One person who could be increasingly important as the season goes along is Hannah Levien, who plays the character of Janine on the Freeform series. You’ve seen her around the bar and with Calvin so far this season, but over the final few episodes you should have some more opportunities to learn a little bit more about her. In our new interview, Levien (whose credits also include Supernatural and The Magicians) opens up about her role on the show, what appealed to her from the get-go, and what room there is still to explore things from here.
CarterMatt – What appealed to you about Siren from the get-go?
Hannah Levien – I heard there was a show being made about mermaids and that piqued my interest because aside from the kids’ shows about mermaids, there hasn’t been much made about them. I’m a fan of urban myths and legends so in hearing about the show, I thought ‘that sounds cool.’ I then saw the trailer for Siren early on because a friend of mine, who actually plays my boyfriend on the show [in Curtis Lum], he was in it. When the series got picked up from the pilot, I saw the trailer that he posted from his Facebook. It was a great trailer and the concept was dark mermaids and seaside storms — it looked like a lot of adventure and a lot of fun, and with that I was interested. I went and auditioned for the second episode for the role of Janine and that was that!
What was your perception about Janine as a character when you first got the info on the role?
I was in contention for the role and I was on hold for about a week because I’m not sure they knew what they wanted the role to be. All I had heard from my agent is that ‘they want you to be more trashy.’ They really wanted her to be trashy! I went in doing what I thought was realistic ‘trashy,’ but apparently they wanted more. I had a few costume fittings with a number of different ideas, as well.
I think with any new shows, they are auditioning and trying a lot of different ideas, ages, and sometimes the sex of a character. I was just really stoked that I got onto the show early on because it was fun being there from the beginning and being able to meet everyone. I felt like I was a part of it.
How do you relate to a character like Janine in a supernatural world? What sort of touchstones do you rely on?
I think I always try to approach things as realistically as I can, no matter what role I’m playing or what I’m playing opposite, supernatural or not. I’m definitely trying to bring human qualities to that. Sometimes I think we, as actors, are trained to relate things to our own lives — use our imagination, but also if it’s something we’re meant to be afraid of, we’re trained to think ‘okay, imagine that you are really afraid and imagine that thing being in front of you’ instead of a giant spider or whatever it is you’re meant to be afraid of.
I really feel grateful to have a job where I get to constantly step into other shoes so I’m constantly being challenged about perceptions that I may have about the world or certain things that I may feel about something. I can feel a different way and have to feel a different way.
When we first met Janine her relationship with Calvin was just beginning, have you enjoyed seeing that develop over the first season?
It’s been fun and we’re going to see a little more Janine in the last few episodes of the season. It’s been really great sharing that experience with a friend [like Curtis]. We all have a lot of fun with the Calvin-and-Janine dynamic and I certainly look forward to seeing where it goes.
I also look forward to seeing that moment where the light bulb goes on about what’s happening in Bristol Cove. How would Janine react to learning the truth that mermaids are running around, or that Calvin didn’t tell her?
I wonder that as well, and it actually makes me think of the show True Blood. You know how people started to figure out about the vampires and what was really going on? It reminds me a little of that. I’d love there to be a scene where that gets to happen. In the town, slowly more and more people are going to be finding out about this so there’s going to be some tension created around that which is exciting.
There are some big moments coming up for Janine and Calvin in episode 8, is there anything you can tease about that?
I would just say that there’s a little bit of wisdom we can all learn from (laughs). I will say that it was actually a really emotional episode to be a part of and it brought a lot of the cast and crew together.
I would say don’t judge Janine — I love that she really has her own mind, she says what she thinks, and she doesn’t really care about what other people think about her.
How much time do you spend thinking about the backstory for the character, or is that something you take more from the scripts?
On Siren, there were some things I heard early on about Janine that I took as gospel. I was definitely still trying to piece together who the character is, as many people are in the first season of a show. Unless your show is based on a book where you already have a reference to go from, you really are inventing as they go. Some of the things I heard about Janine early on didn’t necessarily feel accurate as the season went along, so I just started going with that instead of script to script, learning about who I was as the writing developed.
Certainly, some things do get revealed at the end of the first season that bring things a bit more full-circle. I really like Janine — I kind of see her in some ways as an on-land siren. There are some strong-minded women in the town. I think Maddie is one of them, and the Deputy and Ben’s mom is also. In general, I think a lot of women have their own minds or opinions.
There’s a lot of mileage with Janine to find out what she does know and doesn’t know, and as the bartender you imagine that she’d be hearing lots of things.
What was the experience like filming towards the final episodes of the season?
It was a little emotional for everyone just because it was a ten-episode first season. It goes really quickly and everyone got really close to each other. We didn’t want it to be over.
I just hope it ends on a note where everyone is excited to get back for a second season — it’s unfortunate that we’re going to have to wait a year for that to come out. I would just say that people will be excited about all the directions the show can go in and all of the stuff we’re learning about the mermaids. That includes what that means to humans and what value that has to humans.
Is there a sense of general optimism that more episodes are coming?
I think so. I have been back-and-forth between Vancouver and LA, and I know when I’ve spoken to the producers in LA they seem very confident. I know New York upfronts are happening soon, which generally seems to be when there could be some sort of announcement. Definitely after the premiere the network was super-happy about it and Freeform’s got some great shows going on right now. Siren is certainly different from everything else — sure, it has a supernatural element that a lot of shows have, but it has this underwater component. It’s also set in a seaside town and not set in a bustling city. A lot of the cast are international and that adds an element to it, as well.
So I think everyone is cautiously optimistic, but I don’t think we’ll be popping bottles until we get the official go-ahead.
What else are you working on at present?
So I am in Colony which is airing on USA Wednesday — I am really excited about that. I’m in the season premiere in a new show called Reverie, which is premiering May 30 on NBC. It’s a really cool show and I hope people enjoy it. It’s only ten episodes and Sarah Shahi plays the lead in that. She’s brilliant. I’m also in UnREAL season 4, but I’m not sure when that is coming out.
Beyond that, I’ve been finishing up my own film Hunting Season based in Vancouver, Canada. We filmed on an Indian reservation in British Columbia and it’s a really cool film. It has a mystical creature in it as well, and that’s something I worked on with a few colleagues from another show I’m on in The Magicians. We’ve been working hard on that.
Related – Read more news on the next new episode
Thanks to Hannah for taking the time to speak with us and if you want to keep up to date with everything Hannah is doing you can follow her on Twitter @Hannahlevien or on Facebook/instagram @hannahlevienofficial Remember, you can also like CarterMatt on Facebook to stay up to date with all of our Siren scoop. (Photo: Freeform.)