Stephanie Bennett made on impact on genre fans with her roles in ‘Grave Encounters 2’ and ‘Leprechaun: Origins’ with performances which garnered her legions of dedicated fans. As she blossoms as an actor, she has continues to turn the heads of critics and fans with her inspired performances over an array of different genres with projects like “UnReal,” Disney’s “Descendants” and “The Unauthorized Full House Story.” Currently, she stars as cocaine addict Dee in CBC’s drama “The Romeo Section,” some of her grittiest work to date. This January, she will portray Lydia Branwell on ABC Family’s highly anticipated new series “Shadowhunters.” The series is based on Cassandra Clare’s wildly popular ‘Mortal Instruments’ novels. On the series, Bennett will play Lydia Branwell, a beautiful, no nonsense member of the Shadowhunter team, a group of human-angel hybrids who descend into an alternative New York to fight demons. ‘Shadowhunters’ also stars Katherine McNamara and Dominic Sherwood and is creating a massive buzz online among series devoted fans.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Stephanie Bennett to discuss her blossoming career, her evolution as an artist, her process for bringing characters from script to screen, her roles in ‘The Romeo Section’ and ‘Shadowhunters” and what the future might hold for this star on the rise.
How did you get started on a career in the entertainment industry?
I grew up dancing, all types, but particularly doing ballet. I remember when I was really young, the company that I was involved with did “The Nutcracker” every Christmas. I got to play all of these different characters and my favorite part of doing the ballet was always the acting. As I got older, and had more of a respect for film and character work, I realized it was something I wanted to pursue.
That can be a big step to take for any young actor. Did you have reservations about taking the plunge?
Oh yeah, definitely. I didn’t take my first class until I was in University for a couple of years. I had been pursuing other things and finally I realized it was something I really needed to go for. I took my first class when I was 21 years old and then I fell in love! [laughs]
Who were some of the people who had a big influence on you early on?
I watched a lot of films growing up and I have always loved Meryl Streep. There are so many actors who have inspired me but Kate Winslet is one who had a big impact on me. I remember her specifically because I watched “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind” when I was 20 and I fell in love with her performance and her character. At that time in my life, I was really interested in becoming involved in acting and that was something that kind of pushed me to make the dream a reality.
A lot of our readers might recognize you from the film “Leprechaun: Origins” film from last year. How big of an impact did the film have on your career? I imagine you learned quite a bit about horror fans, their passion and dedication.
I did! The very first film I ever did was called “Grave Encounters 2” and that was a horror film as well. It was a found footage horror film to be even more specific. I already had a horror fan base from that film. “Leprechaun: Origins” was my first big feature. It was really cool and I got to do a lot of stunts and experience the special effects. It was really awesome! The fans for that film were even more enthusiastic because it was part of the “Leprechaun” franchise. I had fans messaging me straight away and it really opened me up to that whole world! It was awesome!
You haven’t shown any signs of slowing down! You have a ton of projects on the way. It looks like 2016 is going to be a great year for you. First, what can you tell us about your role on ABC Family’s “Shadowhunters” and how you got involved?
I originally auditioned for a couple other characters on the series before landing my role as Lydia. That was at the beginning of 2015. My character comes in halfway through the series. From the first audition, I knew I really wanted to be a part of it because it is such a cool genre. I love fantasy and I love the supernatural, so I read the script and became really determined to be a part of the show! After I had auditioned for those other characters and kind of got my face out there to the casting department, they offered me the role of Lydia.
What challenges did you face in bringing this character to life?
She is a very powerful character. She is really tough, edgy and hard but she also has some really cool sides to her. She is really caring and vulnerable at times. It has been great to play a character with so many layers. That has been very challenging and rewarding at the same time.
The series is based off the young adult book series, “The Mortal Instruments.” Were you familiar with the series going into the project?
I was familiar with but I hadn’t read it. Once I started auditioning is when I really became involved and started to read the books and learn more about what it was. Once I was cast as Lydia, I started really researching. I bought a book called “The Shadowhunter’s Codex,” which was written by Cassandra Clare, who wrote the series. The book is a guide to the Shadow World and it gives you a lot of insight on the terminology and what Shadowhunters are all about. That really helped me learn more about the world I would be playing in and helped me become immersed in it.
Another project you have been a part of is CBC’s “The Romeo Section.” This is, literally and figuratively, a world away from the previous project.
For those who aren’t familiar with the series, tell us more about it and the character you play?
“The Romeo Section” is based in Vancouver. It is a spy thriller and was created by Chris Haddock. It follows a professor, Wolfgang McGee, who conducts a roster of Romeo and Juliet spies, meaning the spies develop relationships with certain targets. The series highlights each of these relationships. I play Dee, who is the crazy murderous wife of a high-up drug lord, who is also having an affair with one of Wolfgang’s spies. It is a very gritty series and it has been a lot of fun playing two drastically different characters with these two series.
It sounds like there is a lot to sink your teeth into with this role. What did you bring to the character that wasn’t on the written page?
I really had to be fearless with that role. I had to be inventive, take risks and bring my own experiences into the character as much as possible to make it my own. I really brought a lot of myself to the character but explored a lot as well. I was working opposite of Juan Riedinger, who plays my boyfriend on the series, and we would rehearse a lot. That allowed us to try new things out and bring it to Chris. It was a team effort to make decisions on what we wanted to do and try. There was a lot of learning involved, which was really great!
Do you have a process when preparing to take on a new role?
I actually did some training at a great school in Vancouver called The Railtown Actors Studio. Since I started training there, it has really opened me up to a lot of different techniques that help me get into the world of the character, especially in the past couple of months working on these drastically different characters where I had to quickly drop into their worlds. I will often find music or pictures that will help me drop into the character. Music, in particular, has been really helpful for me.
Tell us about these musical selections. Does a particular genre move you?
Honestly, I listen to every different kind of music! [laughs] Depending on the character, I will find something I find that character might listen to or something that will bring back a memory of mine that allows me to relate to what the character is going though. It can also be a song that brings me into a certain mood that the character might be in. It really depends on the project and the character I am portraying but I have found it is a great way to get me into character.
Looking back on your body of work so far, how have you most evolved as an actor?
Since I have been training more at this school and working with a lot of different characters, I have become less fearful. I find it a lot easier to take risks, try things out and have become more relaxed in who I am and bringing myself to a character. I think when I was first starting out, I was very concerned with getting things right and now I like to explore a lot more when I am given something.
What is the dream role for you at this point in your career? Is there a part you have always been eager to tackle?
I would love to tell someone’s life story. I would love to do a biopic on someone. That is something I have always been interested in doing. I haven’t given much thought on who it would be but it is something I have always been interested in.
What else do you have coming up we should be on the lookout for in the short term?
I am actually working on a show called “Motive,” starting this week. I am doing a cool guest star on that show, so I am very excited about it! That is what’s next!
You work alongside a lot of seasoned veterans of the industry. What have you learned along the way that you apply to what you do as an actor?
There are many amazing actors that I have worked with over the past few months but working with Chris Haddock, the creator of “The Romeo Section,” has been really epic. He was also the creator of “Da Vinci’s Inquest” and “Intelligence.” His process of being a showrunner is really amazing. He has such a respect for the actor and our process as well. Working with him has been really life changing for me!
Are you involved with any charitable work we can help shine a light on?
I have done a bit of work in the downtown east side, so the East Los Angeles Women’s Center is one place I would really like to bring light. I had been volunteering there but I had to leave for Toronto but I am definitely looking forward to starting up there again. It is really an amazing place.
You can serve as a great inspiration for aspiring actors. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
I think the best lesson is that whatever it is that you want to do is possible. I think it is easy for us to imagine it being this impossible task and way too far away but you are able to do it. You have to be committed to taking the bad with the good, working really hard and keep going no matter how much rejection you get. Also, never be satisfied. Always want to keep learning and keep learning!
Well said, Stephanie! Thank you so much for your time today! We can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the years to come!
Thank you, Jason! Great talking to you! Thank you so much!