Jamie Clayton Spills On Sense8's Famous Orgy Scenes

Photo: Murray Close/Netflix.
Jamie Clayton is just one-eighth of a very involved machine. The Netflix show Sense8, which debuts its second season on May 5, is an ensemble show in the truest sense of the word. There are eight main characters, bound together by a prelapsarian network to form one many-faced protagonist. Clayton plays Nomi Marks, a tech-savvy West Coaster with a knack for the less-than-legal arts. For the rest of the sensates, Nomi serves as an internet resource. She doesn’t just write code — in the second season, Nomi successfully breaks Sun (Doona Bae) out from prison with just a few clicks on a computer.
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Sense8 has a knack for uniting the incongruous. That’s the concept behind the show, in a way. Eight strangers with virtually nothing in common find they have one very basic thing in common: They can share senses. The eight sensates (played by Tuppence Middleton, Brian J. Smith, Max Riemalt, Tina Desai, Miguel Angel Siverstre, Toby Onwumere, and, of course, Clayton) represent a variegated personal landscape. Lito Rodriguez is a closeted homosexual actor in Mexico City. Capheus is a Jean-Claude Van-Damme-obsessed bus driver in Nairobi, Kenya. Nomi Marks is trans, as is Clayton herself. It shouldn’t be monumental that a trans character is played by someone is who also trans, but it is — this is one of the many ways that Sense8 finds itself more prescient than other TV darlings.
Clayton seemed to know that Nomi was her role. She tells Refinery29 over the phone that she first started pursuing the role in 2012, years before she was cast. Once cast, though, the show was gruelling. Like watching the show itself, filming it can be arduous and more than a little mind-numbing. Filming for the first season took place in 8 cities. For the second season, there are 16. But for Clayton, this is all part of the Sense8 machine.
Refinery29: I adore Sense8. Can you tell me how you found your way to this show?
Jamie Clayton: "So I discovered the show via an article that was written — I think it was either Variety or The Hollywood Reporter — but it was in 2013. They released the story that Netflix had bought this show called Sense8 from Jay and the Wachowskis and I forwarded the article through an email to my agent, and wrote in the email, 'I wanna be on this show.' She has the email printed in her office. And then it wasn't even until a year later that they started the casting process and some producers and casting people reached out to my agents to find out where I lived and what my availability was for the following year. And, no, actually, I think the article was 2012! Because it was 2013 that they contacted me. And then we were on the road for all of 2014 — God, it's all ages ago now. Anyway, I auditioned like a pretty standard procedure. I sent a tape in and then I met them in person and then months later I did chemistry tests. They cast a really wide net for Nomi. They did international auditions. They auditioned girls everywhere. You know, Lana really wanted to see as many girls as she could so she could really feel confident that she had gotten the right Nomi. And it was me!"
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The production values on this show are insane. How long does it take to shoot?
"Ages. I mean, that's why the show is unlike anything else out there. It's unlike anything that's even on Netflix. It takes so long because we actually film in all of the places we're actually in. Season 1 was nine cities and season 2 is sixteen. So, I was on the road — I think it took ten months to do season 2? I think I was on the road for seven months straight. It was long."
What's your favourite part of shooting the show?
"Just being a part of it, full stop. I've always wanted to travel, and I could never afford it. And now, you know, not only am I working as an actor, but I'm getting to travel to all of these amazing places and, you know, it's opened up opportunities to travel for other jobs. The traveling and the being immersed in these other cultures. And meeting the local people. Smelling the smells and tasting the tastes. It's really incredible."
Okay: What was your favourite location to shoot in?
"Season two would probably be... Amsterdam was really really really cool."
I'm so sorry. I need to ask about that famous orgy scene from season one. Was there extensive rehearsal for it?
"No rehearsal. It took long in the sense — again, it's filmed in different locations. So, we did it in San Francisco. And then, you know, we move on, and the whole production moved to Chicago, and we're filming in Chicago, and then all of a sudden on a Tuesday, and it's like, oh, we're shooting that again! And then you shoot it in Chicago, and then that's over. And then we film for months, and then it's like, oh we're doing that again. So we have to keep shooting it over and over."
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Better yet, Nomi had a badass bike-chase scene in season one. Was that harder than the sex scene?
"Oh that was really difficult for me. I had to re-learn how to ride a bike for that! Thank god for my stunt double Kelly, because she did most of the work for me. But it was hard, I mean, there was one take that we filmed when Nomi pulls into the gas station just before she's gonna snatch the little smart car. I couldn't stop and I slammed right into the car and hurt my shoulder. It's difficult to do the stunt stuff. But I did! You know, I climbed out the window of that apartment building and then I scaled down the side of it and then did the fight in the driveway and then Will [the character played by Brian J. Smith] says 'Get on the bike!' and so Nomi gets on the bike. [Laughs.] I'm glad you liked that scene, because I loved that scene."
It's crazy. Also, of all places to have a bike chase-scene, San Francisco...
"The hills! It was so — I mean, it was nausea-inducing just waiting on the sidelines, like watching Kelly do it. Hearing them say, 'Okay, now we're gonna get you, Jamie,' and I'm like, 'no!' [Laughs.]"
Full disclosure: I've seen most of season two. But you tell me — how is season two different from season one?
"I think the biggest difference is in season 1, you were getting to know the characters, and the characters themselves were sort of getting to know each other and what these abilities that they have are — the visiting and the sharing. And in Season 2, now we know who each other are, and we know how to visit and share. Now with BPO on our tails — the cluster's been birthed. Season 2 is exciting because, you know, it takes off and it's got more action related to the actual situation with BPO. You find out a lot of the origin story of BPO, which I was super intrigued about as an audience member. It's like, oh, cool, what's gonna happen?"
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I feel like in the second season Nomi takes on the role of "sensate investigate reporter." She's really doing her research.
"I love if you got that from watching that. I know that she is doing a lot of digging. She meets with the professor, she and Amanita are hard — they're reading a lot of books, they're visiting with the professor, you know, they're doing a ton of research, and they're trying to piece together to help the other sensates figure out the origin of what BPO is actually doing. Yeah, actually you're totally right. Now that I'm saying it out loud, I'm like, 'Fuck yeah, she does!'"
Also, Nomi's squad gets more of a platform in season 2. Amanita and Bug —
"Yes! Michael Summers [who plays the character Bug]. He's an absolute genius.
Was it nice to have an expanded universe for Nomi at home in San Francisco?
"That was really dope. I remember doing season 1 and doing those scenes with Michael Summers. And he was such a blast the creators wrote a new scene where after all of Nomi's equipment gets confiscated, Bug shows up and brings them all new equipment. Nomi says, 'I can't afford it,' and he says, 'It's totally fine.' That was new because we had so much fun with Bug and it worked for the story and the whole thing. So, when I showed up to the table read for season 2, and Michael was such a huge part of it, I was thrilled because he was such a blast to work with. He is such a part of Nomi's history. You know, I like that they have this past together, and that Nomi covered for him at one point, and now he's stepping up. Nomi starts confide in him even more [in season 2.] It's a really cool part of season two to see these people who are a part of Nomi's world and how they all accept her. Because they know that everything she does is steeping in authenticity and honesty and that she wouldn't be making anything up."
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There are so many large-scale scenes in this show — like the epic dance party in Amsterdam.
"You mean Riley's big comeback? Yeah, that was fun for all of us in the sense that it's not very often you get to shoot in a big club in Amsterdam. And it's like — apparently that club is totally dope. I don't know because we were working. I remember it was exhausting. The days on Sense8 are really long. They tend to be 16-17 hours long. The turnarounds are really short. You get maybe 6-7 hours of, and then you're right back doing it again. You know, and it's funny because they have to shoot everything that we're doing from different camera angles and multiple times. So, you know, there's a lot of waiting. I mean, yeah, we were in a club. It was fun. But not."
How do you think Nomi is different in season two?
"It's funny, because I wanna say that she's more confident, but that would imply to someone reading that I felt like maybe she wasn't confident, but that's not the case. I feel like Nomi — you have to be confident to be the kind of woman that Nomi is. But to find out this new sensate thing, that can be quite daunting. But I think that it's given Nomi a sort of parallel confidence that this new — okay that's it. It's new. It's this new confidence. It's like confidence in herself and her subconscious and her talents and her being. I think you get to see how fiercely loyal she is. I think that everyone, or I hope that everyone watching knows how fiercely loyal to Amanita she is. I think that you get a deeper sense of how deep that loyalty can stretch to her chosen family. She's a deeply loyal person who cares very deeply to the people she's connected to. Not just her girlfriend and Bug! But to these sensates. And she's gonna do anything she has to do to help them escape. Once people start watching, they're gonna be like, 'whoa.'"
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I've always said Amanita is the real MVP of this series.
"Oh my god, yes. She's the total MVP. She's the GOAT, baby!"
If you could be any other sensate, which one would you be?
"I wouldn't want to be any other one than Nomi. I think to be able to share in their abilities is really cool. But I think — if I could be another one... I'd be Nomi."
Even in terms of shooting? You all go to such cool places!
"Oh, well, yeah. I mean, the way that works, it's called 'block shooting.' So for example we show up in San Francisco. And because that's Nomi's city, Freema and I work the bulk of the hours in San Francisco. Of course, season 2 had a lot of the other actors working a lot more because the connection is stronger, but you know definitely, you know, you see the actors in their zero cities. Like season one for Will, he did the bulk of the work in Chicago, but this year it was Amsterdam, because that's where the safehouses are. And Doona [Bae], Korea, and Max [Riemalt] Berlin. You know, we pop in, but they do the bulk of the work when they're in their respective."
So, Nomi is your soul-sensate.
"She completely is."
Anything you want people to know about second season of Sense8?
"Oh just to buckle up, because it's a ride. I think it's pretty action-packed, and I love how the audience is gonna get to delve deeper into the lore of the show and the origin of BPO. I think finding out the origin of BPO is really exciting. And how the sensates find a deeper connection to fight BPO. Buckle up, baby! Tell everyone to buckle up! [Laughs.]"
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