Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a British born dual Canadian citizen, living in California, although I move around a lot! I’m an actor and voiceover artist, most recently I’ve been playing Eliza Barry in three seasons of the Netflix show Anne with an E. In my spare time I love reading, dancing and hiking, not usually at the same time.
How did you first get into acting?
I was basically an exhibitionist as a kid. I think it all started with the little Christmas themed plays we would do at my preschool. I started telling people I wanted to be an actor when I was three years old. I would perform full-length one-woman shows for my family at all our gatherings. Failing that, I would record them on cassette tapes and make everyone sit and listen. Oh dear!
How did your time at Mountview Academy of Dramatic Arts help you evolve into the actress you are today?
Oh, in so many ways. Overall it taught me that you need to be ready for anything. Many kinds of directors, many styles of work, many different ways to play a character or say a line. Mountview also had us singing, dancing, doing stage combat, amongst other things the industry might ask us to do. In my time at Mountview I focused especially on Shakespeare and Chekhov. Then it was Shakespeare, Shaw and other classics that I sought out after school. The very detailed study of language I did in that time has affected my approach to film and TV for sure. I’m always looking for clues as to a character’s intentions in their syntax and vocabulary, even their punctuation. Plus I’ve ended up doing quite a few period pieces.
What can you tell us about your character Mrs. Eliza Barry on Anne With An E for those that haven’t seen the show?
Eliza is the mother of Anne’s best friend Diana, and her younger sister Minnie May. I would say she is a loving and devoted but somewhat nervous parent, who worries about her family’s social standing. She is concerned about Anne having a negative influence on Diana. But whilst Anne makes many mistakes, she also keeps proving herself as a helpful, kind and intelligent person, so she is hard for Eliza to resist.
What does Season 3 have in store for Eliza?
The teenagers in the show have matured since season two. Anne is turning 16, and together with the characters around her, she is working out where she fits into an adult world. They are all thinking through whether they want careers and what they want them to look like, who they are attracted to, how to handle their attractions, how to relate to their parents. In the case of The Barrys – as with the other households- its fair to say it’s a fractious time!
You also have an animated feature coming up called, “Charlotte”. What can you tell us about your role in that feature?
This is going to be a beautiful film about a German-Jewish painter, Charlotte Salomon, and her life in Europe before and during the Second World War. It’s based on a true story and is directed by Bibo Bergeron (A Monster in Paris, Shark Tale) whose movies I love. I voice a couple of characters in it. You’ll have to wait and see when it comes out!
You’ve had some voiceover roles in video games like “The Division” and “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate”. How did you approach those roles compared to a traditional acting role?
Working in video games is SUCH fun. I did mocap as well as voice on these projects. For me, mocap feels a bit like doing theatre, which I love. You rehearse everything rather precisely, then because of the way the animators need to capture all the data from your movements, you have to perform the scene perfectly in one take. You sometimes get to play characters you wouldn’t play in real life, because it’s about how you sound and move, not how you look, so there is a bit more flex in casting. For the most part though, the approach is still the same. The writing in video games is becoming more nuanced, and the thing I hear most often from cinematics directors at Ubisoft is that they want a natural performance. The only thing, I suppose, is that in games the stakes are often higher. Usually, everyone is about to die!
Are you interested in taking on more video game roles in the future?
100 percent. I’d love to play an accomplished general. Or a seriously dysfunctional baddie.
What’s next for your career?
I have a few projects soon to be released, and now that we have finished shooting Anne I’m auditioning again. I’d love to do a well-plotted cop show. Something like Line of Duty or True Detective.
What advice would you have for aspiring actors/actresses?
My first piece of advice is that if you want to go to drama school (which I believe can be an important career investment), you pick a full-time program with an excellent track record, that will guarantee you a lot of industry exposure – many shows, good connections with casting directors and agents. Really ask the school questions about this, and get lists of recent showcase attendees if you can. Then, be prepared to stick at it. When I went into the business I assumed I would know pretty quickly if I could “make it” or not, but for me, it hasn’t been like that. There are highs and lows all the time and you just have to be willing to endure them.
What’s your life like outside of acting?
Busy! I have a one-year-old (he was born between seasons two and three and is completely wonderful). It’s been tough to juggle filming with making sure he has what he needs, but we are making it work. When I get real downtime, you can generally find me walking with the baby and the dog somewhere sunny. Or if he’s napping then I’ll be reading a script or a book.
Tell us a little bit about your involvement with Youth Without Shelter.
They are an incredible charity that supports homeless youth in Toronto. They have emergency housing as well as programmes that help young people into schools and jobs. I have supported one of their big yearly fundraising events, Time4Change. The event sees students from schools across the city put together performing arts pieces and perform them in subway stations, raising money for the shelter and raising awareness about the problem of youth homelessness. https://www.yws.on.ca/
Let the readers know where to find you online.
Thanks guys! I’m on Instagram at helenjohns00