Laura Mennell is no stranger to the sci-fi genre but it’s her role in SyFy’s hit original series Alphas that has gained her an avid fanbase. Mennell plays psychic pusher Nina, a reluctant hero with a complicated past. She took some time to chat with us about her character’s dark side and what it’s like being an actress in the nerd world.
Nina’s complex character allows you to play a lot of layers. What do you find most fascinating about her?
Laura Mennell: I’m fascinated by the repercussions of having that much power and how it affects her personally. It’s interesting, fans will often say they’d love to have Nina’s ability, the freedom and satisfaction of getting everything they desire. Ultimately all of us would love to be able to alter certain situations for our own gain, taking the easy way out, having easy access to finer things in life. But there’s obviously a price to getting everything you want, and it can make one feel empty like it does with Nina. She also runs the risk of compulsively abusing her power, to the point where she becomes more out of control. And because of this, she’s been dangerous to the few people in her life who truly matter to her: It’s made her feel like a monster this season…she knows she’s dangerous and ultimately feels like she can’t be fully trusted. Consequently, she’s burdened with a lot of guilt.
Did anything about Nina (past or present behavior) surprise you when you read the script for this season’s episode “When Push Comes to Shove?
Mennell: I think “Push Comes to Shove” surprised me in general! It was a great episode written by Adam Levy, and there was definitely a lot to explore with Nina. I love the fact that Nina’s a little darker this season: she’s reverted back to her old behavior of overindulging in her ability, making some horrible choices and within those indulgences ultimately hurting those on her team–especially Rachel. I guess the biggest surprise for me in that episode was the make out scene between Nina and Rachel. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but then I embraced the idea when I thought more of the reasoning behind it. Nina knows how sensitive Rachel is to touch and how inexperienced and anxious she is about sharing any type of intimacy. Because Nina knows her so well, manipulating her in that way is pretty unforgivable. But it served its purpose, as the ultimate betrayal in braking ties with Rachel by hurting and humiliating her.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP
And it also allowed Nina to fully indulge in her “pushing” binge with her boyfriend from her past, Tommy…giving it the extra added intention of pleasing him, giving him a bit of a show. Nina’s need for Tommy’s affection is the only thing important in her life right now–in her mind. However delusional she might be, he’s the only one who loves her, is there for her, understands her. He helps fill the void of what Rosen and the team meant to her, and helps her forget about her troubled past that haunts her. Even though Nina resurrected her relationship with Tommy with her ability, she created a world that was very real for her. And Nina’s dominance over others like with Rachel, shows she’ll manipulate anyone for Tommy: In her mind that type of trick makes her special to him, gives her value.
And of course, I was shocked by Nina’s attempted suicide…I think my parents were too. I had family worried that I was out of a job when it hit to commercials right after her jump, but luckily Hicks was there in the nick of time.
How do you feel about the show moving on from the Nina/Hicks romance this season?
Mennell: Although I love having scenes with Warren Christie, who plays a wonderful Hicks… characters always change and evolve and that’s a good thing. Though I must say, Nina’s not necessarily over him and most likely won’t be for a while. But I loved where the writers took Nina this season. She had a great story arc that gave me a lot to play with–an edgier Nina lost in the compulsion of misusing her abilities, ultimately making horrible mistakes, hurting those she cares for and then having to redeem herself to them.
Sci-fi shows tend have rather rabid fan bases. I know you’ve been to Comic Con, so you’ve definitely experienced that first hand. As an actress, does that affect how you approach, or feel, about your work – knowing that the character you create matters so much to people?
Mennell: Experiencing an event like Comic Con and really seeing how much people love your character and show is wonderful because you see how much people really love what you do. So having firsthand experience with the fans doesn’t necessarily change the way I approach my work, but it fuels it with more excitement knowing I’ll be sharing something people want to see. I also found it really interesting to hear fans’ reactions to a darker Nina this year. A lot of people loved seeing an edgier side to her, making her more complex, while others seemed personally and morally upset by her behavior. Either way, I love that it stirs people up, making for more compelling television.
You’ve been in a couple nerd worthy television shows with parts on Eureka, Supernatural and even a role in the Watchmen film. You’ve said that your involvement in the genre is due largely to a lot of sci-fi shows being shot in Vancouver, where you live, but have all of these nerdy roles influenced your life at all? Do you ever find yourself gravitating toward geek culture?
Mennell: Am I a hard core sci-fi Nerd? Probably not, but I enjoy being a part of geek culture. Mostly because of the passionate sci-fi fans, they’re really like none other. They’re so committed to shows they love, proclaim it loudly at conventions, and are so loyal they stand in line forever just to meet you and get an autograph. I’ve also had many creative fans draw countless pictures of me, create Nina trading cards for me to sign as mementos, and I’ve been sent collages as well. In that way, fans have influenced me in feeling more at home in their world.
Nina is definitely a girl with an edge but we do see hints of her softer side, especially in regards to Rachel and Gary. Can you talk a little bit about her relationship with her team?
Mennell: I’ve always felt the Alpha team is really the first real sense of family Nina’s ever had…And with Rachel and Gary, Nina seems to play a bit of an older sister role to them–taking them under her wing, showing them the ropes. With Rachel, she’s tried to help her out of her shell a little, help her find her way, reminding her to believe in herself. And with Gary, she really has this soft spot for him in her heart…she loves that he calls it like it is, you always know what he’s thinking because he’ll tell you, good or bad…and he’s also just a sweet heart. He’s really the only reason Nina came back to the group at the beginning of Season 2: She couldn’t bear the thought of Gary being in danger.
Nina has a very different moral compass than the rest of her team, even in season one when she’s more reformed. She’s still ‘borrowing’ cars and apartments. She’s still a criminal. Do you think she’ll ever get to a point where she no longer uses her power for self-serving reasons?
Mennell: That’s a really good question. Unfortunately for Nina, her ability ties into that self-serving behavior that’s difficult for her to live without, it’s just second nature. This type of behavior has been a constant part of her life that has continued to steadily build since adolescence. It always fills a need, some emptiness inside her. She’s been trying her best to redeem herself to her Alpha team and also to herself right now. She’s only been using her power for good, and when off the job has kept it at bay. I think she could hold off for a while, maybe even stray from being as destructive with her abilities as she’s been this year, but cutting herself off completely, I don’t know if that’s possible because it’s so ingrained in her sense of self. Although, you never know. Maybe we’ll touch more on that in Season 3?
Nina’s a very guarded person. Do you think her power of mind control speaks to that at all? Do you think she uses her power to protect herself so that she truly never has to get close to anyone?
Mennell: Nina’s experienced the horror of what her ability can do, especially when she’s compulsively lost in her “pushing.” She’s dangerous when she becomes compulsive and feels responsible for the suicides of her father as well as her ex-boyfriend. Because of this, she’s allowed Rosen to help her gain control of herself and the negative effects of her pushing. And part of the reason she’s so guarded is to not only protect herself, but more importantly, others…because she’s dangerous and has a fear of hurting those who get too close.
Alphas airs Monday at 8/7c on SyFy.