“Outer Range” star Imogen Poots knows more than you do.
As Autumn, Poots plays the oddball hippie chick who shows up on the family farm of Royal Abbott (Josh Brolin) and soon becomes a key part of an expansive mystery involving a bottomless hole on the Abbott’s property, a next-door neighbor with secrets of his own (Will Patton) and time travel. She becomes even more of a force in the series’ later episodes, where her messianic tendencies come to the forefront, which not-so-coincidentially coincide with her running out of her medication for her bipolar disorder. Somehow, Autumn always has the answers, even when she’s becoming unglued.
TheWrap spoke to Poots about what it was like bringing Autumn to life, that game-changing reveal about her character and whether she thinks she’ll be back for season 2. And yes, she has talked to creator Brian Watkins about her character’s secret past (or is it future?)
Major spoilers for “Outer Range” follow.
How did you initially get involved with “Outer Range?”
I was sent the pilot script the summer before we ended up shooting. And I just thought it was really cool and made an audition tape. I think my boyfriend spent 2/3rds of a day helping me do it. And then I was like, No, it’s not good enough. I threw it away and then did it again. That’s how it started. And I spoke with Brian and Zev, the people who created the show, and learned about the other cast members who were coming on board and yeah, that’s the way it began.
When you talked to Brian, how much did he tell you about Autumn? How much of that backstory was there from the beginning?
The large reveal and the final episode, I knew about. They told me that about three days before we started filming. They had like a year, but they told me three days before. Which is I think is a good thing because it actually meant I was sitting with a real person rather than a twist.
I didn’t know a hell of a lot. As the scripts came in, I learned more. And that’s one of the difficulties of television is you don’t have the full picture initially, like you do with film and theater where you can… You know what you’ve ordered with a three-course meal, whereas this is surprising. But what that does is it keeps you incredibly present because each scene and each episode is its own microcosm. And you have to be ready to engage. I really enjoyed that challenge. I was very aligned with her quest to also find out more, I suppose.
And what is your understanding of her quest?
Well, I was aware that she had a poverty of knowledge. And she was looking to certain writers like Simone Weil, who was mentioned in the script. She was adopting other people’s modes of thinking. And obviously in, I think it’s 7 or 8, she repeats that mantra from “Dune.” She’s someone who, by the end of the season, I understood was far down the rabbit hole of that fixation on maybe this notion of the American hero and that you could become invincible. But her quest, it felt initially familial. It felt like she was trying to figure out who she was, like many of us do, her ancestral roots and stuff, but quickly combining that with a sense of place and home. We would call it nostalgia, but I think for her, it was like gold. It was like a toxic lacerating quest to find out the truth. Because I knew she was Amy, I understood she would’ve been in and out of that hole. I knew that her relationship with death would be perhaps quite casual. Whereas if we think about all of us, death is the only certainty. It’s the cutoff point. What does a life without that threat do to your relationships with other people?
You have so much ground to cover too, in terms of her taking this medication for bipolar disorder and has these messianic tendencies. What was the hardest thing to wrap your head around in terms of your portrayal of Autumn, and how did you do it?
I think the stuff I found hardest was at the beginning of the show. I’d been told by a couple folks when we started filming, people were really worried about the character of Autumn and quite panicked by her as a figure in the show. And I couldn’t wait to get going. I felt like the challenging stuff for me was earlier on when she hadn’t yet subverted or I hadn’t yet been able to subvert that curious wide-eyed omnipresent nymph-esque character.
And I think in a good way, in a way that was useful for the character was often felt not held back, but bound by something else. And it was fun to get that release. That’ve been something which everyone was really encouraging about. That I’m aware that a lot of people have disliked her as a character. And I think that’s quite fun. Maybe it’s more predictable to want to like that kind of a character and what she represents. It was fun to get to do the thing that a lot of actors get to do, but a lot of actresses don’t, so that was fun.
When we see Autumn in the future she is clearly a cult leader of some kind and by the end of the first season she seems to be well on her way. Did you ask Brian to fill in those gaps?
Yeah, I was, I’d say it was like an ongoing conversation. But the truth is, it’s not so difficult to pick up a newspaper and find a less extreme version of this character.
You think about the notion of wanting to be president, what does that say about a person? There’s something, the ingredients, what if those ingredients fall into the wrong body as we’ve seen evidence of in history. And I think there’s something that was fun to piece together and deeply sad about someone who feels that poverty of identity that they had to embody other thinkers or lean on, even that mantra from “Dune,” that sort of that sense that you can be a superhero. There’s something sort of very insidious about that, I think.
But Brian would tell me about the backstory a bit. And it was quite freeing. It was quite freeing not to know too much, I think. And I could come up with my own reasoning behind certain things because she’s alone and there’s no one to challenge her points of view. That’s how I felt about her. What happens to a person who’s left alone, who’s got really gotten deep in and can fall victim to a cult and can encourage others to do the same?
It’s almost like playing two different characters too, because future Autumn is a completely different person than the person that walks onto the ranch. What was that like?
Yeah, that was cool. I think that needed to happen because I remember them coming towards me with like a makeup brush and I was like, “No, not this character.” But then I was like, “Okay, it’s the future, it’s fine.” And we had to have that to differentiate between the two. But no, it was interesting. I think she’s got a lot of people inside of her. I don’t think, Autumn well, does Autumn know who she really is? Obviously she really doesn’t because otherwise she wouldn’t be in the show. But there’s something about that. She’s role playing. She’s not a shape shifter exactly but I think it’s easy for her to shed the skin.
Let’s talk about the scene of you psyching yourself up in the bathroom, which seems to be the emergence of Autumn as the potential spiritual leader.
Shooting that was so cool because Larry Trilling, our director who did 7 and 8, he was an invaluable asset for the show because he was the one who sat me down and was like, “I think this is where she gets metaphysical. I think she becomes something else personified at this point.” And that was a really fun, open-ended gift actually to get from a director, very freeing. And also he was someone who was keeping tabs if it went too far, they could bring me back. It’s the perfect temperature of a working relationship.
And that scene was amazing because what we have is a stunt double of my character dressed identically. She was doing the boxing stance with me. We were like mirroring each other and the camera came up behind her and then she stepped out of the way. It was just a very clever way of formulating that shot.
And in terms of the actual mantra, it’s lifted from “Dune.” It was really interesting. I used to be really obsessed with hearing poets read their own work. And Allen Ginsburg, when you hear him recite “Howl” in that monotony and that tone, he barely takes a breath. It just comes out like a train on train tracks. I felt like there was something similar to that. It shouldn’t be a performance. It’s inside her, that rhythm that then sets her up to do what she does, which is takes part in a shootout, I guess.
What was it like shooting that final scene and what is your understanding of Autumn’s place in the family going forward?
Yeah, that well shooting that shootout was really fun and I always get really scared around guns and not confident with them. And we had an incredible crew and weapons handlers, so everything felt incredibly safe and then you can do your work. So that was fun. I just don’t like working with guns, but that was fun despite that. And then getting past sort of being ripped to shreds by Tom Pelphrey, who said that in my onesie I looked like, I think it’s like a character from like an American toilet cleaner or something, or a toothpaste figure. It’s some weird character who wears a red onesie apparently. When I wasn’t being ridiculed, I felt very cool in my red one piece. And it just felt like a different show at that point, felt like we were almost parodying something.
The rest of the show didn’t all feel like that but it felt other in a really interesting way. And then in terms of my feeling about the family, it was very strange. I felt quite uncomfortable with that. When Josh was laying me in the bed, it’s like trying to calm down an incredibly feral dog. I felt like a feral dog who was being told that they could now rest and it didn’t feel right. It felt strange. Kudos to Josh, because he carried me across a vast plain and we were doing it in one shot at like four in the morning. And just before we exited frame, I got the giggles when I was supposed to be passed out, so we had to do it all again. It was a fun ending to a very like intense show.
Should the show return, what do you think is next for Autumn?
I certainly have my own hopes for her as a character and the show. It’s unknown at this point, what happens going forward. There are whispers that it will, but then you don’t know. I think with anything as well, because I’m not used to doing stuff more than once anyway. For me I’m kind of like, oh one and done and we made a show about what would happen if a hole appeared on an American pasture. And that’s enough for me. But I also would love to be back with this bunch of actors and creatives again. I get the impression that of course things that were written in season one and things that took place and were set up to be furthered in a second season. I certainly know things that would potentially happen if we were to go again, but we’ll see if the world wants to know.
“Outer Range” is streaming on Prime Video.