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Emma McDonald channels her 'inner Tom Cruise' to play 'Moonhaven' badass

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Emma McDonald performs in the sci-fi adventure "Moonhaven." Photo courtesy of AMC
Emma McDonald performs in the sci-fi adventure "Moonhaven." Photo courtesy of AMC

NEW YORK, July 7 (UPI) -- Emma McDonald says it's an honor to play lunar cargo pilot and smuggler Bella Sway in Moonhaven because the new sci-fi series is a completely original project -- not a sequel, reboot or literary adaptation.

The six-part, futuristic suspense-thriller from Lodge 49 and The Leftovers scribe Peter Ocko has a two-episode premiere Thursday on AMC+.

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"Peter Ocko has been working on this character for five years, so to be able to have this gift to play her was just extraordinary," McDonald told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"She's a badass. She drives a spaceship. She's a super-cool nerd with her technology. She has this brilliant taste in music," the actress added. "She's a big reader. She's fiercely loyal, but she's got this troubled soul, as well. She's good with her fists and she is also a very smart cookie."

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McDonald loved the physical challenges of the role and recalled feeling eager to jump straight into her action and fight sequences.

"The stunt team was amazing. They really encouraged me, and I learned so much working with them. I insisted upon doing all my own stunts," she said.

"I did a hell of a lot of running, which was great. I got to channel my inner Tom Cruise. It was a joy."

Set 100 years in the future, the story follows Bella as she transports important Earth leader Indira Mare (Amara Karan) to the moon, on which a small utopian colony of people work with artificial intelligence to try to solve the biggest problems of the moon's troubled planetary sister.

When Bella is accused of a crime, she finds herself working with lunar detectives to clear her name and find out who is trying to gain control of the powerful computers that limit the moon inhabitants' freedom, but allow most people to live in peace.

"It's so timely and relevant and poignant, but it's also funny," McDonald said. "It's this whole new world, which we've not seen before, yet it is entirely relatable. It's also hopeful."

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She praised Ocko for incorporating his love of language and music into the show, explaining how he always was generous with his time and willing to discuss the story and how it impacted individual characters.

While some of the solutions explored in Moonhaven could possibly work to solve complicated human problems in real life, others most likely would never be tolerated, McDonald said.

"It plays with such big ideas! The water families are fascinating. I don't think it's something that we could quite integrate into our society," she said.

Water families refers to how people on the moon raise other people's children instead of their own. This makes them engage better with people because they assume everyone could be a blood relative.

"That idea of seeing everyone as your brother or sister or family and treating people with love and respect" is admirable, McDonald said, adding that viewers also might find inspiration from the lunar colonists' appreciation of nature and conservation of resources.

"Serving the many and not the few is pretty poignant," she said.

McDonald said she had fun acting opposite Kadeem Hardison and Dominic Monaghan, and likened Bella's relationship with their cop characters Arlo and Paul to "a strange little tripod."

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"She doesn't want anything to do with them at the start. She just wants them to leave her alone," McDonald said, noting that as they spend more time together, "They complement each other."

Avid Stars Wars and Lost in Space fan Hardison told UPI in a separate Zoom chat that he was excited to join a sci-fi series that builds a wholly different world and mythology from the ground up.

He said he was intrigued by the concept of playing a moon detective, since the job is so different from what law enforcement is like on Earth in 2022.

"So much about this seems right and necessary and relevant and now," the actor said.

"Detectives on the moon are not so hellbent on finding out why. Their intentions are to serve the living," he said, explaining that the futuristic cops are most concerned with healing and closure for survivors of trauma.

"So, if something happens to your sister, we can find out who killed her or what happened, but it's not about the why, it's about you and how you are dealing with it. ... If we could find a way to squeeze some of that juice into our society, that would be great."

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The concept that his character was a third-generation lunar citizen deeply committed to the new way of living also appealed to Hardison.

"I didn't just walk in and they said, 'These are the rules and you've got to follow them.' I was born into this. My father was born into this. My grandfather came here and started this," the actor said. "It was a no-brainer. I was trying everything I could to get this [acting] job."

Another important character with whom Bella crosses paths is Tomm (Manganiello), Indira's mysterious bodyguard.

"They have great chemistry, those two characters. You don't expect what happens at the end of Episode 1, and you will continue to be surprised by their relationship," McDonald teased.

Manganiello called Tomm one of the "weirdest" characters he ever saw presented in a script, but said he knew how to play him immediately.

"There were a lot of things about him that I understood either from research or reading, things that I've done before, people I've worked with -- whether that was Navy SEALS or CIA," the actor said.

"He kind of falls into that category -- kind of unnervingly smart, with a military background, very skeptical, but then there's this whole mystic side to him where he may or may not be a latent psychic."

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Manganiello said some members of his actual family have had what they perceive as psychic experiences, so that helped him to keep an open mind when he approached the role of Tomm.

"I took him in a really grounded, earnest direction where there are some very high-concept things going on with him," he said.

Like his co-stars, Manganiello said the show is timely since it examines problems and possible solutions that are being explored in real life.

He said he doesn't think it is likely things like tribalism or war will ever be eradicated, however.

"As a history buff, [I've learned that] any time you try to install a utopia or some sort of utopian idea, there is always someone with the bigger agenda who is going to come in and take that utopian idea and mold it into what they want," Manganiello said.

"It's just the way that humans are. That's the part that was very interesting to me -- watching humans be humans."

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