When Push Comes to Shove: Interview with Alphas' Laura Mennell

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Laura Mennell as Alphas' Nina Theroux

Have you ever met someone who could get you to do what he or she wanted just by asking? Alphas’ Nina Theroux is one such person who can wrap you around her little finger simply by speaking a few words. She possesses the superhuman ability of Hyper Induction, which allows her to mentally “push” a person into doing whatever she asks. For a number of years, Nina used her power to get almost anything she desired and enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle. All that changed, though, when she met Dr. Lee Rosen, who showed Nina a different path.

Since then, she has worked as part of his team to help stop fellow Alphas who are using their powers to commit crimes. Unfortunately, the world that Nina and her teammates worked so hard and risked their lives to build in the show’s first season was forever changed at the end of last year’s finale, "Original Sin," when Dr. Rosen announced the existence of Alphas to the outside world. Right from the start of season two, our heroes are forced to deal with the aftermath caused by that revelation, as Laura Mennell, who plays Nina, explains.

“This season is so exciting and we start at a completely different place,” enthuses the actress. “Rosen [David Strathairn] has been in prison as part of a cover-up, and a number of his team end up reverting back to their former selves, especially Nina. She goes back to a place where there’s this void she needs to fill, so Nina begins compulsively pushing. Also my character’s past starts catching up with her again and she’s in a dark place. So she kind of gets lost in her ability and indulges in it somewhat, too.

“The nice thing about last year for Nina is that although she wasn’t in a perfect space, Rosen kind of created this world for her where she was comfortable and with these people she was having real relationships with and who she truly cared about. They were like a family to Nina. Obviously, my character still had these walls up and, again, things weren’t perfect, but she was in a good place and felt more whole. Then in season two, Rosen is gone for a while and everything that they all worked so hard for is more or less ripped away.

“That was difficult for Nina and she couldn’t cope very well. I think she has some issues of blame with Rosen for not being able to deal with those changes. He gave Nina something that maybe in a way to her felt like it was never meant to be. She’s thinking perhaps she doesn’t deserve this world with all these people who care about her. Maybe that’s not ‘natural’ for Nina, and she wasn’t given the skills to cope with all of that. So I think she felt a bit abandoned and, unfortunately, blames Rosen. Whether or not that’s right, I don’t know. Rosen had his reasons for doing what he did, and I believe that Nina understood and supported that, but once she was alone, that was a little tough for her to take.

“Things will change, though,” hints Mennell with a smile. “It won’t stay that way. My character has a journey throughout the episodes this year, and Rosen is very selfless to her at a time when maybe she doesn’t totally deserve it. In the end, she feels the need to redeem herself to him because of what he’s done for her.”

Having taken such big steps forward with her character in season one of Alphas, was it tough for Mennell to turn back the clock with Nina and revisit some of her “bad” Alphas behavior? “Honestly, I think it makes her even more interesting and more human to regress back to where she was and delve into her scarred past,” she says.

“Also people are human and they make mistakes, and Nina makes a heck of a lot of mistakes this year. She does things maybe she shouldn't, some of which might be a little unforgivable, but people do that. As I mentioned, Nina has a bit of redeeming to do after she does one or two of these things that perhaps she shouldn’t have. In my eyes, though, when I look at it, it makes sense to me. There are reasons behind her actions, and I like the fact that you get to see where my character is coming from.

“Without giving too much away, this season will be really interesting for the viewers because the writers go a lot more in-depth with my character. You’ll learn much more about Nina and her past. There’s an episode this year, I think it’s number five, where a great deal of her back story is revealed. Nina reconnects with someone from her past, and that brings up a great deal for her emotionally, including all sorts of memories, some of which aren’t very good.  It’s beautifully layered and you get to see who she was in her adolescence and how that progresses to who she is today and where she’s at now in her storyline. The episode is intense and was challenging for me acting-wise, but I totally embraced that.”

While they all have very different skills as well as personalities, the key to Dr. Rosen’s group of Alphas is that they all worked as a team in the show’s first season. As Mennell previously mentioned, his actions at the end of last year changed all that. The team subsequently disbanded and Nina and the others were left floundering for eight months. They regroup in Alphas’ second season opener "Wake Up Call" to help one of their own, but there are relationships, including the one between Nina and Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie), that could be irreparably damaged.

“With Nina and Cameron it was on again, then off again, then on again and they seemed to be getting somewhere, but it was never going to last,” notes Mennell. “I guess if it did last, it wouldn’t be that exciting, so that romance got crushed rather quickly when the team broke up. I think Nina feels betrayed by Cameron because he ends up with Rosen’s daughter Dani [Kathleen Munroe], and Cameron was one of the last people who Nina hoped would always be there for her. However, she messed things up first. Sadly, Nina crossed some boundaries that she shouldn’t have and began to push Cameron as she got more and more caught up again in pushing. That pretty much ended it all, but for her to then come back and find out that Cameron is with Dani is a bit too much for Nina.

“All these little connections begin to fall apart and she feels pretty alone at the start of season two. Nina keeps trying, though. She returns to the team essentially because Gary [Ryan Cartwright] is in danger. That’s probably the one and only reason why my character would come back. When she does return after feeling so lonely, she tries taking a couple of baby steps, but then realizes, ‘Okay, I don’t feel the same circle of trust that I once did with all these people,’ especially Cameron.

“Nina falls out with Rachel [Azita Ghanizada] as well because she knows everything, right? Rachel can smell things, she can sense things, so it’s more than likely she knew about Cameron and Dani. I don’t think she knew about it for very long, but just the fact that she knew and never said anything is, I feel, another betrayal for Nina. It seems like my character is just not connecting with anyone this season and it’s a rocky road for sure. I know bits and pieces about what’s ahead, but I’m not entirely certain where Nina is will end up. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

When Alphas wraps production on its second season, the actress has plans to return to the theatre. “I did a play a while ago in Vancouver called Tear the Curtain, which is a 1930s film noir type of piece,” she says. “Once we finish filming Alphas, I’m planning to return to Vancouver to do a couple of rehearsals and then the play will be coming here to Toronto in October for a run at The Canadian Stage, which I think will be pretty cool. The show did very well in Vancouver and it’ll be fun for me to switch things up acting-wise.”

It has been a busy day for Mennell and the rest of the Alphas cast and crew. They have been on location in Ancaster, Ontario filming scenes for the season two episode "Alphaville." The sun has long since set and work is still going on. Mennell finished her scenes an hour or so ago, but graciously stayed around to chat. Even after several hours of work, she is still smiling and it is obvious that the actress enjoys what she does.

“I’m very lucky,” says Mennell. “This is a great show to be on and everyone here is wonderful and truly enjoys one another’s company. As for Nina, even though things have been tough for her so far this year, I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would have been easy to keep her where she was at the end of last year, but then that wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting for audiences to watch or for me to play, right? As an actor, it’s always good to have more to play with as your character, so I couldn’t be happier.”

Please note, last photo of Laura Mennell courtesy/copyright of Pinnacle Public Relations. All other photos copyright of Syfy.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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