The actor talks the importance of representation, working on a female-driven show, and how she stayed sane in lockdown.
As the days get colder and the weather gets progressively more and more miserable, we’re more inclined to curl up in front of the TV with popcorn in hand and a list of TV shows to run through, and if there is one show to add to your list its DC’s Swamp Thing. Based around the comic book universe, the show follows CDC investigator Abby Arcane who discovers a local swap that holds alot more than ever-growing moss and cute frogs. The series has received critical acclaim for its portrayal of LGBTQIA+ characters and storylines, with actress Maria Sten role as reporter and bartender Liz Tremayne top of the list for her incredible and captivating performance.
Having started out as a beauty queen, winning pageants globally, the rising star took a different career path and has now ventured into the world of acting with roles in horror Channel Zero and When It Burns. Spending lockdown meditating and climbing to catch picturesque sunsets, Stein catches up with friend and fellow actor Sam Adegoke talking the difference between strong female leads and complex female leads, the importance of representation and starring in a female-driven show.
Check out the interview below…
Sam: Hello, Maria.
Maria: Hi, Sam. So tell me about your CW show.
Sam: Wait, it’s supposed to be the other way around.
Maria: Oh right, my bad.
Sam: But since you ask, I play Jeff Colby on the CW show Dynasty, which is a reboot of the 1980s classic with a more contemporary and multi-cultural spin. But right now, I have the awesome privilege of interviewing Maria Sten, a brilliant artist, amazing actor and multi-hyphenate, and my very good friend who stars on DC’s Swamp Thing that’s about to drop on the CW.
Maria: Does it feel like I’m stalking you?
Sam: A little bit.
Maria: Well, what are friends for, you know?
Sam: I know. I’m excited for you. I feel like everybody at some point has heard of the DC franchise Swamp Thing, but for those who haven’t, what’s the show about and what can we expect from this adaptation?
Maria: Swamp Thing is sort of getting a second wind here on the CW, and I think it’ll be different than other CW DC shows in the sense that it feels darker because it does live in the horror space, but in that regard, I think it’ll definitely give the DC fans another cool unique flavour. This adaptation also pays homage to the original comic, so it’s really cool to give the fans of the Swamp Thing comic something to latch on to as well.
Sam: For sure. And your character Liz Tremayne, she was originally a white character in the comic, and now she’s you. So in bringing “Maria” to the existing character, how did you work that into the backstory?
Maria: It was fun cause I got to make up a lot myself while obviously discussing things with the creators. I went with the notion that Liz is of Creole heritage because we are set in Louisiana.
Sam: Who is Liz and what is she like?
Maria: Liz Tremayne is a reporter for the Marais Echo Weekly which is the local newspaper in the small town of Marais. She also bartends at her dad’s bar, which is, of course, a great place to pick up gossip and get information from her sources since it’s the hub where everybody drinks too much and lets things spill. She’s a roll your sleeves up and get to work kind of girl. She doesn’t pull punches, she says it like it is, and I think she very much rests within herself. It’s really lovely to play a black woman growing up in a small town in the south who very much stands her ground and doesn’t let anybody bully her around. I love that quality about her.
Sam: Well… Obviously, I know you…
Maria: Is that right?
Sam: Just a little bit. And the Liz you describe sounds very familiar to me. Rolls her sleeves up, gets to work, doesn’t back down. There’s a lot of Maria Sten in this character. Can you talk about what traits you feel you share with this character and also how you guys are different?
Maria: I think what was so interesting about Liz is when I read the script, I just instantly knew what I wanted to do with her, and it’s so fun to play her. It does bring out these qualities in me. I definitely have a tenacity about how I live my life and how I approach anything I do, which I think Liz does as well. Liz is also very stubborn, which I have been accused of being…
Sam: Oh, really? You don’t say.
Maria: Liz is also arch. She has this light sarcasm about the world, which I can relate to and she’s very grounded person. How we differ is that Liz is from a small town in the south and I am from Copenhagen, Denmark, so there’s that. That mindset of wanting to stay in the small town you grew up in was probably the farthest removed from me, given that I left Copenhagen when I was 18, so that was an interesting concept to understand and inhabit. I went around Wilmington, North Carolina where we were shooting the show, which is, of course, bigger than Marais, but still feels local, and I just talked to a lot of people, especially black women, about their experiences growing up and living in the south. And it definitely has its challenges, but there’s also the proximity of family that feels important, and there’s a familiarity and a simplicity about the small-town life that I came to really appreciate so it was a beautiful journey.
Sam: In the past, a lot of these superhero franchises have been very male-driven, male-dominated stories, but Swamp Thing is largely female-driven. Knowing you, I assume that was also a big part of what drew you to the role and the project?
Maria: You are so correct. I love being a part of a project that empowers female characters. I sort of get long in the face when I hear the term “strong female characters”, because I think there’s a common misconception about what that means, but I think “complex female characters” on screen is exciting, and this show definitely offers a variety of that, so for me that’s the kind of project I love being a part of. Representation and inclusion are the golden buzzwords right now, but for me that’s always been my truth.
Sam: Talk to me about the difference between “strong female characters” and “complex female characters”. What’s the difference and why do you prefer the latter?
Maria: I think the terminology “strong female character” carries with it a misconception that the female lead must occupy the space that a male lead occupies. She must be “tough” and “cool” and a badass, and look perfect while kicking ass, most likely in heels. And I love action movies and love playing in that space, but what is more interesting to me is when female characters are all those things, but also flawed. When they’re vulnerable and imperfect while being strong. And tied into that is the notion of likability. We hear a lot that female characters always have to be “likable”, but I could think of nothing more exciting than to play a vile villain. It’s less common for women to get those opportunities, but it’s great to see it’s getting better.
Sam: That’s a good segue into talking about your writing. Why did you start writing?
Maria: Initially, it was to have more “complex female characters” represented on screen, haha.
Sam: That’s what I thought. And are you working on anything right now?
Maria: I’m currently writing on ABC’s new show Big Sky, created by David E Kelley.
Sam: No biggie.
Maria: David E Kelley is a genius, yes. I’m excited about this show too, it’s set in Montana in a world I really like, and it premieres Tuesday November 17th. I’m basically just trying to hijack your Tuesdays.
Sam: So you’re acting on a network show, and you’re writing on a network show. How do you…
Maria: Sleep, ever?
Sam: Yes, you’re basically a vampire, but also, how do you switch between the two and facilitate both?
Maria: It does require pulling some double duty, but I love doing both. I’m a storyteller at the end of the day. No matter which hat I’m wearing, be it acting, writing, directing, producing, it’s being part of telling a story that’s exciting to me. It’s also really helpful to see both sides. As the actor in the writer’s room, I try to always advocate for the actors, and as the writer acting on set, I can empathize with whatever the writer’s going through at any given moment. I’d like to think that perspective is helpful in making me a better collaborator and storyteller.
Sam: With all that, and the current state of the world, what are you doing to stay sane these days?
Maria: I run away into the wild. Literally. I go hiking, horseback riding, swimming, driving up into the mountains to catch sunsets. That’s always been my therapy. I’m not sure how I would have made it through 2020 without it. I’ve also made a point out of prioritizing my mental health these last many months, so I try to take at least a moment to myself to meditate every day, which has become an essential part of my routine and helped keep some kind of calm in the crazy tornado that is this time.
Sam: Yes, Maria, I’m gonna check out one of the 27 meditation links you’ve sent me.
Maria: You should. It helps.