Lauren Ambrose, Nell Tiger Free, and Tony Basgallop Explain the World of "Servant"

Amid all the new shows premiering and getting early renewals on Apple TV+, the most intriguing and creative by far is "Servant" — a mysterious story produced by M. Night Shyamalan that takes place almost entirely within a single house. There are many notable religious motifs that recur throughout the series, whether it's a particularly religious character, or the baby at the centre of the story being named Jericho. However, series writer Tony Basgallop explains that the show is more so about faith than any one particular religion.

"I think it's about looking for a solution. It's about trying to reason out an argument that you can't process yourself. I think for me that's what religion is. I don't have a religion of my own but I kind of respect people that lean towards that. The religious imagery in there is attached to Leanne as a character. It's her belief system that she's been raised in. I feel like it's very strong. There's something mysterious. It's something that I would never say, nothing does or doesn't exist."

"Servant" tells a story about a married couple, Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose), who are entangled in a complicated situation regarding the recent birth of their child Jericho. The audience learns in the first episode that Jericho died, though the exact circumstances are not revealed. Dorothy did not handle this tragedy well, and Sean and her brother Julian (Rupert Grint) decided to give her a realistic baby doll as part of a new age therapy method. Dorothy goes about her daily life as if this Jericho doll is completely real, leaving Sean struggling to figure out how to best help his unwell wife. Ambrose is excited about the many facets of Dorothy.

"I relish the opportunity to play this character. She's dealing with it in such a bizarre way and the writing is so beautiful thanks to Tony. When I saw the script, I was just like, 'How on earth will I do that?' She's so fragile and she's also so big and presentational and Type A. Everything is perfect in her life, except she has this giant failure. The character breaks my heart. For me as an actor, I work to make things as personal as possible, which is easy because on the surface this character is a mother going back to work and I've had that experience. But then, to figure out how to let out all of her cracks come out and when there are cracks in the veneer, I don't know, it's just working with beautiful actors and incredible artists. It's been really fun. It's the best to have a character that's such a challenge, it's great."

The show offers an element of magic and surrealism, where the audience can't help but wonder what's real and what isn't. Even the house can feel like a character in the drama, that borderlines on being alive. When Dorothy and Sean hire a live-in nanny to look after Jericho, this young woman Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) brings a stronger element of religious mysticism to the story. Free elaborates on this aspect of the show.

"What's so great about the show is that you doubt everything that you see. You can start the episode firmly believing that my character and the things that are happening in the house because of one thing and then you'll end the episode thinking completely differently. I think that's fun to play for us. We sort of give you something and we were like, 'This cannot be explained,' but then we explain it. That's kind of the to and fro of the series. You think you know what you're seeing but you really don't."

"Different characters might experience the exact phenomenon in different ways," adds Ambrose. "One might think it's a miracle and one might find an actual, real-life explanation."

"From the writing process," says Basgallop, "it was always, 'How do you present a story that can be viewed in two different ways?' It comes down to you as a viewer. Do you have faith? Do you believe in miracles, or do you question everything that you see? That's where we divide the characters and the audience at the same time. You should be able to watch this story and think, 'Wow, my god, miracles are happening!' and at the same time look at it and go, 'That young girl's really exploiting this family and their desperation.' Are you watching a miracle or are you watching a crime? It has to work on both those levels." Balancing these two components is something Basgallop does with great difficulty, by his own account. "It's about finding stories that play into characters' hopes and desires and at the same time questioning what's in front of your nose. How you do it, I don't know. There was never a point when... Night and I discussed this very much at the beginning. Everything that happens has to have a logical explanation, otherwise you're just in fairytale land and then anything can happen and there are no rules and then you lose track as a writer. You're like, 'I don't know, the unicorn lands and takes a dump on the table.' You can't do that as a writer. If you don't have rules and restrictions then you can't even begin to do your job. You don't cross a line, or everything collapses."

Ambrose notes that this necessity for rules seems especially important to the thriller genre, which she is only now doing for the first time in her career. The season ends with a sense that there is still more story left to tell (before the season premiered Apple TV+ announced a renewal for season two), and Basgallop admits to having ideas for how to continue onward.

"There's always an endgame with writing but I try not to specifically say I know every single step because something happens in every episode that... I learn something new about the characters or something. I find a crack in there that is worth burrowing into so yeah, there is definite forward momentum going into season two. We know what's been lost and what the characters are trying to regain. As long as [you] always see the desire in the characters, there's more story to tell. As you know, at the end of season one there's a lot for them to get back."

One of the recurring sources of conflict in Sean and Dorothy's relationship is their stark differences in regards to intimacy. Dorothy is frequently shown to be making digging comments about how she perceives Sean's interest in salacious activities to be, despite a lack of any evidence to the audience to prove he is the way she claims. Ambrose explains her interpretation of this dynamic in the relationship.

"There's this couple and they have this giant crack, this awful fissure that has happened, and this tragedy that has happened in their family. They're trying in different ways to fill it and they need different things and want different things, and want to acknowledge what's going on in different ways or not. I suppose with a couple it'll come out in every aspect, including in the sexuality. I love that they're kind of brutal to each other. I mean, that's awful in a marriage but pretty fun on a set to play. In our best moments it feels like an Edward Albee play. We're all trapped in this house which is very much a character and so it's like everything is just resonating and shaking, and sexuality is part of it."

"With regards to the sexuality," adds Basgallop, "they're also three months on from having a baby. Things change, physically change. The relationships between a husband and wife change as soon as the baby comes along. You have to deal with each other in a very different way and your focus is on something else apart from yourself. I think it's changing and Dorothy doesn't quite understand why a lot of these changes are happening and why Sean is being more protective than usual cause she doesn't really know what the experience has been."

"Everyone is in their own story," continues Ambrose. "Everyone is in their own channel. On the surface, I'm playing this working mother going back to work as a news reporter with my career. What's fun to me to play is where the cracks come through in that perfect veneer. It's great writing, it's great actors to work with and amazing directors, a beautiful set and an incredible DP, all of the parts, Apple and Night and this company, they made space for us to do our work as artists. It just felt incredibly luxurious, from the sets having every considered, from Night's storyboarding every shot, from the rehearsals that we were granted and the time that everybody took to get everything, to make sure everything was as we intended, it's just been an incredibly luxurious process. The same for me as an artist, I was given my time and space to work."

One of the rare instances that the story travels outside of the Turner home is when Dorothy is shown on television working as a local news reporter.

"I love how the newscasts fold into and highlight underlying moments in the story. I think it's brilliant. I love that, Tony," says Ambrose.
"Good," responds Basgallop.
"I was the only one that got to go on location cause I got to leave that house to go shoot my newscasts," cheers Ambrose. "For the most part, the other actors are trapped in the house and I got to leave sometimes."

Basgallop elaborates further on the importance of these newscasts in the larger storytelling. "Thematically, everything you can do to point back to what your story really is all about is great. Using the television to show what Dorothy does all day, cause we don't follow her, that's the only insight we get so we understand her mood. If she walks in through the door in the evening fed up and smelling of sewage it's because we know she's been down [in the sewer]. We need that kind of information in order to understand her. It's just a naturally logical way to fill that gap in. The same thing happens with food in the episode. The food that [Sean] cooks reflects the mood in the house."

Leanne Grayson, the new live-in nanny, is the most mysterious character of the ensemble. Very little information is given about her back-story to the other characters or even the audience. This posed an interesting challenge for Nell Tiger Free when attempting to develop her performance and character.

"I think every conversation that me and Night had was always like, 'Well... maybe...', they never definitively told me anything about Leanne. I know as much as you guys. Honestly, we've had conversations where there's been thoughts as to what she... what's going on, but they won't bloody tell me! But mainly because I spoil things..."

"But she's made lots of beautiful decision in her performance, you can see," notes Ambrose.
"Yeah, because you're very specific."
"I think I tried to figure her out as best as I could as an actress but yeah, she's a very mysterious character and she's stayed that way. I have an idea of what's maybe gonna happen in the future."
"You know enough," says Basgallop.

The first three episodes of "Servant" will be available on Apple TV+ on November 28.

Watch the "Servant" interview with Lauren Ambrose, Nell Tiger Free, and Tony Basgallop:


Copyright © 2013 Something to Muse About and Blogger Templates - Anime OST.