Chrisjen Avasarala is a fan-favorite Expanse character for several reasons, but two big ones are that she’s an absolute master of diplomatic strategy, and she cuts a glamorously elegant figure while also swearing like a sailor. But after the near-destruction of Earth last season, the UN Secretary-General finds herself in uncharted waters, both politically and personally.
During a recent Expanse press day ahead of season six’s premiere this week, io9 spoke over video chat with actor Shohreh Aghdashloo about Avasarala—“Chrissie” to her Rocinante pal Amos Burton (Wes Chatham); “the Old Lady” to her right-hand woman, Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams)—and her evolution so far. In the season premiere, there’s a quiet moment when the formerly space-averse character disengages her gravity boots and floats peacefully aboard her ship as it orbits Earth. It’s one of the few quiet moments in an action-packed episode, and it tells us a lot about Avasarala’s state of mind.
“Although she’s out in space, she’s taking a journey inside. She’s really talking to herself when she says to Bobbie, ‘I am enjoying this so much. I don’t know whether it’s because of its sensation or the lack of sensation.’ So that tells me that she’s having a journey inside her as to where do I belong? What would be the right thing to do for who I am, the decisions that I’m making?,” Aghdashloo said. “That fundamental question—is it the sensation of it, or the lack of sensation?—tells me that she’s totally thinking, observing, absorbing, yet at the same time, she is trying to make the most right decision that she can.”
A lot has happened in Avasarala’s life since we first met her; in season one, she’s a high-powered Earth diplomat dripping in gemstones who’s not above using torture to get information. Since then, she’s suffered personal losses as a result of The Expanse’s ongoing war, and she’s also widened her worldview beyond putting her planet ahead of everything else. Aghdashloo said she saw one key factor behind her character’s evolution, and she had a metaphor ready to help describe it.
“The most important thing is that she has aged. She’s seven years older now. So am I! Every year in this world, maybe you learn like what you can learn in 10 years, you learn in one year in our world, but in The Expanse world every year is an equivalent of 100 years of learning what’s going on. So she’s now several hundred years old and has learned so much from her mistakes, more than her successful missions,” Aghdashloo said. “The fact that she is aging, the fact that she’s gaining more knowledge and a better understanding of the situation—the fact above all of them is that now she belongs to the people. She was a shrewd politician to begin with. Now she’s with the people because she, like others, has lost her home, has lost her beloved husband, her son, her job, nearly everything. But we know she’s not a kind of woman that would give up and say, OK, this was my destiny, so I’m ready to go home. And she’s not going to give up, obviously. She’s at her best possible ever.”
Aghdashloo continued. “I feel that in my real life as well, now that I’ve gained age, I feel like I can only do things better. When I was young, I wasn’t quite sure about it. I was like, maybe I can do a better job, but now I’m 100 percent sure I can, because I have done it a couple of times, this time I can do even a better job. So, Avasarala is human being, too—or those who created her character are human beings too. They knew what happens when we age and when we gain experience, and when we have our feet on the ground, rather than sitting back and watching what’s going on.”
Fans of Avasarala’s luxurious style—and really, what Expanse viewer isn’t in awe of her wardrobe?—will notice she’s a bit more subdued this year. More pantsuits, less over-the-top statement jewelry. And there’s one other subtle but important difference. “Well, honestly, I decided to cut her hair. So I called the novelists, Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, and our artistic director Naren Shankar was on the phone too. And I told them my idea and they said, ‘Cut her hair? Why do you want to do this?’ And I said, every woman, when they are at a certain point in their lives [when] they have to make a very important decision or they would like to start everything all over again, give it a new kind of start—they cut their hair,” Aghdashoo said. “I have done that a couple of times! And all of them said, ‘That’s very true, Shohreh. Do it, do it. This is the right thing to do.’ This woman is not a newborn, but she would like to start a new kind of strategy and form new alliances. And she needs to change to become softer, not as intimidating, you know. She’s just one of the people now that has lost everything. When she goes to that memorial [in season five after losing her husband], she’s standing shoulder to shoulder with her people. She is no longer that woman that is very different and, you know, upper class or this or that. She’s more relatable, with the people, by the people, for the people.”
The Expanse season six premieres Friday, December 10 on Amazon Prime. We’ll have a lot more Expanse coming up on io9 this week, so stay tuned!
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