Interview – Hellcats’ Emma Lahana
– by Shawn Conner
When Emma Lahana arrives for our interview, the 27-year-old New Zealand native chats briefly with the (male) barista, whom she obviously knows. At this Yaletown coffee shop, one of her favourites, she’s just another customer, not Charlotte Monroe from the filmed-in-Vancouver CW cheerleader drama Hellcats.
The actress, who retains a trace of her kiwi accent, has also been in the movies Dear Mr. Gacy as the girlfriend of a young man who is obsessed with serial killer John Wayne Gacy, as well as the 2008 Canadian indie Girlfriend Experience (not to be confused with the 2009 Steven Soderbergh film with Sasha Grey, The Girlfriend Experience.) Lahana was also on a few seasons of the Power Rangers TV series, which led to an appearance at the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con (more on that later).
When we meet, she’s carrying a book with her: current bestseller The Help, which she was reading for her book group. Other recent book obsessions include Same Kind of Different as Me and One Day, a movie version of which is currently filming in London with Anne Hathaway. That book covers two characters’ relationship over the course of 20 years. This led us to a discussion of the range of ages Lahana has played.
Shawn Conner: What is the range of ages you’ve played? You’re playing someone who’s 19 or 20 in Hellcats?
Emma Lahana: Yeah, I’m still playing school. When I audition for older characters I have to remember, “Oh right, I have to consider this character has a job.” And all the proms I’ve ever been to have been fake, TV proms.
SC: So you’re an expert on TV proms.
EL: Yeah. Only they seem to last three days. It’s funny, I’ll play a school scene and then I’ll go home and there’ll be bills to pay and other adult things to do.
SC: So where are you at now filming Hellcats?
EL: We have wrapped season one and we’re waiting to see if we’re picked up. There are two more episodes to air.
SC: Do you get together with friends to watch it every week?
EL: We missed the first ten minutes of it last night because of the [Vancouver] Canucks going into over-time. I’m so bad with regularly watching a show, I’ll usually buy a boxed set and watch it that way. I enjoy it though – it’s cool to be on something you enjoy watching.
SC: I have to admit I haven’t seen it. But I probably will see Dear Mr. Gacy. Now what’s the story on that.
EL: It was independent so we didn’t know what was going to happen with it. We were hoping it was going to go into theatres but it didn’t, but all the reviews said it should have. It’s really funny because people in the industry will still bring the script up. Actually the girl who wrote it [Kellie Madison] is my best friend. That’s how we got to know each other. She’s very into dark things. She’s doing one right now about OCD. But yeah, that script – it was such an interesting thing to shoot and being on set because it was a true story, and it’s hard to imagine these things really happened.
SC: Did you try to find out as much as you could about the main character’s girlfriend as you could?
EL: She’s a fictional character.
SC: Really? This guy who wrote regularly to a serial killer didn’t have a girlfriend?
EL: [laughs weakly] Well he was married. Not at the time, but he ended up being married. But, I mean, you know, he committed suicide.
Clark Peterson, who produced Monster, and Kellie Madison, who wrote the script, had been trying to make this movie for years. Jason Moss, who wrote the book it’s based on, had given them permission, and Kellie had spoken to him many times. It was already to go then in 2004 June Jason‘s lawyer called and said “We’re putting a hold on it because Jason’s committed suicide.” From what I heard he had a fascination with serial killers and people think maybe he had tendencies of it himself.
SC: So why are you in Vancouver instead of Los Angeles?
EL: An ex-boyfriend. I was living in the States. We worked together in New Zealand, then I was living between New York and L.A. and came to visit him here and thought “Oh my God, I need to live here.” I knew I wanted to live here from the drive from the airport to downtown. There are familiarities between Canada and New Zealand that might have made it an easy transition, but I instantly felt drawn here.
SC: And you’ve been able to maintain your career up here – Hellcats films up here. But you fly down to L.A. for auditions.
EL: If there’s something worth flying down for. Or I’ll send a tape.
SC: Superman: Man of Steel‘s going to be filming here. Will you go out for auditions for that?
EL: It depends if you’re in the right category for the auditions. It’s cool some AMC shows are starting to film in Canada, like The Killing, which they filmed here, and Hell on Wheels in Calgary. It’s about the Civil War.
SC: You were in Girlfriend Experience – the other Girlfriend Experience. That must have thrown everyone for a loop – two movies with the same title coming out at nearly the same time.
EL: I couldn’t believe it. Ours came out first! I remember talking to Ileana Pietrobruno, who made the one I was in, about it and she said yeah, but there was nothing we could do about it. I guess they had a much bigger budget.
But that film for me was probably the best experience filming, ever. Because [co-star] David James Lewis I think is brilliant. And what was so amazing about it was, the whole crew was probably five people. So you don’t have all the distractions. It made it feel so real, it was cathartic. It was like an actor’s dream.
And it was an interesting concept. Ileana anonymously spoke to a bunch of johns, which gave her the idea for it. So many of them wanted to talk about their experiences. In New Zealand, prostitution is decriminalized, and I met a prostitute once in a nail salon and I had such an interesting conversation with her. She completely changed my idea of it. She was completely together. She made so much money. She owned this investment property, she had her work apartment and the one she lived in. And she seemed completely unfazed by it. And I was like what do you do when someone shows up who you don’t want to be intimate with? And she was like, “I’m just like you, I have to act like I do. I have to make him think I want him.”
SC: Okay, I think that’s all my questions… wait. I can’t let you go without asking about going to the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con. That was for Power Rangers. What was that like for you?
EL: It’s funny. I was semi-removed from Power Rangers. It was a job. As great an experience as it was, I wasn’t artistically driven to be on it. And I remember sitting on a panel and people would ask, “In episode this, this happens, and…” And I would be like “I don’t know, I don’t remember that.” ‘Cos it became so repetitive, every show it would be like “Oh, we’re at school, everything’s awesome,” and then somebody attacks us. And it was fine, I made some great friends and as an actor I’m grateful for every job. It’s ebb and flow.
But it was really interesting, I’d never experienced anything like it. It kind of made me appreciate it more, when you see what it means to some people. You’re not really aware of that when you’re shooting in Auckland and everyone’s laughing at what you’re doing. But I heard from people who said, “I was really depressed and the show helped me through a really hard time in my life.”
At Morphicon [a Power Rangers convention] there was a kid with the Make a Wish Foundation who was suffering from cancer. And his family said he was so sick and he was struggling so much and they’d put the show on and his face would light up. And you don’t really think about that when you’re getting up at 5 in the morning to go to work. It was like “Wow, it’s so cool to be part of something that helps somebody.”