BY BRIAN DAVIDS | HollywoodReporter.Com
Troy Warren for CNT
The actor also shares her journey on ‘Infinite’ and how cutting her hair — against her agent’s wishes — ended up being great for her career.
[This interview contains spoilers for Batwoman.]
In 2012, Wallis Day had her sights set on swimming in the 2012 Summer Olympics until she suddenly shifted gears and never looked back. Since swimming required her to train before and after school for most of her life, Day needed another outlet for her surplus of energy, and that’s when she decided to turn her weekend hobby of acting into her sole focus. Nine years later, Day is enjoying her biggest year to date, as she flanked Chiwetel Ejiofor in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite, her first major studio movie. She also took the reins of Batwoman‘s Kate Kane after the previous star of the show vacated the role at the conclusion of season one. Instead of mimicking the work of the previous actor, Day rolled up her sleeves and re-created the character from scratch.
“[Showrunner] Caroline [Dries] just said, ‘Make Kate your own,’” Day tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I asked for all the scripts, and then I went back to the beginning to analyze Kate. I almost erased what I’d seen of Kate on screen because I analyzed Kate from the words on the page and how I would naturally bring them to life as a character. Kudos to the last actress because, to a certain extent, we found some similarities in Kate’s attributes, for sure. But for me to understand the character and make her more three-dimensional, it was more than just pulling from the character’s description; it was also her nuances and actions.”
At the end of Batwoman season two, Kate Kane finally reunited with her loved ones after surviving a plane crash, as well as a period of captivity that included brainwashing and face replacement. And because Day had done her homework, she was able to convincingly portray the shared history between characters despite not taking part in those season one scenes.
“It was really important for me to not just go on what had been screened in terms of chemistry and relationships, but what had actually been written,” Day explains. “And when I went back and explored the relationships that Kate had with the other characters, I could then understand that dynamic and interpret it in my way. I was able to realize what types of relationships they had, which really helped.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Day also discusses the unusual audition she had for Fuqua and the invaluable lessons she learned from Ejiofor on the Infinite set. She also addresses her future on Batwoman.
So I heard an amazing anecdote about the lengths you went to in order to land representation in the States. Do you mind sharing a version of that story since it might be inspiring to some?
Yeah, of course. I don’t know if it’s inspiring or borderline stalking, but I’ll tell you anyway. (Laughs.) I was a teenager, and I really had no idea how to get into the industry or do what I wanted to do. So I just looked up the people that I love — people whose careers I would love to have — and I found their representation and who their agents were. And the common name was Jim Berkus. So I, in my teenage mind, decided that I needed Jim Berkus to be my agent. (Laughs.) So I bought a plane ticket out to L.A. because he hadn’t responded to any of my emails, and I turned up at UTA and said, “Hi, I have a meeting with Jim Berkus.” And they were like, “Um, no, you don’t.” (Laughs.) So I kept going back, but they wouldn’t see me. They told me to stop coming to UTA and that they wouldn’t take my calls or reply to my emails. So then I took it upon myself to go and give Jim my CV at his house. (Laughs.) And when I turned up at his house, he was like, “Ah, Wallis Day.” And I was like, “Hi, Jim. I’m really sorry. But I really love acting more than anything else in the world, and you’re the person who could make my dreams come true. Would you just sit down and talk to me for 5 minutes?” And he was really lovely, really kind, and he actually gave me 20 minutes of his time. So we went into his house, sat down and had a chat. He was so lovely and overwhelmed, I think, by how much I wanted to work with him. And he wasn’t taking on young clients at that time anymore, but he ended up matching me with my UTA agent. So I went to meet with him and he was like, “Oh, you’re not ready yet to be taken on. Just go back to drama school, do a few things and then we can have a conversation.” So I was obviously heartbroken, but I flew back to London and we kept in touch. And I kept doing self-tapes, and sometimes, he’d put me up for auditions even though it was nothing official. And then one day, I did a self-tape, and he called me and said, “Hey, do you still want UTA representation?” And I was like, “Wait, what?!” And he was like, “Yeah, welcome to the team, baby!” And I was like, “Wait, what?!” So I just started crying my eyes out because it had been such a long process. But, yeah, we all laugh about it now. (Laughs.)
That story should go in a movie, somehow.
Yeah, I don’t know what Jim’s point of view of that would be, but from my point of view, yeah. (Laughs.)
Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite. Was it a typical audition process or anything but typical?
Oh my goodness. Yeah, I think it was actually anything but typical. I went into the room fully dressed as the character. I was in a suit with high heels, and I went in with an American accent. He auditioned me in London. So I went in, I taped it and I did the scenes with him. And then he looked at me, he smiled, he nodded and he went, “You gonna work this hard on set?” And I said, “Yes, sir, I will.” And he went, “Well, then the job is yours. I’ll see you on set.” And that was it. (Laughs.)
Did your wardrobe choice during the audition help inform what Agent Shin ended up wearing in the movie?
It wasn’t really suits and heels in the end, but it was similar to that. So we collaborated on that with the costume team.
Did you learn a great deal from Chiwetel Ejiofor since he was your primary scene partner?
He’s one of the most incredible scene partners I’ve ever had, and yes, I learned an immense amount, especially the way that he composes himself when he goes into character before a scene. It was one of the few times where I’ve genuinely forgotten who another actor is in real life and I’ve just completely been in the zone with them. And he’s amazing at creating that for everyone else in the scene as well.
Since Agent Shin seemed caught off guard, did you know he was going to get as up close and personal as he did in that office scene?
I absolutely had no idea if it was coming or not, so you are absolutely right. Every single take with Chiwetel is different, but that’s what keeps it alive. You never know what’s coming.
Last year, I asked Chiwetel about character arcs, and he gave me a fascinating answer about how he no longer tracks them. He just performs each scene as best he can, without factoring the bigger picture, and then he lets the chips fall where they may. Did you get the sense that he was only focused on the work in front of him?
Wow. He and I did a lot of character development outside of work. We hung out, we rehearsed, we were on the phone a lot going through scenes and getting the chemistry right between our characters. So in that sense, the bigger picture was definitely looked at, yes. But actually, now that you’ve said that and put it into that perspective, I can see, on the day, how he was only focused on that scene and that moment. So that’s really interesting; I had no idea.
Tell me about your big fight scene.
Oh, that was fun. (Laughs.) We rehearsed that for a few days before leading up to it, and then we did most of the stunts ourselves. Obviously, Paramount wouldn’t let us do the flip and stuff, but the rest of it was super fun. It also felt faster on the day than it was on the screen. I don’t know if they slowed parts down for effect, but on the day, it was just very fast. Sophie [Cookson] was amazing, and it just became a dance between the both of us.
You have the physicality of an athlete, so it makes sense why the industry has steered you towards action. Did you expect this to happen during your early days?
Going back to the beginning, I always wanted to do more psychological drama roles. I just really like to get into the depths of a character, their history and their being. But then I started doing stunts on Krypton, and I just really enjoyed the whole process of coming up with ideas and creating fight scenes with the stunt coordinators. And I loved actually filming it and making it look real by training in MMA. So I just loved all of that, and I think I’ve swayed more that way in recent years. So I’ve realized that you can have both. You can have a double agent or a twisted character that fights. So I’m just trying to find the equilibrium of that because I love doing those kinds of roles. So I’m really glad that I found the more action stuff, and if I can collaborate and combine the two, that would be ideal.
From what I can gather, it doesn’t sound like you ever envisioned yourself in the worlds of Superman and Batman.
To be honest with you, I never thought I would get the opportunity to be in the superhero world. So in that sense, both opportunities [Krypton and Batwoman] took me by surprise. (Laughs.)
So was your Batwoman audition a pretty exhaustive process?
Starting with the initial meetings, I think the whole process from start to finish was probably about six weeks before I had the screen test. And from that moment to Caroline [Dries] and I creating Kate and announcing that I’m doing Kate and bringing her back with Circe, I think that process was longer, like eight months.
Once they sat you down and explained everything they wanted to do with Kate Kane and Circe Sionis, was your head spinning?
Yeah, it was absolutely crazy. I never thought that they would do that with a character as heroic as Kate, but I really liked the idea as well. The fact that you could get into someone’s psyche so much that you could almost twist this hero into being a villain really fascinated me, as well as the pull and the effect that it would have on the other characters. I loved their yearning to get Kate back and the impact, the collateral damage, that it had with all the other characters in the show. It fascinated me.
Did you spend more time developing Circe since Kate is brainwashed for quite a while?
Yes, we spent more time developing Circe. We didn’t know where season three was going, and we didn’t know where the end of season two was going at that point. So I guess I was being more present like Chiwetel, but I wanted to be very in the moment with Circe. I wanted to get her developed before Kate because, chronologically, that was the way the show was being shot.
Since you took over the role of Kate Kane from another actor, the goal was to make the character your own, which you were able to achieve. But did you still have to go back and watch the previous actor in order to give those keen-eyed fans a recognizable mannerism or tic?
That was another conversation that Caroline and I had. I asked her, “Do you want me to have any similar traits to the actress that portrayed Kate before me, or do you want me to just interpret Kate as I would naturally?” Since I had already watched season one, Caroline just said, “No, make Kate your own.” So I asked for all the scripts, and then I went back to the beginning to analyze Kate. I almost erased what I’d seen of Kate on screen because I analyzed Kate from the words on the page and how I would naturally bring them to life as a character. Kudos to the last actress because, to a certain extent, we found some similarities in Kate’s attributes, for sure. But for me to understand the character and make her more three-dimensional, it was more than just pulling from the character’s description; it was also her nuances and actions.
I’m really impressed by the fact that you went back and read all the scripts. That way, when Kate reunited with certain characters, you at least had their shared history in mind despite not playing those season-one moments yourself.
Yes, absolutely. It was really important for me to not just go on what had been screened in terms of chemistry and relationships, but what had actually been written. And when I went back and explored the relationships that Kate had with the other characters, I could then understand that dynamic and interpret it in my way. I was able to realize what types of relationships they had, which really helped.
You’re one of only a few people who can say that they’ve worn an official Batsuit. Did you take an obscene amount of selfies during that initial costume fitting?
(Laughs.) No, I wish I had. Honestly, it was such a big secret on set, and I was so worried that I would lose my phone or accidentally post a picture with me wearing it or something. I was as far away from my phone as possible. (Laughs.) But when the actual day came to shoot it, we had so much fun with it. We probably took about a thousand selfies. (Laughs.)
At the end of season two, Kate sets off to find some guy named Bruce Wayne. So for all the Wallis Day fans out there, can we reassure them that the door is still open for you to return someday?
(Laughs.) The door is definitely still open, yeah.
So Emma Stone has often said that her career totally changed once she dyed her hair red, as it put her in a smaller group of actors. With that in mind, did you notice an increase in work when you first cut your hair in a manner that’s distinct from most actors?
Yes, I did. My agent will probably hate me for telling you this, but I was in the mix for a few things with my long blonde hair. And at the time, on my personal journey, I just felt that my hair didn’t match up with my personality anymore. So I’d been asking my agent for permission to cut it for ages, but was told, “No.” I was told that it would change my character, genre and typecast me and all that. But then I just got to this point where I wanted to do it, so I did. And my agent was like, “But you’re in the running for all these jobs. What are we going to do now? We need to have a conversation.” And I was like, “Listen, just let me go to the auditions and we’ll see what happens.” And he was like, “OK fine, but you’re not going to have the right look that they want.” So I went to all three of those auditions that week, and even though I hadn’t actually worked for about seven months at that point, I booked all three jobs that week. (Laughs.)
I know! (Laughs.)
Your former Krypton castmate Hannah Waddingham is also thriving with the Wallis Day cut.
(Laughs.) I love that you just called it the Wallis Day cut. Yeah, Hannah is very talented, and while I’m sure she would be fine with any haircut, she looks great now. (Laughs.)
So if you could walk into Warners or Paramount and green light a project for yourself, what would you choose?
I would really love to play a psychologically-deep character that also has a badass edge to her, whether that’s action or something psychological. Maybe it’d be a mixture of Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde and Angelina Jolie’s Gia or Girl, Interrupted. I’d love to do something like that because I love the depths of psychology as well as badass action.
If you combine what you just said with your background as a high-caliber swimmer, I think you’d be the perfect fit for a collegiate Swimfanreboot. You’d play the lead swimmer character who unravels due to an “overzealous fan.”
(Laughs.) Oh my goodness. Is that the 2000s movie?
It is the quintessential 2000s movie.
(Laughs.) Yes, you’re right! That’s a great idea. I saw it a very long time ago. Wow, I need to rewatch that, actually. Let’s make it happen! (Laughs.)
Can you say anything about what you’re up to this fall?
So I just booked a lead role in a Paramount movie, which is really exciting. So that’s the next project. I don’t really know what else I can say. (Laughs.)
Clearly, you made an impression on Paramount with your work in Infinite.
Either that or they’re just scared of Agent Shin. I don’t know. (Laughs.)
Any last words before we wrap?
I’ll see you on the set of the Swimfan remake. (Laughs.)
Batwoman season two is currently streaming on The CW app. Infinite is now streaming on Paramount+.
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