Pop culture’s hardline zealots are usually memorable because they make great villains. Those characters’ unyielding convictions and rigid worldviews are often in direct conflict with the goals of the story’s heroes. But those traits are all of the reasons we love The Mandalorian‘s Armorer. The leader of The Watch lives by a simple but inflexible creed: this is the way. But underneath that helmet is a real actress, Emily Swallow. What’s it like playing one of TV’s coolest characters all while wearing a mask you can barely see out of? What was going on with her during the show’s season three premiere? And could we see her co-star alongside Pedro Pascal on a different hit series? We asked Emily Swallow all about those topics and more when we got a chance to speak with Star Wars‘ de facto Mandalorian historian and lore master.
Nerdist: I want to start off with a big question. Specifically, what was it like fighting a big space alligator in The Mandalorian‘s season three premiere?
Emily Swallow: (laughs) Very strange, because it wasn’t there when we were shooting it. That’s the magic of these geniuses. Getting to watch the episode was so cool. When we were shooting it, the location was remarkably unremarkable. There was not much to actually fight when we were making it. Then they put it all in the special effects afterwards and it’s incredible. It looks unbelievable. We were just having to pretend there was a big scary monster, which you do a lot when you’re a kid. So wasn’t that bad.
Was that you for all of it? Or did you have a stunt double?
Swallow: I did have a stunt double and it was me. I did what I could and was there the whole time we were shooting all those sequences. I didn’t do any of the super technical moves I am not trained for and they are not insured to have me do. But I got plenty wet and ran around in the sand a bunch and got to have some fun.
We know Mandalorian helmets aren’t ideal for actors when it comes to things like seeing or walking, so how did you navigate a big choreographed fight scene while wearing yours?
Swallow: How does anybody? I don’t know how anyone does it. And it turns out they fall off at really inopportune moments. There was the moment when the big monster gator swipes the Armorer and she flips. That was not me, that was my stunt double on some wires doing a flip. And there was this one time when they shot it … and it’s painful because when they practice it, she landed on pads. But then when they shot it, every time she was flipping she was slamming into the wet sand. So there was this one shot where it happened beautifully but her helmet fell off. What are you going to do? There’s no way you can use that take. There’s no “oopsy” if the Armorer’s helmet falls off because she can’t really get away with that.
Those helmets are not good for a lot of things and they make life very complicated. When you’re outside in water, or when it’s hot or when it’s cold, you’re breathing a lot inside (your helmet) and it fogs up. It made it really, really, really challenging.
The Armorer provides tons of new Mandalorian lore. In the past you’ve said you don’t know much more beyond what’s revealed on the show.
Since then, have you been privy to additional information that maybe we still don’t know?
Swallow: Wouldn’t you like to know?
I would very much like to know! I know you can’t tell me specifics, but have you learned more of the secrets that have yet to come out?
Swallow: Yes. There’s more that you’re going to learn this season.
What about beyond what we’ll see? You are kind of the memory of Mandalore, and I’m curious how much information they give you so you can put it into your performance, even if it’s stuff we can’t know.
Swallow: I’m trying to figure out the most artful way to answer this.
This character is so interesting for me because usually it’s very helpful for me to have a lot of details about a character’s backstory, about their personal history, to have all of that sketched in very specifically. But for this character, more than any other, it’s more helpful for me to know what she stands for. And what she symbolizes and the role she serves in relation to other people.
So there are some specific details I have learned about some of the history of the Mandalorians and how she fits into that. I don’t think there’s much that I’ve learned beyond what’s revealed in this season. It’s been helpful not to try to pin it down too much, because, based on what I know about her so far, it’s more interesting (not knowing) and it serves the story better.
I know you can’t give me the answer, but I’m curious if you know this. Have you asked specifically about the timeline of the Watch and when they broke off from Death Watch?
Swallow: I have.
And did Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni tell you the answer?
Okay. I just had to ask. I had to ask.
Swallow: Of course. I totally get it.
The Armorer has always been unflappable, no matter the situation. But Din’s relic in the season three premiere seemed to catch her off guard. She almost sounded hopeful, if not happy, when she said, “This is the way.” What was going through her mind in that moment?
Swallow: What do you think was going through her mind?
I think that was the first time on this show we saw her, I don’t want to say break, but a little bit of that veneer seemed to crack. That’s how it read to me, but that’s why I wanted to know what you thought was going through her mind.
Swallow: I think she sees possibility…
Swallow: That’s all I’ll say.
All right then, if she sees possibility…Mandalorians are scattered. They’re lost. They don’t have their home world. And now for the first time, she has hope. Is that hope enough to get her to do something she maybe wouldn’t previously have done before, whatever that might entail?
Swallow: Well, I don’t know because we’re speaking in the abstract here. I mean, I feel like she’s always… Look, she’s mysterious even to me. And sometimes I think I let her know things, even if I don’t know them. And even if Jon and Dave have not told me that I know them, I let her know them. They’ve given me permission to do that, because I think they also sort of let her know things that maybe they don’t even know if The Armorer herself knows.
Because she’s not psychic. She’s not like a mystic who sees the future in specifics. But I do think she has a sixth sense. She has a feeling about things. And so, for instance, I think with Din Djarin, from the beginning, she has seen promise in him. I don’t think she knows for certain, like she hasn’t seen a prophecy he’s going to lead them to the Promised Land or anything like that. But I think she just knows he is somebody remarkable who is going to play an important part for the Mandalorian people.
And he already has. Maybe he’s already done what he was supposed to do. Or maybe not. I think that she’s always open to possibility. That’s what I say mean when I say she’s hopeful. She’s always open to possibility. I do think she sees possibility in that relic.
We’re talking about this moment, which felt a little bit different for her. But from the outside some people would say the Armorer is very much the same person we met originally. So I’m curious, from your perspective, how she has changed from season one until now?
Swallow: I think Din has changed her, because I don’t think that she’s had such a personal relationship with somebody like him. She’s probably mentored other people, had other apprentices maybe. I think she is a mentor figure to a lot of people, but not in the way she is to Din.
Although, especially this season with all these Mandalorians around, I said, “Doesn’t she have a couple of apprentices? An assistant or something? I’m really making armor for all these people. There’s no other armorers?” (laughs)
But I think Din has challenged her in ways she hasn’t been challenged before. In ways that are really good for her. And they’re learning from each other in a way that is probably unique for her.
It’s striking to me that after that episode of The Book of Boba Fett aired and she essentially banished Din, every convention I went to the fans were just up in arms. They said, “How could you do that to him? How could you?” And I said, “Well, he did it to himself. He made the choice to take off his helmet.” She was just stating what the known consequences are. That’s the creed.
I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that most of the time we learn more from being honest about our mistakes and seeing how that plays out than lying about them and trying to get away with it. She knows he’s going to learn from whatever difficulty he faces and from confronting this thing he did.
Why did he make the choice to go against the creed? He had a pretty good reason he felt was justified. But he did go against a creed he has taken. Now he is pretty determined to do what the lore says he must to make right for it. He’s stepping up to the challenge and he’s stubborn that way, which is great. And she’s not discouraging him from that. She’s like, “All right, if you think you can do it, this is the way. See what happens.” I think she appreciates that about him.
As you said, there are so many Mandalorians this season. Again, I know you can’t get into specifics, but with so many of your own people around this year, what is it you’re most excited for fans to see and learn about them?
Swallow: I think fans are going to be very pleased they finally get to see more Mandalorians represented and that they’re going to get to see more clans, some of the ones they’ve only seen animated before. And also that a lot of these questions we’ve had for so long about some of the divisions that have risen up, some of those will be addressed. It is more of an exploration of the culture and the family ties. It’s a much more intimate look at the Mandalorian people and I love that. I love kind of getting on the inside.
Now that you’ve been playing this character for a few years, have you become a de facto Mandalorian historian?
Swallow: Oh my gosh, I’m constantly being schooled! I think I know a lot. Then I will meet a fan at a convention who asks me something and I just get tongue-tied because I realize there’s yet again something else I don’t know. The history goes so deep and all the fan theories go so deep. And so people will ask me something about some connection they’ve noticed and they think is true. And I’m like, “You know what? You might be right. I really don’t know.”
You’ve previously talked about how you love playing a character whose role has nothing to do with her looks. You’ve called it liberating. But is it ever frustrating to you personally that you play this tremendous character on this wildly popular show but you don’t get to show your face?
Swallow: In terms of the story, no. It’s great for the story.
It is an interesting thing as an actor, though, because I do think sometimes people separate that kind of performance from acting without a helmet. They say like, “Oh, that’s really cool that you do that.” But they don’t think it’s a reflection of regular acting. They sort of forget I also do that. It’s an interesting thing. It’s definitely a good thing to keep my ego in check.
Spoiler warning: Our final question and answer contains a small spoiler for The Last of Us Part II video game.
Finally, you’re on a hit series that features Pedro Pascal as a surrogate dad. He just so happens to have another hit show exactly like that and it’s based on a video game series you’re a part of. So I have to know, have you had any talks with HBO about potentially reprising your role as Emily from The Last of Us Part II video game?
Swallow: I have not, but I would certainly be open to it. Or to doing a new role as a character who maybe doesn’t die quite so quickly. That would be nice because, I mean, Emily went out like a chump and deservedly so. But I’d like to be around for a little while longer and maybe actually have a scene with Pedro.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.