'The Expanse': Dominique Tipper on Naomi's 'Beautiful' First Moments on Ilus in Season 4

Emily Hannemann
Q&A Amazon Prime

If setting foot on Ilus is a big deal for Holden (Steven Strait), Amos (Wes Chatham) and Alex (Cas Anvar) in Season 4 of The Expanse, it’s a life-changing event for Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper).

As a Belter who grew up on space stations and spent her whole life in the expanse (ha!) between planets, Naomi has never taken a step on solid ground, so to speak. There’s a good reason for that, as we saw in Season 1: Belters’ bodies really, seriously aren’t equipped to handle atmosphere and the crushing gravity that comes with it. Nonetheless, Naomi makes the decision that she’s going to see Ilus with her crewmates… a choice that, to hear her portrayer discuss it, sounds both incredibly worthwhile and incredibly painful.

We chatted with Tipper about how Naomi will prepare to see New Terra, how she’ll react to the latest Earthers vs. Belters conflict, whether we’ll see any Drummer and Naomi interaction this season and more.

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This season marks the first time Naomi’s set foot on a planet. As a Belter who didn’t grow up with atmosphere, how is she going to prepare for that experience?

Dominique Tipper: I think what’s really cool is that through Naomi, we get to see the process of what it is like for a Belter to prepare to enter atmosphere. It’s a really, really brutal process that takes a whole bunch of working out to get the heart stronger, there are bone density drugs that have to be injected into all of the long bones — it’s a huge challenge, physically and mentally. You’ve really gotta want to do it, first of all! But also, I think it shows quite a few things; firstly, how brutal it is for Belters to go on Earth and calling back to that scene (in Season 1) where Avasarala is torturing the Belter, and also how desperate Belters would be to want to carve something new out for themselves and break from the oppression they experience with Earth. I think we see that through Naomi this season, what it takes and what the cost is for Belters.

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You kind of touched on my next question there — one of the major conflicts of this season is Belters vs. Earthers on Ilus. I imagine that’s going to strike a nerve with Naomi. Can you tease how she’s going to react to that?

I think that’s partly why she wants to go to Ilus when the guys are like, “You can stay on the ship and survey everything from up here.” She’s the only Belter in the crew, and she knows they have a lack of understanding — for how lovely they are, they have a lack of understanding of the Belter experience. She wants to make sure she is there as a kind of intermediary for the Belters.

Naomi’s biggest gripe is injustice, and rightly so. So I think for her, there’s a knowledge of what Earthers are like and she wants to be there to stop anything from going a bit sideways. So, yeah, I think Naomi’s for sure going to take the side of the Belters because that’s who she is in her core and in her heart, and she’s sick of the way Earth treats Belters. But she’s also not an extremist, so it’s quite a challenge for her. As it always is. [laughs]

Are we going to see any interactions between Naomi and Drummer this season? Their moments were some of people’s favorite things about Season 3.

Yes, we do. We definitely see an interaction between them, yeah! I just don’t want to say what that is.

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I know you addressed this at Comic-Con, but for those who haven’t seen that footage, how did you go about playing Naomi’s first moments on a planet?

I thought about what it would be like as a sensory experience for her. How overwhelming and how awe-inspiring it is for her. That’s a really beautiful moment, where everything she’s worked for and was preparing for comes to fruition. But I think it’s probably much more than she ever could have imagined, which I think is a really nice thing to witness; what she had in her mind and what it actually is for her. I think she thinks it’s one of the most beautiful things she’s ever seen, like it probably would be if you stepped onto Earth for the first time. I mean, maybe not right now, but. [laughs] Stepping onto a planet for the first time has got to be one of the most beautiful things your eyes have ever seen.

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If I’m remembering what you said correctly, some of those scenes were greenscreen, right?

That scene in particular was all greenscreen, apart from where we stepped out from and the tunnel. But the rest of it was greenscreen, yeah. It really requires a lot of imagination, and Breck (Eisner) yelling direction at me and helping me with all the different beats. It was quite a challenge!

What aspects of Naomi’s story are you most excited for fans to see this season?

I’m really excited for people to see her relationship with Lucia, who is played by Rosa Gilmore — how they relate in terms of what they’ve been through, and in terms of what Lucia’s going through, and how Naomi emphasizes with that. There’s a really beautiful scene in episode 5 that I’m excited for people to see. Her journey on Ilus is really interesting, and her being in between this kind of Earther-vs.-Belter situation and how that plays out for her and how she chooses to go about it. I really enjoy it, and it very much speaks to who Naomi is and who she’s always been.

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The element of vulnerability that comes from her physicality being challenged, I think, is a really nice thing for people to see because we’ve never really seen her like that before. And also her being comfortable in her relationship with Holden, which I don’t think we’ve seen before. I think they have some of the most beautiful moments we’ve ever seen between them, and me and Steven (Strait) both really loved that about this season. I’m excited for ‘Nolden’ fans to see that, too!

The Expanse, Season 4 Premiere, Friday, December 13, Amazon Prime Video