Interview: ‘Defiance’ Star Stephanie Leonidas Talks Irisa’s Journey, Working With Grant Bowler & More

Stephanie Leonidas (FT)

When the second season of Defiance premiered on Syfy UK last week, one of the many lingering questions that required an answer was “where is Irisa Nolan?”

The character, played by British actress Stephanie Leonidas, had disappeared from the town of Defiance in the immediate aftermath of the season one finale and for the past nine months her adoptive father Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler) has been searching for her.

The duo were reunited in the season two premiere and are now headed back home, unsure of what the future may hold now that Defiance is under the control of the Earth Republic and their Provision Mayor Niles Pottinger.

TVWise recently spoke with Stephanie Leonidas to discuss Irisa’s journey so far, working with Grant Bowler, and what season two holds for her character.

Defiance - IrisaTVWise: How would you describe Irisa’s journey during the first season?

Stephanie Leonidas: Irisa has grown up a lot. We noticed straight away that she is on a very lonely journey that no one else quite understands. It’s a journey that will go on through the entire second season and bit by bit things will be revealed. In the second season it will be quite a rollercoaster ride playing her and she’s on a very lonely path and one that takes her into quite dangerous and dark places.

TVWise: Irisa is a very physical character, how did you prepare for that aspect of the role?

Stephanie Leonidas: Lots of stunt training! They threw me in the deep end! We have such an amazing stunt team behind us. I also have a great stunt double who allows me to do a lot really. She is there to kind of guide me, help me and has actually helped me train quite a bit. We did some martial arts together and a lot of knife throwing. We do a lot of training in between and all the stunt scenes get some rehearsal time and preps so that everybody is ready for it. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to do a lot of the physical stuff myself which I think is important for Irisa.  She is such a physical character who is very feral and she will go from one to eleven in seconds. It was important to have that side of her.

TVWise: The relationship between Irisa and Nolan is a very strong one, what is it like working with Grant Bowler?

Stephanie Leonidas: He is amazing. He basically treats me like his daughter and we are quite a funny pair on set. We prank each other and have quite a laugh together. It feels like a father daughter relationship off screen as well as on screen. We really bonded from the very beginning and had some time together to explore their relationship and build on that before we started shooting. We did a lot of improvisation as to how these two would have met and how their relationship would have grown before we even meet them.

TVWise: As Irisa was raised by Nolan, who is human, is it important that her Irathient side not be overshadowed by the human side?

Stephanie Leonidas: I think it’s really important to strike a balance between her being this Irathient alien and also her being brought up by a human father. It was really important to me to get the balance right and to see different sides of her come out at different moments. When she’s angry and when she turns quite feral, you really see the Irathient girl, especially when she pulls out a knife. There are also tender moments between father and daughter that I felt were so important to get right so people could relate to her and not just see an alien who was so other worldly. I think the thing that really attracted to me to her in the first place was that even though she is this alien, she has a real heart and there is real human drama to the piece. So, it was important to strike that balance, but I do love it when her Irathient side comes out.

Defiance - Irisa & NolanTVWise: Irisa and Nolan had some bumps in the road with their relationship in season one, will that be explored any further in season two?

Stephanie Leonidas: Yes, massively. Bumps in the road were nothing compared to what season two has in store for the fans.  Irisa becomes the most feral creature you’ve ever seen and the relationship between her and Nolan is really suffering in season two. You don’t see them singing Johnny Cash anytime soon and you see a lot of knife threating and a lot of distance actually. There are a lot of scenes with Irisa that are very lonely scenes in season two and I really felt that on set. I felt alone and I suddenly wasn’t with Grant on set and was spending a lot of time on my own. She really goes on quite a lonely journey in the new season.

TVWise: Now that you’ve lived with the character for more than a season, how protective are you of Irisa and her development?

Stephanie Leonidas: Very protective. I feel like it’s really important to swap and change where characters are going and change direction and the journeys that they go on. There is a huge jump from season one to season two which I think makes season two work really well. Season one was really getting to know the characters and what Defiance is and season two enabled us to turn it all on its side and start again really. It is a much darker and edgier and I think it was better for it and I would hope, fingers crossed, season three would take that even further.

TVWise: We get to see a softer side of Irisa when it comes to Tommy, what is it about Tommy that brings out the softer side?

Stephanie Leonidas: I think Irisa sees herself in Tommy. He’s another lone ranger in Defiance. He’s roughly her age and she is at the age where she is starting to notice guys whether she likes it or not. She sees something in him that she really recognizes in herself and I think for the first time ever, she’s able to relate to someone else besides her father. Tommy has a very good way off bringing stuff out in Irisa and she knows it. She really fell in love with him and season two takes it to another level without saying too much.

TVWise: Once you step on set as Irisa and become immersed in the world of Defiance, do you find that you sometimes lose yourself in the character?

Stephanie Leonidas: Definitely! Sometimes a little too much. There have been several moments where I rehearsed as Stephanie and I got a lot wrong and the stunts have gone wrong. The stunt coordinator smiles and tells people not to worry because as soon as I am in Irisa’s clothing, I feel like I can do anything.  I feel like I’ve taken a little bit of her attitude I’d have to say. She has influenced me and I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing. J When you’ve played that stubborn animal for two years, it’s going to rub off on you.  I have a special place for her in my heart.

Defiance - Irisa & Nolan (1)TVWise: At the end of season one, Irisa makes the ultimate sacrifice to save Nolan. How did you prepare for that emotional scene?

Stephanie Leonidas: It was a tough few weeks leading up to that really. It was heartbreaking because we spent all this time building up their relationship and to suddenly play out those scenes, it felt very real. It’s really difficult and it really takes its toll because not only are these characters going through it, but suddenly Grant and I aren’t on set together anymore and it feels really lonely. It genuinely feels like something has broken apart. It’s very strange and isolating and I guess that is kind of what our characters do a lot. They are these lone rangers and they only have each other. As soon as that breaks apart, they don’t have anything. It was heartbreaking playing that scene at the end of season one. It killed me and those were real tears.

TVWise: Defiance is such a complex society. What kind of background information were you given about your character and the town?

Stephanie Leonidas: We were given a big bible of stuff when we first started Defiance well before the pilot. We had some rehearsal time which allowed us to create our characters.  We talked about who the Irathients were, where Irisa comes from and what kind of alien she is. Each alien is very animal like in many ways. The Irathients are very wolf-like and are quite feral creatures compared to the Castithans who are much more reptilian. That was all really interesting in exploring all of that. I spent a lot of time at zoos watching wolves for hours. We had quite an intense period of time beforehand to learn the characters and of course learn the language. It was really nice to have that time to build these characters and understand who they were before we even began the show.

TVWise: Do you think the town of Defiance is a reflection of today’s society?

Stephanie Leonidas: Definitely and I think that’s what science fiction does best. It provides an alien landscape and these alien characters and it really reflects what is going on here every day. I think what is always interesting and proves very liberating on set, is that we get to allow people to watch what is going on, but in a different way. That’s what I really love about science fiction and Defiance does it really well.

Defiance - Irisa & Nolan (2)TVWise: Why do you think Defiance resonates so much with its fan base?

Stephanie Leonidas: We’ve been really lucky. It’s been incredible the amount of support we’ve had for the show; it’s mind blowing. I think Defiance stands for everything that science fiction is about. We have aliens, we’ve got alien languages and all the stunts involved with the show.  We have an amazing cast and crew and I think it really shows. We have every piece that a real science fiction show should have and it relates back to the human drama with people. We have some amazing CGI and special effects and a lot of money has gone into the show to make it great. Obviously, the video game running alongside the series as well. It’s been an exciting project to be a part of and I think people really appreciate it.

TVWise: What can fans expect for Irisa as we head into season two?

Stephanie Leonidas: Expect the unexpected. Expect an edgier, darker and grittier Defiance. The E-rep are in town now and Defiance isn’t quite how we left it.  Nobody’s journey is quite the same because the chess pieces have flipped and you find us all in very different places.

Stephanie Leonidas plays Irisa Nolan on ‘Defiance’ season two, which continues on Syfy UK tonight (Thursday September 25th) at 9pm.