Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Emily Beecham, who plays The Widow on AMC’s Into the Badlands about her amazing fight scenes, the character of The Widow, filming Season 2, and what she geeks out about.
Rob: You’re in the middle of filming season two right now, correct?
Emily: Yes, we are. Nearly at the end, we finish in December, so we raced through it. Yeah, I know, it’s been a whirlwind.
R: So I think it’s safe to say, without giving away too much, that The Widow does not die in the first episode of the season?
E: Oh no, I gave away a spoiler and I didn’t even realize. Well, I’m not dead now. I’m not sure if I’m gonna last the season or not.
R: How much, on that topic, do you get to see beforehand? Do you get it episode by episode or do you get more of the larger story arc from the beginning?
E: Al [Gough] and Miles [Millar] will talk to us about the story arc before, but we get each episode… we don’t know all the dialogue in the specific scenes until we get each episode before each block. So we get each episode a few weeks before. I can’t even tell you the next part because I don’t even know.
R: What was it that drew you to this particular role of The Widow, cause she’s a very strong character but is still very vulnerable at the same time?
E: Yeah, I think she’s a really realistic character that people can connect to. I think it’s always a bit distancing if you’re watching a character that just has absolutely no fears or vulnerabilities at all. And I think that’s why she’s a character that is easier to connect to, because she’s brave and she’s fighting for something that seems impossible, but to her it seems so right. She’s an idealist and she wants to fight for equality in the Badlands and, at the same time, it makes her vulnerable as well because she is on her own.
R: I think she’s identifiable in a way too, because even though the majority of Season 1 shows her as a villain, she drops some hints that she’s fighting for a purpose that we didn’t necessarily think was the case…
E: Yes, which is very unusual. She’s a bit of an anarchist in the Badlands because nobody else wants what she wants.
R: What was the audition process like for this? Did you have to come in with a certain physicality because the role demands so much of that?
E: Well, initially they requested that somebody has just some experience with physical things. I had had experience with ballet and stage combat, but not really the same thing. If I’d have known I’d be fighting with broad swords then… it’s a very different experience. Kung-Fu is really fast and really intense… very athletic.
I auditioned in Britain a couple of times, and then I did the final round test in Los Angeles which was just doing the scenes. They never tested us on our martial arts skills because we had the five week training pre-shoot; before the series we had a five week fight training.
R: So you developed all that in only five weeks?
E: Yes, it was so intense. It was the most intense, physical five weeks I think I’ve ever had in my life. I learned a lot about bodies in general, and muscles, and physiology. There was a lot of protein shakes and electrolytes cause we were doing the training in New Orleans and the heat was intense as well so we had to get used to that and adjust to that because a lot of the fight scenes were outside in the hottest time of the year. Intense is the word for the whole experience. But it was very gratifying once we saw it.
R: The production has moved on from New Orleans. You’ve moved into another area now?
E: Yeah, we’re shooting in Dublin right now. Weather-wise it’s easier to do the fighting. The air… there’s oxygen to breathe. It’s easier to breathe when you’re fighting. Such a rich landscape here, and the whole land really develops. It’s great because, the Badlands, the world expands so it’s obviously a whole different flavor. Yeah, it’s been great shooting here.
R: Have you, prior to this, had as much extensive wire-work as was required in this? On the DVD itself, it has great behind-the-scenes where you’re basically fighting horizontally that had to be new to you.
E: Oh goodness, yeah. I’d never done harness work in my life before this, before Badlands. It’s a balancing act. You have to have good core strength and balance to do the wire-work. That scene that you probably saw… we film it very guerrilla style, which is very unusual apparently for an action series so we don’t actually learn any choreography before we shoot…
R: Oh wow…
E: Yeah, so we step onto the set and we have no idea what we’re going to do and Master Deedee choreographs it when he’s there on the set and that’s probably why it adds to the whole creative – cause the fights, I think the fights are quite unusual and quite creative – so he choreographs it as he goes along and he teaches us some moves. We go through it sometimes twice until we just about know it and then we have to shoot it really fast, full pelt and just really go for it and trust yourself that you know it and that you’re not going to panic and stop.
They taught me that sequence, which was quite a complicated sequence with the two katana swords, and then I got onto the set and they’re like, “By the way, you’re gonna be on a harness and you’re also gonna be sideways on a wall so you’re gonna be walking backwards on a wall and Daniel’s going to be standing on the floor.”
So the fight was completely unrecognizable to me because I’d just been fighting him the right way up. But it worked!
R: When the choreography is being developed on the set, on the fly like that, how often are injuries happening because it just seems like an environment for danger?
E: Yes, it does! Well, nobody has been injured, but I think you have to expect to get bruised and a little bit hurt and a teeny bit beaten up if you’re doing action like we are… intense, martial arts, Kung-Fu fight scenes. But no, nobody’s been injured.
R: I imagine your background as a dancer helps with that a lot, because the fights are, like you said, they’re not the conventional fight and they’re very dance-like in their execution.
E: Yeah, that helps. Especially with the kicking and the balance and they also help being on stilettos. In a way, I actually found it easier fighting on the stilettos than I did walking or standing still on the stilettos. Just standing still, I just kept falling over because they’re so high, but when you’re moving and you’ve got the momentum of the movement, it’s a bit more like dancing or being on the balls of your feet… surprisingly.
R: I’m always curious too because in the series you don’t have your accent, you have more of an American accent, and it’s always fascinating to me for people to drop that accent. Like, I don’t know what an American accent is. What would I even do?
E: Yeah, it must be a bit discombobulating.
R: So what does that involve for you? Are there words that you go to? Are their phrases where you can activate that?
E: Yes, well my mum is American so I just speak in an American accent to them. My mother’s side of the family is all from Phoenix, Arizona so I’m used to listening to American accents. But we also have a dialect coach who is great and she had lots of words for us.
R: What are some of the things that your dialect coach would teach you to Americanize a certain word. What sounds would you change?
E: It’s the vowels. She says that the Rs wrap around the vowels because a lot of the time when British people try to do an American accent, they just make their Rs really heavy and it sounds kind of crazy. I thought that was quite a nice visual.
There are no words that, ya know, you can copy a ton of people. “Sanctuary”… “sanctuary” is a hard one. There’s lots of words, because the dialogue in the show is so unusual and almost period-like. It’s almost, kind of, fantasy medieval-like and the way they say things is so…. That coupled with an American accent is really difficult actually.
R: We at The Geek Generation believe that being a geek isn’t necessarily about what you like but more about the obsessive way that you like something, and I’m curious about you, yourself, are there things that you would say you “geek out” about, that you’re really obsessed with?
E: Somebody asked me this before and I found it strangely quite difficult to work out. I love flea markets and thrifty finds. I like vintage because it’s like one-of-a-kind and feel like you found something unusual that might have a little story to it. I just feel like they’ve got more character.
Ally [Ioannides] says a I geek out about a lot of things, so clearly I’m not very self-aware. Music! Yeah, I geek out about music. I like Edgar Wright. I like comedy. I’m listening to a band called Das mörtal at the moment, constantly, which is on the Stranger Things soundtrack cause it’s got great electro… oh my gosh, what a brilliant soundtrack. Yeah, so a band called Das mortal and Magic Sword, which are two really good bands which I’m geeking out about at the moment.
R: With your interest in flea markets and vintage finds, you must have a temptation to pull some of those costumes from wardrobe home with you, no?
E: Yeah, well maybe not the stilettos. At the end of the day, my feet are a bit numb. Yeah, they’re great. The costumes are really, really creative. I love them. There’s sort of an Asian leather, period fusion. They all surprise me every time they pull out a new costume and I think I really win on the costume front. I think I’ve been spoiled for the costumes out of all the characters on the Badlands. Well her palette is quite limited; she only wears black, but those costumes are really cool. The costumes in Season 2 are really cool as well.
R: When you’re doing all the fighting scenes and you have to use weapons, was weapon-work a new thing for you or was this something you’d dealt with before?
E: At drama school we’d done a little bit of stage combat with broad swords, but that was it. It was a completely new experience. When you’re first working with these weapons, you get a lot of blisters and you just have to, it’s like playing guitar really, you sort of have to get your hands used to it because they’re heavy, hard instruments and you’re using them a lot. I’m much better at the katanas now. The katanas were quite challenging for me at first. I found the daggers easier because they’re shorter and they’re lighter, easier for a woman to use and I found the larger swords harder, but I’m getting a lot more used to them now. Just practice really, and experience with them.
The weapons, they’re fine. They’re easy to use once you’re doing the scene and you have the motive cause… obviously it comes naturally cause you’re trying to fight.
Into the Badlands: The Complete First Season is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.
You can follow Emily Beecham on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.