Severance Star Britt Lower Unpacks an Illuminating Season-One Finale

This story incorporates plot particulars from Severance’s first season.

To play Helly R., Lumon Industries’ latest recruit within the sci-fi-esque thriller Severance, Britt Lower needed to be as clueless as her character—launched as she wakes up splayed out on a conference-room desk. Helly is shocked to study that she’s signed on to work as an workplace drone on the opaque firm, which bifurcates staff’ brains between private {and professional} consciousness—even after she’s proven a video during which she consents to the controversial chip process. “Every time you find yourself here, it’s because you chose to come back,” her macrodata refinement (MDR) boss, Mark S. (Adam Scott), assures her.

“For the most part, I wanted to be kept a little bit in the dark as to what is going on at Lumon so that I could remain in a state of discovery and investigation,” Lower tells V.F.—mirroring the trajectory of the defiant worker she performs, who’s “constantly doing reconnaissance and strategizing to get out at all costs, and to find out who she is on the outside.” Knowing much less about what was happening stored the thriller alive for Lower, a plus whereas making the intricately plotted Apple TV+ collection, created by Dan Erickson, and directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle.

Adam Scott as Mark S. (left) and Lower as Helly R. in Severance.

By Atsushi Nishijima/Apple TV+

Lower’s audition instantly stood out to Stiller: “She had that rebelliousness and at the same time was really funny,” he says through e mail. Playfulness was vital, since Erickson’s pilot leads with humor. “He was taking a genre—the office comedy—and sort of ripping it apart while staying true to the tropes that are both really funny and almost cliches now,” says Stiller. As is his customized, the director created a playlist for the present that included electro-pop (Exotica), jazz (Juan García Esquivel, Grant Green), ’90s trip-hop (Morcheeba), and “songs about separation,” which helped him evoke an otherworldly temper. Stiller additionally performed Theodore Shapiro’s eerie collection rating on set throughout filming.

For her half, Lower researched amnesia to find out about “the emotional experience of forgetting the parts of your life that make you who you are. Initially, Helly thinks the company is who’s keeping her there—that her bosses are the orchestrators of her feeling trapped. And when she discovers that it’s actually herself, you see the lengths to which she goes, the depths of emotion that she feels betrayed, literally by herself.”

Helly’s anger and despair escalate every time she finds herself again within the closely surveilled workplace with countless labyrinthine fluorescent-lit white hallways, in addition to the paradoxically named “wellness center”—the place counselor Ms. Casey (Dichen Lachman) doles out snippets of details about staff’ “outie” selves—and the “break room” the place workers are psychologically and bodily brutalized.

By Atsushi Nishijima/Apple TV+

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