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Stephanie Leonidas (Irisa Nyira) - Defiance
Stephanie Leonidas was born on 14 February 1984, in London, England. She started acting in community theatre when she was eight. Her television roles have included Whitechapel and Doc Martin. For the big screen she appeared in MirrorMask and Crusade in Jeans. Her theatrical roles have included Adela in a production of Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre, and Dani in The Sugar Syndrome, staged at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, in 2003. She currently stars as Irisa in Universal Cable Productions sci-fi series Defiance. Darren Rea spoke with Leonidas as season one of Defiance was due for release on Blu-ray and DVD...
Darren Rea: What was it that attracted you to your character in Defiance - other than the money?
Stephanie Leonidas: [Laughs] Yeah, it's always a good one. It was really just the fact that it wasn't the regular alien apocalypse story. It was a piece that had heart and real human drama to it and something that I could really get my teeth into.
So I think, for me, even though it was playing an alien, it was the real human qualities to Irisa and the fact that it was reflecting things that are going on today. That's what really attracted me to it.
DR: Where you aware from the start that you were going to be in prosthetic makeup and did you have any reservations about that?
SL: Er... I don't think I quite knew what was to come [laughs]. I'd never really worn a prosthetic like that before. Not long after getting the part they sent me pictures of how they wanted the Irathients to look and when I got out to Toronto we had some time before we started shooting to experiment with the look. I remember the first time looking in the mirror at me in this prosthetic and I just didn't recognise myself. It was just amazing. I remember passing every mirror and having to look at myself just out of curiosity, just looking at this person that didn't look like me any more. It was quite amazing - it was a great transformation.
I think, for me, it's been mostly exciting. It's been hard work, you go in very early in the morning and you're one of the last to leave. While everyone runs and jumps in their cars, I'm still fighting with my prosthetic to get it off [laughs]. It makes the days even longer, so it's hard work but it's one of those things that you don't get to do often. So, yeah, I'm loving it.
DR: Do you think that being linked to a PC and console game has helped or hindered the development of the show?
SL: I think it's been great. I am very new to gaming. I love point and click games [laughs], but this was an opportunity for me to get to enjoy the game as well as the series. So, I've really enjoyed the crossover between game and the TV.
I think it's opened a new world for people and I think it can only expand and improve. There are so many place for it to go. I think it's really exciting for gamers, and people who watch TV who don't normally play games necessarily.
DR: Was it a huge learning curve for you too? Did you have to study a lot of background notes on the races and universe to help immerse yourself into the role?
SL: We did get a lot of back story. Before we started shooting we had about a week in Toronto, where I first met Grant [Grant Bowler who plays Joshua Nolan] and we spent a lot of time together. He very quickly became a father figure. It was funny. We had a lot of improvisation kind of stuff. With the director of the first episode we got to know our characters and talked through where they'd come from, how they'd met and what kind of stuff they'd been through before... So, yeah, there was a lot of that before we even started shooting. And then obviously through each episode there's more and more that we discover, but they've always been there to give us information - we've had storyboards and pictures through the whole series, so it's been great.
DR: You mentioned that you have a good relationship with Grant, do you think that's important as an actress - to get on well with your co-star - or could you still turn in a good performance if you didn't get on?
SL: Well, Grant and I hate each other! Can't you tell? [laughs]. No, yes, of course, it makes a big difference. I think the fact that Grant and I can mess around and as soon as they call "cut" he's teaching me how to fight and get my punches right.
He's like a father, he tells me off when I do things wrong. And if I hold a gun wrong he gets very annoyed with me [laughs]. It's brilliant. We have a lot of banter on set and I laugh a lot with Grant. We really have bonded as a father/daughter relationship and I think it is important. It definitely reflects on screen and it makes it much easier for us to work together. So, yeah, it's been good fun.
DR: You're also working with the great Julie Benz, did she give you any advice?
SL: Er... Don't wear prosthetic makeup [laughs]. I think, the first day, she said: "Ah, you wait. A year down the line with that prosthetic... you're not going to be smiling" [laughs]. Julie's great. She's always there to give a hand with anything. She's very relaxed and very professional on set. She always comes in knowing her lines and she's never late for anything. She's brilliant. She's great to watch, and see how she works.
We all get on really well. We've been really lucky. It's been a great cast.
DR: You had some nude scenes with your co-star Dewshane Williams, who plays Tommy LaSalle. Did you both find that awkward at all?
SL: It was funny. You have those scenes and they're sort of comical in a way.
It's very "Put your arm here. Put your leg there." You've got 'tit tape' on your boobs [laughs] and it's constantly falling off and sticking to his face [laughs] or something like that. So it's not quite as glamourous as it ends up looking. It's all very mechanical and it's just another scene in a way.
The great thing with Dewshane is he's so relaxed and so lovely and we had a laugh with it. For him it was like kissing a different person, I mean I have this big prosthetic on my head [laughs] and I'm somebody else. So as soon as I'm out of character I feel it wasn't really me either that was with him. It is funny. Those sort of scenes you have to laugh at them and not take them too seriously.
Dewshane's been lovely. I really enjoy working with him. He's a great guy.
DR: Are you ever worried that this will be the role that you'll be remembered for... that you'll end up doing sci-fi conventions until you're old and grey?
SL: Yeah... I never really though about that... I guess because I've been doing a lot of other things as well Defiance. Since I've been back since finishing season one of Defiance I've been filming in London. It felt weird at first, not having a prosthetic on my face and not spending five hours in a makeup chair. I've never really thought about it like that because I've still being doing a variety of other things, but there's definitely nothing wrong with travelling. I love Comic-Con. I got my first taste of that last year and I really enjoyed it. I love that side of it as well, and I think I'll always enjoy doing that.
DR: Of all the areas that you've worked in, theatre, TV and film, which do you get the most pleasure out of?
SL: I love film. I love the time that you get. TV is often so quick and you do work extremely hard. Not that you don't work hard at film, but you do often get a little more time for things. They're all important in their own right. I love theatre, I love the discipline that it gives you. I love being on stage and having a live audience and nothing can beat that feeling; The nerves that come with that and the excitement...
So I would never like to be without any of them and I love crossing the board and being able to do all of those things. They all bleed into each other. Doing theatre does definitely give you a discipline when you're filming. I think theatre, for me, was always like my drama school, because I never went. I learnt on the job and so theatre gave me a lot of the skills that I can take onto other things. I love them all and I honestly couldn't be without any of them. I'm enjoying the speed and just doing a series that's about to go into its second season. I love that feeling of continuing a character and seeing where she goes.
DR: Were you picked up before the first season finished?
SL: No, not at all. We all hoped that it would, but you never know. So, yeah, it's great to be going back.
DR: What would you like to see Irisa do next season?
SL: I think there's so many places that each character could go. I think with Irisa that she's had a lot of growing up to do that by the end of season one she's become a woman, in a way. There's a lot that she goes through and a lot that strengthens her, physically and emotionally.
So season two could start anywhere and I'm really excited to see where they take it. I know they've got some great ideas and they want to take each characters to places you wouldn't expect so I think that would be fun.
DR: A lot of the characters have interesting costumes, but you seem to wear the same costume week after week...
SL: I know! I didn't get the most glamourous costume, I have to say [laughs]. Yeah, Irisa's about practicality and what she needs and that's it. Maybe she'll care for her looks more in the second season [laughs]. But, no, I mean it's great. She's a very frail creature, she's very animal like in a way. She wouldn't do alright in a dress [laughs].
DR: Having worked as a guest star on show's like Doc Martin, where you've had to come in and fit in to an established set, are you conscious of this now that you're a main character and have guests appearing on your show? Do you do anything to help guests not feel intimidated?
SL: I think we just have a laugh really and make sure things are not taken too seriously. It is hard when you're joining a group of people that all know each other and it's important for the job and for them to be able to do their job feeling comfortable. We all make an effort to make them feel very welcome and often enough we've had people that have come on who have done great things themselves, it's not like they're just starting out. And so, it's been great working with them and bonding with new characters and I think that's the good thing about Defiance, you have new characters entering the show constantly. It's been really nice.
DR: When a show starts to become established it seems to attract big name stars who are fans. Who would you like to see appear as a guest star? Is there anyone who you would really love to work with?
SL: Oh, wow... There are so many people I'd love to work with.
To be honest I feel really lucky working with the cast I'm working with now. I never thought I'd work with Julie [Benz] and Jaime [Murray]; I watch Dexter and love the show and it's great working with them and Mia [Kirshner]. It's been fun and I feel like I'm constantly learning on every job that I work on. I feel like you learn off each other.
I can't wait to see who may join us in season two. It's great fun.
DR: What are you working on at the moment.
SL: I'm just filming an episode of Poirot [Dead Man's Folly] at the moment with David Suchet. It's the last season of his 25 years of playing Poirot. So we're filming that in London and Devon at the moment.
We're in Devon next week at Agatha Christie's house, so we're there to end it, which will be really nice. It's been great fun.
I've also been doing that and one other episode of a new series called By Any Means which will be out, I think, at the end of this year.
I'm also doing a film called Luna with Dave McKean, who I did MirroMask with, so there's a few bits and pieces coming out which I'm excited about and it's nice doing different things.
Defiance: Season One is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Universal Pictures (UK) on 15 July 2013
This interview was conducted on 20 June 2013.