The FX Networks series Class of ‘09 (which is available to stream at Hulu) is a limited thriller that follows a class of FBI agents at three points in time (in the past, present and future), who must figure out where they fit at the Bureau, what kind of agents they are, and who they are to each other. The lives of Tayo Michaels (Brian Tyree Henry), Ashley Poet (Kate Mara), Hour Nazari (Sepideh Moafi) and Daniel Lennix (Brian J. Smith) are intertwined and their relationships are pushed to the limit, as artificial intelligence begins to play a bigger role in the U.S. criminal justice system and they’re forced to search within themselves for what it means to make the world a better place, or if that’s even possible.
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During this interview with Collider, co-stars Mara, Moafi and Smith talked about telling a story across three different timelines, exploring the evolution of all the character dynamics, the challenge of filming multiple timelines in a day, what Henry brought to the project, and how crazy it is to see the parallels with the role AI is playing in our world now.
Collider: When this came your way, how much were you guys told? Did you get a few scripts to read? Did you have a full overview? Did you just have to trust the creative team?
KATE MARA: We all had different experiences.
BRIAN J. SMITH: I think I got three episodes.
MARA: I think that’s how many I had. I can’t remember.
SMITH: The cool thing about working on a show like this, where you have three separate timelines, there’s a certain amount of inferring that you can do, based on where the future timeline starts in that first episode. You get a little bit of where your character has been, in a general way. And then, it’s interesting to see how, as the story goes on, it’s more about how you got to where you start in the future storyline. That’s the brain puzzle aspect of a show like this. Some people really enjoy cracking the different puzzle pieces and putting it together and assembling it. If you love that kind of thing, you’re really gonna enjoy this show because it’s a real tease for your brain.
There are so many elements of that, that keep getting layered and woven through the timelines.
SEPIDEH MOAFI: Yeah, certainly. I remember an early conversation with Tom Rob Smith, who’s the creator, writer and showrunner, and I was so curious to know specifically about what would unfold with Hour and Poet’s dynamic. We had a long conversation about it and I really appreciated, in that moment, how careful he was about what you see on screen. The littlest and smallest decisions can have seismic effects on the future, and you see the cause and effect, with all these different characters. The smallest moments or interactions have profound and deep consequences. At that moment, he was like, “It could go this way, it could go that way, or it could go this way.” And that’s when I was like, “Okay, I’m just gonna stay out of it and let this unfold, as it’s meant to unfold.”
Kate, with your character specifically, she has such different and interesting relationships with each of these characters in each timeline. How did you keep track and make sense of what point she was at, in each relationship with each of these characters and in each of the timelines?
MARA: A lot of that was already given to us in the scripts. A lot of it was already there to follow. It definitely was challenging, at times, to remember very specifically what was happening in each timeline. Sometimes we would be filming multiple timelines in a day, and then it’s tricky to remember what fight you just had or what massive thing just happened in another timeline. A lot of the time, it’s just your work, as the actor, to come prepared. But then, we also rely on certain directors to take us to that place, or to let us know that this special thing is about to happen that we might not know about yet, for the next episode. You rely on ll the other people that are there, working behind the scenes to make the show come to life. It’s definitely a collaborative experience.
Sepideh, what did you enjoy about exploring the relationship between Hour and Poet? What was it like to explore that evolution and those changes?
MOAFI: It’s a beautifully nuanced, raw, real, very deeply feminine relationship. I haven’t seen a dynamic like this explored on screen, or at the very least on television. You get the time to see them throughout their lives, and how their relationship turns and twists and reveals itself over time. It was such a beautiful experience to share this with Kate because we have had genuine chemistry and connection, and it was so easy. She made my time on set, and everyone’s time on set, just feel really safe. She was so supportive, no matter what. You see that lead into the work on screen, with the way that Poet champions Hour and is her biggest defender and stands up for her. It was a real privilege to be able to go through this nuanced, intricate, complex arc and dynamic with a character, and with these two women, who are incredibly powerful in their own, right, in very different ways. Poet is more of a poker face who won’t reveal too much, and Hour is this tortured, awkward misfit. The way that this relationship and the dynamics play on each other, how they support each other’s growth, and also how they hurt each other deeply, is so real. They’re also not able to really place feelings. Is this the love of my life? Is this my best friend? Is this my sister? Who is this? I get shivers and goosebumps even talking about it because this is something that is so true to our human experience. It’s always so clear-cut when you see it on film. It’s like, “Oh, this is the lover. This is the person that they’re having the affair with. This is the best friend.” And I feel like it’s all those things, with these two women.
Brian, we get to see Lennix in the relationship with Poet, but also how the end of that relationship affects everything after that. What was that like for you to explore?
SMITH: It gets complicated, this personal backstory that they have and the work that they have to do with each other in the FBI, especially in the present day storyline. I always thought that Lennix saw something so beautifully exotic about Poet. She was just unlike anybody that he’d grown up with. She is just totally, fully herself, even if she is quite encased in a lot of protective layers. I always felt like it was my job to love her. It’s the journey of Poet. In so many ways, Poet and Tayo are hero and heroine characters that we’re following and watching evolve. I always felt that Lennix had a very specific thing to give Poet, that she needed along this journey that she’s on. You’ll have to wait for the later episodes to see exactly how that manifests, but it was helpful for me to know that I was there to help guide her, in some little way toward who she could eventually be.
Kate, what was it like to figure out the relationship between Poet and Tayo? What did Brian Tyree Henry bring to that dynamic?
MARA: Brian is such a sweetheart and such an amazing actor. We would have a scene that, on the page, was a really good scene, but then you get to set and he delivers the dialogue, and it’s just completely different and more evolved. He brings so much heart and energy to it. He’s literally reading everything, word for word, that I read the night before, but it feels so incredibly different, in the best way, when you’re actually doing the scene. It was very special. We had a really special bond, as well, which was useful because Tayo and Poet have this connection and this friendship, pretty much right away. That’s something that’s hard to fake, if you don’t have some sort of chemistry, as humans and as actors. We just got lucky that all of us, immediately, had that. We’ve gotta give props to casting because it was immediate with all of us. That is a very special, unique thing to have happen, and it really did happen on this show. We love each other. We’re all just obsessed with each other now, forever.
One of the funny things about doing a show like this is the fact that it can become more relevant than it was, even when you shot it. AI has been around for a long time, but is it crazy to see how much bigger of a conversation it is right now?
MOAFI: Absolutely. This kind of surveillance, and using technology to monitor and criminalize people, is not new. We’ve seen manifestations of this, as early as the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. You’ll see a little snippet about exploring that in our show, too. But the degree to which it has become relevant right now in the United States is mind-boggling. We’ve seen this abroad, in Israel, Russia, and China. We have seen this fuller expression of surveillance states. But in the United States, seeing the way that AI is taking over, there was just this AI-generated Drake song with The Weeknd, and hardcore fans actually believed it was them. It’s a real concern for artists, in this day and age, but you also see what can happen, if we don’t keep this under control, and we don’t hold our elected officials and our government responsible and accountable for containing and controlling this. Sure, it can be used for the betterment of society and the betterment of the world. That’s where Hour fits into the story. She wants to use her tech genius, in order to create a more just criminal justice system. But when it’s put in the hands of people in power who abuse power, and it’s left to go off and do its own thing, it’s incredibly dangerous. And so, yeah, it’s eerie that this show is coming out, in this moment, where we’re being infiltrated with all of these articles about AI and ChatGPT. It’s crazy.
Class of ‘09 is available to stream at Hulu.