Maladie (Amy Manson) witnesses something incredible while being hauled away on The Nevers.

Maladie (Amy Manson) witnesses something incredible while being hauled away on The Nevers.
Photo: Keith Bernstein/HBO

HBO’s sci-fi fantasy series The Nevers arrives this Sunday to reveal a Victorian London where a mysterious event bestows strange powers on people—mostly women. The show has a lot of characters, but one who definitely stands out from the crowd is the viciously wild Maladie, played by Amy Manson.

In The Nevers’ prologue, set three years before the main action, we see Maladie being carted away to an asylum just as a shower of twinkly lights bathes the city and leaves some people “Touched,” as the show calls its gifted characters. Later, we learn of a (very possibly Touched) serial killer who’s targeting well-heeled men—she’s introduced in newspaper headlines and nervous chatter—before she makes her grand (and gory) entrance by crashing an opera performance. At a recent press roundtable, Manson (Once Upon a Time) was quick to point out, there’s more to Maladie than meets the eye.

“I don’t consider her to be a villain. She’s got her objectives, she gets sidetracked at times, but I wonder how much I would fight for justice if I went through what she went through at the hands of the male patriarchy,” Manson said. “I wonder how much I would fight. I’m not saying that I would go out and kill people left, right, and center, but it seems to be just the repercussions of a woman scorned—not even a woman scorned, a woman seeking justice rather. For her to fight for her freedom is a huge thing, and also seeking revenge is a big thing for her too.”

Though Maladie seems drawn from a Victorian-era mindset that meant women with mental illness were frequently and cruelly mistreated, Manson said she actually turned to a more recent case history to help inspire her performance.

“I read a lot about Aileen Wuornos and her case—that’s who Charlize Theron played in Monster. Looking back at her last speech that she gave to journalists the day before she was executed, and how much she felt she was chosen or affiliated with God, and just how much she kind of believed that,” Manson said, adding that some of Maladie’s behavior stems from her just not understanding exactly what happened to her the day of that mysterious event in London. She continued, “People will think that Maladie is mad or that she’s a terrorist, but I think she’s just misinformed. She’s just crazed because she just doesn’t have answers. She needs to know why. She thinks she’s Jesus in a way, you know, that she’s had this pain inflicted on her and not on the cross for a certain reason.”

The opera scene is presented as alarming from the point of view of the audience, but it’s a big exhale for Maladie, who’s finally exerting some control over her own life. “In the initial scene where you see Maladie, she’s having fun. She’s holding the mirror up to society, to these men who abused her,” Manson said. Conscious of how over-the-top the scene is, Mason noted that “I did say ‘I hope that she doesn’t vibrate on this level the whole way through, you know, where’s the grounding?’ But I think somebody who’s having a manic episode almost constantly never truly sleeps or never truly stops, and I think that’s it: she’s just got one mission and she’ll be damned if she doesn’t succeed in it.”

Keeping up that level of energy was a challenge, the actor said, but it was a necessary part of bringing Maladie to life. “It’s definitely energetic and it’s a hard headspace to be in, especially in that first stage sequence, properly re-living what she went through at the hands of this evil doctor. And that was hard to do take after take, for that to be rooted in truth,” she said. “But Maladie can also just turn on a switch and go off somewhere else—and there needs to be a truthful element in that as well.”

The Nevers premieres April 11 on HBO. We’ll have more with the cast later this week.

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