Netflix’s Altered Carbon Stars on Latino, Asian Representation, Their ‘Naked Fight’

Netflix is set to kick off February with an extravagant new sci-fi series in Altered Carbon, based on the first novel in a trilogy by Richard K. Morgan. And while the final product is far from perfect, one win is that the show is brimming with characters of different ethnicities, both behind – creator Laeta Kalogridis is Greek – and in front of the camera.

The main character, Takeshi Kovacs – of Japanese and Eastern European descent – is played by three different actors, Suicide Squad’s Swedish-American star Joel Kinnaman, Chinese-American Byron Mann (The Big Short, Arrow), and American actor and martial artist Will Yun Lee (Witchblade, Sleeping Dogs), who is of Korean ancestry.

Then there’s the female lead Kristin Ortega, who’s played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda – she incidentally produced and starred in the Mexican adaptation of 3 Idiots – and supporting character Reileen Kawahara (Takeshi’s sister), portrayed by Nepal-born Dichen Lachman, who is of German-Tibetan descent.

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When Higareda and Lachman sat down with members of the press in Seoul to promote Altered Carbon earlier this week, we had to ask how they felt about getting to represent their community on a big-budgeted sci-fi production, that will be available across the globe on Netflix, and whether they felt an extra responsibility.

«Yes absolutely,» Higareda said. «And that’s why it was very important to have a very good connection — Laeta and I have this really good connection because we wanted to create a real character. We’ve seen in many movies the typical Latina who is a tomboy, is very macho-type, and we said, ‘How do we break out of that, and we make a real person?'»

«So Ortega is tough, but she’s also feminine. She’s also close to her family, and close to her heart but she has to defend herself in the world. And that is a well-rounded person that I think represents my culture a lot. We speak our mind, but we also speak with our heart.»

Will Yun Lee as Takeshi Kovacs, and Dichen Lachman as Reileen Kawahara in a still from Altered Carbon

Lachman brought up the topic a little later, and added: «I wanted to make Reileen vulnerable, because in Hollywood, Asian women are so underwritten and one-note. And I’m like, Asian women are so much more complicated.» Higareda interrupted to add: «Or Latinas curse — well yeah, we do curse, but we love deeply too.»

«And yeah, exactly,» Lachman replied. «I just feel like we’re so lucky that we can both represent a part of who we are culturally, and bring it to life in a really interesting way.»

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The other big thing for Lachman was her fight scene with Higareda, which required her to be naked for the duration of the scene. She referred to it as ‘the naked fight’, which naturally generated laughs from everyone. «I always thought [my first nude scene] would be in a sexual fashion,» she explained. «But then I was like hold on a second, they are asking me to be nude, but in a fight scene. Not only am I in a place of strength, but like ‘Who’s ever done this before as a woman?’ And I started googling, like ‘naked sword fight’, and I couldn’t find anything and I was like, that’s a good sign.»

«I also have a baby — she’s two and a half — and when I got pregnant, I put on 35 kilos. And I had [been in] a lot of pain as a result because I’m just not used to being so much larger. After you’ve a baby, you’re so much less hard on yourself, on your body and your idea of what this is. It makes you grow up pretty fast, you’re less self-conscious.»

«Initially I was like, ‘Oh my god I had a baby, I can’t do this, nobody wants to see me naked’. And then, I’m like ‘Well, that doesn’t matter, it’s the character’. Would the character do this? Absolutely. Reileen would do this, and more. Forget about Dichen, and what she’s worried about or her insecurities, and just do it as the character. And that’s what gave me the strength to do it.»

The first season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon is out February 2.

Disclosure: Netflix sponsored the correspondent’s travel and accommodation for the duration of the event.