There’s a story behind every character in Star Wars, no matter how much screen time they’re given. Andor, the latest in Disney+’s line of live-action Star Wars series, proves that to be true — and not just with series lead Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). The same level of detail is paid to Luna’s scruffy, hardscrabble spy as is paid to Senator Mon Mothma, a regal character who’s Andor’s opposite in every way — except in their aligned mission to overthrow the Galactic Empire. Genevieve O’Reilly returns in the role of Mon Mothma and, over 15 years into her tenure as the Rebel leader, finally gets the space to show audiences how this senator developed her canny, steely resolve.
This a major step for the Star Wars canon, as Mon Mothma’s presence has loomed large since Caroline Blakiston first played her for one scene in 1983’s Return of the Jedi — and it’s also a major step for O’Reilly, who was cast as a younger version of the character for a brief appearance in 2005’s Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. She returned to the role for 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and again in 2017 to voice the character in the animated series Star Wars Rebels. But Andor — even just Episode 4 of Andor — provides the most in-depth exploration of Mon Mothma in almost 40 years. It’s a development fans have been waiting for, and — as we learned in our chat with O’Reilly — an opportunity that the actor clearly relishes. Mild spoilers for Andor Episode 4 ahead.
Decider: You’re playing Mon Mothma about 15 years after you first played her, and about 15 years have passed in the Star Wars timeline as well. How has your approach changed?
Genevieve O’Reilly: I think she’s a woman in a completely different part of her life. I love that I have the opportunity to discover her and to explore her at this stage of my life. The first time I got to play her [in 2005’s Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith], was in quite little scenes, but lovely little scenes as a young actor. The opportunity now to explore her as a woman at this stage in her life, reflecting my stage, I think it’s lovely that it’s happened this way because she can be so rich and textured and complicated and nuanced in a way that wouldn’t have been accessible to me when I was 20.
We get to meet Mon Mothma’s husband Perrin, played by Alastair Mackenzie, who is a character that we didn’t know existed before Andor. And your dynamic is so interesting because he just doesn’t really get it or understand the struggle.
Well, isn’t it great to see, first of all, such a domestic scene within Star Wars? To see the Senator, to get to meet her with that kind of presence that we come to expect of her, and also then to step into her family home and see her have an argument with her husband, to see for the first time her living within the Empire and trying to navigate this shadowy world within the Imperial Senate. Then she steps into her home and she has a husband who is clearly a paid-up, card-carrying member of Empire. That’s a surprise. So you meet her and you’re aware, wow, she’s got as much a fight on her hands at home as she has in the senate.
One of Mon Mothma’s allies is Luthen Rael, played by Stellan Skarsgård. In your scene together, you’re both playing two different versions of your characters. One is outward-facing, and the others are insurgents. Does it feel like you’re undercover yourself when you’re playing that many layers?
It’s so lovely because you get to play, in that scene that you’re talking about, within the same scene I get to play the public and the private. We get to reveal her and Stellan and there’s a wonderful part of the scene where we’re, Stellan and I, have such a such a performative meeting and it’s so curated and we’re at the antique gallery and it’s very beautiful. You can see these two people are very successful and very sophisticated, and then we step behind, the set changes, it’s much more broken, it’s much more dark, and then these two characters reveal that in private, they are struggling. They are fighting. They both believe quite passionately about [the rebellion]. But she also reveals that she has an awful lot to lose, and reveals this dangerous world that she’s navigating.
Usually with Star Wars heroes, we see them with blasters and there’s running and whatnot. But Mon Mothma brings that same level of intensity to what is essentially bureaucracy. How do you play the stakes when you’re not in the midst of explosions?
We all rebel in different ways, right? Each of us, we all rebelled with the tools that we have at hand. And hers are certainly intellectual tools and her weapons are words in her political sphere. It’s murky, it’s dark, it’s much grayer than I expected. There’s no explosions, but it’s dangerous.
Back to Mon Mothma’s home life — it’s so rare that we get to see a beautiful home in Star Wars. So many people live in caves or on spaceships. What is that set like in real life? Is it physical?
In Andor, everything is built. It’s in camera. It’s stunning to be a part of and when I walked onto that set, it was just gobsmackingly beautiful. It’s marble and glass and very, very architectural. When you go in, there’s a bonsai tree sitting within this marble. But also, I think maybe later on in the season, you will see there is also an inverted large bonsai coming through the roof. It was so beautiful. I just wanted to live there.
Mon Mothma also has such amazing fashion, as is befitting of her place in society. Do you have a favorite look of hers?
I mean, all of them! This is Mon Mothma couture. We have never seen her like this before. And I got to work with the genius [costume designer] Michael Wilkinson. We had such fun collaborating, and he’s such a curator of fabric. It was stunning. She has a lot of looks and it’s very sophisticated and artisanal.
She’s got a long way to go before she ends up back in the outfit that we usually see her in. It’s beautiful to inhabit this woman in a different time. She dresses differently. She lives in a world I didn’t expect, and she feels different, so therefore I got to step into a woman in a very different time of her life and that idea that maybe we’re all different versions of ourselves at different times. It was a real treat as an actor to get to discover her now.
New episodes of Andor premiere on Wednesdays on Disney+.
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