Art is Love Made Public – Neet’s Mom Plans to Celebrate Sense8 and Its Fans

As one of the most visible and active cast members of Sense8, Maximilienne Ewalt is not only loved by the fans of the show for her portrayal of Amanita’s mom, Grace Caplan but for the warm and charismatic human being, she is on and off screen. The actress who is best known for her outspoken views on everything from politics and environmental issues to Sense8 has turned her attention to a new project for the fans of Sense8. From landing the now iconic role to unforgettable moments shooting “Amor Vincit Omnia” let’s dig deeper with the lady we all know and love as Neet’s Mom in Netflix’s Sense8.

Q: How did you come to play Grace, Amanita’s mother?

A : I had just come back home from LA where I had been taking care of some very old family friends, a gay couple, who were like surrogate fathers to me and who had known me since I was born.  —one of them had just died and the other one had dementia and my sister took on the task of taking care of them. I had just been to LA where they lived and I was exhausted and I told my agent that I was going to take a break. A couple of days later, I got an email from a casting director here and I asked what it was for and I was told it was for a web series and I didn’t even know what that was! They said it was like “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” and that it is by the creators of the Matrix, and I was like “Oh! I think I better go on this one!” So I went and did my audition and the scene was where I describe how Amanita got lost at a 4th of July picnic. Sometime later, I got a call from casting director Carmen Cuba for a Skype interview and it was just to find out who I was as a person. And I thought that’s different! Lana and Lily had really checked around about people, everyone on set was so nice and so kind. And they chose people who are easy to work with and people who get along, which I learned later. That was it!

Q: How much do you think Grace’s own personal choices, philosophy and lifestyle has shaped the woman Neets is?

A: Well, I did not have an average mom… I think Grace is a child of the 60’s and we are all a product of our time, where we live, and our families. And that was a really wild time, especially here in California. Grace is a little older than me. I was around 14 during that time and it was a really powerful time. It was the time of free love and people were burning their bras and women’s liberation was a big part of what was going on in Grace’s life and also in Amanita’s life because she was raised in a commune. Grace even named her daughter Amanita, after a psychedelic mushroom. My mom was an artist and she was very eccentric as well and that had an impact on me.  Grace is like Amanita in that she is this very open-hearted, accepting person who says “Be your true self. It’s ok to be different!” I grew up with a name like Maximillienne and I was very different. Because my mother was different it was ok, and I liked being different and Amanita was exposed to a lot similarly. She grew up with many different kinds of people and learned from her mother to be true to herself, to be comfortable in her own skin and to be who she really is.

Q: Grace had probably the most fully drawn character of all the parents of the core Sensates. Why are her views so relatable to viewers today?

A: I think because she is the mother many people never had. Who doesn’t want unconditional love, to be loved for who they are? After the first season came out, I joined Twitter to learn what viewers thought about the show. So many people were completely smitten with it. Grace is not a main character, but people were responding to her  with comments like “I need a hug from Amanita’s mom” and really sweet comments like that and it opened my heart to them. I felt their need to be loved. I started to feel like they were all my children!” I feel this deep love for all of them and how this show has affected them and how my character has affected them and how much they love everybody on the show. That’s really rare. It’s very rare. I call everything connected to Sense8 the Magic Carpet Ride. It’s a big love fest. There have also been many older women my age who love the show and relate to Grace.

Q: Grace is the antithesis of Janet, Nomi’s mother. What’s it like to play a character, who, for many fans, is the ideal mother or parent?

A: It feels very good because I’m getting a lot of love back but my sister would say “They just don’t know you!” Haha! When I was in Chicago I got a tour of Kinoworks and the gentleman who gave us the tour said I was the mother “we never had “and he was gay. And my mother had a lot of gay friends and we have known them all our lives and they would stay over and sleep on the same bed and it would never occur to me that they were gay. I think many people today, especially in our LGBTQ communities have family experiences at least somewhat similar to Nomis, being disowned or not fully accepted by them. Many fans shared online stories of how Sense8 saved their lives. I feel their pain. That’s another similarity I have with Grace. I’m an empath like Grace, and I feel people’s pain and sadness.

Q: From The Lacuna to the many diverse female characters in the show such as Grace, the power of women is a core theme in Sense8. Why do you think that’s important? Especially in a Sci-Fi series?

A: It’s always been important to have strong women. Some people say women’s lib is over. I have experienced feeling invisible at work where they talk to your male colleague and ignore you. Women didn’t get the recognition men did, even historically.Most women I think have talked about experiencing the phenomenon of feeling invisible, except for maybe unwanted sexual attention. The #MeToo movement has made all of us aware that sexual harassment is still rampant in our society here and all over the world. We need more strong female role models in film.

Q: What are your favorite memories of shooting Amor Vincit Omnia?

A: I loved, LOVED mingling with the fans and they were so sweet and so polite and some of them were my age when I was living in France after my mother moved us there when I was a teen. And being with the cast again and Lana. I absolutely adore Lana and Karin so being around them and everyone was wonderful. And on the way to France, I was on the plane with other cast members, including Nomi’s mom and the faeries in Season One, both incredible artists I just adore played by Tino Rodriguez and Virgo Paraiso. The painting in Lito’s bedroom is actually by Tino Rodriguez, both good friends of Lana’s.In the wedding scene, watching Lana work and orchestrate a hundred people in a very short amount of time before the fireworks were set to go off only once, was also really impressive. It was just such an honor to get to go and I didn’t know we would get to shoot on the Eiffel Tower!

Q: How did it feel to watch the episode with fans and the cast at the special screening in Chicago’s Music Box Theatre?

A: It was amazing being in that packed theatre all of us watching it together for the first time. Being in that space with hundreds of people responding to every scene with so much passion. Every little thing got them so excited and they laughed, cried and cheered and that was amazing. That was very special. It meant a lot to me to be with people who feel so passionately about Sense8 and the characters in it. It was very moving. It was like being reunited with people you love so much, and you felt the fans love of these characters That was very special. It means a lot to me to be with people who feel that the show and the characters really saved them. It really moves me. So many people shared their stories of how it saved their lives.

Q: Sense8 appears to have transformed the lives of the cast as well as its fans and you’re involved in a very special project to celebrate the show and its fans, aren’t you? 

A: Yes I am. Creating a permanent Sense8 mural was not my idea. While waiting for Amor Vincit Omnia to air, the idea came from the fans to create original Sense8 murals in all the cities where the characters come from. San Francisco has a lot of murals and Sense8 features a lot of art like that. I was thinking “How hard can that be?” I thought I would put the dots together for people. I thought about how I could help out, to give something back to the fans who fought so hard to get Netflix to even complete the story to give them closure. Once I envisioned it, it quickly took shape. I enlisted my friend Deirdre Weinberg, a muralist, to design and create the mural. She has actually been wanting a mural there for a long time and it was like the universe was rolling out the red carpet, saying this is the way to go. It was Diedre Weinberg, my friend who is a muralist, who will paint the mural, who suggested we fund it with a Kickstarter campaign. We have to get the funding together by July 16th so I need the fans to help to make it happen.

Q: It’s not often that cast members collaborate with fans to create something like this, why do you think Sense8 is always the exception?

A: I think because we are living the message of the show. I think we are living the message of unity, connection and empathy, totally. There is a need for that. There is a need for connection. And actually, the whole premise of Sense8, the concept, came out of a conversation about the internet. Lana told us this during the table read. It’s brought people together who feel the same way. People who feel empathy for one another. Even people who are not aware of LGBTQ issues learned about it on the show.

Q: Why was San Francisco chosen as the location for the Sense8 mural beside the fact that it’s home base for Nomi and Amanita?

A: Because this is where I live and where I could make it happen. Lana and Karin also have a home here in San Francisco and they are a big part of life here even though they live in Chicago. And also because we started shooting when San Francisco Pride was here. It’s a beautiful city and it’s also a very liberal and open city and there’s a huge LGBTQ community here.

Q: The opening theme of Sense8, as well as the show itself, features public artwork, murals, street art and installations in cities around the world. What are some of your favorite public works of art? And how was the Sense8 mural designed?

A: There are three here in San Francisco I adore. One is a gorgeous Diego Rivera mural at  City College. There’s another one in a beautiful old building that houses a restaurant called the Beach Chalet. The mural covers all the walls in a beautiful light filled room as you enter the building. And I love the murals on the Women’s Building in San Francisco which was featured in Sense8.

Deirdre came up with an inspired design with the image of a stark face in shadow that to me represents loneliness and disconnection. The eye is full of color and represents the Universe, or the universal connection of all humankind. The 8 sensates are shaped like Shiva with many arms, the Hindu god, protector of the Universe. It is sort of what’s called in French a trompe l’oeil, which means it tricks the eye. I think it’s magical. This mural will be a permanent monument, an ode to Sense8.

Q: Creating a mural in a public space is a massive undertaking. How are you funding the mural and how can fans help make this dream a reality? 

A: Thank you for asking that. It is massive and challenging. And I’m learning a lot. We are already halfway through our 30-day fundraising campaign at Kickstarter.com. We need to reach our funding goal of $15,000 by July 16th., which is coming up fast.  Fans can go to Kickstarter.com and search for I am Also a We, which is the name of the mural. They can also follow news on the mural on Facebook and Instagram and make a donation. And I need fans to know that I cannot do this without them and I would love the fans to be a part of this project because it will not happen without their support. I always felt a strong connection with the fans. I won’t let the fans down. We can do this together.

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Sidanthi Siriwardena

Sidanthi Siriwardena is a keen blogger and social activist. Siddy, as she's known, is our LGBT content expert covering big shows like Sense8 and Gypsy. She resides in Sri Lanka and contributes to What's on Netflix on a regular basis.