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Exclusive Interview with Siren’s Eline Powell

SIREN – Siren Mermaid Museum – Freeform celebrates the upcoming mermaid drama “Siren,” with the opening of the Mermaid Museum in Hollywood, CA at Goya Studios. (Freeform/Troy Harvey)
ELINE POWELL

Belgium born beauty, Eline Powell, probably hasn’t been on your radar, as of yet, but that’s likely to change with Freeform’s newest series, Siren. She fronts the show as the titular character, Ryn. Si-ren, Ryn, get it? Ironically, she looks more pixie in nature with her pert nose, heart-shaped face, dimpled chin and adorable elfin ears. Her giggle is infectious, her charm winning. But don’t let her diminutive size and sweetness fool you, her performance is monstrous in ferocity and focus. Watching the way Eline inhabits Ryn you can’t help but be impressed, moved, and, yeah, scared even. From top to toe she puts intent in every action, telling you a story with little more than her feral movements, dark, deep-set eyes and ever-changing facial expressions. Here she tells us a little about herself, how she developed Ryn’s character, what music inspired her and why Ben is off-limits. (For now, we hope!)

I know you got your acting degree from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Did you always know, even as a kid, that you wanted to be an actor?

It’s hard because I grew up in Belgium in a time where being an actor wasn’t really a career option as much. The comments I got on that was, “Oh, you’re going to be a lawyer one day.” That’s as close as it got to being sort of performing as kids.

It was only when I grew up and traveled a bit, that I realized that if I just worked hard and believed in stuff that, “Oh, my God,” this could be an option. I sort of fell into it and only later I realized that was definitely where my heart was. I also trained as a ballet dancer, but acting was even more freeing, almost. It was more of a journey, I’d say, but in hindsight it was definitely my passion from the get go.

Some people might recognize you from Game of Thrones. Your character, Bianca— just to remind readers—was part of an acting troupe who put on a rather crass, but hilarious play with Bianca portraying Sansa, even though she desperately wanted the role of Cersei. What was it like working on what’s inarguably the biggest TV series ever? What was your experience like?

Oh my God, it was amazing. I was a huge… I am a huge, huge fan of the show. When I got the job I was over the moon and I felt so, so lucky. Indeed, when I arrived there on set, it kept being amazing. They’ve worked together for six years now, so all the crew there is just like family, but also the extras, they’re all excited to be there because everyone is so aware of how amazing the show is. Everyone feels like they’re part of something big and that definitely was a part in how people were with each other. I just had the best time. Especially the writers, they took all of the actors from the theater group out to dinner, which I thought was incredibly crazy-kind, because ultimately we were just sort of a small blip in the whole show, and they still treated us like we were just as important as anyone else. I was just blown away by their kindness really, and I had the best time on it. I will always look back at it with fond memories.

Now you’re starring on Siren. In the course of my research I discovered the show was originally called, The Deep and they were going to call your character Po. I must say, I’m really glad they changed their minds.

Well, at the time I thought Po was quite cute, but it had such a connotation with the Teletubbies. Also, I think Po is… you just think of something quite adorable, and I think Ryn is much more magical and a bit mysterious. So, I’m actually quite glad they changed it, yes. I think Ryn is more appropriate.

Yeah, it really seems to fit her. She’s a mermaid who arrives in Bristol Cove looking for her land legs and her missing sister. What was the audition process like and where were you when you found out you got the part?

I did a tape for it in London and I loved everything about it. These sort of parts, they don’t come around much. Parts where actors can be truly, truly mentally creative and imaginative. I got the call a week later that I had a recall, but it was actually a screen test. Ultimately being in London and everything having to move quite fast, we did it all on Skype. I did an interview with them and I did another audition, and we asked each other some questions and stuff like that.

When I heard I got the part it was a late time, actually, it was like midnight for me. I was just crying in my room, out of sheer joy and I rang all my family and I woke them, but they didn’t care. They were all very, very pleased for me. Yeah, it was a magical moment really.

Will you be having a watch party with your family and friends for the show?

Well, my family is all in Europe, but I definitely am having a few mermaid parties tomorrow. One we’re doing with Freeform and one I’m going to my dear friend’s, who is also in the show, called Ian Verdun (Xander), who’s a hosting a party in honor of the premiere. I’m going to his house and we’ll get popcorn and watch it all together. And then I get to do it all over again when it comes out in Belgium and then the UK, so I’m just doing celebrations for the premiere for the next month or something.

How fun! Siren isn’t at all like your Disney-fide version of a mermaid. It’s definitely got more of the scary siren feel from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. What did you think the first time you saw yourself in that makeup? And did you have to go through a really extensive process?

The first time I actually saw the finished moving image, let’s say, of the mermaid, I was blown away. I was so impressed with what they had done. They are real artists. They are, in fact, the guys who do the CGI tails on the dragons on Game of Thrones, actually. I loved it.

They did film the design before we started shooting. They always had a rough idea of what they had in mind, which is quite important for me too, because it shows me a bit what she was like under water. As you will be able to tell, it’s more of a unified mermaid look. Instead of having human skin on top and scales at the bottom, the whole mermaid body is a bit more of a unified, unique skin texture. And viewing the pilot, they did actually make that entire look in prosthetics, so it was seven hours in the make-up chair. They made the tail entirely from scratch. It was so heavy and so beautiful that I needed three guys to put me in the tank. So even though it looks amazing, after a couple of hours in the water it was hard to work with a bit.

For the actual rest of the episodes, we simplified the process and it became just us wearing a monofin. We did all the skin in post so we were free to move as much as we like. It was so much easier, we were much less tired.

I was going to say you must have been exhausted.

Yes, but it was the best kind of exhausted, you know? You’ve lived your dream. It’s like when you were a kid and you swam in the pool all day and then you’re tired, but you’re still happy going to sleep. That kind of vibe.

Ryn isn’t used to her human form, or really humans at all for that matter. I was very impressed with your quirky physicality from her first few steps, and I did see a nod to Ariel there, to kind of the way you crooked your neck when you’re taking everything in and you’re looking all around you. How did you develop her movement and did your background in dance help with that?

Well, I watched a lot of Blue Planet because I wanted to see… what is her vision of the world where she’s from? I also wanted to take as much as I could from animals, both land and sea predators. And I always am fascinated by the eyes. Like the great white, there’s something so terrifying about it. Even with cheetahs and leopards, the eyes are such a captivating element.

Also, because when she comes on land she doesn’t know humans, she doesn’t know human language, so a lot of her physicality also has to be communicative, you know? I needed to express emotions just through that. I love the very quick movements of cheetahs that makes people jump a bit when they make a very sudden movement. But I also love the fluidity of bigger mammals, like whales and orcas. And then I take a lot of breaths, a lot, because when you see dolphins or even bigger whales, the way that water shoots back into the blowhole, it’s so expressive. It can be fierce and quick, or long and slow. I thought that was also quite fun to play around with some expressions of how she feels about something. I just had the best time picking and choosing and trying to create this creature. It was definitely a couple of weeks of me going in front of the mirror and being a total weirdo, but it was great fun.

You did an amazing job.

Aw, thank you so much. I’m so glad you liked it.

Absolutely. I saw a video on your Instagram where you swam with the monofin you mentioned. That was amazing. How much training did you have to go through? And how much time do you actually end up spending in the water?

We did do quite extensive training because there’s a few processes involved. It’s not only the actual manner of movement with the monofin, but it’s also breath holding. We also had to get our scuba diving license. I worked with really amazing professional free divers and improvised those movements with actual techniques for breath holding. It was a dream. I mean these guys are amazing, I was always very, very comfortable in the water, but to get to that level of comfort, to be able to shoot those days, that was extraordinary. And now I’m quite proud of being [able to hold my breath for] three-minutes-twelve and obviously it’s much less after a lot of…  cause you go down all the time because your body just burns oxygen, and it doesn’t account for that long in full action. It’s so fun and now I get to go on holiday and use my scuba diving license and build up my hours. I’m grateful to this show for many, many reasons actually and that’s certainly one of them.

First monofin ride. Heaven!#thedeep #siren

A post shared by @ elinepowell on

It looked phenomenal, magical, with you moving through the water like that.

Yeah, those are all my favorite scenes and being under water. I just couldn’t wait for tank days. They were definitely like, “Yes, another tank day!”

What’s been the most challenging thing about this unusual role? And the most exciting part?

I think what I found most challenging was finding the balance between playing this wild being, but at the same time highly intelligent and even emotional. I didn’t want it to come across like a wild gorilla, but also not like an intelligent AI. I wanted to find this weird, creepy balance between being definitely odd, but still somehow relatable, like she’s able to touch you emotionally in some capacity. Because of her mermaid intelligence, she’s able to pick up languages quite quick and so I did go through the script rather ferociously and go, “Okay, so she has learned that word but not that word.” In the end, eventually you have to take a bit of a leap of imagination and assume she’s heard it here and there. [giggle]

I always wanted to give it just an edge of weirdness, so I used a little aspect of Icelandic accent, because they have this breath of air basically after a hard consonant. [giggle] Bjork was my chill pill inspirational woman for this. I looove her and her music helped a lot.

Really, in essence, you’re playing a dual role. Do you think over the course of the season we’ll see Ryn and her siren counterpart grow more awareness of each other? Are they capable of developing real relationships with Maddie, and Helen, and Ben? Especially Ben as there’s a visible, definite connection there.

Yeah, absolutely. I think definitely though that Ben is closed and I don’t think it’s intentional. Obviously, when they come on land both of their experiences, both my sister’s and Ryn’s experiences, are very different from each other but nonetheless, there is an active fear or dislike, I’d say, towards the human world. But Ryn obviously needs humans in order to help her find her sister, and you need some trust for that in order to make a team work basically. As the trust increases so will it evolve the relationship, as you’ll see on the show. I think the more time we spend on land, like in life, the more you get to know each other, the more you walk a mile in each other’s shoes—or fins in this case—[giggle] your understanding with each other builds and probably your relatableness, if that’s a word, to one another. It’s quite intriguing where the different relationships go.

Lastly, what is it that you nerd out about?

I definitely, definitely am an incredible sloth when it comes to TV and film, in the sense that I have no shame lying on the couch, doing marathon after marathon of TV shows. [laughs] But I think my biggest credit to being a nerd is my obsession with all things sci-fi. I love X-Files. My favorite film is still Lord of the Rings. I wanted to learn elvish when I was younger, I think that’s kind of the pinnacle probably of nerdiness. Yeah, I can really get quite into fantasy worlds and the rules and anything super geeky you can ring me up, I will be right there with you.

Siren airs Thursdays on Freeform at 8pm. You can follow Eline on Twitter and Instagram

Written by Terri Clark

Terri Clark is an entertainment writer, TV addict, pop culture geek and award-winning young adult author. She loves the access Twitter has given her to the people behind her favorite books & TV shows. TV isn’t just a static sport anymore. (Yes, sport! Watching as much as she does requires commitment, dedication and endurance.) She's a writer and lead editor for Talk Nerdy With Us. Please follow her at terriclarkbooks on Facebook and Twitter. You can find info on her YA books at TerriClarkBooks.com.

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  1. Awesome! Very good interview! Loved the “Lord of the rings” comment. Great job getting an insider’s peek!

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