On Lifetime’s new drama series THE LOTTERY, Yul Vazquez portrays President Thomas Westwood and Athena Karkanis portrays White House Chief of Staff Vanessa Keller, and their respective characters are carrying the fate of the world in their hands.
With only 52 fertilized embryos available and the last child born 6 years earlier, it is essential for the U.S. government to choose wisely the women from the national lottery who will be surrogates for the next generation, which they pray will be more fertile than the world currently is – or extinction of the human race is a real possibility.
In a recent press conference call, Athena Karkanis and Yul Vazquez talked about their characters’ unique challenges in the face of such dire circumstances.
With terrorists demanding some of those fertilized embryos in exchange for their high profile hostages, are Vanessa and the President going to be able to remain unaffected or will they remain firm on the government policy to not negotiate with terrorists?
YUL: You’re going to watch, aren’t you? Does any world government cave to terrorist? I mean, it would send a really bad message if that were the case. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
ATHENA: It’s interesting to watch the characters sort of struggle with that choice and with the consequences of going either way, and sort of see them coming up with alternatives and how to solve this. But, as Yul said, if we tell you, you won’t need to watch.
YUL: Let me just add something to that which is that the writers are slowly laying out – sometimes you want to ramp up the speed of, “Oh my, God, what’s going to happen?” But there’s a reason why these guys are sort of pacing this in that way. So if you are patient, you will be rewarded, greatly I think.
Do you see your characters as kind of the villains from this story, as their motives are kind of uncertain and murky so far?
YUL: For me, personally, no. From an acting standpoint, you cannot ever think your character is the villain because that’s just acting. You can’t operate from that, so no. No, I think, at least for me, people are behaving in the way that I see fit at this particular time with with the information that I have. So the answer for me is no.
ATHENA: I would agree. I think the writers have done a really good job of not writing people who are clearly good or clearly bad because real people aren’t clearly good and clearly bad. I mean even Darius, who sort of seems like the bad guy, he thinks he’s doing the best thing for the country and for the human race, which is facing extinction. So I think everybody is kind of just doing what they think is best even if that sometimes means that someone is going to lose or someone is going to get hurt. But you kind of weigh out the pros and cons, and sometimes you have to make those choices as you do in life.
Athena, can you maybe touch a little bit on your character’s relationship with the Deputy Secretary? Does the personal connection change how they deal with it or not deal with it?
ATHENA:Yes, absolutely. So, just a quick recap, they are in sort of a secret relationship. Vanessa is more reluctant to sort of come out of the closet with that relationship than Nathan is, and part of that I think is that she spends a lot of time building her career — sort of building her brand — painting this person that she wants to be and be seen as. And she’s not really sure how that relationship is going to fit into that, which is a bit selfish on her part because he is obviously needing a bit more from the relationship. But when this situation with the hostages happens, it is a huge conflict of interest because this is a person that she loves and cares for very deeply and yet she also needs to serve the needs of the country and of the office that she holds. So that’s a big part of it — how she struggles with that.
Is the President aware of this relationship that they have or is he going to be kept in the dark?
YUL: I can tell you that the actor playing the President is aware that men fall at the feet of Athena all the time. I’ve seen it at work. They trip over and it’s unbelievable. (Laughs) I think the President is aware of a lot of things that that he is probably not telling, he is aware of. Again, like Athena said, these politically ambitious people at the end of the day are just humans. That was one of the things for me that I was most interested in exploring and to playing up this part. It’s not actually playing the President, but playing a flawed man who like any of us with ambitions and who became the President and whatever that brings — he’s got his own personal demons, his own personal flaws. So I think like anybody, he’s aware of things. He can see stuff. I mean whether he is going to talk about it or show it, no one knows. But I think his radar is probably pretty good, if you catch my drift.
Because infertility does seem to be more of an issue these days, do you think that this show hits home with the audience?
ATHENA:Yes. It’s really is a thing that a lot of women are dealing with. And I think more so these days because women are waiting longer. Women are pursuing careers and waiting longer to have children. And, just culturally, I think we’re growing up slower. I don’t know. But I definitely think more people are dealing with it. That is also a theme — women who had pursued careers and then suddenly this infertility crisis hit and they had no idea that would happen. They sort of thought that it would always be there for them. It’s certainly more realistic than zombies. But everyone loves zombies. I mean I think it’s a thing that a lot more people can certainly relate to. But it’s also interesting in this time when we’re also sort of facing and dealing with issues of overpopulation to kind of think of this. What an interesting way to see our extinction, but suddenly nobody knew and we’re sort of the last. That’s how it’s going to go. As we think of everything, climate change and everything, we sort of think it is going to be our end and then suddenly there’s this. We just stop having babies and we’re just kind of peter out. I don’t know. I mean I don’t know if some people can relate to that more, but I think it is interesting.
YUL:I think anybody with the desire to have a child, whether it’s a woman or a man – I know a lot of guys that talk about why didn’t you have families or they’re not in any kind of relationship — but I think, for whatever reason, due to a fertility issue or not, anyone with a desire to have a child or perhaps start a family can relate to this show. I think it hits home on a lot of those levels, for me anyways.
Are we going to see Vanessa show a desire for motherhood?
ATHENA: No, that’s not her primary goal right now. It’s interesting because I think she’s maybe the only woman in the world of this show who doesn’t desiring that. I mean I don’t know what they’re going to write in the future, but so far it’s not something that she’s been pursuing. I think part of it is she had a very complicated childhood of her own and she also has career ambitions. But I think she also sees this cause and trying to kind of fix this problem that we’re all in as a real goal that she does something that she is really focusing her energies on.
Since people can’t have children and they’re dealing with the lottery, are we going to take a look backwards and figure out the origin of the crises and whether or not the President had a role in it?
YUL: It’s anybody’s guess. I mean I would imagine we’ll see the origin of the crisis. I mean because I think it’s important for the audience to know how the crisis began. As far as the President having a role in it or not, I have no idea. I mean I think everyone is finding the show and I suppose anything is possible. But specifically, I couldn’t answer, I couldn’t tell you for sure. But I think you will learn what happened.
To what degree will the President and his wife’s personal relationship serve as a catalyst to either bring out the great vulnerability in the President or further push them to a more ambitious, darker side?
YUL: It’s interesting because there was a scene in the pilot where you saw a very vulnerable side to the President. That’s just one of the things that was interesting to me. When they came to me with the show, it was important to me that they wrote that it wasn’t just a guy standing there, giving speeches. That there was a human side of this man, and I think that’s starting to come out. I mean some of the inner sanctum scenes in the White House with Vanessa and Darius, you see the President and he’s more emotional. This guy has got stuff going on in there. But I’m hoping that they bring more of that.
Regarding Vanessa’s relationship with Nathan, you mentioned earlier how that relationship will serve to bring a greater vulnerability out of Vanessa.
ATHENA: Her relationship with Nathan definitely informs some of the decisions that she will make further on in the series. I don’t know if I would say that it brings out vulnerability, but almost more like it strengthens her. I think it pushes her to be braver than she may be would to take some risks that she maybe wouldn’t have taken before. I can’t say too much because I don’t want to give it away, but, yes, that relationship is going to inform a lot of what she does in the coming episodes.
We have seen that the fertility director Darius is obviously engaging in less than savory actions. Can you tell us how much of a problem he will be for both of your characters going forward?
ATHENA: I would say that he is kind of a foil for Vanessa’s character. They don’t necessarily see eye to eye on a lot of issues, and there’s quite a lot of interesting things. Martin Donovan who plays that character and I have described it as we have a lot of scenes where it seems like we are playing a tennis match in the coming episodes, which are wonderful and enjoyable to play as an actor because Martin is a lovely person and actor.
Will we see anything from the President? Will he have any reaction about the actions of Darius?
YUL:Yes, the President has something to say about everything and there’s a lot of stuff going on inside the President that you have not seen yet. So that’s all playing in how he reacts when he looks at everyone. Darius is a great person to volley against, partly because it is going to get a little contentious.
Yul, can you give us a few hints about what we’re going to see of the lottery process going forward domestically. Is it going to start running into some hurdles right away as we go deeper into it or is it going to be a little bit of smooth sailing?
YUL: We’re going to choose 200 surrogates and then we’re going to pair it down. You will see that process. That’s going to be really interesting and it’s really gorgeous the way that that’s been shot and laid out. I just want to give a shout out to Bernard Couture, the DP on this show because the show looks really, really beautiful and it’s got a very sort of interesting tint to it. But you’ll see all that. You’ll see the potential mothers and that’s going to take you into a magical world where they live and what happens there. So that’s all I can say about that.
Vanessa, can you tell us a little bit more about Athena’s interactions with Alison and her efforts to solve the fertility problem. Are we going to see a little bit more hope even though they hit a roadblock?
ATHENA:Yes, I think you will. I don’t want to say too much but you will see Vanessa and Alison interacting more. We’re not really sure who’s on what side. There is a lot of those that is coming together in terms of the lottery as well as just with the fertility crisis and its origins and so on.
The scenes between Alison and Vanessa, are they on the same side? It seems like Vanessa can kind of split from being good cop to bad cop?
ATHENA:Yes, she is. I think that Vanessa is on her own side. So when Alison is on her side, they’re on the same side. But when she’s not, Vanessa has to serve her own purposes as to what she thinks is best — which isn’t always what else and to think what’s best.
Do you think Vanessa is more interest in her career than she actually is in the fertility crisis?
ATHENA: I think that kind of is her career. I mean the infertility crisis is seemingly the end of the world. So as the Chief of Staff to the President, I think that feels like a huge problem that they need to solve. In the pilot episode, when she pitches the idea of the lottery to Yul’s character, she has a line, which I love, where she says, “This could be our moon landing.” So she really thinks this is the thing that will change everything. And that’s got to be sort of foremost on their plates at this point in in this crisis when it looks like we’re just going to literally peter out as a species.
To see what hidden agendas all the characters have and whether then can set aside their own personal interests in order to save the human race, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of THE LOTTERY on Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. on Lifetime.