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Interview: Rena Owen

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Currently airing its second season, Freeform’s series Siren has become a breakout hit for the network. One of the reasons for the success of the series is the work of actor Rena Owen.

The New Zealand born actor, trained at the Actors Institute in London, would go on to do some fabulous work in British theater in productions like Voices From Prison for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Co-Existences for the Elephant Theatre. Rena also wrote and starred in Te Awa i Tahuti (The River That Ran Away), which had a successful London tour and was later published by NZ Playmarket in 1991.

She starred as Taun We in George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Nee Alavar in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. She’s only one of six actors who have worked with both Speilberg and Lucas.

On the small screen, she recently appeared in the Seth McFarlane series Orville. She’s also appeared in series such as Longmire, The Straits, Prison Break and The Red Road.

Today, we talk with the veteran actor about her character Helen in Siren, her embracement of social media and what fans can look forward to with the second season of Siren.

Pop Culture Principle – Siren has connected with fans and critics right out of the gate. Have you been surprised by the series quick popularity?

Rena Owen – Here’s the thing, you work on these things and you get an instinct about things, but you can never count on it. At the end of the day, it’s an audience’s prerogative, so you can’t take it for granted. I remember one of my early films in the mid-90s, I felt very strongly that what we were doing was really significant and had the potential to really off and it did. It’s like the director said at the time, you just never know and you can’t count on it.

It’s obvious that you are very happy when you work on something that does resonate with people and that’s what every actor wants. You want to be on a show or in a film that does very well. There are two words that I always base my choices as an actor on. Those two words are originality and uniqueness. I’ve never seen this story before and it was one hundred percent original. Siren has great writers, a great cast and crew, but it’s one of those shows that you have to keep keeping it real, even though there is a lot of fantastical stuff in the show. You have to keep it rooted in the real world in order for people to identify with the show.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you think Siren deals with a lot of the issues that we see in our world today?

Rena Owen – I think something that the show has done very well without getting on a soapbox or waving a political flag, there has always been a lot of parallels and storylines to what’s going on in the world. With the first episode of Season 2, we get a bunch of mermaids who come to land and they are basically refugees and they need to be hidden and taken care of. That’s the other thing that made a big difference is that the whole story and concept was based on a very real environmental issue with seabeds being stripped of everything. It means that mermaids and mermen have to swim closer to the surface to find food and in doing so, sister Donna gets caught in the net and that’s what brings Ryn to land.

Pop Culture Principle – Why do you think this show resonates with the fanbase?

Rena Owen – The show has an interesting bunch of leading characters. Each of the five main characters resonates with a different section of society, so I think our show caters to a lot of people. I remember in the early days thinking that Siren reminded me a little bit of Grimm.

I don’t watch a lot of television, but that was one show that I would watch on a regular basis. There were similarities in terms of your core group of characters and then the two who owned the shop and had the remedies and knew the history. I really enjoyed that series and was kind of sad when it was canceled.

Pop Culture Principle – Can you talk a little bit about Eline Powell playing the character of Ryn?

Rena Owen – If our leading lady did not work, if she was not believable or lovable, the show would not work. She is amazing and this is the role she was born to play. She is our Ryn. She’s an extremely popular character and rightly so, she’s fantastic.

Pop Culture Principle – How have you enjoyed playing the role of Helen?

Rena Owen – I would love to do a Season 3 of Siren. I have played a lot of characters in my thirty plus year career. Helen is at the top of that list because she’s just such an interesting, fascinating character and I have such a good time with her. I wanted a character that I was right for just the way I am. A character where I didn’t have to freeze my face and a character were, I could keep my eccentricities. Just a character that I could gel with and enjoy playing.

Pop Culture Principle – Looking back at the first season, is there a scene or an episode that stands out for your character?

Rena Owen – Oh gosh, there were so many moments. First, going back to the pilot, reading the script, but I thought to myself that this character has a mermaid history and she could be part mermaid. The way she carried herself and that moment of instant recognition she had with Ryn and then what she goes on to tell Ben about his ancestors. Also, her shop is full of mermaids. For me, that moment when we first saw each other, I’ll never forget shooting that moment. A lot of fans picked up on the fact that Helen might be a mermaid.

There are so many standout moments, I can’t really identify one, isolated standout. If I had to choose one, it would be the scene at the graveyard when she takes them to her family’s burial ground and shares with Ben and Maddie that she is 1/8 mermaid. I remember the day we shot the scene and it was pretty amazing shooting that scene. When we shot that scene, it was almost a three-page monologue but was cut down to accommodate for television commercials.

Pop Culture Principle – Although the core of the series is the main three characters, the writers have done an excellent job giving many of the characters of Siren their time to shine in the series. Would you agree with that?

Rena Owen – Absolutely and even more so in Season 2. Our trio of Ben, Maddie and Ryn will always be the central storyline in this world. My character and Xander also get our own storylines as well and there are some juicy storylines coming up for both of those characters.

What excites me for the audience with Season 2 is that many of the fans wanted to know about Helen and Helen’s life, so in this season, they will get to discover this world along with my character. We are getting all these fascinating new layers to explore with these characters.

We are getting some new interesting and recurring characters coming into Bristol Cove this season and I get to work with some really good actors, along with working with my beloved trio. The writers have done a fantastic job and everyone is getting their moments and everyone is getting their episode so to speak. Right before you called, I’m sitting here reading the final script for episode sixteen. Obviously, I can’t say anything, but I have one word for the Season 2 finale, EPIC!

Pop Culture Principle – Before Ryn showed up, it must have been very hard and very lonely for Helen not to have anyone to talk with about who she truly was. Would you agree with that?

Rena Owen – Yes. Helen has been on her own for a long time. She’s had a very lonely life. She’s probably questioned herself a lot too because she’s always been a believer. It’s such a stunning moment for her when she first sees Ryn because it’s literally a confirmation of her entire life and she’s not mad, it’s validation. She is eccentric and she is an enigma and she’s had to hide this secret and live this private life. She hasn’t been able to share this world with anyone and finally, she has someone she can talk to about who she truly is. It’s been a great storyline that Helen discovers that she’s got family.

Pop Culture Principle – How have you enjoyed interacting with the fans on social media and how important has that aspect been for the success of the show?

Rena Owen – For a long time, I was very hesitant about doing social media because I’ve always been a very private person, but Siren helped me crossover. This is the new technology of the world we live in and I thought to myself that I had to make an effort to embrace it.

I guess I was a little scared because I thought people would be mean and nasty and really that has never happened. Fans are really genuinely happy that you like their comments or take the time to reply to them. Back in the day for me, we did press junkets. We traveled around and talked to different journalists in the room and our things came out in the magazines and newspapers, but now, it’s all on the internet. If my grandmother could embrace the television, why can’t I embrace the iPhone and social media? I now see social media as part of my job these days.

I think it’s why I do Instagram more now rather than Facebook. I found with Facebook that I end up watching videos and reading articles and before you know it, half a day has gone by. The good thing about Instagram, I can do a post, share it to Twitter and Facebook, look at a few photos and get off.

It’s the world we live in and I’ve enjoyed being on social media. You get to see the fans who have followed you for a long time. I’ve got quite a cult following as well with fans from Warriors and Star Wars. I feel blessed to still be a working actor and working on such a great show like Siren.

Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the second season of Siren?

Rena Owen – You’ve already seen that Helen has found a family member, so obviously, that is going to go places. We have a new group of merpeople and that is going to lead places. You’ve already seen the trio kind of slowly but surely come back together again. Will they shift one way or the other way? The outcome of that is something that the audience can look forward to. I can’t wait for the fans to see how the second season of Siren plays out. Stay tuned!

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A huge thank you to Rena Owen for chatting with us about all things Siren! You can catch new episodes of the series Thursdays at 8pm/7c on Freeform. If you would like to catch up with all of Rena's latest news and projects, you can visit her official website here and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @RenaOwen.

**All Siren photos courtesy of Freeform/Ed Herrera/David Bukach/Vu Ong**

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