Stephan James Talks ‘Mind-Bending’ Surface & Sophie And Baden’s Connection


Surface is the exhilarating, unique psychological thriller you never knew you needed in your life.

The latest Apple TV+ original has come out of the gates swinging for the fences, taking the audience on a ride that has you constantly wondering who’s telling the truth and who’s straight up lying to you.

Stephan James is a part of the spectacular ensemble that brings this story to life, and we got a chance to speak with him about what attracted him to the role of the mysterious Baden, what it was like shooting with that cast, and how he’d describe the series in a few words.

This chat was a blast, so settle in and enjoy. And make sure to hit the comments with all your thoughts about Surface!

Drinks On Me - Regular - Surface Season 1 Episode 1

So, just jumping right in here to the show. The audience is three episodes in. As we’re watching, it’s hard to get a read on everyone. I’m curious from your perspective, how would you describe Baden?

I mean, at this point, he’s a little bit of a mystery, isn’t he? I think that he seems to be quite elusive. He seems to know a lot, and he seems to not be sharing everything he knows. And so I could definitely see audience members being a little skeptical as far as who is Baden and what are his intentions.

Stephan James From Surface

And what attracted you to the role of Baden?

I mean, a lot of those things, really. The fact that you can’t put your finger on him. I thought for any actor, it’s a joy to play a character or an arc that isn’t predictable. And so, really, in reading it, there were a lot of questions I had just as far as what this guy’s motivations were. And so that was the driving force in me continuing to turn the page.

And so I think that was probably the biggest factor in me wanting to sign on to do this was that I couldn’t figure him out, that there were so many areas of gray, right? This show is so much in the gray, outside of the black and white. And so it just struck me as an opportunity to really, really dive in and explore what that could feel like.

Interesting. And that kind of goes into my next question: with a show like this, were you aware prior to even shooting what the whole story was? Or were you kind of finding out script by script what was going to happen and where your character was going to go next?

Yeah. The creator of the show and our showrunner Veronica West was really amazing with basically describing her vision for the whole season. Now we didn’t have every script before. I maybe had the first two scripts or so, but I had the vision laid out for me, which was something that was very compelling and appealing.

But I will say there’s nothing like actually receiving those scripts and seeing those beats sort of play out, seeing all the scenes that help us get to the place we eventually get to. I think that was the most exciting part for us. And we would constantly talk about it just as a cast as we were receiving scripts.

We would talk about how blown away we were, how angry we were, frustrated, all the emotions that come with great television.

Sure, sure. Again, only three episodes in, but I like the chemistry between Baden and Sophie. And in my opinion, I feel like he brings out a different side of Sophie that we don’t see when she’s with other people. So, what is it about Sophie and that dynamic you think Baden is drawn to?

Well, I mean, clearly, there’s something deeper there. And I think up until this point in the show, we don’t totally know how far their relationship went. So certainly, there’s a deep connection in that regard, and you can tell that he spent a lot of time with this woman and a lot of intimate time.

But she doesn’t totally know the ins and outs of all of that time. And so that’s an interesting sort of challenge and something that I feel like Baden is trying to balance right now in the show. So I think it’s interesting.

On The Town - Surface Season 1 Episode 3

It’s interesting to know something, but to have to keep it inside or to have to measure what you’re able to say. And who knows what’ll even be believed? You’re dealing with the woman that has forgotten everything. And so I think Baden is being really careful about what he tells her, how he says it to her.

But underneath all that, you can see that there’s certainly a connection and something that has fed their relationship up until this point.

Definitely. Surface encompasses many different themes and touches on many topics from trauma, trauma therapy, relationships, and unhealthy dynamics. What do you hope the audience ultimately can take away from the series?

More so than anything, I hope they enjoy it. I think it’s always a funny question when I get asked, “What do you hope they take away?” Honestly, I don’t really have a strong opinion on what I feel like they should take away. Art is so subjective that everyone will take away different things, but I just hope they enjoy it.

I think it’ll make them think a lot about maybe their own memories, their own past, the people that they have in their world, and their orbit that they choose to believe. And then there’s that idea of trust.

Who do we choose to believe? What version of events are we going to go with when we can’t remember things for ourselves? And so, if anything, there’s a lot of hypothetical thinking that happens.

It’s like, if something like this were to happen to me, if I forgot my whole past, all my memories, who would I look to help put the pieces of the puzzle back together? And so, if anything, eerily enough, maybe the audience will start feeling and thinking like that.

Yeah, no, that’s great. I love that answer because, as you said, we all watch something and can take away something totally different from it. So as long as we’re enjoying it, I guess that is the most important part.

Absolutely. Absolutely.

The cast is stacked. How was it filming with everyone? And do you have any fun stories from your time filming?

Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Surface

I loved everyone. I loved working with everyone, honestly. I felt like we all formed a really special bond while out in Vancouver making this show. And that’s partially because we all got along so well. And so we spent a lot of time outside of work as well. Not every project is like that.

Some people are just people you hang out with when you’re at work, but we were lucky enough to have a really, really great group that we tried to get together as much as we could outside of work, whether it be for dinners, coffee. We went on a boating trip in the middle of the season, which was really fun.

Vancouver is great. So I have a ton of memories. It was all good times, and I’m grateful to have worked with the group. It was a special group.

Great. So, I work for an outlet called TV Fanatic. So I have to ask, since we are obsessed with TV over here, what are some of the shows you’re digging right now? Or are there shows just in general that are kind of your go-to shows to watch when you can?

As far as my go-to shows, Parks and Rec. Nothing beats Parks and Rec. You could turn off your brain for a second and just enjoy. So definitely appreciate Parks and Rec when all else fails.

Baden Works - Surface Season 1 Episode 2

As far as something new I’ve been watching, I’m enjoying Loot on Apple. Shout out to Apple. Also, enjoying Blackbird on Apple. I got some friends in this show, and I think it’s really good. So those two would be my top two right now.

Those are all good choices. Parks and Rec is a classic. Can’t really go wrong there.

You can’t go wrong.

And I have one final question for you. How would you describe Surface in three words?

Three words. Let’s see. It is thrilling. It is mind-bending.


Hopefully, that counts as one word.

It does!

And then it is delicious.

Oh, nobody ever says “delicious.” I like it.

Stephan James Photo - Surface

I do. I do, Whitney. There’s a first for everything.

There is! Well, thank you so much for your time today. It was great.

Thank you, Whitney. Appreciate it.

New episodes of Surface are available Fridays on Apple TV+.

***This interview has been edited for length and clarity.***

Whitney Evans is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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