Siren’s Eline Powell: Interview with a Mermaid

We talked to Siren's Eline Powell about the horror elements of Freeform's new mermaid show.

Siren has its two-hour premiere tonight on Freeform, and the mermaid drama is a must-see for anyone who likes their fantasy tinged with a healthy dose of horror. The series isn’t your typical pop culture mermaid story, leaning more heavily on earlier mythology—less “Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat,” more mermaids smashing ships into rocks.

English actress Eline Powell (Game of Thrones, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) plays Ryn, the show’s eponymous siren. When Ryn shows up in the small, seaside town of Bristol Cove, she throws everything the townspeople thought they knew about mermaids (and, you know, reality) into question. On the search for something important that’s gone missing, Ryn wreaks some scary, mermaid-style havoc in her quest to recover what she’s lost.

“Most of the mermaids in popular culture—Splash or the Little Mermaid, which I love—they’re much more easy-going and beautiful and glossy and sleek,” Powell told Den of Geek about Siren. “In our show, the mermaids are much more animalistic. These are creatures that survive in the ocean. You have to be a little bit fierce in order to cope with that. And these creatures are predators, really. They’re not as perfect or sensitive or beautiful as maybe we’ve seen before, but that’s what makes them exciting. They have a wild side.”

The wild side of Siren‘s mermaids is immediately apparent in the show’s first two episodes (both airing tonight), which have a fair amount of bloodshed—of the human, mermaid, and rat varieties. One of the most promising aspects of show in these first few episodes is its refreshingly dangerous female protagonist. 

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“I never thought of Ryn as evil from the very start, even when I didn’t really know whether she would be,” said Powell. “I think maybe that’s my job as an actor to be sort of non-judgmental. But, in my head, evil implies mal-intent and, even though Ryn is extremely dangerous and can definitely… she has no problem going there, in terms of taking someone out, I just never disagreed with her reasoning. I never saw the problem of her level of aggression—not that I condone violence in any way, but, in terms of Ryn’s mind, I think she’s dangerous, but not evil.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrtY7OnVlw8

The Siren trailer plays fast and vague with its depiction of Ryn, as does the pilot, hoping to keep a level of suspense about what the character’s intentions are and how far she will go to execute them. That suspense is the best part of the two-hour premiere.

“I loved watching reactions to the trailer,” said Powell, “where [Ryn]’s being kind of creepy and evil and, you know, that remain so for the rest of the show for some people, but, in my mind, I totally understand Ryn. She’s just a wild animal, and you need to respect that … I love that people instantly go villain, when, actually, she’s just more complex than that.”

Of course, Ryn isn’t the only character on the show. The other main protagonist is marine biologist Ben (Alex Roe), whose family has deep connections to the town of Bristol Cove and its murky history with mermaids. Ben, along with his girlfriend and fellow marine biologist Maddie (Fola Evans-Akingbola), are two of the first people Ryn meets upon turning up in town.

“Though [their relationship] comes out of needing them,” teased Powell, “it does develop into a genuine connection, a genuine sort of intrigue with each other—both with Ben and with Maddie.”

It’s those connections with Ben and Maddie that contribute to Ryn’s own adaptation to life on land. When we first meet her, the character doesn’t know how to speak English and moves like she is still in the water.

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“It was so creative to compose her whole being in that sense,” said Powell. “Obviously, as she learns English and she becomes a bit more used to how she moves her body, those things should become less or less extreme.” That being said, Powell added: “She will always be a mermaid, so I don’t know if she’ll ever get quite, completely ‘normal.'”

Ryn picks things up very quickly, and we already see her learning English in the first episode. In the world of Siren, mermaids are “very, very intelligent,” said Powell. “You will definitely be impressed by the quick uptake of language, but it’s also because Ryn’s experience is quite unique. You have a marine biologist who is patient and who is open to exchange of information. Ryn’s experience has been very different than one of more hardship that allows language to be developed.”

There are many secrets to discover in the 10-episode first season of Siren. Who should check it out? “Anybody who’s into fantasy. Anybody who’s into a bit of dark thriller. Anybody who’s interested in mythology,” said Powell, before adding with a laugh: “And anyone who’s interested in awesomeness.”

Siren’s two-hour premiere starts tonight, March 29th at 8 p.m. ET on Freeform.