Post Mortems

9-1-1's Angela Bassett Talks Athena's 'Surprising' Origin Story, Including How She Helped Cast Her Younger Self

9-1-1 Recap

Monday’s 9-1-1 turned back the clock to show viewers how Athena Grant joined the LAPD, as well as the tragic turn of events that inspired her to keep up the good fight.

It all began when present-day Athena learned that police located the gun that was used to murder her fiancé Emmett (say who now?!) back in the early ’90s. Not only was this the jumping off point for Athena to launch her own rogue investigation, but it also triggered her memories of Emmett, an LAPD officer who convinced her to join the force before eventually sweeping her off her feet.

After proving herself to her superiors and accepting Emmett’s proposal, Athena was on top of the world — a world which came crashing down when she learned that Emmett had been shot and killed during a robbery at a convenience store. Naturally, Athena’s mother insisted that she pack her things and return home, but Athena stood her ground. As she watched footage of the infamous Rodney King assault, Athena explained that the world needed more good cops. The world needed her.

Athena’s mother also popped up in the present, as May knew she was the one person who could knock some sense into Athena before she let her obsession with Emmett’s killer consume her. In the end, Athena tracked the man down and brought him to justice, which finally gave her the long-overdue closure she’d been so desperately craving.

Below, Angela Bassett breaks down Athena’s tragic ordeal, including how she had a hand in casting Sonuga as young ’90s Athena:

TVLINE | I love that 9-1-1 is the kind of show that can give us ridiculous, over-the-top emergencies one week, then pivot to something so real and grounded the next.
Oh, absolutely. That’s the taste of our writers. [Laughs] They enjoy that, and it certainly does keep us on our toes. There’s never a dull moment around here.

TVLINE | Nor was there this week. The show really found the perfect person (Famous in Love‘s Pepi Sonuga) to play ’90s Athena.
I haven’t gotten a chance to watch the episode, but I’m very excited to see her work. [Director Tasha Smith] was telling me what a great job she was doing. Tasha also gave me the opportunity to weigh in on the casting. There were a couple of ladies that the casting department came up with. That’s not usually what we do, but my episode was the first one where we had a different actress portraying me. Aisha [Hinds] and Kenny [Choi], for example, played themselves. So this was a little different, and I was really thrilled to have that opportunity.

TVLINE | What about Sonuga stood out to you, specifically?
There was just something very special about her. The naivety, the excitement, the enthusiasm, the subtle performances. She brought a lot of class.

TVLINE | Did you ever think that Athena was harboring this much pain?
Not at all! I was very surprised to see that. I thought they’d thrown everything they could at me in the love department, but no, there’s more. And knowing our writers, there’s still more.

TVLINE | That’s a safe assumption. I also enjoyed that we got to see the moment Athena and her mother’s relationship became fractured. Do you feel like you understand their dynamic better now?
I think so. The relationship between mothers and daughters is unique. As a little girl becomes a woman and begins her search for independence, she may have a different idea of what she wants for her future. I think I understand it, especially since I went through a little of that with my own mother. I do like that you got to see how close they were.

TVLINE | Athena has always been so strong, so when she broke down in Bobby’s arms, I felt that. Will these events continue to affect her moving forward, or is she keeping it in the past?
Although you saw it now, we actually shot this episode earlier in our process. So it’s being aired as the seventh episode, but it was really the fourth one we filmed. Athena pretty much holds it together moving forward. I think she got all the closure she needs. She may be more sensitive and open, perhaps, but she still bucks up and pulls it together.

TVLINE | It was also nice to see the whole family, including Bobby and Michael, rallying around Athena. How do you feel about Athena’s unconventional family?
I’m very proud of how they’re handling it. I meet men and women who say that this is real, the idea of this unconventional and blended and split family. So I appreciate how they get past their own insecurities and want the best for each other. There are a lot of additional challenges that are going to come up that affect the kids or Michael, and they’re always going to be a family. No matter what.

Your thoughts on this week’s revelatory 9-1-1? Drop ’em in a comment below.