'Foundation' stars Lee Pace and Laura Birn discuss Season 2's riddles and romance (exclusive)

closeup of a man and a woman, both of whom are bloody, disheveled and worried-looking
Scene from Apple TV+'s "Foundation." (Image credit: Apple TV+)

"Foundation," Apple TV+'s far-future spectacle adapted from the seminal novels of sci-fi master Isaac Asimov, returned for its second season on Friday (July 14). 

This is unquestionably one of the Apple TV+'s flagship series, and executive producer David S. Goyer ("Blade," "Man of Steel," "The Dark Knight Trilogy") has poured every atom of his creative soul into the landmark project.

Season 2 promises to enlighten viewers with more colossal starships, a crumbling interstellar empire, Cleons in chaos, revolt amid the outer galactic worlds, the swift rise of Hari Seldon's Foundation and the growing relationship between Gaal Dornick and her estranged daughter, Salvor Hardin.

Related: New 'Foundation' Season 2 trailer teases massive spaceships and explosive combat (video)

The second season of "Foundation" premiered on July 14. (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Emmy-nominated actor Lee Pace ("Halt and Catch Fire," "Guardians of the Galaxy") portrays Brother Day, the acknowledged ruler of the empire's cloned dynasty. Once thought to be an exact copy of his forebearer Cleon I, Brother Day becomes aware that the genetic source material was tampered with by insurgents. He’s awakened to the fact that he’s a unique individual like his ascending and descending replicas, Brother Dawn and Brother Dusk.

At his side is the sentient android Eto Demerzel, played with chilling authenticity and grace by the Finnish actress Laura Birn. Demerzel serves the Emperor with absolute loyalty, and her centuries-old bond with the lineage of Cleons in perpetuity takes intimate turns as she starts to understand her own autonomy.

Space.com spoke with this galactic power couple to learn about their acting styles and find out what's in store for their evolving partnership as their royal reality disintegrates around them in "Foundation" Season 2.

Lee Pace's Brother Day rules the galaxy in "Foundation." (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Space.com: Your preparation for these dynamic roles must be both exhausting and exhilarating. Can you take us through the gearing-up process entering this sophomore season and what fans can anticipate with your in-flux partnership?

Lee Pace: In the premiere's big fight scene, there was a lot of physical preparation because we had to choreograph that fight and really learn it and make it safe. I'm not wearing anything. I did it all myself and wanted to get it right. I love a challenge like that. The majority of my preparation is really just thinking about the character, thinking about the riddles David [Goyer] has constructed inside the story. Like the riddle of this relationship that we have. In Episode 5, you'll get to where that relationship becomes interesting. I've loved working with Laura this season.

Laura Birn:  Likewise! And I think the joy of going to a second season is that we knew each other from before. So you do the thinking by yourself, but also we were able to create it together and talk about it and have fun with the idea. We kind of treated them as a married couple who rule the galaxy together, and then you ask what's under the surface and who actually has the final word in this marriage.

Pace: He loves her deeply. She raised him and she's his only friend. She's now his lover and confidant. But she's also his possession, a piece of technology that he owns — a very sophisticated, highly intelligent and capable piece of technology who serves his ambition and his domination of trillions of people.

Birn: And at the same time, controls him. Controls everything he knows and remembers. She knows everything going on in the palace and all of their secrets and desires inside out.

Pace: It was fun for us to say that this is the story we're given and allowing all those contradictions to live and be real. What I find interesting about Cleon, which probably serves Demerzel very well, is that, in his myopic ambition, in his compulsion towards dominance, he has a lot of blind spots. There's a lot of things that his ego provides no room for and to understand.

Related: 'Foundation' Season 2 clip reveals a brutal look at the new season (video)

Laura Birn as "Foundation's" intelligent android Eto Demerzel. (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Space.com:  How do you modulate your performances as Brother Day and Demerzel as they traverse the timestream and react to emotional growth and external circumstances while the empire encounters its Second Crisis?

Pace: Well, I play an entirely different character than I played last season. He's probably very similar in ways. He's holding a very similar role as Emperor of the Galaxy. But he believes in himself and believes he's writing his own destiny. He doesn't believe he’s bound by the same things that bound his other brothers. He's cast himself as the hero of the story in front of him. When the war with Foundation starts to brew, he thinks the time is now, the time is me: I'm the one who can save the day. And it's an absurd thought. 

I think we're very conditioned because we watch a lot of superhero movies that have heroes with powers that don't get hurt and end the movie victorious. But that same aggressive masculinity in our story leads him down a very different path.

Lee Pace's Emperor of the Galaxy in "Foundation." (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Birn: I love that I was able to show that side of Demerzel that's vulnerable and pure and open. In this new season, she communicates with a small boy and an angry teenager and uses different ways of communicating with different versions of the Cleons. Yes, we see her as pure and open, but then we also see her playing her games and using her power. When is it a game and when is she actually just doing what she was programmed to do? There's so many options of where to go and which way to navigate that character. Her relationship is different to each Cleon, and sometimes she has to use very extreme ways to guide the emperors of the galaxy.

"Foundation's" 10-episode Season 2 premiered on July 14 exclusively on Apple TV+, with upcoming weekly episodes rolling out every Friday through Sept. 22.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.