Haphead star Elysia White, talks about playing the tough-talking Maxine, fighting a pro-wrestler and her biggest on-set challenge.
Sasha: What did you like about Maxine?
Elysia: What didn’t I like about Maxine is probably going to be a shorter answer. She’s a strong independent woman at the age of 18. She doesn’t get caught up with boys and tedious things with school. She knows what she wants. And she’s kind of like a lone wolf. She’s edgy. She’s smart. She’s quippy.
I feel like I do have a lot in common with her. I taught myself how to throw knives and shoot a cross bow and she’s teaching herself how to fight. We’re doing things that we think are cool because they’re cool, not because someone else told us to.
Sasha: You taught yourself to throw knives?
Elysia: We actually used it in Just Ella [Elysia’s first film with Haphead creator Jim Munroe]. It wasn’t brilliant footage of me doing it because I had to do it really quickly and usually I have to stop and aim. But I went through a phase a couple years ago ordering throwing knives and ordering cool things off this American website that weren’t available in Canada and set up a little target in my house at the time. And I practiced throwing them and I got really good!
Sasha: So you’re lethal.
Elysia: Yeah! A little bit.
Sasha: What was it like doing the fight scenes?
Elysia: It was so super fun! I have a beginners certificate for stage combat… Basic rapier dagger, hand-to-hand, kind of stuff. But I needed to expand on that so I did a few drop-in classes and extra training.
Sasha: Where did you go for training?
Elysia: Rapier Wit with Dan Levinson. He was great. I was there for about 4 classes. And I was lucky enough to get basically a one-on-one coaching session with one of the trainers of Rapier Wit and we worked specifically on hand-to-hand and muay thai. And she showed me some kicks and rabbit punches that I could use.
Then obviously fighting Ben at the parkour place. Fighting him and Adrian, they both really, really know what they’re doing. Ben just does a triple black flip for fun over lunch! So they looked really cool and as a result made me look cool even though I was the weaker fighter in the real world.
Sasha: And you fought Devon Nicholson. How was that?
Elysia: It was really fun to fight him because he’s a WWE status wrestler. … It was so crazy. He is enormous. He is three times my size. His thigh is the size of your entire body. But he’s great -the nicest guy. Off camera he’s like, hugs, cuddles. But when he gets his wrestler face on, his professional wrestler face – his eyes pop out of his skull. He just roars like a lion.
Elysia: And I’ve always said, from the beginning of my existence in the acting world that I will always do my own stunts. Tom Cruise does his own stunts. Angelina [Jolie] does her own stunts. And she is my idol. Granted, I don’t want to adopt a thousand children from different countries.
Sasha: Not yet!
Elysia: Maybe in a couple years. Once Haphead really takes off and the millions start coming in. [laughs] And I always really liked that about her. And as a result I always wanted to do my own stunts because she showed that you can do it without a stunt double. You can still be hot. You can still be a movie star and you can still do all that girlie stuff and still be a bad ass.
Sasha: What was it like on set in general?
Elysia: I was busy all the time so I was having the time of my life. Any actor who complains about being busy and having to wake up at 4:00 in the morning is in the wrong career…I woke up every morning excited to do it. And reluctant to leave the set afterwards. It reaffirmed for me that I’m doing the right thing. And I really liked the crew. Our unsung heros.. our grips, our sound guys. They were all so sweet and so lovely.
Sasha: Were there any surprises that you found in working on this role?
Elysia: I don’t know if surprise would be the right word. But as far as discovering Maxine, I learned new things about her just from being in her skin for that time.
Like the scenes where Maxine is talking to Princess, I was holding onto this angsty, I’m Maxine. I’m always serious all the time. And Tate [Haphead’s director] was like, “Pretend you’re talking to an old friend, your best friend. You’re not going to talk like that.” Then all my conversations with Princess were like, “Oh my god and then this happened.” And that was kind of a surprise. It was kind of a kick in the face.
I put her [Maxine] into this box of bad-assery and was so focused on achieving that that I forgot about the simplicity of a teenaged girl having coffee with her bestie.
Sasha: What kind of roles would you write for yourself?
Elysia: The female Indiana Jones. I grew up watching Indian Jones on repeat. Huge love affair with Harrison Ford. And if I could just translate that to be a lady. That’s exactly what I would write for myself.
Sasha: Do you watch sci-fi?
Elysia: Yes. Well my dad raised me to be a Trekkie. I grew up in the Voyager generation. Next Gen was right before me so I know Next Gen, I’ve seen them but Captain Kathryn Janeway was my homie. And hey first lady captain! She was awesome.
I watched the X-Men and Spiderman cartoons and all of the new Marvel movies. I absolutely love anything Stan Lee ever touches. The new Star Trek movies were awesome. What else? I haven’t gotten into Doctor Who yet, but I’ve heard lots of good things and I feel like I’ll probably get to that eventually. I own every season of Quantum Leap on DVD.
Sasha: No way!
Elysia: I watched it as a kid and it was cancelled and then I bought all the DVDs when I was a teenager and proceeded to watch them frequently. And it was very unfortunate when Scott Bakula did the new Enterprise and it was cancelled after 2 seasons or something ridiculous. It was not for very long.
Sasha: Where do you think web series are going?
Elysia: Hopefully it’ll keep going up and out. …I think Netflix should have a web series category. We should be like “Yo Netflix just make a new category, it’s no skin off your back and you’ll have all this new content.” I assume that will happen eventually. I think it’d be silly not to.
Sasha: Were there any challenges working on the Haphead production?
Elysia: Yes! My biggest thing is that I’m not a very emotional person in my life. I’ll well up at the end of a Pixar movie, you know. But in my personal life I’m not a crier. But I had so many crying scenes. And that’s not something that’s easy for me.
But it was one of those things, I was like, alright, I’m under pressure. I need to do this. And if I don’t, we’re not going to get the shot. So I needed to find ways to get myself to cry… I had to take, sometimes half an hour, 45 minutes before even shooting… just to focus on breathing and really get in tune with that part of me that knows how to cry that I don’t use a lot.
Sasha: Did you ever go to a sad thought that you’d try to remember?
Elysia: Well sort of, it’s more of a feeling that I have to remember. 3 years ago a very, very dear friend of mine passed away very tragically. He drowned late one night. He slipped and fell and just… it was devastating. So the feeling that that caused, the way my body felt when that happened it’s accessible. That feeling was really accessible so that was something I could fall back into. I even feel shitty talking about it right now.
Sasha: Crying on demand is its own skill.
Elysia: And selling it. It’s one thing to make your eyes well up. It’s another thing to have a close up and have the camera believe that you’re sad. It’s hard. Super hard. Some people are really good at it. I have a friend who can just cry all day and it’s no big deal. And she, as a result, gets those roles where she cries. But I was never that.
Sasha: Were there any lessons that you learned? About the film process or yourself in the course of this project?
Elysia: I didn’t learn it the hard way… it was something that I always believed. Just always be nice to people. Because you have no idea who you’re talking to. And in this industry it is entirely networking. And if you act out or if you go diva on someone… that’s going to get out there and one day you’re going to be on the wrong side of the casting table and you’re going to get screwed over because you’re not likable.
Be nice. Everyone is helping everyone. If the guy who brings you your water drops something – pick it up for him. It’s not hard. Just be a nice human being.