Amazon Prime mixes science fiction with heartfelt humanity in its latest original miniseries, Solos. The new anthology series from the mind of Hunters creator David Weil premieres on May 21.
Each episode explores a different future time period and entirely different set of circumstances, but they all touch upon how humans relate to each other and themselves. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson (A Million Little Pieces) helmed two chapters, one starring Helen Mirren and the other featuring Morgan Freeman and Dan Stevens.
Taylor-Johnson spoke to Screen Rant about how differently she approached each episode, what touched her most about Weil’s script, and how the themes of the project resonate worldwide in the wake of the last year.
Congratulations on having directed such fabulous episodes of this series, especially “Peg.” I was so moved by that episode, and Helen Mirren is a miracle always. But how did you work with her to really find that character and tell that story?
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Firstly, when I read it, I thought it was utterly brilliant and mesmerizing. I thought, how does David Weil – who wrote it and is the showrunner – know what it feels like to be a woman and a woman getting older? It’s from the perspective of Peg as a 72-year-old woman, and I was just mind blown over the intricate details that you think are only in your mind, but then you’re reading them.
And then working with Helen, she just went straight in and we talked about it for a long time, really like woman to woman and heart to heart. And she said the same, “I don’t understand. How did David write this from a perspective of an older woman, and understanding all the intricacies of what that feels like?” But he is a genius.
He must be, because you’re right. There were so many moments in there that really ring true.
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Also, she just sat down and tapped straight into it. And she very quickly understood who this character was and where she was coming from. But she cut her teeth in theater, so for her to do this singular episode alone and to be able to command an audience to be engaged for that length of time when it’s just her is incredible.
Speaking of theater, watching it does feel like a one-woman show or a stage play. How did you approach that from a directorial perspective?
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, I think to a degree, it feels very theatrical. But being able to travel around her – like, for example, you’re with her right there and the camera is close. Then we switch perspectives and step outside a little; see her within her spaceship and with the universe around her.
That sort of shifting perspective, I guess, isn’t something you would have so much of. But you feel like you could be four feet away, so it’s like going to the theater only you can step right up in front of the actor’s face and really observe every eyelash movement and twitch, and really go on that intimate journey with her.
You also got to direct the finale, which has incredible actors like Morgan Freeman and Dan Stevens. It’s more of an open space and there’s two people, so it feels already different from what you did in “Peg.” How did you approach work with them?
Sam Taylor-Johnson: I guess the worst answer I can give you is “similar but different.”
Similar in the sense that our perspective is all going almost one way. It’s a two-hander, but then we can come in when Morgan is speaking and move around Dan Stevens. It felt so vastly different for me working with two people over just one, but I say similar at the same time, because it’s so intimate again. You are really with the power of these performances, and how character-driven it is.
You just sort of zone in and don’t have a distraction of anything else, yet you’re not at all for a shred wanting to be distracted. You want to stay with them and in the world. It’s like masterful storytelling; it’s like going back in time to sitting around a campfire and being told a story by a great storyteller.
Since you directed the finale, you obviously know the culmination of events and how different stories might fit together or not. Did that inform the way you approached “Peg” or did you read them each separately?
Sam Taylor-Johnson: It didn’t inform at all, because the sense that they may or may not, each one being different, have a connection – I didn’t know until after.
After I had worked on both episodes, I was told certain things. And it wouldn’t have affected the way I shot it any differently. In a way, I think it was better not knowing, because it feels very pure in the sense that each one operates on their own.
I’m assuming that David was inspired by the current conditions of the last year for Solos, but what do you hope that the audience gets from watching people who are just as isolated as they themselves may have been?
Sam Taylor-Johnson: The thing is that David actually wrote these before, so they’re not specific to the year we’ve been through. Although obviously, having been through what we’ve all been through in varying forms, that sense of isolation and honing in and reflection definitely pertains to the year we’ve all been through. But at the same time, it feels so universal.
There’s a lot where you can connect on different emotional levels, but it’s very much about life and death, funny humor, sadness and regret. It really travels across the spectrum of emotions, and you as a viewer are watching someone really tell you their innermost feelings and thoughts. And sometimes, you’re so moved and so sad, or it makes you laugh, but the experience of it is definitely one where the connection is what it is to be human. But yeah, it’s maybe amplified by what we’ve been through.
Finally, what is next for you professionally?
Sam Taylor-Johnson: I’m shooting a movie in New York in September about the artist Mark Rothko with Russell Crowe. I’m just literally beginning to get into all of that right now, and it’s exciting.
More: David Weil Interview: Solos
All 7 episodes of Solos will premiere May 21 on Amazon.
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