Interview with Yael Stone, Rob Collins and Shantae Barnes-Cowan of “Firebite” on AMC+ by Thane 12/9/21
This was my second interview for TVMEG.COM and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a small panel of press asking questions; two of them are mine (they have my name on them).
Question: Can you start by talking about what it was that first attracted you to the show, why you wanted to do it?
Rob: I can take that first. Warwick Thorton, I’d always wanted to work with him. I got a small taste of it on an Australian series called Mystery Road, the second series. He’s kind of just one of our go-to amazing directors. So, there was that and vampire killer. So, those two things combined, I just had to do this project.
Shantae: I auditioned at the start of the year on another project, and I met with Warwick. That was my first time meeting him, and he sort of gave me a little [bit] inside of it, and it sounded really cool, so I was up for it. And I heard it was gonna be really big. [laughs] So, yeah, I got really excited. I still can’t believe I won the role of Shanika, because I heard hundreds auditioned for it, but I’m happy I did, because it turned out really fun and deadly. [laughs] So, yeah, and I’m happy.
Question: All right. What about you, Yael?
Yael: I guess I should say that we’re so lucky that Shantae won the role as well, because she’s incredible in the show. Also, Warwick [was] definitely a massive kind of draw card for this project. And the scripts that I was sent were just so fascinating. I just felt like we have not done this before. We’ve not addressed Indigenous Australian history and a kind of violent colonial Australian history in this way before, using a vampire metaphor before, and I think it’s extraordinarily creative. It’s a really clever way in telling that story, and it’s got heaps of joy and laughs and fun, and then, at it’s heart, it’s got this incredibly powerful and incredibly serious metaphor as well.
Question: So, the question is, since, just like you mentioned, that was rather ambitious and probably the first of its kind in it’s take… [of] colonial exploitation and native history and racism, and combining it with elements of fantasy, like vampires and monster hunters. So, I wanted to know, what are your thoughts on it?
Rob: Speaking of fantasy, I mean, growing up in Australia, you are told a particular version of our colonial past, and that was certainly true for me. And like anything, it’s only as an adult, that you get time to sort of reflect on things, and as an indigenous man in Australia, what that kind of really means. So, I’d have to say, for me, in particular, that sort of revelation came through sort of in my mid 20s, and now, being a 40-year-old man with kids of my own who are indigenous, I think it’s important to give them a true sense of their place in this country. And I think at the heart of it as well, that’s what Warwick, I think, is trying to tackle in this series. So, for me, it was vitally important. I mean, I made the quip earlier that it was working with Warwick, and it was vampire hunting and all that kind of stuff that drew me to the role, but I think this idea of rewriting history kind of, in a sense, I found really kind of cool, because when you talk about fantasy, there are a few fantasies that we as everyday Australians accept as fact. And in fact, it’s such a powder keg here in Australia that I think this series is really going to agitate in a good way, and like the best series do, get you to think about, “Well, what is your accepted version of this country and your place in it and your family’s place in it and your forebearer’s place in it?” I think it’s a really timely discussion to have, and as genre does in its best way, it’s kind of subversive in that way, because it’s killing and it’s vampires; it’s action, and it’s fun. It’s laughs; it’s explosions and amazing sets, but then we’re able to sort of snake that that key message in amidst all the chaos.
Shantae: Yeah. Sort of what Rob was saying, the history of our culture and our land, you know, getting invaded, and from the white men, I think it’s important to tell, because as blackfellows, we’re strong about that. It’s our past; it’s our history, and it’s our culture, and we, as a culture, are proud. To tell it and show it to the world, I think is pretty cool, to show in this way, as well as the vampires. For me, it’s like the vampires feeding on blackfellow blood is sort of like, that is invasion for our culture. That’s how I see it, and it’s just cool to tell in that way. I think the world is gonna love it and our culture and our story.
Yael: I don’t know if I could answer the question any better than that. So, maybe I’ll take a different angle and say, it’s also fascinating; think about it, landing in an American audience first, and then across the world, potentially. I lived in the States for seven years, and I always felt there was this strange absence of a discussion in the kind of mainstream media about the Indigenous stories of the states. And I wonder, Rob said, maybe it’ll be a bit of a “powder keg for Australia moment;” maybe it sparks discussions elsewhere as as well, because these fantastical histories exist everywhere, and the more we face them, the more we can can address some of the healing that needs to happen. So yeah, maybe we’re putting a little match to the powder keg.
Thane: Thane here from TVMEG.com. Question to everyone: What training did you have for the fight scenes?
Rob: Training for the fight scenes? Well, actually the first week, Shantae, wasn’t it? We got in –
Rob: They made us do awful things like push ups and sit ups and jumping around. We had an intense week of personal training in rehearsals, yeah.
Shantae: Yeah, we had like the personal training first and then went straight to rehearsals like reading. Yeah, it was crazy.
Rob: We had a really crack team of stunt people, wonderful people, but super across what we needed to do, and we were in the lucky position of getting in really early when we had a fight sequence coming up. So, in the early days, at least, we had lots of preparation to be able to knock those things down. So, it was a sort of coordinated approach of getting generally fit and working through choreography for the big fight sequences.
Question: Can you maybe talk about just overall having worked on this project, is there anything that you learned about yourself, either as a person, or an actor, just in general, something that you can think of that you didn’t know, maybe, before you started?
Rob: Oh, good question.
Yael: When when you do sign on for a project, sometimes you don’t know what you’re in for, because the story has sort of yet to fully unfold in terms of scripts. And in a way, coming back to Thane’s question, that physical element of embodying things and embodying kind of like those violent situations, it can be quite confronting. I’ve never done a lot of that kind of stuff before, so embodying some of that more physical element was a bit of a surprise for me, and a surprise in terms of that you don’t know what you’re signing on for. Then, in the actual moment, when you find yourself in all kinds of wild situations – like we were down in this crazy opal mine, these actual opal mines, and you catch yourself, and you think, “Oh, my Lord, I would never do this in my real life,” but suddenly, you’re there, and getting the shot is the most important thing, and you wouldn’t be anywhere else but down at the bottom of that opal mine.
Rob: Yeah, just building on that idea of uncertainty that Yael said, I think that’s probably the biggest thing as an actor and a person I’ve learned through this experience. We moved at such a rapid pace, and I don’t think I’ve ever been this busy in my life. I’ve spent most days on set. So, being able to sort of trust in what preparation you’ve done, trust in other people’s vision, [and] hand over a bit of the control to these wonderful creatives was a big learning curve, for me. I’m someone who’s really cerebral. I mean, I like to think about things a lot when it comes to performance and character. I wasn’t afforded that kind of opportunity on this, in a good way. So, embracing the chaos and accepting that the work is there and relinquishing some of that control to these fabulous creatives was a big learning curve for me, and one that I’d love to take into every project, because while it was terrifying, it was also very freeing and very liberating.
Shantae: For me, I feel like every day was learning, because I just haven’t had as much experience. It was just so good being around Rob and Yael and all the other, you know, older, experienced actors and actresses –
Rob: [clears throat] Not that much older.
Question: I was going to say, you called them old there! [laughs]
Shantae: [laughs] More experienced, [and] to learn from them is really cool, and I’m still learning to this day, still gonna keep learning, but yeah, I haven’t had a job this long as well. So, it was challenging as well, being away from family and learning about being, not alone, but, you know, by yourself, learning as a teenager and just keeping in that positive mental state. [It] was learning for me, and yeah, just meeting everyone on set, and the big crew and cast. I feel like that was one of my best learning things, I guess. But yeah, I learned a lot on this job.
Yael: It’s worth saying as well that Shantae also graduated high school while she was doing this job.
Question: Yeah, that’s got to be hard.
Yael: It was no mean feat. It was amazing to watch her juggle everything and learning everything and doing all that independence work of living away from your family, plus school, plus this huge job. She did an incredible job.
Rob: Yeah, I second that. She had her homework in the makeup trailer most mornings. It was incredible.
Question: So, based on the initial concept or the initial sketch or outline, what attracted you most or impressed you more most about your characters?
Rob: I guess I’ll take that first. I’ve done mainly TV in Australia, and my characters are very straight, steady, contained; they have it together in some certain degree. Tyson was, I think I can say this, the most fun I’ve had with a character, because he’s anything but that. So, strangely, it feels like in terms of my film persona, it’s really different, but my children, especially my oldest girl, has seen some of the show, just rough scenes, and says it’s oddly how I am at home. So, Tyson, there are elements of him that are closer to how I am in my private life, not necessarily my public face. So, it kind of drew that out of me, which is a kind of a fun thing. And I think, looking at the character off the page, it’s that stuff that I connected to: he’s fun; he’s silly. He has a very silly relationship – well, silly and serious with Shanika, which reminded me a lot of my own relationship with my daughters here. So, yeah, he’s chaos, but he’s a lot of heart as well. So, it felt really familiar to me.
Shantae: I felt like, my character found herself more at the end of the story…I was still quite strong, and I was smart and tech savvy and all that, but I wasn’t really powerful. I feel I was more powerful in the end. I had to go through a journey to really find that in myself. But I love my character. I feel I’m just underrated. I don’t know; there’s just something about Shanika that not many people would expect from a teenager, and, obviously, Tyson taught her growing up how to fight vampires; that’s pretty cool. So, she uses that in the classroom against classmates. She actually fights a lot at the school. [laughs] So, yeah, she definitely has some skills in life, and she’s strong, and she’s smart. She is smart, I would say.
Yael: I think it’s taken me a while, but I can say it out loud, “I think I’m a character actor.” [laughs] And Ellie, for me, is a real kind of character role. It’s probably not there in those first three episodes, so it’s kind of hard to talk about, given you guys have seen so little of her journey, I guess, and I don’t want to give anything away. So, let me give a silly answer. She has an accent, and I like accents. So, that’s why.
Thane: Shantae, was that you on the motorcycle, or a stunt double? And if it was you, how did you prepare?
Shantae: No, that was my stunt double, Tess. She’s my perfect stunt double. She’s like, you know, same skin type, a little bit shorter. So, it looks exactly like me, but it wasn’t. What they did is they would put her on the motorbike, and then they’d quickly get me at the end, just getting off the motorbike. So, yeah, they cut it really well. I really wish I’d learned how to ride motorbikes, because it’s really cool.
Yael: I mean, it sounds like you’re pretty into stunts. We had an amazing team, and I’m just not gonna say that [my stunt double] did any of my stunts. I’m just gonna be like, “Yeah, I did all of that.” [laughs] Everything you see, it’s all me, but actually, Rob, you maybe did everything, didn’t you, like did pretty much everything yourself?
Rob: I did everything but anything that looked a bit “hurty.” So, Cory, my stunt double, did that and all the driving as well. There are over 2500 manholes in Coober Pedy, so they didn’t trust me to drive a car at speed, weaving through those poles. And I have to say, Cory did an amazing job there. In fact, this is a good point to shout out to our amazing stunt team, led by Nathan [Lawson], that were not only great people, really supportive, but the fight sequences in this show are something else. They’re certainly the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of pretending to be in.
Yael: They also played a lot of the vampires. They got dressed up a lot, and they got killed a lot.
Interview Transcribed by Jamie of http://www.scifivision.com
AMC STUDIOS GREENLIGHTS FIREBITE, A CO-PRODUCTION WITH SEE-SAW FILMS TO PREMIERE ON AMC+ LATER THIS YEAR
June 08, 2021
Proofread and Edited by Brenda