NOC Interview: ‘Halo’ Star Bokeem Woodbine on Being Soren-066

Halo the series set a record as Paramount+’s most-watched series premiere globally in its first 24 hours. And before the first season even debuted, it was greenlit for a second season. I think it’s safe to say it’s a big hit! One of the series’ biggest strengths is the charming and sincere performance from scene stealer and Emmy-nominee Bokeem Woodbine. We were able to get an exclusive interview with the Halo star, as he discussed the show’s latest episode.

For those unfamiliar, Soren-066 was a former spartan introduced in the short story collection Halo: Evolutions, specifically the short story “Pariah.” In the story, Soren-066 suffered a traumatic childhood after his mother dies and he is placed in the care of his abusive and neglectful stepfather is visited by Dr. Halsey at the age of six and given a choice to join the first SPARTAN program. After being deformed during experiments, he ends up being forced to take a desk job at the UNSC and begins to side with the insurrectionists. 

In the show, Soren develops a real human personality after removing an emotion suppressing pellet that was implanted in him and all Spartans as part of Halsey’s program. He realizes he’s definitely not free, and decides to escape the Spartan program and make his way through the universe as a pirate. He ends up meeting his wife, and having a son, and they live happily on a secret insurrectionist base called The Rubble.

Bokeem Woodbine as Soren in Halo episode 7, season 1, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

Woodbine infuses true humanity and a wicked sense of humor to his interpretation of Soren, making him a dashing rogue with a heart of gold. Here’s what he had to say when we spoke with him:

NOC: So Bokeem, thank you so much for doing this! It’s an honor to speak with an Emmy-nominee and an incredible actor. And you bringing Soren to life for me — this is just a genuine honor!

WOODBINE: Appreciate it! And the pleasure is mine, all good!

Being a Halo fan myself, the book of short stories, Halo: Evolutions, and the short story “Pariah” is really where we get our first taste of who Soren is, and how he was brought to life. So seeing him brought to screen was a big deal for longtime fans of Halo. Did you do any research reading the story, or working with the XBox team to flesh out the mythology behind Soren and his backstory?

Otto Bathurst and Steve Kane spent a lot of time actually going over Soren’s origin story and gave me the idea of what motivates him, and where he comes from. And what he’s been through and the challenges he’s faced. I felt very informed by them. It was important for them that I knew that stuff.

That’s awesome! And did you play the games while researching, or were you just a general fan of the games?

I always dug the games, but my thing was I used to just watch my friends play. I had a lot of friends that were Halo-heads. I used to just hang out and watch them do their thing. It was like watching a movie to me.

It’s always addicting watching friends shoot each other up in multiplayer.

It’s a blast dude! I love watching them!

One of the things I found incredibly interesting about Soren in this iteration, is his sense of humor. This is a really hard time for the people of this universe. People are at war with one another. The Covenant is coming and closing in on them. And Soren himself has had a really tragic background; with his parents and the Spartan program. How does a character like that manage to keep a sense of humor, and how do you inject that into this character that has seen so much trauma?

Soren’s spirit remains undaunted. His body has suffered a great deal. But it’s only made his spirit stronger in the same way that someone who may not be able to hear would have an extrasensory sense of smell, what have you. It’s his tragic circumstances that have enhanced his spirit, and his will. His focus, and his belief in himself. Like a fighter who takes shots. It always only serves to make him stronger.

Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief, Yerin Ha as Kwan Ha, Bokeem Woodbine as Soren in Halo episode 2, season 1, streaming on Paramount+. Photo credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

Soren is our first example that we know of in this universe of a Spartan that removes his pellet and sees more clearly (Master Chief eventually does this too, but after Soren). Halsey is of the opinion that having the pellet that suppresses emotion makes Spartans better soldiers. But then you have Soren and Master Chief who show that having those emotions and being a real human can potentially make a soldier greater. Do you think that’s true? That a sense of humanity is needed to make someone a better protector and shepherd, and why do you think that is?

That’s a dynamite question. For me, I think there’s a time and a place to be devoid of feeling and emotion. And any connection to the kind of sensitivity that could cloud your judgement. However, the desire to protect someone you care about is stronger than anything. And as tactful as we want to be in situations and as technical, and as resolute as we need to be, the raw visceral need to protect those you care about is the most powerful effective tool there is.

That’s a really powerful and beautiful sentiment. The desire to care about one another really carries you along, so thank you for that. Speaking of people you care about, Soren is paired with Kwan-Ha for most of the series as we’ve seen so far. And we might be getting a bit of closure with that pairing for now in this coming episode. But it wasn’t an easy journey because Kwan-Ha is a teenager, and we know teenagers can be somewhat difficult. Even though your relationship does grow. What is the best way to deal with a teenager who’s a bit naïve and rebellious, and hasn’t seen as much as Soren?

Yerin Ha as Kwan Ha and Bokeem Woodbine as Soren in Halo episode 7, season 1, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

The hardest word in the world when it comes to adolescence: patience. How much do you have? It’s a tremendous test of your patience. That’s ultimately what it is right? In its purest form, how much can you tolerate hearing someone go on and on about something when you know they don’t know what they’re talking about [laughs]. I’m sure doctors, scientists, experts in any field must have the most patience in the world, because they’re probably bombarded with laymen and their theories. And they have to sit back knowing the truth, and knowing the reality of things. And listen to this person go on and on about something they don’t know anything about. But it’s just a way for me to say patience. You need patience with any kid.

Amen to that! But that is the best way to form a relationship. The more you show them that patience and tolerance they’ll open up to you. And you see that with Soren and Kwan-Ha. If I can ask one final question, we get a bit of backstory between John (Master Chief) and Soren in the series. And to keep a promise to John to keep Kwan-Ha safe and alive, it’s an inconvenience to Soren’s life. He’s happy with his family without obstacles or interference. But he still feels a need to complete that mission. Why do you think he needs to do this and honor Chief’s promise?

Soren is a man of conviction. His word is his bond. So it really is as simple as that. It’s part of the things he learned when he gained free will, and what he was attracted to. This notion that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do. And then codify it in his mind and his nature. And it just is what it is at this point.

Semper Fi right?

Yeah, man!

Bokeem this was wonderful! You’re wonderful on this show and it’s so much fun. And I can’t wait to see Soren return in Season 2, and for the rest of the season to play out. It’s just so exciting. Thank you for the opportunity. Looking forward to more!

Awesome man! Thank you so much, man! Good talking to you!

Catch Bokeem Woodbine as Soren-066 only on Halo, Thursdays on Paramount+!