Daryl Hannah has been known globally since the early 1980s thanks to breakout roles in “Blade Runner” and “Splash,” but it was the Wachowskis who gave her an opportunity to see the world like never before. As the mysterious Angelica of “Sense8,” Hannah traveled to all nine filming locations (including Chicago, Korea and Nairobi) to connect with the show’s deliberately diverse cast of “sensates” caught up in a global conspiracy; an experience that was life-changing for her.
Indiewire had seen the first three episodes when we sat down with Hannah at a press day a few weeks before the show premiered on Netflix. Below, Hannah reveals what she thought when she first read the script, which cast member she taught to ride a bike and why working with the Wachowskis is like being a “sensate” yourself.
First off, talk to me about how you first got involved with “Sense8.”
I was called about talking to them about the character of Mr. Whispers, and I was like, “Mr. Whispers? Okay.” They were thinking about maybe casting it with more androgynous characters, so I went in to go meet them about Mr. Whispers. But I would have gone in to meet them about anything. I don’t care. I’d go meet them about dirt. I’d be there because I’ve always been a fan of the chances that they take and their creativity.
Then, of course, meeting them in person, that just put me so much more over the top. I just freaked out. I fell in love with them instantly. They’re so flipping smart, and they’re so human and beautiful and emotional and creative and I just love them. When I went in there to meet them about Mr. Whispers they said, “Well, we have another part in mind for you,” so I said “Oh, okay!” I didn’t even know what it was, but I already wanted to do it.
So you open the script, you read the first scene. What was your reaction to that?
I just had a million questions.
First of all, I was really worried because it was so emotional, but so much of it I had to do by myself — imagining that I’m speaking to these people. And also figure out what I’m talking about, because I hadn’t read the rest of the scripts yet. So I didn’t even know what I was referring to in some of these lines and things. That was a little bit daunting, but I like having a challenge. [laughs] It was a scary and yet exciting kind of thing.
We’ve heard from other cast members today that every script seemed to contain something for them that was really scary to do.
Yeah. Yeah, it’s true. I think because Lana and Andy [Wachowski] address so many issues that we confront as human beings, they just go right up to the boundaries of some of these prejudices or some of these social barriers or whatever, and they just push them a little bit farther. Definitely there’s a lot of intimidating stuff, but that was one of the great things about having such an incredible cast and crew. We all just went for it together, and there wasn’t anybody who held back.
It seems like they created a vibe that really unites the entire cast.
Yeah, I think they probably just do that wherever they go, because they’re just amazing. The movie is about these eight characters who are interconnected through their senses. I was doing some talking earlier with Naveen [Andrews] and he mentioned that when you’re working with Lana and Andy, it’s almost like you start working that way with them. We become sensates with them — we start intuiting, because they don’t necessarily verbalize everything. They don’t explain, “Oh, this line means this and I want you to say this like this,” or anything like that. Even when to come in the scene or when to leave, you just start feeling and understanding and intuiting the way that they work and the way that they move because it’s not literal.
They don’t do things literally by the script, they use the script as a blueprint, and then you take what’s happening in the moment or what’s happening in the atmosphere where you are, and you incorporate it. You draw inspiration from the present. So, working with them, there was a lot of that implicit trust and intuition, which was something I’d never really experienced before.
So is that something that happened right away from day one — you just immediately had it? Or was it something that you had to build?
It was something that happened from day one, but it definitely evolved and we all got comfortable with it as we spent time with each other. At first, like on anything, you’re just nervous and want to not mess up or whatever.
Do you still get nervous on a new project?
Oh God every time. Yeah, first day or two, I’ll throw up.
Aw! But then it gets easier?
Yeah, it doesn’t necessarily get easier. The nerves part goes away, but there can still be challenging things to do. Of course those kids — I call them kids, but they’re not kids — the eight, they have all kinds of sex scenes and things that, if you’d never done those things on film before, could be very uncomfortable.
Certainly there are scenes that I’ve never seen before in this, so far.
That’s the thing about “Sense8,” is that it’s paradigm-breaking on multiple levels. Not only on the content of the series and the epic nature of it, the genre — it doesn’t really fit into one genre — but also the TV versus movie genre thing, it doesn’t really fit into either. It’s more of a movie, and not a movie with sequels where you’re just trying to make up a sequel so you can make more money from the first one that made money. It’s a continuation of a very intricately woven story.
It’s funny because I imagine it’s a whole different challenge for you, talking to press about it. I’ve only seen three episodes, and it’s like I’ve only seen the first 20 minutes of the movie. And it’s harder to talk to you about your character than anyone else—
Yeah, it’s mysterious. You still don’t know very much about her or what she represents or who she is to some of these characters.
What locations did you end up going to?
All of them. I was there on all of them for the whole time.
Really? So you were there the whole production process? That’s incredible.
Yeah, it was.
Of the characters that we’ve seen already, who did you end up having the most time with?
On a personal level I spent the most time with Jamie [Clayton, who played Nomi].
I taught her how to ride a bike, and whenever we’d go to a new city we’d rent bikes and go exploring.
She didn’t know how to ride a bike?
No. We’d go exploring together and we just had a great time. We did a lot of things together. We liked to do the same kind of things — go to museums, look around, check out the parks, whatever. It was fun.
Did people recognize you on the streets?
Sometimes in the big cities, yeah. A lot of times in the major cities, but in the more remote areas, not so much.
That must be nice. Like, going to Nairobi and just getting to experience the country.
Oh god, I loved it. Because we were in each place long enough to get a real feeling for the culture there, not just the building. We got to see the feeling and the soul of those places. It was nice. I keep giving him credit — I’m just going to steal his lines — but Naveen also said that the cities become a character in the film as well, and the soul of those cities kind of comes out as well. It’s not just a background. It’s part of the story.
This project seem to have a real meaning to everyone involved with it, beyond “Oh, it’s pretty cool, I get to play a weird badass in a warehouse.”
It’s so true.
For you, is that something that comes from the top down?
For me it resonates not only on a creative level — because I get to work with these filmmakers who I have so much admiration and respect for — but also it resonates for the work I do outside of the film industry in terms of my advocacy and activism. Because that’s all about interconnectedness too, and the fact that if we don’t acknowledge that sort of fundamental profound truth, then we don’t really have any hope of addressing the crises that we face.