Obsession star Sonera Angel on being part of ‘amazing’ wave of non-binary representation on screen
Non-binary actor Sonera Angel talks bringing queer character Sally to life in Netflix’s racy new drama Obsession alongside Richard Armitage, Indira Varma and Rish Shah.
The four-episode erotic thriller, which has dominated the Netflix top 10 since it dropped last Thursday (13 April), has viewers’ hearts racing with the story of an illicit affair, BDSM and betrayal.
The plot, based on Josephine Hart’s 1991 novel Damage, follows wealthy parents William (Armitage) and Ingrid (Varma) and their two children Jay (Shah) and Sally (Angel). However, their picture perfect life is shattered after Jay introduces his family to his fiancée Anna (Happy Valley‘s Charlie Murphy).
When sparks fly between William and Anna, they strike up a secretive and kinky affair as they both struggle to avoid suspicion from family and friends and decide whether they are ready to risk it all for their undeniable connection.
Sonera Angel’s character Sally soon gets caught up in the web of lies and watches as the devastating fallout consumes the family.
However, bringing Sally to life was no easy task. As something of a nondescript background character in the original novel, it took a cast-wide effort to bring the series’ only queer character to roaring life.
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PinkNews: What was your first impression of your character, Sally, when you read the script?
Sonera Angel: I read the entire book after getting a callback and it was really interesting because Sally has quite a lot to do in the show but in Josephine Hart’s original novel she is essentially wallpaper. It’s very much, “I have a typical family. I have a boy and a girl and a wife.”
Why do you think they decided to expand on the character for the series?
Their whole motive was to bring the story a bit more into the modern age, especially to take this feminist angle and give all the women a lot more to do.
The novel is from William’s (Armitage) point of view, so it’s very male gaze-y. All of the women kind of don’t really feel like people. They are quite meek.
Morgan [Lloyd Malcolm, a playwright] was brought on specifically to bring that feminist gaze because she’s a wonderful feminist writer. She brought so much depth to Anna as well, who was previously very much just an archetype [of the ‘other woman’]. Sally got fleshed out in the wake of that.
I think we’re right on the cusp of something really amazing. At the moment, there’s a lot of us still playing cis women as characters.
About 20 years ago, there was a shift where everyone started to swap male characters into women and gender bend media [see Judi Dench as M in James Bond]. We got to see characters that we’ve never seen as women.
Now we’re on the verge of asking ‘what if this character was non binary? What if this character was trans, when initially they were cis?’ Why can’t Emma D’Arcy’s House of the Dragon character Rhaenyra be non-binary? There are dragons, why can’t there be trans people?
I’m really excited for where this is leading because the more of us that get into these roles and become more prominent, the more we start to translate ourselves into our characters.
Obsession explores the world of BDSM in a refreshingly progressive way. How did it achieve that that?
Morgan did a wonderful job of writing the separation between Anna wanting to do BDSM and her starting an affair. It’s not that she’s messed up psychologically so she’s into BDSM. That just happens to be her kink and then she is [separately] having an affair, they aren’t connected.
It’s something that you can stumble into way too easily, that harmful correlation. I think it’s done really well in Obsession where there is that clarity of division between the two.
In the series it is clear that Sally is queer, with an off-screen girlfriend, Kelly. How did that come about?
Lisa (Barros D’Sa) and Glen (Leybourn) are very chilled directors and always asked me “What do you think?” which was beautiful. We got to dive into a lot of detail and depth with the characters that hadn’t been explored in the script.
That was helped by Indira and Richard who are just such amazing actors. They’re so giving. They very much became like mentors to us [Rish and I]. We decided what university degree Sally had done and we face cast Kelly, my girlfriend and decided she would be off at the University of Edinburgh. They gave us that time and asked us those questions to bring that out.
I would love to hear more about filming with Richard.
Richard really surprised me. He’s so goofy. He often plays quite stern or aloof characters but he’s like an absolute goofball in reality. He was always joking around on set but then he would go into William mode and suddenly be very serious.
What was the most impactful scene for you? (Spoilers ahead)
Definitely that scene with Indira [Angel is referring to Jay’s death after finding out about the affair]. Ingrid starts smashing her face into the counter. That was a really, really intense day. [Indira] was fully in tears for every scene just naturally. It was exhausting.
We were going back to the green room and taking turns lying down on the floor. Then we wrapped for the day, and she was back to laughing, joking and smiling.
How did you bring your own identity as a queer non-binary person into your character? She had a brilliant wardrobe.
I actually ended up stealing a lot of Sally’s clothing. Initially Sally was a bit more butch in terms of clothing. I’m not super girly but as we were doing rehearsals we thought Sally is really new to discovering her sexuality. I thought back to when I was struggling with my queerness and went very feminine, almost trying to balance out being queer and meet society’s expectations.
It was really fun as well to play with the bridesmaid’s dress [an outfit Sally tries on for Jay and Anna’s wedding in episode three] because that’s super hyper-feminine and we showed that Sally wasn’t really that comfortable.
It is so refreshing seeing natural inclusions of identity in the series, where it just is.
There are so many shows about coming out or that initial phase of discovering yourself but I think it’s so important to have a balance where it’s just normal life.
They [William and Ingrid] just happen to have a queer daughter.
Obsession is available to watch on Netflix now.
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