Here's a tale that will keep you up at night...or all the time.
Starring Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin, Annihilation) and directed by Mark Raso (Kodachrome, Copenhagen), Netflix's upcoming thriller Awake follows Jill (Rodriguez) and her two children as they're confronted with an end of the world scenario where the power goes out — no one can connect via technology — and no one can sleep. As Jill struggles to keep herself and her kids alive among a population crazed from sleep deprivation, she realizes she may hold the key to the human race's survival in the form of her pre-teen daughter, who can, indeed, still sleep.
Peter H. Stranks/NETFLIX
"We were presented with this idea of what if something happened and no one can fall asleep?" director and co-writer Raso tells EW. "Immediately I thought of this Sophie's Choice type scenario. I was looking for something to ground the story in reality. It occurred to me, 'Well, what if no one could sleep except one person? What would that would feel like? What if that one person was one of your two kids? What do you do? Do you potentially sacrifice one to save the other?' That's where the bones and the juice of the story came from."
To really dive into the juicy side of the story, Raso had to find the right actress to play Jill. After watching Annihilation, — initially, to check out another actor — the director realized he'd found his ideal lead in Rodriguez. When the script came her way, the Jane the Virgin actress was just as into the match as Raso. "I couldn't put the script down," Rodriguez, whose husband — it just so happened — was going through a rough patch of insomnia while she was reading the script, tells EW. "I was like, Oh, wow, the whole time." Rodriguez then found herself going down a rabbit hole of questioning what our world would look like sans electricity, particularly in the technology-dependent climate we currently live in. "That was so intriguing," she says. "Even just considering how often I have my phone in my hand — it's like a third arm. I put myself there and I was like really blown away, truly freaked out."
Peter H. Stranks/Netflix 'Awake' also stars Shamier Anderson.
A sudden inability to sleep and no access to technology isn't all Jill has to deal with. "We wanted her to be someone who was struggling with her self-worth in the world," says Raso. Indeed, as an addict in recovery, a vet who lost her husband at war, and a mother who doesn't currently have custody of her kids, dealing with a random apocalypse is only the latest in a list of Jill's challenges. "We wanted to point a finger at some of the issues in society today — or pre-pandemic society," says Raso. "The whole idea was that we wanted to give her somewhere to go, which is to find her self-worth. As a mother, primarily, she's someone who would do anything for her kids."
For Rodriguez, Jill's difficult past was part of the character's appeal. "When I look at a project, I think to myself, can I do this? Is there a challenge in this? Am I finding new ways to express myself? Are there worlds that I get to play in that I never had or would ever?" she says. "Jill was so much more... There are so many different journeys that she's going on. There's the personal journey and there's this global experience."
That global experience would affect people differently, though, so Raso was intent on conveying how the experience of sleeplessness would play out in varying ways at varying times, as well as how people react in a time of need — some turning to science, others to religion and some to crime. "Part of our research is that people handle it very, very differently," he explains. "So we wanted the panic, we wanted that euphoria. People enter different stages at different times. It's not all very linear. Instead of it just being unrelenting and everything's a disaster, we wanted to keep people's intentions good. At least in their heads, they're doing the right thing for themselves even if it's crazy or they're way out there."
Then there was figuring out how to convey that on screen. As they shot the movie out of sequence, one of the hardest things was keeping track of what point the characters were at in their sleeplessness and how that would manifest physically, mentally, and emotionally for them. "In the green rooms and the trailers, we put up these lists of what your symptoms are depending on how many days without sleep to remind them," says Raso.
For Rodriguez, going method wasn't an option — at least not an intentional one. "There can be really beneficial times to use that process," she says. "I feel like with this, I would just be destroyed. We did so many night shoots that I was one hundred percent destroyed anyway. That's when you're like, I'm going to use it — we're exhausted anyway. Let's just go. So it worked in tandem, hand in hand, but I tried to sleep when I slept."
Despite the movie existing in a world of no electronics and no sleep, Raso believes there's a message of hope in there. "I think underneath it all — and this is going to sound extremely weird — but I was trying to make a more hopeful film," he says. "My central message in this film is that maybe the world needs a reset. Everyone needs to stop and look at the world in a different way. I really have a strong belief that that's going to be led by the youth of today. For me, that's very much what the film was about. Even though it doesn't feel like that, it's really about this young girl who can sleep and the new world that's upon us and the hope that she represents."
Awake opens its eyes on Netflix on June 9.