An unexpected, but much needed, piece of advice fell into my lap during my latest Zoom interview with the extraordinary actor and starlit, Miranda Raison. The phrase wasn’t particularly directed towards me, as she was simply answering an interview question, but her words of wisdom were duly noted. The phrase was presented as, “Don’t make your career your everything.” This golden slate of advice should not be taken lightly, as Miranda has perfectly demonstrated the art of mastering her craft while taking on several other ventures, (perfecting her French being one of them). While following her own advice and wearing several different hats, Miranda currently portrays Nellie Davenport, inspired by the real-life adaptation of Donaldina Cameron, in the hit Cinemax series, Warrior. In this exclusive interview, the lovely Miranda chatted with the NOEMI team regarding her role in the hit Cinemax series, her involvement in the twelve-hour reading of, The Odyssey by seventy-two British actors for the Jermyn Street Theatre, and advice she has for aspiring actors looking to break into the industry.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to pursue acting?
Miranda Raison: My mother was a newsreader and she used to take me to her studio. I was five, and they used to let me sit in her studio chair and pretend to put powder on me. It was the 80’s, everybody smoked, and it was all men. It was all cables, cigarette smoke, coffee, and a buzz. This didn’t necessarily make me think about acting at the time, but I remembered this exact feeling my first day on set.
MM: Can you give an overview of your past in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
MR: I was what you might call a bit of a problem child. I went to nine schools altogether and five different boarding schools. I never did anything completely outrageous or very interesting, but I did enough where the administration would sort of say, “...I think she would be happier somewhere else.” When I discovered theatre at school, it wasn’t an overnight fix, but it really changed everything. There was a class that I finally wasn’t trying to get out of and it was something I was good at. I had the most fantastic teachers in this class, and they were like, “...You need to do this as a career.” I then went on a very straight path as I finished school a year early and attended drama school when I was still just seventeen. From there, I had a very smooth route from drama school, to getting an agent, to receiving my first job. I didn't actually hit a bump until I was about twenty-three, and I had a couple of really tough years, where I got lots of commercials, but no one wanted to hire me for anything of substance. I was then cast in the Woody Allen film, Match Point. Even though it was a small role, I was sort of part of the main family. The film got a lot of buzz because it was his first film in a long time, so from there I began to receive quite a few offers for jobs.
MM: What is it like to be a part of Cinemax’s series, Warrior?
MR: My audition piece was an introduction to Nellie Davenport, where she talks about her husband who has died, and the speech was so shocking, but it wasn’t written to shock. It was my first experience on a big set, and it was like walking into Deadwood meets Westworld, and I loved it. The huge streets they built were amazing, and even the horse sh*t and straw were authentic. It was an incredible thing to join and the cast was amazing. I’ve joined shows before, and sometimes it can be a bit of an intimidating experience because people already have their own cliques, but it wasn’t like that at all. Everyone was very welcoming.
MM: As of late, female characters are so much more than just a damsel-in-distress. What is it like to portray the strong, independent female character, Nellie Davenport?
MR: One of the most extraordinary things about Nellie, is that she is based on this real woman, Donaldina Cameron, who was known as the white devil of Chinatown. She rescued the child prostitutes from the brothels and put them to work, so ‘rescue’ may be a controversial word to use. However, she very much encouraged them to live a pure life.
MM: What can we expect to see from your character, Nellie, in season two?
MR: Nellie is continuing to rescue these girls from the brothels, and in the show, the girls are depicted as fourteen or fifteen years old, but in reality, the girls who were rescued were about eight or nine years of age. Nellie already has the officials of the town on her side, as she’s a wealthy, white widow who has some clout. However, she’s also someone who they are equally bothered by, as she kicks up a stink. Throughout the storyline, she embarks on this love affair with Ah Toy [Olivia Cheng], where they share these adventures together and I think Ah Toy is the first person who's really sort of been her equal. Nellie is gay but we feel that is not her first relationship with a woman so this is ground she’s walked on before. Whereas for Ah Toy, this is her first love affair with someone of the same sex. Nellie also speaks Cantonese, which I was so happy about. Mind you, it was not easy learning the language, but it was great.
MM: If there was one thing you would want viewers to take away with them after watching, Warrior, what would it be?
MR: Never judge a book by its cover. Every character in this show goes somewhere unexpected and every one is based in reality. So, you don’t just have the Kung Fu guy, or the white, bitchy aristocrat; all of the characters have deeper storylines. I think it's important to really let yourself imagine that you're there with the characters.
MM: Where do you tend to draw your inspiration from when preparing for a new role?
MR: It's not a particularly arty or noble answer, but the first thing I do before I start a job is create a mood board to capture the look. When I arrived in Cape Town, the team had already done their mood boards according to the time period. For me, it’s important to have the right boots, the right hat, the right corset - it’s about the overall materials. There's something about the hair and wardrobe, even in my own life, that if I’m wearing a smart look, it sets the tone and I’m much more comfortable in my own skin for the day. I don’t necessarily stay in character for the whole day but when you’re portraying someone like Nellie, even when you’re not in character, you can’t slouch because you’ve got whalebones from the corset sticking into your ribs so the overall look influences your behavior. It’s also about finding the rhythms. Olivia and I had a lot of scenes together, so for me, if you go into a scene with something fully prepared and there are two actors involved, it can be quite an obstacle. But Olivia was really lovely when it came to playing around with scenes.
MM: What advice would you give to younger actors looking to break into the industry?
MR: It would be the advice I was given. When I was given it, I wanted to punch anyone who offered it to me. The advice was, “...Don’t make it your everything.” Actors who have been around the block and who were very successful continuously told me, “...Have other interests, don’t make this your everything.” I always thought, “...Well, how can I not?” But, funnily enough, as soon as I had my daughter, I spent a year thinking that I wouldn't mind having a break but the jobs kept coming. Then I read, Yes Please, by Amy Poehler. In the book, she said, “...You have to treat the industry like a bad boyfriend. If you are desperately running after him, he’s not going to look at you. But, if you look at somebody else or give him less attention, he’ll want you.” I think that’s the advice I would give, both for mental health purposes and receiving work. Because, if it is your everything, then you are putting everything in the hands of something you can't control. That can be very destructive.
MM: Do you have any new or upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?
MR: The next concrete project that’s happening is a twelve-hour reading of The Odyssey by seventy-two British actors for the Jermyn Street Theatre over Zoom. Tom Littler, who's organizing the production says, “...We have to keep telling stories!” Until everything is really cranked up again, these will be the little projects that we’re all doing.
MM: Do you have any hobbies you enjoy partaking in when you’re not acting?
MR: My main hobby is language learning. My husband is French and we speak a lot of French in our home but I want to be able to discuss theology or deeper topics in the language. But I couldn’t read The Odyssey in French, let’s put it that way. That’s something I found especially valuable during this time because there’s something about learning and speaking another language, where whatever frame of mind you’re in, that uses a slightly different part of your brain. When I speak French, I’m much cooler than I am when I speak English. Some cliches of mine are that I’m a vegan, non-drinking, yoga mat-owning type of person.
MM: What does your everyday style look like?
MR: My best friend always refers to my style as, “walking the dog.” I also love denim, I’ve been known to sport the double denim or the Candian tuxedo. I love jeans with absolutely no stretch in them. No elastane, thank you very much. A French designer named Ines de la Fressange does a range for Uniqlo that’s completely affordable and completely gorgeous. My red carpet style, aspirationally, would be a sleek, black tuxedo. In terms of footwear, I like a chunky boot. I can't do heels, they hurt my Achilles. I can do a wedge or a block heel, but not a stiletto.
MM: Who is your ultimate style icon?
MR: Lauren Hutton in the late 70’s with a tan and a trench coat.
Photography by: Harry Livingstone
Makeup by: Alexis Day
Hairstyling by: Shukeel Murtaza