When you’re well over 300 years old you’re not inclined to listen to the advice of many others. When you’re the only leader that the witches on Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem have ever known, then you’re really not going to be open for suggestions. General Sarah Alder (Lyne Renee), the highest-ranking officer in the Armed Forces on Motherland, is starting to get questioned on decisions she’s made of late, but she remains set on her vision and the tactics she wants to use to take down the Spree.
One of those questionable decisions came during last week’s episode as Alder flat out lied about the true nature of the hostages in her statement. That will only cause distrust to grow among her recruits this week, as Raelle (Taylor Hickson), Abigail (Ashley Nicole Williams), and Tally (Jessica Sutton) make even more new discoveries about their general. The closest person to Alder, Anacostia (Demetria McKinney), is even starting to see her in a new light and tension may be headed their way as well.
Only two episodes remain in Motherland’s first season, and The TV Junkies recently spoke to Belgium-born Renee to gain even more insight into Alder’s positions and beliefs. She detailed her approach to playing such a strong, confident character as Alder, as well as how Alder may handle the distrust that seems to be making its way through her ranks. Renee also takes us behind the scenes to share how some of Motherland’s magic, including Alder’s approach for staying young, works and is pulled off.
The TV Junkies: Alder is such a presence on screen and has such an imposing stance. How did you go about embodying that and bringing her to life?
Lyne Renee: It took a lot! I am the opposite of Alder and when I read the audition for her it really scared me. To portray a woman that has led for such a long time, that carries such knowledge, and is a witch on top of that, it requires such confidence and gravitas. For me, I wanted to play her as an introvert and keep everything on the outside quiet. No emotion or reaction. She’s in this gaze of being because she’s been doing this for so long. Posture was very important for me and I remember my body hurting every day after shooting on set. I would jerk those shoulders straight back and hook my hands at the back of my body.
I remember one of my first scenes when shooting the pilot was in the amphitheater when Alder is addressing all her recruits. You audition, send the tape, and that’s one thing, but then you get the part and have to go stand there and be their general. I nearly had a panic attack before that scene. I went into this restroom behind set and said, ‘Get yourself together. You’ve got to go out there and be that general. You’ve got to literally just do that.’ After two to three weeks, I wouldn’t small talk with people, and would just stay and be this Alder figure. People would start to say, ‘Good morning, General,’ and I’d think, ‘I’ve got her. They believe me as the General.’
It was wonderful but truly one of the toughest things to do. I didn’t want to make her sexual and for me, that was very important. So she has her hair all the way back and there’s nothing there. She’s just this rudimental leader who has a serious task and is saving her kind. She takes it very seriously, it’s her life, and it’s what makes her tick.
TTVJ: Do you find that you’ve taken Alder’s confidence off screen into your own life at all?
LR: Oh my god, you know what? Absolutely! She’s given me power and it’s something that we as women shouldn’t question anymore. We should stand up for ourselves because we have a voice. With this character I feel like I have more of a voice than I’ve ever had, and even in the creative process. I had the pleasure of working together with the most incredible Eliot Laurence [creator] who wrote the series and brought it to life, along with Kevin Messick [executive producer], and some of the most incredible directors. We have done this together and were all very intrigued with who Alder was, where she came from, what her loss was, and how she got shaped into the woman she is today. I wanted to do that right. Even though she seems so out of the world, she is still relatable. That was important and she was an incredible challenge that way.
TTVJ: You mention people calling you “General” on set, and Alder certainly isn’t the most comforting person to the three cadets at the center of Motherland, but what was your relationship like off screen with Taylor, Ashley, and Jessica?
LR: The first few months I didn’t really engage with the girls. The first scene they were in my office and literally shaking in their boots and that was important for me to set that. After that, these girls became some of the most important friends in my life. They are my younger sisters. I call them now and am checking in on them and seeing how they are. Thank god for Facetime! They are like my daughters, sisters, and my girls. They are my mentors and I’m theirs. They are my teachers and I’m the student and vice versa. That’s the great thing about having all these different generations on set. If anything, we’re a family and we take care of each other.
TTVJ: On screen however, the girls are starting to grow more and more distrustful of Alder, especially after her lie in her statement about the Spree and the hostages. How does she handle people having doubts about her, and what effect does her making that untrue statement have on everyone?
LR: Alder has led for such a long time and I don’t think Alder really cares. She’s been doing it for so long and is pretty set in the decision making she has. She is used to seeing people disagree with her and around her. She’s always been this incredible force that almost likes people to be against her or wanting to change her because it drives her even further. There is a very powerful side to Alder, and I think we as an audience are just getting to see more and more about her. Now we are wondering, ‘Where does this carry her?’ That’s the interesting thing about Alder and who knows what more we will discover about her.
TTVJ: Anacostia does seem special to Alder in a way that other people aren’t, but even she seems a bit distrustful as of late. How might we see their relationship change near the end of the season?
LR: That’s the thing, the relationship with Anacostia is so special. When a crack appears, it’s only going to crack further, and that’s the one everybody is worried about. You know how close they are and what can possibly happen when that breaks? What is Anacostia going to do when she disagrees with Alder? What is Alder going to do with Anacostia? Will a friendship come to stand in the way or not? The stakes are getting very high just because of the closeness of their relationship. Maybe it’s going to start hanging on a small thread. Who knows?
TTVJ: You’re making me very afraid, Lyne! [laughs]
LR: Well Alder should make you afraid!
TTVJ: We can’t talk about General Alder without mentioning her biddies. I personally find it incredible to watch these older women on screen in power. Why do they feel so compelled to help her?
LR: God, I love these women. They are truly incredible and seeing these other women in power is a beautiful thing. They are probably the most important women in Alder’s life. They are her organs, her breathing, and her proof of her existence. It’s an incredible honor for these girls who offer their youth and share it with Alder. It’s the only way for Alder to be kept alive.
TTVJ: I absolutely loved the scene where they revealed how Alder stays youthful and the biddies’ involvement in that.
LR: What a cool thing that was and for our writer Eliot to come up with. It was the first time I worked with green screens and aging. You’re all the sudden met with these artists and in full prosthetics. You have to act that way and see yourself in a completely different way. It’s so violating! It’s all fun and games until you look in the mirror. It looks so real! Towards the finale we’re working more with that.
These things take hours and it’s incredible how fast these wonderful people work to create something so beautiful. My hat is off to them. I had asked for 10 minutes one time because I had to wee really badly, went to my trailer for a bite of food, and sat down. I looked in the mirror and was in such shock that I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t swallow a thing. I had to tell myself it wasn’t real. That’s the thing you’re faced with, but it’s also an incredible feeling to have all this made and applied to you. It was one of the most incredible things I could experience as an actor.
TTVJ: There’s only two episodes to go! What can you share?
LR: What’s so beautiful about the world that we created is that it was quite divided between leadership and the recruits. Now with the Spree attacking in various ways we’re being forced to stand up as a unit. Those two worlds will evidently come together and that’s where the magic really starts happening. You get this elevation to the show and the production value really rises. You have all these actors coming together and working as one team. It came natural to us, fell into place, and we all stepped it up and took care of each other. We worked 100% more to work each day and give what we could. I truly feel that the finale shows exactly that.
What do you think Alder is up to on Motherland: Fort Salem? Sound off below!
Motherland: Fort Salem airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Freeform and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC Spark.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.