Apple TV+'s Surface explores themes of trauma, truth, and identity across its eight captivating episodes. Created by Veronica West, the limited series stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Sophie, who has lost her memories following what others have told her was a suicide attempt. In Surface's mysterious narrative, Stephan James plays Thomas Baden, an undercover investigator bent on revealing to Sophie the truth of her incident. At the same time, his adoration for her induces some intriguing developments given the presence of Sophie's husband James (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).

Stephan James has previously starred in a variety of films and has played American track legend Jesse Owens in 2016's Race, as well as civil rights activist John Lewis in 2014's Selma. Among the actor's other noteworthy appearances are 2018's If Beale Street Could Talk and 2019's 21 Bridges. James earned a 2019 Golden Globe nomination for his role in the Prime Video series Homecoming.


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Stephan James spoke with Screen Rant about diving into his character in Surface and how he perceives Baden's motivations.

Stephan James as Thomas Baden in Surface

Screen Rant: You’ve played so many different characters before. How did you take on the role of an undercover investigator?

Stephan James: When Veronica called me and pitched this show to me, I will say I was excited right off the bat. For one, to be receiving a call from Veronica West, I just think she's amazing and I think she's so talented. She had described this world in a really vivid way and I totally understood the vision she was trying to execute.

When she pitched Baden to me, it was very exciting because there's a level of mystery and aloofness that I feel like I have in my own life. So, I was able to do that 10x with this character in that space. I always love characters to have a little bit of a gray area because that's really where the challenge is as an actor to be able to psych out the audience or to measure your performance in terms of what you're giving at a particular time. I think it all starts with great writing and a great cast, which we certainly had as well.

I like how we never really know Thomas’ true intentions despite his outward care for Sophie. In your mind, Is Thomas genuinely concerned for Sophie’s well-being or is he acting more so in self-interest?

Stephan James: I definitely think that there is an investment in Sophie and her coming to her realization of who she is. Does that get clouded by some other things sometimes? Yes, but, I think it starts in a pure place. I think that Thomas definitely has pure intentions as far as getting to the bottom of what happened to her.

Thomas and Sophie’s connection appears so strong before some of the later reveals tear them apart. Do you think Thomas always believes that this relationship can work, or is he aware that it’s a lost cause?

Stephan James: I think that he's hopeful, but he's also a realist. So, it's hard to conceive forming anything greater than a professional relationship considering what he does for a living. I think that's one of the great conflicts of the show, just who they are, how they are on opposite ends of the spectrum, seemingly living two very different lives but having this one instance that's brought them together.

This was a really fascinating narrative to follow with so many compelling themes. What’s the most important message you took from this story?

Stephan James: You never know who to trust, or you never know who you can trust. So, hopefully it's not too triggering and people aren't having trust issues. I think it definitely makes you think about your life and the people you're around a lot more.

Surface Synopsis

Stephan James as Thomas Baden and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Sophie Ellis in Surface

Set in high-end San Francisco, “Surface,” stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“The Morning Show”) as Sophie, a woman who has suffered a traumatic head injury that has left her with extreme memory loss, believed to be a result of a suicide attempt. As Sophie embarks on a quest to put the pieces of her life back together with the help of her husband and friends, she begins to question whether or not the truth she is told is in fact the truth she has lived.

Through twists and turns and a shocking love triangle, this sexy, elevated thriller asks: What if you woke up one day and didn’t know your own secrets? “Surface” is a story of self-discovery which contemplates if we are pre-programmed to become who we are, or if we choose our own identity.

Check out our other interview with Surface stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Oliver Jackson-Cohen.