Legends of Tomorrow star Caity Lotz on directing a semi-animated Astra-centric hour
After helming last season's John Woo homage "Mortal Khanbat," the star was handed this Sunday's Astra-centric episode, which is very different from her directorial debut. Titled "The Satanist's Apprentice," the hour explores how Astra (Olivia Swann) is adjusting — or rather, not adjusting — to life on Earth. Unfortunately, John Constantine (Matt Ryan) is of no help whatsoever, so she turns to an unlikely source for support: alien-magic researcher Aleister Crowley, whom Constantine bound on Earth. In a very Legends twist, though, Astra winds up trapped in a Disney-esque animation sequence as a result of this wicked partnership. Meanwhile, on a distant alien planet, Sara (Lotz) gets well-acquainted with her captor, Bishop (Raffi Barsoumian), who lets her in on his evil plan via an old-school presentation on a projector.
Balancing the tones of both plots was "difficult" because "they didn't go together," Lotz tells EW. "They were kind of their own thing, and both of those storylines were pretty full and dynamic and had their very own loud personality. I'd say that was a challenge, making sure those storylines [fit] together so it still felt like you were watching the same show, which is hard when you have space aliens and then Disney princess animation and normal life."
Below, Lotz opens up about her latest directorial effort, working closely with Swann, directing herself, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction when you read the script for the first time?
CAITY LOTZ: I was like, "How the hell are we going to do this?" [Laughs] I had no experience in animation whatsoever. Actually, I reached [out] to a few TV directors and I'm like, "Hey, uh, do you know how this works? How do I even prep for this?" I couldn't find one person who was like, "Yeah, this is how it goes." As soon as I talked to Tony Cervone, who was the animation director, all of my worries went away. It was such a fun process. And we started [prepping the episode] pretty early because animation takes a lot of time.
How much directing on your end goes into an animation sequence like this?
At first, I was like, "Do I have to tell them every single shot [I want] and exactly what to do with this and that?" But Tony's got years and years of experience and they know what they were doing. Basically, I get to do the fun part of broad strokes things where I'm like, "Oh, I'd really like in this moment for Astra to be turned into animation, but the house is still in live-action. I'd like to have a moment of that to see it coming down," and just the bigger ideas of things I'd want to see. In the same [way], Olivia and I talked a lot about what the princess would look like. She really wanted to make sure she had freckles because Olivia's got these great freckles, and making sure her skin tone matched what her actual skin tone looks like. They did so much great stuff and then when they'd send things back — they'd basically do a moving storyboard — and then it's just giving notes on things. "Can we make the coloring more saturated? Like crush the blacks?" The stuff they were coming up with was so cool. Also, I don't even know what they can do. Tony would be like, "We're going to make him giant and bust through the house!" And it's like, "Yes!"
The episode starts out in live-action. How does the animation come into play in the story?
There's this whole theme of Astra [being] a bit helpless in the beginning. She's here on Earth and all the things you would grow up having to learn how to do [she doesn't know]. She's a boss lady, but in Hell, where things are very different. Now she's like, "Wifi? What? A washing machine? I have to buy food from a farmers' market?" She doesn't have any life skills. Adulting. Basically, she needs to learn how to adult. Constantine is not helping her at all. There's this bit of her being a helpless princess. She's wanting John to save her, but no one is coming to save her. She's having to do everything [on her own]. She's trying to learn magic and do it on her own. Crowley essentially casts a spell, and that's how she gets trapped as a Disney princess who can't help but sing. [It's] so fun to see Astra, who is such a strong and prideful character, become this helpless Disney princess.
When we did the IG Live during Six Days of Legends, you mentioned how much you loved working closely with Olivia and Matt on this episode. Is there a moment that stands out to you?
Olivia, we put her through the wringer, and she was so down. She was very excited to do this episode because it's such a big one for her, and she really just brought it. Montage bits take forever to shoot. It only takes up like an eighth of a page, but it takes a long time to film, so we were really having to rush. There were days where she had to change her outfit from being in her boss-lady suit, and then I'm like, "You have 10 minutes to change into your workout outfit." Then I'm like [while shooting], "Give me Flashdance feet movements!" and I'm trying to teach her exercise workout things, and she's just on it. She's such a team player.
Even that scene where she gets splashed [by a car]. That wasn't in the original script. It was just supposed to be raining. But then I was like, "Oh, I really just want to splash and drench her." We get there on the day and it's just a street. We're filling it up [with water] and it's freezing outside. I'm like, "Okay, how do you feel about this? Are you okay?" She's like, "Fill it up with more water. I want a bigger splash." She was just so down. We wouldn't have been able to get all of the stuff that we did if she wasn't on her A-game.
This episode also differs from your first time directing because you actually had to direct yourself for a significant part of the episode. How did you handle that challenge?
That was actually quite challenging. [Laughs] I think I didn't realize how hard it was going to be. I didn't have an example of that; I hadn't worked with somebody who was acting and directing and who could give me the rundown on it. The first day was really difficult, too. By the second, I'd figured out a lot of stuff like, how do I get the monitor feed onto my iPad so I can see the monitors when I'm chained to the bed instead of having to get unhooked and run over to the monitors and watch playback? Because we just don't have time to do any of that stuff.
Because of COVID, my stand-in couldn't stand in for me with the actors because they're in a different zone. So, I didn't know [if] I could've [or] should've gotten an acting double that would be clearer and COVID-tested so that she could stand in with the actors so that I could at least frame up on somebody and be able to watch a rehearsal or something like that. We just don't have time to watch playback every time. So, there's a lot of stuff I learned, and I'm eager to do it again because I think I would do better. But while I was filming this first time, it was a bit frustrating and difficult because I want to focus on one thing at a time, and it's hard to wear those hats simultaneously, especially with our schedule.
This is the first episode where we spend a lot of time with the season's big bad, Bishop. What conversations did you have with Raffi Barsoumian about his performance?
We had a lot of fun. I really enjoyed working with Raffi. He had to walk a really fine line; Bishop is over the top. Raffi is such a likable person, so it's [about] getting all of that quirkiness but still having him seem a bit scary and unpredictable. That whole projection scene was really fun because we basically staged it like he was doing a stage-play, and we had the actual projector so we could get all of the projections on him. Originally, that was supposed to be CGI, and we were going to do it in post, but I really love the projection mapping and the way you're able to interact with the light when we do it practically. Raffi even came in on days off to rehearse in the space so we could line it up. It took a lot of testing to figure out the right brightness for the camera. It was fun. He really just brings so much life to that character.
DC's Legends of Tomorrow airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on The CW.