How does it feel when you’re on the cusp of becoming famous? I couldn’t answer that question, but Lou Llobell might be able to. Today marks a potentially life-altering tipping point for the as-yet-unknown actress, as Apple’s epic new show Foundation launches, and she is the star. Apple has recently dedicated $1 billion to its streaming service, and a big chunk of that has been given to adapting this blockbuster series created by showrunner David Goyer (Blade, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight films). It sees Llobell not only in the lead but also in her first-ever role, meaning this 26-year-old talent is quite literally being thrust into the limelight from relative darkness. Without bit parts behind her or a steady, drawn-out entry into superstardom, one can only imagine the intense anticipation of it all. “Of course, you don’t know until it happens, but I’m both excited and shitting myself,” she admits when we talk over Zoom just a few weeks ahead of this moment.
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Based on the iconic books of the same name by author Isaac Asimov, Foundation is preordained to hit the big time. The sci-fi series follows Llobell’s character Gaal and the fall of the Empire, the fictional ruling force across the galaxy. Her mentor Hari Seldon (played by the brilliant Jared Harris) has devised a mathematical method called psychohistory—essentially, a complex formula that predicts the future—which tells him the Empire is about to fall and that civilization would take 30,000 years to recover. However, with Seldon’s plan, the results can be mitigated to just 1000 years. Seldon’s strategy is to create the Foundation to rebuild civilization, and Gaal is the one who will help him do that. While it might sound quite involved, make no mistake that this book series, which was written in the ’40s and ’50s, has a strong fan base and is often cited as one of the inspirations for Star Wars. It already has a built-in cult following, the Reddit mega-threads are running wild, and the YouTube trailer alone has four million views, so it’s only a matter of time until Llobell’s name and face reach household status.
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As sudden as it might seem, Llobell, a Zimbabwean Spanish actress based in London, has actually had a while to acclimate to the prospect. As with so many productions in TV and film, Foundation took longer to complete due to COVID-19. Additionally, the journey to securing her position as Gaal was a lengthy and arduous one: “I had three auditions. I had the first one with the casting director. The second was a recall with David Goyer and Rupert Sanders, who directed the first episode. And then, we had a five-day test week. It was five days of auditions every day—me and five other girls going up for my role. It was pretty intense, but it was a really wonderful thing to see because we’re all young actresses of colour, which I think you don’t get to see or be around very often. As intense as it was, it was also pretty beautiful to be amongst all those women,” Llobell says. From start to finish, the process has taken around two years, which is more than enough time to wait and ruminate. “As much as, obviously, I’m not prepared for what’s coming, I think I’m ready for everyone to see it. And hopefully, there’ll be positive feedback,” she adds.
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I have a feeling that behind Llobell’s trepidation is the fact that this is technically her first acting job, which is clearly a big deal because it’s Apple and because there’s a huge budget behind it, plus plenty of hype, and a complicated narrative for viewers to get to grips with. So to say there’s a lot riding on her performance would be an understatement. Despite this big responsibility, Llobell comes across as being very chilled out about it all. When we chat, she’s sitting in what looks to be her kitchen and wearing a Foundation sweatshirt. She’s not at the full glam-squad-and-designer-togs pre-interview part of showbiz yet, and it’s refreshing. More than that, she appears quietly confident and sure in what she says, which makes me think she'll be just fine once fame, inevitably, hits. I think this is why she doesn’t seem too daunted by the prospect of suddenly appearing everywhere. “I think it’ll only hit me when I see a poster or a photo—I don’t know—on a bus or something,” she says. “I think the day that happens I’ll be like, ‘Wow.’ I think it’ll really hit me the day that someone comes up to me and goes, ‘Hi, I know you. You’re Lou Llobell from that show. Can I take a photo?’”
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So how does Llobell feel about the incoming fans? “I think there are going to be the fans of the books who have been waiting for the books to become a series or something visual, which I think is dependent on how they take an adaptation version rather than expecting [it] to be the same. I don’t think you can do it exactly the same, especially as the books were written in the ’40s, and the world now does not reflect what the world was like then. For example, my character. I’m a lead role, and my character was a man, presumably a white man in the book, but you assume it is because of when it was written. So I think you have to be able to be open to the adaptation and the change because of the world we live in,” she says.
Along with starring in a big adaptation comes the red carpets and press tours, which also means the chance to dress up—something few of us have done much of over the past 18 months. But it seems like Llobell already enjoys what she’s experienced so far. I’m speaking to her less than a week after our shoot, and I want to know which outfit she loved the most. She was surprised that she loved the pink checked jacket from cult NYC brand Area, as she confesses her own personal style is usually much more minimalist and full of “basic things.” “I put it on, and it was so beautifully structured and was super gorgeous, and [I loved it] with the heart diamanté-encrusted jeans,” she says. “It was funny because all the looks were different, but they all had links with each other. I just felt like it all came together really well, and it was one of the most fun days I’ve had.”
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During the shoot (aside from a clear penchant for platforms to elevate her 5’1” stature), Llobell was very clear in her desire to use her hair as an accessory, and she works closely with a hairstylist, and now good friend, Kieron Lavine (who was responsible for her hair on Foundation) to make this a reality. When I ask her about this, she cites Solange and Yara Shahidi as being fashion inspirations, especially the latter, as Shahidi often uses her hair as part of her look: “I think [it] is super important as a person of colour, where I’ve been fighting about loving the way that I look and my hair being the texture it is [and] not knowing how to deal with it, how to comb it or style it but finally getting to a point where I’m so comfortable with it that I want to show it off. As soon as you figure out how your hair works and how you feel comfortable doing it, that’s really like a coming-of-age moment.”
Photo:PHILL TAYLOR; STYLING: DAVID KOMA DRESS; POND LONDON EARRINGS; CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN SHOES
Speaking of age, I want to probe her about being Gen Z. How does she feel about belonging to the generation that’s all about acceptance? While she reckons she’s still more of a young millennial, she does say that, thanks to changes over the past 10 years, she’s been able to accept herself more, especially when it comes to hair. Llobell tells me that she’s lived all over the world, from South Africa to Spain to Birmingham and London, so she’s used to adapting to different places. However, she says that, right now, she’s the happiest she’s ever been. “I’m the most confident I have ever been in myself. Not just with the way I look but who I am as a person,” she adds.