In this Imani Pullum Interview, the actress chats about playing “Topa” on The Orville, as well as her wider acting beginnings.
On The Orville, Imani becomes the third actor to play Topa, offspring of Moclans Bortus (Peter Macon) and Klyden (Chad L. Coleman). Topa was first introduced in the series’ second episode, as a rare female Moclan birth.
With The Orville now in Season 3, “A Tale of Two Topas” revisits the character’s storyline, as well as Topa’s parents’ differing opinions.
In our interview with Imani Pullum, we chat about the show and Topa’s character development. In addition, how Imani felt about working with more experienced actors in the cast.
You can either read our transcribed, edited interview with Imani Pullum below. Or, check out the video version on the Courageous Nerd YouTube channel.
You’ve recently played a major role as “Topa” on The Orville, but what made you decide to become an actor?
Imani Pullum: I started acting when I was 3 or 4 years old. I mostly did commercials because my neighbour, her daughter is an actor. She suggested my parents put me in acting. Then, I took a little break from that for a bit.
I started up again at 13 and that’s when I decided I really wanted to focus on acting.
Away from the screen/stage, you’re a student at NYU – specifically Tisch, the prestigious acting program. How would you say your studies prepared you to take on professional roles?
Imani Pullum: I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself. Doing work in the program, my habits and what makes me feel most comfortable. I feel like that’s been really helpful, for sure, with my acting.
A month after being at school, I worked on Emancipation, which is a film I’m going to be in. I had to go to New Orleans for a month during the school year which was kind of touchy, as I’d just started school. I didn’t know how receptive my Professors would be to doing that.
Before joining the show, how familiar were you with The Orville? Had you seen the previous seasons on FOX?
Imani Pullum: Before the audition, I wasn’t familiar with The Orville. Of course, after I received the audition, I did my research on Moclans and Topa. The Moclan species is very specific – the tone of their voices, the inflection, the body movement.
That’s pretty true about all the alien species on The Orville. I just wanted to make sure that I got it right; that I looked and felt like a Moclan. I had to do a little research on that.
One of the more recent episodes, “A Tale of Two Topas”, focuses on your character’s gender identity crisis. How did you find exploring such relevant real-world issues through a science-fiction lens?
Imani Pullum: I think my main focus throughout the whole project was just feeling as grounded as possible. Even though I’m not doing my normal speaking voice, just making sure my emotion comes across throughout the whole episode.
It was a difficult balance, but I’m happy with how it turned out.
As the title suggests, you effectively play two versions of Topa. How different was your approach to the confused male Topa compared to the Topa we’ll see going forward?
Imani Pullum: I try to make the distinction decently clear. In the beginning, there were no smiles on my face. The first time I smiled in the whole episode was when Topa looked at herself in the mirror.
Just with the physicality piece after the surgery, she’s a lot freer. Not too much, because she’s still a Moclan and they’re a little stiffer. A little bit of freedom in the arm movement and a weight is lifted.
It’s kind of subtle, but I wanted to make it clear that she’s happy and comfortable in her skin.
Your main scene partners in the episode include Adrianne Palicki, Peter Macon and Chad L. Coleman, all accomplished actors. How was the experience of working with them?
Imani Pullum: It was incredible, getting to work with all of them. As you said, they’re all such great actors. They’re very successful and just know what they’re doing. Seeing them take control of the scenes and the room was so inspiring.
They’re super helpful, so kind and really welcoming to me.
“A Tale of Two Topas” continues a storyline that began early in Season 1. With Topa’s transformation at the end of the episode, what can you tease about her future?
Imani Pullum: Well, there’s not a whole lot I can say about Topa. I’m excited to see what’s next for her, in Topa’s future. She’s got a bright future ahead of her.
In addition to The Orville, your past projects include the All That revival as well as The Lion King on Broadway. Of all your prior acting experiences, what stands out the most?
Imani Pullum: It was really cool to be a part of [All That]. I’m a huge fan of the original series and to see that come back around was really exciting. I got to work on the first episode and another episode, I can’t remember exactly. Being a part of the first episode was really cool and super exciting to see.
I toured with the National Touring Company of The Lion King, so I got to go to a lot of cool places. I was about 12 when I started and it ended when I was 13. It was a really awesome experience and I feel like I learned a whole lot while I was there. I grew up a lot… yeah, really cool experience.
It was announced last year that you will star opposite Will Smith in Emancipation, a feature film. Have you shot this project yet and if so, how was that process?
Imani Pullum: I did Emancipation after filming The Orville. I finished filming The Orville during the summer, right before I started college. [Then], I filmed Emancipation in November. So, I had a little bit of time in-between.
It was nice because I felt comfortable going on set. I’d worked on The Orville at that point, so I kind of knew how things go. You know, it’s definitely a little different because it’s a film versus a television show.
Working on The Orville helped a lot, for sure. It helped me get comfortable enough to feel grounded and feel able to do the best work I can do.
In a wider sense, what would you like to accomplish with the rest of 2022?
Imani Pullum: That’s a good question. Hopefully, I’ll finish the first semester of my Sophomore year of college, that’s one thing. Hopefully, another cool project will come in.
I’m really open to anything and I like to do things that are totally different. That’d be exciting and really thrilling, for me.
Thanks again for taking the time, Imani. Take care and stay safe!
Imani Pullum: Thank you for having me.
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