they’re not actively oppressing people. They just sort of are as predators.

Whereas – and so there’s no ideological attack to be mounted, right? You can’t sit there with a bunch of zombies and be like hey listen, we’ve got to talk about this (unintelligible). Like that’s just not a part of that world. Whereas the world in which Will and Katie are living is a world where the physical manifestations are brutal and vicious, but they’re physical manifestations of ultimately an ideal, a position, which is there is an outside force saying you are only worth what we decide you’re worth. We’re going to completely control you, extract what we need, and as far as we know, we’re not going to feel bad about that.So Katie is in a position to, you know, forgive the quote but take on (unintelligible). And that I think does something important internally, which is when people feel that they’re able to take steps to move towards a more hopeful future, they feel better, for lack of a better, more blunt way to put it. You know, there’s something that can – I think as difficult as the Resistance work is and a compromise that it is, Katie kisses her kids when she puts them to bed at night knowing Momma’s fighting for you. As opposed to Lori, who I think was in a position of having to like, I’m doing my best but there’s not that much I can do.

What was your most memorable episode to work on and why?

Sarah Wayne Callies: Probably episode nine. There was – the big fight scene argument between Will and Katie outside was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever shot, worked on. And it became a really extraordinary experience actually, because Josh and I and Ryan and Carlton all had really important things that we wanted to say and be said in the course of that scene. And in a way, that scene is the culmination of every move that Will and Katie have made in this chess game until then.

And so we came into it with so much passion and the scene went through lots and lots of revisions — both getting up to it on the day that we were shooting it, as we were shooting it. We had to go back and reshoot a few things because we changed some things.

And it was one of those creative experiences that gave me so much faith and gratitude for the people that I work with, because you know, it’s Ryan Condal, Carlton Cuse, Josh Holloway, and me. All three of them are my bosses, you know, like Josh is an VP on the show. And one of the most successful showrunners alive. Ryan, you know, he and Carlton created the show together and at no point did anyone assert like dominance over anyone.

At no point did Carlton go, hey fuck you guys. Just write what I wrote because I’m Carlton Cuse and (fuck) it. Like, never. It was that his (unintelligible) so respectful where everybody was heard. Everybody had a chance to work with one another, and I came away from that, you know, and then so it’s written and then Josh and I just go ok and like how to do our thing.

I came away from it with such respect and gratitude for the people that I work with. And really thinking, well since we’ve been through this together, we’ve now achieved a new level of trust. We can now do so much more — dangerously, creatively, collaboratively — next season. It was, yes, it was really meaningful, that one.

I’ll go a different route and congratulate you, first of all on your luckiness with working with great characters or great men such as Wentworth Miller, Josh Holloway, Andrew Lincoln.

I know we were talking greater good here and global consciousness, and I almost feel this is a bit shallow. But Sarah, I want a little scoop on some of those guys. Could you give us a little of that today?

Sarah Wayne Callies: You know, I will say I don’t know how this happens. Career have been characterized by some of the most handsome leading men alive. I don’t know. I don’t get that. It’s certainly – like it’s not a requirement, you know, if you’re thinking that I took the job with Colony because I was like another staggeringly good looking co-star. I’m in. I didn’t even know Josh was playing the part when I auditioned and stuff. It’s kind of crazy.I will say that, you know, the great (unintelligible) is some of those people (unintelligible) become such incredibly close friends. And it’s not always that way, but you know, by and large these are men who are as kind and talented and devoted and funny as they are handsome — which is saying something.

You know, it’s nice when you can walk away from a job with a real friendship, and you know, some of those friendships have really endured. I’ve known Holloway for ten years. Our kids are almost the same age, you know, we’ve both been married since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. There’s a sense of history and (unintelligible) there that’s been wonderful. And you know, whereas like Andy Lincoln and Jon Bernthal have become really good friends. You know, I was in the hospital when Jon’s daughter was born, and we were at Andy’s house just before Christmas this year. I didn’t know either one of them until the show started. And I think Josh and I had the great good fortune of being able to work together knowing coming into the job this is someone I like. This is someone I trust. And this is someone with whom I can really play and try and grow and learn more as an actor. That’s the cool part for me, for sure.

Special thanks to USA Network

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