The Expanse’s Cara Gee and Shohreh Aghdashloo on Playing Powerful Women in Sci-Fi

The Expanse’s Cara Gee and Shohreh Aghdashloo on Playing Powerful Women in Sci-Fi

The Expanse’s Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) and Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) may never cross paths; Drummer captains a salvage crew in the Belt, while diplomat Avasarala watches out for Earth. But the characters have some crucial traits in common, like the fact that they’re both total badasses.

At a recent press day in conjunction with the Amazon series’ currently airing fifth season, Gizmodo got a chance to chat with Gee and Avasarala together about what’s in store for their characters. Though they’re in separate storylines, both women find themselves in similar circumstances, having to take a step back from the power they’re used to wielding in order to serve new leaders they don’t necessarily respect.

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In Avasarala’s case, it’s the woman who replaced her as UN Secretary-General, Nancy Gao (Lily Gao); for Drummer, it’s Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander), a guy she couldn’t stand even before he bullied his way into control of the Belt. We asked the actors: which character is having a harder time with her new situation?

“I would be willing to bet that Avasarala is more upset,” Gee said. “Because Drummer made the choice to step back, right? When she cracked [her old Outer Planets Alliance boss] Fred Johnson in the face in season four [laughs] and said, ‘That’s enough of this.’ I think that her decision to go out on her own — that part of her decision — she’s comfortable with. Obviously, letting Marco go [also in season four], she might feel some regret about that later.”

“I’m afraid I have to agree with Cara,” Aghdashloo said. “If not [because of Avasarala’s depth of experience], for her age — she has been around the block a couple of times. I love her description in the book: ‘Chrisjen Avasarala speaks 10 languages, her knowledge exceeds her information about the people who work at the United Nations, she knows everyone, she even knows who’s dating who.’ This woman has become one with her mission, with her profession, with her job, whatever we call it. She’s all about protecting the Earth.”

Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) during her reign in season four of The Expanse. (Image: Amazon Studios)
Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) during her reign in season four of The Expanse. (Image: Amazon Studios)

Though Avasarala is no fan of the woman who’s displaced her at the top of Earth’s government, a life spent in politics means she’s a pro at keeping her fury in check. “I read a book years ago that said, ‘Sometimes, politics dictate that you shake hands with the killer of your grandfather.’ That’s all politics is. That’s how Avasarala looks at it. She knows it’s brutal,” Aghdashloo said. “But if she truly believes in Mother Earth and duty, if duty is the first thing that you think of when you wake up, it means that you do believe in hierarchy. So no matter what, if she’s no longer the Secretary-General, she knows that she has to respect the new Secretary-General no matter what.”

Though Drummer eventually has to deal with the dreaded Marco, things are a bit different for her — at least initially. “Where we meet her at the very beginning of season five is a very, very, very different place than she ends up about five, 10 minutes into season five,” Gee said. “So we imagine that in the time between seasons four and five, she has a new crew, a new family, a whole new purpose that she finds, I think, some satisfaction in. She has stepped away from the OPA, she’s said, you know, ‘This doesn’t align with my values any longer.’ She has like 30 seconds of happiness — we see it, I think she even smiles briefly! — and then everything is ripped away from her quickly, and she has a new purpose very early on.”

Gee also sees a contrast between Drummer and Avasarala when it comes to believing in hierarchy. “I feel like Drummer represents a completely opposite worldview. That is such an Earther perspective — and even the ranks of the OPA, and how they’re mimicking that hierarchical structure, is something that drives her bananas, just to put it mildly,” Gee said. “She imagines that there must be a different way of governing ourselves, that we don’t have to rely on these models that have worked for other people but they don’t work for the Belters. We see how it doesn’t work. So that’s really interesting that [Drummer and Avasarala] are such opposites, because [in some ways] they have so much in common.”

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The characters also differ in how they work to get what they want. Avasarala is a master manipulator, Aghdashloo points out, while Drummer is “what you see is what you get, everything is extremely up-front,” according to Gee.

One thing Drummer and Avasarala definitely share is a strong sense of personal style. Avasarala’s luxurious wardrobe has, of course, been one of The Expanse’s most striking visual elements since the show began — the gowns! The colourful fitted jackets! The jewels! Drummer, meanwhile, is usually wearing nondescript coveralls as part of her space uniform — but her thick, inky eye make-up has become the character’s trademark. We were especially curious to find out how that came about.

“One of the reasons the show is so successful is because of people like [costume designer] Joanne [Hansen], who is top of the game talented, brilliant artist, and she — like so many of the people who work on this show, especially behind the scenes — is extremely collaborative. Our little world is one where we can feel free to contribute ideas, and they grow and grow and become better and better ideas,” Gee said. “If someone has an idea for me about a scene, I welcome it. If I have an idea about the costume or whatever, it’s a very positive, collaborative environment. And to answer your question, I actually showed up for my audition for the role of Drummer with that black eye make-up. I was very familiar with the show prior to auditioning, and when I read the sides I just thought ‘Oh, this is a woman who kind of paints that on to make herself feel fierce.’”

The Expanse shares new episodes every Wednesday on Amazon Prime.

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