If Sepideh Moafi didn’t already capture your attention as Gigi on Showtime’s The L Word: Generation Q, she surely will on Apple TV Plus’ new crime drama meets psychological thriller, Black Bird. The limited series kicked off on July 8 and tells the story of Jimmy Keene (who co-wrote the book it's based on): a high school football hero, later turned drug dealer who is given the chance to commute his sentence. All he has to do is befriend a suspected serial killer and get a confession. As FBI agent Lauren McCauley, Sepideh works with Taron Egerton’s Jimmy.
As Apple TV Plus rolls out episodes each week, Moafi spoke with LA Confidential about the “intensity” of filming Black Bird and what we can look forward to from FX’s Class of ‘09 and season 3 of The L Word.
Black Bird premiered last week. How does it feel to have the show start rolling out and finally being able to see a response?
It feels great. There's been so much build up so much anticipation for us. We finished filming less than a year ago. It was an intense process. We knew we had a perfect script, but you never know how things turn out until you see it and when they sent me a screener a few months ago, I couldn't believe it. The script, as I said, was perfect already, but what they did with it — obviously Natalie Kingston is a brilliant cinematographer. Our whole camera crew, our whole sound crew— all of these elements came together and flowed so beautifully and I'm really proud.
What made it an intense process?
On a technical level, it's intense because you're essentially making a six-hour movie and you're cross-boarding, which is you're shooting all six episodes at the same time. Obviously, that's tricky, particularly when you're dealing with a piece that hops around in time as it is. So the piece takes place over the span of about 10 years. And then, on one day we're shooting two scenes from episode three, one scene from episode six and a scene from episode one,
Also, filming in New Orleans during hurricane season was incredibly challenging. We were evacuated because of Hurricane Ida. This beautiful city that we all fell in love with has borne the brunt of so many just horrible, severe weather storms, and so there was a process of allowing people to rebuild and reassess and get back into the flow of living before we rush back into filming. There was quite a chunk of time that we took out to evacuate and then come back.
On top of that, and most importantly, is the subject matter. It's heavy material. It's very dark, and every single character has to enter these really dark spaces. I know for myself and my research process, I became obsessed because I wanted to make sure I could believably commit to and be this agent and there are years of training that's involved with becoming an FBI agent, but especially somebody who deals with these kinds of crimes: homicide. I read and spoke to people who have dealt with crimes against children and I could never do it. It's just something that I'm not strong enough to do and so being in that space is also incredibly challenging. And so all of these different elements created a necessary turbulence, I think, to create the product that that you see.
What preparation did you do to play an FBI agent?
That was a layered process too because as I mentioned, the script is so good. Really everything that you need as an actor is in the script itself. Dennis Lehane writes in such vivid detail and his characters are all so fleshed out, and yet they leave so much space for interpretation. And so I started with the script first and then, as I mentioned, it was important for me, I think for most actors, it would be important to be able to believably become this woman. I understood where her heart was coming from, I understood how her mind works, I can find similarities in our characters, but this is a whole other world. And the biggest difference is, as I mentioned before, she is able to devote her life to these dark underworlds that I personally could never, so I had to find how to become, how to think, how to feel like her, and that involved podcasts, a lot of reading, testimonials, articles, books, documentaries. I spoke with several FBI agents. And one agent in particular Eugene Casey— he's a retired special agent who became my FBI mentor that I check in with pretty often. Every agent goes about their business, about their cases in a different way. FBI agents are juggling anywhere from five to 30 cases at once. And so he taught me a lot about his experience, the kind of cases that he worked on, but also I got his input of how he would approach what Lauren is doing.
Aside from that, on the script level, I worked with Kate Wilson, who's a dear friend and coach. We just talked through the script. So this was a very rigorous preparation process for me mainly because it's a subject matter that makes me so deeply uncomfortable. And yet it's fascinating. It was important for me not to just blindly go at it.
I had like two and a half months to prepare. And I was obsessed. My office turned into like an FBI room with all these pictures and case files and all that. I really immersed before getting on set, so by the time I got to set, it was easier for me to function as Lauren, in a way. And there were a certain set of facts. It's not like I was surprised and thrown off by a new case or something. It was like I knew what I was dealing with, and so I was able to train myself to compartmentalize.
From film to TV to podcasts, true crime stories are pretty abundant. What makes Blackbird a standout in the genre?
I think in this day and age of speedy storytelling, people are just trying to get to the action or the sex or what happens next. Blackbird goes back to novel, beautiful, rich, patient storytelling. And it's infused with so much because there's room for it to be infused with so much. There are moments where the characters are just reacting and responding to each other, and there's no dialogue. This level of detail and nuance and building an audience relationship to characters and story is essential to get people invested beyond the spectacular elements of what is happening on screen. I think the way that we were afforded by Dennis and by our directors Joe Chappelle, Jim McKay and Michaël R. Roskam, they really gave us the opportunity to be these characters and to capture us in motion and I think that that's pretty rare nowadays.
I've said this to Dennis before, too. It's like he trusts the intelligence of the audience. He allows people to get reeled in, to get sucked into what is actually happening, rather than hitting them with different flashy things, like violence and sex and all of that, to keep them invested. And I often, as an audience member, these kinds of things throw me off, so I appreciate the fact that we are able to see this story unravel in ways that we can't really imagine.
We’ll see you later this year in Class of ‘09, where you also play an FBI agent. Are you intrigued by these roles or is it a coincidence that you're playing an FBI agent twice in the same year?
There is nothing that intrigues me about playing an FBI agent. It's these characters that pulled me in. It's a fascinating world that I know nothing about. So I guess with Black Bird, there was that sprinkled in too— I only know what what many of us know and the problems I have with law enforcement, to be honest. But I was fascinated to learn about the range, variety, and diversity within the Bureau.
Actually before Class of ‘09, that's something I talked to my team about. I said, “I don't think that I want to do another agent.” They said, “Just read the script. It's different,” and I came to learn that it couldn't be more different— these characters and the world. Class of ‘09 explores more of like a sci-fi story and it also takes place over like 30 years or something. You'll see all of our characters in the past, present and future. But it has sci-fi elements and it's more about these relationships of these people who start off and meet at Quantico in 2009. And then you'll see how their lives develop and and what comes to be.
The L Word is set to return this year. What can fans look forward to from season 3?
As in life, there are lots of epiphanies and reveals this season with all of our characters.
I love Gigi and every time I get to step into her, I feel better about myself. Lauren and Gigi, in very different ways, they're just so confident. They're so just unapologetic about who they are. They own every space they walk into, and that inspires me and makes me feel like I want to do more of that in my life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Luke Fontana