Rena Owen as Helen and Eline Powell as Ryn in SIREN | ©2018 Freeform/Ed Herrera

Rena Owen as Helen and Eline Powell as Ryn in SIREN | ©2018 Freeform/Ed Herrera

In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with actress Rena Owen, she talks more about her part-mermaid character Helen Hawkins on Freeform’s drama SIREN, now in its third season on Thursday nights. Thereafter streaming on Freeform on Hulu. Owen also talks her upcoming Hulu miniseries THE GLOAMING and her background.

ASSIGNMENT X: What would you say is the core of Helen’s character?

RENA OWEN: It’s a complex one, because she’s had to live her life in secret. That was the thing that I found very attractive about her, or attracted me to her, in the pilot, in Season 1. And she actually said it at one point to Ryn [the young mermaid played by Eline Powell] – it was never seen [onscreen], but I think it in was one of the audition scenes – “It’s some kind of living hell when you’re a hybrid.” So she was very much an outcast, in terms of, she had to keep [her part-mermaid nature] a secret, which means she had to sacrifice friendship and intimacy. And so all she really had was her mother, and that shop was her mother’s shop, and her mother was a hybrid. And so she went on to become a keeper of these secrets, and a keeper of the culture, and a keeper of the tradition. She was always a bit of an enigma, there was something about her, and she was different.

And as the series goes on, you realize what it was, how it made her different. And in fact, Season 1 was really quite a character arc for her. From that first moment when she saw Ryn, she knew straightaway she was looking at the real thing, and Ryn knew that she was looking at a fellow merperson, in that first second. And I knew that from the audition, and I knew that from reading the first episode, just from how things were written. I thought, Helen is part mermaid, or she knows something, or she’s protecting something. And then of course she reveals a little bit. But it’s not ‘til Episode 5 of Season 1 when she finally comes out of her closet, where she says to Donna [a mermaid played by Sibongile Mlambo], “I’m one of you, you can trust me because I’m one of you.” And it was quite a painful, emotional moment for Helen, because these are words she’d just never gotten to say to anybody. And then, of course, in Episode 10, she’s telling Ben [played by Alex Roe] and Maddie [played by Fola Evans-Akingbola] that, “Yeah, I’m one of them. One-eighth, to be exact.”

Rena Owen as Helen in SIREN | ©2018 Freeform/Vu Ong

Rena Owen as Helen in SIREN | ©2018 Freeform/Vu Ong

So when you look at a woman like that, who’s led an isolated life to a certain degree, that aspect of her was hidden. So there’s this great secret she’s had to fiercely protect. Because imagine. She couldn’t go around town going, “Oh, I’m part mermaid.” She’d have been committed to a psychiatric hospital. But she’s also one of those people that has managed to blend in to this to this cool little town of Bristol Cove. So I think she can [metaphorically] shapeshift, when you can appear to be different things. She has that kind of chameleon quality, where she can just blend into the community and appear ordinary and appear as this person who runs the tourist shop. But there’s far more to her than that. It’s complicated. She doesn’t have a black and white life. And she’s kind of being bold as the series has gone on. The fact that mermaids and mermen are coming to land has given her this new lease on life, and she’s suddenly become this caretaker, this mermaid wrangler, whose home has become a safe haven and a refuge for mermaids and merpeople. And then of course, Season 2, she has a romantic encounter with a merman, and she goes on to find out that she’s not the only hybrid.

She is wise, but that’s come with her maturity. And she’s shown herself in this world, and she knows all the mythology, knows all the stories. But I think it’s also maturity that comes with just getting older. We know things at my age now that I never knew [at a younger age]. It reminded me of when I was fifteen, a teenager, and my auntie saying to me, “If I only knew what I know now at your age. But life doesn’t work that way.” And now I’m saying the same thing to my nieces and nephews. I think another word to add to her is that she’s a survivor. She’s had to learn how to survive, and adapt, and protect, be a caretaker of something that’s very sacred to her.

AX: Before you were an actress, you had trained as a medical nurse. Does any aspect of that ever come in handy for your acting or your writing?

OWEN: Absolutely. Even though I knew I was a creator as a young person, and I’d done all of the high school musicals, and I’d done plays, and I was a published writer, being a creator, being an actor or a writer just wasn’t a career [option at that time]. So I could be a secretary, a teacher, or a nurse. The good thing about nursing, and I was hospital-trained, is nursing is all about the human condition. It’s been an exceptional background for writing, because you develop characters. And I learned about man’s hierarchy of need, and the fundamental pyramid of human need, and the psychology and the humanity and the sociology of human beings. And that’s what we portray in the arts, is humanity. So it’s been an excellent background. And certainly, those skills can come in handy, where I know how to take care of myself, and to help others if I ever need to.

In fact, at one point, when all this [COVID-19] was going down in L.A., I thought, “Damn, I should pull out my old certificate.” I really wanted to go and get in on the front lines and help, because they were asking for retired medical people. “Hey, if you’re out there, if you can help, come and show up!” But I’ve got a movie to do, and so I thought, I can’t put myself on the front line and risk getting sick. But I did really want to come and help out, and go and help people, because I’m a bit of an empath, and I feel for people. Every day, you’ve just got to be thankful for being well, and having a roof over your head.

I particularly feel sorry for people who live paycheck to paycheck and lost their jobs. For us in the arts, as actors, you have different skills. You have to get used to [periods of unemployment]. I’ve been doing it for thirty-five years now, so I’m real good at it. You have to get used to living life one day at a time, because as an actor, you never know where your next paying job is going to be, where it’s going to come from. You don’t know if you’re going to get another paying acting job. So you live one day at a time. I’m really, really good at that. I’m also lucky that I know how to live a good life on a budget. And that’s just something you learn as an actor, particularly when you’re doing theater, where you really don’t make a lot of money at all. You really don’t. You’re doing this for love. So I learned those skills. It’s one of the things that I’m really good at. But those people out there who do live paycheck to paycheck, and those that have got children, I feel for them. It’s really hard, scary times for them. I didn’t have children. I missed out on having children. I’ve just really only got to take care of myself.

SIREN Key Art Ian Verdun as Xander, Fola Evans-Akingbola as Maddie, Alex Roe as Ben, Eline Powell as Ryn, Sibongile Mlambo as Donna and Rena Owen as Helen in SIREN | ©2018 Freeform/Vu Ong

SIREN Key Art Ian Verdun as Xander, Fola Evans-Akingbola as Maddie, Alex Roe as Ben, Eline Powell as Ryn, Sibongile Mlambo as Donna and Rena Owen as Helen in SIREN | ©2018 Freeform/Vu Ong

AX: As you are also a writer, how do you divide your time between acting and writing? Do you just write when you don’t have an acting job?

OWEN: Exactly. It comes between acting, and it was something I learned from my first mentor in London, Ann Mitchell who was a very famous actress at the time. She was Lynda LaPlante’s leading lady in the TV series WIDOWS, which came out as a movie. This was in the mid-‘80s. She said to me, ‘Listen, honey. Nobody is ever sustained in full-time acting work, not even when you’re famous,’ she said, which she was. ‘You’ve got to have something else if you want to get out of bed. Otherwise, you’ll fall into that black hole of depression. And you can write. Don’t ever give up on your writing.’ And it was the best advice. So for me, I have a need to be creative. Creating is what makes me happy, and it just really has to be something that I’m passionate about, that I believe in, and that I really enjoy working on. So writing comes between acting jobs.

I haven’t done any writing for a while, because I have been pretty full-on as an actor. But I have developed two projects that I would like to start putting energy back into, and hopefully, get them made. And I do try to do a theater project, but it’s been a few years now since I’ve done a theater job, because I’ve literally been in Vancouver most of the past three years doing SIREN, and between Season 2 and 3, I did a miniseries in Tasmania, Australia. So I’ve pretty much been working full-time as an actor. And I’m grateful – I’m very lucky to be a working actor.

AX: What is the miniseries?

OWEN: THE GLOAMING, which was made in Australia by ABC International for Stan Australia. It should be on Hulu soon. That’s a supernatural kind of whodunit detective genre, eight episodes. My character is, let’s just say, she’s a little bit twisted. And she walks a kind of edge, a real edge of darkness. Dark characters are not enjoyable characters to do, and you want to do a good job and dig deep, but I’ve only done a few in my career, and there are reasons for that, because they’re not the kind of characters you want to do all the time. Helen I could play for years, because she’s just a joy.

AX: What else would you like people to know about SIREN Season 3?

OWEN: Well, there are a lot of different things going down. And Helen is going into Season 3 wanting to know more about the spiritual culture of mermen and mermaids. So she has this interest in exploring the warning [from Sarge], finding out more. I like to think of myself as a spiritual person, and I’m always interested in learning more about spiritual things. And I think it happens in life. You get people who will go and see psychics to get in touch with their beloved who’ve passed away, or get a message. So Helen’s going into the water to see Sarge and get a message. But we did first see him on land, and we see that he does come back, and we see Helen touch his face. So it’s interesting.

She’s moving into new territory that she gets to explore, whilst Ryn and the mermaids are going to get very involved in preparing for war with Tia [played by Tiffany Lonsdale]. And also, Helen will get involved with Ryn’s baby. So there’s going to be a lot of action. A lot of exciting things happen in Season 3, and it all builds to Episode 9 and Episode 10, and goes out with a big bang. And that’s not the bang of a gun, but a big bang. And I have everything crossed that we’ll be renewed for Season 4, because I love playing this character, and I would really miss her. Helen is fun. And Helen has pulled a lot of good stuff out of me, as a person. Because Helen is one of these people – she’s no-nonsense, but she’s very caring. And she’s got a great sense of humor. And the writers give her these great one-liners. I’ve got everything crossed that you’ll all really enjoy Season 3, so much so that we’ll get to play again for Season 4.

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Article: Exclusive Interview with actress Rena Owen on SIREN – Season 3 and THE GLOAMING – Part 2


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