I had the pleasure of chatting with Hamilton star — and fellow Houstonian — Renée Elise Goldsberry about her new series out on Netflix now, Altered Carbon! We talked about the importance of seeing women of color as heroines, where she draws inspiration, and how women can both be powerful and in love!
Kay-B: So let’s dive right into your new series Altered Carbon. It really is kind of a mashup of different sci-fi films and TV shows. With this show though, there are a lot of great themes, and one of the great things about it is that the women on this show are both the villains and the heroines. It shows multi-faceted women with lots of layers. So tell me a little bit about your conversations with the showrunner, regarding having this duality on-screen?
Renée: Well our showrunner [Laeta Kalogridis] is lovely and it’s her vision and mission in life to show more women onscreen, in positions of power and that is the reason why I am on the show. This is what happens when you give a woman the reins and let her do her thing. This series has been a dream of hers for awhile. I think she had the book series and she’s been trying to get it made a lot around town for a while and I’m just so grateful that landed on Netflix. And I’m so grateful landed on Netflix with Skydance and with the people that really trusted her vision and supported it, because it enabled her to really focus in on characters that you don’t see as strongly in the book.
[Kalogridis] singled out characters that she was interested in and drew so much out of them. She really showed that these women can be both powerful and vulnerable. They can be right and wrong, making huge mistakes. I think that this is what she set out to do and was able to accomplish in this world. She told me her mission in life is to portray women as the leads, and with this project, in particular, she wanted a woman of color to be the heroine. She definitely delivered and is the reason why I signed on to this project.
Kay-B: Oh, that is so great and so necessary to see today.
Renée: Yes! I came from a soap opera background and I can tell when a writer is really in love with a character. I can tell that the showrunner really feels that way with my character, Quellcrist Falconer. You can see how much she loves and believes in her. She endows her with this brilliant mind, tremendous resolve and ferociousness. On top of that, it is not just what she does, it is what she gives the character to say. It is also how the protagonist views her and what he says about her. So not only do you a see a powerful woman of color in the show, but you see the protagonist wanting her, needing her, and dreaming of her. The theme of the show is that he is always seeking her.
Kay-B: That is very true. Takeshi (Stronghold) Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman & Will Yun Lee) is always seeking Quellcrist but he is completely oblivious that his sister, Reileen (Dichen Lachman) is always seeking him.
Renée: it’s an interesting love triangle, right?
Kay-B: Right, but not in a traditional sense. Reileen loves him and needs him for different reasons. They grew up together and experienced a lot of trauma together. She relies on him when things get tough. You see that he wants to leave that behind and push forward. Quellcrist represents the love and direction he wants to go in, away from his traumatic past.
Renée: Yes, and she represents intuition. She is the embodiment in the present tense of this show of what we call envoy intuition. She represents an ability to see more than his present. The ability to see even those things that people are trying to hide from you and a deeper awareness. She is his conscience, the drive behind him, and she is there for him in a really beautiful way. Even with this, she is still complete, whole and gets to exist on her own, specifically in episode 7 and in flashbacks.
Kay-B: She’s multi-dimensional and she is his moral compass, but what is he to her? What does he give her? What does she learn from him on this journey?
Renée: Well she is single-minded in her purpose and that is to stop this technology from creating a world that should not exist. She has the foresight to see that world before it exists. She’s aware that this technology can create certain monsters and how doomed they are. She’s single-minded in her purpose to level the playing field again. And then she meets him and her intention, in the beginning, is to recruit him and absolutely 100% use him for her purposes, but she can’t help but love him. She sees the vulnerability and pain in him. Even in the midst of that, she sees his fierceness.
Kay-B: That is so true.
Renée: But it’s beautiful to see a woman that’s that powerful, in love. It’s beautiful. Meaning that she is dynamic and still has this need to be a woman. I think we’re trying to figure out what it means to be a feminist and what it means to be powerful. And even in Quellcrist, part of that is feeling loved and taking a moment to enjoy that too. And to give of herself in that way and to receive love too.
Kay-B: There’s a scene in episode seven where Takeshi and Reileen are talking and he says that he notices a little fear in Quellcrist’s eyes, even though she is trying to keep it together. So it is interesting that he sees something in her well before anyone else does.
Renée: I am so glad you said that, and noticed! When I first read that scene, I was like “She isn’t scared of anything!” But it is most compelling in a drama when you have a conflicted hero and he really adds conflict to her. Right when she’s about to save the world and give up her life to do it, she discovers something and someone worth living for. He isn’t part of the plan, and she struggles with whether or not they can co-exist. Ultimately she decides that even with this love, she still has to save the world, she still chooses to do so. In my action dramas, I love some romance! I love this love story because you get to see their strength and vulnerability, and it is done really well.
Kay-B: Lastly, what character from other sci-fi films or TV shows did you draw inspiration from for this series? What are some of your favorite sci-fi films and shows?
Renée: Terminator and Alien for sure. I loved the new Battlestar Galactica series and I really enjoyed the women that they wrote in that. I draw strength from so many powerful sci-fi action heroes. Really, I draw strength from previous characters I have played as well. Angelica Schuyler and even Henrietta Lacks, because while different, they are all still powerful women like Quellcrist. Quellcrist chose to be a woman of color as opposed to inheriting that in her life, yet she is no less powerful and still has a spirit that overcomes.
Kay-B: That she does! Thanks for chatting with us, it’s been wonderful.
Renée: Great to chat with you as well.
Altered Carbon is now streaming on Netflix.