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Interview: Warrior Nun’s Kristina Tonteri-Young

by Leora Heilbronn

After watching Kristina Tonteri-Young’s empathetic and indomitable portrayal of Sister Beatrice in Netflix’s Warrior Nun, it’s baffling to find out that this is her first on-screen role. The Finnish actress graduated from the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama in the UK and performed with the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and it shows, because she brings a uniquely elegant grace to her physicality in the difficult role. The sweet but tough Sister Beatrice was one of my favourite characters in the show (based on the popular manga series Warrior Nun Areala by Ben Dunn), so I was thrilled to chat with Kristina Tonteri-Young on the phone recently about her beautiful performance. The following is a condensed and edited version of our phone conversation.

I binge watched this show so quickly, it’s so good and you give such a layered performance in it. Plus it’s such a smartly written show about faith, about sisterhood, and it features a badass group of international women. What drew you to the show and what did you like best about it? 

Kristina Tonteri-Young: I think you touched on it. It’s so international and for me, as an actor, filming it was so fantastic. There were four or five languages spoken on set at all times, so that was amazing. I mean playing a character like Beatrice, I do relate to her a lot, so it was nice that these were qualities I see in myself and I’m so glad other people can see a character who’s very analytical, very intelligent, who doesn’t – and none of them do – rely on their sexuality, they thrive off of their skills and I think that’s something that’s very valuable and really good to put out there. Like look at all these women who are really skillful at what they do and yeah, they kick ass. [laughs]

BT: There’s a stoic grace to Beatrice, in her fight sequences as well. Did you find that your dance background helped you craft that aspect of her? 

KTY: Yeah, definitely. I think just dance background in the sense that I’m very aware of my body and what it does, in relation to other people as well. So that was very helpful in terms of the technicality of being on screen. But also, the martial arts that Beatrice specializes in is a Chinese martial art called Wushu where it’s based around the style of Wushu. In its movement it is a very lyrical form of martial arts and my wonderful stunt double Hélène Tran specializes in Wushu so we were already compatible in terms of we move very gracefully and with certain poise. So yes, it did help. [laughs]

BT: Were you familiar with Wushu before you started filming? 

KTY: No, absolutely not. I wish! No, so pretty much as soon as we got off the place, well Alba (Baptista) had been there for a few weeks before us, but the sister warriors, as soon as we got off the plane we were shipped straight to the stunt warehouse to practice. So we were pretty much just thrown in there, but it was a nice way of getting to know everyone straight away. But I did learn all of the fight sequences that I did or that Hélène ended up doing. We did quite a lot of training, I did learn how to throw knives, I did learn to use the staff that Beatrice uses, so yeah, that was pretty incredible.

BT: There’s a key fight scene for Beatrice pretty early on in the halls of Arq-Tech. Tell me about preparing for that. 

KTY: I think we did do a whole day of just learning the sequence and going through it slowly. I think we did a few passes of me doing the whole thing slower because nobody wants to come near me personally with a six-foot long staff while I’m swinging it around haphazardly. [laughs] But I did learn that sequence and some sequences from the later episodes, episodes nine or ten. But ultimately, nothing is better than Hélène doing what she does best. [laughs]

BT: What was it like filming in Spain?

KTY: Oh my goodness! First of all, anyone who has not been to Spain should go to Spain because it’s such a special place. The food is amazing and the people, I’ve never met such kindhearted people anywhere else in the world. But the locations were fantastic and it really helped put me into character and really helped put all of us into that world that maybe would have been harder had we been on a sound stage or in a studio.

BT: I loved the quieter moments where you convey so much with Beatrice like when Ava first breaks through the wall in training and she shares an intimate non-verbal moment with her, or when you’re letting Lilith set up the explosives towards the end and it’s such a trusting, motherly gesture by Beatrice. You convey so much of her in your non-verbal acting. Did you have a favourite moment to shoot? 

KTY: Oh thank you! I think my favourite scene to shoot was actually in episode one where you see all of us coming in through the door because it was our first day on set with all the sister warriors, that was the first scene that we shot together, and it was such a great foundation to build the rest of the shoot on. In that scene, you can already see so clearly the dynamics we have between us. With the girls, we had some time before we started shooting to get to know each other and solidify the dynamics that we have in between ourselves as people, because we’re all so different and we’re all so different in the show as well, so it translated really well. That was an incredible moment and it really helped us create that connection to Shannon (Melina Matthews). We don’t see much of her later on but we got that on very early on and it set us up really well to tell the story and how everything ties in to her.

BT: That moment also ties in really well to one of the final moments where you’re all standing together as a united front against the evil that you’re about to confront. The scene you mentioned and that closing moment really mirror each other in conveying the sisterhood. What was it like working forming that bond with Toya Turner, Alba Baptista, Lorena Andrea and Olivia Delcán? 

KTY: I mean, [laughs] I don’t have any siblings, I’m an only child, so it was such a wonderful time that we had in Spain bonding. I never felt like I had sisters before with any of my friends but I really felt that sisterly bond where all of us had different energies that bounced off of each other really well and yeah, they all are incredible in their own right and I am so honoured to have had that experience with them.

BT: Have you spoken to them since then?

KTY: Yeah, I just did a few roundtables yesterday with Toya, Lorena and Alba. We’ve obviously spoken here and there throughout the year too after we finished filming.

BT: Have you all seen the show? If so, what did you think of it?

KTY: Yeah, I think we all have. I don’t think any of us knew what to expect other than the little bits and pieces that we’ve seen doing ADR and while we were shooting we could see everything, obviously. But you don’t really know how it’s going to be edited or what it’s going to ultimately look like, but I think all of us are very, very happy with how it came out. I think every little tiny piece works very well together and it creates something that is one whole show. It’s not like there’s little bits and pieces left hanging, I think we all delivered as an entirety this one nice package of a show. [laughs]

BT: Was there a scene or moment where you saw it and thought, “oh I’m so happy with how that turned out!”? 

KTY: Yeah, there’s a scene actually in I don’t remember which episode, but there’s a scene in the church with Father Vincent, Shotgun Mary and I where Shotgun Mary is planning how to go in to Shannon’s room and see what’s behind the wall, and I think that scene went really well. I think on a technical level too, the pacing between us was really good and we had good momentum in the scene and really earned the pauses that we had and the moments really landed in that scene. So that’s something that I’m very happy with. I also really loved the canteen scene with Ava where we’re all eating around the table.

BT: The show ends on quite the cliffhanger. What do you hope happens to Beatrice?

KTY: It’s really hard to say because we were all so surprised as we were doing the table read for each episode. We were always surprised by what happened next, we were taken on the ride as much as the viewers will be. I mean as a character who’s pretty stoic and she kind of takes everything in stride and is grounded and reliable, so it would be really interesting to play something where she gets thrown completely off her path a little bit. She has this incredible faith and incredible belief so it would be really interesting to see what happens to her if she gets thrown off balance.

BT: You have a lot of projects coming up. Tell me about The Swan, A Gift from Bob, and Outside the Wire

KTY: I mean as of now I don’t know when any of those will be coming out but I’d say they’re all very different from Warrior Nun. [giggles] A Gift from Bob is just joyful and celebrates family and togetherness, and it has such a warm enveloping Christmas spirit because it is a Christmas film. Outside the Wire is badass, action-packed, cyborgs technology meeting humanity, questions of morality, what is right and wrong, the good of the majority versus saving one person. As for The Swan, we’re still filming it but it’s such an incredible story about one person’s struggle against an ideology that’s so inherently harmful to so many. It was just handled so badly, that whole Communism thing just doesn’t work, but this woman rises above it and she finds family and love and pursues her passion. What is her calling, even through all of those hardships? It is a true story so that makes it even more incredible.

BT: What have you seen lately that you’ve really liked?

KTY: Oooh, so I watched The Great on Hulu. I love it not only because it’s humorous but also because it’s a period piece that doesn’t get caught up in the frills and etiquette of the time, it makes it current. I also really loved Unorthodox. Honestly, I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in ages.

BT: Is there going to be a second season of Warrior Nun?

KTY: There are confirmed rumours. That’s all I know! [giggles]

Warrior Nun is now streaming on Netflix

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