In the new Doug Liman series Impulse, it feels as if Maddie Hasson’s range on camera has finally been found. The 23-year-old actor has already appeared in both network dramas and feature films, but nowhere has she been more captivating than as Henrietta “Henry” Coles, an outcast teenager whose ordeals precipitate a new supernatural power. Hasson brings a complex array of emotions to the screen with Henry, but for her, it’s only the first of many challenges she wants to tackle in her burgeoning career.
Hasson grew up in North Carolina, but by sixteen she was already taking trips to audition in Los Angeles. “It was sort of a fluke,” she says, recalling her youth in theater. “One of my play directors said, ‘There’s this movie auditioning in town and you should go for it.’ I went out for it and the casting director sent my tape to the manager I’m still with today and he signed me that week. So I got really, really lucky. it doesn’t happen that way usually, I think.” She soon landed starring roles in the television shows The Finder and Twisted, as well as roles in feature films including the part of country singer Billie Jean opposite Tom Hiddleston’s Hank Williams in I Saw The Light, before landing the lead in Impulse.
Impulse is part of the new subscription service YouTube Premium, part of the website’s new push towards original content. It’s an important opportunity; like Netflix and Hulu before it, YouTube is offering significant creative freedom to directors, allowing non-traditional stories to be told as they build their service. Impulse starts out fairly straightforwardly: The show follows the life of Hasson’s character Henry, a teenager who finds herself in a new town, new school, and new family when her mother begins seeing a single father. She’s accustomed to her environment changing based on her mother’s relationships, and so she remains voluntarily isolated from others. “Often you’ll see these teenage characters that are forced into the role of outcast, and it’s what Henry wants,” Hasson reasons. “And I love that strength in her. The choice to be lonely is very interesting in a young person to me.”
That dynamic is the basis of a typical coming-of-age story until Henry finds herself in a car with the town’s star athlete Clay Boone. A harrowing scene of assault begins to unfold, abated only by a sudden and inexplicable occurrence in which Henry finds herself back in her bedroom, leaving both the car and Boone in a wreck. This ‘teleportation’ is something first introduced in Liman’s earlier film Jumper, which occupies the same universe, but here in Impulse, the supernaturalism takes a backseat to the character development. “I think Doug Liman from the very beginning wanted to create a show that had a world that was so interesting and the characters were so intertwined,” explains Hasson. “Their lives and interactions were the central and meaty part of the show, before the superpower, and the superpower is a side plot that’s just a sprinkle of interest on top.”
Instead, the show shifts focus onto the assault and its residual effect on Henry and the residents of the town. To prepare for the scene in question, which plays out in a startlingly realistic way, Hasson spoke to a therapist who deals with victims of assault. “She said for each person it’s different, obviously, but a common thing is that you disassociate and you sort of float above yourself and you escape in that way because it’s too painful and too horrible,” she relates. “In a way, Henry does that emotionally, and then she teleports and physically manifests that with her power.” Henry then has to deal with the consequences of something she can’t even comprehend; while trying to understand the mystery of her own power, she’s forced to confront a town lamenting the debilitating injuries of the man whom she knows as her assailant.
The topic is a weighty one for a show geared towards young adults and Hasson felt the importance of the subject matter. “As a woman, you’re not unfamiliar with the idea of assault,” she says. “I grew up with the fear of being assaulted from probably, I don’t know, age eleven, and I don’t think that men necessarily have that. I think you live long enough and you start to realize that it’s not an uncommon thing. I know many different people who have been assaulted—it’s so tragically common, so it’s not something that was off my radar.” Hasson also saw the opportunity to portray a character who wasn’t a typical film depiction of a young woman, devoid of the contrasting feelings and traits most people possess. “She’s not necessarily a likable character from the beginning. I think that writers in the past, typically in Hollywood, tried to make young women especially more likable for the sake of being likable. [With Henry,] they just kept her raw and real, and they kept her to her story.”
Hasson’s attitude is that of someone who would be too bored to get typecast; comfort doesn’t reap the rewards she’s after. “I want to keep challenging myself, I don’t want anything that I do to be easy, which is in a way exhausting,” she admits, but she’s still drawn to the gratification that comes with a struggle. “It’s the most fun part about this because when it’s challenging it is painful. It’s like when you run a bunch of miles and it feels awful but at the end of it you’re like, Wow I did that. It feels really good when you accomplish something that doesn’t necessarily feel the greatest when you’re doing it.”
Now Hasson just wants to continue refining her craft by exploring different characters, and with that outlook, she’s bound to carve out an interesting career for herself. “I just finished this and so I want each thing that I do to be different from the last,” she says. “Henry is very tough, which is what I love about her, but I feel like I’ve tackled that and now I want to explore a softer character, maybe in a period piece. I don’t know, I just want to keep doing things that are a departure from the last thing I did.”
Impulse is now streaming on YouTube Premium.