Sense8 season 2 saw the cluster not only deal with the terrifying (but aptly nicknamed) Whispers, but also introduced the core eight — Will, Riley, Nomi, Lito, Wolfgang, Sun, Capheus, and Kala — to other clusters, ones not connected to their sensate mother Angelica, or her sensate sibling Jonas. And in the process, the main characters were introduced to the Archipelago network, a method through which sensates can share or communicate information (faster than Google), as well as the true origins of the Biological Preservation Organization (a.k.a. BPO).
But as the season progressed, this wasn’t all that was on everyone’s collective mind as each of them was dealing with their own personal conflicts, whether it was accepting an invitation to appear at the Sao Paulo pride festival, or going after their brother for framing them for murder.
EW caught up with executive producer Grant Hill to discuss some of what’s going on in season 2 of the Netflix drama.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does it feel to have the second season out there now?
GRANT HILL: It’s really gratifying. This was a big bold leap from season 1, both in terms of the complexity and the scope of it. The first season is beautifully modulated, but it’s largely introducing the lead characters. You’ve got 10 leading characters, so really just giving their backstory and getting them together to the point where they realize that they can see through somebody else’s eyes and there is this jeopardy. Getting through that left us free to really get into the narrative side of that with a little more action and gave us the space to stay true to the big complex scenes and also to develop relationships between the characters. We’re very proud of it. So it’s been incredibly gratifying to see so many other people really like it and understand what it is we’re doing.
Considering there’s all that stuff with BPO, and then all of the characters’ personal lives, and relationships, how do you balance all that storytelling? Is there anything, in particular, you have to keep in mind?
The first part is having really great writers. This last one was largely [co-creator/EP] Lana [Wachowski]. It’s very odd because you’d think with all these characters, the story you have to tell, and the level of action you want to give, it would be difficult. But in a funny way, this project is different in that regard because we just built our own system. We do follow a number of parallels, narrative story lines, with ever-changing relationships, and sometimes we want to introduce new characters where we can. I have to say, it seems to have really found a good place because it was so profoundly obvious when we started to plan the series, that we had to develop a shorthand for doing that and keeping our eyes on everything. We’ve had good people keeping our eyes on it, and two fantastic editors, who if we miss it, they get it. That helps a lot when you’ve got that sort of back up.
How far ahead do you have the mythology of the sensates fleshed out? Or is that on a season-to-season basis?
You know, it’s sort of largely fleshed out, but inevitably it keeps changing. What we’ve found is, because there are so many movable pieces, it’s not really practical to have a hard line for anything, whether it be relationship [stuff] or BPO because there are so many moving pieces. That, by definition, means the script is always changing. The characters are always changing. When you shoot a sequence you’ll all have that sequence written, but we or Lana will make changes as she shoots, to make sure it incorporates any changes in it or things surrounding it since the script was written. Again, I don’t know how she does it. A lot of it’s written, but a lot of it’s in her mind. That’s the engine that keeps it all together.
Let’s talk BPO. The organization was started as a way to help sensates, but has since been corrupted from its original goal. Correct?
Once it has been realized that as well as Homo Sapiens there are Homo Sensoriums, a totally different group, they set up the BPO organization to try and bring the two bodies together, and to learn from each other. It’s very much built on high ideals but over time like a lot of organizations, it starts to get corrupted as people realize the value of the sensoriums and what purposes those attributes may be turned around to just to work for you. At a certain point, they cross that line and it turns from two groups that were trying to help each other to one group which is determined during various stages to try and drain the knowledge from them. BPO is basically hunting the sensates. Sometimes that leads to killing, sometimes that leads to them trying to extract the knowledge. At the moment it’s still unclear what the BPO ultimately seeks to do, or whether it even has a very direct plan. Are they seeking to completely eradicate the sensates? Or do they just want to use them as anything from basic slaves to these weird killing machines? I don’t think we’ve really found out where on the scale that’s going to land. Can it be brought back to something that’s ultimately beneficial or have they totally gone rogue?
Do they have access to the Archipelago network or is that something only the other clusters or sensates know about?
The other clusters know about it or are aware or have heard of it. The thing with the clusters is, none of them know how many other clusters there are. And all of those clusters aren’t necessarily at the same state of evolution. At the moment it’s an awareness thing that there are other people out there that you don’t recognize as sensate or cluster members, but as they evolve, people in clusters sort of have the ability to sense that somebody is there; usually it’s in a quick flash and they develop this knowledge and the awareness that there are these other people.
When did you know this season would end with all of the members of our cluster meeting? Because it’s very a much a parallel to last season’s ending in a way.
This is sort of a Lana question. She always felt that would be an appropriate place to end the season. When you start, things do evolve. You don’t end up where you think you would. In this case, it’s where she had in mind as being an obvious or strong point to end. And I think as we were shooting it, everybody realized that this was the way to end it as it was both strong for the story, the fans, and whatever comes after.
One of the most striking scenes this season was that pride festival in Brazil. Talk to me about how some of that came about.
We always thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to go down to Sao Paolo for the pride festival there?” But when we got our original schedule, there were just two or three very specific days and we couldn’t make it work. So we gave it up as something we would try next season. But then our schedule changed at the last minute when we were actually shooting in Malibu, and for some production reason we had to change our schedule around. But it became apparent that if we went literally the next day and flew overnight, we could get to the first day of the festival. So that’s what it is. We finished working at nine o’clock at night in Malibu, we booked seats and flew the crew straight from the set down to Sao Paolo. They got up in the morning, no looking around, no camera positions. Just, “Here’s your float. Get on it. You won’t be off it for eight hours. And whatever you get during that time is what you get.” It totally was just us grabbing at it when we had a chance. Sometimes those things don’t work. Sometimes they do. This worked spectacularly well. We landed amongst a million and a half people, a lot of them big fans of the show, and it took on a life of its own.
Were there any other kind of big changes like that as you were filming the season?
There’s a lot of small changes, but nothing more than you’d expect. Seoul grew a little bit as we wrote up the escape scene [for Sun]. We ended up with a big action scene in the middle of the city. It’s sort of strange because we shot most of it in two nights. Over the years we’ve done action scenes, but they’ve all sort of taken a little longer, but with this filmmaking, you’ve got the time that you’ve got. So Lana and the other directors adopted, starting with the first season, throwing away the old playbook for eight or ten minutes a day. Which is very ambitious particularly if you’re doing big, complex action stuff and moving every ten days. The production is a big goliath of a thing. You’re moving between 15 cities and 12 countries. So that dictates a certain element.
Right. Because you’re shooting scenes in the actual countries they’re set.
It’s the hardest, but probably the best decisions that Netflix allowed us to make. We wanted to use the character of each city to inform our characters and the story… Because each of those cities is in a sense “alive,” and we aren’t going around looking for the most obvious touristy things. If we have an Indian character being filmed in Mumbai, we wanted it to be in places and doing things that person would do. But that also means in each of those cities drawing on their local actors or their production service people or crew basically. That creates a momentum in itself that feeds into each other and the script as we go along. That was a tremendously important decision to make because it gives you that feeling. You’re looking out at Nairobi, at the outskirts of town, and it’s real. And when you go to shoot a chase sequence in Seoul, it’s real. All their characters come forward strongly in each of those cities.
This season, in particular, has given Doona Bae some great action sequences. Is it a case of you knowing what she can do, or do you just write scenes trusting she can do the stunts required?
I’ve long since learned not to judge what Doona can do. When we first worked with her, she was this incredibly polite, beautiful, gentle, and great actress. She wasn’t a sporty person, so we started to train her up a bit. She worked really hard and enjoyed it, so she would do a little bit more next time. In a very short time, she was like, “Hey! I can do that.” She’s quite extraordinary. We’ve got some good people around her, so she’s sort of protected. But she’s game for anything. She has her own style within those martial arts moves that is something that can be pretty tough but is a gentle force in all of her. She’s very self-determined.
I know season 2 just came out, but is there anything you can say about Season 3?
It was such a rush to get this finished, and it’s the only quiet weekend I’ve had for a while. I suppose we’ll start talking now to see where we go.
Sense8 season 2 is currently available to stream on Netflix.