In a sense, it feels as though Brief Take was always on a path leading to Alvina August. Having previously appeared in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The Intruder, The Good Doctor, and The Boys, she is now a series regular on a show that we absolutely adore, the atmospheric show Nancy Drew, embodying Detective Karen Hart.
Alvina has a pivotal episode coming up, and will also appear in the Disney+ movie Noelle, which will be on the service from its launch on November 12th. We spoke to the charming Zimbabwe-born actress by phone recently and the following is a condensed and edited version of our candid chat.
Brief Take: This series focuses upon looking into the past and exploring how to find the truth. How does your own journey of looking into the past through roles build upon this theme?
Alvina August: Wow, that’s a good question! My journey and how I booked this role has been quite expedited. When I got the call it was amazing, and every character that I play is very much synonymous with my own personal growth and has shifted and affected me personally and vice versa. I found acting about five years ago. I was going to go to med school, I finished my undergrad, and I decided that I didn’t want to become a doctor. [chuckles] I decided that I was an artist and it would be what I choose, and I started taking classes and I got an agent and the first thing I booked was 18 episodes as the villain on a Nickelodeon show. Talk about a trajectory that was unconventional in every way.
I got the urge to act when a friend of mine had become an agent, and I was singing, I sang in a Gospel choir. She said she knew I was a great singer and they were casting for The Lion King, the Broadway version, they were looking for their next Nala. I was good enough to get a callback and it was interesting because there were a lot of similarities in this character for which I had auditioned (Nala).
I moved from Zimbabwe when I was 17 – I did not grow up in North America – and in many ways I was similar to this character because I was this strong person on the inside and proud of it. However, that was quickly exposed in that audition. [chuckles] That audition helped me to realize that I needed to find my inner Nala, my inner voice. I needed to figure out who I was. This was synonymous with my personal journey, and now I get to play strong characters like Karen Hart, who say what they mean and mean what they say, are unapologetic, and their strength is very present and they own their flaws. She’s a culmination of all the ways in which I have grown [laughs] and that have happened throughout my journey.
BT: Your character, Detective Karen Hart, has a lot that is upcoming on Nancy Drew.
AA: Yeah, there’s some really interesting stuff coming up. We shot a scene yesterday and it’s quite emotional, that’s all I’m going to say. We definitely get to find out more, and in the first 5 or 6 episodes, we get to see a bit more of Karen and her origin story and why she became a cop, but there’s still going to be the mystery on it, and that’s where the show does such a great job, fleshing out the characters and leaving you coming back for more and getting to know each one.
BT: Tell me about working with this great ensemble – Kennedy McMann and Scott Wolf, in particular.
AA: Oh my Gosh! Ah! What can I say? I mean, I’m so lucky. I’ve been on a few sets but I have to say that this is so far the best one. I might be biased, but we seemed to gel so quickly. When we shot the pilot, we were so emotional by the end of it and like: “I hope that this thing goes so that we can get to see each other again”. We were all hoping that the connections that we made and the characters that were developing, not only in front of the camera, but behind, were developing. We were hoping that it would translate and it did, and we’re excited to get to do this for many seasons to come.
Working with Kennedy (McMann) is, oh my gosh, it’s amazing! She and I are very similar in a lot of ways. At the beginning of this year, Kennedy got engaged and I did as well. This is her first series regular project and it’s the exact same with me. There are many similarities and we bonded right off the top. She is brilliant in every way. She is Nancy Drew [laughs] in front of the camera and in life behind the camera. [chuckles] She is so thoughtful and so gracious and she keeps soaking it up, and you can see it, you can see that she’s not taking anything for granted. She has a wonderful quality that honestly, Charles, it creates this environment, it creates the culture on set. Everyone is thankful and grateful and doing their best and it shows. And with the addition of Mr. Scott Wolf, who is brilliant and wonderful, he brings a level of experience that is so wonderful and this inspires the entire cast. It’s a great, great group of people to work with every day.
BT: What does it mean for you to film in Toronto and Vancouver?
AA: I immigrated to Canada from Zimbabwe after high school, lived in Toronto for more than a decade, and a couple of years ago made my way to Vancouver. By a hair, Canada wins the title of ‘home’, if we’re basing it on the number of years lived. Shooting here, I realized that no other country brings in as many emigres as does Canada, which is lucky for me! [laughs] Canada is one of the most diverse places to live in; a place in which racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation differences create the core of and strengthen our nation. I have pals of West Indian, African, Southeast Asian and Australian descent, and that’s one friend. [laughs loudly] I have worked exclusively in Canada, and as much as this sunchaser’s looking forward to shooting one day in a warm, tropical place – South Africa, Morocco or Barcelona, ideally – for months on end, there is really no place like home. I love my bed, ketchup chips, good manners, eh? And not constantly living out of a suitcase. Besides, Los Angeles is a quick trip if I need to escape the snow.
BT: Tell me about your experience on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and on The Boys.
AA: Oh wow, yes! CAOS was really fun. Sabrina was really the first show that I got to have more of my natural accent, which was really cool. I only found that out when I got to set, and Richard Coyle, who plays Father Blackwood, is originally from England. My Dad is British, and for me, a lot of times when I do audition, I generally give a neutral North American accent, unless I can justify it, like oh [laughs] maybe she can be from South Africa, or maybe she can be British. And this was really fun because I got to play this very regal, strong character in life. Pregnant, very pregnant – that was a very interesting process as well. That belly was huge, and that was a really fun role for me. Kiernan Shipka in many ways reminds me of Kennedy – very well-rounded – and you can definitely tell that there’s an experience and a knowledge that goes well beyond their years. And we could play, because the show is very campy and it does go into the horror aspects like cannibalism. [laughs] But it is a little bit campy and there’s a lightness to it as well, which was really fun. That was a great role, Lady Blackwood. It was really really one of those roles into which I threw myself physically, taking a lot of liberties in a lot of the scenes, like when she is having a mental breakdown and those sorts of things, but also playing a character that is in some ways very strong, but in some ways, very much subservient to her husband and fragile and jealous, and looking to get what she wants. I think that was a very, very interesting dichotomy.
As for The Boys, that audition, I got to put it on tape in Vancouver and filmed it in Toronto, which was great, because I lived in Toronto for 14 years after we immigrated from Zimbabwe. It was nice to go back home and especially to work again with someone like Eric Kripke, who was there to hire me for my first guest role on Supernatural as Tasha Baines. That was really nice to have that moment and to work on a show with such incredible, willing to play, consummate professionals. It was one of those moments that I was like: “Okay, this is really cool”, because it’s so gritty and it’s so raw and I love that it subverts the typical hero premise. I’m drawn to unconventional ideas of femininity or heroism, I love that kind of the stuff, the duality that I play. It was very raw, and it was very cool to not think about the way that you look. They shoot in really dim lighting and it’s so much fun to be free in that way and play. In regards to Eric Kripke, I met him when he came to the set of The Boys and we chatted for a bit. He is smart and laid-back. He struck me as an approachable, easygoing guy. You can tell he loves what he does by the rapport he has with actors like Laz Alonso.
BT: What did you like most about working on the Disney+ film Noelle?
AA: Christmas is my favorite season. I’m also a huge fan of Bill Hader and Anna Kendrick, being in a movie with them was a bit of a no-brainer. My character unfortunately does not meet either of theirs. This meant that I spent all of my time on set with Kinglsey Ben-Adir, who’s incredible, and if, like I was, you were obsessed with The OA, he was an absolute dream to work with, as is the talented young actor Maceo Smedley, who plays my son. The director Marc Lawrence really set the tone with his charm and energy.
If I had worked with Bill Hader, I’d have asked him so many questions about his HBO series Barry, one of my other current tv obsessions, and I will hopefully get to work with him again soon. Having a plethora of streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, CBS All Access and now Disney+, I’m excited for what this means for our industry. We aren’t starved for options. We are seeing more stories told, more voices than ever before being heard to showcase not only the beautiful, complex, colourful and ever-changing world that we inhabit, but also to create the type of world that we want to see for ourselves. I am proud to be a part of that landscape of storytelling.
Nancy Drew airs on Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW and the W Network