“Looking back, it all makes sense," says actress Taylor Russell.
The Vancouver born and raised actress and star of Lost in Space, one of Netflix’s newest series, recalls being a little girl who was always in a dream world. “I was very dramatic and was always kind of misbehaving. My parents sent me to my room so much. I would always get in trouble, and my mom remembers she would come up and I'd be talking to myself for hours and hours and hours and just talking to imaginary people. It was the same thing at school. I would always get in trouble for daydreaming in class. I was always just kind of somewhere else in my head.” Taylor was destined to become an actress.
Lost in Space is a reboot of the '60s series of the same name. Also starring Molly Parker, Toby Stephens and Ignacio Serricchio, the series is set in the future and centers around a family that gets, as the title suggests, lost in space. In this modern iteration of the series, the Robinson family is a little messy, with most members having a tense relationship with the father, John. Russell describes the show as “a huge gigantic family adventure."
“They're not perfect, they're not an unrelatable family, there's flaws and they're all learning as they go. They’re in space, but the family dynamics are very real. People are going to be on the edge of their seats. There's a lot of twists and turns, and it’s a thrilling, thrilling journey.”
All of the Robinson kids are incredibly smart and generally likable. Russell plays the eldest sister, Judy. She has a younger sister, Penny, and younger brother, Will (as in “Danger Will Robinson!”). Russell sees Judy as, “a super strong and stubborn determined young woman who who really loves to take responsibility and likes kind of that leadership role with her siblings. She definitely wants to be that rock in her family.”
Russell, for her part, was initially attracted to the character because it was described to her as being similar to Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen. “I read with John Papsidera and his casting assistant. They said they thought she was kind of like Katniss Everdeen, and I knew right away. I understood what they meant by that because I'm such a big fan of the Hunger Games and what Jennifer Lawrence did.” Papsidera also cast acclaimed projects such as Westworld and Dunkirk. Russell was cooking when they called to tell her she got the role. “I was making sweet potatoes with my mom, and I got the call that I got it. I cried for a very long time, and it was a very, very special moment.”
Russell is a huge bookworm. “I read all the time,” she says. “I read on set a lot in between scenes.” She laughs at the memory of trying to start a book club on the Lost in Space set. “I made a book club, but nobody joined it. I'm the only member.”
The Lost in Space set itself is impressive with several cavernous sound stages. In addition, much of the action was filmed on location around the Vancouver area. The science fiction drama features some dizzyingly diverse topography: lush forests, sun-drenched desert, freezing tundra. Russell explains, “We had multiple different sound stages where they built the entire interior of the spaceship, then other sets where we built the parts of the glacier for the beginning of the series when we crash. Then they went up to an ‘untouched’ glacier for the really beautiful exterior shots. They flew up there and then had to take a snowmobile an hour and a half up to get those shots.”
The demands of the role went beyond connecting with her character emotionally. One episode demands that Judy swim through a body of water while donning a heavy space suit. This, reveals Russell, was all artifice but required she do much more than simply learn and deliver her lines. “There was no water involved at all. It was me on a green screen with five green men and an amazing stunt team helping me navigate through that. I trained for months and months, and I worked out every single day because I was on a two-point harness so I had to hold myself up in the spacesuit and then make it look like I was swimming.”
Russell, who has two siblings in real life, sees some similarities to her own family in the Robinsons. “They're not perfect, but they care for and love each other so much. They're able to see what everybody else's strengths are, and they can acknowledge everybody's strengths and weaknesses and not judge them for it.”
Lost in Space is now streaming on Netflix.