Something very strange is going on at Tranquillum House, and after the fifth episode of Nine Perfect Strangers, it’s looking like Zoe Marconi will be central in the weirdness. The grief-stricken 21-year-old mostly stayed in the background at the beginning of the series, but Episode 5 put her in the spotlight, teasing that she may have some sort of extraordinary ability that Masha is desperate to harness. But what could that be? Speaking to Elite Daily, Grace Van Patten says Zoe’s Nine Perfect Strangers Episode 5 arc is just the tip of the very trippy iceberg.
Van Patten has stolen scenes in several movies and series in recent years, most notably on Netflix projects. She starred in the streamer’s 2016 comedy Tramps, followed by Noah Baumbach’s critical darling The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) and the buzzy Netflix psychodrama Maniac. But Nine Perfect Strangers is her biggest break yet, as she flexes her dramatic acting muscles in her portrayal of the morose and intuitive Zoe in a cast filled with A-list talent that includes Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, and Regina Hall.
Warning: Spoilers for Nine Perfect Strangers through Episode 5 follow. Her big episode comes halfway through the season. In Episode 5, titled “Sweet Surrender,” the disconnected Zoe begins seeing her dead twin brother, Zach. Whether Zach is a hallucination caused by Masha’s drugged smoothies or some supernatural intervention is unclear, but either way, he’s all too real to Zoe. And apparently, he’s all too real to Masha too. At the end of the episode, Zoe sees Zach again at her birthday party, and surprisingly, Masha takes notice, whispering to Zoe that she’s “the key.”
But the key to what, exactly? Below, Van Patten shares some insight into that question and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Elite Daily: Zoe carries so much grief with her, which we see in the first scene of Episode 5 when she speaks with Zach. How did you prepare for such a heavy role?
Grace Van Patten: It was really challenging being in that state of mind for five months. It really, really helped being around Michael [Shannon] and Asher [Keddie, who play Zoe’s parents] and just having really in-depth conversations about their family dynamic: who they were as a family before this traumatic event happened and what changed in them after. Really, the disconnection of this family unit is ultimately the reason we go to Tranquillum. Those conversations were really emotional, and then having to put those emotions into action was even more challenging. So, it was tough but also I think it’s a beautiful story, and there is closure at the end.
ED: In earlier episodes, Zoe told the other guests she wasn’t close with her brother, which we discover is a lie in Episode 5. Why did she tell people she’s not close with Zach?
GVP: I thought about that for a while. Reading the scripts, I was like, “Is this true? Is it not?” But it’s definitely not true. I think when people are grieving, we find these coping mechanisms — what things are going to make us feel better in the moment and able to move on, at least temporarily? That is Zoe’s way of bottling up emotions and not making anybody feel sorry for her by saying the truth, which would be, “Zach was my best friend.” It’s definitely a coping mechanism, and when she finally is able to have a conversation with Zach it makes her feel so guilty, because she knows it’s not true. Seeing him really hits her. From that point on, it’s a real turning point for her, because she’s able to accept that he was her best friend and she should be more open about that. And only once she accepts that does she have the opportunity to heal a little bit more.
ED: You can really feel her trying to distance herself from that trauma.
GVP: Totally, and every single person in the family is doing it in different ways. Everyone is pushing it down and just not accepting at all. And you’re not able to get closure that way; it’s impossible. You have to go deep, deep within yourself and come face to face with those feelings or else how are you going to get through them?
ED: How big of a deal was that last moment in Season 5, where Masha called Zoe “the key?”
GVP: Oh gosh, I wish I knew a way to explain this. It ignites something in Masha that gives her the opportunity to possibly heal herself in a way. I think that’s as good as I can explain what’s going to happen next, because it gets trippy.
ED: Can we expect some more Zoe and Masha scenes? Because they haven’t really spent any time together yet.
GVP: Yes, you can expect some Zoe and Masha moments, for sure.
ED: What was it like working with so many big names in Hollywood?
GVP: It was a masterclass. Getting to watch these people do what they do best is so inspiring to me. And in addition to that, they’re all such amazing human beings, so it was a win-win. Being stuck with them all in a small beach town in Australia was such a dream; we really got to know each other and become a little family of our own. It felt kind of in-sync with what Zoe was going through in her birthday speech in Episode 5, when she says that they’re all starting to feel like family. At that moment in time, I was really feeling that, so that was a genuine thing to say; it felt right.
ED: Do you have a favorite memory or piece of advice you got from working with any of the other actors?
GVP: Not anything they said, but just watching them. Nicole’s dedication is something that I will strive for forever. I think of myself as a very dedicated person, but watching her be so in the zone and focused was so inspiring to me. She set such a good tone for the whole show and set, staying in character in a way that was not distracting to any of us. Her process was really, really admirable.
ED: So far in the show, you’ve worked most closely with Luke Evans, who plays Lars. The two are kind of a strange pairing; what is it about Lars that Zoe is so drawn to?
GVP: I know, it’s so funny, it’s like the odd couple. If you were to meet both of them separately you would never guess that these two people would ever get along, but I think that’s exactly why they form this connection. They could not be more opposite, but they have this shared trauma, even though they’re very different traumas. I think they connect on being disconnected. They’re very real with each other, and for some reason they’re able to get emotions out of each other that other people aren’t capable of. Lars has no pity for her, which is one of Zoe’s biggest things. She doesn’t want to open up because she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her or treat her differently because of what she’s gone through. And Lars just treats her like anybody else. I think Zoe really appreciates that.
ED: The show is billed as a miniseries, but so was the other major Liane Moriarty adaptation, Big Little Lies, before it got renewed for Season 2. Do you think a second season of Nine Perfect Strangers could happen, and would you want that?
GVP: I have no idea, but I feel like if it were to happen, it’d be a whole new cast. Nine new strangers. I don’t think any of the same strangers would be coming back, but if they were to, hell yeah, I’m in.
ED: So you think it’d go an anthology series route?
GVP: That’s what I would guess if it were to happen, but I have no idea; I haven’t heard anything.
ED: If Tranquillum House were real, would you go on a retreat there?
GVP: If Nicole Kidman was running it, sign me up! But I don’t know. When everyone was signing up for Tranquillum, they thought it was going to be a completely different situation than what it actually turned out to be, so from now on I might have a little bit more suspicion signing up for any of those things. I’m definitely open to weird retreats like that; I’ve always wanted to try a silent retreat. But Tranquillum, knowing everything that goes on, I don’t know how willingly I’d be hopping in there.
New episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers premiere Wednesdays on Hulu.