Stephanie Leonidas tells The Fan Carpet’s Paul Risker about her childhood imagination as the reason for her chosen career
Ahead of the release of Defiance season one on Monday July 15, Irisa – Earth actress Stephanie Leonidas – took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with The Fan Carpet.
We chatted about her childhood imagination as the reason for her chosen career, skipping drama school and training on the job, thoughts on science fiction and her quest to find drama and characters with a heart. Oh, and how eternal recurrence and hard-core theatre instils discipline. Always looking ahead here at The Fan Carpet to keep you all abreast of what you can expect to come your way from the world of film and television, Stephanie offered a few thoughts on what our awesome readers could expect from Defiance season two.
What was it that compelled you to pursue a career as an actress?
It was one of those things; I always enjoyed it. Since I was a kid I have always loved playing dress up and as a kid I would go off into my own imaginary world. Playing in the garden I was always pretending to be a creature of some sort, thinking I was going off to an imaginary world and I would pretend with my brothers that I had magic powers. I guess from that point onwards I wouldn’t let go. I just decided that I’d rather do that for the rest of my life than something that didn’t make me happy. So here I am.
Was it an aspiration of yours to star in science fiction and how as Defiance changed your view of the genre?
I have always loved sci-fi. I think growing up as a kid you are exposed to some great sci-fi shows and films as well as fantasy. I never thought of myself as being in a sci-fi show and I was really lucky that it worked out that way. Also working with Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman on MirrorMask with the whole fantasy world opened my eyes more and more to the genre and the other stuff that I enjoy doing besides the more serious drama and theatre in London. So yeah bit by bit I fell into it and discovered it more and more. Playing Irisa has been quite an eye-opener. It’s not every day that you get to play an alien and work on a show that is so different from anything else that you have done.
What are the challenges that make acting in film, television and theatre so distinct?
Apart from the obvious one of the audience in theatre and it being live; being able to get things wrong in film or television and to do it again and often having that chance for a retake. It is all live and the pressure is very different, but I find theatre very rewarding and exciting. That moment right before you step on stage is something you can’t replicate with television or film. I think theatre will always be something I love doing and will always want to do, but it is hard work and you have to be ready and you have to want to do a play. It is extremely hard work but I love it, I really love it!
I did a play a couple of years ago called The House of Bernarda Alba in which I played Adela who hangs herself every night. I did that for several weeks and it was hard-core; it really was. But the amount I got back from doing that play and the discipline that you learn really helps you when you move into film and television because you work so hard it helps when you film. It gives you a different discipline.
I have spoken with actors and actresses who say the best kind of preparation or training is live theatre.
I started quite young and skipped the whole drama school thing and so for me the training was being on the job. So it was great doing television and stuff because I was learning off other actors and I learned from watching people. But theatre I think definitely gives you a whole new way of learning and looking at things. I think I will always enjoy doing theatre and I think it is good to do and important to do in between film and television, especially when it’s a play that you feel passionately about; it’s an amazing feeling.
In your first answer you spoke about transforming yourself, losing yourself in transformation and in an imaginary world. Every actor even if not in extensive make up is trying to lose themselves in a character and create a new persona.
Would you talk a little about enduring the challenges of make-up for Defiance, and the challenges of playing a character which requires a complete physical transformation?
The transformation of Irisa is quite a huge one. I remember the first time I put the prosthetics on and looked at myself in the mirror and thinking “Wow, what a transformation.” It didn’t feel like myself staring back at me and my concern at first was how I could move my face as this character. Suddenly my expressions and everything was different. It was funny how once I got onto set and started saying lines and being Irisa she became more and more alive and suddenly it was okay to move differently because this was Irisa. I loved that transformation. It’s probably one of the biggest transformations that I have done and I loved the challenge of it. So playing Irisa has been a huge challenge because she is so different from myself and I love that; I love being somebody else on set. As soon as that prosthetic goes on and the wig and everything and her costume, you can’t help but be Irisa.
Irisa is a fulfilment of your childhood imagination and therein you are fulfilling a youthful aspiration. You have played a range of characters but as kids we push to the extreme and then as we grow up and explore creativity we realise it is not necessary to push to such extremes. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this point as you mention your performance as Adela who is a very different character to Irisa, both of who are complimented by a host of equally different characters that you have played.
Even though Irisa is an alien, what attracted me to her and to the whole script was that there was a real drama and heart to the piece. It wasn’t just about aliens fighting; it wasn’t a big apocalypse story where there was no real heart. That’s the most important thing for me. No matter what the character, whether it’s a complete made up alien or any kind of human being, whatever they are going through emotionally at the time, no matter who it is, as long as the piece has got a heart and a real drama, something I can get really get my teeth stuck into then I think that it doesn’t really matter in the end. I love the challenges of playing so many different characters.
As human beings we all very different and we all have different qualities, but at the end of the day there is always a heart there, and it is about finding that in that person even if you are playing somebody that is considered evil. It is about figuring out who they are and for me that’s always been important. I love finding qualities in all sorts of different people and sometimes Irisa is very human. She is growing up in a world where aliens and humans are learning to co-exist and at the same time she is going through very real human dramas. Her relationship with her father is a fiery one as lots of father daughter relationships can be and she’s discovering boys for the first time. So there’s lots of human drama there too and it’s important to think of her as a young girl growing up, not just this strange alien girl.
I like what you are saying because the skin of the character is just a shell. It’s what’s inside, it what’s beneath that shell. The best science fiction, let alone the best stories are always those with rich characters, the tools of the storyteller. Ideas are never enough and as you say there is the shell of the character and you have to look beneath it.
Definitely and I think that reflects human life too. We get so caught up on appearances but it’s the person inside the shell. Otherwise we are just shells walking around with nothing else to us. It is important and that’s what I loved about Defiance was that it is a character driven piece.
Comedy and horror have definitive intentions. One intends to make you laugh whilst the other one intends to scare. Science fiction on the other hand is a reflective genre that looks to our past and future but also at our present. With its thematic thread of co-existence between peoples, Defiance seems to embrace this idea which is at the heart of science fiction.
Yeah I totally agree and that’s what attracted me to the script. Sometimes without even realising you just feel a connection to the script. Then when you work through it you realise why and I think it is important to have these stories that people can reflect on and watch, but which actually have meaning behind them and things that people can relate to while watching.
What can we expect from Defiance going forward and what would you say to anyone yet to discover the show?
Defiance moving forward… It’s just got so many places to go and I think that it’s only just touching the brim of what is actually to come. We are still discovering who the characters are, but they have huge and very different journeys to go on; every single one of them. I’m excited to see where season two goes. They have come up with some really great ideas and they are going to go down avenues people will not even expect.
The end of season one gets very exciting. It’s great because it’s a real ensemble piece. There’s so much for every single character and how their journeys link up. So keep watching [laughs].
DEFIANCE SEASON 1 COMES TO BLU-RAY AND DVD ON JULY 15 FROM UNIVERSAL PICTURES