The series Moonhaven
, which comes to AMC on Thursday, takes place 100 years in the future and follows Bella Sway, played by Emma McDonald, a cargot pilot who ends up stranded in the idyllic community of Moonhaven on the Moon after being accused of a crime.
McDonald loved everything about Bella right away. “She's so cool,” the actress told SciFi Vision during a recent exclusive interview. “She flies a spaceship. She's fantastic with her fists, with her mind. She's funny…There's not really anything that didn't draw me to her.”
At the beginning, Bella doesn’t fit in well with those on the Moon. “She fits in reluctantly,” explained McDonald. “In fact, she stands apart from the rest of the gang. She's an Earther. She has fought in many wars. She's a rebel. She's a bit of a loner, but she wouldn't describe herself in that way…She kind of watches from a distance.”
The actress did say, however, that Bella is “fiercely loyal” if she lets you into her inner circle, which is what happens when she teams up with the local detective, Paul Sarno (Dominic Monaghan), to find the truth, when she finds herself with a connection to a murder victim.
“They have such a beautiful journey that they go on, metaphorically and also physically, literally, over the course of the series,” said McDonald of the relationship between Bella and Paul.
Bella also soon ends up entangled in the lives of the Mooners when she and Paul get pulled into a conspiracy surrounding the artificial intelligence that’s being tested in Moonhaven with the hopes of saving humanity back on Earth. “She is forced to live among them for a while, and they grow on her as the series goes on,” the actress told the site. “…She finds them strange and a little bit annoying, but she's also fascinated by them. As the story goes on, she begins to care more and realize that humanity very much does need the Mooners, and they're strange, but in beautiful ways.”
During the interview McDonald also talked about working with the special effects, getting to pretend to fly a ship, the physicality of the role, and much more. Be sure to read the full transcript below and watch Moonhaven
starting Thursday on AMC, or available to stream now on AMC+.
SCIFI VISION: Can you start by talking about what drew you to the role?
Everything about her. She's so cool. She flies a spaceship. She's fantastic with her fists, with her mind. She's funny. She has the best taste in music. Just her dryness. There's not really anything that didn't draw me to her. This is such a unique show, I think, that people haven't really seen before. Can you talk about the character and sort of where she's she's headed, how she sort of fits into the puzzle of everybody?
Reluctantly, she fits in reluctantly. In fact, she stands apart from from the rest of the gang. She's an Earther. She has fought in many wars. She's a rebel. She's a bit of a loner, but she wouldn't describe herself in that way. She's happiest when she's in CAT, her spaceship between the Earth and the Moon. She kind of watches from a distance. She's fiercely loyal, if she lets you into her inner circle, but that can take some time. She has a lot of love for people as well…Yeah, I mean, there's so much about her. All right. What did you do to prepare? She’s not just a normal pilot, but is there anything you sort of looked into for this role?
I like you said that; it's very unusual, I think. It takes it’s time, and I think it's more cinematic than it is television in a lot of ways. It's beautifully shot and exquisitely scored, but I'm getting off track - my preparation. I lived on my own at the edge of a cliff, where we were shooting an island. So, I kind of detached myself from the rest of society. My neighbors were goats and chickens, and every morning I would go out barefoot, and I would put my hands and my feet on the ground, and I would kind of greet the earth and greet the day - and see a lot of stars. I'm in London and you don't really you don't really sort of see that very often. I did a lot of meditation. I would go for swim in the sea each morning. I spent a lot of time in the gym working on my core and upper body strength. I watched Blade Runner
. I read some some brilliant books. I chatted to Peter obsessively; Peter Ocko, our showrunner and writer and just extraordinaire human being. I chatted with the directors a lot. I also work a lot by just playing with my fellow actors. Costume helped massively, as did my hair. I just kind of allowed myself to be free and have fun on set and see what happened.
At the beginning, I don't want to say she wants nothing to do with it, but it's not really important to her, what's going on with the whole Moon versus Earth. Can you sort of talk a bit about how her time around the people and just being there for a while changes her outlook on what's going on with everything?
She is forced to live among them for a while, and they grow on her as the series goes on. She also has a very personal connection with what has happened, which piques her interest in a way. She can't look away, although she does try to at the start. Initially, she finds them strange and a little bit annoying, but she's also fascinated by them. As the story goes on, she begins to care more and realize that humanity very much does need the Mooners, and they're strange, but in beautiful ways, as well as their technology. It’s such a gorgeous set, and it looks like a lot of it's practical. Do you have a favorite part?
Yeah, I mean, gosh, I wish I had bigger suitcases, and I could bring everything with me. The sets were stunning. The details on them were beautiful. I love the clock in Paul's home, the spinning clock that you sometimes see on the back of the wall. I love my music maker. My spaceship, if I could have [put] that in my suitcase, I would have. My flying rings, those were favorites of mine. Everything in the loch in the Sea of Tranquility I thought was beautiful. The whole of Martha, who played little Eleanor, [her] room, there were just so many things. My necklace I liked. Everything. I’m not sure how much of it was digital, but did you have a hard time working with that part of it? I would think it would still been fun though to get to pretend to fly the ship, even if it's not all obviously real?
Yeah, it was awesome. It was so much fun. It was kind of like being a theme park, although I've never actually been to a theme park. That was fun. It was a new way. I've never seen a spaceship flown like that before as well. I liked it. I got the movements from Roisin [Whelan], our choreographer who did the Kinetabet and other dancers that you will see throughout the series.
… I got to take my rings home with me. I'd sit on my sofa sort of going [acts it out]. And I liked the change of hold. That was something that I brought in; I flipped them around. I got to make my own GeForce, because obviously I’m not moving, so I got to kind of sit and shake.
But yeah, there was a lot of blue screen as well to work with, and I had never done any of that before. There's a beautiful bit with a bird. So, it was kind of trying to see that and see the bird drop and various other things throughout the series, but you kind of grow to love it. Can you talk about working with Dom?
Yes, we had such a good time. He was my buddy, right from day one. He would check in with me on a Sunday. We'd go to the gym together, which was great. He can lift, man. He’s strong. He is so strong. He can do like a five-minute plank. Who can do a five-minute plank? We had we had such a laugh together.
They have such a beautiful journey that they go on, metaphorically and also physically, literally, over the course of the series.
He's fantastic. He's a fantastic actor, and it was just a joy to work with him. He's got some special scenes...particularly in [Episode] Four. He has a beautiful scene. Yeah, we just had a lot of fun. You mentioned the physical. Can you talk about the stunt work that you did for this? Do you enjoy that kind of thing?
I love it. It's so much fun to use your body. I started going to the gym straightaway when I got the role. I was like, “Yes!” I'm still working on my chin ups. My press ups are pretty good now. It was an honor to work with Joe as well, Joe Manganiello, on the stunts. The stunt team was brilliant. I learned a lot. I learned a lot as well from Belle Williams. She was my stunt double, but I actually did all of my fights with her support…As you start sort of initially, you're a little bit tentative with them, and as you go on, you kind of get to be a little bit, I suppose, faster but also stronger with your movements. It's kind of, I suppose, in some ways, learning it like a dance, the steps that you're doing, how your body responds, but also selling those hits. I loved it. I got to do so much running as well, which I liked. I got to channel my sort of inner Tom Cruise. Yeah, I mean, gosh, she was so much fun, the physicality of Bella, but also her emotionality as well that develops sort of over the season. It sounds like from what you said that you have more scenes with Joe [coming up]. Did you get to work with him more after - I guess, let's just say he changes.
That's a good way of putting it – [a] transformative character. Yeah, Joe and I had a great time together. He's so much fun. He's so cool. I actually had a chest infection as well later on. I was on antibiotics for a couple of weeks later on in the season, and one day we were together, and he was like, “Are you okay? Are you ill?” And I was like, “Yeah, I've got a bit of a cold, but I won't breathe on you or anything. Sorry, Joe.”
Then, he went away for a little bit, and I thought it was getting some food, and he went to buy me a blanket. He's just such a lovely man.
His dog Bubbles though. She's scary. [laughs]
She's a fierce little chihuahua. I thought she would be my friend by the end of filming, but no; she was still not interested in me.
But, yeah, Joe was so much fun to work with, such a cool guy.
Cool. I'm looking forward to seeing what develops with that.
Yes, he goes on quite the journey.
So, other than being sick, obviously, what did you find the most difficult overall?
For me, I've got quite an intense theater background. I've done a lot of Shakespeare, a lot of touring, not so much film and TV. So, this was a very exciting and new world for me. Normally with theater, you have a month-long rehearsal period. Then, you're doing the shows for a month, two months, three months sometimes. So, you kind of get to watch them evolve. And obviously, you're doing things chronologically. You're doing them in order, which you're not [here]. It’s all out of sequence. You also get to kind of sleep on things when you're doing theater, and you kind of think, “What can I bring to this,” or “What should I change?” You watch a show go on such a journey, even though it's the same thing and the same pages. With this, for me, the hardest thing was letting go of each scene, because obviously, once that's done, that's done, and you go home, and you're like, “I could have done this. Oh, no!” So, making peace, I think, with each scene when they were done and then just starting the new day, was for me the biggest challenge.
That makes me wonder, do you watch yourself back a lot, since you're not kind of used to being able to see and kind of alter as you go?
No, I didn't really I didn't watch any of the tapes while we were filming, the monitors anyway, except for in the fight scenes, purely because I wanted to see how things were landing. But no, apart from that, I didn't. I put my trust in the wonderful directors and Peter and the brilliant editors and everyone else involved on that side of the production and just had faith. They'd cast me for the role. They'd seen something in me, and I was having a blast doing it, so something must be working.
Can you describe your character in three words? Sometimes that's hard.
I'm going to say, “rebel without a cause,” but that's four words. Can I get away with that?
That's okay. That'll work.
I mean, expect the unexpected. It changes a lot.