While she hopes the stories being told on screen in Motherland: Fort Salem affect the viewers watching them, Taylor Hickson, who plays Raelle Collar, took away some of her own huge life lessons during shooting of the Freeform series. Just as Raelle has learned to work together and fight for the members of her own unit, Abigail (Ashley Nicole Williams) and Tally (Jessica Sutton), Hickson learned the importance of maintaining and growing relationships with the women in her own life off screen. With credits on other shows such as Deadly Class and Aftermath, Hickson said Motherland’s tale of three young witches making their way through basic training in combat magic really drove home these points to her, as well as resonate soundly with everything currently going on in the world.
Hickson shared exactly why she feels that way during a recent chat with The TV Junkies that also saw her shedding light on why Raelle holds so much resentment towards the Army. She also went into detail about Raelle’s strong feelings for Scylla (Amalia Holm) and what the next steps may be now that Scylla is missing. Finally, Hickson shared why she personally would understand the appeal of working with the enemy, The Spree, and why Raelle may be drawn to do just that.
The TV Junkies: What is it like to be a part of a show that has such a focus on women of all ages, shapes, and races?
Taylor Hickson: This experience was so liberating. The content is groundbreaking, and Freeform has an edgy twist on a modern reality here. Aside from just content, having that female-heavy presence on our show was incredibly special. Strengthening the female relationships in my own life was probably the biggest takeaway for me. Outside of my family, I really did struggle with maintaining relationships with women growing up. I actually graduated a year early to pursue my goals because I found my mindset, goals, and the way I communicated were all so different from the people I was going to school with. I really didn’t feel like I had any space to belong.
Girls at that age are just so mean, me included, and I didn’t know how to communicate with women in a healthy way. Teenagers, instead of being upfront with people, talk behind each other’s backs, and I tend to address problems with people. A lot of people didn’t like that very much. [laughs] It’s something I really share with the characters that I play, that affinity for blunt communication and going after what you want. Women used to step on each other to get what they want, and that’s something I never really understood.
TTVJ: How does this differ from other experiences you’ve had in your career?
TH: I was intimidated walking onto the set with so many big female personalities, but I realized that since we’re all shooting for the same goal, that common denominator brought me relationships I never expected to have. I always thought I’d just keep my head down, get my work done, and not feed into any drama that may happen on set; but this project really took me by surprise with the amount of support and enthusiasm for creating something that had females driving the narrative. We were all incredibly excited to have the opportunity and really wanted to utilize our platform to empower other young women and youth in our society. It’s incredibly refreshing content and that’s very much how it differs from anything else I’ve done.
TTVJ: It sounds like you really had a lot in common then with Raelle, as she arrived and wanted nothing to do with anyone, but she’s even starting to see how important it is to work with her unit. The whole unit realized that as of late it seems, and you’re right, it’s refreshing that they aren’t going behind each other’s backs, but are really working together.
TH: That theme is so present right now with everything going on, that the unit has to keep that togetherness or it’s a matter of life and death. That’s very much what we’re seeing in our communities right now. If we don’t stay home and protect each other, then it truly is a matter of life and death. A lot of hard things that we bring to light on Motherland are really taking with people right now, considering the hardships that are ravaging society over the last few months.
TTVJ: Another aspect of the show that seems to really be resonating with people is Raelle’s relationship with Scylla, and how present and in the forefront it has been right from the start. Raelle hasn’t known her that long, but why does she feel so much and so strongly for Scylla so quickly?
TH: It’s about finding that sense of belonging, and that’s something Raelle really struggles with, especially after the loss of her mom. In losing her mom, she lost a really big part of herself. She felt like her mom dying took a lot of her happiness. She carries around a lot of resentment towards the Army for taking her mother away and her mom being so devoted to the cause. She’s angry that no one understands her and she’s condemned to this certain fate. But she finds a place that she feels heard, she feels important and validated, and she really feels seen, and that’s with Scylla. She has that fire that she lost in herself when she lost her mom. I think she even maybe sees traces of her mom in Scylla. That ignites the passion and intensity in her and what it feels like to laugh again, be close to someone, and have an intimate connection where you know someone so deeply. It’s very powerful and all-consuming. The path Raelle picks and the decisions she makes are very much so that she doesn’t lose the light in her life again.
TTVJ: With Scylla missing after the Bellweather wedding, what will Raelle’s next steps be?
TH: She has fallen back into that sense of knowing that sense of loss. It’s a feeling and hole that she knows so well, and she’s in complete denial that something that special could be taken away from her again. It’s worrisome to watch a person go through that and wonder if they will give up all hope on themselves, as they’ve lost all purpose and drive. I think you’ll see a lot of her thought process and how irrational people can be when in love, and the sacrifices they’ll make, sometimes at the expense of hurting other people, to protect something close to them. You’ll definitely see that turbulence coming up.
From Episode 6 on I’d say is my favorite part of the story. It was challenging as an actor to make emotional discoveries, and you even sometimes dig up personal stuff that you weren’t aware was there when navigating such hard content. A lot of it can feel real, and you take your work home with you when everything feels so real like that. Episodes 6-10 were my favorite part of working on Season 1 because it was emotionally and physically challenging. I think the other girls would say that as well. It really worked our acting muscles, but we’re incredibly honored to tell the story.
TTVJ: There’s something I’ve been wondering, because Raelle does seem very disillusioned as you pointed out, but do you think there’s any chance she could be manipulated by the Spree into helping them?
TH: That’s a great point. With Raelle walking into the Army feeling condemned, reckless, feeling lost, and having this same cause that took her mother away, she holds a lot of resentment towards the Army. In turn, that turns her curiosity towards the Spree and their motivations. Because of her mistrust, that does end up suiting her well because she doesn’t trust the propaganda given to her about the Spree from the Army. A lot of it could be fabricated, and she’s the only one who has a true understanding of that, and doesn’t completely invest herself in believing in this cause. She knows better, has watched the pattern of history, and seen how war can affect you. She’s just looking out for her best interests, and as selfish as that may look and as many people as it may hurt, I think it’ll save a lot of lives in the end.
I myself was very curious and a little bit skeptical of the true cause of the Spree. I see their goal, and I just think they took it to the extreme. I support their goal but am confused about how they are going about obtaining it. I think that’s where Raelle is sitting too, and you’ll see her make discoveries and decisions that lead her to an unexpected path for sure.
TTVJ: I really appreciate all of your thoughtful answers, but have to end on a bit of a fun note. What was it like getting to do the weapon training, especially the one that looks like a giant whip?
TH: That’s actually a quite forgotten martial art known as rope dart. It has a lot of the same physical properties as fire spinning, juggling, or baton twirling. It’s essentially the same thing, and our coach, who toured the world for baton spinning, picked up rope dart for that reason. She’s incredible and her name is Michelle Smith. It took us weeks to pick it up.
It was said that these ancient Chinese farmers, in order to protect their lands, would attach a knife or a dart to the end of a rope and swing it to create an impenetrable space around them. They couldn’t afford heavy machinery or weaponry to protect themselves in hand to hand combat and that’s how the idea was born. It’s incredibly interesting, and I can’t see it being used anywhere else, but it was a really neat addition to my resume. It was incredibly hard to learn, especially as someone who picked art because she was so uncoordinated in all sports. This actually makes you very buff too! You wouldn’t think so, but along with our combat training that we were doing, it’s quite good cardio. I definitely recommend it if you’re looking for something to do in isolation.
Thoughts 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.