‘I wanted there to be a bit of empathy’: Marlo Kelly on bringing Tatiana to life in ‘3 Body Problem’

Marlo Kelly.

When actress Marlo Kelly was invited on a call with 3 Body Problem creators David Benioff, D.B Weiss, and Alexander Woo in the second half of 2021, she assumed it was the next stage of an audition process that had so far been light on details.

After completing an initial self-tape of one scene during lockdown, Kelly was asked to do another, having used the time in between to read Cixin Liu’s 2008 sci-fi novel of the same name after noticing a reference to San-Ti – the advanced alien race at the centre of the story – in the script.

It would end up being all that was required to secure the part of Tatiana, with Benioff, Weiss, and Woo casting the then 24-year-old before the call, unbeknownst to her.

“I did two short scenes – it was really odd,” she told IF.

“They told me that because Tatiana doesn’t exist in the book, and that she was initially only meant to be in one scene in the first episode, their casting had involved a huge variation of random people, including a mix of young people, to try and figure out what it should be.

Jess Hong and Marlo Kelly 3 Body Problem. (Image: Ed Miller/Netflix © 2024)

“There must have been something that made sense in what I was putting into the character and the work I was doing that started a rolling process of building it.”

Tatiana carries elements of multiple characters from Liu’s novel in the Netflix series, which chronicles the fallout from a young woman’s fateful decision in 1960s China across space and time into the present day.

As a close-knit group of brilliant scientists join forces with an unorthodox detective to confront the greatest threat in humanity’s history, they begin to have increasingly unsettling interactions with Kelly’s character, whose mysterious origins and near-supernatural abilities make her a unique threat.

The large ensemble cast is led by Benedict Wong, Jess Hong, Jovan Adepo, Eiza González, John Bradley, Jonathan Pryce, and Rosalind Chau.

To prepare for the role, Kelly researched cult psychology to understand the mindset of an assassin acting on behalf of extraterrestrials, wanting the character to appear “as grounded as possible” but with “a wiring that was off”.

“I wanted there to be a bit of empathy because then she would be whole, instead of just an idea, and be someone that actually could be walking down the street or living in the house next door,” she said.

“I think that’s a lot more terrifying than someone that only exists in the world of their show.”

No expense was spared in crafting the word for the eight-part sci-fi series, which reportedly had a budget of US$160 million, making it one of the streamer’s most expensive titles of all time alongside Stranger Things and One Piece.

Marlo Kelly (Image: Ed Miller/Netflix © 2024)

Production began in November 2021 and lasted until August 2022, encompassing US, UK, and Spain, with reshoots filmed at the beginning of last year.

Kelly came to the shoot almost immediately after wrapping NBCUniversal series Joe vs Carole, in which she played Carole Baskin’s daughter Jamie Murdock opposite Kate McKinnon.

She had previously garnered global attention via her performance as Beth Cassidy on USA/Netflix television series Dare Me, based on Megan Abbott’s best-selling novel. She also took on the titular role in the 2018 Australian/French web series Patricia Moore and appeared in more than 40 episodes of Home and Away as Skye Peters.

Now based in New York, Kelly has no immediate plans for filming beyond a potential second season of 3 Body Problem, which Netflix is still yet to confirm. However, she expressed a desire to contribute as more than an actor in future projects on the back of the series.

“I really want to move into being on the creative side of projects more and [3 Body Problem] has definitely helped open those doors,” she said.

“There are a couple of producers I’m talking with about being in early development on projects and being a part of the creative process, so that is special and exciting.”

She also left the door open for more shoots in her home country, noting she “would love to” return for the right opportunity.

“One of the projects I am in talks about is an Australian project that I really want to happen and get off the ground,” she said.

“But right now, I’m still figuring out those next steps.”