Setting out to uncover your true identity and sense of purpose in life can be a daunting task for young adults, especially when they’re inadvertently faced with unfamiliar emotional and physical challenges. Versatile and skilled actress Stephanie Bennett is proving her natural ability to overcome those obstacles in her two latest drama television series, ‘Shadowhunters’ and ‘The Romeo Section.’ Both shows feature the performer portraying characters who are forced to contend with internal and external conflicts. But Bennett enthrallingly uses her own strength to infuse both characters with the will to survive.
The best-selling young adult novel series ‘The Mortal Instruments’ by Cassandra Clare serves as the inspiration for ‘Shadowhunters,’ which will debut its pilot tonight at 9/8c. The 13-episode initial season of the action drama marks the debut property of the newly launched Freeform basic cable network, which is replacing ABC Family. The fantasy series’ first shows are adapting the first novel in the franchise, ‘City of Bones,’ and are also featuring events from the other five ‘Mortal Instruments’ books. While the show is set in New York City, it was filmed in Toronto.
‘Shadowhunters’ follows Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara), a high school student who lives in Brooklyn with her mother, Jocelyn (Maxim Roy), who runs an antiquities store. She’s friends with Simon (Alberto Rosende), who’s secretly in love with her, and she has just been accepted into a prestigious art program. But her life, which she has called mundane, suddenly and unexpectedly changes on her 18th birthday when she bumps into Jace (Dominic Sherwood).
The two are equally surprised that Clary can see Jace, as he’s a Shadowhunter, a supernatural demon-killer who’s supposed to be invisible to ordinary mortals, or “mundanes.” Clary discovers that she, too, is a Shadowhunter, just like her mother. The teen is completely unaware of her ability to kill the demons who are intent on destroying humanity, as Jocelyn has kept her daughter’s abilities hidden from her since she was born.
The spy thriller ‘The Romeo Section’ debuted on October 14, 2015 on CBC Television in Canada, and concluded its 10-episode first season run on December 16. The Canadian television series, which filmed in Vancouver, was created and written by Chris Haddock, and follows professor Wolfgang McGee (Andrew Airlie), who teaches and studies the history of the opium trade. He also works as an independent contractor to the Canadian intelligence community, and covertly infiltrates the country’s heroin trade under the supervision of his boss, Al (Eugene Lipinski). As part of his duties, the operative oversees Romeo and Juliet spies, who are informants who engage in intimate relations with intelligence targets.
One of Wolfgang’s spies is the nervous informant Rufus (Juan Riedinger), who struggles to keep control over his target and lover, Dee (Bennett). Rufus is caught between his own ambitions and the goals of Dee, who’s married to drug lord Vince (Matt Bellefleur).
Meanwhile, the contractor also flirts with fellow professor Lily Song (Jemmy Chen), who has an intense interest in his decade-long work-in-progress on opium. But Lily’s connection to the Chinese art and diplomatic scene raises questions over her involvement with Wolfgang.
Bennett generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Shadowhunters’ and ‘The Romeo Section’ over the phone. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was interested in playing both Lydia and Dee in both drama series, as they’re powerful and strong, and leave an influential impact on the stories. She also mentioned that she prefers to get to know the people she’ll be working with before they begin filming, including her co-stars and the show’s creator, in order to gain a more insight into her character’s emotions, actions and motivations. The performer also noted that she has learned that her physicality is a really big part of playing any character, and it’s much easier for her to film a scene when she finds her body language first.
ShockYa (SY): You play Lydia Branwell in the new action fantasy television series, ‘Shadowhunters.’ What was it about the character of Lydia, as well as the show’s overall story, that convinced you to take on the role?
Stephanie Bennett (SB): One thing I found to be really cool about the show and the character of Lydia is how strong she is. Both characters on both shows are actually forces of nature. With Lydia, it was also great to play a character who’s leaves such an impact on the story, and is also really powerful and strong. She also has a lot to say, which is another cool thing about Lydia.
SY: Lydia is an angel-human hybrid warrior, who’s a member of the title Shadowhunter team. How would you describe her personality and duties, as well as how she fits into the team?
SB: I can’t reveal too much, but I will say that she’s had a very troubled past. She’s a very strong-willed, determined and resilient young Shadowhunter. She comes in with this tough exterior. She also has this emotional vulnerability underneath, which she tries to hide under her tough exterior. But as she gets to know the other characters, her true self is revealed.
SY: The series is based on the popular young adult fantasy book series, ‘The Mortal Instruments,’ by Cassandra Clare. How familiar were you with the book series’ story before you signed onto the show? How does having source material like the six books influence the way you approached playing Lydia?
SB: Well, I actually found out about ‘The Mortal Instruments’ a few months before I was cast in the role of Lydia. I actually auditioned for a couple other characters on ‘Shadowhunters’ before landing Lydia. So I was familiar with the books, as I had looked into them before I was cast. I didn’t have too much time between when I booked Lydia and when we started filming, so I couldn’t read all of the books. But while we were filming, I read them.
I also read ‘The Shadowhunter’s Codex,’ which was also written by Cassandra Clare (and serves a companion novel as part of ‘The Shadowhunter Chronicles’). It has all this information on the characters and the shadow world. It also features all the terminology, as well as how Shadowhunters function and the rules they have to follow. So that was really helpful for me throughout filming.
So I was familiar with the books and the story. I also tried to find out as much backstory as I could about the other characters who I was interacting with before we began filming the show.
SY: The television series features a diverse ensemble cast of actors, including Katherine McNamara, Dominic Sherwood and Alberto Rosende, whose characters are also Shadowhunters. What have your working relationships been like with your co-stars, particularly those actors whose characters are also on the team?
SB: I always love to get to know the people I’m working with before we begin filming a scene. But that time isn’t always given to us. But I always tried to find rehearsal time to try to talk about our characters, because my character is original to the show; she wasn’t in the books. So it was a little more difficult to understand where she was coming from, and what her relationships would be like with the other characters.
So I spoke with the creators of the show, and they seemed to have a pretty good idea of what they wanted. Interacting with the rest of the cast was also helpful to me, because their characters were so established in the books. I was also able to get a better understanding of them as actors by talking to them.
SY: Like you mentioned, Lydia is an original character in the show, which is based on ‘The Mortal Instruments.’ Do you enjoy playing characters in projects that are both original and based on source material?
SB: It depends on the project. With ‘Shadowhunters,’ I had the best of both worlds, since I have an original character in a very established book series. While I was able to come into the project with what I saw Lydia as, I also had this whole world to research that Cassandra created. So it was awesome that I was able to explore both sides with ‘Shadowhunters.’
The other show that I’m working on, ‘The Romeo Section,’ is brand new. Nothing had been released or established in the world yet. So the scripts were created by our creator (Chris Haddock) and his ideas. But he was also very open to us bringing what we wanted, and how we saw our characters. So having that total freedom, and having him be so open to what we wanted to bring, was really nice and awesome. So being able to shooting both shows at the same time, and experiencing both ways of filming, was definitely a gift as an actor.
SY: With Lydia being an angel-human hybrid warrior, how do you approach the physicality of the role? Do you prefer to perform your own stunts?
SB: It’s a lot of fun. I was very active growing up, so I definitely love playing characters who are athletic. There’s a great stunt coordinator attached to ‘Shadowhunters,’ and he was by our sides whenever we had to perform stunts. He would give us tips, and make sure we looked like pros. So we were very lucky to have him.
SY: While the show’s story is based in New York, ‘Shadowhunters’ was actually filmed in Toronto. As an actress, what’s the process of filming on location, particularly when one city is standing in for another city, like for you?
SB: I didn’t actually get to film in the city; all of my scenes were created in one big studio, which was still an amazing experience. I know some of the other actors did get to film out and about in the city of Toronto. That must have been amazing, because Toronto’s a great city. It was my first time working anywhere outside of Vancouver, but I loved being in a new city. Also getting to know all of my castmates in another city was very exciting.
All the sets I filmed on, which were incredible, were inside this one giant building. Filming there was very cool, and hoping from one set to another every day was very convenient.
SY: Besides playing Lydia in ‘Shadowhunters,’ you can also be seen as Dee on the drama ‘The Romeo Section,’ which you mentioned earlier. What was it about the character of Dee, as well as the show’s overall story, that convinced you to take on the role?
SB: Well, I have been a fan of the creator, Chris Haddock, for awhile. He has worked on some really great shows in the past. So when I found out he was doing this project, I was really excited.
As soon as I read Dee, I immediately fell in love with the character. She has so many different qualities. She’s emotionally and mentally unstable, and has some substance abuse issues. But at the same time, she’s also extremely driven. I can relate to that, because I’m very driven, as well.
So both characters on ‘Shadowhunters’ and ‘The Romeo Section’ are strong and fearless, and I was attracted to those qualities. Also playing the emotional struggles at the same time meant I also had to find the right balance in every scene. I had to know when to bring out their dangerous sides, and when to then bring the vulnerability in.
SY: Since Dee’s struggles with drugs are more grounded in reality than the conflicts Lydia encounters in ‘Shadowhunters,’ what was the preparation process like for ‘The Romeo Section?’
SB: You’re right; ‘The Romeo Section’ is set more in real life. So being able to one day act on this magical fantasy set, and then the next day work on this gritty, real-life drama, was awesome. But it was also really challenging at the same time.
Playing Dee required me to do a lot of research on drug addiction. That included reading articles and watching documentaries. It never stopped, as I was constantly looking into these situations that Dee was in that I knew nothing about. So I was constantly researching while we were filming the season, and it was definitely a big journey.
SY: With Dee being addicted to drugs on ‘The Romeo Section,’ and Lydia being an angel-human hybrid warrior on ‘Shadowhunters,’ how was your physicality for Dee different than for Lydia? Did you take a different approach to approaching the movements of both characters?
SB: I have learned that the physicality is a really big part of playing any character, especially with one like Dee. You watch her transform from this unhinged, emotionally vulnerable person into a much stronger and more powerful person. So finding the body language to bring in, depending on where she’s at emotionally, was really helpful. It’s much easier for me to go into a scene when I find my body language first.
SY: ‘The Romeo Section’ also features a diverse cast, including Andrew Airlie, Jemmy Chen, Juan Riedinger and Eugene Lipinski. What has your experience of working with your co-stars been like on the drama?
SB: I was constantly blown away by my fellow castmates on both shows. I was also impressed by how committed we all were to bringing the story to life on ‘The Romeo Section.’ I worked with Juan a lot, as he played my character’s boyfriend on the show. We spent hours getting together before we shot difficult scenes. We rehearsed and talked about the characters’ moments together.
I just love that commitment to a character. So I really appreciated that people brought a similiar work ethic that I have to the show. We all came together before we began filming, and came up with an idea of what we wanted to do. We would then present them to our creator, and see what his ideas were. So it was a really collaborative process, which was really great.
SY: What was the experience of shooting ‘The Romeo Section’ in Vancouver? How did the experience compare and contrast to filming ‘Shadowhunters’ in Toronto?
SB: It was so exciting to get to film both series at the same time. Vancouver is my home, and was where I was born and raised. ‘The Romeo Section’ really highlights Vancouver as a backdrop to the show, and it’s shot beautifully. So getting to film in my hometown, and having the story take place there, was so excite for me.
But also getting to go on this adventure at the same time in Toronto, which is a city that I hadn’t spent time in before, was really cool. So I was very lucky.
SY: With Lydia and Dee being such drastically different characters on such unique shows, what’s the process of balancing the two roles? Did you shoot both series around the same time, and if so, did that influence the way you approached playing both characters?
SB: It was so challenging for me to go from playing one character to playing the next. I really needed to find tools that would help me playing Lydia, and then the next day play Dee, since they were so vastly different. But I learned so much as an actor during the process.
I also learned how to function without any sleep. (laughs) There were some days where I would leave one set, and then have to fly overnight to go straight to the other set. That was challenging, but it made me develop the skill of bringing the work that I had already prepared when I wasn’t sleep deprived to the shooting days.
SY: Besides appearing on several television series throughout your career, including ‘Shadowhunters’ and ‘The Romeo Section,’ you have also appeared in films. How does acting on television compare and contrast to starring in films? Do you have a preference of one medium over the other?
SB: One thing that I love so much about making TV shows, and this is the first time I have filmed so many episodes for a specific show, is the relationship that you begin to develop with the story and your castmates. You film a show longer than a movie, so everything becomes more comfortable. So it becomes easier after awhile to shoot different kinds of scenes because you have become so comfortable with everyone and the storyline.
However, I do love also making films, because it is a shorter time frame. You’re creating one story, and when filming’s over, it’s over, unless there’s a sequel.
So it’s cool to do both films and television. On a series, you don’t know how long it’s going to go on for, but it can ultimately be a longer process than movies. TV shows also move more quickly, and with films, you can have more time. So it’s interesting doing both, and I like acting in both mediums. I hope I continue to do both.
SY: You have starred in several horror films throughout your career, including playing Sophie in ‘Leprechaun: Origins’ and Tessa Hamill in ‘Grave Encounters 2,’ which was your first movie role. What is it about the horror genre that you enjoy working in so much?
SB: I love doing horror and fantasy projects. ‘Shadowhunters’ is the first time I got to do fantasy. But since I had done horror in the past, I experienced some of the same things with monsters and special effects. I love all of that, as it’s so exciting to me. I loved horror and fantasy growing up, so getting to be a part of a project that I know I would watch is exciting.
Written by: Karen Benardello