Actress Stephanie Levi-John will star in the upcoming drama series The Spanish Princess, set to air this month. Andrew Peters talked to her about this, her intense fitness regime and interest in Reiki.
Q Stephanie, firstly you have more than an interest in Reiki. How did you discover this?
A My best friend’s mum introduced me to Reiki when I was in my early twenties and I instantly felt a connection to it. I often use Reiki to help me relax and stay balanced, especially when life gets a bit crazy.
Q Can you tell us why you choose to practice Reiki?
A I started practicing about two years ago and I decided to do so after a particularly stressful time in my life. I found that I would instinctively place my hand on my chest or stomach as a way to calm nerves or when I needed a few moments to ground myself. So, I eventually did my research and found a wonderful Reiki master called Jo Giles who taught me everything I know. I am a calmer, more positive and mindful person because of it.
Q You also have a very active fitness regime, including weight lifting. What does this involve?
A I have always been pretty active, but I started to focus more on weight lifting when I met my trainer Virgis Silinskas two years ago. There is often a misconception that women who weight train somehow become more masculine, but Virgis constantly inspires me to be as strong as possible – both physically and mentally. We’re currently working on deadlifting double my bodyweight and we’re almost there! I try to train between three to five times a week and I do a variety of training – everything from strength training to yoga. One thing I’ve realised about fitness is that goals and circumstances change, so my main aim is to train consistently even when it’s hard to find the motivation.
Photo copyright: Stephanie Yt
Q In what ways do you find Reiki and keeping fit help you?
A It sounds a cliché, but they really help me to balance mind, body and spirit. They are both great ways to release stress and negative energy.
I find Reiki useful when it comes to settling my nerves before an audition or going onto set/stage and it allows me to approach tasks with clarity.
Q Was there one inspiration behind wanting to become an actor?
A I knew I wanted to act at a very young age when I saw a childhood friend of mine perform at the National Theatre. It was the first time I had set foot in a theatre and there was something very profound about seeing someone who looked just like me on that stage. It instantly inspired me to become an actor. I just knew that it was what I wanted to do and seeing her do it so gracefully made my dreams valid.
Q Any highs and lows of your career you’d care to mention?
A One of the highest points of my career happened after the penultimate performance of My Mother Medea (directed by Justin Audibert) at the Unicorn Theatre. We had just finished performing to a girls’ school and I was greeted with a massive group hug from them when I went down to the foyer. I will never forget this moment because the teachers and students were telling me how important and great it was for young people to see representations of themselves on stage and in the media. I hope I inspired them to act, just like I was inspired as child.
I absolutely love what I do, but sometimes work can be exhausting because of long hours. Sometimes it’s hard to stay mentally and physically alert when tired, but I wouldn’t change this for the world.
Dog or cat? Cat
Favourite food? Sierra Leonean or Caribbean
Guilty pleasure? Afternoon naps
Main inspiration? Viola Davis
Glass half full or half empty? Always half full. A lot of the time it’s just full!
Q Can you describe a typical day, is there is such a thing for you?
A Every day is different for me. I love spontaneity and enjoy keeping myself busy, so I spend most of my time out and about. I usually go to the gym in the morning and then spend time with loved ones, go to the theatre or write. When I’m on a job, I make sure I don’t leave the house without having a hearty breakfast. It’s a bit more difficult to train when I’m working, but I try to go to the gym in the evenings. If not, I make an effort to relax, disconnect and prepare myself for another working day.
Q This year is an exciting one for you. This month you play Lina, a Spanish Moor and lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon in the drama series The Spanish Princess. Can you tell us more about your part and the drama?
A Lina de Cardonnes is Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting. They arrive in England together along with another lady-in-waiting called Rosa and a retinue of Spanish guards and advisors. They quickly realise that life in England will not be the same as the one they left behind in Spain. Lina is elegant, resilient, loyal and often puts others before herself… but she is not a woman to be messed with.
Q Do you think it sheds more light, and provides insight into, the lives of people of colour living in those times?
A Definitely. We tend to associate people of colour with certain eras of time and eradicate them from others. We are often led to believe that people of colour simply did not exist which is not the case. That is why I was so drawn to the character of Lina because she actually existed, as well as other people who accompanied Catherine of Aragon on her voyage to England. Hopefully this show will encourage people to learn more about people of colour in British history.
Q The drama has a refreshingly female-dominated line-up of directors, editors and production crew and is based upon Philippa Gregory’s books. It looks at this important and particular part of history from a woman’s perspective. Have you noticed any recent changes to attitudes towards women and minorities?
A I believe that things are slowly changing with regard to inclusivity. The voices of women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ etc are starting to be heard and I hope this continues to shape the way we tell stories in the future and how closely we examine history books. This era of time is particularly interesting because we have only heard about Henry VIII and his marriage to Catherine from the male standpoint. The Spanish Princess flips this on its head by telling the story from Catherine’s point of view and also from the women, like Lina, who are around her – including the Queen, Elizabeth of York. I was very lucky to work as part of such an incredible team of women – cast and crew.
Q What would be the ideal drama/film and part for you?
A There are so many roles I dream of playing – a super villain in a Bond or Marvel movie, a multifaceted character in a gritty British drama or film like the ones found in Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth, or even a badass detective like Jackie Brown in a Quentin Tarantino film.
Q What are your future ambitions?
A My ultimate goal is to achieve longevity in my career. I don’t intend to retire and I hope that I will be given the opportunity to do what I love for the rest of my life.