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Ian Verdun

Wingman Wednesday

Rena Owen

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Owen in “Sirens.” © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Siren” star Rena Owen felt at home in her character’s skin (even with the skin condition that was revealed!) from the outset of joining the Freeform mermaid drama, but the more time she spent with Helen, the more she understood why she was cast in the role. The New Zealand-born actress describes the character as the “old eccentric girl on the block,” but the curious behavior Helen presents also hides secrets, many of which will be unraveled by the time Season 1 draws to a close on May 24.

We recently sat down with Owen to discuss the power of being herself in imaginary circumstances, how the show evolved throughout the course of production, and why you shouldn’t be sad when an influx of unicorn projects streams out of Hollywood.

TrunkSpace: What have you taken from your “Siren” journey thus far that you’ll carry with you through the rest of your career? What has been a pleasant surprise?
Owen: I don’t know if there’s been any surprises. I think the thing that you take from every job that you do as an actress is the people – the people and the place. I’d never worked with any of the actors or any of the key creators or any of our crew, so I got to work with some really amazing people and we very much became a family. I’d never been in Vancouver before and I loved living there for four months. I think the only thing that I can add that maybe is relatively new from an actor’s perspective is the older you get as an actor, if you survive the game, is the more you realize about the power of just being yourself in imaginary circumstances. I think, as all young actors seem to do, we all want to act, but the older you get, the more relaxed you become. So that’s what you’ll get to take to the next job. You watch the old pros. You watch them and they’re just so relaxed in who they are. And that gets easier with age because you’ve become more secure in who you are and more comfortable in your own skin.

TrunkSpace: So the more comfortable you are in your own skin, the easier it is for you to slip into somebody else’s?
Owen: Absolutely. You’re just bringing yourself to that role. You’re just bringing yourself to the game. So I’m just being me, as Helen, in these imaginary circumstances, and she was a perfect character for me. Because she’s quite eccentric, she’s left of field, she’s a little bit odd, she’s an enigma, and I’m all of those things so it was really great to just… I’m perfect for the role and you’ll find that even more so as we get to the last episode.

TrunkSpace: Have you seen the “Siren” fan base grow from the premiere episode to where you are now at the tail end of Season 1?
Owen: First and foremost, I’ve got to say I was incredibly grateful because I know that this is a young person’s show. You know, it’s a YA, a Young Adult show, and that’s what Freeform does. So initially from the first few episodes I was so grateful that the fans really liked Helen, the old eccentric girl on the block. (Laughter) I really was grateful that they liked Helen because most young people aren’t interested in old people. That includes my own nephews and nieces.

Quite a few fans picked up right from the trailer that I was possibly a merperson, because I know when the first trailer came out, there’s that look between Helen and Ryn, and quite a few fans then said, “Oh, I think she might be a merperson,” because another person said, “It takes one to know one.” And then there was the skin condition in Episode… well first, the behavior, the fact that she was being protective of Ryn, and people going, “Why is she doing that… I’m sure she’s a merperson.” And then the skin condition. A lot of fans did say, “I told you she’s a merperson!” But it wasn’t really until Episode 4 that it was like, “Yep, we knew it, we knew it.” And now there’s a hunger and a fascination to know exactly what her merperson history is, which you will find out. There’s some interesting little information that gets dropped in Episode 8 and you’re like, “Oh, okay!” And then there’s a lot more that you will learn about Helen’s history in Episode 10, and actually there’s another thing that kind of gets said in Episode 9 and I can’t really reveal it. But that’s the moment, this one line where I went, “Oh, now I know why they always thought I was right for this role.”

TrunkSpace: You have done a lot of television work over the course of your career, but from what we could tell, it’s been a few years since you’ve spent this much time with one character. Do you enjoy the process of discovering who a character is, in this case Helen, as you go through the season?
Owen: Absolutely. You’re right, the last TV show I did as a series regular was with Brian Cox on an Australian TV series called “The Straits.” I think we did 10 episodes. And we were meant to go to Season 2 and then ABC took a budget cut and we were their most expensive show. So, the luxury of doing a series is, first and foremost, you get to be in one place for longer than a week. (Laughter) You get to actually live in a place for four months and you get to have a routine and a life. Recently I went down to the Gulf Coast to do two weeks on a movie. You’re in and out and you’re on a lot of planes and then a lot of hotel rooms, so it really is a gift to be on a series because you really do get to have a life and have a routine. And Vancouver is a stunning place to live and work. And absolutely, more was revealed about Helen with each episode. Initially it was kind of a little frustrating because all of us actors want to know the whole story arc and everything about our characters, but they didn’t give that to us. They kind of gave it to us when we needed it, because they just didn’t want us getting locked down on certain concepts or certain ideas. I think it was a clever strategy because for us actors it kept us on the edge thinking, “What’s going to happen?” We were just like the audience, like, “What’s going to be happening in the next episode?” We wouldn’t know until we got the script, which would be often a week before we started shooting it.

So yeah, you learn new things, you evolve, and then if things were dropped in an episode and I didn’t quite understand… Eric Wald, our writer, and our showrunner, Emily Whitesell, they were always available to us if we go, “Hey, I just want a little bit more understanding of what’s the history here.”

Owen in “Sirens.” © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

TrunkSpace: The first season is 10 episodes long, which for a viewer is great because with these shortened seasons, there’s never any filler. It’s all A storyline stuff that you’re going to be seeing, so it keeps the audience engaged.
Owen: Absolutely. And that’s something of great value to me because I’m also a writer. And so I’m always looking to what makes things, or helps things, work. That was kind of relatively new for me where you’re working on a show that’s really evolving day by day. Or week by week. Or episode to episode. The writers are finding the episodes with their directors and then the actors come on set – you’re doing scenes and then it takes a different shape or a different course. And the gift of being able to be that flexible to a certain degree, and because I’ve been a writer, I’m more introspective, so I’ll always go, “Look, do you mind if I say this word instead of that word?” And if a writer says no, you say the words the writer wants you to say. It’s a collaborative thing and I, coming out of theater, I guess I’m lucky in that way because it is collaboration – you work with the writers, you work with your fellow actors, you work with your director.

TrunkSpace: There have been famous mermaids on the screen before, but tonally “Siren” is so different than anything we’ve seen on the subject as of yet. That has to be a big part of the appeal, at least at the outset for new viewers.
Owen: Absolutely. And when I first got the pilot, I was really impressed because it had destruction – it had the formula that we’ve all become familiar with. But its content was so original and its content was so cutting edge. Here you’ve got this really exotic sea creature and she’s beautiful and she’s an enigma. She’s just all of these things, but she’s also a top level predator and I’m like, “Oh my god!” This is like “True Blood” but with mermaids, not vampires, you know? And when you look at those kind of fantastical creatures, the only one left after mermaids is unicorn. So don’t cry when the wave of unicorn stories start to happen!

Siren” airs Thursdays on Freeform.

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Wingman Wednesday

David Kaye

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Photo By: Taseda Knight

Generally those with a fear of flying don’t become pilots, or those who shy away from crowds aren’t known for standing calmly in a sea of people, so it’s a surprise to learn that someone who doesn’t like fish has landed in a show about them. Well, sort of about them.

In the Freeform drama series “Siren,” a dark tale about mermaids and their impact on a small town, David Kaye plays a laid-back employee at the local marine research center who he describes as a “loyal” and “affectionate” friend. And although the mermaid Ryn (played by Eline Powell) at the center of the series is part fish, she wasn’t Kaye’s source of seafood discomfort.

We recently sat down with the Canadian-born actor to discuss why he loves working on the series, playing his character like a dog, and how his fishy fears were stoked being elbow deep in a bucket of bait.

TrunkSpace: How are you enjoying your “Siren” journey thus far?
Kaye: It has been such a wild ride. I’m having a blast.

TrunkSpace: What have you taken from your experience that you’re going to carry with you through the rest of your life?
Kaye: That’s a great question. Firstly, some of the relationships with the other actors and some of the crew members is something that has really blossomed for me. I’ve met some amazing people – super talented, super passionate – who really want to be there. And one of the things that I love about going to set, for “Siren” specifically is, everyone is so happy to be there. It’s just such a wonderful energy. And on top of that, just learning from some of the other actors and just watching them work. I talked quite a few times about how Eline Powell, who plays Ryn, is just such a powerful actor. But also Alex Roe, who plays Ben and Fola (Evans-Akingbola), they have been such a pleasure to work with and it’s really interesting watching them just kind of do their thing. I love watching them do their American dialect warmup, which is always highly entertaining. (Laughter) I’ve had the opportunity to work with just so many amazing actors, like Ian Verdun. His performance last week in episode 106, it was just mesmerizing. I hope that the series gets picked up and I get the opportunity to work with more of these amazing actors.

TrunkSpace: In a lot of ways the show has the elements of a series that could stick around for a really long time. You look at a show like “Supernatural,” which we know you guested on, and while tonally different, that’s a show that has been on the air 13 years. Are you someone who could play the same character for that long? Could you be Jerry for 13 years?
Kaye: I mean, it depends on the show… as a viewer for me anyways, it depends on the show. I’ve definitely binge-watched shows that have more than 10 seasons and I love playing Jerry… I think he’s such a fantastic character and just such a loving person, so if I have the opportunity to step into Jerry’s shoes for a decade or more, I would be thrilled.

TrunkSpace: It terms of finding him as a character, was he somebody that was easy for you to tap into or did it take some discovery?
Kaye: A little bit of both. There’s a lot of myself, I’d like to think, part of Jerry, but there were definitely some things that I had to amp up. One of the things that I really try to do, when I’m playing Jerry, is treat him like a dog – just like his presence. He’s very in the moment. He’s very loving and affectionate and loyal and he’s just always happy to see his people.

TrunkSpace: So he’s man’s best friend in human form?
Kaye: Yeah! Just a little scruffy guy, that you wanna take home.

TrunkSpace: In terms of the mermaid focus of the series, that isn’t a subject that Hollywood has really tapped into on a large scale. In an industry where it seems like everything has been done and done again, why haven’t we seen much of mermaids on screen?
Kaye: This is purely speculative on my part, but I think when you say mermaids to somebody, today, most people, their immediate response, their immediate image in their head is Ariel from Disney’s “Little Mermaid.” Some people might go straight to “Splash,” but there are some really, really iconic mermaid characters that I think immediately come to mind when people talk about mermaids. So for a show like “Siren” to come out, where it just completely turns everything on its head, like mermaids are not these wonderful, singing creatures, they’re there for adventure and exploration, they are apex predators, they are viscous, they are strong, they are highly intelligent, they have a dark, green take on it that is really fascinating, so I think there was definitely a niche to be explored and I think Freeform just hit the nail on the head with it.

TrunkSpace: We know you’re also a voice actor. Do you view both aspects of performance as separate career paths or do they both lead towards the same end goal?
Kaye: To me it’s just about telling stories. One of the reasons I’ve kept on doing this for so long is because I love telling stories. I don’t particularly care about the format if it’s on screen or if it’s on the microphone, in front of the camera, behind the camera even – I’ve done some producing myself – or theater, I just love being part of telling a story.

Kaye with Eilene Powell in “Siren.” © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

TrunkSpace: You have your own production company, Whiskaye Films. Where does that fit into your focus these days?
Kaye: Currently I am just working on the last, final touches on the distribution of my first feature that I produced, which is called “Prodigals.” That will be hitting theaters in June, so look out for that. That’s a project that I’ve been working on since 2013 and so it’s been a labor of love and there’s some fantastic actors in it. It’s a great story. You’ll see Sara Canning is one of the leads. She’s on “A Series Of Unfortunate Events” and in “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Kaniehtiio Horn, who’s in “Letterkenny” and “Man in the High Castle,” and David Alpay. It’s just some really, really talented people and it’s a story that I think is incredibly relatable about second chances and whether or not anyone actually deserves a second chance.

And other than that my other passion project… Season 2 is coming out shortly of “White Ninja.” That will be released on Toonstar, so you can check out the Toonstar app because that will be coming out end of May.

TrunkSpace: So does one scratch the back of the other? For example, does a high profile acting gig help on the producing side, and vice versa?
Kaye: I’m not sure yet, to be perfectly honest. I think it’s been a really interesting ride. I’ve been acting since I was a child, so I’ve got 25, almost 26 years, in the industry now. I started producing because I’ve grown up on set and in the studio and seeing all these people doing all these jobs, not really knowing how those parts fit into the overall machine, and so I took an intro to film production course in 2008, as part of my undergrad, and I was like, “Oh, this is what everyone’s doing.” And I just had a deeper appreciation for everyone on set and how hard everyone works and how integral everybody really is to the final product. So production gave me a whole new appreciation for the industry.

TrunkSpace: Finally, David, we read that you have a fear of fish, which made us wonder… was a show about a half woman/half fish really the way to go?
Kaye: (Laughter) Well, I was less scared of her, because of the whole human aspect and knowing that Eline is, in fact a human. However, Jerry feeds the sea lions and in order to feed sea lions, you need to go elbow deep in a bucket of fish, and so that for me, that was probably the most challenging thing I had to do on set and it has actually helped my fear, in a big, bad way. So I’m grateful to “Siren” for that.

TrunkSpace: But still, no 100-gallon aquariums showing up at your house anytime soon, right?
Kaye: You know what, I think I would probably avoid it if it was offered to me. (Laughter)

Siren” airs Thursdays on Freeform.

Featured image by: Taseda Knight 

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Wingman Wednesday

Ian Verdun

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Photo By: Claudia Greene

Unless you’re a sailor from the 15th century with a belly full of wine, you probably don’t have a lot of experience with mermaids. That being said, Ian Verdun, star of the new drama series “Siren,” which premieres March 29 on Freeform, promises viewers will find plenty to relate to when mermaids come ashore in the fictional town of Bristol Cove.

The Los Angeles native portrays a salt-of-the-earth fisherman in the new series, and it’s these types of real, recognizable people that he says helps to ground the fantastical elements of “Siren.”

We recently sat down with Verdun to discuss why he thinks the series will have no problem finding an audience, how success won’t mean it arrived overnight, and the reason he genuinely loves portraying his character Xander.

 

TrunkSpace: Freeform has an amazing track record of building and establishing shows that amass really passionate fandoms. In everything that you have experienced and seen of the show thus far, does it have that same fandom-building potential?
Verdun: Absolutely. I think it could do it on a number of levels, actually. First and foremost it’s about mermaids, so I think there’s already such an avid fan base for that creature, for that folklore, all across the planet. There’s no country in the whole world that doesn’t have some kind of dedication to mermaids, some kind of cultural cornerstone where it deals with those creatures, so I think that alone is gonna have a lot of people very interested from the beginning. And then when they really get into the story and they get into the characters, and they get into what we’ve actually done with these characters, I really think people are gonna find a passionate new angle. And my character, he’s not a supernatural thing. I definitely am not a mermaid. Spoiler alert. (Laughter) But I think there’s something so human about him. When you have characters who do things that are just incredibly relatable, incredibly human, especially against the backdrop of something so crazy and so out there and off the wall, you really find a way to just see yourself in all of these people, in all of their situations, and in all of their hardships in spite of all the zaniness that’s happening.

And I think that the writers have really done a great job of keeping everybody grounded, so when people watch, it’s not just about flippers and fins and intrigue and mystery and all of that other stuff, which is great and awesome, and I enjoy it – I enjoy genre TV like anybody else – but I think the thing that keeps you coming back and makes you really passionate is the people. I tip my hat off to them (the writers) because I was just so excited to get a script every time, because we would just eat it up and just zoom right through every script. It was the only opportunity for us to be fans, because it’s spoiled for us. We already know what’s happening. If anybody watching the show is as involved and intrigued as we were reading it, then, yeah, I think it’s really gonna find a big audience.

TrunkSpace: What’s interesting about mermaids is that, while it’s a recognizable creature, they haven’t been overly exposed in the world of modern pop culture.
Verdun: I totally agree. And I think there’s actually a couple of reasons for that. One I think is that it’s probably just incredibly expensive, technically, to do it, especially on television. It’s a lot of water. It’s a lot of stuff. So I think we’ve just kind of come to a point in time in television, just technically, where we’re able to pull off something like this and make it believable and real and fresh. But I also think culturally we’re just in a different place where Women’s Liberation, the #MeToo movement, Time’s Up and all of these things are happening when it comes to narratives that center on women in positions of power, and I think that before now, it’s been very rare to actually look at these kinds of creatures, these stories, and actually focus in on them and break them down because people weren’t paying attention before.

TrunkSpace: The show is already creating a buzz, and again, Freeform is very good and finding audiences for their programming. With all of that being said, does it feel like “Siren” could be a game changer for you as far as your career is concerned?
Verdun: I mean, one can only hope, right? Don’t count your fish before they’re caught, right? (Laughter) But I would hope so. For me, it’s not really an overnight success. It takes years to become an overnight success. I graduated from college back in 2007, so it’s been a long haul for me.

It’s about the integrity of the story that you’re telling and it’s about the craft, no matter what the project is, you know? You always wanna do your best work and you always wanna be able to stand up and stand behind what you’re doing and be able to defend it, and I’m very lucky with this show that I genuinely enjoy it and I genuinely think it’s a great show. I’m very lucky to be going into this particular process with a project that I really, really, really love. It makes things, I imagine, so much easier. This is the first time I’m doing any of this, so it’s not like I have a lot of comparative experience.

TrunkSpace: Like many other shows nowadays, “Siren” is adopting a smaller season order (10 episodes), which for viewers, feels more consumable. You’re getting story, not just filler content.
Verdun: Exactly. You don’t have those little standalone episodes. It really kind of felt like we were shooting a movie every week. It’s just the production value and the amount of people that are involved, and sometimes, the depths that we had to… pun totally not intended, but kind of intended… the depths that we had to go to to really find characters and to really tell a very honest story about them in light of, like I said before, all the craziness. So I think it’s also advantageous to have smaller episode orders because you’re able to put some money into it, and put some bang into the episodes that really just, you know, knocks everything home, because when it looks beautiful and when everybody’s happy, it shows up on screen.

TrunkSpace: We know you can’t go into too much of the story, but can you give us a taste of what Xander’s personal journey is over the course of that first season?
Verdun: I would love to go into details, but obviously, I can’t. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) Contractually you can only confirm that you’re NOT a mermaid.
Verdun: (Laughter) Yeah. All I can say.

What I can say about Xander is I think his journey is incredibly relatable, even though, you know, it’s mermaids and I doubt too many people can relate to dealing with mermaids. I’ll be very surprised if they do. (Laughter) But I think his journey is about friendship and it’s about loyalty and maybe misplaced loyalty. And I think it’s also about family for him. His entire outlook is very tied up in the people that he’s with and he’s around. I think he’s an incredibly smart guy, he’s incredibly intelligent, but I don’t think people give him credit for it. What I do love about him too is he’s just this regular dude. He’s a working class, blue collar fisherman, and I think to give that perspective a younger face, and even to give that perspective a brown face, to me it’s really interesting. I rarely ever see fishermen on TV or even blue collar characters as people of color. They generally aren’t. But we exist, they exist. I don’t come from a high class, upper class, or even upper middle class family at all. I grew up pretty poor. We have blue collar people that have very different faces and it’s almost an honor to be able to represent that and to put a human face on it that looks a bit different.

Siren” premieres on Freeform March 29.

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