Babou Ceesay, who plays Pilgrim on AMC’s Into the Badlands, talks about reuniting with Chipo Chung on set and how the dark Gift takes over his character.
Q: Since receiving the Gift, we’ve seen how draining it can be on Pilgrim. What’s it like for him to have so much power as a proclaimed god, but still be subject to vulnerabilities?
A: There’s a few characters that tell him that the Gift is really not his. It’s not supposed to be in him. He’s saying he’s a god. He has all the powers of a god, but the reality is he’s very much mortal. Even though he’s naturally a really powerful being, this is proving to be beyond him. If he at least took his time and did it over six months, fine, but he’s trying to do it all right now. That’s taking a toll. He wants an army now. It’s all or nothing now.
Q: Now that Pilgrim is fighting with the dark Gift, did you change any of your choreography in your fights?
A: Even from the beginning, I wanted Pilgrim to have a very strong center. If you’re that powerful, you can exert the minimal amount of energy to dispatch other people. Now that he has the Gift, I imagine it coursing through him. I started to make him a bit more emotionally unpredictable. Even in his movements, he can be a bit more explosive and violent than he needs to be. His temperament has changed. He wants to punish everyone who stands in his way.
Q: How would you say the dynamic between Pilgrim and Cressida begins to shift as Pilgrim gains more and more power? Is he turning against one of the last people he can truly trust?
A: I think he is turning against her, but it’s happening for many reasons. His mental health isn’t as good as it used to be. His judgment isn’t the best. His senses are more heightened. Any dissent or doubt is beginning to annoy him a lot more. Cressida had some degree of control over him in the past – and it was very useful because she gave him good advice – but it’s now a problem for Pilgrim. There are some decisions that she’s making that are against what he believes in. She’s beginning to question some of his motives and his ways. He doesn’t like it. Maybe he’s all alone. He expects that some people won’t see this until the end like he would. His interpretation of it is that he’s on the righteous path. The higher and harder it gets…some people stick with it and other people don’t. On some level, he expects them to give up.
Q: What was it like going up against Chipo Chung, who you’ve worked with a few times before?
A: We’ve known each other for ages. It’s insane. I did one of my first jobs with her. I loved her as the Master before I ever joined Badlands. I’m very proud of our fight scene in particular. We really went for it. And I mistakenly punched her. [Laughs] It’s funny now. I misjudged and actually punched her in the nose. Real professional. The camera was on her, which was good, because my face changed so much from mean guy taking over the world to “Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry.” She just whiplashed back and gave me an imperceptible nod to carry on. I love that fight and what the Master represents as this all powerful being. You almost wonder if Sunny could even beat the Master. I think the fact that she and Pilgrim went that far is very telling.
Q: Were you surprised at how mercilessly Pilgrim kills Nix? What was it like shooting that scene with Ella-Rae Smith?
A: There’s a lot I didn’t like about that fight. [Laughs] I thought he could have at least one redeemable quality or sense of mercy, but welcome to the Badlands! I’m ripping this person’s head off. I struggled with that one. I know, of course, it does wonders for the story. I’m happy in that respect. I got on with Ella-Rae so well and enjoyed working with her, but it was an interesting scene. With Castor, there was a real difficulty. Pilgrim has to be pushed several times by Cressida and he felt really sad. That was a turning point for Pilgrim. Another major turning point was the reunion with his brother and the hope that they would do something useful in the Badlands. He’s beginning to get to the point where he can’t trust anybody. He’s very angry and he takes that out on Nix. She’s strong. She would have been his right-hand person when they go to war. It’s like he had to make an example out of her. After that, I don’t think there’s anything he isn’t willing to do.
Q: How do you think Pilgrim feels to see M.K. sink so low after he’s injured in the explosion?
A: M.K. has an immense power. People like Nix are getting seduced by the Badlands and the characters in it, but M.K. has had his time with those people. He will always be an unwanted presence as long as he has this dark power. What Pilgrim offers is evolution. “Let’s not stick around with these petty humans and their lack of honor.” Pilgrim struggles with trust, but he sees this person pay so heavily with his injury. M.K. has struggled just as much as he has. On some level, Pilgrim has sympathy for him but he also wants to see this young man stand up and do something for the movement.
Q: Were there any parts of Pilgrim’s journey this season that surprised you?
A: I’m proud. To come and fit into the Badlands world is not easy. There are established characters. The fans have reacted so positively to our entire storyline. If this was the story of Pilgrim, it’s a tragic story. Someone who has risen to face the ultimate thing but loses his soul in the process. Sure, we’re going to change the world, but do we have to destroy everything and everyone? It’s biblical in its arc. By the time we wind down, it is truly quite something.
Read an interview with Aramis Knight, who plays M.K.
To get more exclusive interviews with the cast, sign up for the Insiders Club.Read More