Exclusive Interview with Elizabeth Hammerton from CW’s Pandora

Exclusive Interview with Elizabeth Hammerton from CW’s Pandora
Pandora -- Image Number:PAN_S2_8x12_300dpi.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Oliver Dench as Xander,  Ben Radcliffe as Ralen and Priscilla Quintana as Jax -- Photo: The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Pandora is one of the CW shows that was easy to miss. It showed up last summer with little fanfare, and looked like just another campy CW Sci-Fi summer import. But just like Vagrant Queen was so much more than “just” a campy, goofy, fun series, Pandora is a deceptively deep show.

Like a number of sci-fi shows, Pandora takes advantage of the genre to address issues like slavery, racism, and sexuality without all of our ‘real world’ hangups. The step-removed from who we are allows us to look at the flaws in ourselves with less prejudice and fewer barriers. Of course, it’s also a romping, stomping, combat and caper laden series that’s fun to watch.

One of the best things about Pandora is that they trust the audience. While you’re thrown into a new world, they waste little (if any) time trying to comfort you and explain everything. Instead, you’re expected to pick it up as you go, and it works.

Before season two airs on Sunday October 4th, I had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth Hammerton, who plays a new character named Aleka — an alien who strikes up a connection with Jax, first as a friend and then as something a little more.

Interview

Warning: This interview contains mild spoilers for season 2 of Pandora.

Mika Epstein: How did you find out about Pandora? How were you cast? Because your new [to the show] this season.

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Hammerton: I got sent an episode — I actually auditioned for another part, which would have been for one episode this season, and then they said that I wasn’t right for that, but could I come back in tape for another part. Which was Aleka, the part I play. She’s in three episodes and has a bit more — and she has a slightly bigger role in terms of — her and Jax have a beautiful storyline running throughout [the season]. I love sci-fi, so it was an absolute dream to do it. It was a lot of fun coming into a cast that was already established, as well, and sort of slotting in and bringing — I’m playing a character which is part of a species we haven’t seen that. That was really fun. I’m really excited.

Mika: Do you have a lot of makeup you wear?

Lizzy: 3.5 hours work of prosthetics. I have, like a long wig. I have ears. I have this sort of thing on my forehead. I mean, it was amazing to do because there’s something so exciting about playing a role that you can look at yourself in the mirror and saying, “Oh my God, this is completely different from who I am!” You know, when you do sci-fi, part of what the joy of it is to be able to transform and and play characters, that are so far removed from who you are. The physical transformation was with a big draw.

Pandora Season 2, Elizabeth Hammerton as Aleka Photo: The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Mika: What is Aleka like, what can you tell us? I know that the season hasn’t aired yet. […] All we know is you’re a new character, you’re a love interest for Jax. Is there anything you can tell us?

Lizzy: So she is part of a species called the Sumi, she’s obviously not human. She finds herself at the academy. And essentially, immediately sees Ja, is obviously attracted to her, but they also strike up a beautiful friendship. It’s not just — it’s deeper than that. And then in classic sci-fi style, she’s a badass woman who helps save the world.

Mika: That sounds absolutely fun. Do you get to do combat scenes?

Lizzy: I did yeah! Which was a lot of fun. It’s insane, I mean it was my first day on set and they go “Okay, so obviously Aleka is very good at fighting.” And myself, I was like “Eh!?” because I am so bad at stuff like that. I’m so malcoordinated. But we had amazing stunt guys helping us look like we were good.

Mika: Well, that’s the trick of it.

Lizzy: Exactly. I think it’s gonna look really cool. Camera angles and great stunt guys.

Mika: Are you enjoying being on the show this season? I’m assuming yes, because you certainly sound excited.

Lizzy: Yeah, it was an amazing set to be on, because it’s be most collaborative, exciting, fun set. Everyone loves the show and everyone is just having a ton of fun doing it. And that’s infectious. And everyone — you’re working hard, but it doesn’t really feel like work when it’s “How fun is this?” when you’re getting to be on a spaceship and fight? It’s just a lot of fun. It was a really, really pleasure.

Mika: That’s actually something that the regular cast talked about at San Diego Comic-Con. It’s so fun and they don’t feel like it’s work because everyone’s having a great time.

Lizzy: I think also because it quite a young cast, we’re all kind of similar ages. We had some American, some Brits, some Australian. Kind of from everywhere. We were in Sophia together, shooting the show, which was just so much fun. Everyone just really, really loved the story and love the characters and loves what the show’s about.

Mika: Did you know, going in that you were going to be, in part, a love interest for Jax?

Lizzy: Yes, I did. I when you audition was, that I was gonna be her love interest. Because it’s sci-fi, quite a lot of the terminology [was so complex] I hadn’t read all the scripts yet. Quite a lot of the terminology, I don’t know what I’m talking about in terms of talking about other planets. So are the speeches and everything. There are certain tells, because I am an alien, you’ll see in the show.

But, for example, the role of women and being a wife as a Sumi, and things like that and how that plays into her love interest with Jax. I sort of didn’t really fully understand – until I read the script – this sort of dynamic in the role of a woman. I knew she was a love interest, but I didn’t know the exact story line, exactly what was gonna happen, and what actually happened and what it meant to her and everything. But I did know going in that there was gonna be going to be something there, romantic.

Mika: On the Star Trek world, they call that the techno babble scenes. And everybody complains that they have no idea what they’re saying. But as long as they sound good, it’s OK.

Lizzy: That’s all that matters. I know, and it’s such a thing with sci-fi as well, you have to completely believe and know what you’re talking about. It’s obviously not human terminology. That was quite kind of fun, trying to get your head around what you’re actually — like different planets. What does that mean? And all this kind of stuff.

Mika: I was gonna ask what was the hardest part about playing Aleka? But it it it may be the techno babble.

Lizzy: Yeah, on the hardest part, playing her, I think particularly, she’s got this amazing sort of control and stillness and strength — which I just so lack, that I get so easily flustered and she doesn’t. It was especially in scenes of high intensity or fight scenes. She’s done this before. She knows how to fight. She knows how to kill someone. And I obviously don’t. Trying to kind of maintain that that kind of control and make it look believable, but then also ensure that she has moments of weakness, the moments of pain. I think sometimes, when you get the sort of strong characters, it’s quite easy just to play them on one level. And actually no one is “one” thing, you know. You can be the most capable, in control person in the whole world, but there will be moment that you feel weakness, moments that you feel insecurity, and moments that you feel deeply. Trying to find the level and the balance of that, to make sure that she is truthful and feels real, I think, was probably the biggest challenge of playing her

Mika: […] Tell us about you. How did you get into acting?

Lizzy: I was born in London, which I meant that I was lucky enough to be in a city where we have a huge theatre world. From a really young age, I was really fortunate that my parents took me to the theatre. I didn’t really know that you could do it as a job until I was a teenager. I don’t know what— I think I wanted to be a doctor for a while, but I kind of didn’t realize, I thought “I don’t know what I like to do.” I think I probably did a play and then like I had another job in the day. When I was a teenager, I was about 14 I was part of the youth theatre and that sort of kicks off there. Then I left school, went to university and then went to drama school in London and then graduated and just sort of, like every actor with just auditioning for things. Did in the old bit here and there. And then I was really fortunate that I booked Pandora.

Mika: So this is your first American TV show.

Lizzy: Yeah. Yeah. That’s exciting. I felt very lucky to be there.

Mika: Have you have you had the chance to work on other projects?

Lizzy: I’ve done … No, really. To be honest, I’ve done like the old short film, but majority of my work, almost all my work has been theatre.

Mika: What kind of theatre do you prefer? Like musicals?

Lizzy: I wish I was talented enough for a musical. Unfortunately, I’m not. I can’t sing or dance, so I’m not there. Unfortunately, not there. I think the great thing about theatre, and the reason why I love it, is that there is nothing like the feeling of sharing something with a group of people, and having a group of strangers and you as the actor there and through the course of, like, two hours that you both go on this journey together. I think it’s like amazing, amazing feeling, and it’s really sort of get a huge belt from it. Because of that, I love when I can do shows that the audience is quite intimate. I was doing a show, it was me and another actor — it was just a two-hander — and we doing it in fairly kind of intimate spaces? Quite stripped back. And that was just the most amazing, because it’s also very much just about you on the other actor and the audience, in this connection that you will have.

Mika: That sort of projection that you have to do in your stage acting to really connect with the audience, do you think it helped you because of the prosthetics you had to wear as Aleka?

Lizzy: I think it probably did. I think also, because it was so far removed from who I am, it means that the moment you step on set, you’re kind of — you’re standing differently and you’re holding yourself differently and it’s not just the thing of like, “Oh my God, I look completely different.” It’s like you can’t move your forehead the same way because you’ve got prosthetics on your forehead and I have a long hair and because of that, you stand a certain way. But that was also very helpful because we did quite a lot of green screen, which, you know, you don’t have anything there, so you have to use your imagination to try and envision something. Actually, having any kind of clear appearance change, I think was something really to hold onto when you’re staring at like a green screen, which is meant to be some portal or outer space. Also looking around the other cast members, that everyone looks completely different and is in amazing hair and makeup. I think that that definitely did help.

Mika: What’s been your favourite onset experience on Pandora?

Lizzy: I think I would have to be in the final episode of the season, not to give any spoilers away, but there was a big group of us together. And it was the first time I work with a lot of the cast. I’d seen them on set, but I hadn’t really done the group scenes. Essentially we spent two days altogether, as like a little crew. It was just so much fun. And it kind of worked well, because the whole thing about the season is we are all coming together. We’re all different species rule, we all have different back stories. And then by the end of season, we’ve all sort of come together and that’s exactly what happened.

That was exactly my shooting experiences. I spent a lot time with Priscilla my first couple of days, which was lovely, and we kind of got together. We got to know each other, which kind of helps with the storyline. We obviously meet in the show and I had never met her [before]. I met her first day, both getting makeup together, we’re both like “Hi!” And then, as the show and filming went on, we got to know each other a bit better, like we do in the show. My final day of shooting, finally episode ten, all of us together. That was a lot of fun. I felt very sort of, that was one of those moments when you [get to say] “I can’t believe I’m getting to say this is my job.” I’m just with a group of really lovely actors, pretending we’re in space. I mean, you can’t get much better.

Mika: Had you had you seen any of the episodes of the show before you started filming?

Lizzy: Yes, I’ve seen a couple of them. I hadn’t watched the whole season, but I’ve seen a couple of episodes. I was lucky as well, coming in of a new species , because I didn’t have — I could kind be of whatever I decided on and whatever I saw as concrete could be correct. I wasn’t having to mould my performance to anything that happened in season one, which was quite exciting and a little bit like intimidating as well. But I’d watched a couple of episodes, to get an essence of the show and to understand kind of the essence and the sort of style of it. And then obviously also to put name the faces of those when I was talking about them, I knew who I was referring to.

Mika: So you got to kind of create the vibe for the Sumi people then?

Lizzy: Yeah, I did. It helped as well, you’ll see in season two, the men, the Sumi men, have a real look. And I look completely different from [them], which is a stylistic choice from the writers and the director. Little things like that. I always find with a character, it’s kind of a bit like it’s a jigsaw and you’re finding little pieces to put together to create a full, fully embodied character.

Some of these pieces are missing until you’re actually on set and you’re seeing anything from like, the set design. You can envision how you think your house is gonna look, but until you’re there and you see what the designers and the directors have decided, you can’t really set in stone anything. And it was the same with, the other Sumi characters.

My first day, we had a group scene of me and a couple of of male actors. I had a moment of like, “Oh, okay, so this is even more — the fact that I am peroxide blonde, the fact that I’m really fair, and they’ve all got darker complexions than me. Okay, that’s interesting. I wonder where have I come from? Why do I look completely different? That has to mean something.” That was really that was really interesting. So although I did have a lot of freedom in terms of coming up with my own thoughts about how the Sumi women are, and the Sumi people, it helps seeing the other actors as well, to finish that jigsaw piece.

Pandora Season 2, Elizabeth Hammerton as Aleka Photo: The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Mika: I’m also a sci-fi aficionado. I grew up on Doctor Who and Star Trek. […] One of my favourite things about Sci-Fi, and it’s even more noticeable in British Sci-Fi, is that they get to challenge the norms of how we perceive the world just by picking it up, plunking people in space and saying “And now we’re going to tell a story where all your conceptions might be wrong.” Did that impact how you played Aleka? Knowing that you had just this this absolute freedom to not be human?

Lizzy: Yeah, I think it did. Definitely. Maybe without me even realizing it. What I love so much about Aleka, and especially Aleka’s relationship with Jax, is the fact that … You’ll see in the season. It’s so beautifully done, because it’s just about two people who have a connection, who have both intrigued by each other, both kind of desperate for the other one. It’s just beautifully…

I’m completely swallowing my words here. What I’m trying to say is, what I loved about it, is it wasn’t made a big thing in terms of [gender]. It’s about these two people that both have an attraction and a connection. Sadly, I think the only reason why there wasn’t made a huge thing about it was because we’re in space, and I’m an alien, and that’s a human. So it’s like “Well an alien and a human have connected,” and that there is an intrigue from both of them. But the intrigue is there because, maybe, she’s an alien, she’s human. Maybe that’s the intrigue.

It’s not. It’s completely person to person, that’s where the connection lives. But because of, you were saying, because I’m not a human being, we don’t fall into the traps of this— make a huge thing about the fact that two people have just enjoyed each other’s company. I thought that was that really, beautifully done. I think the writers have done really, really, a really beautiful job of that.

Mika: That’s absolutely one of the reasons I kept watching the show was that they just kept making it not a deal. Who was in love with whom, [or] who didn’t like whom, it just was.

Lizzy: Exactly! We don’t have to explain it. I think that’s the thing, which I loved. Sometimes bad writing is when the cast is constantly having to explain stuff. It’s boring and it feels disrespectful, and it feels fake. In this show, what’s beautiful about it is that literally Jax walks in, and Aleka sees her and goes “Who is this woman?” Jax has the exact same reaction to Aleka, and they strike up beautiful friendship. Then it becomes something more.

Mika: I was going to ask, because I knew that the majority of the cast doesn’t get to wear cool prosthetics, if you were jealous of that, but now I have to ask it slightly differently. Are you jealous of the less time that other cast members get to spend in the chair than you?

Lizzy: You know what? When I was in the makeup chair at six AM, and I was in there for three hours, and then Oliver comes in 20 minutes before he leaves on set, and has a bit has a hair gel and that’s it. I did look at them and think, “I mean, this is great, but I’m quite envious that you don’t have to stay here for three hours and then take it all off of the end of the day.” Although I couldn’t complain because Ben Radcliffe has lot as well, and he has been there for two seasons. I was like, “You know what? I’ll bite my tongue.”

Mika: Apparently, Ben can put the whole makeup on his makeup artist by the end of last season. If you get to go back for season three, you should ask him about that.

Lizzy: 100%. That’s so funny. Yeah, him and his contacts, he had had someone to put in his contact because he still couldn’t do them in season two. […] I say that as though I could do it. I think of anyone was putting anything in my eye, I would immediately go like that as well.

Mika: Who is your favourite person to work with on set? And I always know this is the “Who’s your favourite child?” question which is just deadly. Who did you get to have the most fun working with?

Lizzy: It’s so annoying when people say this, because you’re like, “No, surely not.” But I couldn’t pick one. Everyone was lovely, and everyone as well had a really great work ethic, that they’re here to work. But then also I think a show like this needs a fun energy. I think it has such a sort of young, excited energy. And that was absolutely the case on set. I mean, I worked most with Priscilla, and the body of my scenes are with her. So that was lovely. Lots of our scenes are just me and her. So you kind of really get to know her. She’s an amazing actress, and she was a dream to work with. But then the boys as well, a lovely, and Nicole who Jazz in it now, she was also great. So, yeah, I couldn’t choose. Don’t make me choose!

Mika: If you could be any other character on the show, male or female, doesn’t matter, who would you pick?

Lizzy: Oh, that’s so hard. I mean, probably Jax, I think, because she’s quite badass. Which I kind of love. Priscilla is so good at it, so I wouldn’t ever dare. But [Jax] knows what she wants. But then there’s a real, emotional truth to her. She feels and she has emotion. She’s not black and white. That is so compelling to watch, but then also she’s just a badass, which I’m here for. So probably Jax. But maybe always, playing Aleka, I’m always going to say Jax.

Pandora — “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” — Image Number: PAN202_0010r.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Amy McPherson as Matta, Priscilla Quintana as Jax and Oliver Dench as Xander — Photo: The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Pandora — “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” — Image Number: PAN202_0010r.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Amy McPherson as Matta, Priscilla Quintana as Jax and Oliver Dench as Xander — Photo: The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Mika: We’re a TV site, so we like to ask the TV questions. What are your favourite television shows to watch?

Lizzy: Okay. Okay. What have I been watching recently? That I … It’s the classic Fleabag.

Mika: Oh, that was so great.

Lizzy: Especially the Brits. We’re just like Phoebe. Jodie, we love you. That was just — I saw it, the play, years ago in the monologue. So I saw Phoebe Waller-Bridge do that. And then it obviously became a TV series, and it was amazing. So Fleabag’s amazing. Killing Eve as well.

Mika: We love Killing Eve.

Lizzy: Oh, it so good, isn’t it?

Mika: I mean, how often do you get a show that’s actually about a sociopath? And she’s a compelling, drawing character that you start to care about?

Lizzy: I know it’s amazing like that. It’s such a credit to Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, but also Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing. Because it’s — you’re completely right. You totally fall in love with both characters, and you’re really backing them, even though, you know she’s sociopath and she’s a murderer.

Mika: So she has a few faults?

Lizzy: Yeah, we love her. And then [Jodi] and Sandra. And again it goes back to that thing of, like, that show’s amazing because her and Sandra Oh’s friendship and love/hate animosity going on. But it’s not really made a huge thing off. And that’s so, so much better.

Mika: We spent hours talking about that bus scene, trying to break it down. Like, “Wait, what does this even mean?” And just that it’s unanswered is delightful.

Lizzy: Yeah. Yeah, I completely agree. It’s subtle on at leaves question, which is the mark of great writing.

Mika: Good stories leave good questions at the end.

Lizzy: Yeah, and you want more? You keep wanting more.

Mika: I am gonna wrap this up with one more question. […] How’s your quarantine going?

Lizzy: Oh, you know what? It’s relentless. It’s absolutely relentless. I felt so lucky to be able to go abroad to film this, because it was a change of scene. But we also in London, in the UK, our Prime Minister has just put in a 10 PM curfew. Everything closes at 10 now. So that’s something that everyone is like trying to come to terms with.

After Sophia I was stuck at home for 14 days, because it’s on the list of places you have to quarantine, so that was very boring. But we got through. Came out the other end, but yeah, I think I share everyone’s opinion when I say that it just seems to be going on forever. And it’s relentless.

Mika: It is, really. Have you found any hobbies or such to do to keep yourself entertained? And to keep your craft up to date? Because you can’t go out and do theatre or see these things.

Lizzy: It’s really hard. When you’re stuck at home, not really doing anything, it’s hard to find the motivation to do anything, and I think that’s something I definitely struggled with at the beginning of locked down when I was thinking “I have this abundance of time, but I’m not doing anything useful.” But then I think that you have to remember we’re in the midst of worldwide pandemic, give yourself a break. It’s okay. Like the rest of the population, I obviously took up baking and cooking. I was like another baker. We don’t need any more cake, but I was just feeling everyone.

Mika: What kind of baking do you do? I make bagels personally.

Lizzy: Oh, I’ve never tried bagels!

Mika: I have family from New York, and I live in California, so I really jones for a good, chewy bagel. And, ah, the secret is lye, which is terrifying.

Lizzy: A couple of my friends who are Americans say that in the UK you could not find a good bagel. They just don’t exist.

Mika: It’s true. But at the other end, you can’t find a good scone in America.

Lizzy: So I guess it’s kind of, which do you want. But I’m like “A bagel is a bagel” and they’re “No nonononono. No, you have not lived until you try to proper New York bagel. It is not what you have over here.” Maybe we need to do a swap? I could send over scones, you could send over bagels. Maybe that’s the way to do it. Scone with some clotted cream and jam. […] they’re amazing, and it’s stodge and carbohydrates and sugar and it’s amazing.

Mika: And they’re so terrible for us. And those are all the things I’m not supposed to be eating.

Lizzy: They so good. And when it’s raining in London, and it’s cold. Things like that get you through. […]

Mika: Thank you so much for this time. I had a blast talking to you and I’m even more jazzed to see what we’re gonna get in season two. Is there anything you’d like our audience to know about you, about this show or just anything at all that I haven’t asked that you’ve been dying to say.

Lizzy: Not really. I’m really excited for everyone to see it. And I hope the fans love it. And I hope that people connect with it and that people kind of love it as much as we love making it. That’s all we can really hope for when you when you do a show. I feel very lucky and and excited to be welcomed into the family.

Mika: Well, may I say from the fans? Welcome to the family. We can’t wait to see you.

Lizzy: Thank you so much. And it was so lovely to meet you.

Pandora returns this Sunday, October 4th, 2020, on the CW. You can catch up on season one via the CW website.

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.

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