10:00 am EDT, February 26, 2017

Chelsey Reist interview: How ‘The 100’s’ Harper escaped death in season 1 and became a badass series regular

In The 100 season 4, Chelsey Reist has been promoted to a series regular. What does this mean for Harper and Marper going forward?

One of The 100‘s greatest strengths is its cast of main and supporting characters, who all feel grounded and real within this epic sci-fi dystopia.

Chelsey Reist’s Harper, originally a one-off character meant to die in season 1, is one of the best examples of how the show quietly evolves its background characters, allowing them to work their way into the central narrative and ultimately steal the show.

Related: The 100 star Bob Morley previews Bellamy’s journey to leadership in season 4… and beyond?

Considering how beloved this character is and how much she feels like a part of the core cast, it’s hard to imagine that we almost lost Harper not once, but several times over the course of the past three seasons. It’s also hard to imagine that she was once meant to be Jasper’s love interest, not one half of the Monty-Harper dream team!

But through a combination of talent and (a little bit of) luck, Chelsey Reist has thankfully stuck around. Harper is now a regular character with an arc of her own and lots of character development still to come.

We discuss all this and more in this in-depth interview with the actress, who can also soon be seen in the LGBTQ short film Limina. Catch Chelsey in The 100 season 4, airing Wednesday nights at 9/8c on The CW.

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The 100 Harper

Hypable: What have you been doing since wrapping season 4? It’s been a little while, right?

Chelsey Reist: Yeah, it hasn’t been too long! I suppose if I told you how long it’s been, you’d know how long Harper survives (laughs). But yeah, as soon as we wrapped we had a nice wrap party with everyone, it was enjoyable to say goodbye. Since then I’ve just been down here in L.A. hanging out with the cast, they’re all friends. I was just texting Tasya [Teles], who plays Echo, like, ‘let’s go to dance class!’ And live-tweeting with my friends, meeting with producers and getting some auditions in. Livin’ life.

What was the experience like on set this year compared to previous years? Cause you all know each other really well now!

Yeah! The cast has always been so welcoming. I still remember the first time I was on set in season 1, and I was supposed to have one episode and die off. And that was episode 10, so this whole main cast — you know, Lindsey, Bob, Devon — they had all been together for 10 episodes already. That’s a long time to get to know each other, and they didn’t need to get to know me, because I was gonna get killed off in one episode!

But I went home that day, and Lindsey Morgan had found my email address and privately emailed me to say, ‘I just wanna let you know I think you did a fantastic job, I know it can be daunting to join a cast who already get along and have inside jokes etc, but you just fit in so smoothly, and great job.’ So that’s just an example of how fast we get to know each other, and how kind and welcoming they are.

So I’ve always felt friends with them, but at end of season 3, I joined the fan convention circuit. So not only did I work with them, but now we were traveling to Europe together. And that’s obviously a new level of closeness. So in season 4, versus any other season, I feel close to them because I’ve been traveling with them — and because this year, I’m a series regular!

Yes! Congratulations on being a regular! I’ve been rooting for you since the beginning so I’m really excited to see this for you.

Yeah! Thank you. Harper has much more screen time this year, and therefore I have much more time on set. It’s been a more relaxed environment for me. A few of them have mentioned that to me, they said, ‘I’m noticing a change in you Chelsey’ (laughs). Because I feel like before, in season 3 and every other season, it’s like, when do I die? Because this is The 100, Harper’s gonna die now, right?

So every script I got, I would start on the last page to see if Harper died, and I would read it backwards. So like, okay, no Harper death, now I can go to the start! But part of being a series regular is that I’m guaranteed X amount of episodes, so I know that, at least for a certain little bit, I can breathe ’cause I won’t get killed off, and that gives me a chance to really relax into the scenes and have fun. This season was just super fun, hanging out with friends on set and making a badass show. I’m just so grateful, time of my life.

In season 3, even though you weren’t a regular yet, you were already a huge part of the story, especially in the second half of the season. I love what we’ve seen from you so far in season 4, but can we expect Harper to become even more featured and get more screen time compared to season 3?

That’s interesting. Yes, there’s more to come. But I feel like there has been more screen time, even today I got a text from my dad who’s like, ‘I watched last night’s episode and I see they’re letting you look cleaner this year!’ And of course, in episode 4 when Clarke makes the list, she says Harper didn’t make it because of her dad, that Harper might be a drain on medical resources cause of her dad’s sickness. And my dad texted, ‘I don’t know what illness I have, but I sure hope I don’t pass it on’ (laughs).

Anyway, yes, we’ll develop certain storylines and Harper will be a part of some big plot points and will head out on some pretty big missions. And we’ll get to see more of her emotionality and more of what’s going on in her head than we’ve ever seen before.

That’s really cool and kind of what I was gonna ask next, because getting that insight into Harper, with her dad… basically, the more you get to know a character’s past the more you feel like you know them in the present, you get insight into what made them who they are and that makes the character feel more central to the story.

Yeah, and obviously we wanna root for characters that we know, right? So that’s why I’m so grateful to have a storyline that’s getting fleshed out more.

I think we’re kind of at a point in The 100 where going back in our history is a little improbable. Like, the world’s ending and everything’s pretty immediate, so we’re not gonna go too far back with Harper, but we’ll check in with her currently more than we’ve ever seen.

The 100 season 4 Harper

How much do the writers tell you about Harper’s backstory and how much do you fill in the blanks yourself?

That’s funny, yeah, not too much. We’re kind of left to fill in a lot ourselves. I learn more after the fact, like if I’m watching an episode with [executive producer] Aaron Ginsburg, he’ll say, ‘Ohh we wrote the scene where this was gonna happen, but then we had to cut it.’ Or something big was gonna happen, but then it didn’t make it. So like, ‘What?! That was a twist that was gonna happen to Harper?!’ And I guess that gives me more insight going forward.

But no, I’m kind of left to piece it together based on what I’ve seen. And it’s interesting to then piece together what I’ve heard about it after the fact, or what I see in the script, and what we film versus what actually makes it to TV. Because, you know, I’ve learned a lot about Harper but then the scenes might get cut. So that’ll be an interesting thing, because we never know what’s gonna be seen or cut.

There was a moment the writers tweeted about in this last episode when we were pulling the Ark together, there was a nice Marper moment that Chris [Larkin] and I created, this nice romantic moment that I think lends credence to their growing love for each other, and that got cut.

Aww no.

Yeah, I mean, it happens! But yeah, it’s kind of hit and miss. You get to know a character after this many years, how Harper would maybe react. And so I kinda just go off my own instincts now. Plus going with what the script says!

Do you know what Harper’s crime is? Have they told you that?

Uhhhh, that may or may not be revealed.

Okay! I won’t ask you what it is then.

I may know what it is!

Good to know! So just going back to things that were supposed to be different… Harper originally being meant to die in episode 10 was something I read in Tiffany Vogt’s interview with you for Seat 42F, too, so I wanted to follow up on that: She was gonna die by the Grounder sickness, right?

Yeah, she was supposed to die a violent death. Genevieve [Buechner, who played Fox] was in that, and I think she was getting sick from it too. Yeah. Harper was supposed to vomit to her death! Which I thought was cool, and I was looking forward to it. Obviously no one wants to die, but that’s what I walked into the show knowing was gonna happen, so I was gonna make the best of it and have the goriest death! But they took it away from me.

The 100 Harper season 1

Did you film it or was it just in the script?

No, we didn’t film it. I was waiting to film it, but then they just said ‘that’s a wrap.’ The background actors were puking around me, but I didn’t realize that that was gonna cancel my death. I suppose that was enough blood and gore for that episode! And I somehow escaped unscathed.

What do you think made the writers change their minds? Was it just a stroke of luck or were they like, ‘Harper is amazing!’?

Yeah! Let’s just say that, they were just like ‘Chelsey is so amazing!’ (laughs) You know, in that particular instance, I’m not even sure if they know. I’m sure that, at that point, they just wanted to keep their options open, because it was early on in the show, and you don’t know how long it’ll go. Like maybe this was a character they wanted to establish.

At that point, Harper had a crush on Jasper, and eventually Jasper and I did film a kissing scene. So maybe they thought that this could be a possible love interest? They never shared about that.

But in years since, I do know there have been a few Harper deaths scripted. And a few of the writers have really gone to bat for me, because they’re my friends and they were googling my work and they could see that I could hold my own. So since then, yes, they have saved me, but in the first instance I’m not quite sure. Either way, I’m so grateful!

It’s weird to imagine though. Because obviously we’ve lost secondary characters who we might wish had still been around, cause that would have been interesting — like Monroe — but one of the things that makes the show so rich is that you get characters like Harper and Miller that get to grow into their own and become really major players. So keeping you around was also the show’s luck, in a way.

Yeah. When they let the secondary characters live, there’s an opportunity to see character development. Like, we already know the lead characters, we know pretty much who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. And yes, in this world that can often shift, but their reasoning for making a good or a bad choice pretty much stays the same.

But when we have these underdeveloped characters, and all of a sudden they’re giving us storylines… like for instance in episode 4 when Miller is all of a sudden leading the group! That’s interesting to watch, because we know Miller and we’ve seen Miller for a long time, but not really take control like that. There are interesting little flowers like that that are budding now, in every script.

Based on the way you talk about the show and interact with the fans on Twitter, it feels like you’re genuinely a fan. Which I like, obviously, because I am too. What makes the show so special to you?

I was just watching episode 4 with Jarod [Joseph] and I kept saying out loud, ‘Oh man, we’re part of such a cool show aren’t we?! This is a cool show!’ And I’m sure he just wanted me to be quiet so he could listen, but I am just such a fan. And watching my friends on screen, that’s a cool aspect of it, too.

I’m a huge fan of grandiose sets, grandiose imagery and battle scenes. I love things like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, and this feels very much like that to me. So to be a part of such a cool, epic environment really excites me.

And, for lack of a better term — because everyone uses it, but it just works so well — it’s just so badass. The women are badass! They stand their ground, the battle sequences, the fighting… the one with Octavia and Echo recently, so brutal! And I don’t really see that in a lot of other shows: Two women who are hard-headed leaders taking each other on, and not giving up! They fought to the ‘death,’ you know?

I just like that the show takes it to far extremes and is relentless with it. Because that’s what I want in a show that I watch. I want to be shocked, and I want my palms sweating, and I want to be begging to know more. And I think our show does that.

I think so too. And speaking of badass, I know the physique of Harper as a character and as a guard is something you put a lot of care and thought into. On Twitter you talk a lot about she’s such a strong character, such a physically capable person, and that in itself is so important to see on television.

Yeah. When I was cast in season 1, I was just me, as we all are. But then when the character started getting more screen time and the role got more developed, it’s something I really wanted to take seriously, the reality of this character. It’s a post-apocalyptic world; I’m not eating McDonald’s (laughs). And I wanted that to reflect in Harper.

I was a fan of The Walking Dead for so long, and I would keep an eye on the physicality of the actors’ bodies and how that reflected the world they were in, and that’s always been a continuity that was important to me, so I wanted to do the same. So I hired a trainer and lost 30 pounds, and for a solid year I went strictly paleo, except for pizza on the weekends! I felt fantastic, and I felt strong. And I think it shows on camera, I think it shows her strength.

Also, when they said she was gonna have a love interest, that was new to me. I thought, oh gosh, I’m gonna do a CW love scene! I better get on a treadmill or something! I put so much work into the script, and I put so much effort into training my acting craft and into the auditions, so why not complete the puzzle and get into the gym? And it feels great.

Harper and Monty! First of all, they’re so cute. And I love how undramatic they are. It feels like they’re one of the few couples where the drama doesn’t come from the fact that they’re a couple. They’re good, it’s everything else that’s terrible.

Undramatic. That’s a really fabulous word for them, I gotta write that down! And yeah, it’s true, and obviously that would be scripted, but part of that is just Christopher Larkin. He’s just a cool dude, man.

And yeah, they are undramatic. They didn’t need a huge setup, we weren’t craving for them to fall in love. It was just kind of a natural evolution in their own world: they were captured together in Mount Weather, and he watched Harper being tortured — he was in a cage watching this! — and he really supported her there.

And I think that, as with any relationship in life, if you’ve been through something extremely traumatic together you’ll always be connected to that person in a way that can be unspoken, this subtle quietness. They learned about each other at such dark depths that now they can face anything that comes along knowing that they’ll support each other.

I think they’re so cute, too, and when I see Monty on screen I always ‘aww’ out loud (laughs). I’ll say, ‘that’s my guy!’ What I like about him is that he’s always risen to the occasion with his brain, he’ll use his intelligence when he wants to help the group. But then in episode 2, when we went back to the Ice Nation to get the hydro generator — sorry, all these terms makes me laugh! — but, you know, that was a side of Monty we don’t really see a lot!

Then this past episode he really stood up to Clarke; he revealed such a huge secret that’s gonna change the entire arc of the season! He’s able to be dramatic when it needs to happen, when drama is needed to make a change he’ll do it, but he’ll always check back in with Harper.

The 100 405 Marper

In anticipation of the upcoming episode “The Tinder Box,” and without spoiling anything, there’s a lot of emphasis on Monty and Harper being a team in this one. She worries about him.

Yeah, she always wants to be with him. If ever we leave a scene apart, we find a way back to each other. She wants to be near him. He’s the one thing that makes her feel safe. And she’s also a guard in her own right, she’s also strong, so if there’s a chance to be near him and defend the group, yeah, she wants to be a part of that.

In the fifth episode, we know that war is coming: Roan has dropped the alliance, and there’s gonna be several new developments like that in the next several episodes that are making Harper and Monty question how they would react. And there might be some moments where they’d react the same, and others perhaps differently, and that’s gonna cause a whole new dynamic for them.

How would Harper feel if she found herself separated from Monty?

Horrible. Absolutely horrible. Totally worried the whole time, gut-wrenching worry. But also a strength in knowing that they’ve survived the worst together, and that he will always fight the hardest he can to do the right thing and make it back to her, and she would do the same, fight the hardest she could to live so they could be back together.

I guess it’s the same with any relationship! You feel crappy being apart, but you gotta trust each other and it just happens to be The 100, and the world’s ending, and people are trying to kill you, sooo. It’s extremely horrible to be apart, but you have to trust in your love for each other, that you will do everything you can to survive and return. Like a love story, but just… underscored, italicized, bold.

Other than Monty, what characters would you say Harper is closest to?

I would say Jasper. She’s spent a lot of time with him, and he’s Monty’s best friend apart from Harper — that’s my biased opinion (laughs). You know, she started out kind of liking Jasper, wondering who this guy is, and then slowly went on to find strength in Monty, so she developed her own admiration for Jasper before she can now admire him as a friend and as someone that her lover really cares for. He makes Monty laugh, and that makes Harper happy. So I would say Jasper is one of the closest.

The 100 season 3 Harper Raven Monty

I think she was also really close to Monroe, but RIP Monroe… And every time Raven is around, I would say Raven. Harper really admires Raven, really trusts in Raven, and feels a sense of calm around Raven, I believe, because I feel that when I’m on set. She feels that same calm around Raven that she does with Monty. So I would say Raven and Jasper.

Which leader does she trust the most right now? Is it Bellamy?

You know, I would have said it was Clarke, but this list thing really threw a wrench in that plan (laughs). Yeah, I think she knows Bellamy… we know in this world we’re not all gonna make the right decisions, and even when it’s the right decision it might not be for Harper, but she knows the decisions Bellamy makes comes from a big heart.

I think we’ve really seen this amazing dynamic with Bellamy, going from this strong ‘whatever the hell we want!’ to just a huge sense of empathy. I’m shocked when I watch the scenes this season, I tweeted that, too, that this feels like a whole new Bellamy to me. And I think Harper sees that, and Harper wears her heart on her sleeve too. She trusts in people who have empathy like she does, and she believes in Bellamy’s leadership.

Is there anyone that Harper can’t stand?

Pike. It was Pike. ‘Shocklash that fascist ass!’ (laughs) He’s the first one that comes to mind. Hmm. As of now, it’s Clarke, Clarke is just putting herself first, and Clarke snuck into Harper’s medical history for a secret that she’s only told Monty, and now it’s exposed to the entire group. So that’s pretty devastating, and I think that would make anyone angry. But overall, no, I don’t think she’s a hater, I think she has a vast capacity for forgiveness which comes from her sense of empathy.

Which isn’t a trait that a lot of characters on this show has been able to hang on to, so that’s one of the things that sets Harper apart, I think.

Yeah. And it’s something that I identify with too, in my life. If I were to say what my best traits are, it’d be empathy. So whether or not that was scripted for Harper or something I bring to it, I’m not sure, but yes, I think it’s an important aspect of her character.

So I have a fan question, that I have to ask because it’s amazing. Brandon wants to know: Who braids Harper’s hair?

(laughs) Who braids Harper’s hair! It this Brandon on Twitter?

It is.

That’s so funny, who braids her hair… I think Harper does. I’d love to say Monty, I’d love to say that they wake up and he does it for her, but I don’t think so. I think Harper does it, cause it’s her get-into-business hair. Before, she had it flying everywhere, and we can’t wash it… but this is what female boxers do, they french braid their hair. They braid around the side of their head, and then they’re in the ring and ready to fight. So I think she wakes up and does it herself, to prep for what’s coming next. She’s all in now. But I’m sure Monty thinks it’s cute.

That’s a good answer. I think the fans wanted you to say Miller, but…

Ha! Yes, also Miller. That’s hilarious, I love picturing that. I’ll go get Jarod to make a braid and we’ll send that picture over.


Image credit: Sami Drasin

Those were about all my questions for The 100, but I do want to talk a little about Limina, the short film you’re doing.

Yeah! I was doing background work as in Twilight years ago, and I met this person named Joshua Ferguson and we really connected. And years later I walked into an audition room, and Joshua and his partner had created this film. Joshua is gender fluid, and the movie stars a transgender child. And it just so happened that the child they cast identifies as transgender, even though they weren’t trying to cast for that.

So we filmed this beautiful short film, it’s so cinematically stunning. They tried to film it in Europe and they got over 17,000 signatures of people petitioning against filming an LGBTQ movie, so they were forced to come here and film it. But they still have that beautiful European look to it.

Limina is basically about the gift of this transgender child who helps everyone when they’re feeling down, because they can see things in a special way. We applied to one of the biggest Canadian awards, which is the Leo Awards, and we said that we want to submit this child actor in both the male and female categories, because they don’t only identify as a male. And it was a big talk that everyone had with Ameko [Eks Mass Carroll], who’s the kid, and the repercussions of that and the responsibility of that, and the excitement of that, you know, it’s a lot for a child to take on.

And the Leos said yes, okay, we’ll accept your submission. So it’s now the first time in Canadian history that an award has accepted submission of a transgender person under both male and female performer categories. And I am extremely touched, elated, I think it’s the most wonderful decision, it’s a brave decision for the Leos. I also think it makes total sense. On one side it’s a brave decision, on another it just feels so natural to me that I’m like, okay, yes, now what?

So I’m excited! We’ll see where that goes. The movie is airing at several festivals internationally right now, so people can look it up and watch it.

The 100‘ season 4 airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW

Follow Chelsey Reist on Twitter for awesome insight into The 100 and Harper, and to learn what else is going on in her career!

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