Playing Medusa on Marvel's Inhumans has allowed Serinda Swan to do a couple of things she's always wanted to do ... play a superhero and shave her head. Admittedly, the Canadian actress wasn't expecting to have those things happen at the same time, and neither has worked out quite the way she expected, she said in an exclusive interview with SYFY WIRE.
In Marvel's Inhumans, which airs its Season 1 finale tonight on ABC at 9 p.m., Swan's Medusa is the Queen of Attilan, a civilization of superpowered Inhumans that live on the moon, hidden from the humans on Earth until a military coup by the King's brother forces the royal family to escape to Earth. Medusa has superpowered hair, at least until it's shaved off, leaving her without her superpower and trapped on Earth trying to find her family.
Swan (Smallville, The Tomorrow People) talked to SYFY WIRE about playing Medusa, about Marvel's efforts to maintain secrecy, and about the backlash she faced when she shaved her head for the role.
I can't believe the season's almost over.
Serinda Swan: I know. It's absolutely crazy. It's funny. I wasn't really keeping track of the number of episodes ... We only have one more to go. It's been quick.
What do you want to tell us about the big finale?
Whatever I can say safely without Marvel laser beams shooting [at me]. It's so crazy, 'cause when you work for Marvel you have your own email address for them and they put a safety lock on your phone. So they had to take my phone and put all these safety precautions on my phone, for getting scripts in.
But I think the fans are going to be really excited. It's what the season has led up to. It's the final meeting of the two brothers, and the kingdom's family gets put back together in some form. There's definitely some issues with our plans on both sides. Things aren't going well ... It's so hard to describe without giving things away. It's a great season finale.
There's a lot of emotional [issues] that are coming into play obviously because ... We all know it's easy to be angry at loved ones or friends, and you're like, "I'm never going to talk to you again." But when it comes to the reality of never talking to another person again, or as Black Bolt has said, "The next time I see you I'm going to kill you." When you're faced with that reality of actually doing harm to a loved one, a family member, it's something that doesn't come easy.
And watching this royal family deal with the wrongs that have happened to them over the season, from Gorgon being killed to Triton almost assassinated ... This is all done by his brother and my longtime friend, Maximus. And so watching them struggle with putting their money where their mouth is and seeing will they actually kill Maximus? 'Cause that's what this episode's about. It's will he or won't he live? It's will they or won't they be able to save Attilan? So everything is up in the air.
The previews we saw at the end of the last episode, it looks like their city is being destroyed and they may all end up back on Earth. All this drama is happening.
By the end of the episode, life as we know it is not the same, and that's something that we have to deal with. That's something as a family, as a civilization, as a race, things aren't ever going to be the same again.
It's so interesting, because the things that Maximus wants are things that are good for the people, getting rid of the caste system and the way the society has been set up. They're actually good things to change, it's just that he's crazy and ruthless.
That's the difficulty ... And I think that's why Iwan [Rheon], when he first came to the role, he was like, "I don't want to play another bad guy. I just finished doing that on Game of Thrones." As he looked into Maximus and really saw what he was trying to do, he realized this was a very smart person whose heart was in the right place. He just happens to be not the most tactful person. But this is a thing that we've all been dealing with for a very long time. Black Bolt has been King for a long time. Medusa's been Queen, and Maximus has been saying this for a very long time.
So you pick up this story at the beginning of the season, and we're all indoctrinated about Maximus's ideas. And so this season is where he takes control and decides to do something about it. But what he wants isn't lost on Medusa and Black Bolt. Mainly on Medusa. The issue with the caste system especially is something that her parents fought against and ended up being banished for.
I think in the last few episodes it's started to become very clear to her that it's not something that she wants to uphold anymore, even though everything's fallen apart. And she just comes to the realization that if we are able to take back control, we are able to get back our city and our people, things are going to have to change. And you start to see this internal struggle, and obviously that puts a little strain on her and Black Bolt and what will happen to them. So everything is up in the air at this point. And it's will Attilan survive? Will the family survive? Will Maximus kill Black Bolt? Will Black Bolt kill Maximus? It's a serious family fight coming up, this last episode.
Your character had this great superpowered hair to start off. What has it been like for you to go through the transformation Medusa's gone through this season?
It was really interesting, because we had these parallel stories where for me having your head shaved as a female, you get a lot of reactions ... You get, "Are you ill?" or "Why did you do that to yourself?" You get a lot of people saying, "That's your power as a female. Your hair is part of your power. It's part of your armor." And for Medusa that's actually what it is for her. It's her armor, it's her power, it's all of that.
I've always wanted to play a superhero, I am in love with comics ... I love that world and the idea of having superpowers. I know when I was 12 all I wanted to be was be Storm. I wanted to control the weather. I loved her.
She could fly too. She's pretty cool.
She's badass. I love Storm. And so to be able to book a role like Medusa, an iconic character, but then the entire season I have no superpowers. This is the first big role that I've booked, and one of the things that's a quintessential power for a woman is my hair. And so it's really interesting finding both her and I went through a time where she's finding her footing without her superpowers. She's finding her footing with what her true strength really is, and I think that's her heart. And she's learning that now on Earth with teaming up with Louise and also realizing that Maximus is right. And through that power she's really going to be able to make a difference.
And then I think, personally, for me walking down a street with a shaved head and looking at the different looks and people talking about me, or the really horrible comments on social media and things like that ...
Really? That's pretty shocking.
Oh, yeah ... Yeah, yeah, yeah. When I first started posting photos with me of my shaved head, one, I would get really terrible comments. And two, I was dropped by followers. People were like, "Oh, you're not pretty anymore. We're just not going to follow you."
Yeah. It was really interesting. Because her journey of realizing what was important to her was really the same as realizing what matters to me. 'Cause I always wanted to shave my head. There were certain days that it really felt terrible, realizing that something that I really wanted to do wasn't necessarily socially acceptable. Then I finally started moving through it and being like, "Oh. Okay. How I look and how you look at me are two very different things. If I find my superpower in you looking at me and you seeing something in me, then I'm just going to end up in the same sort of caste system that she's in."
If I find my own superpower in not caring and really truly caring about what I want and what matters to me most, which is the same as her with her family and doing the right thing, then there's this real superpower that comes out. So it was really interesting to see what she was going through and what I was going through at the same time.
I just don't understand that. You're doing it for a role, but even if you did it just because you wanted to, I don't understand why people would be so mean.
It's really interesting. There's this sort of archaic feminist view. I get a lot of men being like, "You're such a feminist, like shave your head so you can be more like a guy. Like feminism, this is what's wrong with it." I'm like, "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! This is for my job. One, I am a feminist. Not a problem. But my haircut has nothing to do with it. Sorry. It has to do with my work. Would you be so bold to take on the challenge of doing something that takes on the challenges of gender norms? Like if your job told you you had to wear mascara or lipstick every day for a year, 'cause that's how long it will take for my hair to grow back to what they say is an acceptable length, what would you do? Would you be so bold and so daring and so brave as to do something that every single day when you step outside when you walk out our door you're going to get challenged? So would you do it?" And I'm willing to do it because I'm an actress and this is my job. My body is their body. My body is Medusa's body. My face is Medusa's face.
The next role that I do, I'll do the same thing. I've shaved my head for a character. I've gone blonde. I've gone brunette. I've lost weight. I've gained weight. That's part of what being an actor is. And so you want me to be an actor and you want me to entertain, then you need to be supportive of the changes that we need to do, whether you like it or not, whether you find it attractive or not, you have to be willing to support us. Because that's what we're doing so that when you go to the theater or when you watch television you're seeing that character as true as possible.
This is one of the things that I knew going in [when it came to shaving my head] ... And I agreed. And I said, "All right. Let's do it." It's interesting to see that dynamic of you get celebrated as long as you stay what they think is the norm of pretty or feminine or whatever it is.
But Medusa, I understand what it was like for her walking down the street without her hair ... It's been really interesting going through all that and seeing in the last episode how it all comes together and realizing people are crying out for her hair to come back. And I agree. If we go to a second season ... you'll see some things that will hopefully bring back her hair. But it was something that everybody, Scott Buck and Jeph Loeb and all the writers really wanted to show, because it's a time in her life that was really, really difficult for her.
Has there been any word on a second season?
We don't know yet. There's definitely been talk. I can say that Jeph Loeb has been such an incredible champion for us. And I've been just so grateful to have him be so supportive. So whatever happens happens, but we've had a really fun time putting this all together.
How is Inhumans unique for you from the other superhero shows on TV?
It's a fun, family drama ... It's a new type of Marvel. A lot of the Marvel's shows now are like Jessica Jones, Iron Fist. They're a lot darker view of the Marvel world. We're sort of this red-headed stepchild, pun intended, that's a little bit lighter. We have the Louise character. We have the teleporting dog. We have all of that. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together.