Mamoudou Athie

Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in episode 106 of Archive 81.

Clifton Prescod/Netflix
Mamoudou Athie

Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in episode 103 of Archive 81.

Quantrell D. Colbert/Netflix
Mamoudou Athie

Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in episode 102 of Archive 81.

Quantrell D. Colbert/Netflix
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February 04, 2022
Online Originals

Mamoudou Athie Unpacks Archive 81

Whether he's spinning hi-fi records or cataloguing Hi8 tapes, this actor is interested in playing the humanity of his characters.

When your first major acting job is playing a living legend, it can have any number of effects on you. For Mamoudou Athie, it made him fearless. "I just remember being on set," he says of his experience playing the iconic DJ Grandmaster Flash in Baz Luhrmann's 2016 Netflix series, The Get Down, "and feeling like, as far as acting goes, nothing will ever scare me again."

It makes sense, then, that the Yale School of Drama grad wouldn't shy away from a horror series like Netflix's Archive 81, based on a popular podcast by Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger.

Athie plays Dan Turner, an archivist hired to restore a collection of tapes made by a filmmaker investigating a dangerous cult. It proves to be more than he bargained for, as the show's horror starts out as psychological, and soon moves toward the supernatural. In the meantime, Dan's preexisting psychological issues return, brought about by what he's seeing.

It's not the first time Athie has played a character with a troubled mental state. In the Facebook Watch series Sorry for Your Loss, he played a character who may or may not have committed suicide — it was left intentionally ambiguous. The correlation between the two roles, Athie observes, is "the deep well of loss that these characters share."

"I'm always drawn to the humanity," Athie explains. "The sci-fi, the horror elements — those are completely secondary to me. I'm drawn to relationships, how people affect each other, and the conversations they have. If I read a good conversation on paper, I'm just like, 'I might as well sign the dotted line.' I think it's just the most fascinating thing to watch."

The writing by Archive 81 creator and executive producer Rebecca Sonnenshine was another part of the draw, as was the work of the series' primary director, Rebecca Thomas, who helmed four of the season's eight episodes. Thomas's 2012 feature, Electrick Children, was a favorite of the actor's from his time in grad school. "I saw her name attached to this," he says, "and I just jumped at the chance to work with her."

Much like the time Athie jumped at the chance to audition for Luhrmann, even without knowing what part he was auditioning for. But when he won the role of Flash, Athie realized he had a problem: he didn't know how to DJ. "I was so bad, I actually learned rhythm from Flash," he says of his lessons with the DJ. Ultimately, Flash was happy with Athie's portrayal. "That's the ultimate sign of approval right there."

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