Chambers creator Leah Rachel answers burning questions and teases a season 2
[SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED ALL OF NETFLIX’S CHAMBERS!!!]
One of the wildest, most bats*** crazy horror shows we’ve seen recently is definitely Netflix’s Chambers. The series, which debuted April 26 on the platform, follows Arizona teenager Sasha (Sivan Alyra Rose) after she receives a heart transplant from the dead daughter of Nancy (Uma Thurman) and Ben Lefevre (Tony Goldwyn). But Sasha slowly begins seeing visions and sensing that the death of Becky (Lilliya Scarlett Reid) was not as accidental as previously believed. To say the series takes some unexpected twists is like saying that Avengers: Endgame made a few bucks.
EW talked to creator Leah Rachel about the inspiration for the show and what could be in store for a potential season two.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the inspiration for this show come from?
LEAH RACHEL: Well, I always have to write about the questions that are sort of existential. The things that I’m dealing with in my own life. So I wanted to do something that was very as much as a show as a psychological horror. I was and am constantly searching for my belief system. And, what I believe in, where a soul is held, what happens after we die? Have I had past lives? Is this my first time on Earth? All these, you know, weird kind of 4 a.m. thoughts. So, I feel like the show’s filled with a lot of 4 a.m. thoughts, actually. But, it came from me wanting to explore something on that metaphysical sort of astral plane. But also, I am always drawn to stories that have to do with the loss of identity. And, this seemed like such a perfect marriage between the two. Hopefully different audiences can pull different things from. But, the story of a teenage girl is a psychological horror anyway. So, kind of capitalizing on that, and then also taking it to a supernatural level where a young woman is having to defend her own identity.
Two of the unique elements of the show are the location (Arizona) and focusing the series on a Native American teenage girl. Tell me about those choices.
There’s something so terrifying about the desert to me. It’s deafeningly loud — the silence. There’s so many secrets, you can’t see far. And if you can, it looks like a giant painting that’s sort of morphing. Because nothing’s moving. And, you know, I know people go out to the desert to do drugs. But I kind of feel like I am on drugs when I’m in the desert at night. You can get lost; you lose your sense of direction. Everything’s so beautiful but you just get the feeling that there’s so much hidden. And there’s such a vastness to it, it’s so powerful. You can see weather coming in from so far away that it will never even reach you. I did a lot of research for the show in Arizona where it takes place, even though we filmed in New Mexico. A whole lot of research around Sedona, where I have this love/hate relationship with Sedona. I love it but I also feel like everybody there is either a cult leader or a serial killer. And that felt like such fertile ground for a psychological story.
You bring up the fact that the Sasha character — she’s half Native American on her mother’s side. And, that’s a giant, giant part. Sivan herself who plays it was raised and grew up, and I think just moved away from the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona like six months before we started filming. The town of Sedona’s so wealthy, and you’ve got places like Scottsdale, and all these little pockets of supreme wealth. And then you get outside of it, and there’s just … it’s reservation land. And I don’t think most people have seen that on TV. Probably because people are afraid to look at your own scars, you know?
But because sort of we explore a lot of belief systems and cultures in the show. And the character Sasha being half Native American, it was just more of a question of, “Why not?” Because like you brought up, you haven’t seen a lead there. And she’s not a Native American teenager — she’s a teenager who happens to be half Native American. She’s not defined by her culture. The story is about a heart transplant gone wrong — it’s not about her being Native American and I think that in itself was really important to us.
Sivan didn’t really act in anything major before. How did you cast her?
She didn’t even have a headshot. She had a profile picture, like, stapled to a piece of paper that basically said, “Sivan Alyra Rose.” We had two casting directors that worked together, Alexa Fogel and Rene Haynes. Rene specifically is very ingrained in the Native American community. She knew so much amazing talent, but they had just never gotten, sort of, a chance to audition for huge roles. I said, “Look, I don’t want somebody cute, I want it to be it’s like they’ve been through some s***.” And she goes, “I have her.” And I was like, “Okay, okay.” She goes, “I have her.” And she did. Sivan came in in sweatpants and a Tupac shirt and she just blew us away.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (American Horror Story) directed the first episode. The show feels a little Dario Argento and even a little Roman Polanski. What horror films inspired the look of Chambers?
Well, all of that for sure. We looked at a lot of ’70s Italian horror. Some Japanese horror stuff and even Donnie Darko in a strange way. In horror, everything’s usually kind of glossy and elevated and we wanted it to feel a little bit documentarian which was why we cast a whole bunch of unknown actors as well.
The opposite of unknown is Uma Thurman. How did you get her for this? She has to do some pretty wild things (hello hysterical pregnancy) — was she game for it all?
She was so down for everything. It was incredible. You’ve seen the show; you mentioned the ambition of it which I hope we mostly succeed at. But we’re going for a lot in it. I think everybody involved had to be really f***ing down. You know? Like, “Look, we’re going to make some weird s***, we all have to go for it together. Nobody can pussyfoot. We’re going to go for it, and hopefully we won’t be scraping ourselves up off the street. But we’re going to go for it.”
Alexa Fogel, the casting director that I mentioned, works out of New York and when we were casting the Nancy role, she put Uma at the top of the list. I think I ran back in the writer’s room and laughed out loud. Alfonso, Alexa and I went to her apartment and we met with her for about five hours. And that turned into some of other meetings. She was really excited to work with a young female creator with an unknown star and tell some of the touchy, strange, uncomfortable stories that the show does. I think she was excited to do something really different too. She really mentored Sivan, especially, on set and really took this godmother-type role to the show that was awesome. She was a producer too and had amazing ideas. She’s so smart, and creatively wild. But her personality fit right into the fabric of the show because she is so like, “F***it! Let’s do it.”
You have a great deal of female directors working on this show too. Was that important for you?
It was. I’m an aspiring, young, female director as well. So it’s sort of help your peers. You know? Give them a leg up. And Netflix was amazing through it and with it. We took a lot of risks with people that had only directed one, two episodes of television that ended up being some of our most amazing directors. But I think the show has a feminine energy to it. Even in the horror, and just the sultriness of it. And the sleepiness of it sometimes. The pink hues. So we wanted some women behind that too. And even the male directors that we did have, like Alfonso, are quite sensitive.
And you had cult horror director Ti West (The House of the Devil) direct a couple episodes too.
Ti’s awesome. In our visual books, we actually had some stills from his movie House of the Devil. So he knows that vibe. And, we were searching for directors that we knew were going to dive into the grime, you know, of the show? You know? And sort of this scrappy kind of feeling of it and be excited about it instead of scared of it. We just had an amazing, amazing call with him. He came, kicked ass in episode three. So we brought him back for the crazy ride that is episode eight.
Okay, now some burning questions: What is the deal with the fake baby that Nancy brings home from the Annex?
They’re called Reborn Dolls and they’re used a lot if you lose a child, if there’s a miscarriage. They are the actual weight. Some of them cost like $1,500. So, here’s the strange thing: I was carrying them on set and they’re actually kind of comforting. I’m also a 33-year-old that still sleeps with a teddy bear. The teddy bear that’s in the show. That’s my teddy bear. So I’m clearly putting unhealthy projections onto inanimate objects. But it’s absolutely a real thing. Google “Reborn Doll.” Your mind will be blown.
Penelope (Lilli Kay) was one of my favorite characters but I still don’t fully get her. Was she buying a wig in the flashback to Sasha’s heart attack?
After she gives Sasha mouth to mouth, she smirks. What can you say about that?
I think that Penelope has a very hard time understanding the gravity of situations. I think that she’s really happy to have done something that might buy her allegiance as a lifetime friend to somebody.
And what can you say about her? Are her motives nefarious?
You know what? I’d almost say Penelope is less nefarious than you think she is. I think she has some difficulty with social cues. She actually, in season 2, becomes a bit of an ally. And she’s seen other things that have happened and gone on in the house since she’s been really young.
So the guy who sees Nancy walking down the road in the final episode, that’s the guy who Frank (Marcus LaVoi) hired at the aquarium right?
Yes. I mean he’s a worker bee of The Annex and they recruited him in jail. You see him digging an open, shallow grave. You’d probably find out who was put in there at the beginning of a season 2.
At the end, Nancy and her son Elliott (Nicholas Galitzine) both end up in the Annex but Nancy gives her son a note saying, “The only way out is through.” What does that mean?
It might be we’re going to have to buy in a little bit to get out. You know, join in the group to turn them over.
Nancy tells Elliott that Ben is dead. Is that really true?
Come back for season 2.
By the end of the season, we learn that Sasha is now possessed by the spirit of Lilith, the first wife of Adam of the Bible. How did you come up with this twist?
In the first season, Becky is very misunderstood. At first, we all think she’s the dark thing, only to realize she was sort of a victim herself. And, Lilith is a character that has been, I think, extremely misunderstood. And, there’s lots of different takes on her in lots of different cultures. And she’s a woman that carries thousands and thousands of years of suppressed rage. Rightfully so. She’s also an icon. She kind of borders between a demon and an icon, depending on who you talk to. And, this is a show, above all, about misunderstood and powerful women. Some crazy s*** will go down if we get a season two.
What can you say about those final moments when Sasha seems to kill those Annex members in her front yard?
Well the first thing I’ll say is it’s sort of in the same category as Ben. She might not have killed them. They might have gone to a different place at the moment. Without going into super specifics, I think the thematics around season two would be a little bit along the lines of what you were saying. But also, how abuse of power and what happens to a girl that’s only been told she’s ever powerless. You sort of have this possession story that you thought was about a demon being put inside of a girl, and what if she actually ends up being God?