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The Expanse’s Frankie Adams on her new role in the Syfy epic

Representing her culture while wearing 50 pounds of Martian power armor

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Actor Frankie Adams as Martian Marine Bobby Draper leads her squad on a training exercise in full power armor.
Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper in tonight’s premiere episode of The Expanse.
Syfy/Alcon Entertainment
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Fans of The Expanse will meet its newest star, Frankie Adams, tonight in the opening seconds of the season premiere. Adams plays Martian Marine Bobbie Draper, a role that fans of the Expanse novels have been mulling for years now.

Many on message boards have proposed Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie for the role because of her height. Other fans think that Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff would be a better fit because of her attitude. But Adams says that if the role went to anyone else, she would have been devastated.

“The description of the woman herself struck me,” Adams said. “I just felt like I need to play this role, and if I don’t I’d be very upset.”

Draper, who first shows up in the James S. A Corey novel Caliban’s War, is a tall, stoic Martian woman raised since birth to be a soldier. Adams herself stands six feet tall and spent time training to be a boxer.

But, she is also of Samoan descent, just like the canonical Draper.

“When it comes to an American show or film it’s very rare to have someone in the culture playing those roles,” Adams told Polygon. “They usually ask for ‘mixed-race’ actors, but because this was so specific ... that was the first thing that really connected me to Bobby.”

Series creators Ty Franck and Daniel Adams that finding an actor like Adams was like finding a unicorn.

“Casting agents definitely work with us to find the diversity that we want,” Franck told Blastr. “But they end up having, say, 9,000 white guys that can play a role versus 20 non-white guys for it. You have to know that going in and be dedicated to working a little harder and casting agents are going to have to work a little harder to get the diverse cast that you want."

Draper is briefed aboard a Martian warship.
Photo: Syfy/Alcon Entertainment

“I just really like representing,” Frankie Adams said. “I like playing Samoan. My mother is Samoan. She spoke Samoan to us in the house. I was born there. I really identify with that culture, so I always feel really proud when I play a Samoan specifically.”

But, as fans will learn tonight, much of her time spent on set was inside a one-of-a-kind suit of Martian power armor. Adams said that working with it was one of the most challenging assignments of her career.

“It was extremely difficult,” Adams said. “Alcon Entertainment made the suits, and they absolutely had to make sure that we could move in it and that it has as much comfort as possible. But at the end of the day, it was like a 50-pound suit.”

In the premiere’s opening scene, fans will see Draper doing the 100-meter sprint while under heavy fire. That was all shot during the summer, Adams said, and the metallic plates have a nasty tendency to keep body heat in. It was so hot that the crew had to pump cold water around below the top layers of the costume between takes.

“As an actor, it was really difficult,” Adams said, “but when I watch it as an audience member it’s completely worth it because it looks excellent. I think people are really gonna love it.”

Adams said that her background in the ring helped out a lot during filming. She said she did all of her own fight scenes, and nearly all of her own stunts — often while wearing a full suit of Martian plate. But she was also able to bring some of her Samoan heritage into the show as well, giving added color to the character.

“I wanted to incorporate the Samoan language into it, but it’s an English speaking show so ... I just don’t think that would have worked,” Adams said. “But there were a few things here and there.

“I did mention that when I was in command there might be a few things that maybe a Samoan woman would do. When one of my soldiers is being cheeky, maybe I could walk up and give him a slap on the back of the head. That’s this funny thing that Samoan people do.”

The Expanse begins its second season tonight with back-to-back, hour-long episodes.