“Sense8,” one of Netflix’s oddest and most beautiful original series, asks its audience to buy into a lot of crazy things, including the possibility of psychic connection on a global scale that links eight strangers (known as Sensates). But hopefully fans aren’t put off by this slightly tricky issue: The fact that one of the show’s main characters, Capheus, looks very different in Season 2.
The show’s original Capheus, a good-hearted bus driver in Nairobi in need of money to help his sick mother, was played by Aml Ameen, who left the production while Season 2 was filming due to what’s been reported as “creative differences.” The new face we see beginning with “A Christmas Special,” the two-hour episode that premiered last week, belongs to newcomer Toby Onwumere, with whom IndieWire spoke to both during a set visit to San Francisco last summer, as well as via phone closer to the show’s release.
“The beautiful thing with all of this is that given that it’s my first gig, I almost took this as, ‘Oh, I guess everybody does this,'” Onwumere said about the special nature of the show’s production, where pieces of scenes are filmed in nearly a dozen different locations all over the world. “Then it occurred to me that no, this is a very, very unique process.”
No official reason for Ameen’s departure has been revealed, but what is known for sure is that Ameen’s departure (especially given that filming in two or three cities had already been completed) happened abruptly, and the search for his replacement was equally fast. The story of Onwumere’s casting is a whirlwind one, taking place within the span of a week: He got the appointment for the audition on a Monday, auditioned on Wednesday afternoon, and found out Wednesday night that they wanted him to fly to Mexico City to meet up with the production there. “Friday, I have a little session with the casting director, Saturday I get my sides, Sunday I fly out, Monday I meet with Lana and James [McTeigue],” he summed up.
Onwumere admitted that prior to the audition, he hadn’t yet seen the show, though he had noticed it on Netflix, and of course watched it as soon as the opportunity to audition came up. However, it wasn’t until after the audition that he reached Episode 6, “What’s Going On?” that includes a key scene in which the Sensates have a very unique (and naked) bonding experience. Fortunately, that wasn’t at all off-putting for him.
“That scene looks like a renaissance painting, a moving renaissance painting what with everyone in the water and all these bodies — it looks like art,” he said. “And I was like, ‘That’s a really cool tasteful way of going about that.’ It looked like a celebration of the present of human bodies, of sex — it was shown in a very positive way and I thought that’s cool, I’m into that.”
In the Christmas special’s first major Capheus scene, the recasting is acknowledged with some sly dialogue, which Onwumere appreciated. “it was just enough to do a small wink to the viewers — we still know what we’re doing here, but there’s going to be a slight change in course,” he said. “It was subtle and I appreciate Lana for making it subtle.”
Even before making his official debut on the show, Onwumere had attracted the interest of the “Sense8” fan base, which began eagerly following him on Twitter. “It’s cool to see that because it’s a testament to the show and its reach and its impact on people — how much they love it and what it means to them,” he noted.
That meeting Onwumere had with Wachowski and McTeigue, which led to him getting cast, wasn’t really a meeting. Instead, Onwumere described it as “one of the greatest conversations, maybe two hours — we talked about art and sex and family and my life and their lives.”
And then at the end of it, Onwumere then went on to meet the other seven Sensates, “in just kind of this great ritual ceremony,” as he described it. “They heard straight from her that I was accepted — this is really like a family,” he added. “Lana made it seem more like a very intimate, almost tribalistic union and she’s very particular about creating that communal energy, because it means I think she understands that it’s more than a TV show and that the message is really universal and she wants to create that atmosphere.”
“Yes, we’re shooting a TV show as such,” he said. “But it has bigger implications than being just a TV show.”
“Sense8: A Christmas Special” is streaming now on Netflix. Season 2 premieres May 2017.