2023 – Collider
April 27, 2023
From co-creators Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez (who’s also the showrunner), the Peacock original series Mrs. Davis follows Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin), a nun on a mission to destroy a powerful artificial intelligence that is determined to have her complete an epic quest. Begrudgingly participating with the goal of ending the AI in return, Simone is forced to deal with her past, in the form of her ex-boyfriend Wiley (Jake McDorman), who’s part of an underground resistance, while figuring out how to defeat an all-knowing enemy.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Gilpin talked about why Margo Martindale is the perfect Mother Superior, how her priest father connected her with nuns to help her prepare for this role, wearing a fashionable nun jumpsuit, feeling cool on a motorcycle, her chemistry with the white dove, the Simone and Wiley dynamic, and understanding Simone’s relationship with Jesus.
Collider: I want to start with the most important question first, which is, is there any better Mother Superior than Margo Martindale?
BETTY GILPIN: No, there is not. Of course, there is not. She was born to play Mother Superior. I forget how many nuns she’s played. This is like her fourth nun, or something. It was a dream come true, doing scenes with her. I don’t get starstruck often, but that was a time when I was like, “Don’t cry in front of Margo Martindale. Just keep it cool.”
What is the best part of working with her? Was there an effortlessness in the scenes that you got to do together?
GILPIN: A false word just can’t come out of her mouth, as an actor. It does 99% of the work for you, when your scene partner is that talented. The connection between Simone and Mother Superior is supposed to be very deep, and my character does not have a good relationship with her real mother. Her successful relationship with Mother Superior has to be very specific and positive, and Margo made it very easy.
I absolutely love that, in real life, your father is a priest who could just hook you up with nuns to chat with. That’s amazing. How did those conversations inform Simone? Is there anything that you just hadn’t thought of, before talking to them?
GILPIN: I had very cliché incorrect ideas of what a nun’s life was like, and what their personality was like. Of course, they’re all very different from each other, and they’re all individuals. But I had thought nuns were hyper disconnected from society, were white knuckling a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore, and that they were shut off. I was really, really wrong. They do shut themselves off from certain aspects of society, but in order to hyper connect, and they are very involved in the community. They are almost like living meditations. And the women I talked to, the word badass gets thrown around a lot for actresses wearing tight jeans and holding a fake gun, but these women are real bad-asses, doing real intense, incredible work in their communities. It was so helpful, speaking to them.
I love a fashionable nun jumpsuit. I actually gasped when I realized you were wearing pants. What was it like to put the whole look together? Was it comfortable to wear?
GILPIN: Comfortable is a strong word. It was wool, and some days that we were shooting in the desert, it was 105 degrees. Susie Coulthard is the incredible costume designer, and we were trying on habits when we first met, thinking about how I’d have to ride a horse and be on a motorcycle. We both thought, “What if it’s a Katharine Hepburn pant?” It was a real “Aha!” moment, and I think it just fits so perfectly into the weird world of our show. I remember saying to (co-creators) Tara [Hernandez] and Damon [Lindelof], “Do we think we ever need a line or a scene where I explain why I have on pants?” And they were like, “No, it’s the show.”
Is it more fun to ride a horse or ride a motorcycle? What’s it like to just casually have those crazy moments on the show?
GILPIN: There’s a close up shot of me getting on the horse, or getting on the motorcycle, and then actual superheroes, the stunt women, do the wide shot of peeling out on the motorcycle, or galloping off on the horse. But I would say that even fake riding a motorcycle felt pretty cool. When I was doing the pilot, I got to be on the back while the stunt rider – sorry, Jake McDorman – did the real dangerous riding, and that was an absolute thrill. I understand why people are attracted to that way of life.
There are so many little moments in this show, where you find yourself watching and going, “Wait, what is happening?” One of those moments for me was in episode four, with the white dove that’s flying at you and following you around. What was that like to do? Was the dove actually there?
GILPIN: It was all practical. The dove was real. There are no special effects. That was wild. The director of that episode, Alethea Jones, came over to me and she was like, “You have chemistry with the dove. You and the dove are having a moment.” We had laser eye contact, the dove and I. I love that about our show. So many things that I thought were gonna be visual effects were practical. The dove was the perfect amalgamation of everything about our show.
I love the dynamic between Simone and Wiley because we’re meeting them at a point where the relationship has happened, so there’s a lot of history just inherently there between them. What’s it like to play a relationship like that, and to find that with Jake McDorman?
GILPIN: It was a real dice roll. Jake and I had not had a chemistry read, or anything, together. The first stuff we shot was the motorcycle chase, so we weren’t really getting to do a real scene together. I was like, “This guy is funny between takes, but I wonder if our scenes will be good. I wonder if we’ll have chemistry.” And then, when we did the hatch scene, when they said we were wrapped for the day, we wanted to do it a thousand more times. It was so much fun. I felt that way, across the board, on this show. All the actors were so incredible that it made it really easy to pretend that you have history with everybody, especially when the other person is showing up with super creative, strange homework done. And Jake and I are also born two weeks apart, in July 1986, so we feel a special connection to each other. I think that’s all on screen.
How do you even wrap your head around figuring out a literal relationship with Jesus?
GILPIN: Yeah. When Damon and Tara first told me that that’s who Jay was, I was like, “Okay, I have to think way out of the box. This is like dating air, or dating a poem, or kissing the sun or the moon.” And Damon and Tara were like, “No, it’s your boyfriend. It’s just a guy who you’re in love with, that happens to be Jesus.” That was an interesting entry point for me to think about Simone’s faith. She started her life of faith with proof. She’s not imagining that there’s someone out there who she believes in. She has the person, right there. His face is in her hands. Something we explore throughout the show is, what does that mean, if you are a person of faith and you are starting with proof? What actually is faith, if you have the answers first? And Andy McQueen made it very easy to fall in love with him on screen, and have it be a real specific relationship with a man, instead of a floaty, intangible being.
Mrs. Davis is available to stream at Peacock.