For the last two decades, the actress Morena Baccarin has honed her craft across film and television, rising to fame on the cult favorite Firefly, earning an Emmy nomination for her work on Homeland, and playing the female lead in the Deadpool franchise. But a few months after giving birth to her third child last March, the Brazilian-born star was given a rare opportunity to co-lead her first show on network television. It was an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up.
Created by Nicholas Wootton and Jake Coburn and executive produced by Justin Lin, The Endgame, which airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC, centers Elena Federova (played by Baccarin), a recently captured international arms dealer who inexplicably orchestrates a number of coordinated bank heists across New York City. She plays a game of cat and mouse with Val Turner (Ryan Michelle Bathé), a principled and socially outcast FBI agent who will stop at nothing to foil her ambitious plans.
“I’d just had a baby, and truthfully, I wasn’t ready to go back [to work],” Baccarin says. “But after reading it and seeing the creative team behind it, it was a pretty easy no-brainer when it came to playing this part. She gets to have all the fun in the series. She’s orchestrated this massive, massive plan, and she gets to sit there and watch it all unfold and slowly dole out information and make Val run around and put pieces of the puzzle together.”
In a recent phone interview, Baccarin spoke with W about the process of bringing her “larger-than-life” character to the small screen, the various self-care routines that she has adopted as a working mother, and the one skincare rule that she will always follow after a long day on set.
In the Endgame trailer, Elena says that she robbed seven banks—but not for money. Given that she already has a reputation for being a criminal mastermind who is loyal to only herself, what would you say is her biggest driving force behind this mammoth plan that, she says, will eclipse the U.S. government?
Her wants are very simple, which is a peaceful life with her family, and she’s very much driven to achieve that goal. You see a little bit in the pilot that she’s somebody that’s had to deal with a lot of strife—she was attacked, and her parents died when she was young—so I would say that revenge is a big motivator, but it’s not the end goal.
Every villain has their Achilles heel and their motivator, and often the thing that makes them vulnerable is the thing that drives them as well. For her, it’s her daughter, her family, her husband, and what happened to her, which you find out in episode 2. Those also give the character truth and realism. All the fun and games and the extremes that she goes through, it’s all rooted in really trying to get justice.
How does she intend to use Val as a means to seek justice?
She and Val are more aligned than Val would like to think. Val also suffered a lot of strife in her youth. She is also very idealistic and has a strong moral compass, and Elena does too—they obviously go about it very differently. [Laughs.] That’s where they will connect. And as the show goes on, it seems that the people that Elena starts taking down are very corrupt people that you don’t want in positions of power anyway.
From the moment that she steps out of a shipping container and into an underground holding cell at Fort Totten, Elena makes an immediate impression. How have you worked with the rest of the creative team to bring the various elements of her character to life, from her untraceable accent to her distinctive look?
The accent is a huge part of who she is. That was a conversation I had pretty early on, and right before we started shooting, the studio heads had a moment of panic where they thought, “I don’t know if we should do this accent. What if people don’t relate to her?” But I very strongly said, “Let me do my thing. Then, you can tell me if it doesn’t work.” I feel very strongly that this person needs to have a quality that makes her a little bit different than everybody else. She grew up in Ukraine, in Belarus, and you can’t have her be American. That would be very strange. Once the accent fell into place and we found the right dress and I learned her backstory and really worked on that, the character came to life very quickly.
Where did the dress come from?
The costume designer for the pilot was attempting to design her own dress for the show, which was beautiful but a different vibe than the show ended up being. We were trying to figure out, what should she look like? What does she want to feel like? What’s the impression that she wants to give? And we decided that it had to be something incredibly fabulous but also maneuverable. It couldn’t be too ridiculously sequined or studded.
I had a doctor’s appointment on the Upper East Side. I walked into Carolina Herrera before my appointment—I had 15 minutes to spare—and I laid eyes on that dress. I just felt like the color was perfect. It was very regal and strong, but at the same time a little muted, not too intense. It was almost presidential; a strong person had to carry it. I tried it on, took a photo, and sent it to the producers like, “I think I just found our dress!” My stylist Christina helped us pull a bunch of other dresses—we tried on 20-30 others—but it became a game of trying to outdo this blue dress, and nothing ever could.
Elena also has a very distinct red lip that adds to her allure. What is your favorite shade of lipstick?
We are using this red color called Starwoman—it’s [from] NARS. I’d used it before I started the show, and now it’s become the staple look for the character. I love that red. It dries on your lips, it’s more of a stain, and it stays on all day with a velvety feeling.
The scope of The Endgame is incredibly ambitious, because it plays out over the course of 10 days and each episode focuses on a specific day of the investigation after Elena is arrested. What can you preview about the rest of the season?
I’ll just say that, ultimately, Elena is doing some good. She is taking down people who deserve to be taken down—her means are not necessarily the best—and Ryan’s character really tries to get ahead of Elena. She doesn’t always succeed, but she has a few wins in there that make it very satisfying for the audience. And as the season progresses, it ramps up very quickly.
You’ve worked on TV and movie sets for the better part of the last two decades, so what are the most important beauty tips and tricks you’ve learned throughout your career?
Hydration, I would say, is the biggest. We’re working long, long hours in very dry climates and sound stages, and there are smoke machines and dust everywhere. The best thing for your skin is drinking a shit ton of water and also constantly moisturizing. If I can’t do anything, that’s what I do.
You write in your Instagram bio that you’re an easy skincare enthusiast, so what’s the first thing you do in the morning, skincare-wise? How have your routines changed since you became a mother?
It’s definitely changed. I used to do a whole skincare routine of exfoliating every two days and different kinds of cleansers for the climate, then a moisturizer and then an oil. And now, it’s literally a two-stop shop. The first thing I do in the morning is just rinse my face. I usually lather a lot of lotion and oil at night. I live in New York, and especially in the winter, it’s very dry. I know I’ve done a good job when, in the morning, I wash my face, and it still feels a little damp from the moisturizer. Sometimes, I’ll literally splash cold water on my face [when] I don’t have time to actually cleanse, and then I usually put on a heavy cream. One of my favorites is the U Beauty Super Hydrator. It’s a very rich cream, which I use only in the winter. I can use a face oil all year round—Eminence makes a great one that I love, the Facial Recovery Oil.
What is the biggest skincare rule that you abide by?
I have to wash my makeup off. That has to come off, all that heavy stuff, whether you put on a lot or a little. I don’t feel good until I’ve completely scrubbed my face, and I have to use makeup remover and facial wash. I like something that is soapy, not oily—I don’t like that texture, and it’s something that I feel like I have to put all over my face, including my eyes. I just scrub it all and splash water on it, and all of it comes off at once.
When I’m in a pinch, Koh Gen Do has this Cleansing Spa Water, which is a makeup remover and face refresher that does remove everything really quickly. So if it’s 3 in the morning and I’ve just gotten off work, I wipe the makeup off in my van and moisturize when I get home.
What’s the best bit of beauty advice that you’ve ever received, and who was it from?
The incredible women I’ve worked with and admire see beauty as something that comes from the inside—as an intelligence and a self-possession—so I would say that I’ve asked them more about who they are as people. That’s been more inspiring than anything else: feeling good about yourself through bettering yourself.
What is the one makeup or skincare product you think everyone should own? Is there a beauty product you can’t live without?
I would say no. I have things for different times, for how I’m feeling. My go-to is an oil, but I change it up because I also think it’s important for your skin to try different things and to feel different kinds of cream and oil. So I’ll switch from Eminence to my makeup artist in L.A. who has an oil that I love, to a heavy cream, to my facialist in New York, Joanna Vargas, who has a skincare line that I switch to. So when I say [I’m a] skincare enthusiast, it’s because I have a ton of stuff in my cosmetic cabinet. I could take a giant picture, and I have, like, eight different products that I just switch back and forth to.
What’s your beauty go-to for a night out?
A tinted moisturizer, mascara, red lip.
What’s your favorite form of self-care?
A nap. [Laughs.] It’s a life-saver!
In a pre- or post-COVID world, what would your ideal spa day look like, and where would you go?
Ideally, I would go to a retreat. I find it frustrating when I’m in the city and I go to the Baccarat Hotel, an amazing spa. I go there, I spend 3-4 hours, I get a massage, I get a facial, whatever it is, and I come home and I feel like all of the effects fade so quickly the minute I walk through the door. [Laughs.] So my ideal spa would be a retreat in Arizona or wine country where I can luxuriate in the spa and then go to my hotel room, lay in bed, and watch a movie.