Erica Cerra was born to entertain. This Canadian beauty got her start in the world of entertainment at 8 years old and has continued to turn heads and take on the world on her own turns. Instantly recognizable from her roles on series such as ‘Dead Like Me,’ ‘Eureka,’ ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ ‘Smallville’ and ‘iZombie’ have established her as a fan favorite. Her latest endeavor is a pivotal role on the CW’s hit series “The 100,” which recently debuted with it’s riveting third season.
Set 97 years after a nuclear war that wipes out almost all life on Earth, “The 100” focuses on the only known survivors lived on 12 space stations in Earth’s orbit prior to the war. The space stations banded together to form a single massive station called “The Ark,” where about 2,400 people live under the leadership of Chancellor Jaha. Resources are scarce and, after The Ark’s life support systems are found to be critically failing, 100 juvenile prisoners are declared expendable and are sent to Earth in a last ditch attempt to determine if the planet is inhabitable. Chancellor Jaha (Isaiah Washington) discovers Cerra’s character, a computer artificial intelligence known as A.L.I.E. (or “Alie” to her friends), during the Season 2 finale while he was in search of the City of Light, a city where there is peace and abundance — a promised land. One question remains — Is she is friend or foe?
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this star on the rise to discuss her journey as an actress, the challenges she has faced along the way, her role on the CW’s ‘The 100’ and what the future may hold for her.
You got an early start in the world of acting. How did your journey in the arts begin?
I started acting when I was really young, when I was about 5 or 6 years old. It started out quite simply. I remember the moment when I was watching a movie on television, I am not sure what it was exactly, but there were people on a fire escape interacting. I remember turning around to my dad and saying, “I want to do that!” He said, “You want to go on a fire escape?” [laughs] I said, “No! I want to be on television and do what they are doing!” I am not sure why but for some reason I really wanted to be a part of it. I started acting soon after that, around 6 years old. I did a couple of kid shows when I was really little and that is where it all began. I really love anyone who can make you laugh and I love to make people laugh. I was really goofy as a kid and I had a million voices. If someone laughed I would keep going just to make them laugh harder. I also loved to dance. I just wanted to entertain. I don’t even know if it mattered what I was doing, I just wanted to entertain people. It just made sense that I would become an actor.
You took a break from acting in your teens. What brought on the break and how did getting started so young impact the actor we see today?
I think I needed to do that to get some life experience. I knew I wanted to entertain. If I look back and watch some of the things I did as a child, it was my trying to make people laugh and get a reaction. That is really all it was. I took some time because I felt like I needed to live a little bit. I was being pulled out of school to go into work. I was getting taught on a set, so I really wanted to get some life experience. I think what starting really young did was make it clear and more concrete as to what I wanted to do professionally. When I was about 20 years old, my dad asked me what I wanted to do. I said, “You know what? All I have ever wanted to do is act.” At that point I had done it all! I had worked retail, in an office and had a whole bunch of different jobs. When he asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to act, he said, “Well, go to school.” I was like, “No. I want to act. I don’t want to go to school!” He said, “Go to acting school! Get a job! What are you doing?!” [laughs] It was really funny because he supported me so much in my career. I am sure he is my biggest fan! You know, he is my biggest inspiration. I remember having to pay for an acting class and it was a fortune because there were so few schools that could teach you as a young adult, like when I was 10 years old. I remember him writing these checks that I am sure he couldn’t afford to be writing but he did it because it was my dream and he wanted to make it come true! He did and this is my career now! Thanks dad!
Many people will recognize you from your role on “Eureka.” The show has a great fan base who continue to follow your work. What was it like being a part of that unique series?
It’s funny, when I got that part I was thinking, “OK. How am I going to do this?” The character description for the audition was Chyna. I was like, “Um. I am not Chyna.” Originally, I was not 100 percent sure it was something I wanted to do but, when I got the show, the amount of experience and knowledge I gained from the cast and crew was unbelievable. We filmed the series over the course of seven years, so it was a big part of my life. It was one of my most important career experiences. It may not have been critically acclaimed or award winning but, for me, my career and my understanding of this industry, it was an amazing learning experience.
Ultimately, your work on that show led to your latest project, the CW’s “The 100.” How did you get involved with this project?
I was driving home one day and I was thinking about how I wanted to get another job on a series. I wanted a substantial role. I was driving home thinking about all of this and, I am not kidding you, there is a big sign for “The 100.” What they do is put up big signs for the locations when you are heading to set. I guess they had been filming in my neighborhood at the time. I looked up and saw the sign and thought, “Well, it is a sign,” both literally and figuratively. I drove home and, no word of a lie, I got a phone call saying, “You have an audition for The 100 tomorrow.” I know I had to make the audition because it was just too coincidental. I went and did the audition and thought it was a really cool character. The description was completely unlike the actual character. It was more of Stepford Wife neighbor. The way they described the character was very bizarre and it had nothing to do with artificial intelligence at all. I did the audition and thought it was funny it worked out the way it did. Shortly thereafter, I got a call back. It was around dinner time and they said, “Can you come now?” I felt like it was meant to be so I jumped in my car and drove 45 minutes to my callback and I booked it! I think it was fate!
Since the character was so different from what you auditioned for, at what point did you start building it out with the creators?
When I got the call back, they were a little more specific about what they wanted. When I got the part, I still didn’t know the extent of the character. I played on the season finale, so they didn’t even know if they were getting picked up for another season at the time. They ended up finding out we were picked up for another season while we were filming. Jason [Rothenberg] said, “I’ll see you next season!” I was was like, “OK! That’s great! I will see you next season!” When we did come back for Season 3, I did pick Jason’s brain a lot. I asked a lot of questions because I really wanted to do the character justice. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t boring as artificial intelligence can often be since there is no emotion. I wanted to make sure she had something that intrigued people and I wanted people to care about her even though she is emotionless and her actions are based on logic. That was a big challenge for me. It was really fun for me to do character work, which is something I don’t do enough of. When I was on “Eureka,” I played a cop for seven years and that was all anyone wanted to audition me for after. It was like, “OK, she’s a cop.” Well, I don’t want to be a cop! [laughs] I want to do so many other things! I think that is why I was so thrilled to get to play this character.
One of the things I love about “The 100” is how dedicated the cast, crew, writers and everyone behind the scenes seems to be.
Yeah! When we were doing “Eureka,” we had one of the best cast and crews, 100 percent. You will always hear people from the show talking about how great it was. I feel the same way about “The 100.” I feel like it is a really great group. Everyone is so lucky to have each other! The crew is wonderful. To be honest, everyone involved is really, really great and that is because they do care about making this show and making it as good as it can be.
You mentioned wanting to do more when it comes to character building. What is on your list of things you hope to tackle?
I think my dream roles have always been fantasy based. I would love to play witches and warlocks. I just love stuff like “Lords of The Rings,” “Harry Potter” or “Willow.” I like science fiction as well but I have always loved fantasy. I think that is because I feel as if it has no boundaries or rules. You can create characters and really be creative. For me, that is what this industry has always been. It has been about really playing, being creative and bringing really unique ideas to life.
It is cool to hear someone who wants to bring their ideas to life. Do you aspire to explore the world behind the camera in the form of writing or directing at some point?
Yes. As I have gotten older, I have noticed I am taking more of an interest in directing. That is surprising to me because it is not something I was always interested in. I don’t know if it is something I will try to do now. Maybe I will wait a few years but it has definitely peaked my interest. I also have a whole bunch of ideas for stories. However, I can’t write a thing! [laughs] I don’t have the patience! I am way too hyper to sit down and write. I do hope to sit down and share my ideas with someone who has more patience!
How have you most evolved as an artist through the years?
In the last few years, I had a daughter. She is 3 1/2 years old now. When I had her, I had an amazing epiphany about life and what the important things in life are. When you are a young actor, it seems the most important thing is to get the big role and live out your dream as you see it. I think when you become a parent, you look at life just a bit differently and because there is a little human you are responsible for, you find your priorities change. The things that are important in your life shift. That is not to say that I don’t love my job or think it is important anymore but I think entering into this new territory gives you a sense of confidence. I look at auditions differently now and I don’t have the desperation that I feel I had before and might have gotten in my way. Now, I really enjoy the process and it is more fun for me because there are new things in my life I worry and stress about! Work to me has become a little easier for those reasons! [laughs] About two years ago, I lost my mother. These two unbelievably intense things have happened to me in the past few years and experiences like these open up your heart. It opens up your emotions and you become so much more aware of yourself and the way you view the world changes. With that said, I don’t know if a specific role has made me change but my life sure has! I feel better about myself, the way I work and the jobs that I take on. I think there is an air of confidence you take on as you get older, as well.
With that said, what is the best lesson we can take from your journey as an actor so far?
If you are going to do this job, you better love this job! Just have fun with it. Actors can get themselves so stressed out and get so worried. You might hear someone say, “I had this audition and I bombed it!” There are always other auditions, so what are you so stressed about? There will always be other opportunities. Take whatever you can from your past experiences, both good or bad, learn from them and move forward! Also, pay attention when you are on set! There are so many things you can learn and I am not just talking about the lines!
Thanks for your time today, Erica! We look forward to what the future holds for you!
Thanks, Jason! It was good to talk to you! Take care!