THE VIVANT Actor’s Profile: Going one-on-one with our favorite actors
“I started really late, when I was six years old,” recalls Mera Mayde, co-star of the yet-to-be-released historical drama, Jessie: The Golden Heart. “Quite quickly it crystallized that I had a lot of stage presence and talent when it comes to performance, so I was training five times a week from a very young age, and was accepted into the ballet school at the Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier.” Going off to boarding school at age 12 to train to be a professional ballet dancer, she says “The Hamburg Ballet every now and again would pick and choose children from the school to be included in productions, so I had the chance to dance with the Hamburg Ballet on several occasions. Those were just magical experiences.”
The accomplished actor went on to study psychology and philosophy at Oxford – and the combination of ballet and her academic studies proved to be the perfect background for her rapidly skyrocketing Hollywood career. While she doesn’t analyze her characters as a psychologist, she says, “As an actor, at the end of the day you are very interested in human beings and the world around you, and you are interested in other peoples’ experiences and what they might be going through, and empathizing with that.”
On the sci-fi television series Humans, where middle-class families typically buy a human-like robot called a synth (and some of the synths subsequently develop distinct personalities), Mera played one of the synths. Playing a robot is a lot more complicated than one might imagine. “Being a synth, you were meant to be perfect, right?” she says. “You have this standard, whenever you’re on set and for every take, there will be final makeup checks. But with this, it’s to the extreme, because every single hair has to lie in place perfectly. So the amount of final checks we had to have were just ridiculous.” She says the show was a fun experience, especially some of the shoots. “The synth factory where we were being manufactured. It was exhilarating and imaginative, fun fantastic locations we got to shoot in. I really enjoyed that.
While playing the synth role, Mera drew heavily on her ballet experience, noting that a background in ballet is ideal for working on stage and screen. “It gives you a really good connection to your own body, and a good sense of movement, where you are in the space. When I was playing a synth on Humans, that required a very specific physicality. However much human-like those robots were created to be, they were robots and so for that to come across on television and be communicated to the audience, there were specific ways in which we were moving. If you turn your head, your eyes don’t turn first, it all happens in one. If we were to sit down or get up from a chair, you’re looking at the most effective way to get up or sit down that uses the least amount of energy. That’s not how humans tend to get up out of a chair. We tend to lean further forward than we need to or expend a little extra energy because it’s more comfortable. We had to learn to really do it in the way a machine would do it, which was to use the least amount of energy necessary and in the most streamlined way possible. All those things require a lot of physical control and sensitivity, which naturally being a dancer, you just come from a background of that.”
Playing the role of Mrs. Dorris in Jessie: The Golden Heart, which is still making its way through the film festival circuit before its public release, Mera says “It was a great experience. It was based on a true story, from the team of two ladies who created the whole product together, it was based on her ancestor’s real story. It made it even more meaningful to know you are bringing to life this story that is so anchored in reality. It was a historic story, but at the same time certain themes in there are timeless and modern, especially with the #metoo movement that we’ve had. We brought up so many questions around equality, and just the way we see women and their chances in society, and how they are treated compared to men. And this story at its heart dealt with very similar issues. In the story, they were trying to either rebel against that and follow their hearts within the constraints they were given.”
The movie Jessie: The Golden Heart promises to be a big hit once it’s released. It tells the story of a Scottish servant girl who falls in love with her master, turning her world upside down – and all of Stratton Castle in the process.
Mera compares some of the scenes in the movie to the Downton Abbey theme, “where you have the whole downstairs-upstairs thing going on. We had a very similar feeling in our movie of the downstairs, the servant folk, and the upstairs. I was in the beautiful privileged position of being the character who was the connecting element between the two. I didn’t quite belong to either, and I was very much the lady of the house in the sense that I was the head of the downstairs, but also the trusted confidante of the upstairs.”
Being the international performer she is, Mera recognizes the difference between Hollywood and the European centers of creativity. “Hollywood is so vibrant and alive with creativity,” she said. “And anyone you speak to is somehow involved in the industry, and there is so much happening. In Europe, I was living in London, and if you’re looking at the hub of Europe, it’s there, so I got to experience both of those. But nonetheless, there’s just so much more going on here, because at the end of the day, Hollywood is the hot spot of television.”
Upon her first arrival in Hollywood, Mera had the ultimate Hollywood experience. “Just shortly after I arrived here, one of my earliest projects, I found myself doing a table read on a sailing yacht on Marina del Rey, which just screamed Hollywood to me. That’s just not something you would ever have imagined before, and it was just fantastic.”
But while the world, and yes, even Hollywood, has stopped in its tracks because of the pandemic, Mera is making the best of her time. “It’s been such a surreal situation,” she said. “I feel quite grateful that I don’t live by myself, and that really changes the experience. I can go out into the back yard and I’ve had humans around, and that just really makes a difference compared with some friends I’ve been talking to who are completely by themselves in their apartments with nowhere to go. I’ve been able to enjoy it in the sense that it’s given me a chance to just do the butterfly thing and just cocoon, and see where you’re at and what might want to come through, and how you’re then going to be able to step back out into the world once you’re able. It’s been really beautiful to see how people have been making the most of the situation and just connecting in new ways whenever possible, and just being innovative with it.”
Mera very much as her eye on what’s next. “There’s quite a few shows I have my eye on that I would absolutely adore working on,” she said. “One of them being the new Game of Thrones, called House of Dragons, which is in development right now. It’s very much a fantasy combined with period, and it’s a story that’s very much my casting, and I would absolutely love being part of that show. There’s lots of great projects in development as always, and we’ll see how we can weather the current circumstances and move forward. I’m excited for when we’re able to start opening back up.”
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.