The following contains some light spoilers for Utopia.
The more common question in Utopia might be “Where is Jessica Hyde?” but “Who is Jessica Hyde?” is just as pressing. Is she friend or foe? Protagonist or antagonist? In the Amazon series, she’s both the star of a mysterious comic book that foretells viruses, biowarfare and man-made diseases, and a real person. She’s the young woman at the center of Utopia’s mystery and, as played by Sasha Lane, she’s what happens when a unique character meets a powerhouse actor.
Getting to know Jessica Hyde means understanding that she is in a fight for her life. A mysterious organization has been pursuing her for as long as she can remember. Escaping them and going on the run, first with her father and then without, transformed her into a feral yet complicated person.
“I appreciated this kind of feral cat energy about her, and I admired it, and I loved it, but I also appreciated and wanted to really put the energy out there that she is still human,” Lane tells Den of Geek and other press. “So, as much as I want you to fear her, I also want you to feel for her. It might take a second, which I understand, but it’s going to be there.”
It’s hard for Jessica to tell if she’s the villain or the hero of the story most of the time, because she’s always in fight-mode. She commands those around her with an iron grip and will kill anyone in her way without hesitation.
“I think there’s something so cool about playing a character that you can’t quite tell is the hero or the villain,” Lane says. “I admire it. I understand. I get it. Survival mode – she did what she had to do… So I just constantly wanted to keep both energies in the same person, because I think that’s actually very human and very important to her and her story and all of it.”
Sasha Lane has had a bright career in her short time as an actor. After being discovered by British director Andrea Arnold for American Honey, she’s gone on to star in many different roles that have tested her abilities. She’s worked opposite actors like Nick Offerman in Hearts Beat Loud and Chloë Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and has gone on to work in fantasy, horror, and big franchises like Hellboy. She’s even rumored to be working on Disney+’s Marvel streaming series Loki, starring Tom Hiddleston.
One of the most unforgettable scenes in Utopia involves Jessica Hyde, pointing a gun at her cohorts while peeing standing up. A believer in constant vigilance, Jessica wants her companions to fear and respect her. This moment cemented that fact. It also shows us a side of the character that we don’t often get to see when it comes to women; one where she plays power moves and succeeds without being called rude, crass, or unladylike.
For Lane, this bathroom scene was far from normal. At first the challenge was about just standing in the right position. “At the time we had Toby (Haynes) directing and I definitely had to let him know the position you think I can get in, isn’t the most normal position for a female peeing with her leg up on the toilet. So we had to find a kind of good point there.”
As the scene in the bathroom progressed it also challenged Lane to not break at the absurdity of the scenario. “It took everything in me not to crack up while staring directly in their eyes while peeing,” Lane says. “But I think that’s also kind of like one of those things and I’m like, what a badass! I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to do that. I really want to keep this gun trained on you,’ and Toby was like making the little faces… but I also think it’s such an iconic scene that I was like, all right, we got to do this. We do have to do this.”
Stepping into Jessica’s shoes brought with it a temptation to learn more about the version of her already out there, played by Fiona O’Shaughnessy. The Amazon Prime version of Utopia is based on a Channel 4 show of the same name. Released in 2013, the U.K. show followed the same track as the US series. A group of people meet online, get pulled into a dangerous game when they discover a bizarre graphic novel that everyone wants to get at, because of the secrets its pages hold.
“I watched a couple episodes when I was working on auditioning, but I think it’s at that point, you’re like, okay, U.K. version. So sick, everyone really did their part, but this is now a new version.”
Lane says she’s grateful to have the original version as a stepping off point, but this is Gillian Flynn’s take on the story.
“This is Gillian’s version. This is our version. And so there’s no good in watching someone’s movements and in how they play something, when one, it could affect you and two, in a way it has nothing to do with what you’re about to do. You know? So I just immediately was like, all right, cool, cool, cool. But I’m not watching [any more] of this.”
Sasha Lane is just as headstrong as Jessica, albeit considerably less violent. And with every move, step, or play of a scene, she further cements the fact that there is room in the world of Utopia for more.