ATTENTION: Spoilers abound. Be sure you watch Altered Carbon before you read this interview!
What first drew you to Altered Carbon? How did you get involved?
It was really through normal channels. You know, they were looking to cast this iconic character, the original Takeshi Kovacs. So I met with the casting people and the producers. And, I think Laeta Kalogridis (creator) knew of me from some previous shows that I’ve done. For example, Hell on Wheels. She knew the showrunner from that show and I think they talked and he gave me a vote of confidence.
I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know too much about the book. I never read the book. I just knew it was an unusual science fiction show and it had some really interesting writing and characters. And the world was brand new. To me it was mainly just the strength of the script. It was really well written.
I hadn’t read the books either. It was the result of seeing the show that got me to buy the books because I was like, this is a world I want to get to know more of. Do you know…I know you said you hadn’t read the books but…do you know if what you portrayed is in line with what was in the books? Or did they modify it for the show?
I knew they took some creative licenses in certain things. For example, I think the beginning scene of the first episode, where I’m with a female mercenary. I don’t know if that’s in the book. I’m not sure. I think there were definitely creative licenses to fill out certain things but that’s commonly done.
You actually took on more than one role. You got to play Kovacs and Dimi 2, each of whom is played by more than one person. Did you keep the other incarnations of the characters and how they were portrayed in mind when you approached how to play them?
That was a very impromptu call on the part of the producers. They just kind of came up with that idea of having Dimi 2 inhabit the body of Takeshi Kovacs. They just came up with that idea literally at the eleventh hour.
So they showed me some footage of who Dimi 1 was and who Dimi 2 was, so I looked at them. But the main thing was the accents. The Russian accents. That took a while to get into. In fact, I ended up working not only with one, I ended up working with two Russian coaches to get the accent down. Which was really interesting.
What was even more interesting was that they initially hooked me up with Russian man. He was an actor from Russia. And then I worked with him for a little bit and we did a first rendering of all of that. And then we all felt it could be better. And then I worked with another dialect coach. That guy was American guy and he’s a genius who can do any accent. He actually taught me to do a Russian accent in some ways a lot better, a lot more effectively, than the Russian guy himself. Isn’t that funny? An American guy teaching me how to talk in a Russian accent better than a Russian guy teaching me how to do it!
I know you said the first scenes of the first episode were sort of thrown in, but do you know how much time had passed from what happened at the Stronghold to those scenes? How many years or how long had passed between those two instances?
I think I did ask that question. I think it’s been like maybe 20 years or something. Maybe 10 years. Somewhere in there. 10-20 years. Maybe closer to 10 years because I did ask that question.
I was wondering because your rendition of Kovacs…he’s harder because of all he’s experienced and all he’s lost so I’ve been trying to imagine.
It’s still Quell, you know. Quell is still on my mind.
Is there a particular moment or scene you enjoyed playing? What made it stand out?
I really quite enjoyed the first scene, which was like a mini movie in itself. Why? The carnage that was involved. The bloodiness. The graphicness of it all. The whole scene was just very interesting. It was very bold and edgy and raw, you know? We filmed that for like, I don’t know. We were there for like two weeks, something like that. Shooting that scene.
To work with the director, Miguel Sapochnik, who won an Emmy for Game of Thrones for the episode “Battle of the Bastards”…he’s probably the hottest director working in the television medium currently. And he shot it like a feature film. He shot this episode like a feature film.
It felt like it.
Oh it looks like it and it felt like it. So it was very detailed and very raw. Everything was just really like an actor’s dream. I mean, the shootout…I don’t know if you felt it but when those CTAC guys started charging in and started firing, they were firing real bullets. They’re empty, but they’re real bullets. So the sound and everything, it was just exactly the same as if you were in war. So it was deafening when we were shooting it. It was so loud and scary, we felt we were going to die. It was actually really dangerous.
I was just talking to the producer the other day about this. They said, yeah the director wanted to use real bullets. So they used like almost $20,000 worth of bullets just in that scene!
So everything you see on screen is like 100% backed up. We weren’t cheating you guys. Everything is there.
As a viewer, I can attest it felt like it. Have you had a chance to watch the whole production yet?
I’ve seen a few episodes. I haven’t seen everything yet.
From an end viewer’s perspective, it felt like every episode was like a movie. There was just so much detail, so much attention to detail. And now to hear about how just this one scene, how they put so much thought and care into it to make it feel realistic.
This show has really raised the bar. I think it’s really kind of sending out little tremors around Hollywood because everyone’s seen the show. I’m talking everyone as in people in the film industry. Everyone’s talking about it.
Yeah it is exciting. Every now and then you have a show that kind of changes things kind of like Breaking Bad came out and changed things and then Game of Thrones came out and changed things. We could be witnessing kind of like a momentum changer with this show.
What was the energy like when you were shooting? What is it like on set? From a viewer’s perspective, you never know what it’s like to shoot these kinds of things. You already shared a little bit of what it’s like to shoot some of these harrowing scenes…
Well..shooting for example the first episode, which took almost like a month to shoot, which is… A normal television show is 7-8 days. This took almost 30 days to shoot. So yeah, you felt that expectations were very high. I think it was a little tense. It was tense because the expectations were very high. Everybody kind of knew between the lines that this is not your usual NCIS LA. Everyone knew that the stakes were very high. Everybody had to bring their A game and if you didn’t bring you’re A game you’d be called upon, you know?
It was a good atmosphere in that way so nobody slacked off. Nobody knew what this was going to be. You never know. You’re in the vacuum of filming and you never know what it’s going to be like. But there was an air of expectation that this is going to be something groundbreaking and let’s not screw it up.
Because of the way the show goes, the primary story lines introduced this season are essentially resolved but Kovacs of course continues on. Is there a chance, I mean I’m asking you to predict something you can’t possibly predict, but is there a chance we might see you again maybe in flashbacks for Season 2 or beyond?
I suppose anything could happen. I just don’t know. I think there’s a chance. I mean, if I could be a Russian guy, then you know, anything could happen! I don’t know what they’re up to and I’m sure they’re up to something. I hear they’re talking about Season 2 but until it becomes official, you just don’t know.
Can we fans even dare to guesstimate when Season 2 might come out, given how long production takes?
I hear Season 2’s going to come out next weekend.
That would be hilarious if they secretly filmed Season 2 and it drops out of the blue and everyone’s like WHAT???
Exactly! That would be funny, right?
What projects are you working on currently? Is there something in the pipeline you’re excited about?
I am working on a few things right now but I can’t say because they’re in various stages of development. If I told you anything, I’m afraid Ryker would pay me a visit.
I do have a film that’s happening this summer called Skyscraper, with Dwayne Johnson. It comes out July 13th and the director is Rawson Thurber who wrote and directed Central Intelligence, with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.
Is there anything you can tease about your roll in Skyscraper or is that one of those “just wait ‘til you see it”?
I think we will do more publicity closer to when it comes out but it’s an action-thriller and it takes place in the tallest building in the world. It’s set in Hong Kong and it’s great. It’s awesome!
You’ve been a delight to speak to and I love the insights you’ve provided about what it was like on the production for Altered Carbon. So thank you!