Note: This article contains spoilers for “The Orville: New Horizons.”
Longtime fans of “The Orville” likely tuned in to this season’s premiere on Hulu expecting more of the things they’ve come to know and love from the show, like Seth MacFarlane’s trademark humor and practical special effects to create the various aliens that inhabit this universe. However, while those elements were certainly present, “The Orville: New Horizons” turned the volume way up on the long-form dramatic storytelling, engaging character development, and heart-wrenching moments.
One of the best examples of this slight shift in tone was seen in Ensign Charly Burke. Following the Kaylon incursion in season 2, she joined Captain Mercer’s crew for season 3 after her ship was destroyed in the battle. She lost everyone she knew during this fight, including the love of her life, but she remained dedicated to the Planetary Union and reported to her new post with relatively no issue (other than working alongside a Kaylon). And over the course of the third season, she went from vehemently hating Isaac to saving the entire Kaylon race by sacrificing her own life for them.
Though she was only a part of the Orville family for nine incredible episodes, Charly is someone that will leave a lasting impression on both the characters in the show and their audience. Recently, we had a chance to speak with actor Anne Winters about her run on “The Orville: New Horizons” as Ensign Burke. In this conversation, we touch on the initial reception to her divisive character, the things she’ll miss about “The Orville,” and how her last day on set as Charly was almost legitimately her last day on Earth. Plus, we get the inside scoop on what Winters’ former co-star Nic Cage is really like.
I know “The Orville” is a TV show, but it’s still comforting to see you alive and well after Ensign Charly Burke’s heroic exit in the emotional episode titled “Domino.” But she was a bit of a divisive character at first. Since you shot the season so long ago, was it hard to keep her arc secret when fans would question her motives and even call her a “space racist?”
I actually agree. That’s her arc. She is kind of a space racist. She represents someone who judges someone based off of what she’s seen with other people in an entire species. And that was her journey. Was it hard? Not entirely. It’s really easy to just leave out the fact that I die at the end. And this isn’t the first time that I’ve died on shows, so it’s not my first rodeo.
It’s funny because at the beginning, I got so much hate. The space racist. [Laughs] I love it. And then by the end, people were like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to miss her! I had so many tears. I can’t believe it. Is she going to come back?” And it makes me feel really good, because that was the point. I wanted people to really hate me and see some sort of growth to where she ends up in a way more emotionally mature space, and ends up doing what she does.
As an actor, you definitely might have to play people whose views don’t match up with yours. What was your approach to handling Charly’s bias against Isaac?
The hardest part for me was to be really respectful to the captain with my own views. Because I can’t just be this person that’s [insubordinate], I have to still respect authority in a way. [But as Charly, I still] have that vulnerable side and the hurt. But I guess what I’m saying is as an actor, it wasn’t necessarily hard for me to be mean or being angry because I come at it from a different point of view. At the time, her best friend/the girl that she loved died [and she has to serve with] the only Kaylon that she’s ever seen and met. Everyone that she knows is dead because of them. I thought about it like different states in the United States. Everyone has their own rules. Everyone has their own things. She might have been in a place where they didn’t have any Kaylon, so that was where she was coming with it. As an actor, I’m so in the character and thinking in terms of her truth that, as Annie, it’s not really hard to think about it as a different view than mine.
Did you know about Charly’s whole arc when you signed on for “The Orville: New Horizons?” Or did you experience the same emotional rollercoaster that we did as each script came in?
I knew from the very get-go, and that’s a big reason why I took it on. What’s funny is with quarantine, since we film out of order, I knew that I was going to die and we’ve filmed so much and I knew all of my lines for the whole show for like three years. I have this pending death episode with this show that was going to just be a couple months or maybe a year of shooting. Then I would do something else, but it became this whole thing with Covid and everything. Obviously, it turned out well and it’s great, but I was not planning on the pending death to be so stretched out for so long.
I was thinking about dying onscreen and seeing “your” own funeral. I know it’s not you dying and Captain Mercer isn’t eulogizing you, but your face is right there next to him at the memorial. It has to stir up some feelings, right?
Yeah, it’s weird. I mean, obviously I didn’t need to be there, but some people would go to their memorial service scene. I was like, “No, that’s weird.” It’s creepy to see myself on a pedestal and be talked about like that. But a death scene is something that you know it’s coming, but you don’t really think about that throughout your arc because it is in the moment. It is something that you don’t really have going on in your mind throughout a season or it’s not really in your mind until the moment that you’re there. So it was something that I put to the side for the whole season until I was doing that scene. That’s what gives it the realness. You can’t go every day to set thinking, “Oh, I’m going to die at the end.”
What was your last day on set like for you? Was it highly emotional?
It was that day.
Oh, that was it?
Yeah. My last words were “I’m here, Amanda,” and then I wrapped. Actually, the craziest thing was after I was on my way home, I got T-boned.
It was the first time my car had ever been totaled. Some guy ran a red light. It all got handled. I was fine, but it was so creepy and weird that it was like, I had just finished that it was my last day on set and then I’m on my way home and I get hit by a car. That made me a little bit [shaken up].
Oh my gosh. Crazy. Well, now I’m double glad that you’re here in this interview right now.
Yep! Me too. For real.
You’re no stranger to roles that tell a pretty heavy story because of “13 Reasons Why.” How did your experience on “The Orville” differ, and how did “13 Reasons Why” prepare you for that?
That’s hard. I think “13 Reasons Why” was just one of those intense roles after I had the abortion situation [on the show]. Just being that vulnerable or putting yourself in such a situation is preparing you for anything as an actor. I went there and I proved to myself that even what I thought I could do in my head, if you really let yourself go or really trust in the process of this, you end up surprising yourself. That’s really what I took away.
But other than that, the main difference really is the fact that [“13 Reasons Why” was] high school and people wear their emotions on their sleeves. Being able to have those more human conversations and emotions. Whereas with Charly and everybody on the Orville, [they] were trained to be a little bit emotionless with certain things. You’re not put in that situation of being just a normal person. You’re trained for war. At any point in time you could die. It could have been anyone that was put in that position [to save the Kaylon], really. Maybe they wouldn’t have done the same thing, but it’s not super, super crazy shocking for people to go [and do that]. I would say that’s the biggest difference. It’s having that balance between emotions. What is vulnerable? What is real, what really gets to her, and how can I show that without overplaying what I as Annie would really feel in real life? And then maintaining that respect towards the captain when I don’t agree with him? That kind of thing was different.
Also, wearing the same freaking outfit every single day. That was different. On “13 Reasons Why,” I would have different clothes pretty much every episode. I felt like I was back in private school for two school years [on “The Orville”].
Oh, I do not miss private school uniforms.
Oh, you had uniforms too?
Oh yeah. All boys Catholic high school.
Oh, wow. Ours was co-ed, which made it a little bit better.
You also worked on horror comedy “Mom and Dad.” I just gotta ask, what is Nic Cage like as a person and a co-star?
He … is … Nicolas Cage. [Laughs] I don’t know how else to say that. He is definitely out there, but he’s so genuine with his work. He’s very into his work and really a great actor when it comes to respect on set. He wasn’t a diva or anything like that. He was really grounded in that way. Other than that, when it came to his work, you didn’t know what you were going to get. He’s just a firecracker. I don’t know what he’s going to do.
He’s crazy, but I really appreciate him because I’ll never forget the Toronto International Film Festival, it was one of my first things. And even though Selma Blair and Nicolas Cage were one and two on the call sheet, I was in the whole movie. They were doing a lot of interviews and Nicolas Cage was like, “I’m not doing any interview without Annie with us because she is the star of this movie.” And I was like, “Aw, that’s so sweet!” I was so appreciative of him.
But yeah, if you see [“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”], that’s pretty much [him].
Season 3 of “The Orville” was filled with banger episodes, and Charly was right in the middle of most of them. Did you have a favorite one to work on?
My favorite episode to work on was when Isaac is in human form. [“Twice In A Lifetime”], when we go down to the planet and we’re in human uniform and we do the biker bar. The biker bar was so fun, then going to the real estate agent and having our conversation. I love the line, “We just broke up.” I just thought that was just a funny scenario.
That was probably my favorite episode to work on. Also, it took me out of the normal day-to-day routine of being on the bridge and stuff like that. It’s always fun to go to a planet or be on set of something else. That, and I would say any scene that I had with Victor Garber and Ted Danson. They are people that I looked up to before I even knew I wanted to be an actor and just working alongside them was really cool.
And Ted dies as well! And not [in a good way, so] people are talking about him. But he’s fun to work with.
Being on a sci-fi show, you expect there to be certain tropes over the run of a series like time travel and meeting aliens. Considering what happened to Charly, are there any sci-fi experiences from “The Orville” that you’re sad to miss out on now?
It is space, so I can come back in many ways.
Maybe not as even Charly, I don’t know. But there’s always possibilities and we’ve definitely been in talks for if there is a season 4. It’s not that you would maybe never, ever see me again.
Just in general, I’m just going to miss working with the crew and being on the bridge and having that almost summer camp-like vibe on set that you don’t really get on every show. The sci-fi part? That really all comes together by watching it. On set, you don’t really get to see all the cool things that you might think I would miss while being on a sci-fi show. Other than Isaac having that robot costume on every day.
You mentioned summer camp and that scene at the cabin where you’re singing with Scott Grimes definitely reminded me of summer camp. Were you disappointed that you didn’t get to sing with Seth?
Our voices may not sound [as good together]. Seth has such a powerhouse voice. You would never hear me. That would’ve been nice to sing with both of them, [but] Seth is better on his own. I don’t want to sing next to him. That’s just putting me in a really bad position. But Scott, our voices just went well together. And actually, we’re in talks about doing another song together for something else that he’s doing, so I would love to sing with him again.
That would be great. You sounded great together.
What are some qualities of Ensign Charly Burke that you hope to carry with you after playing her? And what do you hope the audience takes away from her story?
I think people make judgments based off their experiences and just judge people even if they’ve [never] met them. So really taking people as they are and getting to know people and accepting and allowing different people to show you who they are without going in with a preconceived idea. That’s a very human thing that everyone does. That would be like the most basic thing [I’d want everyone to take away]. I’m sure I could think about a lot others, but in the moment, that’s kind of the overall trajectory of that.
Seeing Charly’s journey over the course of this season was so emotional. With each episode moving forward, we learn more about Charly and see that she’s a very authentic person and we get where she’s coming from. So she’s come a long way from space racist.
That was kind of the thing that I learned [from her]. Not be so hardhearted and judgmental and allow yourself to be open to people and be vulnerable. Like when she says sorry? That was a big moment for her. [She’s] taking responsibility [for her words and actions].
The season finale of “The Orville: New Horizons” is streaming on Hulu now.