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Sense8 Roundtable: Jamie Clayton and Brian J. Smith

Sense8 is now available on Netflix Instant. We did not get to interview the entire cast of the sprawling ensemble show, but because they’re all connected, the ones we did speak to represented the show well. Jamie Clayton plays Nomi, a woman separated from her girlfriend by an illness, which may have more to do with Sense8 powers but we don’t want to spoil it. Actually, we won’t know until we watch more. Brian J. Smith plays a police officer who also gets embroiled in the Sense8 saga. We joined Clayton and Smith in a roundtable to discuss Sense8 on Netflix.

Freema Agyeman and Jamie Clayton in Sense8 Credit: Murray Close/Netflix
Freema Agyeman and Jamie Clayton in Sense8 Credit: Murray Close/Netflix

Nuke the Fridge: Did the Wachowskis tell you why they named her Nomi and what that name meant to them?

Jamie Clayton: Yes. Lana and I had a really big talk about it. I won’t give the entire story but I’ll tell you it’s “know me.” Do I know me? Do you know me? Lana has this really amazing idea about knowing one’s own personal limits and knowing how far you can go, knowing what you will do. Do I know me? Do you know me? How far will I go for the people that I love.

Nuke: And it’s a name she chose for herself.

Jamie Clayton: Yes, Nomi chooses the name.

Brian J. Smith: I love these name games. You see it in The Matrix. They choose names, even Will. The whole idea of Will Gorsky, the idea of someone who’s got this drive to act and to do, not just to be done to. It’s very central to Will’s character.

Nuke: Since Will is a cop, did you do all the ridealongs and cop training research?

Brian J. Smith: We did. I flew out to Chicago. Me and Lana and Andy did a ridealong.

Nuke: They went with you?

Brian J. Smith in Sense8 Credit: Murray Close/Netflix
Brian J. Smith in Sense8 Credit: Murray Close/Netflix

Brian J. Smith: Yeah, Andy actually went. Lana stayed back and wanted to talk I think more to the cops at the precinct. Andy and I went out and I was in the back. Actually, we were literally getting coffee and donuts somewhere and my phone rang. That’s when the Tony nominations were coming out and I’d just done this play. So my phone rang and it was my agent. He was like, “Did you hear? Did you hear?” I was like, “What, what, what?” The cop we were driving with was like, “We gotta go! We gotta go!” His walkie went off. This perp that they had been chasing for months had just robbed an apartment complex. So we’re running into the back of this car. We are going down I don’t know what road this was on the south side of Chicago, 70 miles an hour through traffic stops and I’m on the phone with my agent and just found out I got a Tony nomination. It was very, very, very surreal. So yeah, we did but that was very helpful. It was great for me because we were shooting most of the stuff in Chicago at the exact same moment that the stuff in Ferguson was going down. You’ll see as the series progresses, they really are interested in the relationship between the police and the communities that they serve. It was eerie to be shooting those scenes that they had written months before, and to be watching this racial police tension come to a head in that way and to see it continue to build and build and build all the way  up to Baltimore right now.

Q: Did they incorporate anything new while that was happening?

Brian J. Smith: You didn’t have to. It was very prescient what they did. They knew that there was something in the air and hey kind of anticipated it. It’s all there and they don’t have an answer for it. Whoever figures out how to fix this, to ease this tension would be a gajillionaire. All you can do is ask questions. Again, to go back to the otherness and separateness and tribalism seems to be for the Wachowskis at the core of what’s going on with those tensions.

Q: What has the show taught you about interconnectedness?

Jamie Clayton in Sense8 Credit: Murray Close/Netflix
Jamie Clayton in Sense8 Credit: Murray Close/Netflix

Jamie Clayton: I think that for me, I love the human nature of the show. We all are connected, whether we like it or not. We’re all human beings. Every single one of us sitting at this table. We’re all the same. You strip it all away and we’re all literally the same. The same organs, the same blood, the same everything. And the show, the way that it shows these people all over the world and how we’re connected to one another and we don’t even know it and we need help and we start to help each other, I love that theme of helping one another and the human kindness in that. It doesn’t matter where we’re from or who we know or who we love. We are connected.

Brian J. Smith: And the idea of otherness and separateness which seems to be such a problem in the world today even though we’re all so connected in theory electronically does feel a bit, there’s something in the zeitgeist. There’s a lot of mistrust of other cultures and even the ability to dehumanize other cultures. You see what happened with ebola, you see what’s happening in Nepal. Let’s face it, if that happened in California, we’d have a very, very, very different reaction to it because these are people that looks like us and our us, are our brothers and sisters. The Wachowskis are trying to say as a human family, how can you sit back and watch your fellow person suffer in that way and not experience it as something that is happening to you? We’ve gotten very good at blocking ourselves off emotionally, distancing ourselves from other people’s experiences and that’s not natural. That’s actually not the way the human animal was designed to work.

Q: How many of the locations did you get to go to?

Jamie Clayton: I did seven of the nine.

Brian J. Smith: Nine. I did all nine.

Jamie Clayton: Ch-ching.

Brian J. Smith: I know, there should be a T-shirt with nine stars.

Q: Which ones did you miss, Jamie?

Jamie Clayton: Oh, I didn’t do Nairobi or India. I know, I know. After seeing the first four episodes last night, we were talking on the phone and I want more. It’s incredible.

Brian J. Smith: It’s a real adventure. It’s amazing.

Q: In how much of that are all of you together?

Brian J. Smith and Tuppence Middleton in Sense8 Credit: Murray Close/Netflix
Brian J. Smith and Tuppence Middleton in Sense8 Credit: Murray Close/Netflix

Brian J. Smith: If you’re shooting your city, like for instance I did most of my work in places like Chicago and Iceland were my two heaviest cities. So everywhere else you go, like in San Francisco I had quite a bit of time off so I got to go and see the sights and hang out. Like me and Miguel, and Tuppence, hung out. We were sort of a trio.

Jamie Clayton: They were, while I was slaving every day, 16 hours a day, six days a week.

Brian J. Smith: We’d see her, we’d been popping in all rested. You were in your hospital scrubs. I ran into her on the elevator, and you had just shot this really hard, intense scene. I remember looking at her and she just lost it. This was a very emotionally, at times it could be really harrowing to shoot. And it was relentless, especially if it was in your city because they’d shoot these, every day there was one scene at least that scared you big time.

Jamie Clayton: We were together for the first two weeks in San Francisco. We did table reads and rehearsals and screen tests and things like that, so we were all together. I remember the day that we all showed up and came into the room, we all met for the first time, “I’m so and so and I’m so and so.” We did the table reads and we were bonding and going out to dinner, and then all of a sudden we were ripped apart from each other. Everyone was going back to their respective cities to start training and stunts and things like that. Then as we would all meet up again, then we weren’t together again until Iceland. And that was like ahhhhhhhhh. It was amazing.