Interview: Part Two with Lisa Berry on ‘Shadowhunters,’ Representation and Theatre
Welcome back to part two of our interview with Supernatural’s Lisa Berry.
Last time, we discussed Berry’s work on Supernatural and her newfound love for the convention circuit.
In part two, she answered questions for us about her work on Freeform’s Shadowhunters, person-of-color representation in media and her stage work:
Nerds and Beyond: You are currently the woman of color with the highest episode count on Supernatural. What are your thoughts on what Supernatural and television in general can do to be more representative of people of color?
Lisa Berry: Putting them out there, I think, is the first step. I think just putting them in your stories and not necessarily always making it about their race or about what it has been lacking, just to put them in the story with strength and personality and vigor in a way that if you were to cut them out of the story, things start falling apart. That’s always been something growing up that I watched and that we know in this industry that it’s so easy to just cut it out. If you were cut out the black actress who shows up from the episodes, you’re like “oh, the story doesn’t change that much”, which is so hard to reconcile yourself with.
I think the more success that people are having, just financially, the business making money off of putting people of color and different ethnicities and disabilities and all of that onscreen and giving people the representation that they’re really thirsting for– because it’s financially profitable now and they’re recognizing that they’re making space for that. I’m not saying that’s what Supernatural’s doing, I’m saying that’s what the industry’s doing. That’s the big shift. It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t financially rewarding for a company to put a black woman on their show.
That’s the reason it wasn’t happening for years and years and years and so with the success of (producer) Shonda Rhimes’ company and all of the shows she’s produced and with the successes of Killjoys and women of color and women in general be the headline for a show having success, I think that is the big pull. We’re given more opportunities and it’s not just about giving us a female lead.
What they’ve done, I feel, effectively with the industry for the most part is they’re opening the roles of confident strong powerful people up to different ethnicities as well so that there’s more representation. You don’t have to just be the hooker with a heart of gold or the oracle who was all wise and all knowing. You can also be the love interest, the friend, the CEO, and I think especially a movie like Black Panther with that kind of success when it’s signed, sealed, delivered that it’s not going to be a loss, then it just gets more interesting to be like “what would be like if we put a guy in a wheelchair in this role” or “what would it be like if the character was deaf.” It’s the same as writing for somebody with kids; it’s something you have to think about it, and I think now because of the social climate that we’re in, people are just really actively thinking about it. With them actively thinking about it and it being profitable, it’s a win-win for progress.
The only thing stopping it before was “is it profitable?” Once that became the case with everybody being like “Well, I would like to see myself,” and then putting their money behind that mixed with businesses like to make money, and the entertainment business is still a business, then you really can have progress. For one reason or another, someone is saying yes, all of a sudden, where they used to say no. That’s one of the things where I go, “If that’s how we can get in and make change, I’m not mad at it.” The truth is that if you want me on your screen because you think it’ll make you money, great. You have no control over the effect it’s going to have on people, and that’s what we’re actually trying to do. We just needed to find a way to make it appeasing and appealing for the higher ups who were more focused on the bottom line and now that the bottom line is being met, we’re being given license to write real life-changing stories.
Nerds and Beyond: What was it like working with the Shadowhunters cast and crew?
Lisa Berry: They’re amazing. Kat McNamara (Clary Fray) is a real class act and she is very kind and very welcoming and just makes you feel at home the minute you get to set. That is just so beautiful to see in a young leading lady who could very easily, if she wanted to, be a spoiled brat about things, but she chooses to be gracious and humble and very loving and accepting and it just makes you want her to have more blessings on top of more blessings. She’s really worked hard for what she’s got and she’s just a solid actress and human being. Isaiah (Mustafa) and I have a good time whenever I show up on set. It’s really sad that they’re not getting another season. It just looked like it was getting better and better and better so I was quite shocked when it got canceled. I’m still holding out hope that the fans will champion it and help it find another home somewhere and maybe if it finds another home, they might be able to do even more with the storylines they’ve got going on because it built quite a wonderful world and mythology and if it has to end it must but it would be too bad because it was a fun show. It seems like there’s going to be at least a two-hour series finale.
Nerds and Beyond: How do you prepare for a stage role versus a filmed role?
Lisa Berry: It doesn’t feel like it’s that different because I’m always striving for clarity and to be as authentic as I possibly can in the moment. It feels like there’s no difference when I’m working in film and television and doing smaller theatre with more of an intimate house, because then there’s nothing theatrical about the theatre world when it’s 100 seats and sometimes you only have like 50 people in the audience. You can show up on set and have like 50 people between the lighting crew and the grip and the background and the director and the other actors in the scene. You’ve actually got a mini play, and it’s just a slice of life that you’re getting to perform.
For me I actually don’t see a difference between the two. I technically have to do things differently if I’m working in a bigger theatrical space and I’m trained to vocally use my instrument to reach the back of the house if I’ve got 600, 1500 people that I’m trying to reach. Most of the time I’m in theatres that are no more than 300 people which means I can talk at my regular voice, so I don’t have to project or anything like that so it doesn’t feel like there’s that much of a difference.
When you’re performing for 100 people or less, you’re not raising your voice, they’re right there, they can hear you, so you’re not having to change any of the technique that you have or any of the work that you’ve done…If you’re doing intimate theatre where you don’t need to really push your voice and you get to be intimate with your scene partner and you don’t have to reach anybody other than the person in front of you because your audience is two feet away from you, then for me, I look at being on set the exact same way. A lot of times you’ll have 40 people watch your scene while you’re doing it and filming it…there could easily be a small little audience watching you perform and because I love the stage, I just pretend that I’m doing intimate theatre performance just of this scene.
For me, it’s just more rewarding because I love to perform and if I can’t move the camera crew and the people doing lighting and the background and the director, then I’m not gonna be able to move them when it shows up on TV. There’s something beautiful and organic about what happens and gets recorded and then we get to experience it again. But if there was nothing being experienced to begin with, then there will be nothing to be experienced when we watch it on TV.
So I look at it like I’m doing theater in just a really intimate house because a lot of times, you don’t get to do a million and one takes so I use every take as an opportunity to play, even if we’re just in rehearsal. When I do a play at the end of two weeks of getting to do the show every single night, I’m still walking away being like “Oh my god, how did I miss that? It’s so obvious now, that’s what the character’s thinking, I could totally deliver the line like that.”
Nerds and Beyond: What do you look for in a theatre project? What draws you to a role?
Lisa Berry: It’s either the people I’m going to work with, what I’m going to learn, or how much fun I’m going to have. Preferably all three are great. When it comes to doing theatre, it’s more if I’m going to get to work with friends that I haven’t worked with in years that I’m like “I know this is going to be a good time” or a director that I haven’t worked with but that I’m completely inspired by and know that I will just learn a whole lot and be a better actor by the end of it or if the project in and of itself just speaks to me and I go “that’s going to be a lot of fun to do and a lot of fun to explore.” Then I just say yes, if I’m not already booked for something else.
Nerds and Beyond: Is there a dream role that you’ve always wanted to do that you haven’t had a chance to?
Lisa Berry: Tons. Cleopatra…Titania, all of the women in Shakespeare.
Nerds and Beyond: What color lightsaber would you have?
Lisa Berry: Blue.
Thank you so much, Lisa, for your time and your wonderful answers! Here’s hoping we meet Billie again in season 14!