Mallori Johnson & Micah Stock on That Season Finale

Dec 26, 2022

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Kindred.]

Adapted from the acclaimed Octavia Butler novel, the FX series Kindred (available to stream at Hulu) follows Dana James (Mallori Johnson), a young Black woman who has just moved to Los Angeles to start the next chapter of her life. Not long after arriving to her new place of residence, she inexplicably finds herself time traveling to a 19th century plantation that’s linked to her bloodline, and even though she has no control over when she gets pulled back and forth, she endures in the hope that she’ll find some answers.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Johnson and Micah Stock (who plays Kevin Franklin, the man that’s only just started a romantic relationship with Dana before he ends up pulled back in time with her) talked about what made them want to be a part of telling this story, what Stock likes most about Kevin, Dana’s emotional journey, shooting that whipping scene, maintaining sanity in such a crazy situation, and their reaction to where the story leaves things at the end of the season.
Collider: Micah, when this project came your way, what was this emotional journey like for you to take? Did you know about the book, from the beginning, or did you learn through the audition process and as you were getting scripts to read? How did you really find the story?

MICAH STOCK: For me, it was through the audition process. The first thing that jumped out at me, honestly, was Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ name. I knew Branden, as a writer and as a friend, for many years, and he’s an artist where, when he says, “Jump,” you jump. So, I was very excited by that. And then, I knew about Octavia’s work in a broader cultural context, but was not familiar with Kindred, specifically. And so, when the script came in, I read the script first, and then immediately went and bought the book. Throughout the audition process, I would refer back to it. I remember when I first got the book, it was after I had my first audition, and then in preparation for a callback, I sat down to read it, and got up seven or nine hours later, or however long it took me to read, having barely stopped for a breath. I’m very newly indoctrinated into the Octavia Butler fan club, but I am a resolute fan now.

Image via FX Networks

Mallori, what was this like for you? This seems like the kind of project and role that’s an actor’s dream, but also completely terrifying. How did you really embrace both of those things?

MALLORI JOHNSON: I really was terrified. It was more coming from a place, though, just being this young girl that no one had ever heard of, taking on this iconic role that has such a cult following. My main fear, I think, came from just me wanting to serve the character and serve Octavia Butler’s work in the most respectful, significant way that I could. I didn’t want to let any of the fans down. I still think about that. But at the same time, I was really fortunate to have had the creative team that I had because there was no way that I could have gotten through such a rigorous, long, emotionally taxing journey without all the people that I worked with. They really held me up. They were like, “We know it’s your first time on set, but that’s okay. We got you.” That’s the only reason I got through that, honestly.

When you were going through the whole audition process for this role, and you didn’t know whether you were going to play the character yet, was it hard not to get attached to a character like Dana? How do you compartmentalize wanting to do the project, not knowing if you’re going to get to do it?

JOHNSON: I just never expected I would. I was learning how to audition, so I didn’t have a lot of experience with auditioning, in general. So, the further the process got, the more I was like, “Oh, wow, I get to unlock this level of auditioning. Okay. I’ve gotten to the third level of auditioning. That’s really cool. Let me see what that’s like.” It was more just discovering what it is to get to that level of an audition and actually score a project. I never even expected that it would get as far as it did. So, thank God I didn’t get too attached.

Micah, what was it like for you to figure Kevin out, individually, but also through this relationship between these two characters?

STOCK: I was already attracted to the project by the words on the page and the general auspices of the people who were involved. That just increased tenfold when I went through the testing process and I auditioned with Mallori. At that point, I was just like, “This is a thing I have to be around. This is a person I have to be around.” I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but I did feel this real convergence of things that I had been seeking out in my career and in my life, artistically, personally, and professionally. It seemed to line up here with this. I very specifically wrote Branden, at some point in the audition process, to tell him, “Just so you know, I really wanna do this. This is not just another audition to me. This is really, really special, and I would do anything to be a part of it.” I begged, and I threatened him, so that’s why I got here.

No, in terms of finding Kevin, one of the things I like most about Kevin is that he’s very open. Things hit him really hard because his gates aren’t really closed, at least not in the way that they are for other people. It was fun to find him, as we went on. As we got each script, there was this excitement of the characters revealing themselves to us, as it went on, but mostly the writing got us there.

Image via FX Networks

Mallori, Dana knows that she’s not crazy. Even if she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her, she knows that it’s happening, even if everyone else might think she was crazy. What was it like to figure out how all of that would affect her? She’s going through this horrible thing, but at the same time, there aren’t people she can really talk to about it because how do you explain that you’re time traveling to somebody?

JOHNSON: I don’t know. I think that’s part of Dana’s emotional journey. In the beginning of the show, she doesn’t even really know if it’s a dream or not. She knows that she’s seen something. She knows that it’s real, and that’s what isolates her, I feel, from the other characters in the story in the beginning of the series, where Kevin’s not really sure, if she’s telling the truth, and her aunt thinks she’s crazy, but at the same time, Dana knows she’s right. That’s what I love about Dana so much. There’s never really any self-doubt with her. She knows what’s happening to her. She knows what she’s experiencing, and she’s going to put her foot forward on everything she decides to do.

The first and last episodes are really essentially book-ended with this horrific thing that happens to her, with her being whipped. Even before we see anything, there’s something that’s so visceral about that pain. What was your reaction to that moment and how significant it is? What was it like to shoot that, both in the present, with how she has to deal with it, but also in the past, when she experiences it?

JOHNSON: Oh, my God, yeah. It was difficult to shoot it in the past, but I will say that I know that everybody’s pages were open to that section of the book. I remember that day. I had the book open. I was reading it, all day, because I really wanted to stay true to what Octavia Butler intended to be seen and to be experienced with showing that type of trauma, or with reiterating that type of trauma. I didn’t want it to just be a spectacle of something that was really horrific. I wanted it to show Dana’s emotional journey and the way that she starts to understand what it’s really like to be an enslaved person in this time.

It was very hard to watch, and I needed to take a minute.

JOHNSON: Everyone had to take a minute that day. We all did. It was done with a lot of care.

For Season 2, you need to have puppies on set that you can hug.

JOHNSON: You know what? Yeah, that sounds great.

STOCK: Noted.

JOHNSON: Noted, for sure.

Image via FX Networks

Micah, throughout this season, your character just seems so shell-shocked, and rightfully so, just with everything happening and the fact that he’s time traveled, but also everything that he’s experiencing. With everything that he goes through, do you think he would’ve changed anything? Would he have made the choice not to go with Dana, if he had known that he would experience everything that he experienced?

STOCK: I think that’s the question. I’m not sure that he knows the definitive answer to that, especially at the point, even at the end of the season. The whole time, Kevin is grappling with this idea of whether or not he’s chosen to be there, and he’s also grappling with the idea that perhaps this is part of his purpose. At a certain point in the story, the shell shock gives way to, “There must be a reason, right?”

I think a lot of Kevin’s pursuit and the way that he maintains sanity is trying to figure out the rules of this twisted game, if that’s what it is. “Is there something that we have to do to unlock this to end? Is this a purgatory situation that we have to fight our way out of?” That shifts for him, constantly. Even as a person on the outside, sometimes, you want to shake him and say, “Wake up to where you are.” But the truth is that it’s so terrifying and shocking that a lot of it is denial and a form of PTSD, almost, and of disassociating from it, because that’s the only way he can survive.

It’s so interesting just to watch Kevin’s reactions compared to Dana’s, who just seems to be much more accepting because she just gets it on a level that he doesn’t.

STOCK: That’s the display of his privilege. Even in this place that is arguably very horrible for Kevin too, a Black person is gonna be punished and be more in danger than he is. She’s much more swift to recognize that danger because it’s a danger that she knows in 2016, as much as she does in 1815.

Image via FX Networks

By the end of the season, we don’t really know what has happened to Kevin or to Olivia, and we’re not really sure what comes next for any of these people. What was your reaction to learning where the story would end?

JOHNSON: My reaction to reading that last episode was just excitement. I remember getting the script for that episode and being like, “What?!” It was just constantly, “What? What?” It was really exciting. I’m okay with laying it down there. I hope it goes further, but at the same time, that anticipation and excitement, I hope it resonates with audiences and makes them want to see more. It’s exciting for me, definitely.

STOCK: In terms of the overall arc of this season, I didn’t know how it was gonna happen. Branden and I had a conversation, early on, that was probably where the season was gonna land, and that informed me in certain ways, in so far as it became important to me that there’s an element where you want the audience to think this guy might not get through this. He’s gonna get himself killed, he might get her killed, he’s gonna fuck up, or he could potentially fuck up, in some royal way. That just told me that, as the storyteller, it was important that we don’t think that Kevin is too good at dealing with this situation, but ultimately that he is not so terrible that you write him off and you’re like, “Well, this guy is totally fucked.”

Kindred is available to stream at Hulu.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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