[Warning: Colony Spoilers Ahead!]
We’ve only just started to learn more about Will Bowman’s brilliant counter-intelligence boss at the Transitional Authority, and now we won’t be seeing Phyllis anymore. USA Network chatted with actress Kathy Baker about her three-episode arc on Colony, how it’s made her think about collaboration, and what she finds most unsettling about daily life in Occupied Los Angeles.
USA: What did you think when you saw the story arc for Phyllis for the first time?
Kathy Baker: Well, they said, ‘We want you to do a three-episode arc, and you’re only going to do three, so I was pretty sure that something dramatic was going to happen. I was actually kind of glad, to tell you the truth, because you just never know with new shows, and you just think, ‘Okay, three. That’s fine. That’s plenty,’ and then I could go on and do film or whatever. But when I got there and did it, I was so sorry it was only three because I really enjoyed it. I loved the people and I thought he wrote me such a great character. But I also think it’s kind of cool for the character and for the show that I don’t last. I mean, it really kind of raises the stakes, doesn’t it?
USA: I totally agree. I just wish we could have found out more about Phyllis’ character.
KB: Yes, I know. And then at the last minute, you find out that little bit about her husband that you really don’t get to know too much more [about]. But I think it’s cool as a story line, and I’m glad that people will go “Oh wait -- what?” But I’m sorry that I didn’t get to last.
USA: Talk about Phyllis a little bit because she seems extremely pragmatic. What is your take is on her personality?
KB: Yeah, I totally agree. She has a goal, she has a vision, she has experience in this kind of thing, and she knows that you can’t just assume that you’re going to be able to take these people out because she has great respect for the Arrival and for the visitors. She has this kind of respect that you have for terrifying powers. She believes very strongly that her path is going to save lives, and it might not be everybody’s path, but I think – and it’s something that I have no experience in -- from what I read, in the military, you have to make choices that are difficult, and sometimes there are choices for the whole picture as opposed to one individual person.
USA: Right, there’s a line where you explain how any punishment that would rain down would be catastrophic.
KB: Yes, she’s completely convinced that she’s really doing the right thing to help humankind by taking this diplomatic path. It’s like the people in Vichy back in France, where she clearly believes that this is the path, and some people do have to fall -- like Carlos, Josh Holloway’s friend, who gets sent to the Factory. All she can do is say, “I’ll give you a minute on the bus with him to say goodbye.” She can’t save him.
USA: Yes, but in the moment, it feels like such a grand gesture.
KB: Yes, even doing that could get her into a lot of trouble -- and everyone else. She’ll do that much but she can’t save his life. She can’t take him off the bus, and so maybe she has to make some incredibly hard choices about an individual, but she feels that in the long run she is saving lives.
USA: You mentioned Vichy France. Has working on this show given you a new perspective on history and the minute-by-minute choices that people have had to make in these kinds of circumstances?
KB: Well, all I can say is that made all of us question what we would’ve done. ‘What would I do, would I give up my friend next door, who I love? Would I give her up to save my family?’ What if they came to the door and said to me, ‘Can you give us the name of some Resistance people, otherwise you’re family’s in danger?’ What would you do? And I think that’s the position that people were in in France. If you had a Jewish neighbor, the Germans were asking you to give them up. It’s just a terrible question of ‘Would you hide somebody? Would you collaborate?’
USA: You and Josh Holloway have great chemistry. Had you ever worked with him before?
KB: No, I’d never met him, but he’s just a doll and so easy to work with and was so accommodating and generous. Did you notice that I had all the words? That I was doing all the talking? And I was thinking ‘Oh, my gosh! I hope that I don’t mess this up!’ You know, as I get older I worry about my memory, and thank goodness it stuck by me. And I thought, ‘Hey, give the young guy some words!’
USA: I loved how the very first time you meet him, you say, “You’re as pretty as your picture.” It really sets the dynamic.
KB: [Laughing] It really sets the tone, doesn’t it? There have been times in my career where the man in the story isn’t crazy about giving over authority to the woman in the story. Or they’ll go along with it because it’s the script and they know they have the ultimate power -- but they kind of let you know, well, they’re the man. Josh is just completely so not like that. He’s one of those grateful actors -- thrilled to be there, happy to be there, encouraging to every single person on the set, and just extremely easy to work with. I felt I had a good partner. And with Sarah Wayne Callies as well.
USA: Since you live in Los Angeles, what were the elements of Colony L.A. that were the most unsettling to you?
KB: I was very taken by the pilot where they couldn’t get the medicine for the kid. I was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think of that -- that you can’t get your medication. And then you have to ride your bike instead of your car, and you have to show your ID everywhere. And any moment you could be picked up for any tiny infraction. I mean it really harkens back to undocumented people in the United States who live like this all the time. Always, always on edge. What about that thing, that first moment where Josh’s character is about to make eggs for the kids and he drops one and he’s so upset and you go ‘What’s the big deal?’ and you realize ‘Oh my gosh, what do they get? A [dozen] eggs a week or something?’
USA: There are all these very subtle things that you see early on. Their yard looks perfectly normal and then the barbed wire comes into focus. All these little things add up to a very big thing that have completely changed their lives.
KB: Exactly, he’s picking oranges off the tree to trade at school, and you think, ‘Oh he has to do a trade at school?’ You’re right, every little thing. Some things seem normal but every little thing is slightly different, slightly skewed, and you’re always worried.
USA: If we had some kind of food ration, what would be the thing that would send you running into the black market?
KB: Eggs really got me, because I eat a lot of eggs. My mother used to ask us when we were kids, “If you could take one food to a desert island what would it be?” And we used to talk about the most versatile food item. My mother used to say potatoes and I used to say eggs, because eggs can do anything. They can bind things together, they’re protein, they can be hard-boiled, they can be fried, whatever. So eggs would be a very big deal to me. But then, eggs seem like a luxury item because if you’re so starvingly hungry, you want something like bread. Something to fill you up.
USA: Tory Kittles tweeted that you’re a baker. Was that true or was he just making a pun?
KB: I am. Back in the day, I lived in France for a couple of years and I went to Le Cordon Bleu and I got my Grand Diplome and my Patisserie, but this was long ago, long ago. I think he was saying that because I do have this habit of making home-baked goods and bringing them into the makeup trailer. I do do that. And the funny thing is that the guy who played my oldest son on Picket Fences, Justin Shenkarow, who was 12 on the show, had us for dinner the other night. He’s 35 now and he said he remembers me bringing baked goods into the makeup trailer.
USA: So you’ve been doing this for a while!
KB: [Laughing] I guess I have been doing this for a while. And I guess Tory noticed; that was so sweet. Actually, he might not know the thing about the Cordon Bleu, he might have just been referring to the brownies -- and I brought chocolate cake and lemon bars into the makeup trailer. Maybe that’s what I can’t do with out. Sugar. I think that’s the answer. I try not to eat much of it but I would really miss it.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.