Surface stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Oliver Jackson-Cohen tell Screen Rant about building their characters’ backstories and relationships in the show.
Apple TV+’s new limited series Surface dives into the life of Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Sophie, who has lost her memories to a brain injury following her apparent suicide attempt. Left in limbo as she pieces together the puzzle that was her past, Sophie begins to question the true intentions of her husband James, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen. Surface also stars Stephan James as Thomas Baden, an undercover investigator who falls in love with Sophie and resolves to uncover the truth behind her incident. A winding narrative that keeps viewers guessing until the end of the series’ eight episodes, Surface explores intricate themes of trauma and identity through Sophie’s journey.
Mbatha-Raw, who recently starred in HBO Max’s The Girl Before, made her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut as Ravonna Renslayer in the Disney+ series Loki in 2021 and will portray the character in the show’s second season. Mbatha-Raw played other lead roles in 2013’s Belle and 2014’s Beyond the Lights. Jackson-Cohen is best known for Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. He also appeared in 2020’s The Invisible Man.
Screen Rant interviewed Mbatha-Raw and Jackson-Cohen about Sophie and James’ convoluted relationship in Surface.
Screen Rant: Gugu, you play a character who has a very fascinating backstory, yet how much she’s aware of who she is depends on when each scene takes place. How did you approach reflecting the discrepancies between Sophie before loses her memories and afterward as she starts to gain them back?
Gugu Mbatha-Raw: That’s the whole sort of juicy stuff of this character, that when we meet Sophie, she really doesn’t know who she is. I’ve never played a role of a character where I haven’t had some kind of backstory that is playable. In this, Sophie is very much looking to the people in her life — her husband James, her friends — to be able to tell her who she is. So, although it was an unusual challenge, it was kind of liberating because I’m building the character as Sophie is building and unraveling the mystery of what really happened.
James comes across as genuinely caring for Sophie at times, yet at others, it seems he’s more concerned with himself. Oliver, how much do you think he really loves her?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: That’s quite a hard one to answer without giving away too many spoilers for the show. I think as the show goes on, there’s so much new information that comes up and everything that you think is kind of thrown, it twists on itself. I don’t know if I can answer that without giving away too many spoilers, but I think that their relationship is based on a deep, deep love that happened a long time before this. So, whether or not that love has deteriorated, whether or not it can be rebuilt, that’s for an audience to wait and find out.
It was really interesting to see the ways Sophie and James can often see through each other. What was it like working with this script and establishing the dynamic between your characters?
Gugu Mbatha-Raw: The scripts on the show were so good. Writer and showrunner Veronica West just did an exceptional job of threading together quite complex timelines, and characters, and perspectives. Also, our main director, Sam Miller — who worked on I May Destroy You — between Sam and Veronica, we had quite a dynamic team of pulling out the tone of the show, the mystery of the show. So, it really was incredible collaborating with everyone. As executive producer, myself, for the first time being a part of conversations in terms of shaping the tone of the show was incredibly satisfying.
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: It was incredible. I feel like the whole team behind Surface, they’re inspiring, phenomenal people and I think that if we break it down, if we start with the scripts and what Veronica wrote, and then you’ve got the cast, and Hello Sunshine, and Apple, and our directors, I think it’s always really nice going to work with people that you hugely respect and I think that was definitely the case for this. I just think it was an incredible experience.
Set in high-end San Francisco, “Surface,” stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“The Morning Show”) as Sophie, a woman who has suffered a traumatic head injury that has left her with extreme memory loss, believed to be a result of a suicide attempt. As Sophie embarks on a quest to put the pieces of her life back together with the help of her husband and friends, she begins to question whether or not the truth she is told is in fact the truth she has lived.
Through twists and turns and a shocking love triangle, this sexy, elevated thriller asks: What if you woke up one day and didn’t know your own secrets? “Surface” is a story of self-discovery which contemplates if we are pre-programmed to become who we are, or if we choose our own identity.
Check out our other interviews with the cast and crew of Surface as well.
Next: Bly Manor: Peter Quint’s Story Reveals The Show’s Biggest Problem
Surface premieres its first three episodes on Apple TV+ on July 29, followed by five episodes released weekly on Fridays.
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