The squabbling over what to watch with your family this Christmas should no longer be an issue this year because Lost in Space season two on Netflix has arrived just in time. The family-friendly adventure series returns with the Robinson family (played by Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Mina Sundwall, Taylor Russell, and Maxwell Jenkins) sidelined on an ocean planet while trying to determine how to return to the Resolute in order to travel to Alpha Centauri. To make matters worse, the beloved family also have to overcome the ploys of the devious Smith (Parker Posey) and find (fan favourite) Robot.
Prior to the season two Lost in Space premiere, I had the opportunity to chat on the phone with the lovely Mina Sundwall, who plays Penny Robinson, and the following is an edited and condensed version of our fun conversation.
*SPOILERS AHEAD FOR SEASON TWO OF LOST IN SPACE*
Brief Take: It’s such a pleasure to chat with you because I relate so much to Penny. You bring such warmth and wit to her and yet you really feel, especially this season as everyone grows, how lost she is amongst the Robinson family. What do you like best about playing Penny?
Mina Sundwall: Thank you! Being able to see from both the outsider and insider perspective at times, the fact that she is much smarter than she thinks she is. She’s someone who can handle very intense situations and stand up to a mastermind, and yet she still feels bad about not being science oriented like her brother and sister. She never puts up a front, she never has a mask on, she’s always sure of herself even when she doesn’t fit in. I love that.
BT: A LOT happens to Penny this season.
MS: Oooh yeah!
BT: She has to calm a horse on a spacecraft, almost gets crushed by the trash compactor, she gets tricked by Smith in a heartbreaking way after almost getting crushed, then later she ends up in the trash again, she survives being flung into space in a tiny container with three other people, almost freezes to death, and the list goes on. And all of that happens over the course of a few days!
MS: Yeah it’s just a regular Tuesday, you know? Another day at the office.
BT: All of that must be so much fun to play as an actress.
MS: Ooh yeah! It’s also a lot of fun because nothing is ever subtle, you know? [laughs] The Robinsons tend to live day by day in near death situations. It’s tense to be on set in those situations, but at the same time it’s very fun to be able to play that.
BT: So was that a real horse in that scene?
MS: It was a real horse. It very good! I was so surprised because we have a chicken on our show, but a chicken doesn’t really do very much, you know what I mean? There’s a lot of pecking and some walking here and there, but there’s no major acting for the chicken. So then the horse was very calm, very well trained, very gentle and graceful, and then all of a sudden the trainer would make certain noises and it would freak out! It was so cool to watch a horse do the acting.
BT: Some of my favourite scenes were the ones with Penny and Vijay (Ajay Friese) because they’ve gone through so much together and by the end of the season, have really established this trusting friendship. What was it like to work with him?
MS: I love working with Ajay. He is a very, very good friend and we go opposite each other very well. We always have a good dynamic. There’s even been times where they called cut on a scene and we completely forget that we were filming a scene because we are having fun and it feels like we’re playing at times. And I love the dynamic that is coming between Vijay and Penny. There was definitely some growth that had to happen after the betrayal of last season, but they know that they’re stronger together. When you’re going through such intense day to day circumstances, you need to keep people around you that know you and that can support you and that you can trust. It’s been nice to see them be able to grow into that.
BT: Last season you were saying that you read a lot of Buffy fan fiction, so did you read all the fan fiction about Robot? It’s crazy!
MS: Oh my God, people that are obsessed with the Robot’s butt? This is not something that we saw coming. It’s hilarious to me! I’ve read a little bit of the fan fiction and what I’ve read has a lot to do with either the Robot saving somebody or the Robot’s butt.
BT: We get a few shots of it for all those fans out there.
MS: Ooh yeah. [laughs] But I understand it because the Robot was so critical to the original show and it’s very important in our story as well, and there was such a change in look that we knew there was going to be some reaction, of course. But I didn’t quite expect it to be so focused on the rear end.
BT: Speaking of your memorable co-stars, you have some great scenes with Parker Posey this season. Smith, despite her scheming, seems to be the only one who really sees and understands Penny. What was it like working alongside Parker?
MS: It was amazing. Being able to watch her work and how she gets into the mindset of being Doctor Smith, and will go off of all the little things you’re thinking and whatever you can give her from a reaction, she’ll take it and she’ll use it in the scene. Watching her assess a situation like that and go into every single little detail – no detail is ever dropped. It was a big learning experience.
BT: I love how Smith always says that she’s a few steps ahead of everyone, but by the end of the season, Penny has outsmarted her and her ploys. I was so proud of Penny!
MS: [laughs] Yeah, to be able to one-up Doctor Smith in a couple of scenes!
BT: The actors in the Robinson family are pretty spectacular people. You mentioned last season that Molly Parker really took on the motherly role on screen and off, and that Toby Stephens was very down to Earth and sweet, even offering you a taco during one of the toughest scenes.
MS: [giggles] He did! We did one scene where it was very emotional and intense and I remember halfway through, it was in the episode with the eels last season, Toby and I were in this pool that they had built. I’m crying and screaming and doing the stunt with the eel swimming after me, and Toby was off camera at that point, and I’ll never forget his face. He was just looking at me and said “Darling, are you ok? Do you want a taco?”. [laughs] It was beautiful. And that kind of encapsulates exactly who he is. [laughs]
BT: Did you have bonding moments like that this season?
MS: Definitely! Because we’d already had season one to get to know each other, we skipped all the introductions this time and went straight in. We see each other for six, seven months, every single day, early mornings to late nights, with all our highs and lows, so we get to know each other pretty well and we get very comfortable. It’s almost funny to see some of the dynamics that you see on screen are the dynamics that are off screen.
BT: So I imagine that you’re close with Taylor Russell off screen then too. You must be so proud of her work in Waves.
MS: I haven’t seen it yet! I’m going to see it this week. I’m excited though because I hear that she’s really phenomenal in it. I’m going to support her like a soccer Mom in the back. [laughs] She is very sweet. She’s a kind, gentle person and being around her makes you feel happy and warm and cozy. That’s the best way that I could describe it. She’s very supportive and it’s always nice to be able to build off of the person that you’re doing a scene with, and she gives that.
BT: And I love how she’s the captain at the end of this season!
MS: Yeah I know! Here we go with some strong women.
BT: I just saw the season finale last night and I have so many questions. Do you know if there’s going to be a third season?
MS: I don’t know. I’m going to be completely honest, I know as much as you do.
BT: Oh man, I hope it comes back because that cliffhanger ending has me wanting a new season NOW.
MS: Oh I know, me too! I also want to know what happens. [laughs]
BT: Looking back at the whole season, did you have a favourite scene to shoot?
MS: I love the sequence with Molly because there’s little that you see with the parents that show that kind of tension. Being to do some of those ups and downs and being a teenager that doesn’t have a linear arc where she gets to be a little pushy this way and a little pull this way. We shot in Iceland, which was definitely not bad. [laughs] Because of the atmosphere and because of the environment, and it looks and feels the closest to what it looks like on screen, that’s the closest that we’ve been able to feel how the Robinsons are seeing right in front of them. So that sequence is definitely up there.
BT: The one where she admits that she hadn’t read Penny’s book?
MS: Yeah, and when we’re standing by the waterfall. The waterfall was so funny. Our spacesuits were not waterproof last season, so they had to waterproof our spacesuits, but they came with a set of very particular technical difficulties including the fact that if any water gets in the spacesuits, the mics stop working. So we were filming the scene with Molly and I, and we were not facing each other so we couldn’t even see each other’s mouths. But we couldn’t hear each other because our mics weren’t working and couldn’t get to the other person. So our A.D. had to crouch below the shot and squeeze each of our legs when it was our turn to speak. So it was pretty much stare at the waterfall, wait, wait, wait, ok go! it’s your turn! then stare at the waterfall, wait, wait, wait, ok go! it’s your turn!. It was a long day but it was good. [laughs]
BT: Nice change from Vancouver, I imagine.
MS: Yeah, most of the day we had issues with rainbows in our shots, which is not something that we were familiar with when we filmed in Vancouver.
BT: You went on a NASA tour recently, what was that like?
MS: That was so cool! We went to the Goddard Space Flight Center and we got to see some of the ways that they make sure that all the technology and all the materials are ready to go before the launch. So they have these massive platforms that vibrate as intensely as when you’re launching for space. There were these rooms that reflect noise like they do during a launch, to make sure that everything holds. We learned more about the actual robots go into space to fix the satellites. It’s funny to see that they do five to ten years of prep and testing before you can send the tech into space, that by the time the tech is sent, there’s new technology that has come out, which is something that I didn’t really fathom – that it can take ten years.
BT: So you’ve worked with Julianne Moore twice now, you’ve worked with Molly Parker, do you have other actresses that you still dream of working with?
MS: I mean Meryl Streep wouldn’t be bad. [laughs] I wouldn’t complain about Meryl Streep! Throw a Kristen Bell in there. [laughs] And both Molly and Julianne are both strong women, both red heads, which is just a coincidence, but there are so many women in Hollywood that I look up to so much. Emma Watson wouldn’t be bad.
BT: You can ask your Maggie’s Plan co-star Greta Gerwig for the whole Little Women cast.
MS: Oh yeah, the whole Little Women cast, Timothée Chalamet included. [laughs]
BT: Well I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future and hopefully more of Lost in Space.
MS: Me too. Fingers crossed!
Lost in Space seasons one and two are now streaming on Netflix