Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Document

On paper, the plot of Surface carries a level of drama that reaches soap opera standards: an attempted suicide that might have actually been attempted murder, a steamy affair, shifting allegiances, and a memory loss-induced identity crisis. But reviews of the series have been largely choral, agreeing that its pacing feels slow, not indulging in the hyper-saturation in plot typical of such series. Its star, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, cites its intrigue as more mysterious than splashy. “There is an introspection and a nuance to the world, because it’s complex and detailed,” she explains. “That doesn’t mean it’s gentle.” While labeled a psychological thriller, the show’s depth derives more from its exploration of identity and its potential to change than from a dense dexterity in plot.

Mbatha-Raw’s character, Sophie, is introduced after a traumatic head injury. She doesn’t remember the incident, or really anything else. The Apple TV+ series tracks the unfolding of Sophie’s past as she tries to make sense of conflicting stories from the people closest to her. For Surface’s protagonist, who has little context or understanding of the person she was, self-discovery carries entirely new meaning. In elevated and modernized form, the show addresses a long-contemplated question: Are our personalities innate, or do we have control over who we are and who we are capable of becoming?

Following the show’s premiere, Mbatha-Raw joins Document to discuss the nuances of her character, the evolution of mystery, and a mass grappling with identity.

Megan Hullander: How do you build a character who doesn’t even know herself?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: I mean, that’s the challenge. Obviously, we get to know a lot more about Sophie’s past and who she actually is [throughout the series]. But in terms of actually playing her, it was a nice opportunity to embrace the more sensory elements, like the idea of muscle memory. Even if you don’t know a lot of the details of your life, taste and smell and sight take you back to a more childlike energy. Those things are that much more visceral. So that was kind of something that I used to make it feel very sensory. Being able to rebuild from a blank slate is always fun, because it really gives you a strong arc.

Megan: Looking at the whole of your career, there’s a lot of versatility in the characters that you’ve taken on. What parts of yourself, if any, did you allow to come through with this character?

Gugu: I’ve got a variety of projects now that I’ve done—certainly in terms of the genres and styles—but you might see some common threads. That’s the fun of acting, really—it’s not really about you. It’s about getting out of the way. But I think, without meaning to, you bring a great deal of yourself to every role, good and bad. [More at Source]

Comments are closed