Andor star Genevieve O’Reilly has been playing Rebel leader Mon Mothma in the Star Wars galaxy for nearly 20 years, but she never really got the chance to become acquainted with the character until now. Whether it was a Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith deleted scene that she shot in 2003 or her two scenes in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), O’Reilly likely spent more time with the character in a vocal booth for the animated series Star Wars Rebels. But all that has changed thanks to Rogue One co-screenwriter and Andor creator Tony Gilroy, who’s enabled O’Reilly to flesh out her Imperial senator character once and for all, as she begins to form the Rebel Alliance.
For O’Reilly, Andor has created an opportunity that she thought would never come.
“To have the opportunity to explore her and delve into her — not just as a Rebel leader, but also as a woman — has been something that I didn’t expect and something that I’m thrilled to be a part of,” O’Reilly tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Mon Mothma, who was originated by Caroline Blakiston in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, is most famous for saying the line, “Many Bothans died to bring us this information,” during a meeting to assess Jedi’s new Death Star weapon. Blakiton’s performance of the line also happened to give O’Reilly some inspiration for the new Disney+ series.
“I always thought that at the heart and center of that moment, Caroline [Blakiston’s Mon Mothma] carried a pain that I could see. So I was always really curious what that pain was,” O’Reilly says. “And so to get the opportunity to discover that will hopefully inform and elevate the work that already exists.”
In a recent conversation with THR, O’Reilly also discusses working Stellan Skarsgard and the duality of her role.
Well, the gift that keeps on giving is now giving you a meal. Did you ever think you’d get the chance to truly dig into Mon Mothma like this?
I’m not sure I did. This is such a gift of a role. It has been a genuine privilege to step into the shoes that Caroline Blakiston originated with George Lucas back in the ‘80s, as well as revisiting her at different times in my life. So to have the opportunity to explore her and delve into her — not just as a Rebel leader, but also as a woman — has been something that I didn’t expect and something that I’m thrilled to be a part of.
We even get a look at her domestic life. Was it quite strange to learn so much new information about a character you’ve played off and on since 2003?
It was wonderful. I’ve always been really curious about this woman. I’ve had questions about her all the way along, and as actors, we kind of fill in bits for ourselves. We might say, “Okay, well, I can imagine this has happened. Therefore, I can approach the scene this way.” I remember that scene that Caroline did in Return of the Jedi, and she has that very famous line that people often quote to me, which is, “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.” I always thought that at the heart and center of that moment, Caroline carried a pain that I could see. So I was always really curious what that pain was. What is that? What has that woman had to carry? What has being that leader cost this woman? What is that personal cost? And so to get the opportunity to discover that will hopefully inform and elevate the work that already exists. It feels really weird because it’s kind of going about it backwards, but because I know where we’re going, I feel like I can be curious in a really specific way.
You have an amazing scene with Stellen Skarsgard at a gallery in episode four. Did you enjoy playing her performance within a performance?
First of all, yes. Stellan is just a special man and quite a brilliant actor. It was a real treat to get to work with him, and that scene you’re talking about in the gallery might be the first time we meet Mon Mothma in the season. It beautifully sets up what I think we’re trying to do with Mon Mothma, which is to meet the public face and unveil the private woman within it. That beautiful gallery set, which was designed by Luke Hull, also mirrors that within the scene. You enter a very public space, and then you go back behind a corner and we have a private interplay. So it allows for a play and a creativity, both within the space, but also between myself and Stellan, which feels genuinely full of energy. It was great to play. It is what an actor looks for; an actor looks for the private moments to reveal within a character.
What do you remember from your original casting process? Did you have to perform the aforementioned “many Bothans died” line just for curiosity’s sake?
I definitely didn’t have to do that, thankfully. (Laughs.) I would’ve really messed it up, and I never would’ve got the role . But I remember it very fondly, actually. They gave me a scene to audition with, and I remember watching the scene and then kind of letting it go because I didn’t want to overthink it too much. I didn’t want to just go in and try to nod to [Caroline Blakiston]. I remember it being a nice audition, and after I got the role, I went back and really investigated that [existing] scene.
As the season unfolds, will we see the internal toll of her dual identity?
Yes. We know her. We know that she is dignified and bolstered by her ideals. We know that she is a truth-teller. We see her try to effect change from within the Empire, and we see that it is a very lonely experience. There are few people willing to stand with her against Palpatine, against this collective oppression. And we see her try to navigate and find exit routes for herself to be effective, to try and be a part of the change. And I think it’s okay to say that it’s not easy and not all of those choices are black and white.
Andor premieres Sept. 21st on Disney+. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.