You made such specific choices in your portrayal of Holtzmann. How did you approach the role?
I just wanted to make a character who was very alien but so joyful and earnest and fascinated by the world that you would relate to her anyway. In the script, there were these moments where she would be talking so lackadaisically about an extraordinarily lethal piece of equipment. I thought, what sort of a person could let that terror slide off her shoulders? But I noticed that I underreact in a similar way, in a lot of situations.
In most combat scenarios, I find that I’m pretty steady. [laughs] No, seriously. “S.N.L.” can be a stressful environment, and I am panicking constantly, but I guess I keep it pretty internal. Because I’ve been told that I seem calm-ish.
Did you consult with any real-life scientists?
I’ve been a big astrophysics nut since I was 12. I have always had a real soft spot for the bizarreness of quantum mechanics. But I gave up on being a scientist in high school — I’m just not that good at math. So that ticks me off, that I’ve limited myself and my life choices in that way. I will never be a theoretical physicist.
Who devised her wardrobe and hairstyle?
The costume designer, Jeffrey Kurland, had gotten all these wacky things, and when I saw them initially, I thought, this is way too cool. I wanted to be the plainest of the plain. But then I rationalized it by saying that, to her, it’s not even cool. She just has these objects and throws them on. The hair was a collaboration between me and Brenda McNally, my hairstylist. I was like, what hair would a person who doesn’t care about an exploding nuclear reactor have? Probably Tilda Swinton’s hair.