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The Badass Women Of ‘Altered Carbon’ On Social Issues, Immortality, And Naked Fight Scenes
Dichen Lachman and Martha Higareda are certified warriors (and lookers)
by Anton D. Umali | Jan 27, 2018
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Here at FHM.com.ph, we’re all about championing women who are strong and complex. Ladies who, when it comes to dealing with the trappings of reality, are well-rounded and real and accessible. It doesn’t hurt, of course, if they look good while doing so.

Altered Carbon, Netflix’s new science fiction series, has no shortage of interesting female characters. Kristin Ortega, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda, is a police officer whose grit and rebellious nature aid her in pursuing the criminals of her worn-down city. Then there’s Reileen Kawahara, played by Australian actress Dichen Lachman, a warrior with heavy emotional secrets (and killer sword skills).

During the recent press conference of the show in Seoul, South Korea, we sat down with the ladies to discuss their experience of inhabiting these larger than life individuals.  

How were you cast for Altered Carbon?

Martha: I was shooting a movie in Mexico and my agent called me. They didn’t send me the script, just a few scenes. They said put yourself on tape. They were looking for someone Latina, so they were looking in Mexico, Colombia, Los Angeles, and Spain. I remember reading it and I was so fascinated by the three scenes they sent me. So then I put myself on tape and two months later they called me asking if I wanted to audition with Joel [Kinnaman], who I’d never met. I remember thinking: “Oh no, he’s 6’2”” and I’m so tiny! I have to wear my biggest shoes. Something happened in that room while we were doing the reading. Laeta [Kalogridis, show creator] and Miguel Sapochnik [director] were there and it was just magic. We just had fun.

Dichen: I put down a tape at home while my baby was in the bedroom with a cousin who was trying to keep her quiet. I forgot about it for like three months. I didn’t hear anything and then I got a call saying they wanted me. That was it.

Laeta explained that your characters, Reileen Kawahara and Kristin Ortega, were fleshed out for the series. Did you guys collaborate with her on that?

D: I think we both collaborated with the writers and the producers. The arc of the story was pretty much cemented.

M: Laeta was always very open. She was always gunning for making everything as real and grounded as possible. Sometimes, I would read lines that would make me want to actually live in Laeta’s head for a day to see all the stuff she creates. It’s just unbelievable.

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D: It’s the attention to detail that you notice when you look at her writing and the work. I think it’s a show you have to watch twice. Because there are details here and there that you don’t notice the first time. That’s what blows my mind. It’s a wealth of storytelling. It’s so complex.

Photo by Netflix

There are not many Latin American characters who are at the forefront of big sci-fi outings such as this. Do you feel an extra responsibility now being an ambassador to the community?

M: Well, yes. Now I do. Absolutely. Laeta and I have this good connection. We always see the typical Latinain movies and TV, who is a tomboy. Very macho. How do we break out of that? Ortega is tough, but she’s also feminine. She’s close to her family and she knows she has to defend herself in the world. And that is a well-rounded person who I think represents my culture. We speak our mind, but we also speak with our heart.

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The show deals with a lot of social issues that concern women. There’s prostitution and domestic abuse. How does the show speaking about those issues make you feel?

D: I think it’s important to sometimes show how dark we can be and show exploitation or abuse. It brings it to the table so people can talk about it. I think all women are strong because, at the end of the day, whatever position you’re in, you’re there because something happened or it’s a last resort. Or maybe it’s the only way you’re going to put food in your child’s mouth, so even though you’re being abused or manipulated, it’s all you have as an option to stay alive. We get to play the more powerful characters in terms of access to power—Ortega is a police officer, and Reileen has accumulated enough wealth. They’re powerful in different ways. There is a lot of violence toward women with some of the other characters who aren’t leads. It is uncomfortable, but I think it’s important that people see it so that we can talk about why it’s uncomfortable and why it’s wrong. 

Photo by Netflix

If the technology to keep someone immortal was available in real life, would you avail of it?

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M: Yes! I guess it would come to a point where you’d be asking bigger questions. One of the things that’s important about the show is that we ask these questions. What happens to humanity when you get to live forever? Do you go to dark places? Would you get bored? That’s what we say on the show: all these rich people start to get bored that they start twisting their brains into creating more violence. Or do you go a spiritual route? I would definitely do it, then I could be in Joel’s body! Ha ha!

D: If anyone had access to that, would you want to do it? Yes! That’s the problem though. That’s scary. It sounds terrifying to me. If it was as easy as they make it look in the show, I think everyone would want to do it. Do I want to see my daughter have children and grandchildren? Yes. But they say life is only beautiful because we die. If you remove the element of dying, you lose something.

Tell us more about your epic fight scene together?

D: You mean, the naked fight scene. That’s what I call it.

M: I just want to say that Dichen is my hero. She really is. If you saw her on set, she was very professional. And when you’re an actor, you’re embodying this character from head to toe. And there are certain things you are required to do. In this particular scene, I just felt I was there to support Dichen because she was the one doing all the crazy stuff and she’s amazing.

D: We were both doing crazy stuff, but there were just some logistical issues with being naked. When I first heard about it, I was like, “Oh my god! I didn’t know about this before I signed on.” But I went from fear to excitement pretty quickly. First of all, when I thought about being naked in my work, I didn’t think it would be like this. I just assumed it would probably be with a man or another woman…

M: I was so lucky to be your first!

D: Ha ha! She was. Maybe this is me being small-minded, but I always assumed that if I was asked to do nudity it would be in a sexual sense. But then they were asking me to be nude in a fight scene. Not only am I in a place of strength, but who has ever done this before? I started googling “naked sword fight” and I couldn’t find anything! I was training for three months in LA with a sword. Plus, I have a baby and when I got pregnant, I put on a lot of weight and I had a lot pain as a result. After you have a baby, and you do all the things that come with having a baby, you’re less hard on yourself and on your body. It makes you grow up really fast and be less self-conscious. I realized, it was not about me, it was about the character. Would the character do this? Absolutely. Reileen would do this and more.

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Altered Carbon premieres on February 2, 2018 on Netflix

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