By Rachel Maurer
The Expanse debuted its pilot episode at SDCC in 2015 to a half-empty room and a lot of uncertainty. While the source novels already had a strong following – four had been released at that point – the titles weren’t exactly mainstream.
But two years on, the Saturn- and Hugo-nominated series has been renewed for a third season, one which promises to be their most ambitious yet. We sat down with authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham (writing under the name James S. A. Corey), Mark Fergus, Naren Shankar, and cast members Steven Strait (James Holden), Dominique Tipper (Naomi Nagata), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Chrisjen Avasarala), Frankie Adams (Bobbie Draper), Cas Anvar (Alex Kamal), and Wes Chatham (Amos Burton) for some character insight and a taste of what’s the come.
On the upcoming season and what fans can look forward to:
Franck: Seasons one and two were building up to a big war between Earth and Mars. Season three is where we get to see it play out and all the ramifications of it. And we get to see some of the actual outworking of what the protomolecule has been up to this whole time.
Fergus: And what’s going on inside the ship is like a little microcosm of war. You know, there’s a lot of shit going on between everybody – the residue from the end of last season, all that’s got to be worked out. The time they should all be unified is the time when nobody really likes each other. War all around. Conflict. No more saying, “Stuff’s coming.” It’s here.
Shankar: We dropped a metaphoric emotional bomb in season two, at the very end, and that is the fun stuff of drama, picking up how that affects people, and we certainly are – that’s where it starts. The elephant in the room is dealt with.
On identifying with their characters:
Anvar: It was surprising – when I first read the role, I had no idea of the scope of his backstory. But Alex is a Mars-born fighter pilot of Pakistani-Indian descent, with a Texas kind of accent, flair. I am a Canadian-born former scientist. I was in sciences and going into psychiatry –
Chatham: You took biology in high school, you’re not a scientist. [laughter] He likes to throw the “scientist” out there. Having a chemistry project in middle school doesn’t mean you’re a scientist.
Anvar: This is how much fun we have on set! This is what it’s like. But I do identify a lot with him, because he kind of just watches and he comments, and he doesn’t come in with a ton of really harsh opinions. He likes to just react, and I’m kind of like that myself. I sit back and I react.
Chatham: I have discovered, in playing Amos, how freeing it is and the amount of freedom one has when he’s not hampered by needing to be liked by people. And the social influence that dictates our decisions, that is around us every day, is gone for him. He doesn’t think in those terms, and there’s something really nice about embodying that and sensing that freedom and wishing I had a little bit more of that in my personal life.
Aghdashloo: Sometimes I have a hard time to tell which is which, who is who. I agree with [Avasarala] so much. I identify with her so much, I can’t even tell you. It’s unbelievable. It has to be serendipity.
Adams: I don’t think I’m 100% Bobbie. I think Bobbie is a part of me – just a small part. But it’s lovely to be able to explore that, and to get a lot more depth into the character. I think I’m a little more silly.
On being a strong female character and role model for young viewers:
Aghdashloo: One of the reasons I’m so proud of this show and this character is the fact that, not only in the Western world, but most importantly in the Eastern world – middle east and far east – when they see my character, [Frankie’s] character, women of color, fifty shades of brown, plays the governor of Earth, they will think, “There is hope. In the future, not so far, I can be somebody important. I can be a decision maker. I can help humanity.” Yes. The amount of emails I receive from Iran is unbelievable. Like, “If you did it, we can do it, too.” And that makes me feel like I’ve done something worth it.
Do you ever feel pressured compared to other sci-fi TV shows, to reach their standards?
Tipper: Everyone is trying to reach ours. You know, we’ve set a bar – we’re not really like any other sci-fi shows and I think that’s why people love the show… it’s very gritty and real. Space is a character, we’re not trying to beam around willy-nilly. There’s a lot at stake.
Strait: I’m a huge sci-fi fan, but the stuff that I’ve always gravitated toward were really allegorical tales about the present. We manage to, with spectacular writing, talk about really difficult things going on today in a way that I think is more digestible because we’ve masked it in a genre. In terms of just the art form, of visual arts, it’s really important because you start conversations with maybe people who wouldn’t have those conversations otherwise…. None of these characters are black and white, they’re all in shades of gray, and I think it’s an interesting thing for even someone like Errinwright (Shawn Doyle) or Avasarala – no matter what side you’re looking at it from, they all think they’re doing the right thing. And that is the way the world functions! One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.