Interview: COLONY’s Sarah Wayne Callies Reflects on Season 1

By: Agatha Kasprzak

Sarah Wayne Callies is riding a wave of success right now. She stars in USA’s Colony, which has already been renewed for a second season, and confirmed she will be in FOX’s Prison Break event series. OHSOGRAY participated in a press call with Callies to discuss the pivotal moments of Colony season one and what’s on the horizon for her.

How does Katie deal with being divided between her husband and the Resistance?

I think it’s called being a woman. There’s something I think about being a working mom. Almost every working mother I know feels a constant sense of guilt and failure that either you’ve devoted so much time to your family that the people at work are feeling like you’re not sufficiently contributing, or that you’ve poured so much of yourself into your work that you’re [not] sufficiently there for your family. Obviously in Colony, that’s heightened because Katie’s work is no longer running a bar. Katie’s work is undertaking Resistance with an eye towards defending not only her family but her city and possibly her species. But as we see in episode nine, part of the cost of that work has been not seeing what’s going on in her own house with their children. When it comes to playing it, it’s not real hard for me to go down that road, because every morning I leave my kids and I go to work. I’m a breadwinner for a family. It’s war.

I observe in my life that none of my male colleagues speaks the same amount of kind of internal tearing that all the working moms I know feel, and I don’t know quite why that is, but I think maybe culturally we need to soften things a little bit for those of us who are trying to do the family and the work thing, because it does tear you up a little bit in ways that I think we probably could improve.

Is there anyone you drew inspiration from in playing Katie?

Yes. This is going to sound a little crazy — Joan of Arc. I realized – it started as a bit of joke, which is that Katie is from New Orleans, which is why the bar is what it is. Another term for a bartender is a barmaid and so the Maid of Orleans is what they used to call Joan of Arc. It started as like I just had this weird brain fart and I emailed Ryan and Carlton and I was like clearly you based this character on Joan of Arc. They laughed and we thought it was weird. Then I was like, let me just go watch a movie about Joan of Arc. I went in the back and I reread Saint Joan and I do think there’s something interesting to the idea that Katie, like Joan, is a true believer. Katie, like Joan, runs face first into that role where your ideology meets the reality of trying to mount a resistance. So in that sense, I think they both go in giving that they’re doing “The Lord’s work” like I am doing the moral, ethical, right thing, and I have no qualms about that. I might be afraid, but I won’t let my fear stop me from trying to do the right thing. Then all of a sudden, these are women neck deep in politics and ethics for which they’re not equipped and they have to catch up very quickly. It did start [..] that there was something that I found actually very cool about it. Juan Campanella also had us watch a movie called the Battle of Algiers that immediately became one of the best films I’ve ever seen. There was a lot in that film about femininity as a tool of war, which is why I put Katie in dresses and try to kind of articulate a femininity in her characterization.

Can you talk a bit about the intense conversation that Katie and Will have in the backyard?

In a way, the whole first season builds to that conversation. Will and Katie learn that love is not all you need, in the first season, that these ideological differences really may become profoundly problematic in their marriage. There’s a [loss] of trust that over the course of the season but that really culminates in that final argument. It’s a tough thing to come back from. Particularly I think when Will says to Katie, “You put the noose around those kids’ necks,” meaning Rachel’s son. That’s a huge bomb to drop on someone, and certainly people say things in the heat of the moment that they don’t mean, but I think that’s one of those arguments in a marriage that’s going to take them a long time to recover from.

How does becoming immerse in this movement of violence impact Katie?

Katie is — among the people that we see in the Resistance — Katie is one of the few I think that we really get to know who doesn’t have any experience tactically. She’s not military trained. She’s not law enforcement trained. She knows how to shoot a gun because she spent time in New Orleans and her husband’s a former Army Ranger, but there’s not – all of the things that you have to do internally to get right with the idea that you might have to take someone’s life, Katie hasn’t done that stuff, because she’s a bartender. She has had the great privilege of never having to get her hands dirty in the name of anything she believes in — you know, liberty, free society, et cetera. She’s thrown in the middle and she doesn’t have the coping skills. Yes, so she doesn’t have the emotional framework to do the work that she’s doing, and so it takes an enormous toll on her. By the end of the season, it wouldn’t surprise me — and I don’t know anything about season two — but it wouldn’t surprise me if she started season two as a confirmed pacifist, just somebody who refuses to take arms again because the cost has been so great.

Why do you think that Katie hasn’t told Will about her part in the Resistance?

I will say that Nelson McCormick, who directed episode six, came to me at a certain point during the filming and he said, “I don’t think your husband should watch this episode.” I said, “Why?” He said, “No man wants to know his wife can lie this well.” That gave me something to think about. I mean, first of all, I don’t think Katie was very significantly involved with the Resistance until Will was forced into collaboration. These were people in her orbit. I think she warped, she might have taken a flyer from here to there, but she was not neck deep with them. She makes the decision to join their work fully as a response to Will’s forced collaboration. It’s partly as a means to protect him, but also a need to balance this just thinking, I can’t stomach the thought of being a collaborating family. That’s just sort of more than I can take. She doesn’t tell him, because it’s the best way to keep him safe. Juan Campanella, the director of the first three episodes, grew up in Argentina under a dictatorship. He talked to us quite a lot about just those conditions of knowing that people disappear all the time and knowing that information can be an extremely powerful but also very dangerous currency. I think for Will to have plausible deniability, if he was ever questioned about his wife’s activities, could save his life. Katie would never want to put him in a position of having to withhold information that could kill him.

What drew you to this role?

The thing about Katie, as I said, she is closer to me than anyone I think I’ve ever been cast. And that scared me enough that it made me want to do it. I tend to walk towards things that scare me. But Katie also was every bit as fully developed and articulated as Will in this story, and I think often wives and mothers are accessories to leading men. It felt to me, reading the pilot script, that Katie’s philosophical universe was as fully represented as Will’s, which made it a really exciting exploration because you can present two very different ethical responses to a dictatorship, to an occupation. You could have a real dialogue because they were two fully articulated human beings. One happens to be a woman. One happens to be a man. That dialogue actually is the reason that I wanted to take this job, because it’s a really important time right now to be talking about the role of citizens in resisting oppressive governments.

What do you hope people take away when they watch the show?

I hope primarily people take away a sense of entertainment, because none of us want to do homework. I wouldn’t want to show, as ideological and political as it is, I wouldn’t want it to feel like homework. I’ve said this all over the place, but the first season of Battlestar Galactica was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, because it was so entertaining and I loved watching it. It was one of the most salient discussions on the Patriot Act that I saw anybody having anywhere. I would be so happy if Colony followed in those footsteps — of a show where you just care so much [about the] people and it’s such an interesting and unique world. While we’re doing that, we’re also talking about the genesis of resistance and the nature of resistance and the definitions between resistance and terrorism, and governments and oppression and repression. That would be – it’s a really tricky balance. It’s a very difficult line to walk, but I think if anyone can walk it, it’s Ryan. You know, it’s Ryan Condal and Carlton Cuse. I’m sort of along for the ride doing my best on my end.

Can you shed any light on the relationship between Katie and Broussard? How they became friends and how they kind of grew to trust each other over everyone else?

I think part of that has to do with the history of a bartender and a patron. Broussard and Katie got to know each other before it all happened. I always imagine that, he’d come into the bar between deployments and she recognized in him a man like her husband — someone who’s, you know, a military man and somebody who’s been through some stuff and someone who needs maybe a little bit of space to deal with what he’s been through and what he’s seen, a space not to be judged and a space maybe not for anyone to say I know how you’re feeling, because in my experience, a lot of vets feel things that no one can understand. They developed a respect and a friendship before it all happened, before it all went down. I don’t know if they will go this route or not, but something Tory and I talked about is a possibility that when the arrival happened, he was in the bar and he was one of the people who helped Katie get out. Tory and I talked about it. We shared it with Ryan and Carlton. I don’t know if they’ll build that into our backstory, but. Part of it has to do with that kind of history. I think another part of it [is] we all have a gut feeling about the people in our lives that we can really trust. Sometimes it happens right away. Sometimes it evolves over time. But there are people in your life that you just go ok, I’m all in. I trust you. Katie brings that trust out in Broussard and it’s a trust he doesn’t have for many people. She just absolutely trusts him, which is why Quale’s orders to have her killed I think really shake Katie to her foundation, because she sees that Broussard is contemplating it. […] When he emerges up the other side of that as a human being, I think then he becomes somebody that like – I think that does bring them ironically closer together.

It was recently announced that you will be reprising your Prison Break role on the revival series. What are you most excited about in regards to retuning to that universe and that character?

It’s such a fascinating, creative challenge to resuscitate something that I buried such a long time ago. There has been a lifetime for me between the end of Prison Break and now — the whole Walking Dead World, you know, my son wasn’t even born, my daughter was just a baby. I feel like a completely different person. And so the idea of doing what you do in theatre quite a lot actually, which is returning to a role once your own sense of yourself and your own life has changed so much, is just a really fascinating and kind of a scary idea too. But it seems to me all of the more reason to do it. The story picks up several years later, so Doctor Sara and Michael have travelled a distance from where we left them. That’s, you know, I just actually finished – I’ve gotten one episode left in season one. I locked myself in a room and binge watched the whole first season to remind myself who these people are and what we went through and what’s going on. It was extraordinary. I wrote to Paul Scheuring last night. I was like, “You know, I don’t watch a lot of television and I don’t watch very much of what I’m in, so some of these episodes I’m seeing for the first time. That first season was an extraordinary season of television. There was just so much really interesting writing and really terrific performances. And if we can build that again, that level of intelligence […] it would be wonderful.”

What would you say to those people who are saying Katie needs to get out of the Resistance work and follow Will?

Should the French Resistance have given up and followed the Nazis? There’s – the history of civil society is the history of resistance. Katie’s perspective is it’s not enough to just raise children. You have to raise children that are free. You see it in her daughter that this little girl is getting used to it. She’s only eight. And so, her memory, the longer this goes on, her memory is more and more a memory of checkpoints and breadlines and curfews and people being afraid of their government. Katie feels very strongly that the greatest act of love is fighting for her children’s intellectual and creative and spiritual freedom.

What was your most memorable episode to work on and why?

Probably episode nine. There was – the big fight scene argument between Will and Katie outside was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever shot, worked on. It became a really extraordinary experience actually, because Josh and I and Ryan and Carlton all had really important things that we wanted to say and be said in the course of that scene. In a way, that scene is the culmination of every move that Will and Katie have made in this chess game until then. We came into it with so much passion and the scene went through lots and lots of revisions — both getting up to it on the day that we were shooting it, as we were shooting it. We had to go back and reshoot a few things because we changed some things. It was one of those creative experiences that gave me so much faith and gratitude for the people that I work with, because you know, it’s Ryan Condal, Carlton Cuse, Josh Holloway, and me. All three of them are my bosses, like Josh is an VP on the show. And one of the most successful showrunners alive. Ryan, he and Carlton created the show together and at no point did anyone assert like dominance over anyone. At no point did Carlton go, hey fuck you guys. Just say what I wrote because I’m Carlton Cuse and fuck it. Like, never. It was […] so respectful where everybody was heard. Everybody had a chance to work with one another, and I came away from that, and then so it’s written and then Josh and I just go ok and like how to do our thing. I came away from it with such respect and gratitude for the people that I work with. And really thinking, well since we’ve been through this together, we’ve now achieved a new level of trust. We can now do so much more — dangerously, creatively, collaboratively — next season. It was, yes, it was really meaningful, that one.