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Troian Bellisario Talks the Immersiveness of ‘Ad Lucem,’ Her Decision to Direct, and More

Photography: Octavia Klein / Makeup: Danilo Cifuentes

Troian Bellisario not only stars in Ad Lucem, but additionally wrote, directed, and executive produced the socio-political thriller podcast. Currently, there are five episodes available, which you can listen to here.

The year is 2032, and the revolutionary tech company AD LUCEM O.I. has over 10 million subscribers. Their Corporeal Augmented Reality Assistant, or CARA for short, is a massive success. CARA isn’t just another listening device. It’s a virtual assistant, helmed by a live operator, who responds to the wants and needs of their clients in real time – the way only a human can. With an update to this game-changing technology on the horizon, the company’s CEO is poised to capture the fame and fortune she’s always dreamed of. But it is quickly revealed that her determination to “maintain the thread of human connection” might have unintended consequences…

While speaking over Zoom, we discussed why the project was such an incredible experience, which episode she’s most excited for audiences to hear, how the idea became a podcast, engaging the listener’s imagination, and more. Keep reading for everything she shared with me!

I’m so glad to be speaking with you again. Thank you so much for doing this.
Troian Bellisario: I’m so happy to be talking to you too. I had such a good time talking with you about Doula. So, so stoked to be talking to you again.

That means the world because, as I told you last time, I am such a big fan of yours. I was actually looking back on that interview because I was like, I think this is the project we spoke about in the last question, and it is!
Oh my God, it might have — yeah, totally.

It’s so funny but I’m happy we get to continue that conversation and I get to actually talk to you about it now. I’ve gotten to listen to the episodes that are out already and I just love the vibe of it. It’s such an interesting genre and I really like the immersive listening experience overall, I felt like the sounds were everywhere while I was listening. It really does feel like I’m in the story and obviously, you did not have that when you were doing it and recording your parts, so what it was like for you to do that whole process and then listen to the final version with all of the effects?
Wow, that’s a great question. It was really game-changing. I think, for me, even just going into the idea of making a podcast, me and my writing partner were thinking so much of it as like a radio play, you know what I mean? And when we worked with our partners at QCODE and SALT, they were like, “No, no, no, you need to think about this just like you’re making a TV show. It’s going to be that immersive,” and not only were they able to say, “Okay, we’re going to create a scene in Miranda’s office between Dominic and Miranda, where do you want them sitting in relationship to each other? And then, furthermore, where do you want the audience,” which, to me, as a director, when I was directing this was more like, “Where do you want the camera?” So, are we more in Miranda’s perspective? Are we over her shoulder and Dominic’s across the room? Are we sort of in a wide, so they’re like, equal distant from each other?

We even have done some phone calls, which is really cool, where you’re like, inside — I think there’s a phone call in episode two where you’re inside Dominic’s head and you hear him put in the EarPods and then you hear the voice the way you would hear it, but you also hear Dominic, like Chris Pine, speaking the way that you would hear your own voice in your head, which is like conducted through your bones. They just got so granular in such a wonderful way that it really sort of blew open the idea of making a podcast for me.

Photography: Octavia Klein
Makeup: Danilo Cifuentes

You’re wearing all the hats for this project; you are directing, you’re writing, you’re executive producing, you’re starring in it, and you really created every ounce of it. Did you have a role that you enjoyed most? I know that’s hard because I feel like every aspect together probably made the experience. Also, what made you want to do all of those aspects? They’re not easy. It’s not an easy thing to be wearing all these different hats, but you did it perfectly, which I’m not surprised by. What was that like to have that experience?
It was amazing and overwhelming. I think the most incredible thing for me with this experience is I’ve gotten to direct like a singular episode of something, and the closest I’ve ever gotten to this is I got to write and direct a short film that I also acted in and it was mind-blowing to me. But to me, what I’m used to doing, if I’m directing or if I’m acting, is I’m acting in somebody else’s creation or I’m directing a TV show for somebody else, so there’s a lot of people that I can turn to and be like, “What do you want from this? What do you want it to be?” And I can kind of figure out how to collaborate that way.

I’m very grateful to work with a writing partner on this, Josh Close, who also plays Nick in the show, but when I stepped in to direct it, it was really because my producing partner, Ian Gotler, who’s one-half of Barry Linen with Chris, was like, “This is your baby and you know it inside out, you’ve been spending so much time crafting it, do you really want to hand it off or do you wanna figure out how to see it over the finish line and really kind of be the captain of the ship, so to speak, and take everybody on this journey?” And so, I was so grateful when QCODE and SALT reached out to me and said, “Okay, so you’re gonna be directing too, right?” I was like, “Yeah, sure, totally. I guess I am gonna be directing,” and it was so fun because it was just such a fantastic opportunity when we were recording to be directing Olivia Wilde as she’s recording and then, it was like an Olivia, Phil scene and I was like, “Okay, I guess I’ll just go run and jump in the other booth and I’ll do this scene with you,” and because I had been writing it for a year, I just knew it top to tail in a way that you hope to as a director. It was really so exciting and I just wanted to wear all the hats for this one.

I’m always so fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes and I love how passionate you are when you answer. Is there an episode that you’re most excited to release whether it’s because there was a storyline that was particularly interesting, maybe a moment that you had the best time recording and just want to see how it came out, or you want to see audiences react to? I feel like if I was sharing a project that would be the most enjoyable part for me, is seeing the audience react to the content.
That’s a great question again. You know, for me — because we have eight full episodes and nine is our epilogue, but for me, three was really my… I love that one because it was the first one that I tackled kind of on my own in writing and it was, to me, our bottle episode. I wanted to see if I could really make one episode that was… the world is so big and it’s so many characters, and I love episodes of television that are so small, so I felt like that was one of my most fun episodes to work on and to write just that episode between Vincent and Miranda, and especially also, it being set in the pandemic, like the height of quarantine.

It was really fascinating for me to think back to the way we all felt when everything was first shutting down, what that meant for us as a culture, and what I imagined it meant for these two characters. Then, episode six, which is called, “The Church,” which will be out in a week, that’s kind of the original idea that I approached my writing partner, Josh Close, with five years ago now was the sort of kernel of, [or] the starting thing for, you know, it was like the seed for all of this. Originally, I conceived of this as a film and the concept for the film is like the starting point for six, so I’m the most excited for everybody to get to episode six, I would say.

You actually led me to my next question perfectly because I was curious, what made you choose a podcast for this story? I think it is so well-done and I really like the format. I think it was such a brilliant choice and now that you mention that you had considered a film, why did you decide to do a podcast over a movie or TV show for this story?
I mean, really, like I said, I first had an idea in my head as a film and it was really interesting because it was like, the first thing that came to me was the character of Phil and there’s something that happens in Phil’s history that was the idea for the film for me. I was hanging out five years ago with my friend and collaborator, Josh Close, and I sort of talked to him about this idea, and when I talked to him about the idea and the job that Phil had, he was like, “Wait, so what kind of company does she work for? What’s this company about?” He was talking to me about the company and at the time actually, it was right when — I don’t know if the podcast, The Dropout, had just come out, but there was a lot of conversation about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos happening and we were kind of like, “Oh, what if the company was not run by a sort of like, wunderkind male, Elon Musk kind of guy, but what if it was like an Elizabeth Holmes?”

And so, then all of a sudden we started thinking about this character Miranda and what it must be like to be a woman in that position, and we were like, “Okay, so this is not a movie, this is a TV show.” We started thinking about it like a TV show and we worked on the pilot in several different iterations. We had a table read, much of the voices of the actors that you hear were all of our friends and they were voicing the characters. I think this was like three years ago and our other friend Ian Gotler, who is now producing partners with Chris Pine and Barry Linen, he came to the table read and he actually just recently sent me the email that he sent me after the table read where he was like, “I think that this is a real project and if you ever wanna come to us with this, I wanna figure out what next steps are.”

HMU:  Katrina Klein
Photo Credit: Andrew Hwang 

So we were working with them to develop it as a television series for a while, and then what we came up against was just that it was Josh and my first foray into writing for TV and into building a world, and it was such a massive world that I think we were finding a hard way, even with such amazing produce partners as Barry Linen, to get people to trust us with that much of an undertaking. It was massive, as you can hear in the story, and so we were kind of losing traction. And then, suddenly Ian was like, “What if it was a podcast? What if we didn’t make it a TV show? What if you got to make the whole world, but people could experience it on a singular level, just at home or in their car?” We went out to QCODE and SALT and it was immediate, they were like, “Yes, let’s do it,” and that’s how it became a podcast. It was a real adventure kind of, you know, for me, I had been thinking about so many visuals of this world and that was really the amazing thing of pairing up with QCODE and SALT as our producing partners because they were like, “You don’t lose anything in coming to the podcast. Let us show you what we can build for you just in a soundscape.” So, it was amazing.

I imagine those visuals played such a big part for you when you were recording the lines, and it’s really interesting that everyone is gonna have a different experience with it and visualize everything differently even though we are all immersed in the same world. Everyone can see a visual but it must be so incredible for you, as an artist, to see everyone have their own experience with your work.
Well, I mean, it’s so exciting because we also are getting to work with some visual artists, like QCODE is putting out, and I’ve kind of sent them out on my social media, for each episode, we’re working with this really talented artist named Bryn, who’s creating these like single visual frames to represent something and it’s really cool because it’s kind of, to me, like reading a book where you get to choose what you think the inside of this company looks like. I don’t know, I do this when I read books or even when I listen to audiobooks, even if I know what Olivia Wilde’s face looks like, Chris Pine’s face, or even if you know what my face looks like, when you’re listening to everybody, you’re just coming up with your own version of this world. And so, I think it’s a kind of engaging our listener’s imagination in a totally different way and I love that. I love that there’s that kind of participation like you said.

Troian, thank you so much again. Hearing you talk about the background of this podcast just blows me away. I really appreciate you, you’re the best and we will definitely speak again soon. You already know, any project you have coming up…
I would love that. Thank you so much and thank you, as always, for your — you have just the best questions.

Please note: AD LUCEM is covered under a SAG-AFTRA Podcast Agreement. In support of the strike, please donate to the Entertainment Community Fund.

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