Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a half Brazilian, half Ukrainian Aquarian who’s endlessly curious and adventurous. I sing really loudly in the car, and love to eat raw food, especially raw chocolate. I’m a mega travel bug, and an organization freak. I’m trying to be a minimalist, but too obsessed with fashion, and shoes, which makes it tough. Oh, and I’m an anti-absolutist.
What was it like transitioning from modeling to acting?
In terms of work, I modeled only part-time because my mom actually wouldn’t sign the consent papers for me to move to New York when I was 17, but ultimately it worked out for the best. I ended up getting a college degree, and then followed my passion into the acting arena, and I’ve never been happier. But there wasn’t a moment in my life where I had to tell my modeling agent, “Well guys, I’ve decided that I want to break into acting!” I decided to go into acting because I couldn’t live with the ‘what if’ scenario, had I not followed my dreams. After I getting my finance degree, the market crashed, and I thought, well it’s now or never. The rest is history.
Are there any specific roles you chase after, like in a certain genre or characters with particular traits?
When you’re first starting out I think you have to know what you’re good at, how casting sees you, and play to your strengths in order to book your first few jobs, and get valuable on set experience. For me, those roles were usually the tough, headstrong chicks – the rebellious, trouble maker types. From Rogue, to Watch Dogs 2, to Prison Break, the characters I play are always powerful, and rebellious. A perfect example of this is Echo who I play on “The 100”. She is a rogue Amazonian assassin, which is pretty exciting to portray. These women are never boring, and so much fun to embody.
You were in Prison Break and Supernatural, were you a fan of the shows before you were cast?
I was, but it had been so long since I had watched either of them, so I had to cram up before going to work. I am someone who likes to start from the very beginning of a show, and watch things in proper order. I can’t do the anachronistic, random order episode watching-thing. I like to see how each event creates consequences in the next episode. I’m slightly OCD like that.
How would you describe The 100 to someone who has never heard of it?
A mix between Lost, Lord of the Flies, and Stargate: Atlantis, with more badass female characters, and general savagery. There’s a lot of tribalism, and fighting between clans, making it a very dangerous political landscape for all the characters. Every season gets better, darker, grittier, and more dramatic, and the writers take a lot of risks, it’s awesome.
Echo is a force to be reckoned with, but has there been a moment while training or filming that was notably difficult?
The whole beginning of season four was tough because we were filming in the summertime and I was wearing so much fur, and doing a lot of grand standing and doing those Echo power moves. Due to the heat wave in Vancouver, I was in a constant state of discomfort. No matter how much water I drank, it was never enough. I was having a hard time getting the lines out because my mouth was so dry, and my clothes were soaking wet from sweat. That paired with the constant need to pee, which required unbuckling about fifty wardrobe clips, two belts, and a sword hilt. We finally pinned bags of ice to the inside of my jacket, which helped tremendously! Or I would have to say emotionally, it would the scene where Echo had to tell Bellamy that his sister was dead. That was heavy. Since Mount Weather, Bellamy was always a person she felt connected to, because he showed her kindness without requiring anything from her. This was likely the first time anyone did anything selfless like that for her, and that’s part of why I find their journey so beautiful. It all started with a kind gesture.
Do you have a secret ritual to get into character?
There are so many different ways that I get into character, but it starts with knowing who they are, and what their motivations are within the world that shaped them. I usually have a notebook where I jot down ideas as they come to me, I’ll often print images, or collect them, and paste them into the book to create some imagery. I’ve collected objects, items, songs, poetry, anything that grabs me and feels right. I pair this with journaling a lot about the character, as the character themselves, and then if there’s time I will do some other work like visualization, or spending a day in my character’s shoes. It depends how much time I have, and what is required for the role, but the more work that is done, the more truthful I feel when portraying them, which is the goal.
I also do a lot of breath work, vocal work, and physical work, to relax and move as my character would. With Echo on The 100, I worked with a coach who talked to me about how dominant men will lead with their pelvis, or people carrying weapons have a weight in their hips, which affects everything about how they move. This was so impactful in creating the powerhouse that is Echo. It informed how she strides, stands up, sits down, etc. It’s amazing finding these little clues that can unlock a character completely. It’s like a scavenger hunt, you have to keep trying different things and eventually you find your way in.
Season five just aired, what can we expect? How does your character grow over the course of the season?
We meet Echo at the beginning of season five after the biggest transformation. She went from a murderous Ice Nation gangster, to someone who is softer, and less ferocious than we’ve seen her in the past. This is because for the first time she has found a safe place and has spent six years learning that she doesn’t have to live a violent life to be respected and valued. Bellamy and the others were instrumental in educating her by way of love; but all these relationships get tested once they get back to earth. For the first time in years Echo finds herself in the middle of a war, but doesn’t quite know quite where she belongs. She also doesn’t know whether her new friends will stand up for her, or abandon her, which is what she’s grown accustomed to.
We all need to learn how to live more peacefully and be more tolerant of one another.
How does the storyline resonate with you?
I often think of real-life parallels between the show and what’s happening today. We’re seeing a lot of tribalism right now, in politics, and even on Twitter with shipping wars. In a way, tribes are great way to create a sense of family, and connectedness with others, but if taken too seriously, they can actually cause harm to you and the people around you (much like we see in the show). Whether it’s a sports team that you defend to the death, or human rights issue, or school team, or pop star, we shouldn’t get too worked up defending it. Have fun and enjoy the positive things about having your tribe, but don’t get nasty. We all need to learn how to live more peacefully and be more tolerant of one another.
What is it like working alongside such powerful women?
It’s pretty incredible. It’s literally a dream job; working on a character that continues to grow and develop, and being challenged constantly in my work, while surrounded by such extraordinary costars has indescribable. I think women are such natural powerhouses. It’s great being on a show that champions this and surrounded by talented passionate women who are amazing humans, and genuinely care so much about the show, and social issues outside the show. I’m so inspired every time I show up at work. It’s a special privilege I don’t take for granted.
Do you take little keepsakes home from shows you have worked on?
If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you. Fine. I have a sword. I have a salt shaker. I have a blue button up shirt, and I have some gel nipple covers. That’s a promise, and I always asked production first!
You also own a restaurant and have an organization; how do you balance it all?
Learning how to ask for help is key. Despite wanting to do it all on my own, it’s become unmanageable, so I’m literally being forced to lean on others. It’s paramount to surround yourself with a good support team, who you trust to have your back. Also, ensuring that you take time off to rest is super important. Recovery is just as important as work. I think that life works in cycles, things ebb and flow, so after a really big push forward, or an exhausting few weeks (or months), it’s important to pencil in some time to relax. I may do that right now in fact, because if it ain’t penciled in, then those calendar days get seized quickly by others before you even stand a chance. If I’m successful in my vacationing, I leave feeling so rejuvenated and inspired, that I’m clawing at the doors to get back to work and unleash some new ideas. That spirited energy we all want, can only be earned by stepping off the hamster wheel, and awarding yourself some rest.
Learning how to ask for help is key.
Have you learned anything as a businesswoman and entrepreneur that you apply to your acting career?
Your success is largely dependent on who you surround yourself with. Find good mentors and teachers, and never stop learning.
Last year, I briefly recall you mentioning writing a script, is there anything you can tell us about that?
I can tell you that, well, that writing scripts is something that may go on my list of ‘Things to Delegate to Others’.
How would you adjust to a real-life post-apocalyptic world and which character from The 100 would you want to have your back?
Luna for her mad sword skills. But she’s dead now so maybe that’s bad choice.
If you could have a guest role in any show that is airing right now, which one would you choose, why, and breakdown your character.
I would love to play in Orange is the New Black, because it’s gritty, and tough, and looks like it would be fun to shoot.
What inspires you?
I connect to various different sources for inspiration, depending on what’s going on in my life. Sometimes it’s an art gallery, sometimes it’s a public figure, or even just a sentence in a book. I collect these little tokens of inspiration to fuel me as I go through life, but I love studying people who have positively impacted the world. I love watching CNN Heroes. There’s a lot of tears shed, and empty tissue boxes.
What can we expect from you next?
A tropical-themed Instagram story live from my next vacation!
STORY ZOHRA HUSSAIN
PHOTOS GILLES TOUCAS
MAKEUP NICOLE WALMSLEY
HAIR AARON LIGHT
STYLING YAHAIRA FAMILIA