'Severance' Star Britt Lower Was Also Freaked Out by That Finale Twist
Helly R. was [REDACTED] this whole time???
This piece contains major spoilers for the finale of Severance.
Severance, the Apple TV+ mystery-box show set almost entirely within the basement of an office building whose employees "sever" parts of their minds away from the whole, built up its tension episode by episode, culminating in a finale with revelations that raised more questions than they answered. In other words, a perfect final episode to the first season of a show we hope goes on for at least 10 more. (Earlier this week, the show was officially renewed for Season 2.)
After completing their work for the quarter, the "innies" of Lumon Industries' Macrodata Refinement scheme via waffle party to activate the "overtime contingency," releasing their severed selves into their bodies in the real world to try to make sense of who they really are. Amid a doomed romance and one dead-wife-who-is-very-much-alive shocker, one Lumon employee gets a lot more than she bargained for. To make a little sense of all this madness, Thrillist spoke to Britt Lower, who plays both rebellious severed innie Helly R. and her "outie," who turns out to be none other than Lumon Industries heiress Helena Eagan—a big reveal that was just as disturbing and exciting for Lower as it was for the rest of us.
Thrillist: When did you find out who Helly actually was?
Britt Lower: I don't know the exact moment, but it was definitely after the audition. And pretty early on in the process of developing the character. I knew the broad strokes, but not a lot of details.
How much that knowledge went into you developing Helly as the total opposite of who she turns out to be?
When I was playing "innie" Helly, it behooved me to have less information about who I was on the outside because that's one of her main motivators is to get out and to find out who she is. So, while I was in the office, I tried to forget everything I knew about Helena Eagan and focus on being in a state of discovery. In terms of developing the characters, they are the same person. I thought about it as sort of nature versus nurture. And that Helly on the inside is representing more of an id type of energy, whereas Helena is more of the ego. What she's experienced from the outside, all of her conditioning and the indoctrination of the company that she's grown up in. And so for me, innie Helly was really representing the rebellious side of Helena Eagan on the outside, which may or may not have ever been expressed before.
I love the way that all of you play your innie selves as children. You're adults, but you also have these very childlike ways of encountering situations and dealing with each other.
Yeah, absolutely. We're all these archetypes in a kindergarten classroom. There's the teacher's pet. There's the rule follower. There's the class clown. And then there's Helly, who wants to defy authority at all cost.
Always one of those in the kindergarten class.
Yeah. And she doesn't care what anyone thinks.
I really love the dynamic between all of you guys in the office. What was it like, developing all of that?
It was a process of discovery in all of our relationships. Zach Cherry [who plays Dylan] and I both come from the improv comedy world and we kind of fell into a natural banter early on. That was a nice surprise that wasn't necessarily on the page. I think Helly and Dylan kind of see each other in that neither of them actually buy into the company's, you know, spiritual aspect. But they go at it in a very different way. Dylan is thinking he's gaming the system, but he doesn't really care about the Lumon principles. I think they see eye to eye in that regard. It's so fun, because that set is so sparse, that you're getting a very sterile environment with which to play. It almost feels like you're on a theater set. So, the most interesting thing is your connection to the other humans in the space.
Helly is kind of the hero of the show. She's the one who comes in and immediately tries to get out. And then she finds out that she's basically the arch nemesis of the whole operation.
The environment is so drastically different than inside the office. She wakes up and she's at this opulent event wearing a fancy gown, and surrounded by—I think we counted 45 images of innie Helly on these huge rotating cubes. I mean, just as a person, seeing myself like that is horrifying. Like, huge images of you rotating around. It was like being in a crazy funhouse, seeing yourself reflected back to yourself. It was completely recursive. I'm looking at images of myself, she's seeing a video of herself in the middle of the room. I just tried to stay in the moment and be truthful to the experience of looking at your worst nightmare come to life.
I think that helped Helly on the inside being as rebellious as she is. It makes sense that she grew up in the culture of Lumon, and that she has this unexpressed, repressed rebellion internally. I thought that was a really beautiful way to embody the idea that we suppress aspects of ourselves, and that she's compartmentalized. When she wakes up having no memory of growing up in a system that is completely controlling, that wasn't a part of her before. It just was repressed.
That's honestly one of the coolest parts of watching this and watching you guys play parts of people, but as whole people themselves.
I did a lot of research early on about memory loss. I watched this really beautiful documentary called Tell Me Who I Am about these twin brothers, one of whom is in an accident and wakes up with no memory of who he is. You were kind of seeing the nature versus nurture in these two twins. And Helly is a totally full human on the inside. She just has lost all of her conditioning.
For me, it speaks to that thing we've all experienced, when we've looked back on something in our lives or something we said, and had the experience of being like, "That's not me. I can't believe I said that. I can't believe I did that." This is the extreme version.
How much do you know about what's planned tentatively in the future?
I'm as in the dark as you are.
Great. Well, my next question is, do you have any crazy theories about what could happen next?
All I can say is that I'm excited to know what they learn from each other, Helena and Helly. Is an integration of self possible? We've seen it go horribly wrong with Petey. I have way more questions than answers.
Going back to the rest of the show in general, was there a particular scene or a moment that when you read it and you were really, really excited about it?
It's not fair to say the whole thing. Getting to step into a character's point of view, who values her freedom and autonomy above all else, felt so timely. And I love that, from the first scene waking up on top of an office table, I love that Helly is immediately brave.
Yeah, she immediately tries to go out the door.
She's instinctual. She's feral. Getting to play a person who is so driven to get what she wants is such a thrill. And on top of that, the writing is so funny at the same time. So there is a sense of humor in the midst of the dark circumstance. I love how Dan Erickson, the writer, has blended tones, so that you have something incredibly grounded and terrifying that Helly's moving through. But she's also a keen observer, and she has a sense of humor.
I don't even know if there's an answer to this question, or if I'm just reading way too much into it. You wear a lot of blue and green in the show. Is there a significance to that beyond keeping to an aesthetic?
I don't know how much of this has been fleshed out or is public knowledge, but there is a Lumon uniform. I'm sure this is fine to say. There's an idea that there's this store where you go and you buy your work attire. So it's all Lumon-issued clothing. And, it's interesting, clothing was a huge aspect of what motivated my portrayal of Helly, and I'm not even being cheeky about it. There's a restrictiveness to the clothing. She's wearing pantyhose, and if you've ever worn pantyhose, you know that if you never get to take them off, you're going to be pretty angry.
And she literally never gets to go home and put on pajamas. Can you imagine?
That's what blows my mind about it all. That's it for them.
Yeah, so here she is in this uncomfortable office attire. I mean, they made it as comfortable as possible for us as actors. But there was something really inspiring about being like, this is the only type of clothing I ever get to wear. And I didn't even choose it. I didn't do my own hair this morning. I didn't put on the shoes. I tried to let Helly take her shoes off as much as possible. That's a little Easter egg.
I love that. I was dying to talk about this episode. And I'm glad I got to talk about it with you.
No, you're great. I hope I was coherent. And yeah, thanks so much for being a fan of the show. Hopefully we get some answers in Season 2.
We had better or I'm gonna have to do something drastic.
You're going to turn into Helly.