Karen Robinson stars as Captain Kathleen Davies in The Calling. The eight-episode investigative drama series premieres November 10 on Peacock.
The Calling tells the story of NYPD Detective Avraham Avraham, whose belief in mankind is his superpower when it comes to uncovering the truth. Guided by a deep sense of spirituality and religious principles, Avraham is left to question his own humanity when a seemingly routine investigation turns upside down.
We discussed what interested her about the project, why listening is crucial to acting, the importance of showing women at the height of their careers, how The Calling is different from other crime dramas, and much more. Keep reading for our full conversation!
It is a pleasure to speak with you, I am such a fan of your work. You’re absolutely fantastic. Thank you for taking the time today.
Karen Robinson: Oh, you’re welcome! I’m so glad that you’re asking me to join you because listen, Nerds of Color like, that humbles me a bit because I just think these people are really, really freaking smart and they’re going to ask me some very smart questions. I hope I have suitably smart answers.
To start, what was it that stuck out to you or attracted you to this project? Was there a specific element you were excited to play with or anything that made you feel like, ‘Oh, I definitely want to be a part of this?’
Okay, well, you know, honestly speaking, we freelance actors out here, we just want to work, right? So I remember I got the audition and it said names like David E. Kelley and Barry Levinson, and I went, “Ah, alright.” Then when I auditioned for it because I only had these short scenes but there was something about it — there was something about talking to the lead character, Avraham Avraham, that made me think, ‘he is really interesting,’ and I wonder what’s going on in his head. Turns out I got the part, thank you very much, God, and then I got to meet the people who I was working with, I got to read the script and it turns out that my intuition was right that Avraham Avraham is really wonderfully spiritual, intuitive, quirky, and funny. I was really interested to see how my character, Captain Davies, was gonna be able to give him enough rope to do his work, but also rein him in when he goes off the rails a bit.
I have to ask you about the genre. I mean, I had first seen you in Schitt’s Creek, but then, I watched your other work, Echoes being the most recent. I love the range you have as an actress and I’m curious with crime dramas, is there something you personally enjoy about it, or something that challenges you compared to other genres that you’ve done?
You know what, I actually feel I never ever think of it in terms of genre. I always just want to tell the truth, right? And so, it feels as though, I want to say that even when I’m in a comedy, my focus isn’t to make people laugh. If it’s written well enough — which something like Schitt’s Creek, I mean, it was brilliantly written — if it’s written well enough, if I just approach the character with a modicum of truth, then it’s gonna be funny. It also helps that I sort of have my mom ‘no more fucks to give’ face. I totally have that face and as a person, I totally have that face, but it also helps me, I find, when I have to then segue into something more serious. Acting is about listening and as long as I really am listening to the people around me and am reacting authentically to them, it seems to work out, so far it’s working out and yeah, that’s it. I never think about genre, even when I’m doing Shakespeare, I never think about genre. I’m just like, “What does the character want?” That’s all I’m thinking about: “What do I want? How am I gonna get it?”
I love that. That’s such a smart way to approach it, really diving into the character and doing their story. Speaking of your character, is there any sort of message you took with you from playing her?
Yeah, always wear comfortable shoes. I love the fact that Captain Davies is a sneakerhead. I love that she does not fit the convention when it comes to dressing conservatively but you have to have a heel because you’re a woman. She ain’t into that. She’s like socks and sneakers because when you got to move, you got to move. And really, when you think about it, when your feet aren’t comfortable, it affects everything. I mean, I know I can’t think when my feet are uncomfortable. So I dig her. I dig her because of that. It reminds me to always wear comfortable shoes. And you know that thing I was talking about in terms of listening? Given her position in the squad, that she is the leader of this group, I think she really has to hone her listening skills. I mean, I think that’s how she got to the position she’s in, in the first place. But I think even more so now that she’s there because she has these three disparate characters that she sort of has to make sure that they all focus on the same goal using all of their disparate talents. I think her listening skills really hold her up in this position.
When I’m watching a show or film, it makes me so happy to see a woman in a position of power like Captain Kathleen Davies. How does that make you feel to know that you’re presenting a character like that on screen? It’s not always portrayed in a good way, especially in a police/crime show.
It makes me really respect the work that women and in particular women of color have to do in order to achieve the heights in their careers and it’s humbling, quite frankly. I have women that I know, that I love, who are in my family, who are in my chosen family, who have followed a similar path, and I know how difficult it is. So what I want to do, in portraying Kathleen Davies, is to honor that, and not to have it be something that you know — it’s not dismissible. The fact that she’s there, the fact that she got there, the fact that she stays there is fucking amazing.
I personally love suspenseful and unpredictable shows, that is an immediate draw for me. When you were filming The Calling, did you try to guess where the storyline was going? Is there a part that you’re most excited for audiences to see that you could tease for me?
For the first part of your question, no because it’s loosely based on the books by Dror A. Mishani, but true to their brilliance, the writers on this show took liberties with where the story could go, how they could flesh it out more, and what would make it interesting translating it from literary form to TV. So there’s that so, no I didn’t know. We didn’t have all the scripts at the beginning, right? So we were waiting with bated breath to see where it goes and that was great. That was great because what it meant is that we had to play what was in front of us at that point. We couldn’t foreshadow anything because we didn’t know what we’d be foreshadowing, so that was wonderful as an actor. In terms of teasing you with anything, I think I want the audience to see just much Captain Davies loves her squad, and how she takes care of them. That’s as far as I will go.
I feel like everyone is really into crime dramas. I don’t know about you, but I watch Blue Bloods on Friday nights and Law & Order Thursdays. I mean, they are such a huge thing on television right now. What is your relationship with them? Are you a fan of the genre, and why do you think it continues to suck so many people in?
I could speculate but I really am not sure. I mean, I’m with you on the Law & Order, especially the SVU series. Again, because it’s led by a woman and because we see what is happening around her from her perspective so that’s fantastic. I grew up watching them and I don’t know if it’s because they were just always there. I really don’t know, but I’ll tell you something about this one, The Calling: with everything that both you and I have watched throughout our lives, I have never seen a character like Avraham Avraham. I know all of the Columbos, the Kojaks, and the Olivias and I truly have never seen a character like him. I’ve never seen a detective approach — it feels like he is approaching situations rather than who done it, you know what I’m saying? Because this series leads you into the lives of all the people who are surrounding that situation, and you go into their apartment, you go into their rooms, you go into the conversations they have in their rooms, you go into what classes they have, in supermarkets, but you go into their lives and you find out about the people. That is about how Avraham Avraham approaches his work because he is more interested in human nature, or just as interested in human nature as he is in resolving the situation for everyone involved. He really believes that each of these people has a core need to speak the truth and to find a way to reach that core.
I think it’s so interesting that you can do such a unique path with this show. I think you really have knocked it out of the park because like you said there’s so many on and it’s such a breath of fresh air.
Not to take away from any of the other programs because they keep us watching. I love the fact that there is something new about it. There is an underneath, there’s a spirituality, and it’s not mysticism. It’s about him using his attachment to his own sense of humanity, it’s the questions that he asked himself about his own nature to approach the people that he has to pursue in order to get the job done.
Lastly, I have to ask you about your approach to the role. Were there any challenges from the experience, specific to this show, that you feel like you’re going to take with you on future projects acting-wise?
I feel like with every job that I do, I remind myself that every job is new, that this is never run of the mill for me, it’s never “Oh, yeah, I can do this with my eyes closed.” It’s always challenging. It’s always something new and I feel like I’m always feeding myself to move on to the next challenge. That’s what it’s been like throughout my entire career, whether I know it or not. There definitely are some situations where you learn something that carries you through, but with this one, I was gleaning from all the wonderful people that I got to work with and reminding myself what makes our craft compelling and watchable, and what we owe to audiences because audiences are fucking smart, man. You can’t talk down to them, you really got to meet them where they are and try to stay at least two steps in front of them in order to keep their gaze and so yeah, I think we did that with this series.