Toni Collette and Naomi Alderman on The Power: ‘I think the show is so aligned with where we're at as humans’
Toni Collette, John Leguizamo, Ria Zmitrowicz, Zrinka Cvitešić, Halle Bush, and Heather Agyepong, as well as author Naomi Alderman and series showrunner Raelle Tucker all discuss their experience working on Amazon Prime Video's The Power
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The Power is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. A new adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s 2016 novel of the same name, it’s a piece of speculative science fiction that asks how the world might change if all the teenage girls in the world could electrocute people at will – a superpower that doubles as a social power. The Power follows a politician in Seattle, a photojournalist in Nigeria, and a gangster in London as power dynamics around the world are turned on their head forever.
The series itself has been in development almost since the book was published – that’s when the rights were first optioned – and ended up finding itself one of the productions most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Casting began in late 2019 with a view to filming in early 2020, before those plans then fell apart for obvious reasons – meaning that while some of the cast and crew we spoke to have been involved with the series since 2019, others came to it much later.
Across this interview, actors Toni Collette, (Mayor Margot Cleary-Lopez), John Leguizamo (Rob Lopez), Ria Zmitrowicz (Roxy Monke), Zrinka Cvitešić (Tatiana Moskalev), Halle Bush (Allie) and Heather Agyepong (Ndudi), as well as author Naomi Alderman and series showrunner Raelle Tucker all discuss their experience working on the show, how their relationship to the story changed in the time it took for The Power to make it from script to screen, and more.
Toni, you joined The Power a little later than John, replacing another actor during a series of reshoots. What was that like? What was your working relationship like?
Toni Collette: You mean, pure panic?
John Leguizamo: You would never know it, you would never know it.
TC: There was a lot to do in a very short period of time. Thankfully, I had John! I mean, there was quite a bit of pressure –
JL: There was a lot of pressure, no doubt no doubt.
TC: – but also it was a thrill to play someone like Margo, you know? To play someone so strong, and so idealistic, and with such purpose, someone who wears so many different hats, and has so many different responsibilities. To play a woman that complex and so real-seeming is a gift. All the actors I got to work with were amazing: I loved working with John, because he's just so completely open, completely present, and listens. He's so generous, and that's all you can ever ask. That's all you want, ideally, as an acting partner. It just made the work so easy, and it allowed it to flow – and when it's like that stuff can come out of it. You can't even pre plan, and that's the most exciting part.
JL: Yeah, it was amazing. Toni came into it, and she came to it so generously – she has such a buoyancy about her. She manifests this strong woman, the mayor, and you believe that she was the mayor – you believe that she was in charge, you believe that she was going to shape the world the way she wanted to. Which is amazing! And at the same time, she’s funny, and she’s vulnerable. We had these beautiful, complex marital scenes where we're loving each other, fighting with each other, turned on by each other, turned off by each other. We were like a real marriage. It was incredible.
The majority of the creative team on The Power – writers, directors, producers – are women. Is it fair to say that was a unique experience across your career?
TC: I think for all of us, yeah. I've worked with a lot of female directors –
JL: Me too, me too.
TC: – but yeah, behind the scenes, to have so many women in positions of creativity and decision making, it was exciting. It’s just exciting, man, because we're all born into a patriarchal world, and we live in a society that has upheld male power for so long. This show is made by Sister
TC: Yeah, the company is called Sister.
JL: Three women! Yeah!
TC: Yeah, it embraces the idea that we are equal, and that's what the show is about. That's what we need in reality, and I think the show is so aligned with where we're at as humans and where we're at in terms of our evolution and how we need to exist moving forward. It just, I don't know, it somehow feels important. And I know that you [John] started to make the show before COVID, but post-COVID, and with all that's changed since COVID – because that was a very strange thing for all of us to experience, it somehow unified us actually? That was the best part of it. I know people struggled and had loss, and it was hideous for a lot of people, but one good thing is that we realised we were all in it together, and we are all in it together. Right? So there needs to be a sense of equality. [The Power] just shows this opportunity, and this potential of how it could be, is important somehow, especially now.
JL: You know, it's amazing, because the show is about women getting power – you know, an electrical charge – but it's a metaphor for women having real power, and then the production side was all women. It was incredible, because all the directors were women, all the writers were women, most of the producers were women. It was amazing and you're surrounded by female empowerment – and you're treated as a male with great respect, it's no different. It was a beautiful experience all round, inside the story and outside the story.
You’ve all been working on The Power for a long time – Naomi even longer with the novel of course – so how has the way you think about the story and your relationship to it changed in that time?
Halle Bush: I would say for me, when the pandemic hit, everything changed. It changed the way we were operating, it changed everybody's world. It never really came up for me while filming, but it did change a bit within my character. Honestly, I just love Allie's story. And within the pandemic, I think it just changed everything. So I think everybody was trying to get used to the pandemic after it hit the world.
Heather Agyepong: I think for me it changed quite drastically, actually. We were making – my storyline follows a Nigerian woman – and we were talking about the End SARS protests, this protest against police brutality. The Nigerian youth was so outspoken, and really at the forefront of these radical protests and movements, so that really informed some of the writing and the character development in terms of these kinds of activists that are coming out of Nigeria. That really helped kind of ground me a bit more in the reality of the story.
Naomi Alderman: I mean, I think, for me, I started working on the novel in 2011. That is a long time ago! I think certainly conversations with fans have really pushed forward my thinking, particularly fans would come to me and say, ‘but what would happen to trans women in this world?’, and I was like, I hadn't thought about it in 2011. I hadn't thought about it – and now I've thought about it. We have a fantastic actress Daniela Vega, who's playing Sister Maria. And you've got a fantastic storyline with her. Do you want to speak to that, Halle?
HB: Oh, yeah, it's definitely a fantastic, fantastic storyline. It was just really, really fun to work with everybody on set; I made friends for life with Alli Boyer-Ybarra, who plays Luann. Within Allie’s storyline, it's just a beautiful story for her because she was looking for family, and she found that family within the convent. Me and Alli and Seema and Daniela, we all had chemistry immediately, so it helped with our characters chemistry as well and their relationships.
NA: Right, right. I think meeting people who have been playing the characters and having those conversations about what the truth is of your lives and your experiences, and having conversations with other writers in the room, has also made me go ‘ah, okay, I have sort of understood up to a point’ – and then there's always room for further understanding. So yeah, no, I think we've had a real – well, I've had a real learning journey on all of them.
HA: This is why we love Naomi Alderman so much. There is a real collaboration and interest in different voices with herself. There's an honour with your own writing and your vision, but also there's always conversations happening around [that] which feels like a privilege to have on set. So yeah. Thanks, Naomi.
NA: Oh, thanks! Thanks to the two of you! You’re both amazing!
Ria Zmitrowicz: Just from a technical point of view, before the pandemic, when we were working on it, we were working with one director. You get into a rhythm of working with that director, and then coming back after the pandemic, the schedule was all over the shop, because of locations and because of everything that we had been through. So, it was kind of like a boot camp in acting, because in the morning, you might be with one director, and then in the afternoon you’d be with a different director. You had to learn very quickly to jump between rhythms and work with different directors – that's something that really changed, coming back after COVID.
RZ: Shannon Murphy really helped me find the real feral energy that Roxy has and the wildness in her, and then in the afternoon, you might be working with Ugla [Hauksdóttir], who made me really mine the psychological internal side to the character. It was a different way of working, but we just had to throw ourselves in and it hopefully makes for a more nuanced performance.
Zrinka Cvitešić: Just to add to that, I think the beauty of it was that all the characters were written with so many layers, with that spider net of the finest different [pieces]. I think having all these different directors and DoPs just filled each [part] of that little of this pattern. I think that was amazing. It was hard, but I think it was amazing.
What sort of changes needed to be made to translate the novel to television?
Raelle Tucker: Well, I believe if something's not broken, then you don't need to fix it. So, I think fans of the book will probably attest to the fact that the show very much follows the themes and arcs of the novel fairly closely. I held hands with Naomi Alderman, the author, through this experience – we got in a room every single week and talked through every single decision that I was making. It was really important to me to make something that she didn't hate, and that she felt represented her book and her life's work well.
RT: Stylistically, just as an artist myself, and as a writer with my own voice, I think I really just tried to tap into how the book made me feel. I wanted every episode to make you feel what the book did, which is that feeling of ‘I need to know what's going to happen next. I don't know what's going to happen next!’ That sense of revolution, too, of breaking down barriers, of giving the finger to the constructs that we've all been repressed by to some degree. That's not just women, that's every gender. That's every kind of people. That spirit was in our minds and in our writers room every day, like, what do we want to tackle? What do we want to give the finger to? That was my approach to it.
The Power is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, with new episodes available weekly on Fridays. You can find more of our coverage of The Power here, and read more of our TV interviews here.