Actress Shantel VanSanten stars on the Apple TV+ sci-fi drama series, ‘For All Mankind.’

Exploring the change in historical trajectory usually surprises people, as the process can often times suddenly and unexpectedly alter their perception on their life views and beliefs. That’s certainly the case for the cast and their characters, and will also surely be the case for viewers, of the upcoming sci-fi series, ‘For All Mankind.’

Actress Shantel VanSanten, who considers herself to be a strong, modern woman, grew to embrace her classic late 1960s American housewife on the drama, which explores what would have happened if the global space race never ended. The show follows NASA astronauts, engineers and their families as they find themselves in the center of extraordinary events, seen through the lens of an alternate history timeline, in a world in which the USSR beat the U.S. to the moon.

Apple TV+ is set to exclusively premiere ‘For All Mankind’ on November 1, with subsequent episodes of the 10-episode first season airing weekly on Fridays. The streaming service’s original drama was created by Emmy Award-winner, Ronald D. Moore, Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert.

‘For All Mankind’ follows Soviet cosmonaut, Alexei Leonov, as he becomes the first human to land on the Moon. His landing devastates morale at NASA, but also catalyzes an American effort to catch up. With the Soviet Union emphasizing diversity by including a woman in subsequent landings, the U.S. is forced to do the same. So NASA decides to train women and minorities who were largely excluded from the initial decades of American space exploration.

After their training, NASA’s recent first all-female spacewalk was considered a success, in a well-timed launch with astronauts Ellen Waverly (Jodi Balfour), Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones), Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) and Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall). The series also stars Joel Kinnaman in the lead role of fictionalized NASA astronaut, Edward Baldwin, and VanSanten plays his wife, Karen.

VanSanten generously took the time to participate in a roundtable interview last weekend to talk about the sci-fi show’s first season at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center during New York Comic Con 2019. Among other things, the actress discussed how the drama is about America’s progress through NASA’s space program during the Space Race, and how Karen’s the character who the story gauges the country’s progress against. She also shared that in the beginning of production, she didn’t feel as though she could relate to her character at all, but by the end of filming, she wanted to be Karen.

The conversation began with VanSanten delving into who her character is on the series. “I play Karen Baldwin. Since Joel’s not here, I can say that I’m the better half of the relationship that is Edward and Karen Baldwin,” she said with a laugh. “It’s difficult being asked this question, because I have to put a label on who Karen is, which is an astronaut’s wife. But she’s not a character who we’ve ever seen before.

“I’ve never seen a show that has astronauts’ wives before,” the actress admitted. “So I was able to start from scratch, and use history to help build the story that I knew we wanted to tell. That was both challenging and rewarding, and not typical in my mind.”

VanSanten then delved into the fact that “The show is about the progress that comes about because of loss…We tell the (NASA moon landing) story in a way that makes us think about if we lost, and had to overcome that. Would we have made these positive changes?,” she pondered. “I think that trickles down to every single character in the telling of their story.

“I would say that Karen’s the one we anchor in the past, and gauge our progress against. That was a really big challenge for me,” the performer revealed, “because we so badly want to keep up with the times. So to get into the mindset of a woman whose role is to be so proud of something that I, as a modern woman, wouldn’t be so proud of,” was a challenge.

VanSanten also divulged that “I didn’t love Karen in the beginning, but by the end of filming, I loved her. I can’t tell you how many people put a label on her in the beginning, but by the end of filming, would tell me they were crying as they were driving home because of her.”

The actress added that “It’s an interesting lesson about empathy for me, and finding ways to relate to people, especially when we don’t always like them. We all struggle, and fight through all that we have going on.”

VanSanten also noted that “I looked at Ed and Karen as these perfect marvel statues in the beginning of the season. But as the episodes progressed, they slowly began to crack and crumble, until they shattered and broke. It was heartbreaking to watch their story unfold as the world changed, and people went through what they went through. Any assumptions I initially had about her shattered.

“That was all because of the brilliant minds of (creators) Ronald, Ben and Matt. The way they craft stories, especially in the history, alternate reality and space genres, and interweave characters, particularly women, is amazing,” the performer continued.

“I get chills every time I watch the trailer. There’s this modern feminist in me that’s like, we can show the progress we’ve made through this trailer,” VanSanten added.

Wearing the costumes from the Space Race era also helped the actress relate to her character of Karen during filming. “I had a joke with Joel that he was sexy grandpa, and I was sexy grandma,” she shared with a laugh. “You would feel like (the costumes) would age you. I would say, ‘I look like my grandmother. This is crazy!,’ because that was her era and identity.

“I think there’s something interesting about giving people this identity that’s grounded in an era, and then changing it,” VanSanten also revealed. “We’ve made progress in that respect.

“My fittings were my favorite thing. My wardrobe was influenced by what (Karen) was emotionally going through. Making choices about the clothing, in terms of the colors, material and fit, based on what the character’s emotionally going through,” was an important part of the historical show, the performer also divulged. She then called ‘For All Mankind’s costume designer, Jill M. Ohanneson, brilliant, and “we would come up with the coolest ideas.

“I adored making this show, and making period pieces in general, because you fully step out of yourself. I thought in the beginning of production, no part of me is in the character of Karen. But by the end of filming, I thought, I want to be Karen, and that was so surprising to me, because I would never have thought that in the beginning,” VanSanten concluded.

Photo of Shantel VanSanten
Shantel VanSanten
Job Title
Actress on Apple TV's sci-fi drama series, 'For All Mankind'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *