“We all have secrets” is the tagline of the new Netflix series “The Stranger,” the new perfect thriller series to be binged as suggested by one of its protagonists Ella-Rae Smith, who plays Daisy Hoy, an impulsive teenager that see her actions as invalid.
We met Ella-Rae in London where we asked her about her acting “secrets” and what made her want to say yes to this project.
Telling stories that haven’t been told, for women, with women, about mix-raced people, being someone to be looked up and waking up an industry that often overlooks what it needs to be told on the screen.
According to Ella-Rae, cinema is the medium of art that best brings people together, and through it, she wants to live different lives, in different worlds, all of this while bringing to the screen stories that actually mean something.
This is Ella-Rae Smith!
Harlan Coben’s “The Stranger” launches on Netflix on 30th January 2020.
When was the moment you understood “yes I want to do this”?
I was 12 and at my primary school we did the play “Twelfth Night” by Shakespeare, I had never acted before, and I got a really good part in it: I just remember one specific moment when we were doing a scene where Malvolio is trying to make Olivia fall in love with him and I was just reacting and responding to everything the other actor was doing. I remember the teacher saying, “ok everyone, see what Ella-Rae is doing? she’s is reacting and responding to everything the actor is doing, you all need to do that.” And I was like, “did I do something right?” It just clicked and I realized that I was doing something naturally like that without even thinking about it, and it felt right and from there I just started doing everything I could to act.
“I was just reacting and responding to everything the other actor was doing.”
What inspires you in your everyday life that you can also sway in your job?
Telling stories that mean something because I feel like cinema is the most accessible medium in art. It’s what bonds a lot of people. I think I have cultural importance, and films have a lot of power to make people think and to make people talk about things that they might not otherwise talk about.
I’m really interested in bringing about conversations through art and making stuff that matters. So I guess I’m inspired by telling stories that haven’t been told, speaking to people who haven’t felt spoken to, representing people who haven’t been represented, just sort of moving forward in society through art.
On “The Stranger”, what attracted you the most to this project?
Probably the story, because this is such an interesting, tangled, mysterious story, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And then especially, my character’s teenage storyline which is in the book adds just another layer to what’s already a pretty crazy, interesting story. I like the general message, secrets and lies and how they can come and bite you back and how important it is to be honest, to not hurt people. And also Daisy is a character that’s a lot of fun to play and it’s nice to play a part like that sometimes when you just get to go and have fun and play, like properly play, especially playing a character that’s younger that yourself.
“…I’m inspired by telling stories that haven’t been told, speaking to people who haven’t felt spoken to, representing people who haven’t been represented…”
How did you prepare your character Daisy Hoy?
I empathized with her because there are a lot of things she does and ways she responds to things that I myself would never do so it was really a process of stepping out of myself, being her and understanding why she did everything. And to her, her actions are just invalid and playing someone who makes quite impulsive decisions which is something that I don’t do, it was quite a good challenge. So I guess I prepared by just thinking about her, I just read the script and deconstructed why she was doing everything she was doing and what it meant.
How would you describe “The Stranger” in one word?
Strange. Definitely, it’s strange.
What does the “stranger” as a general word mean to you?
When I think of the word stranger, I think of someone unknown and someone potentially to be feared, you know “stranger danger” which is funny because everyone is a stranger until you meet them: we were strangers a few hours ago and now we are here, so I guess it’s the unknown and I think everyone always have a fear of the unknown which is why it’s so interesting.
I think the series goes deep and you know there is something that it’s happening that’s really dark, and I imagine that you might have done scenes that were hard for you. What do you do when you have to prepare for a scene that it’s emotionally draining for you?
It really depends. For me, I just love giving 100% to other actors and having them giving 100% back to me so we just bounce off each other so it feels very natural but I go into my own head a lot before I do something. Because if you think about it, as people, we are always thinking, so I guess it’s thinking the emotion, thinking I’m a good person, thinking I’m the best person in the world, if you are constantly thinking you are a good person then that’s going to come out in everything you do, if you are thinking I’m a bad person, I’m the worst person in the world, that comes out. Almost like brainwashing yourself, or if it’s something in my personal life that triggers an emotion in me and then I’ll just roll with that and then become the other person. Or just fully be the other person. It depends.
“…I go into my own head a lot before I do something.”
How was working with all the cast?
So good, it was so much fun, just hanging out, dancing, laughing, having meals together. It was one of the first jobs where I really spent a lot of time with my cast-mates on and off set. I absolutely loved them and I feel like we all made genuinely strong bonds. And then obviously you’ve got people like Anthony Head and in my head was like “Buffy the Vampire slayer, oh my god”. It’s such an amazing cast. It was really dreamy.
The beauty of Netflix and its original series. In what way if any, do you think Netflix has changed the small screen scenario?
Yes, definitely, because it’s so much more accessible, “The Stranger” is going to come out all 8 episodes and you can watch it all in one go. Which takes away the old fashioned waiting every week for the next episode, which I think it’s good and bad.
Also a lot more opportunities for actors…
Yes, so many opportunities for everyone in the industry, so much more work for everyone and so many more interesting things are being made as opposed the worry is whether something will get lost in the sort of what could be an oversaturated platform, but I love Netflix. Because you can find anything and everything. I love the fact that any genre, anything you want to watch, you can watch in one place but part of me does miss the waiting and I do like when Netflix makes you wait sometimes. Because it’s the rhythm we used to have, “oh it’s on a Wednesday night” and everyone watches on a Wednesday night and you go to school the next day and you are like, “did you see it?” Whereas with Netflix, someone might watch the all series and you are only halfway through. So, I guess it takes away that sort of community thing of watching at the same time, everyone sitting down and watching one episode and waiting a week for the other episode. But at the same time, with something like “The Stranger,” which you want to binge because you have to know how it ends, is perfect. Because I think if people were waiting for a week between those episodes they would be stressed. [laugh]
“…so much more work for everyone and so many more interesting things are being made as opposed the worry is whether something will get lost in the sort of what could be an oversaturated platform…”
What stories do you dream to tell?
That’s such a good question. Stories that mean something, stories about people, communities that haven’t been represented before, it means a lot to me to be a mixed-race actress and to know that when I was growing up there were no people to look up to that looked like me, so just knowing that a little girl might see me on TV and think “wow, she looks like me”, I mean that’s amazing.
It’s not a specific story but that’s just a feeling.
I just did an LGBT film and that meant a lot to me because it’s just a love story that happens to be between two women, a coming-of-age love story, and it’s unfetishized lesbian relationship which is rare and there aren’t many films for women who are lesbians that aren’t made for the satisfaction of men.
Working with women means a lot to me. Telling stories with women, for women, being aware of my race and wanting to tell stories about mix-raced people. You watch so many period dramas and everyone is white, and it’s like, “you know, black people have existed throughout history” and there is just none on-screen, it’s like a massive rubber has been wiped over that part of history. I want to tell all sorts of stories, that’s the beauty of it. I’ve done “The Stranger” this year which is a thriller and I’ve done two thriller short films and then I’ve gone and done this sort of rom-com and now I’m doing a thriller horror. I like telling different stories, being in different worlds, different scripts, different styles of writing, I kind of want to tell all the stories. Experience all of them, share all of them.
More stories I want to tell are stories about mental health because I don’t feel like mental health is represented that well in film and TV and I think that with the rise of awareness around mental health, it’s overdue, it’s coming, it’s a very tricky thing because it’s so personal to be able to show and be accessible and relatable to everyone but we are already talking about it, we need to start making art about it, being more open because that’s the only way we are going to move forward and look after ourselves and each other.
“I like telling different stories, being in different worlds, different scripts, different styles of writing, I kind of want to tell all the stories. Experience all of them, share all of them.”
Your must-have on set.
Reusable water bottle.
The book on your nightstand.
“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones.
What’s your favorite accent?
Eastern European to do. And to hear, Italian.
The last TV Series you binge-watched?
What’s your happy place?
A very specific beach in the middle of nowhere in Wales.
Your superpower (the one you have or you wish you had).
I wish I could stop time sometimes, just put it on pause, when you have a perfect moment and you could put in on pause and just enjoy it for like a day.
The Film Wall
35mm & Fuji Instax