We Spoke To Netflix’s ‘Altered Carbon’ Cast About Nudity And Violence In The 26th Century

In a sea of reviews, many critics have harped on the show's "excessive" violence and in-your-face nudity.

  • Just a few weeks before 'Altered Carbon' premiered on Netflix, we braved the bitter cold of mid-winter to meet the leading cast and showrunner in Seoul

      • 05fb Image via Netflix
        From left: Dichen Lachman, Joel Kinnaman, showrunner Laeta Kalogridis, and Martha Higareda.
    • Accompanied by lead actors Joel Kinnaman, Martha Higareda, and Dichen Lachman, 'Altered Carbon' creator Laeta Kalogridis kicked off press rounds for the big-budget sci-fi show in the South Korean capital last month on 22 January. 

      The day started off bright and early with a press conference attended by members of the media from all over Asia. While we didn't quite get front row seats (those were reserved for official photographers), we were provided with a pretty snazzy workspace - translator headset included - so we didn't have to jot down notes on our lap! 

  • Set in a far future where anyone's consciousness can be digitally stored, 'Altered Carbon' follows elite soldier Takeshi Kovacs (played by Joel Kinnaman) who is revived in a new body after 250 years on ice to solve a murder

    • In the 26th century, death is but a quaint notion as anyone can be "spun up" into a new "sleeve" when their old body dies as long as their "stack" - a metal disc containing their personality, memories, their essence of self - remains intact. 

      Kovacs, digitally imprisoned over two centuries ago after a mission gone wrong, finds himself resleeved into the body of a detective and is forced to solve a (technically) immortal billionaire's murder to regain his freedom. 

  • One thing for sure, the show's dystopian setting is not for the faint-hearted. Many critics have highlighted the show's "excessive" violence, particularly those towards women, as well as the pretty in-your-face nudity.

    • So during our roundtable chat with the cast - Joel Kinnaman, Martha Higareda, Dichen Lachman - and showrunner Laeta Kalogridis, we took the opportunity to pick their brains on the show's extensive nudity, violence towards women, and why eternal life is probably not the best course for humanity.

      Warning: Mild spoilers ahead!

  • Right off the bat, we thought we'd get the most prying question out of the way - how did the actors initially felt when told that they were required to go nude for some scenes?

      • 234c Image via Netflix
        Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs.
    • Reborn as Takeshi Kovacs' new "sleeve", Joel Kinnaman's first appearance on the show (above) required him to be completely unclothed. Funnily enough, the actor found himself a lot less nervous "walking around naked" compared to speaking in front of the show's production crew.  

      "I'm Swedish, so y'know, we're pretty used to walking around naked! I think, in the first three days of shooting on this show, I had clothes on for one," he chuckled.  

      "I was gonna talk to the crew on the first day of shooting, and I was ten times more nervous about speaking in public than taking all my clothes off and walking around naked. The weird thing is, I think that speaking in front of everyone made me feel naked, but actually being naked was no problem."

  • Showrunner Laeta Kalogridis chimed in to elaborate on why it was essential to strip bare for the pivotal scene

    • "So much of the show is about the body being separate from the mind, that the body is something that people trade and sell," she explained. 

      "The whole crew could see we were making something different, because they were not sexual scenes, and it wasn't exploitative. It was finding your way back into a physical body that you hadn't inhabited before, and the honesty of the performance required not being dressed.

      She turned to address Joel, "I think, for me, it created so much respect for you on set, what you were able to bring to (the show)." 

      The actor couldn't resist quipping, "I'll remember that for my next project. First day, I'll just take all of my clothes off and then I get respect!" 

  • For Dichen Lachman, who played Kovacs' sister Reileen Kawahara, it took a bit more thought and self-conviction to overcome her doubts about "being naked" in her work

      • Ae18 Image via Netflix
        Dichen Lachman as Reileen Kawahara.
    • In one of the most eye-popping sequences in the show, which the actress referred to as "The Naked Fight", Martha Higareda's Detective Kristin Ortega is pitted against - SPOILER ALERT! - multiple copies of the sword-wielding Reileen.

      Having just had a baby, Dichen was apprehensive of doing a nude scene ("Nobody wants to see me naked!"). But she "went from fear to excitement pretty quickly".

      • Detective Ortega (Martha Higareda, left) fighting one of Reileen's (Dichen Lachman) sleeves.
    • "Maybe this is me being small-minded, but when I think about being naked in my work, I'd assumed that it would be in a sexual sense. Then I was like, 'Hold on a second. They're asking me to be nude, but in a fight scene!' So not only am I in a place of strength, but who's ever done this as a woman?" she said, adding that the root of her insecurities eventually sparked the strength she needed.

      "After you have a baby, and do all the things that happen when you have a baby, you're so much less hard on yourself, and on your body. It makes you less self-conscious."

      Martha took on a more optimistic approach, saying, "If not now, when? One day, we will be old. In our 70s or 80s, we'll say, 'I'm so proud that I did that, I used to look like that! HELL YEAH.'"

      • A09e Image via Netflix
        Martha Higareda as Detective Kristin Ortega.
  • For Dichen and Martha, playing the leads in 'Altered Carbon' was also their opportunity to represent "underwritten" Asian and Latin-American communities and culture on-screen

      • 62c7 Image via Netflix
        Dichen Lachman as Reileen Kawahara.
    • "There are some Asian women here, so maybe you'll agree with me that in Hollywood, Asian women are so underwritten and one note. I'm like, 'Asian women are so much more complicated," Dichen said. 

      Likewise with Latinas, hence why Martha championed for a character who is unlike the "typical Latina" you often see on TV and film. 

      "Ortega is tough, but she's also feminine. She's close to her family, close to her heart, but she also has to defend herself in the world. That is a well-rounded person that represents my culture a lot, coz we speak our minds, but we also speak with our heart," she explained. 

      Dichen added, "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.

      • C31b Image via Netflix
        Martha Higareda as Detective Kristin Ortega.
  • While the show definitely brings solid female characters to the forefront, it also addresses some pretty uncomfortable issues surrounding women. Namely, domestic abuse and sexualised violence vis-à-vis prostitution.

    • Being two of the most prominent female characters, we asked Dichen and Martha how they feel about seeing those issues being portrayed so explicitly in the show

      "I think it's important to show how dark we can be, to show exploitation and abuse, because then it brings (those issues) to the table so people will talk about it," Dichen said. 

      "There is a lot of violence towards characters that aren't leads, like the prostitution and the dancers and stuff. It is uncomfortable, but I think that it's important for people to see it so we can talk about why it's uncomfortable and that it's wrong."

  • Last but not least, we wanted to know if they would choose to live forever if the tech is made available in the near future. For Martha and Joel, the promise of eternal life is a low-hanging fruit that they would find difficult to resist.

    • "Yes! Yes, why not? I mean, you could live more lives!" Martha exclaimed. "But I guess it would get to a point in which you start asking bigger questions, like, 'What happens to humanity when you get to live forever?'"

      Joel added, "It's something that's very difficult to say 'no' to, to get the opportunity to continue to live and to see what the future holds. I was debating this with my wife during the whole shoot and she said, 'Well, if you wanna do that, get a new wife, 'coz I'm living once and that's it!'

      I don't think that it's good for society as a whole, but I don't think I would be able to refuse it!"

  • On the other hand, Dichen and Laeta think that life would ultimately lose its meaning if humanity were to be given access to immortality

    • Dichen admits that she is tempted by the prospect, saying, "If it was as easy as they make it look on the show, I think everyone would want to do it. Selfishly, I would want to do it, I wanna see my daughter have children and grandchildren and being with her for as long as possible.

      But like they say, life is only beautiful because we die. I think if you remove the element of dying, you lose something."

      Laeta added, "People talk about lifespan; I'm only interested in mental acuity and physical health, I'm interested in not taxing the planet. I actually think that it's a very, very bad thing for anyone to live forever, because ultimately, it is the greatest safeguard that we have been given against the worst parts of ourselves."

  • 'Altered Carbon' is currently streaming on Netflix. If you have yet to start bingeing, read our spoiler-free guide to understanding the show here:

  • Read more exclusive celebrity interviews on SAYS:

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