INTERVIEW: Maria Sten on DC’s ‘Swamp Thing,’ That Jaw-Dropping ‘Big Sky’ Premiere Ending, and Inclusivity in Hollywood
Maria Sten is doing it all; from acting, writing, directing, and producing, she is taking the entertainment industry by storm.
Maria can currently be seen on DC’s Swamp Thing as Liz Tremayne. The show airs Tuesdays on The CW at 8 PM ET. Swamp Thing is based on the DC characters created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson.
Something strange is happening in the swamps outside Marais, Louisiana. A mysterious illness hits the town, and it is suspected that it might be connected to biologist Alec Holland’s scientific work in the swamp. Dr. Abby Arcane arrives to look into what is happening, and Alec goes missing after investigating the unnatural experiments deep in the swamp, leading to Swamp Thing to rise in his place.
Liz is Abby’s old friend and local reporter, who has a lead deep in the swamp. She will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the story.
On top of starring in Swamp Thing, Sten is one of the writers of ABC’s new hit series Big Sky, which comes from the brilliant storyteller David E. Kelley. The thriller series follows private detectives Cassie Dewell and Cody Hoyt as they join forces with ex-cop, Jenny Hoyt, to search for two sisters who have gone missing in Montana. Soon they realize that they are not the only girls that have disappeared in the area.
Glitter spoke to Maria Sten about all the different hats that she has worn in the entertainment industry, Swamp Thing, what she loves about the character of Liz, what to expect from Big Sky, and what she learned about herself over quarantine. Read below to find out more.
GLITTER: Is there a role or film that inspired you to want to be on screen?
MARIA: I mean, so many. I think it’s more about certain movies that you watch growing up that evoke a sense of escapism and adventure and sort of, you know, disappearing into this world that we can experience outside of ourselves. And for me, that was movies like Thelma & Louise and Silverado, good old Lawrence Castle Western, and plenty of other movies like Pride and Prejudice, for example. I have a very eclectic taste. So, yeah, I think it’s more just these worlds that we can escape into. And I always wanted to do that as an actor, and I wanted to live more lives than the one that I had. And so I think that was primarily what made me want to be an actor.
GLITTER: You currently play Liz Tremayne on DC’s Swamp Thing; what drew you to the role?
MARIA: Yeah, I think Liz is just such a cool chick. You know, I think she represents a lot for a lot of people, and that definitely was something that I was very serious about taking on, being a Black woman growing up in a small town in the south, and she’s also gay. I think that there is a lot that could and should be done with her, but not necessarily in sort of a statement or token way, but just who she is, living her life, holding it down for her and her people, and trying to sort of be the backbone for her friends, trying to protect her town. She’s a woman of integrity, and she’s a trustworthy person, and she’s just a truly grounded, loyal human being, and I love that about her. And, you know, she also gives zero F’s about anything other than getting to the bottom of things, and I admire that about her so much. So, yeah, those are the primary things I would say.
GLITTER: Do you share any qualities with Liz?
MARIA: I think I am also a very sort of tenacious person when it comes to putting my mind to something; if I have an agenda, it’s going to happen one way or another— stubborn, if you will. And I think Liz is also a loyal friend and is trying to watch out for the people she cares about, and I think for me, I’m the same in a lot of ways. I’m very guarded, I think, and not maybe as open as Liz is, but I also have that edge that she does, you know, like she will stand up for herself. She’s got a bit of archness to her as well that I love, sort of making light of situations— kind of like a permanent smirk on her face, and I think that is definitely something that I am and that I use in playing Liz as well.
GLITTER: What has been your favorite part about Liz’s storyline acting-wise?
MARIA: Oh, that’s a tricky question. I think the notion that she’s on a mission, the notion that she is trying to take down this man who is essentially, you know, mucking it up for everybody in her town. She has a purpose, and she’s going to go out there and get it. And then I think the storyline with her and Cassidy, Daniel Cassidy, I think is, you know, there is an opportunity for lots of things to happen there and sort of how she decides to take it upon herself to help this guy out who obviously is going through some issues. I think those are both things that if there were more episodes, I would love to see more unfold in that regard.
GLITTER: What can fans expect from upcoming episodes of the series?
MARIA: More crazy, more drama, lots more action, definitely. I mean, we are getting down to the sort of the heart of the story, if you will, and who is Swamp Thing, what has he become, and who the people are who are trying to get him. And I also think you’ll find that we will find that there are larger things at play that we did not know about.
GLITTER: Any favorite on-set memories you can share?
MARIA: Oh my God, so many. I mean, shooting that show was just a joy in so many ways. We still consider our little Swamp family a family. I think specifically, we were shooting later in the season, and we were shooting out of this concrete factory in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. I, Crystal, and Derek, playing Swamp Thing, were just roaming around this crazy location, and it’s a really high stakes situation, but we just had such a good time that we just kept having these laughing fits. And I think that’s sort of is a testament to how our days were on set, just always filled with good times, like joy. You want to make art and TV, but you also want to have fun while doing it and enjoy the people that you’re working with, and for me, that was definitely this show.
GLITTER: When did writing become a passion of yours?
MARIA: Good question. I’ve always been a writer, sort of a person who writes things better than I’m a writer. And then, when I was first starting out as an actor in LA, I, as many actors do, hit a wall in terms of sort of not getting the jobs that I was up for or getting great feedback, which is not booking the roles. And I often felt that, you know, I needed to belong to some sort of box or stereotype, not for everything, obviously, but oftentimes for being a woman of color, and that that’s what you sort of find yourself in. And I’m so glad to see that things have been changing over the last couple of years, but I think that was primarily the reason why I started to write because there were just characters that I wanted to play that I didn’t see necessarily out there, and then I just decided to write them.
GLITTER: You’re currently writing for ABC’s Big Sky; what can you tease about where the story is heading?
MARIA: That’s also going to get much more dramatic and much darker in a lot of ways. The genius of David E. Kelley is obviously that lots of things are unexpected. You just never know what you’re going to expect from these characters. When you think you have things figured out, we love to sort of subvert the tropes and do the different thing, I think. Yeah, I mean, I really don’t want to spoil too much because we just got started with this one. But essentially, the villains of the show will unfold, and we are on the trail of trying to find these missing girls, and it gets a lot more complicated than that.
GLITTER: The first episode of the show had a major, jaw-dropping ending. How did you guys come up with that, and what was the reaction like at the table read?
MARIA: Well, that was all David. He had already written the pilot, and I remember when I was interviewing for this job, they sent me the pilot, and I literally went “Ooooo” at the end because it was so unexpected, and this was even before I knew who they had cast for it. So it was so amazing. And again, that’s David. And I don’t know, you know, everybody because of COVID had all read it separately. So we all got it sent; it wasn’t the first read on the table read, unfortunately, because it would have been really great to see everybody’s reaction. But everybody was sort of queued in, but everyone who read the first read had the same reaction that I think all of the fans watching the show had. Yeah, which was super thrilling and exciting.
GLITTER: Is there a character or storyline on the show that is particularly interesting or challenging to write for?
MARIA: I was drawn to the show because we are witnessing a Black woman as a personal investigator set in this modern western town in Montana, and for me, that, again, is something that I haven’t seen before. It’s something that is personally interesting to me. So the character of Cassie was definitely what drew me to the show. And then it’s been really wonderful to watch what Jesse James Keitel is doing with the character of Jerrie, and just love that we have that kind of representation on our show for me is really important and exciting, and they’re doing such a great job. But I think the whole cast is so stellar, and they work really well together, even now, despite the fact that we’re shooting in the middle of a pandemic. So it’s so lovely to see the dailies come in and see everybody bringing their A-game. And it’s exciting to be on a show that’s also, again, female-driven. That is what I gravitated towards, and it’s great to see these women empowered, standing up for themselves, on a mission, doing what they do. Yeah, I love that.
GLITTER: Do you have a favorite scene from the episodes that have already aired?
MARIA: Let’s see… I love— it’s not a scene per se, as it is a sequence I love— so episode three was the Grace escape; I love that sequence. That was fun for me to watch, and yeah, it’s a just great sequence, you know, her escaping and having to crawl out. It’s very Shawshank Redemption, which was really cool. I love that sequence.
GLITTER: On top of acting and writing, you’re also a producer and director. What inspired you to try so many different aspects of the entertainment industry?
MARIA: I think it’s the same as why I’m both acting and writing; it’s telling story. I think I better identify as a storyteller in general rather than an actor, writer, director, or producer. I believe it’s all about story; it’s all about character. Whichever hat that I put on to tell that story is just the matter of how I best can facilitate that story and what that story needs from me, whichever talent that may be, and I think that’s what is important to me; that’s what is exciting to me. I think, specifically, there are certain stories where I really feel connected to the character, and I will really fight to play something, and then there are other things where I’m happy writing it, but giving it to someone that I think could do a fantastic job on something. Then with directing, I think that has to be incredibly personal; most things are that come out of your mind anyway, but I think with directing, there has to be some reason why I would want to direct it rather than do any of the other things. And producing is just sort of all of the things at the same time. Yeah, so I don’t know, it depends. I love doing all of the things, and I’m looking forward to continuing to do that.
GLITTER: You debuted your first short, When It Burns, which you wrote, directed, produced, and starred in at Uptown Short Film Festival and LA Shorts Fest 2016. What was that moment like for you?
MARIA: It was exciting! It was really wonderful. I mean, it was a tiny little movie that I made with my friends and raised money for it, and it was just really lovely to get into a film festival. I think, quite frankly, me making that film and wearing all the hats for that is what made me the writer that I am today or it launched my writing career because you learn so much in a standing production and what’s necessary for production, and understanding what you actually can and cannot shoot, and understanding structure and story. I tell everybody, whatever you’re doing, if you want to be an actor, director, writer, producer, get out there and make a thing. Go out with your friends and make a thing, especially with these iPhones that we have now. You can get so creative, and that’s really the best way nowadays is just going out there and putting it into action.
GLITTER: How would you describe your dream role or project?
MARIA: I have many for different reasons. I think working with good people, like-kind, creative human beings, who are all in service of the story—playing a period piece character, something really juicy. I’d love to play a villain. I think we need more female villains out there. Yeah, doing like anything period I’m obsessed with or action and also anything with a horse; if there’s a horse involved, I’m there, sign me up.
GLITTER: What is a day in social isolation like for you?
MARIA: It starts with mediation, and then I will have my morning coffee. And I’ll try to get up, depending on where I am, I’ll try to watch the sunrise; I’ll just take five minutes to myself and sit on my couch and just drink coffee before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. Then, I will go into the zoom room because that’s how we’re doing our writers room, or I’ll work on my own stuff on my laptop, and I’ve made a little home office that I’m using. Then, I’ll try to get out and do something active like hiking, yoga, a run, just something outside so that we can sort of break the monotony of imprisonment. I think it is important.
GLITTER: Did you learn anything about yourself over quarantine?
MARIA: I did. Yeah, I mean, I specifically chose that time to sort of do some work on me, and I have this “go, go, go,” always “go, go, go,” so it was really jarring for me to have to sit still. I also travel once a month usually, so having to be locked in the same city, in the same place for that long a time, was challenging, to say the least. I’m sure we all felt that way, and so I sort of just embraced it as a way of understanding, “well, if I stop running, how do I feel? And what does my life look like? What else am I able to work on?” And sort of also retweak my mind into this idea that “what is really important? What are really the things that we need in this time,” and it is less and simpler than I think many people thought it was, at least for me personally.
GLITTER: What do you look for in a script when taking roles and what do you try to bring to a script when you’re on the writing side of it?
MARIA: I look for authenticity. I look for point of view, a strong point of view, like I know what the story wants to say. And then layered, complex character I think is, as an actor, is everything. Complex, flawed, difficult, complicated, to me, is what’s interesting as an actor. As the writer, it depends. I sort of have lived a lot of different lives, so each project that I sign on to may need something else from me, and so it will be my experience as a woman of color or as an immigrant or just my human experience in the world is mostly what I try to add to a room. Then you know, what does the showrunner need? What does the story need? What does the show need? And try to just be as collaborative as possible.
GLITTER: What changes do you think the entertainment industry needs to make in terms of making Hollywood more inclusive?
MARIA: I think there need to be more POC showrunners, more POC producers, and in the writers’ room also, but I think the big change is when you have people in positions of decision making; I think that’s when we’ll really see a difference and it starts from the bottom up; it starts with the assistants at the agencies, the assistants at the production companies, at the management companies being diversified and getting more inclusive, because they’re essentially the ones that end up with the big jobs in the long run. And so it’s a long overhaul, and there’s a long way to go, but I am happy to see that there has been the kind of awakening this year, and there’s just more work to be done in that way. I think when you have an overall diverse perspective— and when I say diverse I don’t just mean people of color when I say diverse I mean when you have the LGBTQ+ community, Asian American experience, the indigenous experience, the Black experience, so many things that are at play— you need all of those perspectives to have a full understanding of the human experience I think, and the more diversified in that regard, you can have it better. So that’s essentially what I’m looking for, and if I’m putting a room together, that’s how I would put the room together.
GLITTER: Best piece of life advice you’ve received?
MARIA: That’s a tricky one because I don’t think that there’s one. I live by a certain mantra, but it’s not something that someone told me. I live by the mantra that is “life is what you make it,” but my old mentor quoted this quote always that has stuck with me, and I’m gonna try not to butcher it. She used to say, “may your reach extend your grasp or what’s a heaven for,” and that essentially means keep reaching, keep reaching upwards; reach for things that you think are beyond your grasp, otherwise why would there be a heaven, right? If you believe in that sort of thing.
GLITTER: Last show you binge-watched?
MARIA: I binge-watched The Americans, Mrs. America, and The Morning Show. I just blew through The Morning Show.
GLITTER: What music is on your most recent playlist?
MARIA: I have a super eclectic playlist, again. I will listen to old country and then like singer-songwriter, and sort of industrial crunchy rock. But right now, I found a singer-songwriter named Kobe, and he is jamming my Pandora playlist hardcore right now. Then I mix that with a little bit of Hozier, and that’s sort of how I get down the road.
GLITTER: Any favorite beauty products?
MARIA: I do; I actually just discovered this brand— I have very very dry sensitive skin— so I discovered this brand called M-61, and they have this wonderful face cream, which is doing wonders for my very very dry skin. It is called Hydroboost cream, and it’s all cruelty-free, vegan, it’s a clean brand, and this has actually been my favorite face cream so far. Then I use ILIA for foundation and concealer, and I love it, which is also a clean brand.
GLITTER: Glitter has a celebrity #SelfLoveCampaign. What does self-love mean to you?
MARIA: Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. It’s okay to take five minutes and do nothing. I think we forget that a lot, especially knowing history, but I think humans beings over all these times we’re always on our phones, always at work, always busy, and I think it’s really important to take time to just sit and be quiet and listen to yourself. And don’t apologize for who you are; be yourself fully.
GLITTER: Do you have any new projects coming up that you can share?
At the moment, I’m working on a few things, but nothing is set in stone yet. So I have a couple of things that I am developing on the writing side and then some things mowing on the acting side, but I think it all depends on how next year transpires, and what goes and where it doesn’t go, but I’m excited to see what 2021 will yield.
GLITTER: What are the best social media platforms for fans to keep up with all things with Maria?
MARIA: My Instagram is usually where I’m most active, and that is just my name @mariasten.