Starting this weekend, you can stream Netflix’s new supernatural thriller series Archive 81, loosely inspired by the podcast of the same name. 1428 Elm was lucky enough to chat with star Mamoudou Athie, who plays archivist Dan Turner on the series.
Throughout the show’s first eight episodes, Dan becomes obsessed with solving a mystery that started in 1994 when grad student Melody Pendras (Dina Shahibi) visited the storied apartment building the Visser to find out more about its inhabitants. Creating an oral history/documentary via her camcorder, Melody left behind a collection of tapes salvaged from a fire that burnt down the building and left 13 people missing.
Fast-forward to the present-day, Dan is hired by a mysterious company to unravel the mystery contained on those tapes by restoring the footage. Not only does the show have plenty of suspense and thrills to go around, but it contains compelling characters and engaging relationships that keep you hooked from beginning to end.
We got to talk to Athie about how he got involved in this project, what he learned about his character’s archivist duties, what it was like working alongside cast members like Matt McGorry and Martin Donovan, plus much more.
Archive 81 interview with star Mamoudou Athie
1428 Elm: Did you have a lot of experience with videotapes when you were younger? I always remember the “be kind rewind” motto.
Mamoudou Athie: Blockbuster was like a three-minute drive from my house. DVDs were a little later for me. We clung to the VHS for as long as we could. I do remember those days. I kind of miss them, actually.
1428 Elm: It’s funny because if a tape ever got messed up, I never even realized they could fix it. On Archive 81, that’s your character’s job as an archivist. How much did you actually get to learn about that process?
Athie: They actually gave me a pretty thorough—I mean as thorough as one can get—detail. I was taught how to do it. Now, am I able to restore things to the point [they work]? No. [Laughs] But I have the basic motion, and I understood the basic mechanics of what I needed to do to be able to do this job in this capacity. We spent some time over Zoom before I got there and then in person, too. I felt pretty well prepared.
1428 Elm: Something unique about this show is that you spend a lot of time on your own. Was that challenging? Did you get to see any of the footage Dina Shahibi (who plays Melody) shot?
Athie: I saw some of the time, not all of the time, since the limitations of the shooting schedule didn’t permit certain things to be shot before. It’s not in order, necessarily. That said, I’d have a snippet of video or I had to imagine it, which was totally fine with me, but yes, I was alone a lot of that time, and it was very lonely!
1428 Elm: When he’s not alone, your character spends a lot of time with Matt McGorry’s character, your close friend Mark, on the show. What was the experience like working with him?
Athie: Matt, I love Matt. He’s a great guy, and he’s a great actor. He really, you know, that relationship kind of paralleled itself while we were shooting. He really held it down. It was very comforting actually, to work with him and I mean that sincerely. Great guy, great actor, couldn’t say it enough.
1428 Elm: Similarly, you work with Martin Donovan, and that dynamic is very complicated. It’s fun to watch you guys act opposite of each other.
Athie: We had a lot of laughs. It was fun. Again, it’s funny because we actually didn’t spend that much time together when I think about it, but I felt like I got to know him and I felt like, again, I have to say that the cast, I felt like everybody really put in the work and was committed to helping each other. That’s the most important thing to me, and another actor. I felt that as well with Martin.
1428 Elm: The show is based on a podcast, were you familiar with it beforehand, or did you listen to it at all once you got the role?
Athie: I listened to a couple of episodes once I got the role. I wasn’t familiar with it before. But I did listen to a few episodes, and then Rebecca suggested I probably don’t do that. [Laughs] And I thought that was a good idea because there were a lot of voices, and you don’t want to get attached to any voice. But I was interested. I did like the podcast very much. I know one of the things that people spoke about a lot was the sound design and I agree. They did a wonderful job and I recommend people check it out.
1428 Elm: What are you most excited for people to see or take away from Archive 81?
Athie: I hope people really see the center is a kind of love story, and I don’t mean in the romantic sense, but a love story through a family, a platonic love story, you know? There is a lot of love and a lot of heart in this show that I hope people really respond to. As well as the other elements in the show, like the horror, the mystery, and the thriller aspect. But for me, the thing that attracted me to the show is the massive beating heart at the center of it all.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The entire first season of Archive 81 is now streaming on Netflix.