Belgian actress Eline Powell’s first leading role in television is starring as Ryn, a predator mermaid, in Freeform’s hit thriller Siren, which was recently renewed for a second season. As the season 1 finale approaches on May 24, Powell describes her initial reactions to the script and behind the scenes insight on the filming of the series.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Belgium but have lived in London since 2008 where I went to RADA. My dog is called Dolly Parton. I’m a big green tea drinker, slightly addicted to pastries and still watch Friends every day.
When did you start acting? How did you find your passion for acting?
In primary school in Belgium you had to perform a little poem for your class every week. I looked forward to it all week. I would spend hours rehearsing and even brought props. In hindsight it was my first taste of it. I did ballet for many years and always loved when we got to perform on a stage but my first “true” acting experience was in high school when I played Mabel in Pirates of Penzance. I cherished every minute of it and was blown away by the adrenaline. It was only when I turned 16 I started to really believe if I liked it so much I should try to work hard and pursue it.
You star as the lead in Freeform’s Siren. How would you describe the show?
It’s a dark thriller set in small coastal town about mermaids who are predators. They come on land because overfishing forces them to come closer to the surface. When their worlds collide we see how differently people handle being confronted with a new species.
Tell us about your character, Ryn, who is a mermaid. What’s your favorite part about playing her?
Ryn is an apex predator mermaid, who is forced to come on land to find her sister who was taken by humans. I love EVERYTHING about Ryn. My favourite part about playing her is the physicality and how she absorbs language as she goes along. Another favourite aspect was looking at the human world as a complete outsider. To see how many “thingamabobs” (couldn’t resist) we have and how necessary we deem them to be. Or how humans interact socially etc, it was very interesting to interpret everything as if it were brand new.
How did the role come about?
I taped for it in London and a week later found out they wanted to do a Skype session. I was so excited, roles like this are rare.
These mermaids are not exactly what comes to mind when we think about mermaids. In the show, they are portrayed as predators or villains, but still have an eerie beauty about them. What was your initial reaction when reading the script?
I was buzzing. This hadn’t been done before and I loved this take on it. Mermaids haven’t been featured as prominently as vampires and zombies in tv or even film so I was all for heralding the era of darker mermaids. The fact that they were wild but intelligent, fierce and strong yet vulnerable at times really stood out. The opportunity to be so creative with a character was thrilling.
What was your mindset like going into filming?
I had done a lot of work and research so I told myself to just trust that, but whenever I got nervous I tried to go back to the “senses”. What can Ryn taste, smell, hear, etc. and how different is it to the ocean. Playing Bjork helped a lot to get focus back on being from a different world.
The opportunity to be so creative with a character was thrilling.
Take us through getting into character on set of Siren, including the costume and makeup effects.
The contacts were a game changer. Once I put those in I really thought Ryn was born. They are hand painted and even have my prescription so I can see. They give you tunnel vision so it even helped with the way she needs to look around a lot to gather as much information as possible about this new environment. For the swimming we got monofins and only had to wear skin suits so we were very free to move. They did all the skin in post and we were all so amazed at how great a job the CGI guys did.
What was the experience like acting underwater? Were there any specific challenges you didn’t expect?
It was a challenging experience but one so rewarding I was begging to do more! The main challenge underwater is your lack of visibility which is really tricky when it comes to finding your mark. You are dealing with depth as well so sometimes just “getting in shot” was difficult enough. The other challenge I found was actually the hair! It’s so hard to control the movement of your hair underwater!
How do you think the psychology of Ryn differs from the humans?
I think she is much less self aware in the sense that she does not filter her feelings. She is more raw and pure and does not see the need to portray herself emotionally different to appear more “likeable”. I guess you could say she is an “open gate”. It’s also reflected in the way she expresses “love” or at least a form of it. They don’t see gender or race in that field and are more drawn to the essence of someone. Ryn comes from a world where survival is much tougher, but also much closer linked to nature. I imagine their culture is one where loyalty and trust are paramount in order to thrive.
How does Ryn develop throughout this season?
Ryn goes on quite an emotional journey as well as a physical one. She becomes more used to her human body, learns more language but most importantly her opinion on humans expands throughout the series.
Do you have any memorable behind the scenes moments from set?
Plenty, in episode 3 actually which just aired, we were improvising on set with Ryn touching and exploring objects in the lab when they are trying to interview her. There is a moment when Ryn picks up this stack of post-its and I didn’t realise it would fall the way it did. If you look closely Alex and I are both doing our best not to laugh, but I love that they used those takes! Or the first time Ryn takes the rubber gloves, it genuinely almost flicked Fola in the eye. That whole day was just trying not to laugh.
What’s your favorite episode from this season?
Tough question, there are scenes that I look forward to in each episode but I also haven’t seen most of the episodes myself yet! I do think 4 and 5 are up there.
Give a shout out to an actress that inspires you! What makes them special?
There are many! I’ll give my shout out to Rena Owen who plays Helen in the show because the way she plays her is just genius and charming.
I do have to mention Emily Blunt, I’ve been a fan of her work for years but just watched A Quiet Place. Wow.
Any advice for those pursuing their passions?
Make sure you love it. Truly deeply love it and if you do, then wholeheartedly believe. No matter what.
What are your passions outside of acting?
I have so many! I’m one of those people who could never get bored, I always find a project. Painting is one of the most therapeutic ones. I do it just for myself to be creative or just unleash whatever it is that needs to come out. Getting lost in a book, or film or even TV shows is quite a big part of my life but I don’t feel guilty about it anymore like I used to, I’ve realised it’s such great research and the more stories I come across the more I get inspired. I’m still in love with all forms of dance but in the last few years I’ve become a huge fan of zip lines and anything that involves wires or climbing in trees. I guess since the show I’ve added scuba diving to my list, I’d like to get much more diving hours in. Unfortunately London is limiting in that regard, so I try to make it a priority on holidays.
Any upcoming projects you can share?
Unfortunately not, it’s all up in the air at the moment.
STORY ANNA ZHANG
PHOTOS ERIC HOBBS