Australian actress Gillian Alexy is probably best known to audiences for her work as urbane characters in series such as Damages, Royal Pains, and The Americans, but she has a very different role in Outsiders as G’Winveer, the healer in a fictional Appalachia clan-like community in rural Kentucky. Living outside the law, the family has lived on the same mountains for decades and is ruled by Lady Ray.
As healer G’Winveer, Alexy gets to take part in the political power struggle the clan is faced with in the rise of a new king (David Morse) and the love story with returning clan member Asa (Joe Anderson). I spoke with Alexy about filming the new series on location, playing the gritty character, and whether the show really reflects our current political climate.
Lesley Coffin (TMS): It’s interesting to hear you speak, having just watched the show. The accent you use as G’Winveer seems pretty unique. What did you base it on?
Gillian Alexy: We had a dialect coach who spoke with the creators about their inspirations. And the character, although fictional, are based on people in the mountains of Kentucky, so we drew from that accent. But we also drew influence from the Celtic and Welsh accents. But I have to say, I think we all started off pretty strong. The entire cast had done our homework and research. So once we started talking and conversing with each other, we settled into a common dialect pretty quickly.
TMS: When you got the part, were you asked to look at any information about outsider communities?
Alexy: I was cast pretty late, so there wasn’t much conversation between the producer and I about what I should or shouldn’t be researching. But I did my own reading and research online about what it is to live off the grid and on the outskirts of society. We are a fictitious community, so the development of our traditions and way of life came about once we started to work together. It seemed to happen more once we saw the costumes and saw the sets and heard each other’s dialects.
TMS: The shows I’ve seen you in, at least on American TV, I’m used to seeing you as very stylish, polished women. What was it like to play someone constantly in the elements and not so made-up?
Alexy: I loved it. I am not someone to wear a lot of make-up anyway, and I like getting out there and getting my hands dirty. So not having to spend hours in the make-up chair and get a fake blow-out was great. It was my idea of heaven. Although, we had to get the fake tattoos applied and made to look a little dirtier, but that was actually enjoyable. And then our costume designer created these looks based on what she believed our characters would have scavenged by dumpster diving or from leathers we had made ourselves. So I really love my look on the show.
TMS: When the show started to preview for critics at the TCA, there was talk about how the show reflects back on American society, because it is about a community resistant to government intervention of any kind. Was that an element discussed when making the show or part of the appeal?
Alexy: No, not at all actually. That has actually been fascinating and ironic that the things on the news at the moment seem to connect to the show. The appeal of the show for me was that this was a community who seemed to be living by much simpler means. People who seem more connected to the earth and take more self-responsibility. People who are removed from so much we take for granted today. They are removed from technology, which was a big appeal for me, because we seem to get so consumed by technology we can forget how to really connect with one another. So those were the elements that connected most for me, and also at the end of the day, this really is a story about family and community, and what our role and responsibilities within that community really means. And like I said, getting to be up in nature filming was a huge appeal for me.
TMS: You were literally up in the mountains filming right?
Alexy: Yeah, we were outside of Pittsburgh, a place called Monroeville. And we basically filmed at a summer camp, but we really were out in the wilderness. And they built the sets you see on the show, but there was a lot of distance between the huts, so it really started to feel like we lived there on that mountain. The crew would go home covered in dust and dirt, so it felt pretty real for everyone.
TMS: Your character is one we get introduced to very slowly, and learn things about her very gradually. We know she’s had a relationship with Asa but is now with another man, and is a healer. But how aware is she of the politics and power struggles within the family?
Alexy: I think when we meet G’Winveer, her place in the family seems very simple. She is a healer, she’s in a relationship with Little Foster, and she is just living her life. But then she experiences two big events very quickly. There is a past love that returns in the form of Asa, which trudges up a lot of feelings, and there is this sudden threat of the outside world coming in and taking away everything she knows. And that thrusts her into a different orbit. I think she is the voice of reason up on the mountain, or at least her kind of reason, voicing how they need to do things and how to deal with this outside threat. But she is a character that speaks her mind. She doesn’t just sit down and shut-up in the corner, which is always exciting to play.
TMS: Because she was raised in this community and never left the mountain, do you think she has a concept of how different her life is from the world around her?
Alexy: I don’t know if she completely understands, because it all comes down to what you are exposed to as a child and as you grow up. I think in a way, she knows what they have on the mountain is something special and precious, and something worth fighting for. But I don’t know if her limited experiences with the world below made her believe the world below is all evil. And at the end of the day, these people have a choice. They have a can leave, but they choose to stay up on the mountain.
TMS: The first episode was interesting because while the show is violent, so much of the violence is perpetrate among family members, which made the community feel very threatening and not completely safe for those that live within it. Were you alarmed by how early in the show that kind of violence was depicted?
Alexy: Not at all. These are very hardened people, they live and survive up on the mountain, with their own way of life. And it is a little more cutthroat. So I wasn’t really alarmed by the violence, as much as I interested in exploring it. It has become a matriarchal society, but with big, tough men that you don’t want to mess with. So in order to survive, you have to have a really tough skin.
TMS: Does that affect your character later in the show because there is a power struggle between the matriarch and her son?
Alexy: Definitely. Gwen has a really interesting journey this season, figuring out where her place really is and where she is truly needed by her family.
Outsiders airs Tuesdays at 9pm ET/PT on WGN America
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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