Living the dream, young actress Nicole Munoz scored two plum roles in this past year: the role of Christie McCawley in Syfy’s alien-drama DEFIANCE and the role of Hermila in Netflix’s horror series HEMLOCK GROVE. In a recent exclusive interview, Nicole shared what it is like working on both series and offered a few teasers about where the Christie/Alak forbidden-romance is headed in DEFIANCE.
How does it feel to have DEFIANCE so quickly renewed for a 2nd season?
NICOLE: I haven’t seen the contracts yet, but we’re all pretty excited that the 2nd season got picked up. I just had my celebration dinner with my mom and we’re getting ready to see what’s in store.
What first drew you to DEFIANCE and the role of Christie?
NICOLE: When I first got the audition, I fell in love with the script. The pilot is nothing like any other pilot I’ve ever worked on. The amount of story behind every character, the plots, the twists, and character arcs are just incredible. There’s just so much detail in every character. And Christie, I fell in love with her. She’s so sweet and strong and at the same time she’s going through all the conflicts that every teenage girl would be going through’ yet she is such a mother in terms of taking care of her father and her brothers. She’s such a complicated character and it is such an honor to be able to play her.
In your mind, how do you see her? Who is Christie?
NICOLE: In my mind, Christie is young, she’s 17 and she’s very heart-broken. She’s lost her mother and she never really knew her mom. She can tell that has an effect on her father and she just lost her brother. The reality of it is that she’s lonely and she’s sad, but she masks it all so well. Yet she portrays this strong character. She puts on this façade, so interesting to play. She just has so much depth to her.
What is the one quality that you most admire about her?
NICOLE: Her bravery. She is such a brave girl. Not only how much heart it takes to be raised without a mom and to be okay with that and to basically raise her brothers, and then how brave she is to fall in love with a Votan. That’s never been done before. She knows it’s frowned upon. She knows society won’t accept it, yet she does it anyways. She’s just aching for that feeling of acceptance and love. She’s so incredibly brave. I could never do that.
What stood out for you as being the funnest part of filming the first season of DEFIANCE?
NICOLE: The cast. Honestly, everyone became such a family so quickly. I’ve never felt that way before with an ensemble cast before. It was incredible. At our first dinner everyone got together and introduced each other and we sat and talked and shared stories and just bonded. All of sudden it wasn’t 14 actors sitting at a table, it was a family and that feeling kept throughout the whole season. I really think that translates onto the screen. You can really tell the connection between Grant and Stephanie and then between Julie and Mia. You can really feel it and I think that really helps the series.
Since you are working with Graham Greene so much what has that experience been like?
NICOLE: Graham Greene is a legend. He’s such an honor to work with. He’s incredible. He’s so fatherly. I called him “dad” on set and we would share stories. Before scenes, I would sit in my cast chair, which was right beside his, so that we could go over our sides together, run lines, and we would discuss the characters. He even gave me acting tips — and it was incredible to get acting tips from Graham Greene. Then he’s so funny. He’s such a character. He always has a joke to crack and he’d lighten everyone’s day. But when it comes down to work, he’s there and he’s ready and his emotions are always spot on. It was just so incredible to work with him. You’re mind is blown every day.
How do you do a scene with someone like Graham where you may be a little intimidated?
NICOLE: I’m lucky ‘cause I’m playing his daughter and when we have a scene together it works because he really is an idol to me. It’s like with Christie and Rafe, Christie looks up him and I look up to Graham. It translates well and it works well.
Besides Graham, who did you find yourself working with the most?
NICOLE: I worked a lot with Jesse Rath and Justin Rain — and Jaime Murray. Jaime’s just incredible. She’s so sweet and so professional. When she plays Stahma, it’s a whole different person. It’s insane. There’s that scene in the second episode and I’m in the restaurant with her and she tells her story with Datak. We shot that so many times and there’s a lot of takes because there was always something outside, planes and trains going by, and we’d have to restart. But she never broke character. It was incredible to watch her transformation from Jaime Murray to Stahma Tarr. I was sitting right in front of her and I could see it. The way she uses her face, the way she moves her eyes, and her voice. She softens it a little bit. It was so incredible to witness someone else’s transformation. It’s really cool as an actor to be able to see that happen.
Jaime also seems like she would have a funny sense of humor when she’s not on screen.
NICOLE: Yes, she does. She’s really funny. She and Julie are like best friends and they would have little jokes. Jaime with her British humor! Half the jokes I didn’t understand. But she’s so cute and so sweet. She always had a way to lighten things on set and just make everything so happy. When she walks on set, the energy just changes. I can only say great things about Jaime. It’s incredible to work with her. She’s brilliant as an actor. I could never have guessed she could play such an evil character like Stahma because it is such a complete opposite from her true personality.
DEFIANCE uses quite a bit of green screen. Was that a challenge for you as a young actor?
NICOLE: The green screen was pretty hard for me at the beginning. I’d gotten used to it by episode 3 with the Hellbugs. But in the pilot with the Volge attack that was obviously all green screen and that was my first day shooting on set. I was so confused. They gave me a stick and said, “aim at that ‘X’ on the green wall over there and pretend that’s a giant robot.” I was so nervous ‘cause it was my first day on the series and I really didn’t want to screw up. Green screen takes a lot of creativity. You really have to imagine it and you have to get in that zone. Then you have to be on the same page as every other actor in that scene because you all have to make it believable. You all have to be reacting the same way. It’s like all our minds were working as one and we really made it work. Watching the scene in final edits I think we really pulled through and it worked out well.
What surprised you the most once you got to see what it looked like?
NICOLE: What actually surprised me the most were the Volge. That is not at all how I had them in my mind. I knew they were going to be giant robot kind of things, but I was thinking more Transformers. Obviously I was basing it on my knowledge and I had to imagine something, so I imagined that. Then I watched the series and it was “Wow!” Everything was incredible. And the mountain we were on, obviously we weren’t on a mountain, we were just on a little platform. So when I watched the show everything was just so incredible to watch. But I really learned that when you’re working with green screen your imagination just has to run wild, then the effects that they add in later will really complement that.
You also get to play one of the “heart” aspects of the show, playing half of the core romance. What has it been like to bring that to light?
NICOLE: It’s been fun. I like being that softer part of the show. There’s just so much violence, gangs and darkness in the show, so I really love how Christie is that little beam of light. Christie and Alak are just a cute couple that everyone is rooting for. We really hope that the Council in Defiance will accept human and Votan relationships. It’s really great to play that little gleam of hope for the town of Defiance.
Obviously the road to romance isn’t easy for Christie and Alak, so what can you tease may be upcoming for them?
NICOLE: There’s a lot of ups and downs for Christie and Alak. The thought that her father will not approve. The thought that the town will not approve. There’s a lot of fear behind their relationship. But then they love each other and they will do anything for each other. There’s just so much love there, yet there’s so much fear and it creates a lot of great conflict for future episodes.
What else should fans be looking forward to for the rest of the season on DEFIANCE?
NICOLE: They should be looking forward to a lot of interesting point of views with Alak Tarr – his point of view on their relationship versus Christie’s point of view. It’s two different things, but in the end they both love each other. Yet there’s a lot of conflict between Alak and Christie throughout the entire season. So will they pull through or will they not? Will they give in to love or will they give in to fear? It really plays out episode by episode. So you’ll just have to wait and see.
Then you also made a brief appearance in the new Netflix series HEMLOCK GROVE. Can you talk a little about that?
NICOLE: I played Hermila and she was this pregnant Mexican girl in jail and what happens is – SPOILER ALERT – she turns into a werewolf, then dies because her cellmate ends up killing her. But Hermila was such a cute character to play. She was such a sweet, wide-eyed girl, yet she was steely and tough on the inside. She was going to have a child and she really wanted to get out of jail. There’s no way she wants to have a child in jail. She’s doing everything she can to get out. So she’s very strong, yet she’s weak and she’s young and she’s scared. That was a really great character. So much inner conflict going on her and her mentality. It was really interesting to play. It was just so sad that it had to end so soon.
When you first read for an audition, did you know where that role was going to end up?
NICOLE: I didn’t know she was going to die. I didn’t know it was going to be such a gruesome ending, but I did know she was going to turn into a werewolf. Because in the scene that I read for the audition, it was the dialogue and then it was “something happens, she transforms and now she’s a werewolf.” So in the audition, I had to do my lines and then I had to show how I would transform on set. So I go into the room and I’m nervous thinking, “How am I going to do this?” I had watched YouTube videos on documentaries for wolves. I was trying to see how they moved and they walk and how their faces looked when they were hunting. Every little characteristic that I could find about wolves, I tried to put into that character. It was fun. So I went into the audition room and said my lines and then I was screaming in pain because I’m morphing into a wolf. Then by the end of it, I’m on all fours and scratching at the carpet and I’m just crazy-eyed and I’m a wolf. Its nuts but I was into it and when the director called, “Cut!” I was like, “I hope that went well otherwise that would have been really embarrassing.” It was really tough, but it was really fun to do. As an actor, that’s what we do. We do transformations and it’s so much fun to play around with. It’s not very often that people get to be wolves. It was insane. I really liked it. I just wish I could have been a wolf a little bit longer, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
Hermila had such a violent ending. It was not what you expected coming out of that transformation scene.
NICOLE: Exactly. I know, it was nuts. But playing a werewolf was incredible. That animal work was so much fun to do. The eye contacts and then prosthetics and fake nail and the teeth. I had these orthodontics put in to be molded for my mouth. The whole thing was incredible. It was really cool to have that transformation. As an actor, we transform from person to character, but I had never done person to animal and that was really interesting. I absolutely loved it. I hope to do more of that kind of stuff in my career.
If you have not already checked out the gory, but thrilling HEMLOCK GROVE, all 13 episodes are currently available on Netflix – and Nicole’s transformation scene is truly awesome to behold. Then to see more of the Christie/Alak blossoming romance in DEFIANCE, new episodes air Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. on Syfy.
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