Wonderland.

ALISHA WAINWRIGHT

The actress on her role in Netflix’s new Michael B. Jordan-exec produced sci-fi show, Raising Dion.

alisha wainwright interview rollacoaster

Dress by Fendi, jewellery by Jennifer Fisher.

alisha wainwright interview rollacoaster
Dress by Fendi, jewellery by Jennifer Fisher.

Taken from the AW19 issue of Rollacoaster. Order now here.

Despite the pressures of education urging us to decide on a future profession at a young age, career changes are inevitable – but Alisha Wainwright’s journey to acting was a little less conventional than most. Studying Botany (the study of plants) at university before turning to the even more niche vocation of winemaking, appearing on film and television was never something that the Florida-born actress dreamed of growing up, and undoubtedly defied the expectations imposed on her.

“My mum always hoped I’d become a doctor,” Wainwright laughs, “but I realised I didn’t really have the passion that a lot of my peers had.” Her passion for performing would only surface later, after a year travelling around Central America and a move to California, where she was told she should try her luck in commercial acting.

It wasn’t the first time Wainwright had been the recipient of this suggestion – she was approached to appear in a television commercial at the age of three or four – but by now, her curiosity for the industry had blossomed and she jumped at the chance. “I never had a fear about it; I never had any hesitation to try,” she assures me, explaining: “It just so happened that my luck unfolded in a way that I have pretty much worked consistently ever since I started.”

Luck may have been an integral factor in the 30-year-old’s thriving career, but it was her consistent grafting in the commercial world, advertising everything from McDonald’s to iPads, that finally led her to her big break. In 2016, she was cast as Maia, a teenager-turned-werewolf with a “no-nonsense attitude and fierce loyalty” to her fellow human-angel hybrids, in Freeform supernatural drama Shadowhunters.

actress alisha wainwright rollacoaster magazine interview

Coat and trousers by Marc Jacobs, top by Victor Glemaud, and shoes by Sergio Rossi.

actress alisha wainwright rollacoaster magazine interview
Coat and trousers by Marc Jacobs, top by Victor Glemaud, and shoes by Sergio Rossi.

Adapted from the immensely popular book series The Mortal Instruments, Shadowhunters took on the daunting task of reinventing a story while also staying true to the source material that heralds such a dedicated fan base. Those of us who devoured supernatural or fantastical narratives as a child – staying up into the early hours with a torch under the duvet to squeeze in as much escapism as possible – often sought solace in the words that detailed a world different to our own, providing comfort where we may have been missing it elsewhere due to the niggling feeling of not quite fitting in.

“Growing up, I was a bookworm. I was such a voracious reader,” Wainwright declares, when I ask if she could relate to the feeling of isolation that draws many children into the pages of a fictional world. “You can connect with a book character in a way that you can’t really connect with people who don’t understand you. I know what it’s like to have that intimate connection with a material.” The actress may have auditioned for Shadowhunters “without knowing that it was based off a book series,” but I sense an outpouring of empathy when she discusses the show’s loyal followers: “People are so passionate about it because it’s so personal. I definitely understand what that’s like.”

Though Wainwright says she was “just gravitating towards material that [she] loved”, the actress seemingly has a penchant for supernatural narratives. Next, she’ll star alongside Michael B. Jordan in Netflix’s new science fiction series Raising Dion, landing in early October, as a widow and single mother who discovers that her son exhibits otherworldly, superhero-like abilities. She tells me that her character Nicole, “a dreamer”, couldn’t be further from her own personality: “I’m a list maker. I love organisation and knowing exactly what I’m going to be doing, whereas Nicole is free-spirited… A wild child.”

alisha wainwright raising dion interview

Dress by Sies Marjan, tights by Wolford and boots by Andrea Wazan.

alisha wainwright raising dion interview
Dress by Sies Marjan, tights by Wolford and boots by Andrea Wazan.

With Michael B. Jordan also acting as executive producer in what Wainwright calls “the most diverse, polite and gracious crew I’ve ever been a part of,” the series is a welcome change from the predominantly white superhero stories that have dominated our screens for so long.

The gargantuan success of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther – which became the ninth highest grossing film of all time in 2018 – proved that the lack of diverse representation within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and beyond had created an overwhelmingly high demand for a superhero film with a majority black cast. When I ask Wainwright if the commitment of Dennis Liu (creator of the short film and comic book that inspired Raising Dion) to tell stories from varied and diverse viewpoints was something that attracted her to the role of Nicole, she answers with a resounding yes: “As a young black woman in Hollywood, it’s something that I appreciate when people put it to the forefront of their task list. It’s a constantly evolving process, and things are changing for the better, but Raising Dion was an exemplary set to be on. Now I know the kind of set that I want to be on every day moving forward.”

On the subject of moving forward, the actress is decidedly positive and excited for what’s to come, eager for audiences to love the upcoming series as much as she does, concluding: “Beyond that, I’m just in a state of bliss, and I’m going to ride that for as long as possible.” I take this as stellar advice from the actress whose rise has been as unconventional as it has been prolific: be grateful for what you have and savour that feeling, always. Sounds like good advice to me.

Raising Dion premiered on Netflix on 4th October.

Photography
Bartek Szmigulski
Fashion
Sophie Lopez
Hair
Tiffany Daugherty at Celestine Agency
Makeup
Brandy Allen at Celestine Agency
Production
Federica Barletta
Words
Hannah Holway
Editorial Director
Huw Gwyther
Special thanks to
Hotel Erwin Venice Beach
ALISHA WAINWRIGHT