Sandra Yi Sencindiver speaks on the foundation of acting and diversity

The second season of Foundation starts rolling out on Apple TV+ this week. Sandra Yi Sencindiver, a Denmark-based actress of South Korean descent, joins the cast of the acclaimed sci-fi series. She talks to David Ho about her experience on it, the need for diversity, her favourite trailblazers and what’s next for her

Sandra Yi Sencindiver is ready to build on her foundation for a wider audience, as she is sure to draw more attention than ever before with the second season release of Apple TV+’s Foundation. The Emmy-nominated sci-fi series follows a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save humanity and rebuild civilisation amid the fall of the Galactic Empire. She plays the role of Enjoiner Rue, the politically savvy consigliere to Queen Sareth.

Based in Denmark, Sencindiver has been hard at work in the decade since her feature film debut in the 2013 Danish crime flick The Shooter. Since then, she has made a name for her appearances in numerous popular Danish crime dramas, the Danish theatre scene and on the Amazon Prime fantasy The Wheel of Time. Aside from the current turn on Foundation, Sencindiver will be on the new Danish crime series Oxen next year and return for its following season.

Outside of her acting roles, Sencindiver also works as an artistic director at the theatre company Danskdansk, which seeks to promote inclusion, diversity, access and representation in the arts. A play directed by Sandra, Rebound, opened at Mungo Park Theatre in May 2023. Furthermore, she recently wrote and directed a short titled Watch about a woman who seeks out a childhood friend to confront and make amends the wrongs of their past. It will be shown at film festivals this year.

Please tell us about your role on Foundation. How would you introduce your character?

Enjoiner Rue is the politically savvy consigliere to the young Queen Sareth (Ella-Rae Smith) of Cloud Dominion. The audience quickly learns that Rue has a history with Dusk, Cleon the 16th (Terrence Mann), when he was Day. And… the rest is to be learned upon watching. I can only say, I rather love what intrigue and drama the highly intelligent ladies of Cloud Dominion bring to the palace and how they navigate the very patriarchal rule there.  

What was your process like to prepare for this role?

Preparing for this show was a combination of lot of fun and hard work. This is a huge series, so it needed quite a lot of preparation. David Goyer and the whole production are a very ambitious team who aim for excellence and storytelling that is smart, cinematic and that doesn’t underestimate its audience. And it is no small feat making ten hours long episodes – the equivalent of 5-6 movies! So, a whole lot of storytelling in a rich world with a multitude of characters, plot and huge themes like fate, free will, rebellion, faith, hope and change. So as an actress, you want to bring it and help fulfill that vision.

We shot the ten episodes across ten months. Usually you shoot in blocks (shoot a limited number of episodes consecutively at a time) but here we were shooting all ten episodes all at the same time. And working with four different directors. Just in the first week I shot two big scenes for later in the season. This is quite challenging because you have to make choices about your character’s personality, development and arc meticulously beforehand to make sure you service the story. I actually remember having a sequence of three scenes in a row that were shot at three different locations in three different countries, months apart.  

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How would you describe your experience working on this series?

One to remember: when we started shooting there were COVID-19 restrictions, so many precautions were taken, so we all could work safely and keep shooting. So we started out really secluded at the hotel. One could say it was a bit of a hassle, not being able to go out but we took it in good stride and made the most of it and really got to know each other. So we developed a bit of a family feeling from the start and were really good at including new cast. On big productions, it can be rather hierarchal and if you are only in a couple of episodes, it can be rather lonely filming abroad. But on this production we just all hung out. So socially I got close [to] a lot of new people, which is unusual because often we don’t make new friends as adults, do we? 

I had a lot of scenes opposite the most wonderful actors: Ella-Rae Smith and Terrence Mann. She is such a darling, down to earth, kind, smart and despite her young age extremely professional and wise. And Terrence! Aside from being talented and experienced, he is just the most charming person you will ever meet! I am quite bit of a nerd and I just really love to delve into the work, analyze, discuss, prepare, run lines and obsess and luckily Ella-Rae was up for it all it. So we hit it off. And it is really interesting working with different directors at the same time. Brilliant people. But different, giving you different challenges and points of views. And even though David Goyer was busy with directing, showrunning and writing, he always was generous and willing to discuss the script! So all in all a very privileged experience. 

What are your thoughts on female representation on sci-fi productions?

Even though sci-fi takes place in the future, characters and world view can still be backwards as the author is undeniably a product of their time. So even in a brilliant work like Foundation some aspects can afford to be improved upon; e.g. like the majority of all characters being men. I love how the female characters have agency. David Goyer has said that Foundation is the story of the downfall of a patriarchal rule so it is not because gender is disregarded, on the contrary.    

How do you think diversity can be promoted in film, particularly for that genre?

In sci-fi anything and everything is imaginable. That is one of the most exciting aspects of the genre; the infinite possibilities. So it seems a bit counterintuitive to constrain yourself to a single worldview, gender binary or one predominate skin color.  

For some, diversity just become a box to check. Please share why is it so important to promote, especially for those who may not be immediately involved in the arts?  

It’s odd how some people think that diversity is merely a box to be checked. I agree that some shows have a rather formulaic way of approaching diversity, they kinda check “one of each” and then yes, the world building can come off unauthentic and stiff. So no doubt that some shows have room to improve.

But to me diversity is tapping into the richness of the world and the people in it. And not only on screen and in the script. But also on the creative team and in production. You want different people with different perspectives. You can’t build a house if everybody who is building it has a hammer.  Diversity gives an artistic and creative opportunity to break with tired tropes and stereotypes and “business as usual”. All artists strive to be creative and original. Then why limit yourself to what has been done before, when new and diverse choices regarding gender, age, race, body, beauty, class, sexuality, disability, religion etc can take you new places?

So on the creative side you are merely given more options to be fresh and original through your storytelling. And that will benefit your audience. Because the audience wants to see themselves on screen, they want to see depictions of life that are rich and ring true. So you are gaining a larger audience. And even though some audience might think they like “business as usual”, is it not our responsibility as artists to give the audience something they didn’t know they wanted? We should aim to be bold and groundbreaking and take chances with new and fresh ideas, only then can we make art that has not been done before and change the trajectory! 

Who are some of your favourite trailblazers? Why?

Oh there are so many wonderful artists! I am a huge admirer of another Sandra: Sandra Oh. She has been vocal about racism in the business, led by example by standing her ground and known her worth and also spoken up about not living up to “classic” beauty standards which is such a crock of sh#%. First because the definition of beauty should be broader (and Sandra Oh is gorgeous) and second because we cannot only champion women’s beauty on screen. That is a reduction of being human. And professionally, I admire her comedy and dramatic chops. I had the privilege of voicing her character Ming Lee in Pixar’s Turning Red in the Danish version and I was blown away by her wide-raging voicing of the character. I got the dramatic parts right but I could never quite get the funny bits as funny as she voiced them! I just love her funny bones! 

There is of course the Greatest of All Time – Michelle Yeoh. I love the fact that she is taking the world by storm at age 60 in a business that has infamously neither favoured women over 35 nor people of colour. There were quite a lot of women with Korean, Thai, Chinese roots here in Denmark that cried and celebrated her Oscar win. And we should all hope for it being a win that marks a change in discourse and not a Halle Berry exception. 

Last, I would love to mention the Danish creative duo Ditte Hansen and Louise Mieritz. They have been such an inspiration for me. Two extremely talented actresses who created their own TV series when they were pushing 40 which is when the industry kills off their actresses. Their TV series (and film) Ditte and Louise really took at funny and critical look at ageism, sexism, beauty standards and the prejudice that women aren’t funny. And they did it hilariously. Right this moment they are at the Monte-Carlo television because their show Chorus Girls is nominated for best TV series.  It is a dark comedy about 8 young dancers try to survive in a sexist workplace in the mid 70’s. It is feminist, satirical, dark and incredibly funny. 

What’s next for you?

Right now so many brilliant things are keeping me busy! I just started shooting a new Netflix series Geek Girl by Ruby Rock Pictures based on the beloved books by Holly Smale about Harriet Manners (Emily Carey), a neurodivergent teenager who is spotted by a model agency looking for new talent for the high end designer Yuji Lee. I play Yuji Lee and it is so much fun.  

I’ve just debuted as a film director and screenwriter with the short film Våge (Watch in English) which is making the festival rounds right now and I have started pre-production on my next short Seeking Hwa Sun. Plus I am dealing with the aftermath of the viral campaign A Bigger Picture with four other actresses that I initiated earlier this year – it’s a campaign advocating more diversity in Danish films and TV. We are in talks with the industry, the minister of culture and policy and change is actually slowly making way. So the future is bright and full of promise!   

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