Gugu Mbatha-Raw: In 'Surface,' a 'perfect marriage' obscures secrets, lies

Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Gugu Mbatha-Raw can now be seen in the psychological thriller, "Surface." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
1 of 5 | Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Gugu Mbatha-Raw can now be seen in the psychological thriller, "Surface." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

NEW YORK, July 29 (UPI) -- Loki actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw and The Haunting of Hill House alum Oliver Jackson-Cohen say their Apple TV+ psychological thriller, Surface, uses the illusion of a perfect marriage to obscure a web of secrets and lies.

Set in contemporary San Francisco, the show premieres Friday. It follows Sophie (Mbatha-Raw), a wealthy woman who experiences serious memory loss after falling overboard from a boat.


Her husband, James (Jackson-Cohen), along with various friends, acquaintances and even her psychiatrist try to help Sophie remember the details of her life. However, she refuses to believe the story many of them tell her -- that she attempted to die by suicide and her near-drowning was not an accident.

Investigating her own past, Sophie soon learns she and her marriage aren't exactly what they appear to be.

"When we first meet her, she is trying to piece back her memory and her life, and living in this beautiful, luxurious house with her perfect husband, James," Mbatha-Raw told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"It's the mystery of Sophie uncovering who she is," the actress added. "I was very drawn into it reading Veronica West's first pilot script. It was such a page turner, and there were so many twists and turns in the story.

"All the characters were so layered and complex, and San Francisco is such a beautiful, but also dark noir, landscape for our story. Sophie, as a character, has such a massive arc that, as an actor, is always great fun to play."

While Sophie is utterly distraught by her circumstances, James is relieved to be getting what he sees as a second chance with the woman he loves.

"His wife is born again. What do you do with that? James struggles with how best to handle that and he withholds things," Jackson-Cohen said.

"The show is primarily based on all the secrets that we keep from one another and how much that costs someone. It is an incredibly complex, deliciously stressful adventure they go on."

Sophie wants to know everything about the past, while James just wants to put it behind them and move on. Because they each interpret the situation so differently, tension quickly mounts in the relationship.


"The power dynamic is constantly shifting," Mbatha-Raw noted.

"That's the intriguing thing for the audience," she said. "When we first meet Sophie, James has been her protector. He's the love of her life and she's under his control at points, certainly financially and in terms of her confidence.

"As the show goes on, things shift and we start to get new perspectives on every character, actually. It keeps you on the edge of your seat."

Since Sophie is dependent on other people to tell her who she is, she must decide who she can trust and then disregard the accounts of those who might mislead her because they have their own agendas.

Mbatha-Raw said Sophie is a type of character she hasn't had the chance to play before.

"When you go about building a character, you think about their backstory and their childhood and who they are and their relationships. That is how you create a person, but this is the opposite," the actress said.

"There is a naivete and an innocence to her, initially because she is taking in all of her information -- as you would if you knew nothing -- at face value. She's believing everything she is being told about her life. It's not until she steps out of her perfect house, a very controlled environment, that she realizes maybe things aren't as they seem."


Jackson-Cohen thinks viewers may connect the show's theme of the impeccable veneer to how many people present to the public -- particularly through social media -- carefully curated lives that aren't quite authentic.

"That's where the interesting stuff is. It's what's behind the curtain," he said.

"Throughout the show, there are so many twists and turns. We are constantly reassessing what we think we know. You can only put a sheen on something for so long before it starts to crack."

Surface co-stars Stephan James, Ari Graynor, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, François Arnaud and Millie Brady. Veronica West, who created and wrote the series, also serves as executive producer. Reese Witherspoon and Lauren Neustadter executive produce on behalf of Hello Sunshine.

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