Severance’s Dichen Lachman on leaving Australian film and TV: ‘I didn’t see myself in that space’ | Television

For a series billed as a “workplace thriller”, Ben Stiller’s acclaimed new series Severance feels oddly meditative. Over its single season – so far – we watch, wide-eyed and enthralled, as a cadre of staff traipse through the labyrinthine corridors of Lumon, their ominous, Kafkaesque employer.

Each character has undergone a medical procedure which shares its name with the show itself, separating their work selves (“innies”) and outside lives (“outies”) into two distinct, fractured halves, each with no knowledge of the other’s doings.

Entire stretches of episodes are dedicated to the workers at their desks, poring over inconsequential matrices of data, or walking from one department to the next, wall after nondescript wall until it all becomes a brutalist blur. I’ve seen it described as slow TV.

The Guardian awarded the series a five-star review, and called it “our new favorite mystery box show”. And though she doesn’t seem to initially, Severance’s trump card is Lumon’s “wellness counselor”, Ms Casey. The role is small but tricky, with little context to latch on to. Unlike her fellow employees, Ms Casey has no trace of an outside life. When she speaks, it’s often in riddles, providing reassurance to troubled staff via cryptic affirmations. “Your outie likes the sound of radar,” she tells one character played by veteran actor John Turturro. “Your outie knows a beautiful rock from a plain one,” she intones to Adam Scott’s lead.

And then there’s her voice: an unwavering, impassive whisper that’s equal parts soothing and skin-crawling, like a yoga instructor who hates you.

“I would love to do an ASMR video,” says Dichen Lachman, who plays her on the Apple TV + series. “Maybe if you write about it, Apple will read it and be like, ‘That’s a great idea!'”

Dichen Lachman as Ms Casey in Severance. Photograph: Atsushi Nishijima / Apple TV +

Hours of preparation – watching everything from meditation guides to online sleep stories – went into the voice. It’s almost jarring to hear her natural Australian lilt when Lachman Zooms in from her home in London, where she’s been living since last November with her husband. Gone, of course, is Ms Casey’s elasticated tension; it’s morning over there and she’s fully relaxed as she talks about embodying an enigma.

“She’s very special and unique [in her] stillness, but also that sort of childlike state, ”Lachman says. “Underneath, [you see] this naivety, this curiosity, because her life has been so short. ”

Ms Casey, it revealed at one point, has only been “alive” for 107 hours in her current form. As the season progresses, she evolves from something of a fembot doing the bidding of her overlords to a surprisingly pivotal character whose very existence ruptures Lumon’s safe-guarded secrets. What does this company even do? Who is Ms Casey outside work? And how did she end up here?

There is a twist too good to spoil for the uninitiated, but suffice to say that it implies a much larger arc for Lachman’s character in the show’s newly announced second season. Of course, she hasn’t been completely immune to the deluge of fan theories rife with hypotheses on Ms Casey’s past and future, but she’s hesitant to guess too much.

“If I get attached to an idea of ​​what might happen to Ms Casey, and then it goes in a different direction, I’d be disappointed,” Lachman says. “And I really want to trust that they know what’s going on.”

“They” refers to show creator Dan Erickson, as well as Stiller, who executive produced and directed most episodes of the series. Working with Stiller was daunting at first, especially with Covid mask restrictions in place, which meant “all I could see of Ben were his beautiful, bright blue eyes – but just his eyes, ”she says.

Stiller’s directorial touch became the undercurrent beneath much of Severance’s strange stillness. “He would play this beautiful music on a Bluetooth speaker – [and it] would sometimes accidentally disconnect, which was annoying, ”Lachman laughs. “He’d gently start the scene [saying]’Just breathe, take long breaths in and out’. “

Ben Stiller, Dichen Lachman, Zach Cherry and Yul Vazquez at the final screening of Severance.
Ben Stiller, Dichen Lachman, Zach Cherry and Yul Vazquez at the final screening of Severance. Photograph: Eric Charbonneau / REX / Shutterstock

The space afforded by the series felt like a luxury. “They even had all the scripts finished before I started filming, which is so rare in television,” she says. It’s also a far cry from the role of Lachman is perhaps best known for in Australia: Neighbor’s woebegone teenage rebel Katya Kinski who, over a two-year stint in the mid-noughties, had a particularly rough run – even for soap opera standards.

I read out the incredibly chaotic list of everything Katya was subjected to: blackmailing, kidnapping, getting done for attacking someone with a defibrillator – “Stabbed! I think I got stabbed, ”Lachman interjects.

“It was just like, go go go go. [We had] to conjure up emotions really fast, especially when you’re talking about a character… who’s always going through these really extreme scenarios. ”

Like so many Australian exports, Neighbors became her first break in what was still an incredibly hermetic industry.

“It was important for representation in terms of Australian television,” says Lachman, who was born in Nepal, and has Tibetan and German heritage. “I’m so grateful they even gave it to me to begin with.

“What had come before that was very homogenous [and] it was nice to be part of that wave of reflecting the community a bit more. ”

When her contract was up in 2007, she packed her bags straight away. “At that time in Australia, we were only filming Home and Away and maybe a couple of other ABC [period dramas]and ”- she gestures to her face -“ I didn’t see myself in that space. ”

She lived out of a suitcase for three months in LA, eventually landing a role in a made-for-TV movie as an Aztec princess running away from a dinosaur. The movie was called – descriptively – Aztec Rex; she didn’t realize the kind of film it would be until she glimpsed an early visual while shooting.

“I was like,‘ is that the dinosaur? Is that how it’s gonna look? ‘

“But it actually worked out because I think if you try to make a funny B-movie, the actors do need to take it seriously. It makes it funnier. ”

It wasn’t the star-making role she’d hoped for. That came later, with Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, a sci-fi series which was watched by the right people – “so many writers” – despite its reasonably short run. It propelled her into a career where she has returned to sci-fi time and time again, in shows like The 100, Agents of SHIELD, and Altered Carbon.

Dichen Lachman in a still from Joss Whedon's Dollhouse
Dichen Lachman’s role in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse launched her into a series of sci-fi roles. ‘We have to be cautious,’ she says of our relationship with technology. Photograph: Album / Alamy

Severance, then, is a continuation of her long-held fascination with the genre. “I keep finding myself in these stories where there’s some kind of technology that makes you reflect on our humanity and our relationship to it,” Lachman says. “Technology is so wonderful in so many ways: it saves lives, it has definitely brought people out of poverty, [but] we need to moderate our relationship… We have to be cautious. ”

She couldn’t play these characters grappling with the precarities of big tech – “often the villain or the victim,” she says – without the rollercoaster of training that was Neighbors.

“[Neighbours stalwart] Ian Smith always said: ‘Wherever you are in the world, whatever set you end up on, don’t be scared. Just pretend you’re here. ‘ And I never forgot that.

“Although, well, I did forget it a little bit on Severance.”

Leave a Comment

News Msuica