Interview with Maisie Richardson-Sellers (KATHY FREEMAN)

Category: Interview

What’s Kathy’s story in The Undeclared War?

MRS: In “The Undeclared War”, Kathy is a cyber-analyst, and she comes from the NSA – which is the American counterpart to GCHQ, and she’s on attachment in the UK for two years. She comes from a military background and has decided that rather than taking part in warfare in person – she wants to stop it before it even happens. She’s whip-smart, very private, and very tense – she’s kind of like deep water – where the surface can be completely still but there can be raging storms underneath. She sees a familiar face in Saara and is really drawn to her fiery nature and her outspokenness, and they become close quite quickly.

Kathy grew up in New York, she’s very strong and very quiet – slightly shy but you would never know it if you met her. She was at university and swamped by student debt – so decided she would apply to the CIA and NSA, and whichever one gave her a job first was where she’d go. It’s a big shift for her because she partly resents the military background that she grew up in because her father was in law enforcement in 9/11 as a police officer – and having seen first-hand that kind of trauma and loss she thinks there must be another way to stop warfare. So, she uses her intelligence and goes down the cyber route of trying to infiltrate these spaces and stop war from happening in the first place. She’s really struggled to bond with the people at GCHQ to date – she doesn’t see many familiar faces – I think the whole uptight British camaraderie schtick doesn’t go down well with her. When she sees Saara it’s a really refreshing experience and she finally has someone she can connect with.

What attracted you to role?

MRS: I love her! I think there’s such a degree of mystery about her – she’s very much “in the grey” – you never fully know what she’s thinking or feeling and yet she’s so intelligent she’s always five steps ahead of everyone. I know very little about the cyber world and about coding and the NSA – researching it was fascinating, so it was the chance to step into shoes I’ve never experienced before, and also she has a secret power, which is really alluring and captivating for me.

What surprised you in the research you’ve done?

MRS: It’s absolutely fascinating learning about NSA and GCHQ – I think one of the most fascinating things is just how secretive you have to be when part of that world. There’s a compartmentalisation within work whereby you can’t talk to anyone who’s not cleared for the project you’re on – but then also when you go home, you can’t talk to anyone about what you’re doing – your family, your partner – so that must be very isolating to exist in a bubble in many ways. Also, the fact that there’s a “burn bag” at GCHQ is really cool – that no information can leave, so any documents/files/hard drives have to be disintegrated before it can leave the building – so that degree of secrecy. And then once you retire that’s it – you’ve been a part of and dedicated your life to this whole world, and then it’s just over. So, I thought that’s a really fascinating way to live.

The Undeclared War couldn’t be more topical – what themes resonate particularly for you?

MRS: For me, the fact that everything we see happening in the show technology-wise is possible, or will be possible, in the very near future and yet so few people know about this undeclared war and the power of the cyber world. I think very soon we will be seeing things like this happening and a new kind of warfare – so to me it’s important we educate ourselves on that potential and what’s going on right behind us, because it’s going to affect our lives dramatically I think – soon – and it’s better to be forewarned about things like that. I thought it was really interesting that Peter did such intense research for this so that everything you see is possible.

How has it been working with Peter?

MRS: Working with Peter is a phenomenal dream – it’s been a transcendent experience for me. He’s so precise and so well researched – he knows every single character inside out so when you’re talking to him it feels like you’re talking about a real person. We’re discussing back stories all the way down to the early childhood of that character – and I think you really feel that flavour when you’re watching the scenes coming together because it feels – it IS – real life. You don’t feel like you’re performing, you feel like you’re existing within the chosen world that Peter has created. It makes the threat very real – you feel that fear and the vulnerability and the terror and the love very, very, intimately, and intensely and that’s all down to the groundwork Peter lays for you.

What is it about “The Undeclared War” that will get audiences hooked?

MRS: We’re dealing with global, terrifying issues but in such a human and personal way. The relationships between people are extremely intimate, raw, and relatable – yet we’re also dealing with the threat of intercontinental warfare in a way which is very real and intimidating and scary. We’re also dealing with a grey area – there’s no good / bad / right / wrong – everyone is textured and layered and complex and I think that’s going to really pull people in.  

What will surprise audiences about this show?

MRS: We’re dealing with very serious themes but there’s a beautiful element of humour and human nature in it as well – there’s some lovely love stories that develop, which are quite surprising and alluring. I think the fact that everything is possible – everything you see and hear being discussed could and probably will happen during our lifetimes. I think that’s going to be surprising to people who don’t know that world. Also, one thing Peter has done really beautifully is he’s personified and visualised a “Codeworld” – what it feels like to read code in a way that we experience physically. Rather than just looking at a bunch of letters and numbers we’re actually visualising and living that experience – which makes it far more relatable and interactive.

Why should people watch the show?

MRS: Because this is our future! You’re looking at how warfare is going to operate very soon, and we’re also looking at the huge repercussions it can have on our daily lives even though we might not know that much about cyber warfare just yet. It’s a show that’s full of fantastic performances – we have an amazing cast, with a number of actors that audiences will recognise– and it’s such a joy to work with them and to watch them, and it’s also just a very human story as well as being a very global story. It will move you, challenge you, surprise you and keep you coming back for more.