For All Mankind Star Reveals the Secret to Delivering a Shocking Plot Twist
Wrenn Schmidt reveals her trick to keeping things surprising in For All Mankind.
In For All Mankind, there are perhaps fewer secrets and mystery boxes than other prestige TV shows. Refreshingly, the vast majority of tension in the series is derived from simply seeing what happens next, rather than some previously concealed detail hidden from the audience. That said, since Season 2, the series has sported a complex and emotional espionage plot, much of which revolves around the character of Margo Madison, a longtime NASA official, who, after faking her own demise at the end of Season 3, is working for the USSR space program Roscosmos in Season 4.
Played by the incisive and brilliant Wrenn Schmidt, Margo is one of the least likely characters you’d expect to find at the center of an aerospace spy web. And yet, because of Margo’s likability and vast intelligence, her journey from wide-eyed space enthusiast to hard-nosed realist is one of the most compelling things about the series. But, after playing Margo for four seasons (and four decades in the show’s timeline) how much did Wrenn Schmidt know about her character’s twisty journey?
Chatting with Inverse head of the release of Episode 7, “Crossing the Line,” Schmidt lays out her secret for keeping Margo’s tragic journey fresh and, crucially, believable. Mild spoilers ahead.
While some cast members of For All Mankind welcomed advanced knowledge of the character’s trajectories, Schmidt tells Inverse that she “never” wants to get her scripts too far in advance. When asked how much she knew about Margo’s Season 4 fate Schmidt says “Zero.”
“If I can, I don't like to know what's coming,” Schmidt explains. “I didn't want to know what the trajectory was. I didn't actually want to know anything about the larger plans until the beginning of Season 3. Sometimes I’ve needed to know that larger playing field of what’s going on. But, you know [showrunners] Matt [Wolpert] and Ben [Nedivi] that still sometimes change things.”
Unlike co-star Jodi Balfour, who learned that the endpoint for her character Ellen Wilson when she was hired in 2019, Schmidt says that part of maintaining the realism for Margo’s journey is being surprised herself, as an actor, and using that in her performance. “I don't think this is a sexy, exciting answer, but I have to play moment to moment, or a scene to scene. What does this person know or not know and what else is going on around me? I feel like that's really the biggest component — just understanding what's new or what's not supposed to be hidden, and then getting to play on set with how that tracks, how the audience might see that.”
For longtime fans of the show, Margo has had experiences that aren’t comparable to the other characters. In Season 1, she’s a junior NASA worker, wide-eyed and idealistic, when she learns that her mentor Wernher von Braun had ties to the Nazi party. In Season 2, she pushes NASA to go forward with Soviet cooperation, resulting in Danielle Poole’s heroic choice to go forward with the handshake in space, even though NASA is trying to shut it down.
“She’s always seen the bigger picture,” Schmidt says of Margo’s almost cosmopolitan, apolitical views of spaceflight progress. “The handshake in space would have never happened if Margo hadn’t been back-channeling with Ellen to get more time. She sees the value in working with Sergei. She’s also trying to prevent World War III!”
In Season 4, Margo spends the first part of the season utterly isolated as a political prisoner in the USSR, and then later, is embroiled in a coup that results in a former KGB leader in charge of the Soviet space program. Margo is both a pawn in all of this, but also somebody who changes the game behind the scenes. But, with the character in her sixties, could Wrenn Schmidt continue to play Margo in Season 5? If the next season jumps to the 2010s, where could Margo find herself? Maybe on Mars?
“Wow, Margo on Mars? I don’t know,” Schmidt says, surprised by the prospect. “It’s fun to think about, but I haven't thought about it too much. I think one of the coolest things about Season 4 was that we saw so much more of her private life. So, I would be curious if you got to see a little bit more of that; if we got to tell the story for another season.”