While getting the chance to interview talented individuals is a pleasure, a few of these individuals always stand out for us, such as when we spoke with the majority of the on-screen talent from Shadowhunters, and the incredibly down to Earth Jason Ritter.
Alisha Wainwright brings the worlds (and past interview subjects) together in the fascinating Netflix series Raising Dion, based on Dennis Liu’s comic and short film. The series is about a single mother, Nicole Warren (played admirably by Wainwright) after her husband, embodied by producer Michael B. Jordan, passes away mysteriously. She must then care for her son Dion (Ja’Siah Young), who happens to have super powers.
Getting to speak to Wainwright was a treat. In addition to answering our questions, Wainwright happens to possess a melodic chuckle, and it was great to hear her laugh, frequently and heartily.
The following is a condensed and edited conversation with the bubbly Alisha Wainwright of Raising Dion.
Brief Take: What have you enjoyed most about working on Raising Dion?
Alisha Wainwright: To me, the best part of it is making the connections that I made. The relationships and the confidence I’ve also gained in myself in myself knowing that it’s incredibly challenging to be the lead of a show, but having a good community of producers and other actors and crew members who are trying to be a community for each other, I think gave me all the tools to be the best that I could be. Yeah, I would say that my primary takeaway from the show is obviously the gratitude that it’s being received well, but that I get to meet all of these wonderful, talented, creative people in my industry and build my confidence in myself.
BT: Do you feel a sense of responsibility as the lead?
AW: The funny thing is that you don’t think about it that way, you just try to be a representation of what you would like other people to do around you, which is to be positive and checking in with people, making sure everyone has what they need, as I would appreciate someone to check in with me, to make sure that I have everything I need. I think it’s that thing that you wanted to teach your children [laughs] that’s the golden rule – treat others how you want to be treated, without making too much of a fuss about it. [laughs] Don’t put your head down, make eye contact, and shake hands because people appreciate and respect that, but not to complain and not to ignore when something isn’t going right but to be positive and work together toward making a piece of art.
BT: How did you enjoy your recent press tour alongside Jason Ritter?
AW: Jason Ritter is the best. It made our press tour go so seamlessly, I think that we bounced really well off each other in interviews so it made for a fun week. It was also really nice to present the show and do press where I’m from, in Miami. It’s always nice to go home and showcase some of the stuff that I have been doing on the other side of the country. It’s nice to get the support from your local people because Miami is super possessive, we like to claim people that are from there and we like to back the stuff that they are doing. And then I think that having the show come out there and having many people identify with the characters made me feel really good because there’s nothing better than having your own people be proud of what you do.
BT: How important is it for you to be working with talented and decent people such as Jason?
AW: A friend years ago told me that you should, what did he say, you never should take a role unless it has 3 things. Or no! [laughs] Of course, I’m trying to quote you something and I am saying it wrong. He said that your dream role should have at least three things: a character that you love and you want to learn more about; people that you work with that are great, not only for networking but because they are a pleasure to be around; and 3. that the money is good, because at the end of the day, you are providing a service and a job, so you should be paid fairly. He was like any great situation will have all three, and a tolerable situation will have two. [laughs loudly]
I think that Jason and the producers and the other actors, like Jazmyn Simon and the children – everybody is also very family-oriented, and it kind of created this depth of understanding for us because we were working on a show about family with children. Jason is now a new father, Jazmyn had her second child, she was pregnant through most of the shooting of the show. Yeah, beyond that and that sense of community and family, all of the people on the show are fantastically kind and supportive and uplifting. There were no complainers on set and everybody’s always trying to make each other laugh and get through the day with a smile. For that, not only Jason, but everybody is incredible, but then of course being paired with Jason to do the press tour was so much fun because he’s very good at making you laugh. [laughs}
BT: You were incredible as a mother in this role. What did you use to tap into that aspect of the role?
AW: You know, the direct source for me to feel that sense of motherhood was the writing, I think Carol Barbee, the showrunner, she wrote a first episode that really made it clear the type of mother that Nicole is – because to say someone’s a mother is like to say that someone’s a student. Okay, you’re a student, but there’s many different types of students, there’s many different types of mothers, and you can be a mother and not be very motherly, or you can be a helicopter mom and be very involved in your child’s life journey, and I think that Carol did a really good job of…right off the bat, I was like: “This is a mother who is dealing with the world, but trying to make it fun for her kid”. And I got that sense of the character right off the bat, when I talked to Carol, through the casting process, she kept reiterating that Nicole was an incredibly positive person and the positivity bleeds through how she raises her child. So when I think about the character, I think about the types of people in my life who, despite adversity, are always pushing through to be positive. And because you kind of define how you move through life, you can either push through things and try to rise above it, or you can sit in it and stew in it and maybe not have the most positive experience. I kind of shaped Nicole’s version of mothering in that light.
BT: You talked about how your superpower would be that you would scuba dive as deep as you could. How much do you consider acting as going as deep as you can into a role?
AW: [Chuckles] That’s so funny, I think that if you watch a few different interviews, I think I gave a different answer in every single one. It was a kind of an inside joke with Jason and me to see how many different powers we could create, but I think it’s important to do your due diligence and research and preparation for the character. I think that it served me in my performances, but I definitely am able to go to the makeup trailer at the end of the day, take off my makeup and my costume and very much be myself. But I will say that it seems like a deep dive enough to have to pack up your stuff, move to a new city, make a whole bunch of new friends and co-workers, and then for six months immerse yourself into a long form narrative, that’s really challenging. I couldn’t imagine it going beyond my workday. [laughs]
BT: What did you enjoy about filming and living in Atlanta?
AW: I love Atlanta, it’s so much fun. I’m from Florida and being closer to my family was also really cool. And also friends who live in Florida were able to come up and visit and see my set and have a fun time because you don’t often get that Hollywood experience in Florida, they love that. Atlanta’s food scene was incredible, their nightlife, we went to a chilli cook-off, there’s so many things happening, especially during the summer, that we had the best time making the most of being there. Every Saturday, one of the executive assistants and me would pick a new restaurant in town and try it out. And every Saturday, that was the thing that we did, and that way we could feel like we were exploring Atlanta without trying too hard.
BT: You have a very distinct physicality on this series. What did you use to tap into that?
AW: I spent a lot of time around dancers. I was not only in my own personal dance training but to be around a dance studio, you pick up a lot of stuff. Taking dance outside of my own personal coaching for the role, I think that was really helpful in getting a sense of not only Nicole as a dancer, but the dance community. Then you pick things that you think would be applicable to your character and hope that you don’t lean into a caricature of a dancer, but you pick things that will help you remind your body that you are someone who uses their body to communicate their art – they kind of move differently.
BT: Tell me about your working relationship with Netflix for Raising Dion, as they also broadcast Shadowhunters internationally.
AW: Their global reach – I think that’s the easy thing to be really grateful for. I think that the benefit that Shadowhunters received from being streamed on Netflix internationally is really incredible, but here in the U.S., you can only watch it on Freeform because that’s the network that actually created the show. As much as I love Freeform, they have a particular audience in that they gear towards young adults and you have to be a cable subscriber in order to see it. Whereas I think that more people have Netflix, and what I am hoping now is that more people in my own local community in the U.S. see it, now that everyone here has Netflix. Shadowhunters wasn’t on Netflix in the U.S. but Raising Dion is on Netflix everywhere, including the U.S., and my broader community will have access to my show, but then the Netflix executives that I worked with were really beautiful- they were very collaborative and positive. I think that they’re kind and generous with their time and their support that I think that we got a really good team.
BT: What did you enjoy most about filming Shadowhunters in Toronto?
AW: I think the multiculturalism and diversity was probably my favourite thing about Toronto. It seems like every ethnicity and every nationality was represented in a restaurant or bar or venue all over the city. Being someone who is first-generation American, and I obviously have an affinity for diversity and trying new things, for that, I love Toronto. There’s also this amazing Haitian bar called Rhum Corner that I loved so much! [laughs] It’s kitschy and hip and all this stuff, because whenever I eat Haitian food, it’s usually someone’s Auntie cooking it in their home and you can usually pick it up in their apartment. [laughs] But this place is super cool and trendy, and you can get Griot, which is incredible, that was my favourite thing about Toronto and I think a very wonderful reflection of the city.
BT: From your professional pursuit as a botanist into your roles on Shadowhunters and Raising Dion, what is your career throughline?
AW: I think that even though the last two projects I’ve had have been in genre, I think that my characters are very different. And I think that the most interesting way for me to move through my career, and hopefully I’ll see in my journey, is that I’m always trying to do something a little bit different with my character choices. I don’t want to find myself doing the same sort of thing over and over again because I think that millennial sense of monotony that I have was what led me to acting in the first place, because you can be whoever you want to be in your character. I hope that my career as it goes on will have a lot of variety.
BT: What is something that you would say to people who are responding to this series and to your performance in particular?
AW: I think that I am always going to come from a place of gratitude. If you like the show and you appreciate the show and you tell friends, that’s the best thing that you could ever do for not only myself, but for the show. I mean I see things on social media, people seem really responsive and it makes me really happy. I think that open dialogue about the show, that word of mouth, the social media awareness is what will keep us on your Trending Now section of Netflix. [laughs]
BT: What would you like a potential season 2 for this series to bring?
AW: I think that I do love that the show developed from the fact that Dion is so young, as he ages and becomes a young man. I would love to see how the power dynamic starts to shift between Nicole and Dion because every kid hits that point that they start to think that they’re better than their parents. And I would love to see the next phase of childhood how they broach that “Raising” aspect of Raising Dion as he gets older.
BT: You considered a career as a winemaker. What do you think is a good wine to pair with watching Raising Dion?
AW: For me, it’s champagne all the way. Every day is worthy of a celebration! I would say right now, if I were to have a drink and turn on Raising Dion, it would be to toast not only myself, but everyone who is involved in the project. [laughs] But if you’re watching with family and keeping it fun, I would say a good rum punch. Something that you can make a non-alcoholic version for the kids and then you can top a little rum in there for yourself. [laughs]
Raising Dion is now streaming on Netflix