Marvel’s latest heroine fills us in on a sinister new series.
Shirt and coat SHUSHU/TONG, shoes STELLA MCCARTNEY, socks and tights FALKE
With a professional career that spans the last 13 years – and a repertoire that has seen her tackle roles ranging from Mary Magdalene to Dickensian heroine, Helena Landless – Amber Rose Revah can safely consider herself a seasoned pro at changing faces for the sake of art. “I’ve played so many different roles, so many different ethnicities, and each one has given me a really interesting challenge,” the London-based actress tells me over the phone on our Thursday morning call.
Having finished her part as Leena Prasad in Channel 4’s hit drama series, Indian Summers last year, Revah’s latest endeavour sees her take on the role of Dinah Madani in Netflix and Marvel’s latest love child, The Punisher. Dinah – pronounced Dee-nah, a clarification Revah had to source for the show’s cast, crew, and creator by asking three of her Iranian friends to send soundbites pronouncing the name properly – is the Iranian-American Homeland Security Officer tasked with hunting down Frank Castle, a troubled vigilante whose violent quest to fight New York’s criminal underground has tallied up a worrying number of victims.
Ahead of The Punisher’s release – it’s due to hit screens next week – we caught up with Revah to find out more about what is, potentially, Marvel’s darkest series yet.
Shirt and coat SHUSHU/TONG, shoes STELLA MCCARTNEY, socks and tights FALKE
How did you first get into acting? Was it always something that you wanted to do?
To be honest it was the only thing that I could ever see myself doing. My mum had a bit of a hippy mentality, and she always told us, “Do what you want.” My brother is a ski instructor, and my sister works at Great Ormond Street, so we all have very different jobs. I’m half Polish and half Kenyan-Indian. My grandparents were from Poland and when they left during the war to come to England my grandma got very into the arts, because obviously that was hugely oppressed during the war. So as a child I was lucky enough to be brought up going to the theatre and really experiencing the arts and culture of England. I just loved it. I’d be taken to the theatre and would be just overwhelmed with emotion. That was where my love started and I think as I got older and experienced different questions of the self and identity, I thought that acting was an incredible way of exploring that.
And what attracted you to the role of Dinah in The Punisher?
Oh everything. With the slow emergence of more non-white roles and lead characters, I think that this is really revolutionary. She’s American through and through, she’s second generation Iranian, but she is from an immigrant background. With me, a lot of my questions in life are about identity, where my background is from, and how people perceive me, and that completely resonates with the character. For any actress I think it’s the ideal role. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to read for it, and I worked really hard and got the role.
The whole six months was a big journey. Everything about it attracted me. It’s for Marvel, which is obviously an incredible company that produces brilliant stuff. Netflix again, is an amazing company. And she’s just this strong, bad ass character. She knows how to use a gun; she knows how to drive fast; she knows how to kick ass. It was something very different from what I’d done before, so that was a real challenge, but also good fun. And obviously filming in New York…
I bet! How was living it, in New York?
It was amazing! New York is magical. I completely lucked out. I was lucky enough to find these distant relatives who I ended up staying with in East Village. That changed my experience completely as they really showed me the ropes. New York is very fun, very energetic; it’s non-stop. Filming there was incredible.
Shirt THOMAS PINK, trousers MARGARET HOWELL, corset SHUSHU/TONG
And in terms of Dinah being a revolutionary character, is that something that you value highly?
Yes, but I do think my opinions are slightly different from what I see in the media a lot. I think that it is so important that we have a mix of people represented on screen, however, I still think that it’s not being expressed in the way that it should be. I used to see “Caucasian, Caucasian, Caucasian” on breakdowns – which was just ridiculous – but now I see “preferably BAME”, which I also find ridiculous. I think that a character is a character. Of course if there’s something very specific that’s from their background, then that character should be portrayed by someone with that relevant skin colour and appearance. But I also think that we are human and humans are personalities. We are a culmination of everything that we have experienced in life, how people have perceived us, and how we’ve perceived other people, and that’s what sometimes can be forgotten.
I definitely think that more emphasis needs to be put on people telling stories rather than the end result of saying, “Ok, now that we’ve cast you we should add this in. Let’s tick our boxes.” There has to be work done to persuade more people to create these characters, because then you have the experiences of all kinds of people from different backgrounds, and subsequently they will be praised by people of different backgrounds. Through my 13 years of being in this industry, of being mixed Polish and Kenyan-Indian, I’ve played so many different roles of different ethnicities, and it’s interesting how people have perceived me. I love experiencing different things, learning about different backgrounds and playing them, but there’s also the idea that, say, we are only able to play ourselves, then I’m only going to be able to play mixed characters who are British, Polish, Kenyan-Indian. So I think there has to be some leeway with that. But I definitely think it has to be portrayed more, and I think it’s the writers, the producers, and the directors who have to make the change.
So the potential for change lies in developing better characters, rather than just ticking a box that simply gives the guise of progressiveness?
Exactly. I feel that there’s so far to go still when I hear the discussions now, because they talk about white actors and black actors but we forget that there is a whole spectrum of colours, races and backgrounds, and we should all be represented. It shouldn’t just be about this person and that person, and that’s very important.
Marvel has obviously got a huge cult following, was it daunting, taking on that kind of role?
It was, but similarly, I try to approach roles in the same way. I don’t like to think about all of that because if I put that on myself it takes away from it all. I don’t want that kind of pressure. I do my research so I’m as prepared as I can be and can give an honest portrayal of that character, and that’s all I can do. I guess if I’d thought about it properly, about how it’s a big show for Marvel and I’m the leading lady, then yes, it would have been very daunting!
How do you usually prepare for a role? Is there a lot of research involved?
Yes. With The Punisher, Dinah is a lead character but she hasn’t actually been written about in the comics; the Marvel Universe has created her. So a big part of it was looking into Dinah’s background which involved speaking to Iranian and Iranian American friends of mine about their experiences of being immigrants. Another big part of it was being a homeland cop. We had a whole team who trained us. I’d never used guns before, and I’d never trained with guns, so we did gun training, fight training, car training, and stunt training.
I also got in touch with some actual homeland agents; Marvel gave me the contacts which was just brilliant. I went in there and hounded them for every aspect of their personalities so I could have a really good understanding about what they do on a day to day basis so I could be as truthful to the role as possible. But then, after you’ve done all that research you work with the script, you speak with the director, and you try to play off what the other actors are doing.
(LEFT and RIGHT) Coat JACQUEMUS, shoes STELLA MCCARTNEY, socks FALKE
(CENTRE) Shirt THOMAS PINK, trousers MARGARET HOWELL, corset SHUSHU/TONG, shoes JACQUEMUS, socks FALKE
How was it working with the cast? You were opposite Jon Bernthal; did he make a good vigilante?
He’s a very interesting vigilante because he’s a lot darker than a lot of the other characters in the Marvel universe. A lot of the other characters save the lives of the people that they hunt down but Frank Castle doesn’t! All of my co-stars were just fantastic; it was a really wonderful team. It’s a cliché to say that but it was. When you’re all passionate about the project it helps a great deal. John portrayed the role in Daredevil Season 2, so we could come to him for any questions or problems. He was very nurturing from day one; he’s a lovely guy.
You’ve got a pretty diverse list of characters under your belt. What has been the most challenging role so far?
Playing Mary Magdalene was a huge challenge, not only because of who she is, but also because we filmed in the desert in Morocco, and you can imagine what that was like! We filmed outside all day, and then the sun went down and it was freezing! Different jobs come with different challenges, but I always come back to the fact that I have the best job in the world – in my opinion – and I’m so fortunate to be able to do it. I think I’m always looking for difficult situations which is a bit of a problem of mine!
What have been your career highlight so far?
Getting to work with John Travolta on From Paris With Love was just amazing. I was in Paris and I was filming with these wonderful people. When you work with different people and get to know the industry, it doesn’t happen as much because you’re acting, you’re doing your job and you’re concentrating on doing what you can for that character. But there are some people, like him, that from when I was young I was like, “Wow, you’re magic.”
And obviously The Punisher too; playing this character, being in this show, and being such a badass woman. The more I can give to people the more of a highlight it will be. I mean, I don’t want to go as far as saying that I think that I can change the world, but it’s important to represent women, especially non-white women.
Totally. And away from acting, what do you get up to?
Well I love sport, I love martial arts, I like boxing. God, what else do I do? I cook a lot. I love massages, I love travelling. I volunteer when I can. I’m currently working on my garden and learning about all things garden-related, and then I write as well.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’m going to be working on creating my own work in the future, which is very cool. I’m writing with my partner at the moment. We’ve got a show that we’re meeting people about, so we’ll see how that goes!
Hopefully very well! So, finally, tell me about your next steps on the acting front.
Well, we’re going to see how The Punisher is received, and hopefully it’s received really nicely and then I’ll be back out in New York!