The premise of the show is as follows: 17-year-old Sasha Yazzie (Rose) suffers a seemingly random heart attack on the eve she is meant to lose her virginity to her very cute and sweet boyfriend TJ (Griffin Powell-Arcand). A wealthy and attractive family from a town over (a bougie New Age area called Crystal Valley) donates their daughter Becky's (Lilliya Scarlett Reid) heart to save Sasha's life. The Yazzies — Sasha and her guardian, uncle Big Frank Yazzie (Marcus LaVoi) — and the LeFevres — Ben, his grieving and compassionate wife Nancy (Uma Thurman), and their son, Becky's twin, Elliot (Nicholas Galitzine) — are now linked by this organ, and the developing mysteries around it.
Over the course of 10 episodes, the truth about the circumstances of Becky's death, and the chilling reality of Sasha's new life with her used heart, are slowly revealed. It's a thrilling show that intertwines the supernatural with spirituality and horror with romance. It'll also have you thinking, "Fitz, Who?" Yes, Goldwyn is at his finest here as the sort-of evil, extremely tanned father who takes Sasha under his wing as she adjusts to her new heart (and new life).
Ben may be a part of a ritualistic New Age cult, but he can get it! He's a full crystal-toting, yoga-doing, sage-burning Zaddy. (Specifically in episode 3 — you'll see.)
I felt it my journalistic duty to warn Goldwyn that everyone was about to be obsessed with him, due to a shirtless meditation scene that would convince anyone to join a spiritual group in Arizona that may or may not be interacting with an otherworldly evil. But hey, Ben is a complicated character, and we are allowed to have complicated feelings about him.
This interview contains mild spoilers for season 1 of Chambers, now streaming on Netflix.
Refinery29: You could have picked any show after Scandal. What made you choose Chambers?
Tony Goldwyn: "I got asked to do this right after we finished Scandal and I thought Leah [Rachel]'s script was super smart and well-written. I really loved the fact that the cast is so diverse, and that it took a genre model, but made it feel very real and organic. For a while you're not sure what's going on with Sasha — is it physiological or is it supernatural? And I was a big fan of Alfonso Gomez. It was just the people [involved] and that it was a Netflix show that was cool and different. I thought, 'This will be an interesting challenge.'"
How much did you know about this New Age culture? Is that something that you are into yourself?
"No, not really. I've had some exposure to it in the 80s...I dabbled in that stuff a little bit. It wasn't something that really grabbed me, but I've experienced the intense fervor that people have for those things. And then I've practiced yoga for many years so that is something that I actually am into and find great value in. I did research on these types of alternative spiritual communities and I found it pretty fascinating. Modern spiritual practices and communities — I never gotten into it, but I have friends who were deeply into it. I've always been kind of fascinated by that."
I wanted to talk to you specifically about one scene that we see a flash of in the trailer, where your character is doing these intense, ritualistic breathing exercises. Can you tell me everything about that scene?
"That scene was originally written to end with [me being] stark naked."
"It said, 'Bens folds his clothes, and he is naked. He does these breathing exercises and has an intense breakdown as he is doing it.' I was like, 'Okay. Alright.' Then my lawyer was calling me about a nudity rider, and [asking] if it was in my contract. And I was curious, is that thing? Naked meditation and naked yoga? It was unspecific in the script, and just an idea of what they wanted: I was walking around during a smoke ritual, surrounded by smoke, and doing this whole thing. So I Googled 'naked meditation' and 'naked yoga.' [Laughs] And if you watch it, it is the most ridiculous thing and not remotely sexy.
So, then I was talking to Leah [Rachel], and I was like, 'Explain to me how this works, why is he doing this.' I didn't object if it was necessary, I just did not get why he had to be naked. So Leah and I, and the episode's director, were talking about what exactly it was, and I thought that a Kundalini breathing practice would be really realistic and interesting. The scene was a hybrid of yoga experiences that I've had with Kundalini combined with a smoke ritual, and then a grieving father. That's ultimately what it was about for me: a man trying to purge himself and grasp desperately to whatever rituals he has in his toolbox to try and manage this terrible grief and traumatic guilty which ends with him burning himself [with sage]."
Are you on Twitter? Have you seen that people are already obsessed with that scene?
"I haven't, but my daughter is like, 'Dad, you do that in real life...'"
Wait, do you really do that in real life?
"No, she teases me a little bit because we'll do yoga together because as an actor breath work is very useful and helpful. I do meditate, and sometimes one looks a little silly doing that."
Have you heard of the term "Zaddy"?
"No, what is it?"
It's an adult man, specifically one who is also a father figure, who has really good style and really good swag, and a powerful energy. I think that your character is specifically a Crystal Zaddy, and I wanted to make sure you approved of it.
"Zaddy, okay. Sure!"
Are you into crystals?
"I am not into crystals. I have never understood them, but props to people who are. I have a sister who is madly into crystals and has them everywhere and honestly gets great benefits from them, but it's never made any sense to me. One time someone gave me this beautiful crystal and was like 'Just carry this with you at all times, and you will feel transformed by him.' So, I kept in my pocket for a while and I was like 'Hmm... not so much.' But Ben is someone who really believes in that stuff.
As an actor, you create a backstory for your characters, and Leah had a really specific backstory for him, which we never really get into in the show. Ben had a rather traumatic childhood and ended up without parents and then ended up being adopted as a teenager by a wealthier family. He was quite the rockstar and a high achiever, but he needed a spiritual practice to save his life. If you've watched some of the episodes then you know that Lili Taylor's character [Ruth] and Matt Rogers character [Evan] are Ben's best friends. He and Evan were like brothers, and Evan's family really rescued him and brought him into this church [the Annex Foundation]. He's had a perfect life until all of this happened."
You directed episode 9, which is a huge episode for your character. Can you tell me about that experience?
"The great challenge for me was that it was mainly an episode about Sasha and Nancy and the two of them are literally sitting in a box most of the episode. So, how do we do that in a way that's dynamic and visually interesting? How do we build the drama? Because it is also the penultimate episode — all the threads from the season are coming together before all hell breaks loose, in addition to it being Ben's climax.
"We had a great cinematographer who came in just for that episode, Ben Gallagher, who had so many ideas about how to use those reflections of the video and to keep it very surreal. It was a really interesting challenge and a testament to the fact these two really wonderful actresses. I understood what the road map was, and I just had to dive in and make sure that it worked."
I love this episode because of the way you used the house and its architecture. I feel like the house is a character in itself, too, especially with that gorgeous view. Is that real?
"No, no, that's all special effects. It was on a stage. They used these amazing LCD panels that have an image projected through them, so they had an image of the haboob projected, that big storm comes [in episode 1]. For the meditation scene, they just used a classic translight, just a photographic image of the desert outside. It was a fairly conventional set in that way."
That scene of the haboob rolling in at the end of episode 1 is when the show really hooked me. I had never seen anything like it.
"I think it's cool. I think people will like it — Sasha's world feels very authentic and cool, and very real to me."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.