The Expanse: The Messiness of Humanity

Cast members Wes Chatham, François Chau, Chad Coleman, and Steven Strait from The Expanse captivated the audience with their insights about the show and their characters on Saturday in the Marriott Atrium Ballroom. Strait, who is also a producer on the show, really enjoys the open, communal culture of commitment and involvement, where everyone is trying to help the show reach its full potential. Chatham is thrilled to be back in his hometown of Atlanta. He loves Dragon Con because it’s such a fan-oriented show, and he thanked the fans for saving The Expanse, which was picked up by Amazon for its fourth season.

The panelists discussed how they prepared to play their characters. After getting the part of Amos, Chatham sat down with a psychologist to discuss the character’s backstory from The Churn: An Expanse Novella. He wanted to better understand Amos’s motivations, a process Chatham has repeated at the beginning of filming for each season. Strait also worked with a psychologist and wanted to learn about what it was like for the survivors of the Rwandan genocide. He drew on these emotions when he had to make the decision to blow up the doctors’ ship, an awful but necessary choice.

Coleman spoke of drawing inspiration from Colin Powell and of his eventual surprise when he realized that Fred “is kind of a jerk.” He also has a recurring role on The Orville and said he doesn’t have trouble working on two projects at once. He focuses on the material in front of him, and since his roles are very different, he’s able to compartmentalize. As for Chau, he told the audience that Mao isn’t really a bad guy, that he’s doing what he does to help mankind. He’s making the difficult decisions. When he has to deal with little Mei, it was the chance for him to show a little humanity. He was almost there. It all comes down to character motivation.

There always seems to be one member of the cast who delights in making the others laugh while on camera. Strait gestured at Chatham. “Nothing makes me laugh harder than to mess with somebody when they’re trying to do a scene,” Chatham admitted. He proceeded to relate one time where it backfired. Apparently, he was too busy hurling insults and making faces to notice that the camera had turned to him.

The cast also spoke about how accurately the show portrays science. They’ve all learned a lot in the process. Sometimes, the accuracy has been uncomfortable, however, like the time Chatham was hanging from upside down from wires way up in the ceiling to simulate zero-G. “Airplane high,” he says with a straight face. There he was, hanging in heavy space gear, the blood rushing to his head—and the cast and crew had forgotten all about him. In a few more seconds, he joked, he would have lost consciousness. And the floating hair? CGI? “No, man,” Chatham said with a grin. “We act with our hair.”

The panelists have a high regard for how well the show portrays political and cultural topics that are relevant today. Strait loves how it starts off as the mystery of a missing woman but slowly creeps into a larger story, weaving together so many different storylines. “No one in the show exists in black and white,” he said. All the characters think they’re doing the right thing, which gives a complexity to the story and shows the “messiness of humanity.” The crew of the Rocinante is trying to warn everyone that we need to put our differences aside or we’ll all be gone.

Diversity is a big part of the show as well. “It warms my heart,” Chau said, and he hopes to see more diversity in film. The audience cheered approval. It was clear that everyone hopes The Expanse will continue for many seasons to come.

Author of the article

Debbie Yutko lives near Atlanta with her husband and two cats. When she isn’t gardening, rescuing homeless kittens, or cramming math formulas into teenagers’ brains, she can be found stringing words together at her computer and dreaming of adventures in far-off lands. She is a lifelong reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy and a veteran of Dragon Con, where she enjoys attending panels and working with the talented staff of the Daily Dragon.