Sarah Wayne Callies Wrote Letters to Get Her Latest Role

The Colony Star Chats About Her New Show, Her Taste for Bourbon, and Femininity As a Tool of War

by | January 14, 2016 | Comments

(Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)


Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies have each been on so many shows we were addicted to, we don’t know if we can handle having both of them on the same one. They star together in USA’s Colony in what might be the merging of Lost, The Walking Dead and Prison Break. Aliens have occupied Los Angeles, and Callies and Holloway play a married couple with kids, trying to keep their family safe but still fight the invaders.

When Colony premieres tonight, you’ll get to see what the City of Angels is like behind walls with some humans collaborating with the occupiers. We got to sit down with Callies last summer after a Colony panel for the Television Critics Association, so we found out more about her character Katie Bowman, who runs a bar and barters for contraband liquor among other secrets we won’t spoil. And SPOILER ALERT for Walking Dead and Prison Break because we go there right away!

Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: You’ve been on two shows where you died, although on one you came back. Did you insist on Colony that you don’t die?

Sarah Wayne Callies: No, I’m pretty sure that I’ll probably get killed in the third season. So far, third season of Prison Break, third season of Walking Dead. So yeah, you can probably count on that.

Rotten Tomatoes: Is a great death scene actually an actor’s dream?

Callies: That’s an interesting question. I think good writing is an actor’s dream, and the death scene in Walking Dead was extraordinary. I thought it was beautifully written, and it was a wonderful send-off. I was emotional. The whole cast came, which was amazing. I didn’t know it, but I came off of set and the entire cast was sitting back there watching to be supportive. It was really lovely. It’s amazing.

Rotten Tomatoes: When there’s as much world building as there is on Colony, does that give you a lot of material to play?

Callies: Absolutely. I love this show. I think the heart of it is so fascinating. The questions that the show asks, I think, are questions that belong in the American and international dialogue right now. Questions about the genesis of resistance. How far can you push people before they’ll stand up and say, “I don’t care if it kills me, I’m going to stand up against this?” What’s the nature of resistance? When does a noble cause become a terrorist organization and when does the ignorance of zealotry become as dangerous as the insidiousness of collaboration? Those are really interesting questions to be asking right now. I don’t know that people would be interested in watching a show about Afghanistan right now because it’s so in our faces and it’s so painful to watch, but we can ask some of those questions the way I think great science fiction does, right? One of my favorite shows ever was the first season of Battlestar Galactica because it was this incisive exploration of the PATRIOT Act. Hopefully this is a show that takes a place in our cultural dialogue that way.

Rotten Tomatoes: Or not just Afghanistan, even though that’s the current situation, but all the way back through our history to the founding of our country.

Callies: Oh my God, absolutely. My husband’s Native American so there’s a sense in which he’s been living in an occupied state his whole life. Juan Campanella is our director for the first three episodes. Not only is he a brilliant and talented and kind human being, but he grew up in Argentina under a dictatorship. So he has firsthand knowledge of not only the horrors of occupation, but the things about it that are mundane. Human beings are adaptable and we get used to occupation, which is almost the worst part of it.


Rotten Tomatoes: Your character on Colony appreciates a good bourbon, doesn’t she?

Callies: Absolutely. That was actually something I think might have come from a conversation [creator] Ryan [Condal] and I had. Katie has a bar and I said, “You know, I haven’t found a decent Sazerac yet in L.A. so what if it was a bar from New Orleans? This woman who loved New Orleans, spent a lot of her life there, met her husband there, finds herself living in L.A. going, ‘I can’t find the place I want to be so I’m going to make it.’” So she builds this bar. From there, yeah, Josh and I are both people who’ve spent a lot of time in Georgia. He obviously grew up there. I worked there on The Walking Dead. It’s hard to leave Georgia without a taste for bourbon.

Rotten Tomatoes: That means there’s no actual bourbon on set though.

Callies: There’s no actual bourbon on set; there are laws that govern that kind of thing. But there’s bourbon in our personal time after work. On set it started as tea and then I got so hopped up on caffeine after one scene that I thought, “We’ve got to fix this.” They’ve concocted something for me I think out of a decaffeinated tea and some food coloring.

Rotten Tomatoes: Have Will and Katie’s kids grown up under the occupation?

Callies: At the time the story starts, we’re about 10 months in. I think for our older son, played beautifully by Alex Neustaedter, he’s 16. So he’s had a long life and childhood and beginning of his adolescence in a “normal” world. Whereas for our daughter, who is about eight, 10 months is a long time. I think maybe one of the most terrifying things for Katie is not just that their son is frustrated and angry about the occupation, but that her daughter is kind of, “Eh, it’s fine.” I think one of Katie’s greatest fears is not just for her children’s physical survival but for the survival of their independence and their creativity and their freedom. It’s not enough just to be alive. We have to be human. I think a big part of what propels her into the kind of action that she ultimately flirts with taking is: what if my daughter grows up thinking this is all okay? I can’t have that.

Rotten Tomatoes: Is there some juicy disagreement between the kids about what normal is?

Callies: Yeah, and I think in the way of children, they don’t express those things overtly. They express them through their actions. And as parents, our job is to keep an eye on them and see what’s really going on, even if it’s not what they’re talking about.

Callies with Wentworth Miller in Prison Break

Rotten Tomatoes: Did Prison Break change things dramatically for you?

Callies: I mean, the things in my life that matter most to me haven’t ever changed. My family is my life’s work. Prison Break changed things professionally for me, certainly. There were auditions that I was offered that I wouldn’t have been otherwise. I’ve fought for every job I’ve ever had. I auditioned for Walking Dead, but Frank [Darabont] wanted me to audition because he’d seen Prison Break and he loved it. I auditioned for this show, but they were interested me because they’d seen Walking Dead and they responded to it. I’m a working actor. That’s the greatest professional honor I can imagine.

Rotten Tomatoes: Was it still a fight for Colony?

Callies: Yeah, it was. I was so passionate about this script when I read it that I did write letters to some of the people who had the power to hire me. I was trying to articulate not just my passion for it but the way in which I viewed the character as a woman who understands that femininity is a tool of war and who articulates strength not with guns and boos and yelling at people, but has a different woman’s way through her story. I think they might have responded to that as well.

Rotten Tomatoes: What aspects of femininity are powerful weapons?

Callies: I think part of it is a flies with honey approach. I lived in Georgia a number of years. I lived in Texas before that, shooting Prison Break. I think Southern women have a way of getting what they want sometimes before you even realize that they’ve asked. There’s a subtlety, there’s a nuance, there’s a charm. What I noticed from a lot of women in the south is, especially with southern men, you get in their face and you holler about something, they’re not going to give it to you. But you can find a way of maybe making it someone’s idea that can be very useful and very powerful. This whole notion came from a movie Juan Campanella asked me to watch, The Battle of Algiers. In that film, which is an extraordinary film, there are women who are dressing up in cute clothes and flirting with the soldiers as they go through these checkpoints with bombs in their picnic baskets. That’s absolutely another tool I think in a woman’s toolbox. Especially as a woman who’s worked in the bar industry, Katie understands that and she’s not afraid of it.

Rotten Tomatoes: The Fox execs didn’t know yet if you’d be involved with the new Prison Break. Would you be interested in it?

Callies: Look, the Prison Break fans are some of the most extraordinary fans I’ve ever seen. This is a group of people who brought me back to a show that I had been written off of, and killed off of. I would love — if there’s a way to honor that story by being a part of it again — I would love to make it work. Obviously, there’s a lot of moving pieces with the show that I’m on and all of that, but it would be an amazing thing to be a part of. I think it’s got to start with reading the scripts and seeing what the story is.

Rotten Tomatoes: If they follow the end of The Final Break, and it turns out Michael faked his death to get Sara out of prison, he might not want her to know he’s still alive.

Callies: The mind of Michael Scofield is an extraordinary place, but he always saw 100 moves ahead.

The series premiere of Colony airs Thursday on USA at 10 p.m. Read season one reviews here.

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