Australian actress Dichen Lachman talks about the depths of hit Netflix series “Altered Carbon,” powerful women characters in the sci-fi genre and more.
Science fiction has always been relatively forward-looking when it comes to portraying strong female characters.
And that’s perhaps why Dichen Lachman finds herself quite at home in the genre. Her filmography so far includes “Dollhouse,” (which was directed by Joss Whedon of “The Avengers” fame, among others), “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (which is set in the same universe as “The Avengers” and the rest of the Marvel CInematic Universe) and, more recently, hit series “Altered Carbon” as well as a couple of episodes in “Supergirl.” Throughout her career, the Australian actress of German and Tibetan descent (she was actually born in Kathmandu, Nepal), took on increasingly demanding roles while also tacking the challenges of motherhood. She is, in short, quite the real super-heroine.
DAMAN: It’s been a while after “Altered Carbon” started airing, but people are still excited about it. For those who haven’t seen it yet, what would be your number one reason to start binging the series now?
Dichen Lachman: I really believe there is nothing like it. You have never seen anything like this done on television. It’s a 10-hour movie=quality show. Once you have watched it, watch it again because it’s even better. All the little details start to come through. It’s like looking at an intricate painting. You have to keep going back for more.
DA: “Altered Carbon” is usually referred to as a cyberpunk, science-fiction action thriller. However, on several different occasions, you described the show as a love story. Can you elaborate on that?
DL: I always go to the core of the story because at the end of the day that’s what moves you emotionally. It’s beautiful to see it done in this world because of the added complexity. There’s the love triangle between Quell, Tak and Ortega [Quellcrist Falconer played by Renée Elise Goldsberr, Takeshi Kovacs played by Joel Kinnaman and Kristin Ortega played by Martha Higareda], but also an intense love that Rei [Reileen Kawahara, Lachman’s character] feels for her brother that has become somewhat twisted over time. With all the spectacular elements and world building and the greater questions. It’s truly inspired.
DA: Like any good series, “Altered Carbon” forces its viewers to ask some deep, philosophical questions. Beyond the obvious “what would it be like to live forever” what else are some of the show’s most interesting thinking points?
DL: In some ways I feel like we as a society are not ready for the wave of tech coming fast and furiously toward us. A friend of mine was doing research for a script and spoke to a few futurists; all of them agree that mass unemployment due to AI and robots is going to be the greatest threat to humanity. Many large countries are not economically equipped to deal with that. Our social structures are not prepared. We are losing our sense of balance and equilibrium. We may not be living forever now, but a few centuries ago it was extremely rare to live to 100; life expectancy was around 50. Now in some countries centenarians are more and more common. I think the Queen of England even stopped writing to people who turned 100 because there were just too many. I don’t know what it would be like to live forever … I just know it would be expensive.
DA: The show also tackles stuff like nudity, particularly in the famous naked sword fight. Did this come as a surprise to you? Do you think that the showrunners approached this matter in a positive way?
DL: It was a surprise, yes, but once I read the scene I was excited. Still nervous, but the idea of it became empowering. James and Laeta were incredibly supportive. We had a female director, Uta Briesewitz, which made me feel good and the crew could not have been more on point and considerate. Everything was done in a classy way. That scene and how it was done, with the care and consideration that was put into it, is an example of Hollywood working well. Also I think we need to embrace our nature a bit more. Be raw and liberated, even if it’s once in a while.
DA: Speaking of which, Reileen Kawahara, your character, is quite a physical role. What was it like getting ready to become her?
DL: It was a lot of training and I enjoyed it a lot. I felt in my body. Strong and alive. I think we need to be more physical. Too much sitting is bad for you.
DA: The show’s character line-up includes some really strong women—yourself included, of course. Do you think that the way the show portrays women can make a real difference, however small, in the real world?
DL: I think all women are strong in their own way. In “Altered Carbon” they are all represented as such. Even though they may be the product of bad circumstances they all have intention, passion, heart and strength physical or psychological, they are the heroes. And, yes, it will make a difference. We also have to be uncomfortable to effect change. That, to me, is art.
DA: All in all, what has been your favorite or most memorable part of being on “Altered Carbon”?
DL: I have to say, all of it. The friendships, the work and the challenge. This is an experience that every artist wants to have … at least the ones I talk to. I’m so blessed and fortunate to have had the opportunity to do this.
DA: Will we see you in any other TV shows or maybe movies before the end of this year?
DL: Yes I’m currently working on “Animal Kingdom,” a TNT show, which I am really excited about. It’s very different to everything I’m known for. The cast is amazing; I get to hang out with Denis Leary. It’s a dream. I love working in L.A. It’s honestly the best because I get to see my daughter every day.
DA: Before “Altered Carbon,” one of your most popular roles was as Jiaying in season two of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” What do you remember the most about being on that show?
DL: Being pregnant! Just kidding. I adore Jed and Maurissa [show creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen]. The cast and crew are also amazing; I was so happy to be able to work with them again. They really have a family vibe on that show and that’s something really special. Also, I loved the scene when my character tells Daisy that she is her mom. Being pregnant at the time just gave me a deeper connection to the material and that was special.
DA: A lot of people tend to think that, these days, landing a role in a superhero film—especially one that’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—is a huge step forward for an actor that can open up many new doors. Was that the case with your adventure in the MCU?
DL: I suppose it is. I was certainly excited. It certainly opens you up more to the fan world. I would have loved to have done more action but it was hard with the baby.
DA: You’ve also appeared in several episodes of “Supergirl” as the villain Roulette. Is this a genre that you’d like to explore further in the future?
DL: Yes. I love it, I’ve always found it exciting and I think that historically, science fiction props up women, and also shows them kicking ass and being fierce and strong.
DA: If we could move even further back, in 2005 you joined the cast of “Neighbours.” Is it true what they say about appearing in “Neighbours” being sort of like a rite of passage for Australian actors and actresses?
DL: In many cases, yes. I’m not sure if it means the same now with the plethora of content. But before SVOD [Streaming or Subscription Video on demand] and the speed of the Internet, it really was for a lot of people. I’m very fond of my time on that show.
DA: What was the biggest lesson or revelation you found about the job while working on “Neighbours”?
DL: To respect everyone no matter their title. Work hard, show up on time and don’t mess around. It was like going to boarding school. I also made some life-long friends.
DA: So far, what would you say has been the biggest achievement or most important milestone in your career?
DL: It would be remiss of me not to mention “Dollhouse.” That is the show that started everything. I don’t think there is a single job I have gotten since that wasn’t informed by my time on that show–either a fan of the show or someone I worked with on that show. I will be eternally grateful to Faith, Amy and Anya who decided to show my tape to Joss [show creator Joss Whedon, who is also behind “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”]. It changed my life.
DA: And what are some of the biggest challenges you’re still facing right now?
DL: Motherhood. I hope I’m doing a good job. Also, with “Altered Carbon,” it was the first time my character was so pivotal in the story and it was an extremely welcome change. I want to do it more. Just a matter of how. We are getting there slowly.
DA: On the flip side, what part of the job do you feel comes really naturally for you?
DL: The collaboration. That’s the fun part. I love playing with other creative people and trying to build something; leaving our egos at the door and letting the best idea win. That doesn’t always happen, but that’s the goal.
DA: Outside of work, what else takes up most of your time?
DL: At the moment, my daughter Mathilda. She is amazing but she is also a supernova in terms of energy.
DA: A bit of a cliché, perhaps, but what do you usually do just for fun when you have some free time?
DL: I love to garden, nest and clean and then relax in the spaces when I’m done and enjoy the hard work. It’s like heaven. I don’t have a cleaning lady. I find it meditative. My husband sometimes gets frustrated with me because I also like to move furniture around a lot and he gets annoyed that I don’t ask for his help. I need to get better at that.
DA: Last question, and also a bit clichéd: Do you have a favorite quote, saying or motto that you always take with you?
DL: “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting,” from The Alchemist. I have so many but that one often moves to the top of the list.
Photography Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling Courtney Leday
Hair J. Michael at State Artist Management
Makeup Melissa Walsh at State Artist Management