Wizards vs Aliens: Interview: Alex Childs (Lady Lyzera)

 

Lyzera 4Wizards vs Aliens has a new villain for its third season: the manipulative Lady Lyzera, played by Alex Childs (who can be seen without the layers of prosthetics in the third story, The Daughters of Stone). She sat down with Paul Simpson over a cup of coffee near her home on the South Coast to discuss life as a Nekross, and started by talking about the cast of her face that was needed to create the mask…

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AlexHaving my face cast was incredibly difficult – they had to do it twice because of an issue with my hair. It was extremely claustrophobic. They did say before the audition that if you have any issues with claustrophobia, don’t even apply for this part. I now see why.

The mask took some getting used to too. As an actress there are things you really rely on to get character across – your voice, facial expressions, movement etc. And then suddenly you’ve got a whopping great set of dentures in your mouth. I practised for about three days before I went on set but I couldn’t get rid of the lisp; that got better after a while, obviously. And then having your face and airways encased in latex, and having to perform through that…

It’s mask acting, effectively…

… which I’d never done any of before. In some strange way it was kind of freeing, because you can be as big, and as mad, and as pantomime-ish as you want. Being theatrical for TV? Those two things don’t normally mix, but for kids’ TV, subtlety doesn’t show through the mask.

The other thing about the prosthetic which was hysterical on set was the tentacles: the buzzing on them was so loud that Kristian, playing Varg, and I could barely hear each other. We could just about hear each other because we were both projecting through the mask but if any of the other actors turned their back and were finishing a line, we had no idea when our cue was. Kristian had to have an ear piece fitted.

As I mentioned to [showrunner] Phil [Ford] and [producer] Derek [Ritchie], in that first story, Lyzera comes across as a more adult character. Set aside that she’s talking to a bird… she’s talking to a minion of some description…

EelixA familiar.

…she’s got an edge to her that your predecessor as a villain, Brian Blessed, lacked.

I don’t know if I did that purposely. I think it was just the way I read the role really. Obviously I’d seen a few episodes with Lexi and the original Varg, and the way it was described to me before I even went along to the audition was a Lady Macbeth style character. She had to be more subtle, and obviously she has a huge secret.

It’s great that you see it that way; I was just doing what I thought the story was telling me. The kids seem to love it so far.

How did you get involved with it in the first place?

I was sent along the breakdown for the audition and at first I wasn’t sure whether or not to go up for it: having my head encased in plaster was a little bit off-putting! But then I saw the sides – the audition pieces they send you out – and I thought I could have a lot of fun doing this.

I went along, had fun, met Derek who was utterly lovely, and our casting director Andy Brierley. Then I was shortlisted and that’s when I saw a couple of episodes and thought, actually I love this. My favourite genre anyway, which is a little bit embarrassing to admit as a woman in her thirties, is teen science fiction and fantasy. I absolutely love it. There’s something so uplifting about the show: the pace, the action, the special effects, the music – and I’ve seen Sam Watts in action; he’s just a genius…. I thought, “I want this; I really want this.” And it happened.

Then I actually realised what a joy it is to work in kids TV, because everybody who’s involved is there to create magic, the real kind. Without sounding corny, every time I saw Derek or Phil on set, they were just so excited, and their enthusiasm carried us through some of the darker days when you’re stuck in the studio for 12 hours with the heat and the light. It was hard work – I’m not going to do it down. It was probably the hardest project I’ve ever done.

Lyzera 1There was quite a tidy amount to get done in a ten-week shoot, bearing in mind the effects on that show…

Yes, and also, we were just thrown in the deep end. There wasn’t really any time to get used to things. We had one trial test before we started filming, and I remember thinking, “Oh my God, my skullcap’s too tight, I can’t breathe; my teeth are in the way, I can’t speak.” My clothes were so corseted, and these really high heeled boots – just learning to move without tripping over… And suddenly you’re on set.

I don’t know about other actors, but when I come on set, I always get a sort of pre-theatre sort of nerves. There’s a lot riding on it. So your heart rate goes up… It was a struggle sometimes but the rewards are an extraordinary, visually stunning Nekross. The team that put that together are amazing: from Ray Holman, the costume designer, through to Millennium FX who do the prosthetics, through to Molly, my brilliant make-up artist who counselled me through ten weeks. Kristian and I were really supportive of each other as well.

Was it his first time in prosthetics?

Yes. I remember Dan [Starkey who plays Randal Moon] saying to me a couple of days beforehand, “Make sure you drink lots of water and be careful what you eat, and have lots of fluids.” I was thinking, “This is starting to frighten me a little bit, what’s he talking about?” But I quickly came to realise he was right.

Did you stay in Cardiff for the whole shoot?

On and off; I came backwards and forwards. Because we got the first four episodes’ worth of scripts were finalised before we started filming, a lot of pre-prep was done then, so I could flit backwards and forwards, but as the new episodes starting coming, we were in the middle of other episodes, so any days off were just trying to learn lines. Techno-speak is not my speciality: I can just about get my tongue round it! The style of the speech was so scientific so it took a while for us to get our minds round that.

Lyzera 2They had obviously devised the character of Lyzera before you got involved, but they were working on scripts once they’d seen you perform. Did they adjust anything?

Yeah, I wonder how much was adjusted. I know for certain that whenever Phil Ford, wrote Lyzera entering a room, it was originally “Lyzera sweeps into the room” but towards the end of the season, in homage to the way I move, it was “Lyzera sashays into the room”. I think he enjoyed sexing her up a little bit.

That element seems to have been ramped up a little bit…

Yes, I think so. Sibling relations are interesting to watch, and most kids would identify with that, but love and romance and the nuances of married relationships are probably that much more fascinating. It was really interesting playing with that with Varg, the push/pull effect between us. He’s wearing the trousers; I’m secretly wearing the trousers.

Previously Varg’s weakness was his sister, although that probably only really comes out in the second series. There’s the loss of an ally whereas now, rightly or wrongly, he’s enticed down darker avenues by his wife. It was very clear that although it’s a power marriage, we wanted them to have a bit of real romance. I think there’s a mutual respect there – to a certain degree. To Lyzera it suits her purpose, and to Varg, he’s got an incredibly beautiful bride – I can say that because I’m encased in latex!

How much did they tell you going in about her secrets or were you learning as you went?

Lyzera 3I was learning about them on the way.

Was there anything that made you think you’d have done things differently had you known?

No, not really. Every time I read a new script, I was really excited by how it was developing. The guys give very little away, and the only information they do give away is on a need to know basis. When characters appear in human form, they would tell you, and explain to you why. I completely trust them as writers, and the fact that Lyzera got stronger and stronger and more confident within her role was great.

We were watching rushes to gauge performance: I’m very aware that my performance is hugely camp, but it’s hard to gauge just how big to go. Derek would pop down to the studio to reassure us that the first four episodes had been cut and I remember him saying that the BBC executives had never been so quiet in a critical viewing, and one of the female execs said she just wanted to be Lyzera.

That was the great thing about the role: the men want her and the women want to be her. It was great to know that I wouldn’t be alienating anybody. Right from the beginning when I was worried about sexing her up too much, Phil Ford said, “No, she’s incredibly sexy because she’s strong”, which was a lovely thing to hear as well.

I never imagined that I was playing her way: I don’t know if that’s because of my background. I started as a model, always wanted to be an actress but stuck with that career so I’m walking about like I’m on the catwalk a little bit. It wasn’t my intention to make her sexy.

The Secret of Room 12But that comes from something natural surely? If you go into that role with your physicality and the mentality of being a model, it’s going to come across on screen…

That was a real surprise to me! Even at the wrap party, when I was wearing a beautiful Dolce & Gabbana clinging dress, so many of the crew came up to me and all they could say was, “Couldn’t tell you this before, but that Lady Lyzera…” It was a huge compliment.

It was a lot of fun – hard work at the time, but looking back it was the most exciting thing I’ve done.

You’ve done various bits of genre before: do you enjoy working on it?

I enjoy working, full stop. Being on set is like being in the playground for me. But as I said, with it being my favourite genre, if I could do more, bring it on; it would be great. I just finished filming a feature film, a fantasy adventure set in the 12th century, called Four Warriors, where I get to fight monsters rather than be one. That was good fun.

When you get a script through, what do you look for?

Lyzera 5Something I can identify with in the character.

So which bit of Lyzera did you identify with?

Ooh…. I just love the thought of contaminating Varg and the secrecy. There’s probably elements of my alter ego in Lyzera. It’s fun to play opposites. In the past I’ve made quite a good career for myself playing vulnerable, anxious women but now as I get older, the stronger female roles are much more interesting.

What about working on the other side of the camera?

Oh God, yeah. I’ve directed plays before and I’ve found myself a frustrated actress, and then when I’m acting, I’ve found myself a frustrated director. I’ve written short plays as well, and one of them got into a huge short film festival in Sydney and did quite well. If I had more time, I would write more.

In terms of directing for camera, it’s a very technical medium. I did start a camera course but got hit by a car halfway through so stopped. I think I’d be terrified but you learn a lot as an actress; I’m always asking lens sizes and things so I know how big to make my performance. Directing theatre is something I’ll do more, and there’s a new play I was discussing with a friend we want to do, playing a very nutty strong female who dies early enough for me to be able to direct the rest of the play!

 

Click here to read our interview with showrunner Phil Ford and producer Derek Ritchie

and here for our review of the first story, The Secret of Room 12

 

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