Growing up in Spain and South Africa, Lou Llobell excelled at sports.
"I was drafted for the under-16 South African field hockey team, and I swam and played squash," says the actress, whose father is Spanish and mother is Zimbabwean.
That athleticism helped her land the role of Gaal Dornick in Foundation. The 10-episode series, based on a trilogy of novels by science-fiction legend Isaac Asimov, premieres September 24 on Apple TV+, with Gaal now portrayed as a female character.
"Gaal comes from a water planet," says Llobell, an industry newcomer with one prior film credit (Voyagers). But knowing her butterfly from her breaststroke wasn't Llobell's only advantage when it came to playing Gaal, who's as comfortable solving equations as she is swimming. She also got some math coaching from her father, who has a PhD in biochemistry (as did Asimov).
She impressed showrunner David S. Goyer (Da Vinci's Demons) enough that she was invited to a final audition in Ireland, along with five other actresses. If that sounds like the makings of a reality show in which contestants backstab their way to fame, Llobell says the opposite was true. "We all supported each other throughout the intense five days." She flew home on a Wednesday, and when her phone rang at 7 a.m. on Friday, it was Goyer relaying the good news.
That call led to months of physical training. "I did swimming, trampolining," she says. "I was on wires doing stunts." But the prep was nothing compared to the shoot itself, which spanned nearly two years and locations in Germany, Iceland, the Canary Islands, Ireland and Malta, where the sets for her character's home planet were built in the water.
Llobell believes viewers will relate to Gaal, whose planet is technologically backward compared to Trantor, where she works with mathematicians including Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) to try to save humanity. "She's a small-town girl who goes to a big city," the actress says. And unlike many action heroines, "She's a fully realized character. Although it's science fiction, we're all humans, not aliens."
From her home base in the U.K., Llobell is preparing for another season as Gaal. With two more books from Asimov's Foundation trilogy to pull from, it looks like she'll be diving even deeper into the character — and the waters off Malta's coast.
This article originaly appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2021