TBB Talks … The Undeclared War With Maisie Richardson-Sellers

Maisie Richardson-Sellers is a talented actress and director…

She is best known for her portrayal of Chloe Winthrop in The Kissing Booth 2 & 3. Richardson-Sellers also played shapeshifter Charlie in DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, she will also be stepping into her director shoes on episode 14 of the sixth season. Maisie currently stars in Channel 4 series The Undeclared War.

The provocative cyber-thriller takes place in the post-pandemic world of 2024 against the backdrop of an upcoming British general election involving the UK’s first Black Conservative Prime Minister. It tracks a leading team of analysts at the heart of the UK’s NSA-style spy agency GCHQ as they attempt to ward off a cyber-attack on the country’s electoral system.

We spoke to Maisie about the new series, her character, and what she would do in the midst of a cyber- attack …

Please introduce yourself …

Hello! My name is Maisie Richardson-Sellers, I am a British-Guyanese actor and edirector. Born and raised in London, I have always been fascinated by the spread and diversity of culture, and I studied Archeology and Anthropology at Oxford before sidestepping into acting. I am passionate about putting a spotlight on narratives that explore and uplift the experiences of marginalized individuals and communities.

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.

I think the artist must do something more than “just reflect the times”. They must refract them, turn them upside down and even dare to destroy the times. – Mbe Mbhele

You play Kathy Freeman. Can you tell us who she is and how she fits into all the chaos?

Kathy is an American cyber analyst (effectively a cyber detective) at NSA, who is on attachment to GCHQ. She has a silent, brooding strength and a New Yorker’s edge. Kathy is passionate about trying to prevent physical warfare before it happens, weeding out foreign bots that are trying to influence the British public. She struggles to find a community within the predominantly white, male, austere world of GCHQ, and so keeps herself to herself. When Saara, a young work experience student arrives, Kathy is instantly drawn to her fiery outspokenness. They develop a deep and complex bond over the course of the season. Kathy helps Saara follow an unlikely cyber-attack lead, and they end up way out of their depth, faced with deciding between their personal morals and their professional duties.

Maisie Richardson-Sellers as Kath in The Undeclared War – Image Credit: Channel 4

It all takes place at the government intelligence centre of GCHQ in the year 2024, not very far into the future, when filming did it all become surreal as if you were actually living out an actual cyber-attack?

Peter Kosminsky is a fantastic writer and he researches his shows meticulously. Peter made sure that everything that happens in the show has either already happened, or the technology exists for it to happen in the near future. This combined with the political relevance of the subject matter did make the storylines feel extremely real. There were times when filming that it felt more like we were making a documentary than a scripted show. Since we wrapped filming a year ago, there have been a number of eerie real-life parallels. The more society relies on technology, the more cyber-attacks and warfare are going to affect our everyday lives. This show is a great introduction to the little-known, and yet extremely powerful, world of cyber intelligence.

Were you able to get any real hands-on experience? How did you develop Kathy?

It was a lot of fun building Kathy, I always start with the basics- what was her childhood like? Her family dynamic and relationships? What events greatly impacted her life? All the way down to how she moves, where she holds tension in her body, what music she listens to, her dreams and fears ETC.

Sadly, hands-on experience was out of the question! Building Kathy, felt like detective work in itself as GCHQ and NSA are top-secret government organizations, so there is not a lot of information available. I used snippets from interviews with ex-employees, recruitment websites and whistleblower reports in order to weave together a tapestry of what life might be like for Kathy.

Peter Kosminsky who wrote and directed the series had worked on the script for 5 years which in an era of streaming services churning out show after show is almost unheard of nowadays. You yourself are a writer and director and understand the process that it takes for an idea to go from script to screen, what was the feeling in the room when you finally cut?

Absolutely. It is so deeply refreshing to work this way. I think the degree of rigoure and detail that Peter poured in over those 5 years can be felt in all aspects of the show. As actors, it was as if we were stepping into the skins of real people, and existing in real circumstances, with genuine threats and fears. Having been in such an intense bubble for months whilst filming, it was a bit of a shock when we finally wrapped. It is a testament to how happy the cast and crew were that there was a real sense of melancholy that it had come to an end. But who knows . . . maybe we will be lucky enough to get a season two . . . the stage is certainly set for it!

As an actor, you have graced our screens in a number of series including The Originals and Legends of Tomorrow. How do you go about choosing a role and in what way does each role prepare you for the next?

I love playing highly contrasting roles and being thrown into worlds that I would never normally get the chance to inhabit, hence leaping from supernatural to biblical epics to rom coms to serious political dramas. I like to play characters that inspire and challenge me as an artist. It’s important that there is an alignment between the creative team’s vision and my own, and so I always have an in-depth discussion with them before accepting a role. Each role stretches me and makes me more curious. This in turn opens the door for whatever is next.

Maisie Richardson-Sellers as Charlie in DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow – Image Credit: CW

So a huge part of your acting roles have been in the US are you back on British shores to stay or will you be jetting off and continuing your career in Hollywood?

I absolutely loved working in the UK! There is nothing like creating art on home soil. The energy, pace, care and artistry were very refreshing (plus never underestimate the luxury of being able to get a good cup of tea at any point on set). I would love to split my time more evenly, it just all depends on where the phone rings!

In the event of a cyber-attack, what would you want to save first if you could save anything from your cloud or social media?

My scripts and musings! I’m constantly pulling from my rambling thoughts, the world around me and my dreams, so I have endless notes full of plot/ scenes/ dialogue ideas.

Oh, and I also have very detailed restaurant recommendation lists for each city I visit. That would be heartbreaking to lose.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…

A book you have to have in your collection? In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. I read this recently and absolutely loved it. Highly recommend

A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Fleabag and Love Actually (is it really Christmas without a watch?)

The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? When I was two, my dad brought me to watch a curtain call of my mum performing The Winter’s Tale at the Globe. I turned to him and said, ‘I can do that’, the rest is history.


The Undeclared War airs Thursdays @ 9pm on Channel 4

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