The Featured Presentation

Tammy Gillis

Photo By: Kyrani Kanavanos

As a star of the popular Freeform series “Siren,” Tammy Gillis was ecstatic to discover that the fantastical mermaid drama was greenlit for a second season. Not only was she eager to explore where the narrative would take her character Deputy Marissa Staub, but she was also excited to return to her on-set family, which includes Eline Powell, Alex Roe, Ian Verdun and many others. With Season 2 currently airing every Thursday, we recently sat down with Gillis to discuss finding her footing heading into the latest story arc, engaging with fans on a weekly basis, and embracing the creativity of the show.

TrunkSpace: Like many series today, “Siren” was shrouded in secrecy heading into Season 2 and an alert would be sounded should any accidental spoilers take place. Does that make this part of your job difficult… promoting a show where the who, what, where and whys need to stay a bit vague? Because honestly, if it was us, we’d be living in fear of saying the wrong thing!
Gillis: It definitely makes it challenging. I always stop and think about it for a second. I don’t want to give any spoilers!

TrunkSpace: With all that said… what can you tell us about what excited YOU the most when you learned “Siren” would be getting a second season and you’d be returning to set?
Gillis: So many things! To see where the story goes. To see where Marissa’s story goes. Does Marissa get a love interest? (Laughter) And most definitely, to work with everyone again! I keep saying it but we are really lucky to have such an amazing cast and crew that have become like family.

TrunkSpace: We read that you went back and watched Season 1 before diving back into your character Marissa. From a character’s arc standpoint, how important was that to you in order to find your Marissa sea legs and where she begins her Season 2 journey?
Gillis: It was so important because I needed to be very clear on what I knew and what Marissa knew. I also created more of a backstory for her so I could add in a bit more of a personal story with her and the other characters.

TrunkSpace: What have you enjoyed the most about getting to explore a character like Marissa over an extended period of time? Does it keep things interesting to learn new things about her as the writer’s explore her relationship within the universe more?
Gillis: I love when the writers add in more information for Marissa. It lets me explore more of my creativity and see how I can weave the new information in with the choices I’ve made.

TrunkSpace: We’re curious, from the first moment you read for Marissa to where we see her today on screen in Season 2, did she change within that span, either because of creative choices behind the scenes or as a character who is simply growing within the story itself?
Gillis: I definitely think she is changing based on the story itself as well as some choices I’ve made. This season she is being forced to step up to a new responsibility – a new authority so that changes my interactions with the other characters. By creating more of a backstory to each of the relationships with them, it gives some conflict with having to carry that new authority.

TrunkSpace: “Siren” is becoming a rarity in that, it’s a series that airs a new episode every week. As a performer, does that prolong the experience for you on the back end of shooting something, as opposed to having it all released at once for the binge-hungry masses?
Gillis: It makes it more fun to engage with the fans. Being able to Live Tweet with them when the episodes are airing is so fun. We love seeing/hearing their reactions. If it was released all at once, we would miss out on that. I’ve been on other series where it was released all at once and you really had no idea if people were watching it or not.

TrunkSpace: Is there something kind of empowering… even subconsciously so… about getting to don a deputy uniform? We’d imagine it’s pretty difficult not to walk the walk or talk the talk from time to time, especially when you catch a glimpse of yourself in all of your authority-figure glory!
Gillis: There absolutely is. Even though it’s just a costume, it feels different and people do treat you differently. When I have the gun belt on, it forces me to carry myself in a different way. I love that costumes can do that for you.

Gillis in “Siren”

TrunkSpace: For the audience, the end product is always what’s memorable, but for you, we would think the experience of shooting “Siren” would be more important than the final cut. With that being said, what’s been the most memorable aspect of your journey on the series thus far?
Gillis: I love working on set. It is such a collaborative, creative experience and I find that I learn so much from show to show, episode to episode. “Siren” is such a creative show and every episode I love seeing how they are going to tell the story and what the other actors are going to do. There are so many memorable moments but one thing I am very grateful for is Gil Birmingham, who plays Sheriff Dale. He is such a powerhouse of an actor and such a generous, kind man.

TrunkSpace: You grew up in a town of 800 people. When you dreamed of a career in the arts, did it seem attainable in those early days, especially coming from such a small town?
Gillis: Definitely not. I’d never met an actor or even dreamt of the possibility of becoming one because I just hadn’t experienced it.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Gillis: No. I like not knowing where the road will lead. There is more possibility in it.

Siren” airs Thursdays on Freeform.

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The Featured Presentation

Rena Owen

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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The Featured Presentation

David Kaye

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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