Danielle Deadwyler on ‘Station Eleven’ and Art-Making

Danielle Deadwyler on ‘Station Eleven’ and Art-Making

Danielle Deadwyler
Photo: Earl Gibson III / Getty Images

This interview discusses the events of Station eleven finale.

That which unites the pre- and post-apocalyptic stories in Station eleven is a graphic novel, even with the title Station eleven, written by Miranda Carroll (Danielle Deadwyler), who becomes a random guide to surviving incredible trauma. Before the Georgia flu sweeps the world, Miranda has a job in logistics, but spends her free time writing Station eleven – to the point of alienating her star actor (and later ex) Arthur (Gael García Bernal). A few hours after hearing about Arthur’s unexpected death on stage, Miranda dies herself when the flu hits during her business trip to Malaysia, and her story forms a large part of the third episode of the HBO Max series. But in his final, Station eleven returns to Miranda’s last moments in her hotel room. There, she gets a call from Clark, Arthur’s friend, who has managed to break into a Michigan airport on his way to pick up Arthur’s body from Chicago.

Miranda decides to help Clark from around the world by calling a pilot who has landed at the airport and convincing him to prevent his likely infected passengers from leaving the plane. She also reveals that losing her family during Hurricane Hugo nourished her work Station eleven. Deadwyler plays Miranda’s last moments with a heartbreaking, calm intensity, even though she spoke to Vulture in person, she was happy to make jokes. She talked about Zoom and discussed how Miranda’s background story informed her performance and how she thinks about TV acting in relation to her own performance art.

In the finale, the show introduces the story of Miranda’s family who died in Hurricane Hugo. Did you know her story when you first started playing the role?
I think I knew everything. I read the book, and of course we were a little put off by it, but there was a good background story available to me. There were things that I, showrunner Patrick Somerville and director Hiro Murai also developed along the way. But then I had a whole year between recording my first episode – the unintended breakup of the pandemic – and coming back in March 2021 to record episode ten.

What did you want to know when you filled out her background story?
I withdrew from many different things. I read a lot of poems. I was hyperconscious when we started January 2020 that COVID was one thing. So the character of a survivalist was a really interesting thing, let alone someone who defined himself as a non-artist. Miranda intuitively created for her own survival. Everything was available in the script, but I tried to refine what her timeline was. How is a person going to be the kind of survivalist she is and the kind of loner she is? I think it’s one we dread. I think this is something we feared during the pandemic. People have been resistant to being quiet, to being alone, with the nuclear family and the self. Miranda was dealing with that pre-pandemic, so she’s an anomaly.

In the finale, Miranda calls this pilot to say that he will have to make a decision that goes against all his instincts – to save people at the airport by not letting his passengers get off the plane. How did you think about playing that scene?
You do not believe! Because she’s come full circle, that way, because it’s not about her. It’s not always about her. I have the capacity to take the last remnants of my energy to express a deep, deep, selfless love and enable others to thrive and create and do something beyond survival. It was a crazy place to be. I sat for two weeks in Toronto alone in quarantine. I had a lot of time to reckon with it. We had a whole year in the COVID pandemic to look at the consequences of not caring and not being a member of society and witnessing the deaths. Miranda had not seen the deaths, but she had done what her Spidey senses asked her to do to get out of herself. But no, it’s not about that, especially in this moment when I know I’m succumbing. It’s a deep love to think of Clark, to tell him you can do more and you can do better.

Miranda also has these visions of seeing Dr. The student, the space man, who is central to her work and performs throughout the show. What was it like playing those meetings?
Strange and profound. You look into the shield, and it is this crooked form of expansion that “reconsider yourself.” Dr. The student is the conscientious observer, an imaginary friend and so many other things. It’s just weird! But it was beautiful to get out into the vast expanse in a scene where Miranda imagines seeing the Earth from space with Dr. The student. It is a portal, a liminal space to get you to where you really want to be, a kind of ecstatic paradise. That’s where she’s going.

In the pre-pandemic scenes, Miranda’s split between this logistics career, her secret obsession with this book, and her relationship with Arthur. How did you approach the divided aspects of her?
She’s tightly woven into trying to protect that thing. I know how it feels and I think a lot of artists know how it feels. Patrick said it feels like two relationships when you are in a relationship with someone and then you have this art. There was a great joy that Arthur brought to Miranda. There was no pampering for the chaos she was in and expressing, and he appreciated that. When someone does, they blow your damn mind and you give in, but what’s up with your mess is still trying to get out, which is it? Station eleven the graphic novel was for her. Gael is amazing and has everything that makes Arthur as compelling as a unit, but they work on two different artistic paths.

Miranda releases a lot of rolled-up energy in that scene at the dinner party in episode three, where she turns on Arthur after discovering that he has let Elizabeth read some of her works. She gives a toast by quoting one of his films and then turns over a glass of wine. How did it feel to let it all out?
My heart was beating really fast. I think they asked for calm on the set and someone said, “I can hear a beating?” And that was me! But that’s how it gets when someone violates that kind of privacy. Oh, yes, you want to burn that fucking pool house down. It is a survival action, the most inner form of survival action. It’s different from “let me protect the flesh.” It is “let me protect the self, let me protect the spirit.” Many women like that wine scene and they want to do it. When someone makes you feel that way, you want to throw the damn glass around. It was volcanic.

In addition to your film and TV work, you do yours own performance art and visual arts. Do you relate at that level to Miranda’s own sense of needing that side of herself?
I do. Everything I do is deep, deep, deeply personal and not to get out until it’s ready to come out. I know a lot of people who work with visual art, and we keep it a little more to the body, because it is not necessarily as collaborative as television and film and theater. There you will have options, you will see where the holes are. Visual art is different. Performance art is different. You can not make people fool around with what you create – not that TV, movies and theater are not personal, but each media has a different approach. I identify with Miranda. But the difference in myself is that I worry a lot more about the aftermath, about the care and longevity and eternity of a project. She’s like, I made this book, I give it to these people, and I’m done, as a booth. I have to do more than that. There is a specificity for how and to whom this is presented. There is a conversation in the art world about who collects one’s works and how to navigate how the artist is cared for. These are important things that I carry on and learn from my peers.

I read one interview you have done where you said you were interested in appreciating what the commercial and experimental art-making world can learn from each other. What do you think you have learned Station eleven?
You can be weird. Not everyone gets it necessarily Station eleven, but I do not know if you necessarily have to. Everything is not to be understood. You are not allowed to any quality of a human being. I think it’s something that is important to merge and understand, between both sides. I think we always assume that “commercial” means “available” and that “experimental” is “not available.” There may be a small number of pieces you can get, but that does not mean you have not been invited to see them. I think everyone is invited to either, but the question is “Do you want to come in?”

What was the last scene you filmed as Miranda? She’s such a charged, isolated character – I was thinking about how you said goodbye to her.
It was the beach. It was a lot of demands to crawl out of the tunnel and step out into the sand and that joy. It is a spiritual joy she comes to. It was a great release. It felt remarkable because it was not a burden, but something one carries with purpose. Once you are able to loosen up, it’s nice.

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