TV Interview: Shannon Esra – Lioness, Or An Exercise In Roar Emotion

February 20, 2021

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By BRUCE DENNILL

In M-Net series Lioness, Shannon Esra plays Samantha, a woman who loses her children, her lover and her freedom when she is framed for fraud committed by her husband before his death.

 

Can you distill what it is that you love about film or television acting particularly – over other types of performance such as theater? Are there aspects of the craft of acting that are different in front of a camera than when performing for a live audience?

I certainly can! Film and television performance hinges on authentic realness; being present and listening. The art of film and television acting is really, to “not act” – it’s the art of reacting and responding in a present state of being. Whereas theatre is, firstly, live, so if you make a mistake you don’t get a second shot. You need to roll with the punches, stay on your toes, be super-present and improvise your way around any errors in delivery or performance. Theatre performance is somewhat more heightened because you are performing … outwardly. The vocal quality in the theatre is totally different, since you are playing in an auditorium full of people. No mics are available so you need to use your voice in a totally different manner. Film feels more natural to me. But theatre creates a sense of electricity in me because the audience is right there. You can feel how the audience is responding at the moment – they are either with you or they’re not. I love them both!

 

Film and television can involve an enormously lengthy creative process, with months or even years passing between coming on board via auditions and the premiere of the piece. What’s that like emotionally as a performer – investing heavily in something and then having to wait?

The wait can be excruciating! But ultimately, as actors, we are used to waiting. It is a part of the process, and I made peace with that early on in my career. The most important thing for me is to focus on the work when it’s right in front of you. Do the best job possible, push yourself, and grow. The rest is so out of our control.

 

How important is a message for you in terms of the types of stories you prefer to get involved with? Are you part activist (and if so, for what causes), do you want something that primarily presses artistic buttons, or is it a matter of simply working first and foremost? (Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three…).

It is a mixture of all three, indeed. But the thing that drives me the most is what character do I resonate with; which character captures my heart and soul and leaves me breathless with fear and excitement in equal measure. I do adore being part of highly collaborative processes, and if that takes on the form of a strong message, be it activism or the current zeitgeist, wonderful! If it is artistic, fabulous. I just thrive on a challenge. I think there are too many causes to mention, but right now, I am compelled by strong female-led storylines with rich, dynamic, and nuanced characters.

 

What do you need from a director? Conversely, what won’t you put up with from a director?

Guidance. A great director will sculpt your performance with delicacy, sometimes with a chisel and hammer! But the guidance is there. A director who doesn’t know what they want or is ill-prepared is a scary reality to face for any actor, because it breeds so much self-doubt, and that does not facilitate a safe space to navigate the depths we need to as actors.

 

Does the way a film or show is distributed make a difference to you – the impact of the big screen and epic sound in a cinema versus a film or series being watched on a laptop or phone? Please answer as both a performer and a fan.

There is something so magical about watching something in the cinema. It has become an event in recent years for so many, myself included, because we have become so accustomed to watching everything these days on our devices – be it our home TV, laptop, or phones, even. I think the most important thing is that people are watching, it doesn’t matter how they are watching or what they are watching it on, as long as they are watching it. And I think the marketing of a show is by far one of the most crucial aspects of our industry. If people are unaware of what shows are on, then there is a massive disconnect. And that can be devastating because it gets lost in the madness of life where we consume so much content at a rapid pace.

 

Please tell me about Lioness: who is Samantha, how does she fit into the greater story and why is she satisfying to play?

Sam is the lioness. This is her story – she is wrongfully accused of crimes she never committed, she serves eight years in jail, and by all accounts, she loses everything. She has to fight her way back, crawling, kicking, screaming and sometimes roaring, to reclaim her truth and her children. She is brave, strong, and yet so vulnerable. It’s a beautiful thing for any actor to get to explore and navigate. Sam has fundamentally changed me. She has made me braver, and she has made me want to live a more authentic and truthful existence. She has been my greatest gift, not just as an actor, but as a soulful being.

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