UNDER THE DOME’s Monarch Rachelle Lefevre Speaks
By Brian Walton on June 18, 2014
When we last left the townsfolk of Chester’s Mill, the townsfolk were ready to kill Barbie, the Dome had gone white, and Julia, played by Rachelle Lefevre, had been named Monarch. While we’re still not entirely clear what being the Monarch means under the dome, we do know we’re happy to see Julia stepping out and taking charge. Less headstrong than Barbie and definitely not as evil, Julia is the matter-of-fact character we can all get behind — but that doesn’t mean things are going to get any easier for Ms. Lefevre in Season 2. We caught up with Rachelle on the set of Under the Dome to find out more about her upcoming monarchy, and the comic book character she’s overzealous to play.
Nerdist: We don’t even know what the monarch is, but you get to be the one to run around and say you’re it.
Rachelle Lefevre: I know! I love it. I sort of feel like the monarch is an appropriate moniker, actually – moniker, monarch, pun intended. You heard me pause, right?
RL: I was going to say ‘appropriate name,’ but why use a two dollar word when you can use a twenty dollar one?
RL: I was just thinking about the idea of power, and what it means to be — to have it bestowed on you, and sort of the situation that Julia finds herself in. One of the things I was thinking about, there’s that famous quote – I can’t remember who said it – “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, he became a butterfly.” I sort of feel like that’s Julia’s life right now. She is in this situation where it’s almost apocalyptic scenario, for them. It’s not the end of the world, but for them it certainly feels like a new world. She has no idea, like everyone else, she has no idea what’s going to happen, and what this new world is going to look like, and thinks that they’re kind of stuck and at the end. And then is given this title, and is transformed, which is the theme of our season. Every character will have a major transformation. So she is having this sort of butterfly-like experience, of being one thing, and then not knowing she’s something else, but finding out and discovering that she’s something else.
N: One thing that I’m hoping gets explored this year is why your character, why Julia is the monarch. Because your character has been the most proactive about finding the truth, about dealing with it pragmatically, and then even with Barbie – when those revelations came about, your character dealt through it. It’s almost like your character is showing that you have the ability, and that’s kind of interesting. Are those explorations going to be made this season? Are we going to get answers to that, why you’re the monarch, or are we just going to find out more about what the monarch is?
RL: Whether or not you’ll find out exactly why she’s the monarch, I actually don’t know. If they know, they ain’t tellin’! I do know you’ll discover about what that means, and her responsibilities. I think that in terms of this season, she – I really like what you said about the pragmatism and the qualities that she showed. I think that you’ll definitely see more of that come into play this season, because as things get more hectic and more desperate, and as measures become more – people get bigger and bolder and the more time we’re stuck in this thing, the more people are going to be hysterical or try to find a way out. That’s going to require a much stronger part of herself, if she really is interested in this leadership role, and wants to do the right thing for Chester’s Mill, and do the right thing for the people that she cares about, she’s going to have to keep level-headed. It’s like that Rudyard Kipling poem “If.” “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs” – and I do think that those qualities are going to play out in terms of her being the monarch.
N: She also seems to be the only person that doesn’t have an agenda.
RL: You know, there’s this great expression, this great quote, that I love, that power is best used in the hands of those that don’t desire it. I think that is something that will also be a factor, which is – you’re absolutely right, Julia doesn’t want to run Chester’s Mill. She doesn’t – she has no desire to lead everyone. What she wants to do is help people when the situation requires it, try to figure out her own life a little, and maybe try to help – maybe the most powerful it gets in terms of lofty goals and high ideals is maybe trying to guide, if necessary, people who are lost in Chester’s Mill, in trying to do the right thing. That’s all she wants. She doesn’t want to be Big Jim.
N: When you found out you were going to be on this show, when you got cast, did you want to jump into the book, or did you just want to go with the script? What kind of research did you do to figure out how to play this former reporter?
RL: I did want to jump into the book. I ran out and bought the book, and I have this sort of funny story – I was cast two days before I had to get on a plane, and I went and bought the book and thought I would read it in that two days. Then I said, “Joke’s on me!” [chuckles] It’s 1200 pages and I had to pack. So I didn’t end up reading the book right then and there. And then I started thinking about it, and I had a conversation with the writers, and I said, “Oh my god, the book is so dense and I’m so sorry, but I haven’t gotten through it yet, and I will.” They said, “You know what, we’re making changes. We’re making changes with Stephen King’s blessing. It’s going to be a different Chester’s Mill, and your characters are going to be tweaked, so please don’t feel beholden to the book.” I had had the experience – I did a film called Barney’s Version, with Paul Giamatti, based on an amazing novel by Mordecai Richler. I read the novel, and my character only had a few scenes. But in the book, she’s the first third of the book.
N: His first marriage, right?
RL: Yeah, his first marriage. And so it was a tremendous amount of research that went into that – a lot of breaking it down. And then when I went to do the film, what I found was that as helpful as it was in terms of character analysis, it didn’t necessarily serve me in playing the role, because a lot of the stuff I had become attached to was gone. A lot of the things I had made choices based upon, a lot of the back story, was different, or wasn’t there. So when they said, “Don’t worry about it, we’re making changes,” I thought, “You know what? I’ll read the book when we’re done. Right now, I’m going to live in this world.” Julia, for me, is the Julia of our show.
N: So we’re going into season two. You are the monarch. It’s this great jumping off point where Stephen King is coming back to start that next chapter that he didn’t get to do in the book. You don’t hear about that often. You’ve got such input into where this character has gone. Since you didn’t read the book, that’s interesting. How does that feel that Stephen King has seen your performance, liked it, and started to craft a new direction for this character because of what you did?
RL: It’s insanely flattering, obviously. It’s also the best-case scenario. I think the hope is always, if they cast you, they cast you for a reason. But they don’t know all of you, and they don’t know what all of your qualities, and how they’re going to evolve, and they don’t know necessarily how the entire show will evolve, per each character’s specifically. So you start – it’s sort of like, you start with a good idea. Like, “Oh, I feel like this person has some qualities of this character,” and they’re really finding that, and they hear something in your voice. And then ideally, the writers will take what you bring to it and start writing towards who you are and what you’re bringing to the character. Conversely, as an actor, I tailor my choice to where what I can see in the writing they want her to go, and what part of the story they’re putting on her shoulders.
We all have a different responsibility in telling a certain part of the story. My job, I feel, is to say – as far as the audience is concerned, why is Julia interesting to them? What part of the story is she offering them that they want to watch? And so I try to define that clearly with what the writers have given me. So I think it’s a symbiotic relationship, and I think in the best writing, it is. All the shows that I love so much, you can see how they clearly let the actor – the actors and the writers have found this exchange, and how it works so beautifully, to the point where you can’t imagine anyone else in the role.
N: Like Bryan Cranston.
RL: Right! Like Bryan Cranston – that’s the golden – that character could have been so completely different, and far less sympathetic. And sometimes unsympathetic when you wanted him to be. He just made the strongest choices!
N: Is it just acting for you, or do you want to create your own things?
RL: I definitely would like to create my own things. I haven’t said that out loud, actually – probably ever, except to the people in my life. You’re the first time I’m saying that publicly.
N: For the record.
RL: For the record, you’re getting an exclusive. It’s because I’m a nerd. [chuckles] That’s where I feel safe. I think that I didn’t feel comfortable saying it out loud, because I didn’t feel the confidence, that that was something I could do. And whether or not it’s something that I can do remains to be seen, but certainly I just love the core of storytelling, and I get so excited when I meet – I have friends who are writers, who are not “successful,” they do other jobs, but they’ll write something that I think is so good! I get so excited about not just the amazing performances, and producers and directors and things that – the Oscars were obviously just recently – the things that we know and we celebrate, but untapped talent, and I get so excited about potential.
I started to realize that I was doing a producer’s job in my head. I was reading something, and I was going, “Oh my god, I know exactly who I would cast!” You know, where they should shoot this. I started giving friends notes on their scripts, that I was told were not bad notes.
It just kind of started to happen, and I thought, you know what? I really love this! I really love the storytelling from this far back. Not just getting it when it’s already a go. So yeah, that’s definitely something that I hope in the next couple of years will kind of evolve.
N: Movies, plays, TV shows?
RL: A little bit of everything. A little of everything. I have a play right now that I am in love with, which I may or may not be able to work on, but a play that I’m in love with, that I would love to adapt and turn into an indie film. I have an idea – two ideas for shows that I’ve been kicking around. I’ve got, like, a binder. I’ve got a binder, which is basically like a scrapbook of stuff.
N: That’s great!
RL: Yeah. And it was always something that I did just for fun. I did that just because I like to have ideas, and I was like, “Well, if I’m having an idea, maybe I’ll keep it, and when I’m eighty, I’ll show my grandkids that I thought of this.” Then it was like, maybe I should do something with that while I’m still young enough to do it!
N: It seems like with the talent in the writer’s room and the producers and the talent onscreen, this seems like a perfect master class in creating something great. It seems like this would be a great opportunity to learn. Have you had that? Have you been able to pick up things from people that you think you’re going to be able to use elsewhere?
RL: Oh, yeah! I’ve learned so much! We had Niels Arden Oplev direct our pilot last year. When you have someone who is that talented a director, you can’t not learn! Jack Bender, who’s our EP, who is directing so many episodes, he’s here on the ground, and he ran Lost, and Neal Baer did SVU and ER. We have all – we’re surrounded by all of these people. It’s like having this sort of lineage of successful projects, so it’s impossible not to learn.
And the other actors – I think the thing that I learn the most from the other actors is the way that everyone – it’s really a joy, everyone is really focused. It helps, I think, that we’re not in Los Angeles, or wherever people live, that we’re away from our friends and family, because when this is all you have, you really do hunker down. No one is distracted. People show up so ready. They have notes and their scripts are covered with ideas. They have dialogue things they want to tweak. Everyone is constantly – and so it really does feel like a creative space and a collaborative process. In that sense, absolutely.
N: Are there any movies or TV shows or comic books that you’re reading or watching that you’re excited about?
RL: I actually – when I was in the ninth grade, I read every issue of WildC.A.T.s. I don’t have her figure and I don’t have the blonde hair, although I could probably get a wig, so I’ll never play Zealot. [laughs]
RL: Oh, my god, did I want to!
N: Do you know how many casting directors would flip the f**k out if you cut your hair?
RL: Oh, my god! But I mentioned that years ago. I think a couple of years ago, I was at a comic book convention – I can’t remember if it was Comic-Con or WonderCon, or something else. I was at some comic book convention, and I mentioned that in an interview, and one of the collectors nearby heard, and he was a fan, and he came up to me and he said, “I think I have every issue of WildC.A.T.s in a bin,” and they’re not worth a ton, because it wasn’t like X-Men. He was like, “If you want them, you can have them,” and handed me a fucking crate – a plastic bin full, and they’re all mint condition, in their plastic. So I’ve been slowly revisiting those. I open them carefully, I read them, I don’t bend the spine or anything like that. So that’s my nerd moment. My geek-out.
I would love to play a comic book character. Maybe we’ll just put that out into the ether.
N: Let’s just put it out there.
RL: If anyone wants to call me and tell me to work out more and develop super powers, I’m so on board!
Under The Dome returns to CBS Monday June 30th. Stay tuned to Nerdist.com for more interviews from the cast of Under the Dome.