According to Jamie Clayton, Netflix’s new sci-fi series Sense8 is leading the way for representation. The cast of character is diverse as you can get, being made up of people of different races, different sexualities, different gender identities and different classes. It’s a show about people but, unlike the majority of sci-fi serials, it actually represents more than one group of them.
Clayton plays Nomi Marks, who is one of the eight Sensates the show is based around. Marks is a trans woman, a political blogger and an ex-hacktivist based in San Francisco. Over the course of the series, she finds out she is psychically connected to seven other people from all over the world. As a trans woman herself, Clayton says the role of Nomi was the one she had always been waiting for, and so couldn’t turn it down.
We talked to Clayton on the Sense8 set in Reykjavik last summer to find out what’s what…
What was it that drew you to Sense8 in the first place?
For me, the representation that they’ve cultivated on this show, as far as the characters and the people and the lives that they’re living, and the people that they are in love with and the friends that they have and the places that they live, the diversity within that and the diversity with the locations and everything, that’s something that I’ve never seen on television, and I don’t know if I even thought that I would see that on television. I can honestly say that I don’t think that there’s one person that hit play on this and not feel connected to one person or another. There’s someone or some place that everyone can be like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve felt that or I’ve been there or I’ve done that’. It’s incredible what they’ve done. Think about it in terms of sexuality and gender and ethnicity. The way that people are raised, all the characters from India and Mexico, we’ve got transgender characters and gay characters and straight characters and every colour of the rainbow as far as ethnicity is concerned.
Can you tell us a bit more about your character, Nomi?
Nomi is a hacker. She is a political blogger and she works for big companies setting up internet security and all that and what not, and she lives in San Francisco with her girlfriend Amanita, who is played by Freema Agyeman, who is incredible. Oh my god, I had such a blast working with her. And it’s so cool because Nomi is transgender but that’s not what the show is about and it’s not what her character is about. She just happens to be. And she’s in a relationship with a beautiful woman, they live together, and then all of a sudden, her life is sort of turned upside down when she starts experiencing these insane headaches, which I’ve started now waking up with, by the way! I’m like, oh my god I think I have, like, sympathy headaches for Nomi! And then she ends up in the hospital with a doctor telling her they are going to cut her brain open.
Did Sense8 set out to normalise gender issues?
I don’t know what normal is anymore! [Laughs] I think that’s kind of the point! The Wachowskis are just so smart in that respect. Casting such a wide group of people in the show to say, this is the world that we live in! It’s saying, hey, this is the world that we live in, these are the things that are here and this is what’s going on. Whether or not people think that it’s normal, it exists. It’s such a special thing. When I read the script it was the same thing. I was like, oh my god, if I don’t get this part, like whoever does better do a really fucking good job because I’m going to watch this!
What is it like being directed by Lana Wachowski, who is also a trans woman?
When that whole story [about Lana’s transition] came out and she was given the award by the Human Rights Campaign, I literally called my agent and was like, I want to know what she’s working on. I want to work with her. I never thought in my career I’d be able to relate to someone the way that I have on set. I’ve never felt so comfortable. And the material that I’m doing is incredibly emotional and incredibly provocative and I trust her explicitly in a way that I don’t know I could or would trust someone who hasn’t been through what we’ve been through.
What is it like working for Netflix?
They are reshaping the industry, which is really hard to do. It’s like reinventing lipstick. Like, shit, lipstick’s been around forever! How are you going to do it? Netflix is totally the new punk rock. Everyone is in a full goddamn panic because it’s like the new girl at school and she’s in the hottest outfit and all the guys want to sleep with her and it’s like all the other fucking girls want to be her! All the girls want to be her, all the guys want to sleep with her and it’s like shit, how do we do that?
Are the rest of the cast loving working on Sense8 as much as you are?
I’ve never been around a group of people who were more grateful to be somewhere. Everyone on the crew, the entire cast, we’re constantly looking at each other and giggling, like ‘I can’t believe we’re here! I can’t believe we’re doing this!’
Sense8 is available to stream on Netflix now. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the series and read exclusive interviews with the rest of the cast in the new issue of SciFiNow.