In part two of my series on the supernatural crime drama Riley Parra, I interviewed Marem Hassler, who stars as Detective Parra. Riley Parra is the latest series from Tello Films. Based on the novels by the same name from author Geonn Cannon, the series is directed by Tello Films CEO and president Christin Baker. Riley Parra features strong female characters, an intriguing story line and queer romance. Detective Riley Parra and her medical examiner/love interest Dr. Gillian Hunt (Liz Vassey) solve crimes in a dangerous part of town called No Man’s Land. However, the trouble in town extends far beyond ordinary criminals. Riley uncovers an other-worldly battle between angels and demons who are fighting for the soul of the city. Riley becomes a champion for the angels and combats the forces of darkness. I spoke with Marem about what drew her to this character, how she prepared for the role and the little-known importance of footwear as a predictor of on-screen chemistry.
Listen to the interview or read the transcript below. It has been edited slightly for clarity.
|Delina:||Today I’m speaking with Marem Hassler who stars as Riley Parra. Thank you for joining me today.|
|Delina:||I know that Geonn pitched his books to Christin to make it a project for Tello Films. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in this project?|
|Marem:||I’ve known Christin for a little while. I’ve had the pleasure to have a friendship with her outside of Riley Parra. Creatively we’ve been wanting to do something together. Then she just came up and she said, “Hey, I have this project. Can you come for the reading?” I think I got the script maybe a week before. I went crazy. I was just like completely in love. Completely taken with every aspect. I mean, every character had so many facets, was so real to me and I loved how troubled she was. Not in the sense that we’re used to, detectives that have a past and are troubled; but, she’s actually troubled because she has so much hope in her. That’s the part that’s troubling for her because she’s not going to give up on her city, on her town, or the people in it. It’s actually building on a positive as opposed to on a negative.
The back story was really interesting to me. As soon as I had the script I went and I got the book. Little did I know what that’s going to open up because I got completely hooked.
|Marem:||Yeah and Geonn’s world is wonderful. I thought he was a woman, not gonna lie. I thought he was a woman because …|
|Delina:||I thought so too.|
|Marem:||Did you too?|
|Delina:||Well, I didn’t actually read the books, but I just assumed that whoever wrote it was a woman when I was going through it. Then I started doing research and I’m like, oh my God, this is a guy.|
|Marem:||Yeah. You got to read the books though. You know how they say the books … it’s just that extra, I want to say that extra layer of flesh. That is hard to bring to life in 60 minutes. It’s always harder, right? It’s like when you read Harry Potter as opposed to just watching it, you know details that might not come out; little secrets that the character has that the other characters will never know. Of course, I read all the books. I got completely hooked. Then I really wanted to physicalize what I felt that I had absorbed through the reading, through the co-actors as well, through the other actors and through the books. I wanted to physically absorb that. I’m very much a person that goes outward in meaning I like to physicalize what I’m experiencing, you know?|
|Marem:||I felt that she was … I’m pretty fit and I do some degree of martial arts and all of that stuff. But, I felt that she was … She’s not the person that goes to the gym. She’s a person that is fit out of necessity. She’s gotta run, but she’s gonna be out of breath, so how do I find that in my body?
That was my way of working my way to it. I had a prep of … When did we start? I think I had a prep of maybe four months.
|Marem:||Yeah. I took the four months for sure to just find it in my body. Transform the body, to really build strength and speed. Not necessarily outwardly, I don’t think I look that much different. I had more strength, that gave me more authority. A friend of mine, he’s an instructor on how to shoot guns safely. He took me under his wings and we did maneuvers, so I was rolling over, turning around, running, shooting. It was good. It’s a dream come true for every actress.|
|Delina:||Yeah. I can imagine if you haven’t done that kind of physical stuff before you definitely need somebody to show you how to do it right.|
|Marem:||Yeah, and you want to do it right. I have great respect for people who are in that line of work.|
|Marem:||You don’t want to let them down. You want to be real. They watch it and they feel some what represented as well. That was important to me.|
|Delina:||Yeah. That’s great. By reading all the books, did you feel like you got to know the character, Riley, a little bit better?|
|Marem:||I thought I did. Then I got on set and then you started seeing your reflection back. I’m in the body, I’m in the skin of Riley and I’m interacting with let’s say with Gillian played by Liz Vassey, who’s amazing. I see her interacting with that. The picture that I’m getting back is already more information than I could ever get by myself. Does that make sense?|
|Marem:||You know? Your actors, the people that you’re interacting with, some of them give you more information about yourself. That was really … I loved that because I found little things that I didn’t think that Riley had. There’s a tenderness that I hadn’t really tapped into as much. Then with Liz we found that, that was beautiful. With Whitney there was a little cheek going on and she can give as good as she gets. The girl does not hold back. It was awesome. Yeah, that was really nice.|
|Delina:||Yeah, I can imagine that sort of brings a whole new dimension to the character.|
|Delina:||I know you talked a little bit about how you’re fit and Riley’s fit, are there other ways that you felt like you were similar to Riley?|
|Marem:||Yes, I would say I have that sense of, I don’t want to say fairness because that is so subjective, but a sense of what is right and wrong in terms of people who can not stand up for themselves. They’re the ones that are weaker. Animals, I have a really strong sense of wanting to protect and make a difference and help. I also don’t like to be told what to do. I really don’t and that lends itself very well, because clearly I don’t get along with the captain. There were a lot of similarities, for sure, that were going on. It wasn’t so hard. Christin, the director, can probably tell you that too. She was like “Marem! I want to tell you what to do now, this one time.” We had a lot of fun on set.|
|Delina:||Christin seems like she’d be fun to work with.|
|Marem:||She is awesome, she’s that perfect balance of telling you what she needs and then letting you run with that. She will let you know if it doesn’t work. Very quickly and very directly, which I appreciated. But, she will never … Like she’ll jump in with you. She’s not gonna abandon you. She creates that moment of safety for you to take that leap and she’s right there with you.|
|Marem:||That was really, it was wonderful working with her. With everybody on set, I gotta say, it was a really good crowd. It was hard to say bye.|
|Delina:||I can imagine.|
|Delina:||You mentioned Liz Vassey. You seem to have a very good, almost instantaneous, rapport with her. Was it hard to develop that on-screen chemistry or did it come kind of naturally?|
|Marem:||I tell you when we knew that we were just like, we got this. It was literally when we showed up to the reading, the table read, in I would say matching boots and it was (laughs) … You can’t hide that shit, I mean that stuff. You can’t make that up. We appreciated each other’s style. It was instant. She is very, very generous. She’s very, very smart. That’s a wonderful combination. Because you trust the person in front of you completely. Where she’s going.|
|Marem:||She has a wealth of experience that I certainly did not, or don’t have. She allowed me at times to just go for it and she was just there. It was amazing. We had a lot of fun.|
|Marem:||Anybody who ever thinks that it’s difficult to connect, or find that chemistry with her, just look at the shoes. I mean, just match and you’re good.|
|Delina:||This show is an interesting mix of a police procedural and a supernatural drama. Are you a big fan of those genres? Do you have any favorite shows that influenced your work?|
|Marem:||I do. I don’t have a lot of shows that I follow that way. I tell you what’s really funny, I just heard the other day that Flatliners is a remake of Flatliners.|
|Marem:||Yeah. My sister is totally into movies and she’s a little bit older than I am. She showed me Jaws and whatever, that was one of the movies that she showed me and another one with Faye Dunaway called The Eyes of Laura Mars. That element of supernatural but kind of possible, I really like that. That has always interested me. Zombies and all that stuff, I don’t feel so much drawn to that. I don’t know enough about it. But, that aspect that the supernatural lies within us all a little bit, that they show us what we don’t understand about ourselves, that to me is fascinating.|
|Marem:||I feel that Riley taps into that. Even though the angels and the demons are embodied; it could be the world today. We didn’t shoot it in a supernatural setting at all. These are normal people you could be passing them and suddenly you realize that something’s different. I live in LA, a lot of people will say that you meet somebody and you’re like oh, instantly get a vibe like ah. Oh yeah. I think everybody has that, all walks of life that you feel like, oh, I’m getting an energy about this person. I don’t even know where to locate that. I don’t want to say good or bad because that’s your filter. You’re speaking through your filter. There’s definitely something different, that was interesting to me.|
|Delina:||I noticed that in addition to all of your acting work, you’ve done some writing, some directing, some producing.|
|Delina:||Do you have a preference? Do you like doing it all?|
|Marem:||It’s difficult to say. I’m a child of a filmmaker and an artist. I think I never stood a chance. My heritage is like fire and ice as well. I think the way to survive that childhood, I mean survive in the best possible way, was definitely to be creative in many aspects. So, I’m very visual, but I also have … I love my body as my instrument, my being as an instrument. Acting I would say is my first love. But I do, more and more, love directing and I consider myself more of a filmmaker.|
|Marem:||So, whatever it takes, I have a small film company with my best friend from drama school. We are very picky in what we want to do because we created a space for us. It’s very female driven. It’s about creating stuff that we are interested in that somebody might not offer you per se. Very bohemian, crazy, out there. We do it because we don’t have to ask permission.|
|Marem:||If we can feed that energy back into our community than we’ve done our job. I think it’s really important. But if I had to choose, I think it would go acting and then filmmaking.|
|Delina:||Awesome. I also noticed on your bio that you were born in Switzerland?|
|Delina:||Did you grow up there?|
|Marem:||I did. So my dad is Swiss and my mom is originally from Trinidad.|
|Marem:||Yeah. Imma telling you that made for the fire and ice I was talking about. So my mom is all emotion. The language is all about feeling.|
|Marem:||My dad is more rational. Not academic because he’s a filmmaker, mainly. Anti-establishment. For Switzerland that’s kind of like … there’s not that much to rebel against, there’s really not.|
|Delina:||Like if you don’t fondue, then that’s kind of a big deal.|
|Marem:||Yeah. He managed to carve out of his niche, for sure. It’s funny, I always say I had an amazing, amazing childhood, like really, more and more I just understand how grateful I need to be for that, I had an amazing childhood. Then, you figure out what you want to do and how you want to, all your edges, start defining your edges and defending your edges and all that stuff. For me, Switzerland wasn’t the place.|
|Marem:||So, my mom is English so I moved to … actually moved to France first and then I moved to England. I started my career there. Then I was crazy enough to just say, “You know what? I want this big thing. I want the big dream. Let’s move to Hollywood.” Crazy. It’s challenging it’s hard but it’s also potentially, I want to say it’s the best place to be because there’s so many people that want to be creative. People bitch about LA all the time. They say it’s fake and whatever and I feel … I lived in New York for three years prior, I feel LA puts the mirror up, straight up. There’s no hiding. If you are not proactive, nothing’s going to happen.
You create completely what you want your experience to be. In New York, I think you’re in New York, right? Are you in New York?
|Delina:||I’m actually in Portland.|
|Delina:||I lived in LA for like 30 years though. I’m from LA, but I live in Portland now.|
|Marem:||Yeah. You’re an Angelite.|
|Marem:||But the difference, I felt in New York is that you can get distracted really easily. ‘Cause you’re in the underground, you talk to somebody. There’s always an exchange, a creative exchange so you feel you’re doing something. But, are you really doing something towards your career in terms that are measurable?|
|Marem:||LA does not … It doesn’t cushion that at all. You’re gonna find out because there’s no public transport where you can interact with people who are kind enough to take a moment and interact with you. Here, you could potentially not talk or interact with anybody for weeks. ‘Cause you just go from your car, partially that’s really sad, but on the other hand it really pushed me into what’s the story that I want to tell? Who do I want to be? I can do that completely unapologetically. Let me do it; let me try.|
|Marem:||That’s the beauty. That’s what LA has given me and I’m very grateful for that.|
|Delina:||Great, well is there anything else that you wanted to chat about before we wrap up?|
|Marem:||It’s an honor and a pleasure to be featured. Thank you.|
|Delina:||Oh, thank you.|