‘Siren’s’ Rena Owen Talks Mermaids and Helen Hawkins (Interview)
If you are looking for a phenomenal, dark and fantastical television show to binge watch, I highly recommend Freeform’s newest trending show, Siren. Siren is about a small coastal town called Bristol Cove, which is known for its legendary stories of once being the mermaid capital. The town is turned upside down when a mysterious young woman named Ryn begins causing some havoc while on the hunt for her sister, Donna. On her journey she meets marine biologists Ben and Maddie, who work together to help her on her journey.
Another character who has a gigantic impact on the show is Helen Hawkins, played by Rena Owen. To the local townspeople, Helen is just another ‘town crazy’ who has an insane belief that mermaids are out there and that they need to be respected, but, there is much more to Helen then meets the eye. She has a secret that she has kept from the town for many years.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rena, and it was incredible to get to know not only about her role as Helen, but about her journey as an actress. A New Zealand native, she is an international award-winning actress. She is also only one of the few actors in the world to have worked with both George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg!
Rena is someone that I recommend all aspiring actors and actress’ to following career path wise. She has an incredible resume and has an incredible amount of experience that should absolutely be valued!
Jules: Looking at your resume, you have made quite the remarkable career for yourself. Can you tell me a little about your journey to becoming an actress?
Rena: Sure. I was born to be creative, and I’ve always had a very vivid imagination. I was always kind of in performing clubs. I knew how to do all of the high school musicals. My first big stage performance was at 15 playing ‘Bloody Mary’ in South Pacific. I knew as a teenager that I had really found my place in the world, however, this was the end of the 70’s. A career in the arts was not considered ‘career’. Also, as a biracial young woman, I hadn’t grown up with brown faces on our TV screen, in the cinema or thirdly, as women. My career choices were: secretary, teacher or nurse. I was actually in training to be a nurse for three and a half years, and qualified as a general and obstetric nurse. Then, I went off to London at the tender age of 22, when you think you know everything. (laughs) Going to London forever changed my life.
I had aspirations of going to medical school and becoming a doctor, but I pretty much went AWOL. It was my first solo journey and true awakening, and I did stuff that changed the course of my life. I ended up enrolling in ‘The Actors Institute’ in 1985. My life had forever changed at that point, and I fell in love with it. Most of the years as an actress, I did theater. I actually am a published playwright, too. I can’t say enough how much I have truly loved it all!
Jules: Siren is currently one of the hottest and biggest shows the Freeform has ever put forth. How excited are you to be a part of this show?
Rena: Oh, really excited! As I said to somebody recently, you can’t beat being seen in the original template. There will be spin-offs and other mermaid shows. To be a part of the trailblazing team is just amazing. I absolutely salute Freeform for being so bold and brave with this series. This show is very forward – it has never been done before. It is always risky for any company or network to do something that has never been tested before. I think it is the year of water. If you look at this year alone, we have The Shape of Water, which cleared up the Oscars. We have Aquaman coming out as well. There is a lot of water stuff this year. Mermaids are extremely in this year!
When I prepped for this show, I had no idea how vast the mermaid fandom was. It is so vast. I’ve learned a lot from fans of mermaids. They are incredibly passionate about mermaids – just like Helen.
Jules: Your character of Helen is known as ‘the town crazy’ because she knows all of these stories and mysteries about the town and sirens themselves. Did you do any type of research to prepare for your role?
Rena: Yes, I did a lot of reading online, mostly. You just need to Google Mermaids, and all that fandom stuff pops up. I watched a lot of videos with ‘real life mermaids’ – and there are a lot of them out there. There are a lot of professional mermaids. I also read stuff that came from a more scientific or biology perspective. There were a few things that surprised me that I didn’t know – like about the different types of mermaids. There are people out there that think mermaids are strictly folklore, and then, there are those that are passionate believers that believe in the reality of mermaids. I also read up about some of the things about our particular story. That’s one of the things that I like about our show – it’s based around real issues in our world today. Seabeds are being stripped all around the world, especially in New Zealand. All these deep sea creatures are being forced to come close to find food. Unfortunately with that, like we saw in episode one, Donna got in one of the nets. Ryn told Ben and Maddie that the reason they came so close to the surface, was to find food.
Jules: One of my favorite scenes in the series is when Helen hurries off to the fish market and secretly buys all of this fish and seafood for her new friend Ryn, a mermaid. Do you have a favorite scene that you can tell me about?
Rena: I loved that scene also! That was actually a totally improvised scene. On paper, it was originally just me going to the shop. You saw Helen going in, buying some things and then leaving with a bag of stuff. All of that dialogue was improvised! The young actress I worked with was absolutely perfect to work with. She had such a poker face, and was just so deadpan. I had to work really hard to keep a straight face! I was really happy that they kept that scene in there. I think it was kind of needed, you know? I really loved that light moment. Another favorite of mine is a heavier moment. It’s when Ryn and Helen are sitting there, and she sees my leg, My response was ‘it’s an auto-immune thing’. My favorite drama scene was when Helen told Ben about his family’s true history – that it was bloodier than he really knew. It was a very powerful, dramatic scene and it was a great scene to film.
Jules: Over the years, there have been a lot of interpretations of mermaids. You have Disney’s classic Ariel, the H20 mermaids and a few more. Siren follows along a much darker story-line, like the stories of sailors who were lured to their death by their songs. Before being on the show, how did you envision mermaids?
Rena: Definitely Little Mermaid style. That is what excited me most about the show. Our mermaids are very beautiful, exotic and enticing. The fact that they are top-level predators is incredible. When I thought about it, I realized that mermaids would have to be top-level predators. They have to hunt and eat. They’ve got to compete with sharks and other deep sea creatures. You don’t mess with our mermaids! (laughs) But I really do think that is what makes our show unique. We don’t have the typical ‘Ariel’ mermaids – they’re very different!
Jules: What is your favorite part about playing Helen Hawkins?
Rena: I get to be eccentric! (laughs) I love playing the ‘odd ball’. Maddie calls Helen ‘the town crazy’, but she is so much fun to play because she is so eccentric and unique! I recently took on a military role, which is a lot of being serious a lot of the time. Helen is completely different – she is a lot of fun. It’s not every day that you get to play that kind of a character. I am really hoping that we get to do multiple seasons, because I would absolutely love to keep playing Helen!
Jules: One thing I love about the show is the relationships between the characters, especially between Helen and Ryn. How do you think Helen relates to the mermaid species? She seems to think of them as more than ‘just mermaids’. They truly mean something to her!
Rena: Yes! One of my favorite scenes was with Ryn and Helen, like I mentioned earlier. It was such a moving and touching scene. It was beautiful and I love all my scenes with Ryn, however, I can’t tell you that just yet! It is a secret! (laughs). But I can tell you that Helen is obsessed with mermaids and that is correct, her obsession is quite different. Helen is a believer. The title episode talks about every town having a tale, and every town having a believer. Helen is that believer. She has always been a believer! You’ll find out why soon though – you’ll find out more and more with each episode!
Jules: In addition to Siren Season 2 (hopefully) are there any other projects that you are working on that we can look forward to?
Rena: Yes, I just finished an indie film called Escape and Evasion, and in that film, I played a Major – Major Pennyshaw. I enjoyed playing this character. She was totally the opposite of playing Helen. As a Major, I was completely poker faced. You have to be emotionally detached, being in the military. It was a fantastic project to work on, and I loved it! Hopefully, that film will come out before the end of the year or early next year!
The season finale for Siren airs on May 17th, 2018 on Freeform. Be sure to check it out, and see Rena in action!