Athena Karkanis on NBC's 'Manifest' and playing an emotionally-charged Grace Stone

Family dynamics and finer nuances of relationships will take center stage alongside the bigger mystery explaining the disappearance of an entire flight in 'Manifest'.

                            Athena Karkanis on NBC's 'Manifest' and playing an emotionally-charged Grace Stone

It is 'The Lost' meets 'This Is Us'. On more than one occasion, the cast of NBC's upcoming missing plane drama, 'Manifest,' have described the series as a perfect marriage between the cult-favorite plane crash story and the ongoing family drama. Except for the fact that the 191 passengers and crew of Montego Air Flight 828 in 'Manifest', will literally get lost in nowhere when the flight enters a turbulence. 

After what appears to be a rather regular occurrence when the flight finally lands, to the shock of those onboard, it is revealed that over five years have gone by. Resultantly, family dynamics and the finer nuances of relationships will take a center stage alongside the bigger mystery explaining the disappearance of an entire flight in 'Manifest,' which premieres on Monday, September 24.

Ahead of the season premiere, Meaww exclusively talked to 'Manifest' star Athena Karkanis for an early sneak-peek into the season. From the emotional process of getting into the skin and shoes of her character Grace Stone to her leaning for "surprising or complicated" roles, allow the actress to walk us through the journey. 

Proceed with caution, there are some spoilers discussed.         

Athena Karkanis opens up about playing an emotionally-drenching part (NBC)
Athena Karkanis opens up about playing an emotionally-drenching part (NBC)

From the 'Chappelle's Show' to 'Manifest', the filmography record is proof of how your career has grown by leaps and bounds, would you say the same has happened to you as an actress?

I really hope so! If I’ve been at it this long and haven’t grown I should probably move onto something else! In all seriousness, it is one of the things I love about this work. It is constantly changing and so you are constantly having to adapt. Every time I work on a new project, play a new character, work with a new director or play opposite a new actor, I learn something new and pack away another little something into my toolkit.  

2. Tell us about playing Grace Stone. From the looks of the trailer, it seems like an emotionally wrenching part. Is that so?

Yes! Grace has got a lot on her plate. Of course it would be life-altering to have your husband and child suddenly come back from the dead but don't forget she also has the baggage of what transpired in those five years they were gone, the grief, the trauma the slow road out of that darkness for herself and her young daughter to whom Grace was the only person she had left. The writers have done an amazing job with Grace. She is full, complex and strong and fragile.


At the beginning of the trailer, there's a scene where Grace is running, perhaps to meet her family after the doomed flight lands. How difficult was it to portray the mix of emotions on-screen? Did you draw inspiration from any real-life circumstance?

When I first read that scene in the script, I was so moved by it. I remember my breath catching a little in my throat. That image of a mother sprinting across a tarmac to her lost child is so powerful and so astute. Fortunately, I have never experienced that kind of loss but I am a mother and I certainly know that kind of love. The behind the scenes story is, I almost didn’t get to play that scene because on my second day of filming on the pilot I dislocated and broke my shoulder. When I first injured myself there was no way I could have done it, the jostling from the run would have been too painful. The scene was moved to the very last day of filming and luckily I had healed enough by then to do it, but when you watch it you can see that I am not moving my left arm while I run and that I was using my bag as a makeshift sling to immobilize it. I'm so glad that we were able to keep that scene because I think its such a poignant reminder of the reunion. 

Five and a half years, a plane-full of passengers lost in nowhere (or wherever Manifest is not revealing yet), is it drama, mystery thriller, sci-fi, or all? 

Definitely all of the above. Of course, there are sci-fi elements (not aware of many vanishing/reappearing planes in real life). And the mystery of what happened to the plane is certainly thrilling as the characters and the audience try to figure it out. At the same time, it is a drama that tells the stories of the many people affected by this mystery. Not just the family at the center of it but there were almost 200 passengers on board and all of them have a story.


How easy/difficult will it be for Grace to embrace the new normal once she is reunited with her family? Will we see resolutions to her arc in season 1 itself?

Grace will try very hard to put her life and her family back together but she is going to have a lot of hurdles in her way. In those five years that her son and husband were presumed dead, she and her daughter had been through the wars and are not without scars. She has also had some positive changes in her life as she picked up the pieces of her shattered family which will make it difficult to go back to who she was before it all. Not to mention that the returned ones are finding themselves profoundly changed making it hard for them to pick up where they left off.

The roles that you have chosen so far, usually have varied cultural background, origin story, character makeup - is that something you particularly look out for? 

I don't know if there is a particular thing that I look for when choosing a role. I have to like the project for a start, and the character has to speak to me somehow. They need to be surprising or complicated or very different from me or very similar to me or something I've never played before or something I know I could knock out of the park or something I know will be extremely challenging...or all of the above.

Athena Karkanis reveals the qualities of her character, Grace (NBC)
Athena Karkanis reveals the qualities of her character, Grace (NBC)

Emotionally vulnerable or strong and stable - which kind of characters attract you the most? And in what category would you put Grace?
I think the best characters have a little of each, because don't we all have our moments of strength and our moments of vulnerability? Grace has both for sure, which is why she is so real and relatable.

While filling in the shoes of such demanding roles, do you look for a connecting characteristic with your on-screen character? Grace Stone, Octavia Muss, Vanessa Keller, or Dani Khalil - who do you relate with the most?

I can't play a character if I can't connect to them. Even if I were to play the most reprehensible psychopath I would have to find something to connect to. Otherwise, it's not real and if it's not real it's not good.