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Rosa Salazar on Undone, rotoscope, and never giving up on Alita 2

Rosa Salazar, star of Undone season 2, tells us about why the animated series excites her, and why she's adamant Alita 2 should happen

Rosa Salazar Undone season 2 interview

After a hit first season, sci-fi series Undone has returned right where it left off. Alma, our protagonist, is stuck waiting to see if her father will show up, or if it’s all for nought. Without spoiling anything, her efforts aren’t wasted, but like many things in life, it’s not quite how she expected it to go.

Rosa Salazar leads the animated series that uses rotoscope technology to push the boundaries of performance and storytelling. For the second season, Salazar is joined more prominently by Bob Odenkirk, who plays Alma’s father, as they learn more about their family’s strange penchant for breaking time and space. Thankfully, what might be quite confusing is made less so by their charming chemistry.

Undone is a heartwarming, high-concept TV series from the creators of Tuca and Bertie and Bojack Horseman, and we got to chat with Salazar about the show. She tells us all about going back to film during the pandemic, her excitement for trying new filmmaking techniques, and why she’ll never let Alita: Battle Angel go. You can find Undone on Amazon Prime Video – grab a subscription here.

The Digital Fix: I know season 1 ended on a bit of a cliffhanger that feeds directly into season 2. Were you excited to get back to Undone knowing where season 1 ended?

Rosa Salazar: Oh my God, yeah, I was just like audiences waiting at the tomb with Alma. Does she go in, does she not, did she see him? I was in all of the audience’s position when it came to that point.

When they said ‘We’re coming back’, I was so ready. We were one of the first shows greenlit to shoot during the pandemic, and a major shout-out to Amazon for making it so seamless and easy and safe for us to do that. So yeah, I was raring to get back in there. I love Undone, it’s just such a unique filming experience.

That ties into my next question. Experimental might be the right word for how Undone looks visually, and I’m wondering, coming out of season 1, knowing exactly how the show looks with the rotoscoping technology that’s halfway between animation and live action. Were you able to visualise what was going on a little bit more?

Well, first of all, yes, experimental is the perfect word in all senses of Undone, the way we shoot it is experimental. The first season was very experimental, none of us really knew what it would come out to be. Hisko Hulsing, the brilliant director behind Undone, puts it the perfect way. He says ‘The first season was all about building this car, while we’re learning how to drive it’.

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It came out and it was beautiful, and we’re like, ‘OK, we’ve got this idea. Now we know what we’re doing, we’re up and running’. And he says, ‘The second season’s like, yeah, we’ve got this Maserati, let’s put the top down, let’s put it in cruise control’.

Then the pandemic hits. It was like dismantling the car and putting it back together in a Covid-19 safe way, like we all did over the last few years. I’m a big fan of rotoscope animation to begin with. I’m a huge Linklater fan, I have absorbed those films. I even bum-rushed my way into the screening of his new film, Apollo 101⁄2.

Rosa Salazar as Alma in Undone season 2

I know rotoscope, I know the way it works. I know the history of it, even before I’d done Undone I know that Disney used it for animating the fingers and mouths of the Disney princesses and it was sort of like a dirty secret they didn’t want anyone to know.

So I know a lot about Rotoscope, to begin with, but in the second season, there was a lot more experimenting to be done. I had this big database of things that we learned and techniques we learned on season 1, and season 2 was no different. Just more exploring, more experimenting.

We had such a stripped-down crew because of Covid-19, about six to eight people on the set at all, that we all wore a trillion hats. Yes, of course the knowledge helps, but with something like Undone, the whole purpose is to push boundaries and explore outside of the box, while shooting it within a box.

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I definitely got that impression. Your character has these more unexpected layers to work through because you end up inhabiting this version of yourself that has new memories, so you’re living two lives at once almost. Can you tell me about navigating all that as an actor?

It’s so interesting that you bring that up, like this other version of ourselves that we’re living at the same time. We get to explore that intricately in Undone thanks to rotoscope animation, but I think we’re all doing that right now.

In our real lives, we’re different versions of ourselves, in different perspectives of our reality at all times. We are always coexisting with ourselves, past and present. Exploring that as an actor is incredibly gratifying because you have layers.

In season 1, it was very much like someone learning how to ride a bike, Alma is very much on the backfoot about things. And then in season 2, she assumes the role of tutor when she finds out her sister has abilities. So now she’s really on the tips of her toes, like, ‘Let’s go!’ to a relentless degree, let’s use these abilities and go through our memories and mend all of these various traumas.

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For me, it was a matter of Alma switching from student to master, only to be told by her father in the second timeline, listen, that’s not the way, which is antithetical to what he says in the first season, which is, this is the way please come this way.

In the second timeline, Alma is this very relentless character who’s like, ‘Let’s do this’, and he is basically telling her the lesson in the beginning of the series that she learns at the end of the series, which is that this isn’t the way.

To deal with that full character shift at the beginning of season 2, and then shift it again on its head at the end of season 2, it was splendid, it was very wonderful to go on that journey and my whole MO toward art and acting is to just constantly have these shifting perspectives. These shifting experiences that leave us curious and open.

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You mentioned that Alma becomes the tutor to her sister in season two. I’m wondering, since Bob Odenkirk has a bigger role this time around because Alma goes to join her father, were you a bit of a tutor to Bob Odenkirk, guiding him into this world? This is the first rotoscope project he’s done.

It is the first rotoscope show that any of the cast had ever done, including myself, and it was a huge dream of mine. Bob Odenkirk, who just received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and well deserved, is an incredible human being.

He is someone who is so supportive. He’s someone who is always curious and is always learning. He is the least rigid person I’ve ever met, which I think is the highest compliment you can pay to someone, because people get entrenched in their own beliefs, in their own schemas.

Bob Odenkirk in Undone season 2

He’s been in this business for a very long time, but he has uplifted so many of my peers and myself. I learned from him just by osmosis, like being around him. I in no way can take credit for being his teacher, he teaches me everything.

I’m so grateful to have done this project with him and to have worked with him, and just to know him. He’s one of my mentors. I’ve been so fortunate to work with such legends like Constance Murray and Bob Odenkirk. It’s just a huge gift. I bet he can count on one hand the things I’ve taught him, but he’s taught me so much.

I think you might be doing yourself a disservice there if I were to ask him…

Please do! [Laughter]

For sure! One last question for you. There’s been some talk about Alita 2 may be happening, is that something you’d be up for?

Oh my gosh, what do you think Anthony? I will fight to make Alita 2 happen until the end of time. Thanks to performance capture technology, I could do this movie whenever. I could perform this sequel in five years, but I don’t think it should take that long. It’s a story that should continue.

I love blending what I do, my performance, with these beautiful technological feats, these advances, these artists. It’s a big endeavour that I love to be a part of, these big teams of artists constructing this one thing together.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Even on a live-action set, you have this high school amount of people working on something, and getting it to its goal. With something like rotoscope or performance capture, and CGI, you have an even larger breadth of people who are all working to tell this story.

It really challenges me, and that’s what I love to do, is things that challenge me. It challenges me to push through and work with the animators and the digital effects artist’s mind to create a very authentic emotional performance with the aid of, in tandem with, in concert with the artists and the technology that we’re using. It’s just something so beautiful when it comes together. It’s not only fun for me, but it enhances the emotionality of the project, in my opinion.

Undone seasons 1 and 2 are available now on Amazon Prime Video.