Serinda Swan takes on "hairy" role in "Inhumans"

Serinda Swan has become well aware of the challenges that face an actor when they take on a new role, from playing the pagan god Veritas on “Supernatural” to the tough DEA agent on “Graceland.” All of the obstacles the Canadian actress dealt with in previous jobs pale compared to the massive amount of demands put on her to portray Medusa in the latest comic book inspired TV show, “Marvel’s Inhumans.”

The series, scheduled to debut on ABC at 8 p.m. Sept. 29, got some early exposure as the first two episodes were combined into a feature film that were shown at IMAX theaters earlier this month.

“Marvel’s Inhumans” explores the story of the Inhumans who have been leaving a peaceful life on the moon for centuries. They are ruled by Black Bolt (Anson Mount), a leader who has the power to wipe out an entire army with a single whisper, and his wife, Medusa. Members of the royal family must escape to Earth when there’s a military coup.

For Swan to play Medusa, there’s the basic acting elements of deciding how the character should walk and talk, a task complicated because the Medusa of comic book lore has a nearly floor-length locks that she can use like an extra pair of arms or legs. Much of her super powers are created after the filming with computer wizardry.

“I think there was software that had to be built for it. There were definitely days shooting in Hawaii with a four pound, red wig down to my shins that felt like a very warm cat snuggling my head, one that I was probably allergic to, where one gust of wind went from real cute to an emergency,” Swan says. “It was interesting because you feel kind of Cher-like and fabulous, but then it also changes her stature. You actually hold yourself differently.”

The wig is so heavy that if Swan doesn’t stand perfectly straight, her head gets pulled backwards. She also had to be careful around other actors because a simple hug would turn into the pair getting tangled together.

Swan laughs and says she missed the day in acting class where they taught how to make it look like your hair was throwing punches and grabbing people. Her trick was to stand in front of a mirror and work out how she should look on “angry hair day” or “bad hair day.” That prep work was even more important because of the IMAX run where every strand of hair and every look will be larger than life.

Hair care was just one area of concern. As she has done with all her past TV and film roles, Swan would spend the night before filming learning her lines. The extra demand of “Inhumans” is that Medusa is the translator of what Black Bolt can only say with his hands so she also had to learn what would have been Mount’s lines if his character could speak without causing so much damage.

Even being the translator was more complicated than if she had been in a scene with someone who was using American Sign Language. The Inhumans have been bouncing around on the moon, so Black Bolt has his own unique way of speaking with his hands. And the hand movements Mount is using to deliver his lines aren’t just random gyrations; he figured out a distinct language where certain movements translate to specific words or phrases. Mount filmed the movements each night and sent them to Swan so her translations would be in line with what he’s supposed to be saying.

“This is a beautiful thing of getting the videos and making sure that as I’m talking out of my peripheral vision, I can see him signing, and we’ve matched them up, perfect timing,” Swan says. “So if you do have a linguist out there that loves this sort of stuff, you’ll notice that the words actually match, the timing matches. You’ll see the same words. You’ll see the same signs.

“It was really important to make sure that I could actually go out there and say it on time because we built the relationship, sort of, that Medusa and Black Bolt had much longer to do in a very short period of time.”

The other test for Swan was how to make Medusa more than just a loving wife who tags along to be a communicator. During the audition, Swan had no idea she was testing for a super hero role, but once she got the actual first script, there was no doubt in her mind this was a role she had to play no matter what was thrown at her.

Swan’s research into the character – who first appeared in the pages of Marvel comics in 1965 (19 years before Swan was born) – showed her that Medusa has always been about change going from bad to good to bad again. That shifting history was never seen by Swan as a negative but just that Medusa has lots of layers.

“That’s what makes her and all the Marvel characters so timeless. You get to see all the sides of these perfectly flawed characters,” Swan says.

Swan was told not to try to bring every nuance of Medusa she discovered through researching the role to this performance. There are as many aspects to Medusa as hairs on her head and Swan knows that kind of character complexity would end up being confusing. Instead, she focused on essential elements for the eight episodes ABC has ordered for the first season. That means keying in on being a wife, ruler and hero.

But Swan won’t let that take away from how she wants Medusa to come across to both fans of the comics and those who have no knowledge of the Marvel Universe.

“What I like about Medusa is that she’s so powerful. She is awesome,” Swan says. “One of the things is, she stands alone. She’s not just the interpreter but challenges Black Bolt when she doesn’t agree with him. If she gets left out of decision making, you will see her challenge him and say, that ‘this is not what I’m here for.’

“She’s strong and flawed and brilliant and I think she’s confused at times. Marvel does such a great job of showing the duality of a character.”

All of this goes into the long list of challenges that faced Swan in taking on the rule of Medusa. It’s been more work than any other acting job she’s done but Swan is extremely happy with getting to be part of the expanding world of Marvel in television and films.

“I’ve always wanted to be a super hero and what better place than with Marvel,” Swan says flashing a huge smile. Her hair doesn’t move.

 

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