Roswell, New Mexico star Lily Cowles on Isobel's self-empowerment and fangirling over Jason Behr
The actress takes us inside her character's heartbreaking grief and trauma on the CW extraterrestrial drama.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Roswell, New Mexico season 2, episode 3, "Good Mother."
For a town inhabited by aliens, a whole bunch of very human, very real — and heartbreaking! — drama sure does go down in Roswell, New Mexico.
On Monday's episode of the CW series, we journeyed back in time to the scene of the 1947 saucer crash that brought Max (Nathan Dean Parsons), Isobel (Lily Cowles), and Michael (Michael Vlamis) to the New Mexico small town, and we got our first glimpse of Jason Behr (who played Max on the original Roswell series) as a zealous army officer intent on capturing the recently landed extraterrestrials. While we learned more about Michael's mother's arrival on Earth and the turbulent hours that followed, back in the present Isobel was having a rough time of it herself, having chosen to attempt to end her pregnancy alone and confront her grief over the loss of her brother and basically the whole life she'd known with Noah (Karan Oberoi) for so many years.
We caught up with Cowles about the emotional scenes with Parsons, the bold decision to bring an abortion story line to the forefront of the episode, and bumping into her teenage crush at craft services.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Isobel is obviously carrying a lot of grief and pain this season from the loss and violations she suffered last season. How did you approach the character coming into this second season?
LILY COWLES: Halfway through the hiatus, Carina [Adly MacKenzie, series creator] and I started talking about what Isobel had been through, where she was coming from, and what we could expect to see moving forward. I was really hoping when it started, we'd be six months down the line, but no — of course that doesn't make for good television, nor does it do justice to character. So we very quickly realized we were going to be heading right back into the moment straight after. I was like, "Ooh, boy." I got a lot to take on: losing her brother, her other half, the twin that she'd had since birth, and of course having to digest the fact that her entire life had been a sham. Her marriage was a lie, to a man who had been physically and emotionally using and abusing her without her knowing about it. She'd been married to this sort of psychopath, serial killer who used her body to commit murders. How do you even begin to digest it? We talked about how Isobel was a character who had built a tremendous facade, and she was living this perfect life that looked really good on paper. It was a very carefully constructed house of cards, but it was a prison because it was all based in lies. Carina and I were looking at it and thought, "Well, the one thing that can be said is that that house of cards now has been destroyed. It's been razed to the ground." So she actually, strangely, has been given an opportunity to start again. In many ways, we were both excited to see: Who is Isobel outside of the confines of how she's defined herself? It's so painful and scary, and yet it gives her a fresh start to say, "Who am I, deep down inside?" I think that's something that everyone can relate to on some level, finding your authentic self.
It seem like a big part of Isobel's journey this season is going to be finding her own autonomy, making her own decisions, and not relying on anyone else to look after her. Can you talk about her decision to abort the baby in this episode and how that plays into her overall story arc?
Isobel is, of course, a special case because she's an alien. Her story line is largely metaphorical for a lot of people, but it's nonetheless a story that so many women can relate to: We have these bodies that other people want to control, and we have a lot of restrictions placed on our own reproductive health. It's crazy that it's still such a huge issue that women have to battle so much to be able to have autonomy over their own systems. Isobel finds herself in a position where she learns that she's pregnant and there are a lot of things at play here. One of the biggest ones is, of course, that the man who fathered this child was not who she thought he was. So there's a question of consent. It's tricky because all of these things are so shades of gray. She learns after the fact that this man had been lying about who he was. He had been manipulating her, using her body, and infiltrating her mind. It's hard to draw comparisons to a human on human, but she definitely suffered emotional, psychological, physical abuse and manipulation. Now she's dealing with a pregnancy that's come out of an abusive and traumatic relationship, and she's looking at this pregnancy as representing the legacy of that abuse and trauma. Isobel's looking at a woman's right to have it on her own terms, and these are not the terms that she agreed to, and she's very much alone.
That's a very relatable story line if you remove the alien element and just focus on how many women are alone and dealing with an unwanted pregnancy and don't have access to help.
Yes. That's a really terrifying thing. I think that's a place that many women find themselves. While Isobel's in extreme extenuating circumstances, I think this is something that many women face, and whether it's because they're under age and their families won't understand, or because they're illegal citizens and they feel that going to a hospital will compromise them and they'll be deported, or maybe they live in a state where medical assistance just isn't offered for that. This is something many women have had to really face. I think in that sense, Carina wanted to do justice to that story so women who have gone through it can see that they're not alone. Often on TV, you get to this moment and then it's like, "Oh, there was a miscarriage," or they find some way to do it without compromising the character's likability. It's so sad to me that the character's likability would be in question for having to make this kind of decision, but it's the reality that we live in. There's such a stigma. Carina wanted to say, "This character is alone, and she's making a choice to save herself." It was very bold, and I'm really honored to be a part of it.
It's an emotionally draining episode for Isobel, for sure. The scene with Max on the couch where she talks about how much she misses him but seems to come to the realization that she is the only person she can truly rely is pretty heartbreaking. How was that to shoot?
It was very challenging. Carina called me and we started talking about it and she said, "Okay, I have an idea, but I don't want you to freak out." She proposed this whole thing. My initial reaction was like, "Oh God, please don't make me," because you go through it as an actor. You put your human body through it, and you don't want to hold back. Especially with this, I felt an enormous responsibility to do justice to this story because I know it's so important to so many people. But it was rough. Every morning going to work was like walking into a war zone. You know what's coming and you're like, "Please don't make me go!" But it's such a beautiful monologue. It's heartbreaking. I lost a parent a few years ago and when I read that monologue I was just like, "Oh God." It just hits. It just rings so true. To be dealing with grief is its own miracle and monster, and that was something that was really important for me to show up for as an artist. I know that part of the human condition, that inability to move forward beyond the loss of someone.
Wow, yeah, pretty heavy stuff. I guess one bright spark in all of this was that Liz [Jeanine Mason] and Isobel are back on better terms. Will we see them team up going forward?
Yeah, something that's really beautiful about what happens to Isobel is that in the dearth of all other supportive relationships, she's going to have to learn how to be friends with the girls. Men, God bless them, can't relate as well to what she is going through as other women can. I think Maria sees it. She's got her psychic abilities and she's like, "What's going on with you?" Liz, of course, when she finds out, is like, "Why didn't you tell me?! I would have been there for you." I'm really excited that this season Isobel is going to learn how to play nice with the girls. Female relationships can be complicated, and they can be so powerful.
I'm assuming you won't have any scenes with Jason Behr since he exists in flashbacks, but how was just having the O.G. Max on set?
Such a dream. First of all, I was a huge Roswell original fanatic. I was obsessed with it. The first time I saw him was at craft services. It was lunchtime and I'm like stuffing my pockets full of all my snacks and I like look up, and it was like an angel had fallen to the earth and there he was. I don't get star-struck, but I was so awkward. I was like, "It's you!" You could tell the poor man has had to deal with this like a lot. He's like, "Yes, it's me. I know that I'm the hero of your dreams." It was embarrassing, but having him around was amazing. He's been such a huge champion of the show. We have a tradition of going out for karaoke on Saturday nights, and he came out one time. I had just recently bought this totally absurd floor-length fur vest, and he put it on and looked like Jon Snow, but sleeker. I was just like, "Is this real life?" I just wanted to tell my 12-year-old self, "Girl, wait until I tell you what is going to happen!"
Amazing. I love that so much. We should talk about the ending too with Michael's mom and the other woman who may be Isobel and Max's mom. Can you tease anything to come there? Is Isobel going to throw herself into investigating her past?
Yeah, I think you can definitely get ready for some exciting investigation into the past. Isobel is trying to figure out who she is in a sense of where's she from too and what her roots are. That's definitely a question that she's got intensely on her mind. Part of the trajectory of the season is exploring the past and trying to get some information on what happened and what went down in 1947. So we'll definitely get to know some of those characters and get to fill in a little bit of the family gaps. It's beautifully written and beautifully acted, and I'm really excited for fans to see it. I think they're going to love it.
Roswell, New Mexico airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.