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‘The Expanse’: How The Syfy Series Found the Unfindable Actress (Which Means Other Shows Can, Too)

The men behind adapting the popular "Expanse" novels to the screen faced a massive challenge in Season 2 — finding the perfect actor to play a beloved favorite.

THE EXPANSE -- "Static" Episode 203 -- Pictured: Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)


In the first scene of “The Expanse” Season 2, a tough-as-nails soldier in full battle armor charges across the dry Martian landscape, dodging explosions and raining down hellfire. It’s our first glimpse of Bobbie Draper, a bold new addition to Syfy’s complex sci-fi drama — who was also a make-or-break casting problem that the producers were concerned they wouldn’t be able to solve.

In fact, at the beginning of their search, “we dreaded the task of going out into the world and finding this person,” executive producer Hawk Ostly said.

READ MORE: ‘The Expanse’ Season 2 Review: Syfy’s Boldest Gamble Continues to Pay Out Richly

“The Expanse,” set 200 years in the future, is a grounded and fascinating take on what might really happen to mankind as it spreads across the solar system, based on the book series written by James S.A. Corey (a pen name for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). The fan favorite character of Bobbie, a Marine who dreams of an independent Mars, is first described in Book 2 of the series, “Caliban’s War,” as follows:

“Bobbie was not the right shape to fit into one of the standard suits, and the Marines made her jump through a series of flaming hoops every time she requisitioned a new custom one. At a bit over two meters tall, she was only slightly above average height for a Martian male, but thanks in part to her Polynesian ancestry, she weighed in at over a hundred kilos at one g. None of it was fat, but her muscles seemed to get bigger every time she even walked through a weight room. As a marine, she trained all the time.”

In the process of adaption, things often change from page to screen, and the producers had taken some liberties in the past with the show’s casting. For example, the character of Naomi, played by Dominique Tipper, was very different in the books: “The character in the book conceals her pain, she hides it on the inside,” executive producer Mark Fergus said, “and Dominique is just not that woman — she’s going to say what she thinks.”

THE EXPANSE -- "Safe" Episode 201 -- Pictured: Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

“Most times we just went for the actor who understood the soul of the character, rather than the physicality that the book might have put forward,” Fergus added.

However, for Bobbie, they felt very strongly about not just finding someone who embodied the character on the inside, but also on the outside. Executive producer Naren Shankar said that while there might have been executive-level discussions about changing the character to perhaps bring in a better known actor, the idea never came up between him and his fellow producers.

READ MORE: ‘The Expanse’ VR Scene Delivers Exciting Start (and New Character) to Season 2 — Watch

The key priority for them was finding someone who matched the book’s description to a T: “Someone who is of Polynesian descent or looks Polynesian and six feet tall and can have this strength and then also this vulnerability behind it,” in Ostby’s words.

Beyond the basic fact of wanting to avoid any sort of whitewashing, and finding a female actor who could believably play the type of soldier the role demanded, the producers pointed to the pre-existing fanbase for “The Expanse” as motivation for making sure, as they said repeatedly, they “got it right.”

The producers were so aware of how challenging it would be to cast Bobbie, as well as how big an addition she would be to the story, that they structured the writing of the season to accommodate it. “What we did on a creative level was slowly work [the character] into the season — she’s in [Episodes] 1, 3 and 6 — partially so she could get used to the part and partially so we could get used to writing the character,” Shankar said.

THE EXPANSE -- "Safe" Episode 201 -- Pictured: (l-r) Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper, Mpho Koaho as Private Travis -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

And that gave them extra time to cast Bobbie, who was the last major player to be added to the show this year. “We were prepared to scour the earth to find the right Bobbie,” Fergus said — to the point where they were ready to consider non-actors, such as athletes, should the right person not appear.

Casting directors Robin Cook (based in Canada), Julie Tucker and her team (working out of New York) and New Zealand-based Liz Mullane were all involved in the hunt for Bobbie, but Ostby said that at the beginning of the search, he was pretty sure that “New Zealand would be a very interesting place to look.” In fact, it was Mullane who first brought Frankie Adams to their attention.

The New Zealand-born actor of Samoan heritage had only a few credits to her name, neither of which were genre roles, but she had something that excited the producers — not just acting experience and the height they were looking for, but years of training as a boxer.

According to Fergus, it was book author Ty Franck who first saw Adams’ tape and identified her as the right choice — something he took as a good sign. “It was a huge thrill for us that one of the guys who invented her character just saw right into her eyes and knew it was her almost immediately,” he said.

Adams, reached via phone just before the show’s premiere, said that when she found out she got the part she “screamed in excitement,” as not only was she excited to play a character with her same ethnic background — something that happens very rarely for her — but the character of Bobbie met at least a few of the things she looks for in a role. “Do I agree with the things she does, yes or no? Would I get a crush on this woman, yes or no?”

THE EXPANSE -- "Safe" Episode 201 -- Pictured: Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

Her only concern was that while she was the height they were looking for, she didn’t think she was muscular enough for the part — so she immediately began training for what became dubbed “the Bobbie body,” a regime that was “purely strength and conditioning, no cardio.”

As a boxer, funnily enough, Adams also stood out as unique at her gym, paired against men of a similar height and build for sparring because there were no women in her weight class. However, the experience of facing off against men in the ring gave her a new source of inner strength. “It really boosts your confidence, knowing you can defend yourself like that,” she said.

The result is a casting choice that Shankar called “gold,” and well worth the effort they put into finding an actor who fit the part perfectly. “It requires you to work harder and to go to places that haven’t traditionally been on the radar,” he said. “But when you do, you’re always getting rewarded for it.”

“The Expanse” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Syfy. Check out an exclusive clip from Season 2, Episode 3 below. 

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Carolyn Pruitt

too many tattoos


Her acting is okay. I’m sorry but she’s nothing special like almost every single actor on SyFy shows.

The only actress on the show I like is the gorgeous lady who plays Avasarala. She’s amazing.


The casting of the women on this show is spot on.

When reading Naomi, I pictured an actress more like Julie Mao’s actor but having watched the show, Dominique IS Naomi and one of the best women on TV right now.

Frankie Adams as Bobby is perfect casting. Somehow I pictured Gwendolyn Christie/Brienne while reading even though I knew they said she was Polynesian. I think the character is a great addition to the show and I’ve definitely got a girl crush on her.

Avasaral’s casting is quite good, too. Love that they are dressing her in beautiful saris – such a contrast to her fierce personality.


My husband and I both think the actress playing Bobby is miscast. She is over the top with her acting and does not have a believable athletic hard solider type physique for any sort of a Marine much less a Martian Marine who trains in one g. We are finding her scenes difficult..but who knows she could get better as it goes on. The other female leads are good tho we think Naomi’s character is too passive especially during the romantic interactions with Holden…the dialogue then is just lame. We are in middle of reading the books so i guess we may have had different ideas of how characters should be played. Roll on episode 4! Love Miller and Holden….


    She sprints around in 50 pounds of armor. The ridiculous comments from haters here crack me up. Frankie Adams is great.

      Golden Dragon

      Maybe if Hollywood wasn’t so averse to providing people of color with opportunities like it does for white actors, it wouldn’t have such casting challenges. I’m tired of these nitpicking haters, too. Frankie Adams is perfect for the role. Ok, she’s not a body builder but neither is Sigourney Weaver (Ripley/Alien), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth/GoT) or Katee Sackoff (Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace of BSG) so lay off it why son’t you.


I don’t mind the casting but I really hate how the show depicts the power armor. It really looks cheap and it kind of looks like cosplay gear. And to top it off it is in no way as imposing as it is described in the books. Kind of bothers me that they couldn’t be arsed to make it at least a little bit better.


    At least the armor can actually take hits, unlike the useless crap Star Wars stormtroopers are stuck with.


Just watched the first 4 eps. Frankie Adams as Draper is a standout, in a bad way, Appalling actress. I cringe every time she is on screen. A major weak link in an otherwise entertaing ang complex show.


Fan favourite? You must be joking. I’m sure she’s a nice girl and all, but she is totally miscast and seems to be struggling in the role. And I’m not here to body shame, but she doesn’t fit the role of a soldier…not in my minds eye.


The haters here are absurd. Adams perfectly embodies the role. Every time she is on screen, she is electric. As someone who trains others in an armor-wearing martial art, I will assert in the strongest way that physically she is completely believable as a dominant soldier in the way she moves through her scenes. Brilliant casting. I’m not sure what problem the haters have, but the problem is solely their own.


I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks of Frankie Adams, I think she’s awesome! It’s good to see roles played by average looking people. As long as they can really put forth convincing and believable performances. Which ALL the actors on Expanse do! Great show, great story, and great actors! I love The Expanse!

camp bitch

I read the books, and they are great. I’
ve seen the show, and it is great. Bobbie was miscast, she is not strong enough. her muscle definition is minimal, even compared to members of her unit. Her character is strong, and her body is not.


She has no muscles and too much fat. For the role I mean. As a woman she is gorgeous, but wrong for the role of a bad ass soldier.


When I wanted to play the attached video the “Geographic restriction” error appeared.
Dividing nations and limiting access to unlimited resources should be ways of the past and considered sinful.


She is hopelessly miscast – James A. Corey must be horrified. I expected a imposing solid hunk of Polynesian muscle, not some cute model type. She is very unconvincing. And the power suit is lame – something more like Live-Die-Repeat was needed rather than a power rangers outfit.


A 23yr old GSgt that’s served in the Mars Marines for 12ish years. Horrible cast choice. Get over her looks for f*ck’s sake.

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