In new Apple TV+ series See, we’re transported to a world where all humanity is blind, and has been for centuries – but with sighted actors actually playing the characters, a bit of extra training and research was needed to convincingly play the sightless heroes of the drama.
“We trained in blindness navigation, to be able to have the language that people who are visually impaired have,” Alfre Woodard, who plays Paris in the series, told RadioTimes.com.
“We did it for a month, all of us, everybody. And we had an advocate for the blind community on set, Joe Strechay. He was like a guru.
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“He took the lead on that and not only just how to move or how to use a stick, how to echo locate, how to feel the air, all of those things, he introduced us to the fact that there is a language, there’s a way of navigating.”
“He was our blind consultant,” continued series lead Jason Momoa. “And Apple really wanted that.
“He was on set for everything, every time we walked on I would come off set and he would know if I did something wrong how I moved in the room.
“He’d always be there for advice whether you wanted it or not, which was great. And I never had that [with] anything I’ve ever done in my acting career, it’s like having a kind of coach constantly be there to help you to be on it. Because I don’t live in that world, and you can’t forget I’m coming from where I am in the world, and I may forget the smallest thing and so he was there for that. And then we had a movement coach Paradox Pollack who is our whole movement coach and they were both there.”
According to the stars, some of the cast – which also included some partially sighted actors – took to the training better than others, with some struggling to simulate losing their sight even for short periods.
“Everybody came to it differently, they took it in differently, some people were able to keep a sleep shade on for five hours,” Woodard recalled. “Ten minutes in I was awash with emotion and I couldn’t keep it on, because I was over stimulated.
“Once you get that language of how to behave and how to not just go touching everything, it’s just simple. But once you have that, they’ve got to marry that with a way of acting, because how do I incorporate an acting style, whatever my style approach is? It was a lot of things to weave together.
“I thought it was amazing but I think as we go, if we go [on with the series] for any length of time, that we probably will have a person or actor who is blind in the cast who will have the opportunity to keep developing their skill in this show. Meanwhile we did have a couple of low vision actors who are prominent in the main cast.”
Overall, then, it seems like the cast of See did their due diligence. But in a series where characters have pitched battles, ride horses and perform all sorts of unusual stunts, did they ever push the envelope on what a blind person would realistically be able to do?
Woodard, for her part, doesn’t think so.
“If anything slipped past us it slipped past us. But we didn’t do anything that a blind person couldn’t do, we had strict guidelines,” she said.
“We probably did some things that a human being couldn’t do –but Jason could do it, jumping off the top of s**t and pulling people’s goozle, that’s their entrails, out of their bodies.”
And as Momoa pointed out, in real life you might hardly notice the difference between a blind and a sighted person.
“Joe probably looks like he has vision more than I do,” he laughed.
“When I’m acting, he will pretty much be staring right at you – but I probably shouldn’t do that because it just looks like I’m not acting blind at all!
“But it’s a freeing process as well,” he continued. “Not having to communicate with eye contact just because that’s what we do and it’s what we’ve been bred to do… and with the cameras right there we need to have this one on one, I don’t need to have this connection, I can feel and emote and I can hide things and the camera can see it, so I can be hiding an emotion and giving away something else because the other character can’t see it.
“There’s all these beautiful things you can play with, because you can’t see.”