Women are at the pinnacle of utilizing their inner badass – meaning that on-screen female characters are doing much more than just embodying a stereotypical damsel-in-distress. I recently connected with strong and confident female personas while watching the hit Netflix series, Warrior Nun, where the magnificent female-lead cast encourages viewers to hone the same type of spunk in their everyday lives. On-screen and off-screen badass, Toya Turner, plays the fierce role of Shotgun Mary, a vigilante who fights human criminals as freely as she does monsters. Gruff and hard-edged - she wears sunglasses and leather jackets, swears, smokes, rides a motorcycle, and fancies a shotgun. In this exclusive interview, Toya Turner details her experience working on the hit Netflix series, her deep-rooted connection with the cast, and how she embraced various stunt-work while shaping Shotgun Mary’s fierce persona.
Megan Morgante: Was there ever a particular moment when you knew you wanted to pursue acting as your career path?
Toya Turner: Yes. It was dark, warm, wet. A sudden burst of light. An intense pressure like I had never felt before as a figure dressed in white pulled me out of my mother’s womb slapping me on the bottom.
MM: Wow, so very early on (laugh-out-loud)! Can you give an overview of your past in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
TT: I started doing theatre in Chicago and decided I wanted to pursue it as a career. I applied for the British American Drama Academy's conservatory at Oxford University, which changed my life not only as an artist, but a woman too. I came back to the states and booked a lot of TV in the city like Empire and Chicago Fire. Small roles, but I really appreciated each experience. Then, I got an opportunity to work out of state in Arkansas in Lynn Nottage's beautiful play, Intimate Apparel. Maybe it was the seclusion and quiet of Fayetteville that helped me center myself, but after that production was over, I knew this was my moment to finally give Hollywood a go! I booked Ruth in Lorraine Hansberry’s, A Raisin in the Sun, and the director's manager saw me perform. He signed me and the first audition he sent me was, Warrior Nun.
MM: As a Jamaican-American actress, have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career?
TT: Unfortunately, yes. Just like many other black actors I know. There was a time earlier in my career, before this beautiful wave of diversity and inclusivity, where most of the audition opportunities that came my way were for roles like addicts, prostitutes, and mothers of slain sons. And that's all I saw for a long time. Don't get me wrong, those stories deserve to be told and I don't shy away from telling them, but I know that the stories of black people, black women, in particular, are so much more than a handful of sad, oversaturated tropes. I want to play a queen, an action hero, a woman who is finding her way, and many other characters whose complexity and humanity deserve to be shared with integrity when portrayed on screen. And don't even get me started on the hair. We can talk about that one when you have more time.
MM: What was it like to be a part of the hit Netflix series, Warrior Nun?
TT: It was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. I had two options: sink or swim.
MM: When you were initially introduced to the script, what attracted you to audition for your character, Shotgun Mary?
TT: Honestly, I was looking for my introduction into this industry, so I was auditioning for anything that came my way. However, I'm so happy it turned out to be this role. Shotgun Mary. The name. That name is hard! The role reminded me so much of Stagecoach Mary, who I used as one of my inspirations for the role. She was a formerly enslaved woman who became a route carrier for the postal service and she used a rifle for protection. Also, shout out to the USPS. Buy stamps. Keep it alive.
MM: Mary is the definition of an absolute badass. How did you prepare for that role?
TT: I worked with my acting coach to create who she was before page one. Then, I wrote a journal for her and made video diaries in character, and constantly built on those as production continued. I also trained with the stunt/fight team, learning Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts skills. Then tactical training with the Sister Warriors, motorcycle training, and weapons training for the dual shotguns, which are heavy as hell. All of these things helped shape a complex, nuanced, Shotgun Mary.
MM: The cast is filled with strong, dynamic female characters; do you feel the industry needs to be more progressive in terms of highlighting a multitude of powerful, female personifications?
TT: Absolutely! I do. There is more representation of women and more diversity than we've seen before, but we've only scratched the surface. There's a lot more work to be done.
MM: The chemistry between the cast throughout the series was undeniable. What was your experience like working with such incredible women?
TT: I'm so lucky. I felt lucky and honored to be working with such a giving and kind cast. From Lorena Andrea (Sister Lilith) who is like the sister I never had, to Sylvia De Fanti (Mother Superion) who is the sweetest, despite the cane she slaps around on the show. The universe really came through because we didn’t have screen tests since things moved so quickly. So we really were lucky, and I'm so appreciative.
MM: If there was one thing you would want viewers to take away with them after watching, Warrior Nun, what would it be?
TT: That women, no matter their age, race, or sexual orientation are powerful. Just like the badass women on Warrior Nun, they can do anything.
MM: Was there anything, in particular, your character, Shotgun Mary, taught you throughout the storyline?
TT: Shotgun Mary helped me to find my own strength. She reminded me how to use my voice and speak my truth. She doesn’t fuck around, you know? She reminded me of my capabilities and how I should move in this world as my authentic self and nothing less.
MM: Do you have any hobbies you enjoy partaking in when you’re not acting?
TT: Currently, it's whatever my heart wants. I actually started pole dancing, which has been so much fun, and so difficult! But these arms are going to be on beast mode come Season 2 (fingers crossed). I started painting again too. Sooooo relaxing. And singing. Which has helped me find my voice more ways than one. And I’m writing again, which has been so good for me. I'm happy to be back at it.
MM: If you weren’t pursuing acting, what would you aspire to do?
TT: Preparing for the next Olympics in gymnastics probably. Or a lawyer. Yeah, a lawyer like Elle Woods.
Photography by: Antar Hanif
Hair by: Tiffany Daugherty
Makeup by: Aaron Paul
Styled by: Philippe Uter