Foundation Star Leah Harvey Reinvents What An Isaac Asimov Hero Can Be [Interview]

If you Google images for Salvor Hardin, a key character from Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" novel series, you'll find illustrations of white men. But the new Apple TV+ adaptation of the books modernizes the classic books in some key ways. Character development is pushed the forefront, more action is emphasized, many of the male characters are no longer male, and many of them are no longer white by default. This Salvor Hardin is a battle-hardened soldier and a brilliant leader, and is played by non-binary performer Leah Harvey. 

Harvey's Salvor stands out from the larger ensemble as the closest thing the show has to a traditional hero. It's the kind of performance that demands your attention, and makes you realize you're watching a star on the rise. I spoke with Harvey on Zoom ahead of the show's premiere, and we talked about their burgeoning science fiction fandom and feeling like a badass in a cool sci-fi costume.

"As soon as the costume went on, my accent would just change."

"Foundation" is probably one of the most famous sci-fi books that only hardened sci-fi fans have read, so I'm curious where you started with this. Did you know about it before the show?

I didn't know about it beforehand, but as soon as I found out about the show, and was auditioning, I looked into the books. I got the books. I started reading them because I love sci-fi. I love watching sci-fi, and then I've now actually discovered while filming that I also love reading sci-fi, so I'm a new fan. I'm part of the group now.

As much as I enjoy Isaac Asimov, his writing is really heavy on ideas, and people talking about those ideas. Your take on Salvor is somebody who's out in the action, in the thick of it. Can you talk about that transformation?

Yeah. I mean, as an actor, my job is to look at the material that I have, and work from that, and make it real. And so I had to read the scripts and very much immerse myself in that, so yes. The books have such incredible characters and incredible themes and cores of bits of the characters, and I think that we've managed to keep that character core. I'm really excited for the people to see how she develops into the Salvor that we will see. It's a big journey that she goes on throughout the season, and I just can't wait for people to see that journey. It's going to be really cool. I don't know how people are going to react because I still don't know, but it's going to be great.

All the old art of Salvor, all the book cover art and illustrations people have drawn over the years, it's always a stodgy-looking white guy. I love that Salvor has been updated to be you.

I think that the core of it is what Salvor's dealing with, which essentially is a crisis. And so as long as I, from an actor point of view, if I believed in that crisis, then I was going to be, hopefully, a really believable, solid character, and create a character that people can relate to. And also, Salvor's really badass, so I got to play with that a lot, and explore my own badassery, if you know what I mean?

The costumes must help. There's not a single frame of the show where Salvor doesn't look cool.

I did feel cool. It's funny, in the morning, I would get up and I would go and get my hair and makeup done, and then put the costume on. And obviously, I have a British accent, and as soon as the costume went on, my accent would just change, and I would just suddenly become the character. The costumes were made so, so well, and became, actually, my talisman, in a sense, for finding Salvor, was feeling the costume and the shoes and the outfits and the jacket and the gloves, all of these details that are so useful for me in making the character. But yeah, I would completely transform every day. And then, coming out of character, my hair is being undone, all this stuff, I'd go back to myself very slowly. It's a process.

The thing that I find really compelling about the show is there are no easy villains and heroes. But, at the same time, the crisis is so overwhelming. There's an overwhelming sense of doom. People are burying their heads in the sand and some people, especially the younger folks like, "We got to do something." For something that was written so many years ago, it feels very timely right now.

It does feel really timely. And that's, I think, what's really cool about the show is that it's super relatable in that sense for people of all ages as well, and all walks of life. Yeah, that's really cool, actually. I think that like as well because it's so vast, it's reminding us that we're actually small cogs in quite a big machine, us as humans, us too. and as long as we do our best in what we're trying to do, then we'll be fine.

"I can't think of a show that kind of spans that much time. It's really cool."

You said you've become a sci-fi fan. What else have you been reading and watching?

Before this, I was always really drawn to things that were set in the future. Things like time travel or other worlds, universes, things like that. But, in doing the show, I've kind of solidified that fan in me. And obviously, I've been really engaged with "Foundation," so I've only really been able to really focus on that at the moment, but I'm excited for when I've finished all the books, I'm on "Prelude" at the moment, and I just have one more book to read because I've got them in publication order. And when I'm finished with that ... Do you have any recommendations of what I can read next? I want to read Dune, but I don't know.

"Dune" is a really good one, especially with the movie coming out. Like with "Foundation," there's a lot of stuff going on. But once you invest in it, I think it's worth it.

Yeah. Oh, I'm super invested in "Foundation." I love it. I think it's great.

I have not seen all of season 1, only the episodes that were sent to me. Right now, is there a larger plan for us to see Salvor in a season 2, or has that even been even been talked about yet?

That's not for me to say, but the journey that Salvor goes on in season 1 is so vast. I think that she's almost unrecognizable, actually, from the Salvor that you meet at the beginning and the Salvor you meet at the end, which just speaks for the story, really. There's a lot of twists and turns and big things that happen. And I think that's a fun thing about playing her, is that I got to kind of change as the character, and also change as myself. It's quite beautiful.

One of the fun things about watching the series is seeing how freely time moves. 35 years earlier. 19 years later. One cut later and suddenly everything's changed, and the show asks you to keep up with it. It's really refreshing to have a show trust you to follow it like that.

Yeah, no, it is ... And we just have to be in it every moment. And I hope that the audience are able to kind of be in it with us. Time is a character in this. David says that all the time, "Time is a character in the show," which I think is really cool and really unique about it. Yeah, it's exciting.

I'm assuming that there's an endgame here, and it'll involve thousands of years and many, many characters.

There will be. There will be. And I think that's another thing that's really unique about it. I can't think of a show that kind of spans that much time. It's really cool.

"Foundation" begins streaming September 24, 2021 on Apple TV+.