Why ‘Altered Carbon’s’ fearless female lead thinks men and women aren’t created equal
SEOUL—“Men and women complement each other—and that’s the way it should be,” said Martha Higareda, who plays police investigator Kristin Ortega opposite Joel Kinnaman (as 22nd-century mercenary Takeshi Kovacs) in Netflix’s sci-fi series “Altered Carbon,” when asked if she thought women were equal to men.
In “Altered Carbon,” Takeshi (Will Yun Lee) finds himself trapped in a Caucasian male’s body (Joel Kinnaman) when he “reawakens” to a dystopian world inhabited by the ultra rich (called Meths) and the very poor (called Grounders), tasked with the mission of solving the murder of 375-year-old Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), the Settled Worlds’ richest and most influential man.
“I don’t think men and women are created equal,” the 34-year-old Mexican superstar mused. “Honestly, I think we’re different. I’m not equal to any man, and men are not equal to me. There are amazing things that men and women can do separately. That’s why we’ve been placed together in this world, because our differences are meant to complement each other.
“My dad always says that women are a portal to life, because we all come from our mothers. That in itself is a beautiful, mystical and powerful thing. As women, we need to know that we have the ability to say no, and nobody can take that away from us. We are giving, but we can also fight back.”
Dichen Lachman, who portrays Reileen Kawahara, the estranged sister Takeshi hasn’t seen in 250 years, has a slightly different take on the matter: “As vessels to life, women have always been powerful. At some point, however, we may have stopped owning that power a little bit but, these days, women are owning it more.”
“We were never weak, but culturally, especially in my experience of having come from a half-Asian family—I have Australian, Tibetan and German blood—you tend to follow the path of least resistance, thinking you’re meant to be just one thing. You have to either be a doctor, lawyer, accountant or an engineer. Women feel this pressure to be an academic. In reality, we have the power to follow our path and be whoever we want to be.”
In the series, both Martha and Dichen are seen in various stages of undress, sometimes even in action-packed sequences. But, the actresses don’t see anything wrong with that, because their characters are not treated as mere sex objects who readily acquiesce to the whims of their brooding or sneering male masters.
“Dichen and I did a lot of training separately. I trained for three months to prepare for the role,” Martha disclosed. “While I was shooting in Vancouver, Dichen was training in Los Angeles. But when it was time for us to shoot our scenes together, our chemistry worked wonders, because it looked like we were very well-coordinated.”
“The logistics of that [action-and-nudity] sequence in episode eight were among the most complicated,” Dichen explained further. “There were many body doubles who had to look like me. I was completely naked from head to toe, and you could see everything!
“When you’re fighting naked with a weapon (a sword, in this instance) and there are pieces of glass all over—which aren’t really glass but silicone that breaks into pieces and turns into slippery sand when you step on them—it’s like you’re walking on black ice.
“That was dangerous, because there were eight other naked girls lying on the floor … who couldn’t see if they were in danger. I was so glad I was doing that scene with Martha because, as a woman, you feel very comfortable being naked with other women.”
Martha recounted, “On the day of the shoot, there were also a lot of men on the set. I texted one of my male friends and said, “You know, you’ll wish you were on the set today (laughs)—because there are nine other women [in the sequence with me]—and they’re all naked!”
Was it easy to do all that fighting in the buff?
Dichen answered, “As far as my character is concerned, that particular fight was the most intense. Psychologically, it was tough getting over the nudity part as it was. But, what really helped me was knowing the character by heart, because Reileen would have no problem doing that.”
The show’s nudity, sex and violence may have initially been an issue that needed “hurdling” for the two actresses, but they said they like how women are depicted in science-fiction films, in general.
“The first movie I ever saw was ‘Alien,’ when I was only 6 years old,” Martha recalled. “I took the video from my parents’ bedroom (laughs) and saw it by myself. After that, I got very obsessed with that movie.”
For Dichen, she liked the fact that the sci-fi genre has always given women a lot of strength and power, especially in films like “Stars Wars” (with the character of Princess Leia) or “The Matrix” films.
“In sci-fi, there’s always an effort to make women strong and diverse—from ‘Alien’ to ‘Terminator,’” she pointed out. “We may not see it instantly, but we often see women’s strength unraveling when they’re dealing with last-resort situations they aren’t happy with, or when they’re given no other choice but to fight back!”
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