In a first for me perhaps, my interview subject, Maria Sten of Swamp Thing, emerged from a recent experience of kayaking in the swamp of Wilmington. Though the series is done filming, Sten filmed the inventive and progressive series Swamp Thing in North Carolina, and was returning to pick up some things and headed into the water. In case you haven’t been watching the series on the DC Universe channel, Swamp Thing is receiving rave reviews for its diverse portrayals, including Sten’s Liz Tremayne, a reporter and bartender who is also one (of a few) of the series’ LGBTQIA+ characters. Sten shared a lot about the importance of representation on the series.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our phone interview with the well-spoken and strong Maria Sten of Swamp Thing.
Brief Take: How was your experience on Channel Zero: The Dream Door? Must have been a blast.
MS: It was absolutely incredible. It was really rare, we were like a family going away and doing a thing, and then we’d be sitting on set at 4 a.m. on a Friday into a Saturday and we were like “We should order pizza”. [laughs] And then we would all sit together, order pizza and have a family dinner, if you will. It was a really special experience and I think, when you are going off on location, in a place where you don’t know anybody, you really get to bond in a really lovely way, [quickly] hopefully! you get to bond, at least that has been my experience and I am so grateful for that.
BT: Did you know any of the cast members coming into Swamp Thing?
MS: I didn’t know anybody. I met up with Crystal Reed before the shoot because it had been my experience that it is really lovely to establish a connection before you go to wherever they ship you off to, [laughs] who are you and we’re going to working together in the swamp for 7 months, so that was really, really lovely. As a result of sharing that and being together, I love Crystal. She’s now one of my best friends. And E.L. Katz, who of course directed Channel Zero: The Dream Door, also has an episode this season, so it was really fun to reconnect in that way. But other than that, it was a brand new family and we got tight pretty quickly, so it was all so positive. It sounds like a big love affair but that’s really what is was! [laughs]
BT: How much do you appreciate the representation in this series?!
MS: I mean that is essentially why I was so willing and adamant to sign on to this project. For me, that’s everything I sort of stand for as an actor, wanting to be the representation that these young girls didn’t have when I was growing up. I didn’t have that on screen representation and I think it’s so important, it’s everything and I loved that about the show. And of course there’s the challenge of figuring out what is Liz in the comic and the source material and who is she on the page and what can I bring to it that is again different? But I think that’s what’s so exciting about what we do as actors, and when you have the amazing writing in that pilot that it comes off the page so easily, at least to me. That’s been exciting to work with and be a part of this new era of television. Liz on the page definitely has elements onto which I can relate and grasp. But then of course Liz Tremayne, who looks like me, has a different experience growing up in a small town in the South. But that’s the character work, but that’s the fun stuff. How do you do that justice and how do you really make sure that you have that represented in this character who is a full human being and has these experiences growing up in a town like Marais.
BT: You must have a couple of similar elements as Liz Tremayne.
MS: Absolutely. I think that you marry parts of who you are into whatever character you’re playing. Liz is very different than me, as I’m not American, I’m Danish, Danish-Swedish-Congolese and what is that like? How can I do that justice? In terms of searching for the truth, in terms of being gumptious and wanting to get to the bottom of things and speaking your mind as it is, I think there [chuckles] plenty of parts of Liz that are similar to who is Maria, and Liz is a writer and Maria is a writer, so there is plenty of duality into which to dig there.
BT: How much do you lean into the metaphors of the series?
MS: A lot. I am a tree hugger myself, [laughs] quite adamantly and publicly, so for me to be a part of a superhero horror show that also has something to say is so wonderful, and I feel that sometimes these shows come to you for a reason, I feel like for me, I’m so glad to be a part of that narrative. And I think that we all knew very much going through them is that it is a metaphor for what we are doing to the environment and how eventually the Earth will fight back. I really enjoy that aspect of Swamp Thing and what it represents, so yeah, absolutely! I think that especially now, people lean into genre more and more because you can really tackle timely and important issues but in an elevated sort of escapism kind of way.
BT: What kind of scripted content have you been enjoying?
MS: I have a bit of an eclectic taste. I live in cable / streaming land mostly. I just started watching Chernobyl, like everyone else, which is not genre or high concept, but it is such an amazing show. And yeah, everything about it, the way that it’s executed and the story and the acting, it’s really, really lovely. It’s super, super dark, but I think that so are a lot of things in our time right now. [laughs] I have yet to finish the final season of Game of Thrones because I know that I am going to be disappointed when there are no more episodes, so I’m usually binging Game of Thrones, but I’m really taking my time.
BT: How do you respond to what is happening now politically and do you feel a responsibility to speak up?
MS: I don’t know if I feel a responsibility as much as compulsion. I think that we are all affected by it and it’s hard to know what to do in this time in which we are living. What we can do is speak out and mobilize and get together in our communities and talk about how we can impact the changes that are being made and make a difference in a more positive way. It’s an interesting time in which we live and hard to navigate I think for a lot of people, because the context is so intangible, because it’s going on in a different scale than what the every day American is experiencing. But I think it is definitely important to have these conversations in our communities and figure out how we can ensure that it isn’t going to continue to sway in the wrong direction.
BT: What are you hoping to see in the industry, moving forward?
MS: I think that we are living in truly exciting times, because there is content being made now that represents what the world looks like, and I love that and I lean into that as an actor and a storyteller behind the camera. That is something that I truly believe in and I am so excited to see this continue to flourish. And then for me, I think a big thing is stories that matter. We all want to watch exciting, interesting, entertaining content, but I think more importantly, can we talk about things that matter in the world through the lens of entertainment? I think that whenever you have an opportunity to implement real issues or stories that need to be told, then you should absolutely lean into that.
BT: Swamp Thing is a female-led, female driven series, which is important and still somewhat uncommon.
MS: Absolutely. Absolutely, I think that’s also what’s exciting about the show, there’s a lot of really interesting, complex female characters on the show, of which I love being a part. And it’s an exciting time because we’re seeing the change happen. It’s moving slowly, but it’s moving, and I think that it diversifies and makes the content more complex when you have that all-around representation.
BT: Finally, do you believe in the supernatural?
MS: That’s a good question! I think I’m a grounded person, but I think that you have to leave room for the unknown. And I like living in the unknown. I myself write elevated genre material and I love living in that world in my head. You always can’t help but wonder, right? What’s on the other side of the door? What’s underneath the water? What happens when the lights go out at night? Those are things that I spend my night thinking about, but you never know.
New episodes of Swamp Thing stream every Friday on DC Universe. The show premieres in Canada this Fall on Showcase.