'Sense8' Cast & Lana Wachowski on Their 'Beautiful' Reunion in 'Matrix Resurrections' (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Warner Bros. Pictures
While much of the excitement around The Matrix Resurrections, the latest installment in the Wachowski Sisters’ groundbreaking film franchise about technology versus humanity, surrounded the return of stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, there was another onscreen reunion that was just as special for fans: the cast of Sense8.
“It was beautiful,” Erendira Ibarra tells ET. After first appearing in the ambitious Netflix series about eight strangers known as sensates who discover they’re mentally and emotionally linked, she reunited with creator and director Lana Wachowski to play a Mnemosyne crew member named Lexy in the fourth Matrix film alongside several of her former co-stars, including Brian J. Smith, Freema Agyeman, Max Riemelt, Max Mauff, Michael X. Sommers, Purab Kohli and Toby Onwumere, as well as many others who worked on the series both in front of and behind the camera.
“That’s one of the most important things that I love is we got to come together as a family because it wasn’t just onscreen. It was off-screen, too,” she continues. “Everyone from wardrobe to production -- it was the same family. So, it was literally coming home to make art together.”
“Well, half the cast is in the movie,” Wachowski says with a laugh, noting that she co-wrote this Matrix film with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, both of whom served as writers on the series. “I loved, loved working with them and the vibe of Sense8 was really like, ‘Let’s do everything, you know? Let’s do comedy, and drama, and romance, and action.’ And I think that sort of spilled over into this.”
In the fourth film, Neo (Reeves) is once again tasked with following the rabbit as he inevitably (and forcibly) leaves the matrix, an illusion created by the machines. As he revisits the past and regains his memories, he realizes he must free Trinity (Moss) in order to gain control over the machines and the matrix itself. In addition to Reeves and Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith returns as Niobe and Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II fill out the cast in other major roles.
As much fun it is to see Smith, Onwumere and Sommers officially join the franchise in supporting roles as Berg, Sequoia and Skroce, respectively, they explain to ET how the Sense8 reunion runs deeper than bringing former stars and members of the creative team back together to work on the fourth film.
“It had been two years since Sense8 wrapped in Berlin and Lana had been throwing around the word ‘retirement’ and I couldn’t help but worry, ‘Is it over?’” recalls Sommers, who played Bugs, a hacker and supporter of the sensates, before getting to play a key, gatekeeping role between Neo and Trinity in The Matrix Resurrections. “So, when I got the call, I felt like Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy in the Blues Brothers movie. ‘We’re getting the band back together.’”
Not only was everyone coming back to support Wachowski, but it was for this highly anticipated project. “Are you kidding me? The Matrix! There was no place I’d rather be,” he adds.
“It meant the world to me that we could further our collaborative relationship together. And not exclusively the director/actor relationship, but with my fellow actors with whom we all share a similar lexicon in terms of how Lana likes to work and the environment that she creates,” says Onwumere, who joined the series in season 2 as the sensate and Nairobi matatu driver named Capheus Onyango.
“We kind of joke with each other that Sense8 is the party that never ends, so doing TheMatrix together felt like we were just picking up right where we left off, even though we had to figure out how we fit in. We were kind of like a gang of high school freshmen crashing a college party, taking selfies and eating all the free food. We were able to enjoy the experience together of seeing how the 200 million dollar sausage gets made,” says Smith, who played another sensate and Chicago police officer named Will Gorski on the series.
“I think Lana knew this was going to be a uniquely challenging experience, especially going into TheMatrix without Lilly [Wachowski], so she wanted to be surrounded by people she knew had her back.” he continues. “I think she knew it was going to be tough, and with the pandemic and shutting down for three months and having no idea if we’d even finish the thing, it was ridiculously tough. But we were there for her and she knew she could rely on us, and that our enthusiasm would be helpful.”
In addition to what Wachowski described as the show’s “vibe” being carried over into the film franchise, they all agree that Sense8 had a heavy influence on the fourth film, which arrives 13 years after The Matrix Revolutions and three years after the Netflix series ended in 2018. “I see connections everywhere,” Sommers says.
“From a returning company of Sense8 members to how Lana utilizes natural light, you can see the imprint that Sense8 has on the new movie. Especially if you juxtapose it to the prior three iterations,” Onwumere explains, noting how Wachowski’s shooting style on the set of Sense8 was replicated for the film.
The actor, whose Matrix character, an operator of the Mnemosyne, served “as a voyeur and conduit at the same time,” explains that there was very little rehearsal while filming the series. Instead, Wachowski “let the environment, weather and general atmosphere dictate the progression of the scene.”
And as someone who was present for much of the filming of the sequel (“All of the mayhem of the fight scenes, the group scenes in the Mnemosyne, individual scenes in and out of the matrix,” Onwumere recalls), Smith had the opportunity to see everyone’s individual process up close, including Reeves, who relied on his new co-stars for help.
“Even Keanu would come up to us in the early days, when we were just rehearsing, and he’d be like, ‘So, yeah, do you guys have any advice? What’s this going to be like?’” Smith shares, adding that it “was a head trip for us” to have Reeves asking for advice. “I think he really liked working that way. He’s incredibly curious and kind and fearless and really wanted to vibe with Lana’s groove.”
Adding to that, Onwumere remembers Reeves “would even ask us about filming Sense8… Since many of the crew and cast were from Sense8, Lana is able to work with a sort of shorthand that is conducive to her greater vision.”
While fans have noted how the visual style of Matrix Resurrections feels similar to Sense8, Smith says the series “was where Lana honed this technique of doing long takes with the steadicam. Which is where she sort of moves the operator around as the scene unfolds in front of her, having the actors jump around to different moments in the scene or adding lines or whispering notes.”
And when it comes to one specific moment in latest Matrix that may have been directly inspired by Sense8, Smith points out that its finale, when Neo and Trinity jump off the top of a skyscraper that is over 40 stories high, was similar to a scene cut from the series. “One other interesting thing is we had prepped for a stunt in season 2 involving all of the sensates jumping off a cliff, but the scene ended up not being filmed. So, I think Lana had this idea of doing something like Neo and Trinity’s jump for a while,” he reveals.
Looking back on the time the cast had on Sense8 (“It was just such an extreme experience in our lives, in the best way, so the bonds are intense and not the norm,” Smith says), it’s hard not to see why they all were clamoring to reunite with Wachowski. Additionally, they were all fans of TheMatrix prior to joining Sense8, even if the director didn’t always divulge too much about her experience making those first three films.
But Smith remembers one time while they were filming in Berlin during season 2, when he watched the original trilogy in his hotel room. “One day on set I told Lana about it, and she kind of laughed in that way she laughs, and asked how it was holding up. But she didn’t seem all that interested in talking about it. Not in any negative kind of way. She just doesn’t look back like that.”
The actor does note, however, “There was never any discussion about The Matrix being something that could happen again until she lost her parents. I really think it was a closed chapter in her life until that happened.”
In September, during the International Literature Festival Berlin, Wachowski revealed that making the film helped process her grief after her parents died within a month of each other. “You know their lives are going to end and yet it was still really hard,” she explained. “My brain has always reached into my imagination and one night, I was crying and I couldn’t sleep, and my brain exploded this whole story. And I couldn’t have my mom and dad, yet suddenly I had Neo and Trinity, arguably the two most important characters in my life.”
Even though Sense8’s run ended prematurely -- canceled by Netflix after two seasons -- the fans rallied together and convinced the streaming platform to let Wachowski and the team finish the story, which they did with a two-and-a-half-hour series finale movie.
And now, “We’ve got TheMatrix! And it’s on an even larger stage, and it’s all possible because of the freaky Sense8 fan friends. I sincerely believe that if the world’s kindest and best fans hadn’t demanded the Sense8 final episode and made it happen that TheMatrix wouldn’t have happened. Or at least, it would have happened like this,” Sommers says.
Acknowledging the lasting legacy of the show and its diehard fans, Smith says “it’s something to be grateful for because it is so rare.”
“It rarely happens in this industry, where someone is making decisions from their heart and not from the movie-making-machine algorithm, and Lana is really raging against that machine in this film,” he continues. “Sense8 raged against it too in its own way. I know she got pushback for even daring to put people like us in this mega-budget film who weren’t necessarily regulars in the big budget stable.”
“I still hear the fans telling me that Sense8 saved them, some quite literally saved,” Sommers shares, noting how the inclusive series celebrated “so called ‘queers and freaks’ like me,” people who weren’t always cast as the lead or allowed to carry a major project like that.
“We were just amazed and grateful that we got to get the band back together for one last party,” Smith adds.
And The Matrix Resurrections may not be the last time fans will see the party continue or the sensates together again. “I think it really goes to show that anything – anything – is possible,” Onwumere says with a wink.