Jessica Szohr And Anne Winters Dish On The New Season Of The Orville - Exclusive Interview

You'll likely remember actress Jessica Szohr from her time playing Vanessa Abrams in "Gossip Girl" – and her current co-star Anne Winters played Chloe Rice in "13 Reasons Why." But their latest project takes them somewhere entirely different from those worlds. Instead of starring in high school dramas, the actresses are now in a futuristic sci-fi as part of a spaceship crew in "The Orville: New Horizons."

Season 3 of the series is set to premiere on June 2, and according to the stars, it's raising the stakes from past years. Winters is new to the cast this season, and during an exclusive interview with The List, she shared what it was like coming on an established show and some of the biggest challenges she faced. Szohr talked about some of the biggest changes to this season, and both actresses discussed the many difficulties the cast and crew faced in making the series amid COVID lockdowns.

The biggest changes for Season 3

Do you feel there were any big changes going into the show for this season for you, Jessica?

Jessica Szohr: Yes — a lot. I left not having a baby, and I went in with a baby, coming off of a pandemic. Also, [there were] a lot of rule changes to make sure that our cast and crew were really safe in a safe work environment. And all of our characters [were different].

Anne Winters: Also, in the season, we were filming before you had the baby. That was so crazy. Before ... it feels like a year, and then the pandemic happened, and I still don't really know how long that was. Then we got back, and everyone's lives were changed.

Jessica: [We] totally changed personally — and then everything with the world and the pandemic and all these things. To go back and jump into being on "The Orville" and being Talla and all of the storylines evolving and all new sets, new cast members ... Even though, yes, you [Anne Winters] were on before the pandemic, this was all still this season. So for me personally, and for Talla, there were so many changes — and in all great ways.

Anne Winters on her new character

Anne, your character, Charly, came on as a regular character this season. What can you tell us about her?

Anne: She is a very smart navigator, and I did as much studying on YouTube as I could for fourth-dimensional physics and mathematics. I got the tip of the iceberg of that. Hopefully, I was able to portray what I studied. But this was a really fun character. It's very different from anything I've ever done. And I love sitting next to Gordon [Scott Grimes' character] the whole time. That was a blast; he's the best.

Jessica: I need to add to her coming on. She came on as if she was a part of the show from the beginning — so professional, she kills it with the character, how she brought her to life. She made it seem so flawless and effortless, and knowing that she put so much work behind it ... A lot of times, [that's] why actors who are as good as she is make it look so effortless, because they do all the work before and come to set and let it be there. She brought such a cool color and dynamic layer to "The Orville," to our show, to the cast, and to the crew. It was really rad. Even watching the couple episodes ...

Anne: Thank you so much. I haven't heard this.

How Anne adjusted to acting on a sci-fi series

Jessica: She's so good in it. I know you've watched it and can agree, I'm sure. I wanted to add that. You never know when someone's coming on what they're going to bring, and when they bring their A-game like that, it's so great to play off of and add to.

Anne: Thank you, that means a lot because it's always hard to come on to a cast that has done two seasons together and you don't know anybody, and you're the only new person.

Jessica: It was a lot. You had a lot to do. Your storyline is crazy. The dialogue is insane. And coming in and working on green screens and having eyelines when you're talking to a red X on the wall ... That's a lot.

Anne: The first day on set, my first scene was with Isaac [an artificial lifeform played by Mark Jackson]. I'll never forget, because we did rehearsals without his helmet. When we were about to roll, I was like, "You know what? I actually want him to put his helmet on so that I feel like I'm talking to Isaac." And the minute he did that, I was looking at him like, "This is so weird." I forgot my line. I've never acted with a robot, but the eyeline is different. He's not really looking at you. His eyes are up here and down here. It was super strange. I was like, "I got to get used to this. Jesus." 

I have a lot of interaction with Isaac. We have a very big storyline in this — so excited for you guys to see it. Thank you, Jess.

What did you feel was the biggest adjustment for you being in this sci-fi setting?

Anne: Honestly, the hardest part was some of the dialogue. I don't know why, but it's like a doctor show. Everything that you say is so specific and sometimes not conversational, which I'm more used to. You really had to be on your game with knowing what you're talking about and the facts of what you're talking about.

Jessica: And pronunciations. We have a dictionary in the beginning of each script so that you are saying the words correctly and looking up the meaning, because it's like what Annie said — it's second nature to the character. Not second — first nature; second to us as actors. So you want to get that flawlessly. You're totally right — couldn't agree more.

Anne: Seth [MacFarlane] is very particular, too, about the words and everything, which ... Thank God, because we don't want to sound like we don't know what we're talking about, because we do. We know what we're talking about.

How their characters change throughout Season 3

For you, Jessica, do you feel like your character has changed going into this season or throughout the season?

Jessica: I do. The journey that she goes on this season, she gains a lot of respect from [Seth MacFarlane's character] Ed, and he gives her a lot more responsibility. [With] her personal life and the ups and downs with her career, there's a lot going on. It'll be really fun for the fans to take this ride with Talla, for sure. But yes, there are lots of changes for her.

Obviously, Charly is new, but do you feel like she changes throughout this season?

Anne: A hundred percent. Actually, that was my favorite part. She completely does a 180 in my mind as an arc for her character. I'm excited for you guys to see it.

One of the things that I find fun watching "The Orville" is there's this overarching plot throughout the season, but then each episode is like its own mini-movie or its own story within that. What is that like for you, with the storytelling as an actor? Do you know where the whole season's going, or do you get one episode script at a time?

Anne: I forget, because during quarantine, we had all of our scripts, and I remember thinking that quarantine was only going to be a month. I had all my lines memorized for the whole season, and I was like, "Now what?" But before then, we probably got every other episode, one or two episodes at a time. Each one tells a completely different story within the same kind of arc of everybody's character, which is interesting.

Jessica: You're very accurate to say mini-movies. They really come across that way. The visual effects, everything — everyone brought every piece of the puzzle to the show. They brought their A-game and beyond to make them look like mini-movies. We had a lot of room to explore all different things on all different levels with Hulu. We'd get the script, and we would do our table reads. I don't think we knew the ending. We could literally sit with the writers or call them ...

Anne: What about the table read? I forgot we had the table reads. Table reads felt like another life.

Jessica: But I didn't know where Talla was going to end up from the beginning.

How the pandemic affected The Orville filming schedule

Does that make it interesting for you as you're acting, where you're not sure what the endpoint is yet?

Jessica: I think so. That's what's fun about TV, even though TV is changing. When we were on "Gossip Girl," you didn't know what Vanessa, my character on that, would be doing in Episode 18 because we were doing so many. But I always find that fascinating and wonderful with TV because you know your character, giving her a backstory and then bringing her to life. 

You learn about her as the show goes on as well, because in Episode 6, you didn't know some of the facts that you knew in Episode 1. I remember when I first came on "The Orville," there were certain things about Talla's family that I didn't know until later. I find that interesting and fun and challenging and scary. But that's all part of the journey of being an actor, too. I enjoy it even though it is scary sometimes. Don't you agree?

Anne: I agree. For this show, from as far back as I can remember, I felt like it was one big movie because it feels like forever [that] I've been prepared for the whole arc after getting all the scripts.

Jessica: The pandemic, like [Anne] said before, really changed everything.

Anne: It felt like, "Okay, now I have a movie in front of me. I know everything." But normally, yes. I understand what you're saying. You have to go episode by episode and see what they're going to throw at you and use the knowledge from before to keep it consistent with your character and the different storylines.

Jessica: And to that, what was also different with this situation is we were shooting all out of order. A lot of times on TV, you do Episode 1 and then you do Episode 2. You might have a scene or two that you change. But in this, we were shooting some stuff from Episode 8 to Episode 2. So we were shooting like a movie.

Anne: Since it was like each episode was its own story, it was challenging. We would have different episodes a day of different scenes. So it was challenging to remember, "Okay, that was that story. This is this story, this happened before, or this happened after."

Jessica: I don't know that we would've shot that way had we not shut down for as long as we did. There are a lot of layers to all of that.

How the show gives a new perspective to real-life topics

Are there any episodes or storylines that you're excited for viewers to see when the season comes out?

Anne: I loved Season 3, Episode 1, actually. I really am excited to have this show introduced in a new way. I wasn't a part of Seasons 1 and 2, but I watched them all, and this is, in my mind, a completely different take on the show. [Episode] 1 is coming in hot. It's completely different. Everything is incredible.

Jessica: You're like, "You've been waiting, and it was worth the wait." I'm really excited for everyone to see [Anne's character Charly's] storyline, what she brings and the dynamic between her and Isaac and [having] a new person on the ship. But there's lots of cool stuff that goes on with everybody. I'm excited for everyone to come on this ride with us.

We've worked really hard. The writers did an extraordinary job with the storylines — I don't know if I want to say [they're] "current issues," but the things that we touch on, and we get to explore and even go deeper into a little bit more because it is in space and it is this space language.

Anne: That's one of my favorite things about this show, by the way. It's so cool how you can bring in different topics that, on Earth, we see only what we see, but [Seth MacFarlane] is bringing it in such a different way to where there are different galaxies, different ways of life, different planets where you can have non-judgment.

Jessica: [It's] not so narrow of a view. It's like a lens that he opens up your mind to see things in a broader way, which is really beautiful.

Anne: It takes away your own perspective. I think it's brilliant.

How they balance comedy and drama

Anne: It's funny too, obviously. It's not too serious, but it still touches on very serious subjects in a way.

Jessica: They did a really good job with the balance of keeping it ... touching on real issues, but a little taste of comedy. It's a very good balance of all of it.

Did you ever find it difficult to strike that balance of a more lighthearted line in a more serious sequence?

Anne: I feel [Scott Grimes' character] Gordon is always the one that is ...

Jessica: [He] does it perfectly.

Anne: [He'll] dive in and say one small comment that's funny that makes an entire serious scene lift a little bit. And then it goes back into serious mode. But it's those certain characters or those certain moments that are really well played by certain characters when it's a serious or heavy scene.

Jessica: His character somehow brought a little breath of fresh air or a little moment. He was really good at that. I did find it challenging. Thank God we had the directors, Jon [Cassar] and Seth [MacFarlane], with us to help make sure that we were finding those beats and making sure it came across very organically but having the flavor of all of that. I'm so happy I had both of them there, that I trust [them] and they believe in me.

Anne: They're a great team.

Jessica: Great.

Anne: I love that they directed every other episode, even though there were days when, since we shoot out of order, it didn't feel like it was every other day. But Jon and Seth worked so well together. They couldn't come up with a better duo. Normally, on TV shows, you have a different director all the time, so it was nice to have a team every episode.

"The Orville: New Horizons" Season 3 premieres on June 2 on Hulu.

This interview was edited for clarity.