The stakes are at an all-time high on The CW’s The 100: Lexa has ditched her “blood must have blood” mantra for a more peaceful route, the Coalition is vulnerable and Heda’s ability to rule over the grounder clans might still be in question. Not to mention the Commander’s advisor Titus is undoubtedly uneasy towards Lexa’s decision not to retaliate against Pike and the rebel Sky people. Who let’s not forget, rejected the brand of the Coalition and decided to exterminate (while they were sleeping) a Grounder army sent to Arkadia to protect them. The 100 isn’t taking any prisoners, well, perhaps just a few– hand delivered to Polis in a box, even. With mentions of the sacred symbol (Alie’s trademark) floating around grounder territory, we’re left wondering just how connected Alie is and if Polis is a beacon for this seasons ‘big bad’ artificial intelligence.
As Lexa’s right-hand man, Titus has become the key to many of season three’s queries. The character, a loyal yet suspicious character played by Neil Sandilands on The 100, is a symbol of the Old Guard. A slender, and mythical man that we’re still sizing up. Though well-intentioned, his motives are currently unclear. We do however know that he stands faithfully by Lexa’s side guiding her through her reign as Commander, and has worked to maintain the Grounder civilization alongside four previous Commanders before Lexa.
Sandilands chatted with me about being the Fleimkepa to Alycia Debnam-Carey’s character, as well as the mythology surrounding grounder politics and Titus’ speculative goal in Polis. He touched upon his characters odd physical presence within the grounder community, his loyalty to Lexa and possible concern for her feelings towards Clarke, the legendary Wanheda. We also talked about binge-watching The 100, the amazing writing team, and his upcoming scenes with Clarke and Murphy.
Can Titus be trusted? Is he really just trying to do what’s right for his Commander and his people? I guess we’ll find out…
MCKENZIE MORRELL: Alright, tell us about Titus and his importance to the Commander.
NEIL SANDILANDS: Well, I can talk about my interaction with Jason Rothenberg, we had a very lengthy conversation about how he saw it and he gave me a lot of great pointers and then I think I sort of brought things to the character, which he appreciated. Like shaving the head, and the tattoo and what not. He takes an idea and he just runs with it. He liked the idea and then he came up with this really elaborate tattoo, which I think works really well for the character. In terms of Titus, he’s kind of like a mythical, kung fu, [laughs] wizard, grounder. He such a, I think in an unusual place. I think as the Fleimkepa, he understands the mythology and I think the metaphysics about grounder culture. It’s his job to to preserve that, and at the same time enhance cohesion within grounder culture. It’s a very complex character in that sense, and then there’s obviously, he’s there for Lexa. And I think she brings a lot to the party because she is just a phenomenal personality. It’s balancing all of those things.
MM: Fans have picked up that Titus isn’t like any other grounder we’ve seen before, his physical presence or the fact that he’s got these tattoos on his head. As the season progresses will we see his backstory unfold a little more?
NS: I haven’t seen the episodes, but I know the storyline and what not and people can sit on the edges of their seats because it’s going to get really, really, really interesting. Jason and the creators of The 100 are incredibly good at keeping the tension. There’s always conflict and it goes through the roof. It’s very exciting what’s going to be happening. I think it’s very slow and it’s a subtle entry into it but that storyline is [laughs] for me– sorry that I seem so vague but I just don’t want to say stuff that sort of gives anything away. There’s a definite excitement. And to see where the fans are going to go with it, because whatever you might be thinking… no. [Laughs]
MM: And I think that’s what’s great about it, there are so many theories swirling around on the internet, fans are not quite sure if they can trust your character quite yet, they think he might have a connection to Alie, the City of Light or even the Ice Nation– and to see that unfold is going to be quite interesting.
NS: I like the sort of mystical quality about it. Let’s call it enigmatic and go with that, but I think he is trying to do the right thing for what he’s understanding is about what ground culture is. I think he very much comes from that place. He’s a political advisor, there is some sort of wizardry that goes on there. He’s very connected to the cultural background, which is interesting bringing those dimensions to it. Creating sort of a cultural and mythology and metaphysical landscape in which grounder thinking exists. I think that’s what makes him fascinating and I think it’s that balancing, those things with the obviously very strong personality of Lexa. He is very protective of her.
MM: Titus said that Lexa has shown more promise than any other commander he’s seen, if he’s been around for four commanders, that means that their lifespan isn’t very long, or he looks really good for his age [laughs]. Do you think he worries for the longevity of Lexa’s reign? Is that why he’s working in overdrive?
NS: I think the thing with all culture is that culture is dynamic, and it needs to be. In order for it to go forward in any meaningful way it needs to be dynamic, which involves change. Lexa being young, smart, strong, I think she’s sort of the embodiment of that dynamic. And it may very well be at odds with the regular way of doing things. I think that’s where the tension lies because he’s trying to do the right thing for the greater good, but at the same time he’s also presented with a very strong-willed individual that he cares for. That he can obviously see as intelligent, has will power, is a very good leader. And she also tries to do what is for the greater good, but that might not be what he’s traditionally used to. He can only advise and that’s it. He can try and be supportive and I think he’s really good at getting a really balanced and objective interpretation of things. Quite often that might not be popular, but it is at the same time for the greater good and whatever is good for Lexa.
MM: Before the battle, Titus mentioned that Lexa’s strength was in question. Do you think Titus second-guesses her decisions to allow the Sky People into the coalition and to fight Roan herself? Or is he fiercely loyal?
NS: I think he follows protocol, he knows how grounder community and structure works so if it’s a top down decision and it comes from Lexa he will always abide by it even though he might not agree with it. I think it would be very hard for him to change protocol, I think he believes in protocol and I think he’s believes in that structure.
MM: Titus doesn’t seem to get out much, he seems like he’s going to be a permanent fixture in Polis… but if you could have him explore anywhere other than Polis on The 100 where would you choose?
NS: [Laughs] That’s the hot seat right there, I don’t know. But Neil would say that rock and roll house that Murphy woke up in. I think he might have a good time there, just let his hair down for a second.
MM: [Laughs] That would be awesome. We still have much to learn about the Night Bloods, but without giving anything away– what did you think of the whole concept when you were reading the script?
NS: I think it’s incredibly well thought out and I’m just going to say that. It’s something that’s completely sensical. I don’t know how they come up with these concepts, but I think what they’re particularly good at is taking some sort of concept that we know, for example Lord of the Flies, there’s elements of that in The 100 and we deal with the concept of loyalty or blood lines or lineage. Those things are in there and then they explore those and manage to very intricately weave it into the narrative that they’re trying to tell so it’s fascinating stuff and it’s not stuff that I would imagine would be hard to swallow in terms of its believability. That’s probably all I’d like to say about that, because it’s a very intricate part of the storyline.
MM: Of course. I’m sure the fans have come up with these insane theories and speculation of where the story is heading and no matter how intricate the theories are the writers kind of say, nope, not even close.
NS: I’ve been reading some of the social commentary and what their favorite episodes are and all I can say from my sort of relative position is to hold onto your seats, you ain’t seen nothing. It’s all exposition that’s happening and it’s going to from there to 500 miles an hour pretty quickly.
MM: Oh boy. There are a dozen episodes left, so we have a long road ahead of us, but in terms of your character how would you describe your character’s strengths and weaknesses? Are you able to relate to them at all?
NS: I’ll say this, what I found fascinating and I kind of touched upon it is my background, I got my degree is politics and philosophy. That’s my thing. I have a Bachelor’s in that, so I’ve always been fascinated in those kind of things: History, culture, philosophy, relationships, metaphysics, mythology. All of them. So that made the character for me more fun to play. I guess maybe his quest for justice, or least an interest in justice. I mean whatever you think it is– at this point it’s beyond good and evil. But I think he is propelled by those constructs, he actively seeks them out, he tries to understand them. He does have a moral compass, not necessarily whatever we view as morality as human beings, it’s quite a different thing. I think it’s also part of traditional culture, you’d also see that it’s even ancient. He is lucive, he can see into the future, he does have an understanding of the greater good, it is a holistic approach, so all of those things for me was stuff that I’m naturally interested in and to try and embody that in a character was really a gift. What I can say from the actors perspective is when I read scripts and I’m looking forward to getting the new script and I am startled by what the scriptwriters and Jason came up with I go like “oh my god, I didn’t see this happening,” that’s fantastic because it never undermines my intelligence. And if it doesn’t do that for me it wouldn’t do that for a greater viewing public. And really kudos to them for doing that.
MM: We all feel a connection to that idea and believe we’re being treated like we’re going to be able to digest it all.
NS: I totally enjoyed going on that journey, it was awesome. Mostly my storyline is with Clarke and with Lexa and with Murphy.
MM: Yes, with Murphy… we saw some glimpses of that so we’re looking forward to seeing what’s going on with that storyline. The question of the hour, Titus is a very perceptive man– do you think he’s aware of Lexa’s feelings for Clarke and does he consider it a weakness?
NS: Well I think in a fatherly way, I think he’s concerned that she makes political decisions based on emotion. And I think he is aware of that and he’s trying to find the line of where she’s at. I don’t think it would be in a reprimanding way, I don’t think that’s what’s going on there, there’s a very adult and sophisticated way in which they’re going about it and I think he understands that. I just think that he doesn’t want her to make decisions based on feeling.
MM: I totally agree with that. How has it been working with The 100 cast?
NS: They were all great, I’ve got to tell you. I don’t want to sound like the old guy, but they’re in their early to mid-20’s and just so cool and together and so professional, there’s no ego and stuff like that. It was really an eye-opener for me to work with them. It was awesome, we had a great time there was a very professional approach to what we’re doing and what I always admire is that they push themselves to create a great scene. It doesn’t matter if we go over time or we have to rework things there’s that sort of commitment to make considered television. I see that coming from essentially young performers is fantastic. I think there’s hope.
MM: There’s hope for the future yet! You have a real versatile background, from writing, editing, directing and producing, to acting, and sound editing, did you always know that you wanted to be able to do it all, so to speak?
NS: Since I was a young boy, I always believed in the power of narrative, storytelling. Even in that ancient sense. Before we had TV’s the arc of relaying narratives in order to perhaps view things a bit better by telling stories. That’s our entrance, that’s why we have fables. I’ve always been drawn to that way of relaying knowledge. I think you get a lot further with, say kids, if you tell them stories or fables in order to pass on something of greater value. I’ve always known that would probably be my motives of communication. Naturally you find yourself in a feature film or the TV narrative world where it’s about that thing and I’m fascinated by all of the aspects of it, how do you put it together, from concept all the way to even the technicality of it. How do you record sound, how do you edit, how do you frame something? So all of those things to me are fascinating and then good television and good cinema really gives you all of those things because it’s the embodiment of composition: of discourse, of Literature, performance, interpretation, artifacts, it’s all in there. It’s a no brainer that I would have gone in that direction.
To answer your question, obviously performing is great, especially if you can perform in something with such a big imagination as The 100, but I would have been equally happy if I was behind the camera. And working with the material, I’d get a kick out of that. Working with these actors. Shooting it. I look at the visuals that’s coming out of it, and it just looks so good. There’s just such an attention to detail. The art department, what they do on the show is fantastic and I’m constantly intrigued by prosthetics, makeup, scripts. I want it all.
MM: It’s great to know how things are made and to actually be able to execute it from start to finish. It’s probably something that’s really exciting and a great ride to go on.
NS: I love talking about process and when you do that sometimes you destroy the suspension and disbelief. For me, I find that fascinating, but I don’t know whether the readers or fans or whatnot, if they outta know or should know what I think about the process of it. But that’s naturally fascinating to me how it all comes together.
MM: I mean, I think they all are pretty interested, they pick apart the scenes, they’re always speculating and going into deep thoughts and analysis, so I believe the audience is kind of there with you, for sure.
NS: Once again, Mr. Rothenberg with his subtle placement of things, everything is considered, that’s what I like about it. Nothing is left to chance, the tribes, the chairs, the symbols representing all the tribes, everything is considered.
MM: The sets are just amazing. We’ve been getting behind the scenes pics on Twitter and those are all welcome, obviously. Let’s kind of nonchalantly switch gears to SundanceTV’s “Hap and Leonard,” can you tell us anything about Paco?
NS: That’s based on the Joe R. Lansdale novel “Savage Season” and I was actually working on it before The 100. We shot that down in Louisiana and I think that’s coming out, I believe March 2. Great cast, as well, they call it swamp noir, and it’s set in the 80’s. It’s a fascinating piece, even while I was working on it I was trying to think ‘but okay, what kind of genre is this– where does it sit?’ And it’s quite unlike anything else. I cannot come up with a single reference that I would say ‘okay that’s how it is.’ It’s a bit of almost like the A-Team meets Natural Born Killers [laughs]. And then it’s period and it’s got a romantic subplot that’s in there. It’s a love story, it’s gruesome, it becomes very violent, it just has all those dynamics. It’s a great piece of television because it’s not going to sit comfortably in anything that we know.
MM: That’ll be awesome. I guess to to kind of conclude, you have a lot going on– you have Titus’ story unfolding on The 100… can you tell us why people should be tuning in every week?
NS: When I auditioned for The 100, I did a bit of due diligence, and I looked at what tone– I mean I couldn’t get it all in overnight. I think I maybe had one or two days to prepare. So I looked at it and I got a sense of the tone and then once I knew I was going to be on the show, I took the effort and I watched the first and the second season. I literally binged it. I got seriously into it. I didn’t know a lot about The CW channel, I’m still very new to America, relatively. So I’m finding my feet and finding out who are the broadcasters and what kind of shows they have on there. I was particularly surprised with The 100, because I assumed that the demographic is probably for a, let’s call it, a younger audience. I was looking at it as a politics and philosophy major, I’m not a teenager anymore, and I was nailed to the screen. Loved it. Loved how I was being challenged, I loved the performances. I loved everything about it. The art department, it’s futuristic view on whatever a post-apocalyptic society may look like. For all of those reasons, I am a fan of The 100. I would watch that even if I wasn’t involved in it in any mean, way or form. And I consider myself a pretty discernable viewer, I don’t watch anything.
MM: [Laughs] Well that seems like a high compliment to the show.
NS: Yeah, and I seriously would recommend it to friends and family. I got my landlady on it and they binge-watched it as well.
MM: I just got my sister hooked on it, she is completely enthralled and I am just watching her reactions to it and just secretly snickering because she has no idea what kind of ride she’s in for. It’s awesome to introduce it to people and see what they think of it.
NS: What I also think is, if we’re talking about the craft and what’s permissible on regular television, what I think that The 100 does, it really challenges itself as well. In the format in which it’s working. There were certainly in season 2 a couple of instances where they were right in my face where I couldn’t actually look at the screen because they pushed the envelope in what they were showing visually. Without ever being grotesque about it. The one thing I’ll always remember is the visual of when they were drilling for the bone marrow and they pulled in, that’s good film making. You don’t need to see a drill going up the spine of somebody but it was completely sold and then the action, that’s pretty out there stuff. Then there’s the entire Clexa storyline, and I don’t want to speak too much about that, but I mean certainly that’s there. It’s challenging viewing and they’re challenging themselves and I appreciate it and I have a lot of respect for it.
MM: That definitely sets it apart from other shows, you can watch Showtime or Starz and you can see people get naked or slitting people’s throats and it’s like alright you kind of gave it all to me… but The 100 is smarter with how it shoots its scenes and what the viewers get to see and experience.
NS: Tone and temperature, it needs to feel like something and The 100 definitely does.
MM: I totally agree, it’s one of my favorite shows on TV. I’m excited to see where your character goes and I know you can’t say much more to me but, I’m intrigued by this storyline and I’m looking forward to finding out more and what Titus’ overall role is come the end of the season.
NS: Yeah, bring your helmets and buckle up.
MM: Oh boy! I’m looking forward to it even more now. Thank you for taking the time to talk about the character and the show and everything you’re doing. This has been a really great conversation.
NS: Oh thank you very much. Thanks to all the fans, thanks to the fellow cast members, they were fan-freaking-tastic and to Jason Rothenberg for giving me the opportunity and give it a go and see what I can make of Titus.
MM: Mad props to the Boss man, he’s the one who made this all happen and we absolutely love the show. Let’s get it picked up for many more seasons!
NS: Maybe we should have a follow-up at the end of the season and see whether you love or hate me. [Laughs]
MM: Okay! I will hold you to that so come the end of the season we will have another chat and either I’ll grill ya or I’ll praise ya.
NS: [Laughs] If I don’t hear from you ever again I’ll take the hint.
MM: [Laughs] I’m sure you’ll hear from me. Thanks again!
NS: Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat.
The 100 airs Thursdays at 9|8c on The CW