Interview: Ian Verdun Talks Freeform’s Siren – Exclusive
Although creatures of myth and legend are a perennial media favorite, vampires have had their time in the sun. Move over, Dracula – the mermaids are coming.
On March 29, Freeform invites you to dip into the waters off Bristol Cove, a town with a decidedly fishy history that may not be entirely relegated to the past. In the two-hour premiere of Siren, you’ll meet fisherman Xander (Ian Verdun), marine biologists Ben (Alex Roe) and Maddie (Fola Evans-Akingbola), and the mysterious Ryn (Eline Powell). Pop City Life spoke with Ian Verdun about his character, his approach to acting, and the show’s on-set dynamic (pun alert: the cast gets along swimmingly).
To begin, tell us about Siren in general and your character in particular!
Ian Verdun: Siren is about a coastal town called Bristol Cove, notable for its legend of once being home to mermaids. My character, Xander, is a local fisherman who works for his father on a small trawler called The North Star. The story picks up with us discovering something in the ocean that we’ve never come across before. Things really start getting interesting when a girl comes to town and starts to prove those local legends all too true, as we come to find out that these creatures are a lot like the ocean itself; mysterious, beautiful, beckoning, and dangerous. As for Xander, I really love him. He’s a real salt-of-the-earth, earnest and loyal guy, but he’s got plenty of flaws. His humanity is really disarming, especially considering we’re in a world with mermaids running amok.
Do you think you’d get along with Xander if you met him in real life? What are some of the biggest similarities and differences between you, and what do you like and dislike about him?
I like to think that I’d get along with Xander, even though we’d probably run in different circles. He’s a likable guy, fiercely loyal almost to a fault, and way smarter than people give him credit for. I relate to him a lot in terms of where he finds himself at the beginning of the season. He’s at a time in his life where he’s starting to feel left behind while his friends all seem to be moving forward. I can totally relate to that mindset – as I’m sure plenty people can – but where we differ is I never felt obligated to work for my father, or any family business for that matter. Even though I come from a poor background (probably poorer than Xander’s), I always felt free to pursue whatever passions I had. I think Xander feels the weight of familial responsibility and he kinda resents it. There are plenty of things to both like and dislike about him, from his loyalty to his impulsiveness, and I think that’s what really makes him so three-dimensional. He’s not the kind of character that’s explored in broad stokes. There’s so much room for nuance.
The show incorporates two elements that have been en vogue in recent years: dark twists on familiar settings (The CW’s Riverdale, Netflix’s upcoming Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) and creatures of myth and legend (MTV’s Teen Wolf, The CW’s The Vampire Diaries). How does Siren expand on those themes in a unique way, and what can you tell us about what lies beneath Bristol Cove’s seemingly idyllic image?
The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that we’re all playing adults, haha. So many genre shows start off with the characters in high school (or even younger), which is great, but it’s nice being able to explore this story through a more mature lens. Our characters have history – they’re not discovering themselves in the same way you do when you’re 16. Most of the young characters are all in their mid to late 20s, which can be a super-turbulent time (it certainly was for me). The kinds of questions and conflicts that come up in that part of your life can have reverberations that shape your thinking and choices as you move into your 30s and beyond. Your relationships with your parents and even the town you grew up in all kind of shift as you really start to spread your wings as a full-fledged grown-up. Being able to play all those dynamics in a world with fantastical creatures is fun and very liberating.
Another thing that comes to mind is that even though we’re a genre show about mermaids, our world isn’t magical. There are no spells, demons, magic, or anything that’s specifically supernatural. We treat the mermaids as if they exist in the same world we do, where the idea of a genuine mermaid would sound ridiculous to the everyday person. We try to use real-world elements to inform the story, like the cause-and-effect relationship between human activity and the environment. It all lends a gritty, grounded quality to the story that really sets it apart. As far as what lies beneath Bristol Cove? One thing is for sure: There’s definitely a secret or two in those frigid coastal waters…
Is there a particular story line, episode, or scene that you’re especially excited for viewers to see?
Every episode really has something different to offer, and if I could go into detail without getting in trouble, I could go on and on! We liked to joke on set that it felt like we were shooting a movie every week with how much we packed into every episode. Honestly, I’m excited to see all of it. When you’re filming, it all shoots by so fast because you’re all so focused – not to mention you’re not on set every day and the special effects aren’t there, so we don’t see everyone’s work until the rest of the world does. But from what I have seen, I gotta say I’m a genuine fan of the show, which I know is biased but I just think it’s so cool. It’s not something that’s really been explored in this way on TV, especially not with such a diverse cast. I’m excited for people to go on the ride with us, and I just hope people think it’s as fun as I do.
From the trailers and sneak peeks we’ve seen thus far, Siren seems like it’ll be an intense viewing experience! How does that intensity impact the mood on set as a whole? Are you able to leave the heavier themes (such as genocide) “at the office,” or do you bring them home at the end of the day?
Haha, actually every moment on set was a riot! As a cast, we all got along swimmingly (pun totally intended). Every day was full of laughter. Even when it was four in the morning and they were dumping water on us in the ocean, in 30-degree weather, the energy on set was never grim. I think everyone was just so excited to be creating this new world with each other, and we just got lucky in that not only was everyone pretty damn talented, but everyone was incredibly chill. It really speaks to everyone’s abilities when you can be cracking jokes one minute and in a heavy scene the next without making the energy dour and keeping the scene real. The most that happened is we all got pretty burned out by the end of it. There were some long workdays.
You have a background in theater, along with previous TV acting experience. How do you approach a live, onstage project compared to a televised role? Is there a medium you prefer?
I approach my work in pretty much the same way regardless of the medium; I think the only real difference is the amount of rehearsal time you get in theater. I don’t have a preference really, but I do enjoy each medium for different reasons. The beauty of theater is that it’s a moment in time experienced only by the people in that room, during that one performance. The moments are palpable, alive, and no two performances – or audiences – are alike. When the run is done, the show is left to the memory of those who experienced it. Theater is cathartic – it lives, dies, then emerges as something else in a different era, which is what makes it so enduring. It’s one of the oldest art forms in human culture. Conversely, film and TV are meant to be preserved and disseminated to millions of people across the globe, which is just as beautiful, if not a little mind-boggling. The beauty here is in the amount of nuance you’re afforded as a performer, since there’s a camera in your face. You’re freed from the limitations of being one person performing for possibly thousands in the flesh, and allowed the space to explore the smallest moment, no matter how fleeting – and everyone will be able to see it, not just the first four rows. Also, it’s the only time I can actually enjoy or critique my own performance and see how my choices read as a whole from a third-party perspective. I see myself exploring both mediums as an actor and a writer as much as I can as my career moves forward.
On March 29, the first two episodes of Siren will air back to back on Freeform, establishing a solid foundation for fans looking to binge-watch the series! What shows do you love to watch multiple episodes of in one sitting?
I think the right question would be: Which shows don’t I binge-watch?! Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage… I could keep going. I’d binge Game of Thrones if it were an option!
Thank you, Ian Verdun, for chatting with us!
The first two episodes of Siren will air back-to-back on Freeform, starting at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Thursday, March 29. Oh, and one more thing? March 29 is International Mermaid Day!