Lorraine Toussaint of Into the Badlands joins the series as Cressida for Season 3 premiering on Sunday, April 22nd on AMC. I recently sat down with the multiple award winning actress to discuss Into the Badlands, loving Ireland and bringing a whole lot of ass-whupin’ to the show.
PVH: You play a new character on Into the Badlands called Cressida. Can you tell us a little bit about her?
LT: Cressida, absolutely. She is with Pilgrim and we have an agenda to take over the Badlands. Cressida has groomed Pilgrim for this role; she is very much the power behind the throne as Pilgrim’s right hand, confidante and primary strategist – military strategist. She is a seer and a prophetess, and so she brings to the table very particular qualities that add to his arsenal of weapons. She’s quite a formidable character within the Pilgrim camp, and certainly now in relation to Pilgrim here in the Badlands.
PVH: Without giving away too much can you tell us about her relationship with Pilgrim?
LT: They have a very complex relationship. It’s eternal, yet not eternal; it is confrontational, she is very much in service to him and yet still challenges him relentlessly. This is a tribal community, it’s not a feudal as the last two seasons in the Badlands, and so the level of religious fanaticism that they bring to the table – they are truly believers, fully invested in the agenda they are pushing. And so when you bring that level of religiosity to the Badlands, these two people are at the center of it and are certainly leading this huge tribe of people and they play outside the box. The conventional rules of society don’t necessarily apply to them, and so you find their relationship is complex, surprising, unconventional, and unapologetic (laughs).
PVH: Cressida is a bit of a contradiction because even though her goal is to restore Azra and bring about a new era of peace she’s not averse to advocating violence to achieve her goals.
LT: Absolutely. And she doesn’t think there is anything wrong with that.
PVH: Cressida is quite mysterious and has a disturbing process for accessing her powers. Are her talents limited to the mystical or does she get to engage in some hand-to-hand combat?
LT: Oh, she definitely kills. She kills some folks and has no qualms about that (laughs). The one thing I asked the fight choreographer and fight director to deal with Cressida was to not have her fight in the same way that the Badlands characters fight. And actually, very few of Pilgrim’s camp fights in the way that you come to expect in the Badlands. We bring new and different fighting skills and abilities to the Badlands, and that’s the thing that’s really scary about us is we don’t actually fight the way we fought before. We bring a whole new set of skills to the table.
PVH: Did you accompany the other actors in any martial arts training? Was this something you worked on with the fight coordinators on your own or were you working in a large bootcamp atmosphere with the other actors?
LT: I didn’t do bootcamp, because I knew Cressida was very much the power behind the throne, I would kind of expect others to do a lot of the fighting to protect me. And certainly attached to the hip to Pilgrim, he would die protecting me. So, on some level, I didn’t need to fight in that capacity, but in one of the very first episodes I get an email the night before arriving on set saying “are you up for fighting tomorrow?”, and I’m like, “Uh, okay.” So early on in the episodes I start out having quite a fight. At some point our camp is attacked and she certainly has to defend herself and does so in an interesting way. So I didn’t have to do fight camp but I certainly ended up doing my share of fighting, sure.
PVH: In general, what is it about the show that appeals to you?
LT: The aesthetics and the genre are very appealing to me – I’m a total fantasy geek. For most of my career I’ve been cast as attorneys, interesting attorneys, but attorneys and police captains and heads of hospitals. And I just decided I didn’t want to play those roles, it wasn’t interesting anymore. I’ve been on the look out for genres that has my personal interest over many, many years; I’m a total geek with all the Anne Rice books, I’m getting into Outlander, so when this came along it was kind of a no-brainer and the role promised an interesting, contradictory, exotic, fanatical, powerful, sexy woman. So how can a girl say no to that? In Ireland? (laughs)
PVH: And you are enjoying everything that Ireland has to offer?
LT: It’s an absolutely beautiful country. Even in the cold, and it does get brutally cold as we shoot outside and it’s damp and the weather is wickedly arbitrary, it just keeps changing its mind every five minutes and you don’t know whether you’re coming or going – it’s windy, it’s sunny, it’s blustery, it’s snowing, it’s freezing all in one day. And yet still, I’m looking out my window at Dublin Bay and it is exquisitely beautiful. So I’m quite in love with this country.
PVH: You have a long and decorated career that spans theater, television, screen and film. Is it different performing from one medium to another and how have your experiences in all three prepared you for joining Into the Badlands?
LT: Oh, that’s an interesting question, a great question. The first part, theater, film, television – they are different. Obviously theater is very different. Theater is an active medium, film is a director’s medium, and on some level television is, oh gosh, partially a writer’s medium. The way I approach my work in theater is quite different, the process is quite different, the product is different – the interaction with an audience as opposed to the interaction with a camera is very different. The subtle interaction one has on film is even subtler on television, and you have a kind of luxury in film in the process that you don’t actually have in television. Television is very, very fast and so very different, different skill sets. As for how that has prepared me for the show, I think for the most part theater has served me playing Cressida, because she is larger than life and this is an epic world and you have to make these very, larger than life characters human beings with extraordinary stakes. So I think my willingness to not have her pedestrian, and my ability to not have her pedestrian comes from my theater training, of all the Classical work I’ve done, the Shakespeare, and that has come to bear in this role, just how on some level to wear a cape that weighs thirty pounds (laughs) with a train in the mud and still look like it’s your everyday wear. And Cressida speaks a different language, at certain points, and it’s a complete language unto itself. So I would certainly attribute my theatre training at Julliard at being able to phonetically break down a language so that I can write it, read it, that comes straight out of the theater. So I think this is one of the first roles on camera that I can actually honestly say that my theater training has served me some thirty years later (laughs).
PVH: And I find it interesting that your theater training has helped you with this role, and the character is Cressida who harkens back to the Classics and Shakespeare. It’s nice now things do tie together, and of course it’s not a coincidence, I’m sure the writers knew what they were doing.
LT: Yeah, I think they did. They are really good writers, by the way.
PVH: Without giving away too much, what can we expect from Cressida and the third season of Into the Badlands?
LT: I think you can expect surprises from Cressida and Pilgrim. I think the relationship between the two of them will be surprising, and then conventional. The purity with which I pursue the agenda that we bring to the Badlands is both I think understandable, thrilling, and will be really terrifying because the level of fanaticism that my character brings to the Badlands, it’s impossible to negotiate with zealots, with fanatics. They are purists; we bring religion to the Badlands, we bring a level of exoticism to the Badlands, we certainly bring literally and figuratively a whole lot of color to the Badlands, and a whole lot of badass ass-whupin’ (laughs). In the name of Azra (laughs).
PVH: Because there isn’t enough ass-whupin’ on the show already.
LT: Absolutely, and because it’s a different kind of ass-whupin’ because we bring a whole different set of skills to the fight arena.