The Expanse’s Keon Alexander and Dominique Tipper on Marco and Naomi’s Toxic Past and Present

The Expanse’s Keon Alexander and Dominique Tipper on Marco and Naomi’s Toxic Past and Present
Keon Alexander as Marco Inaros on The Expanse. (Image: Amazon Studios)
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As The Expanse continues on Amazon, viewers are starting to get an up-close look at the most contentious relationship the show has ever seen, as bitter exes Naomi Nagata (Dominque Tipper) and Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) are forced into an uneasy reunion. If you want to know more, you’re in luck! Gizmodo just so happened to speak with the actors recently.

Making matters even tenser, the characters have a teenage son together, Filip (Jasai Chase Owens), who Naomi hopes to save from his father’s bad influence — though Marco starts off season five by attacking Earth with stealth asteroids and causing all kinds of other chaos throughout the system. At a recent Expanse press day, we spoke to Tipper and Alexander about the ongoing clash between Naomi and Marco.

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Cheryl Eddy, Gizmodo: Over the years we’ve seen Naomi and Holden build this strong, supportive partnership. But in this season she must face Marco, who is pretty much the ultimate toxic ex. How did you guys work together to bring that fraught relationship to life?

Dominique Tipper: I think at the core of Marco and Naomi’s toxicity is quite a deep, passionate — and probably also toxic as well — young love. The line between love and hate for them is very thin, genuinely. I think what makes their scenes so strained and tense is the fact that they were very in love, and it was raw and it was messy. That’s transferred over into their disdain of each other. So we kind of led with that, and I think that was definitely the core of it.

Keon Alexander: Marco is somebody who’s quite intelligent and strategic, and therefore wears a lot of masks. And here comes somebody he encounters from a young age that he falls for. His walls don’t hold her back. He feels completely seen by her and therefore is vulnerable. So this is a situation where all of the control that he’s able to exert as a rebel, as a freedom fighter, and now, as we see in season five, a true leader — this is a person who breaks through all that just with her gaze, just by virtue of being who she is.

It is a loss of control that he is not used to, and so the drama, the explosiveness, the unknowns that come from that are by virtue of him being in his most uncomfortable place: loss of control, loss of his “front,” loss of the charade that he has put on for everyone. So it’s very revealing, it’s very vulnerable. And it’s bound to get dramatic because you’re being exposed in ways that you never want to be.

Naomi (Dominique Tipper) looks at an image of her son for the first time in years. (Image: Amazon Studios) Naomi (Dominique Tipper) looks at an image of her son for the first time in years. (Image: Amazon Studios)

io9: Do you consider Marco to be a villain?

Alexander: I’m sorry, you were breaking up so I couldn’t really hear the “v-word.” I don’t really know what that v-word is, uh, it’s not really in my lexicon. [Laughs.] I think any time I approach a character as an actor, I connect first and foremost to the heart of who they are. I mean, I feel like, if we can see the child within the adult you can really get a sense of the circumstances, the trauma, the situations that lead to where they are. So my connection to him is through empathy and through seeing the psychological and emotional layers because he is a really layered human — the [Expanse] books do a really good job of giving us insight into his psychology and his emotions.

But I see his personal psychology and his trauma and his history as deeply related, very much creating the vehicle for him becoming the leader that he is. I think that a lot of times when we’re taught history or we’re taught about heroes in the past, we learn about their actions or about the events that have ripples in our society, but we don’t learn about the steps that lead up to it, or the personality traits, the traumas that actually fit perfectly with their calling in society and remained intertwined through the course of their journey. I think that the writers — Ty [Franck] and Daniel [Abraham], and on the show, and the showrunner Naren [Shankar] — have done a really good job of showing us how [Marco’s] personal weaknesses, or traumas, or faults intertwine perfectly with his leadership role.

He’s definitely a hero in his own mind and he definitely has very strong principles — he believes in justice, he believes that it’s possible to rectify the structural injustices as he sees them in the galaxy. A lot of those traits are heroic. So I would question our black-and-white view of somebody when we label them with that v-word which you used that I couldn’t hear. [Laughs.] I would question it because if we were to see the multidimensional aspects of a human I don’t think we would ever use that word on anyone.

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io9: There’s another element to Marco and Naomi’s relationship that we have to discuss, of course — their son, Filip. How would you describe Marco’s parenting style? And do you think Naomi is surprised by how much like his father he’s become?

Tipper: I think firstly there’s something about the way Jasai [Chase Owens] was cast — very genius-ly, he looks very much like our son. [Laughs.] But I think [Naomi] seeing him look like her, but be like his father, is kind of a knife turn. In a way, it leads Naomi to fight for this idea that there’s some of her in him, or there’s a softness there — that [Filip] is not all [Marco].

From Naomi’s point of view, she has a radicalised son. I think she’s naive in the way that she goes into it, in thinking that it’s just going to be fine; she’s been an absent mother, not necessarily through any fault of her own since he was taken from her. But from his point of view, he’s like “You haven’t been here, and this is what my dad has told me.” So just to deal with that — and then trying to chip away at his radicalisation proves much more difficult than she thought it would be. I think she underestimated that he is very much his father’s son. It’s a rude awakening for her, and I think it’s something she hopes she can succeed in — but it’s just a very illogical moment for Naomi, the whole thing is very emotional, and we just don’t see her doing things from that place.

The results of it are what they are — you’ll see when you watch — but it’s traumatic and I don’t think she’s OK with Marco’s parenting, hence why she’s there. I don’t think she has any right to have much of an opinion about it, in a way.

Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) on his father's ship, the Pella. (Image: Amazon Studios) Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) on his father's ship, the Pella. (Image: Amazon Studios)

io9: Filip is hardly glad to see his mother when she comes to find him, but you can still sense that Marco feels threatened by what effect Naomi might have on his own relationship with Filip.

Alexander: As a single father, Marco has invested a lot in this young human. But there’s an even greater layer to it in that so much of Marco’s life has been dedicated to his vision to carrying out certain strategic missions that he believes are possible, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to achieve them. And that’s to secure a particular type of future for his son and the next generation of Belters so that they don’t have to grow up like he has. They don’t have to suffer in the way that Belters have been suffering. To shift something at the structural level so that they are not constantly disadvantaged just by virtue of existing in the galaxy.

A lot of that rides on Filip, so the stakes are very, very high. He is the heir to the throne. He has been groomed from childhood to be Marco 2.0 — to be the one who will carry the torch once Marco can no longer do it. So to have the person who he feels most vulnerable around, and who he feels most seen by, all of a sudden to come and challenge the connection between him and his son, to maybe create a little bit of a wedge, and also to affect the amount of control he has over his son, is very, very triggering.

So that’s a part of the explosiveness of this season: the complicating factors that Naomi brings to the moves, the chess pieces that Marco has had in place, ready, with all the back-up plans — Naomi being inserted was not one of them.

New episodes of The Expanse hit Amazon on Wednesdays.

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