Created by Michael Petroni, the Netflix original series Messiah follows CIA officer Eva Geller (Michelle Monaghan), as she uncovers information about a man (Mehdi Dehbi) who’s gaining attention all over the world because some believe him to be the Messiah. As Eva digs deeper into the origins of Al-Masih and her sole focus becomes determining whether he’s really a divine entity or a con man, his followers claim him to be a miracle worker.
At the Los Angeles press day for the new series, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actress Stefania LaVie Owen (who plays Rebecca Iguero, the daughter of a pastor in Texas) about why Messiah was so appealing to her, not realizing how big of a journey it would be, working with only a small handful of creative voices, having such an international cast, the most challenging scenes to shoot, and how she approaches finding the next project.
Collider: There are such interesting characters in this because they keep reshaping and redefining what they want. Was that something that you got, right away, from reading this?
STEFANIA LaVIE OWEN: I’ve never read anything like this, or seen anything like it. That was one of my favorite parts. Each and every character has their own journey and development. It’s always ebbing and flowing and changing, like in real life, and you get to see that evolve, throughout the show. And as an audience member, you get to see other people’s journeys, their beliefs, and why they believe those things. You’ll see everyone’s search for truth, in response to this one man. For me, being able to go through the journey of Rebecca, you meet her at such a different point than where she ends up going. At the beginning of the show, she’s so deep in her inner turmoil, and she is disconnected from everybody, and she’s lost hope. She’s a pastor’s daughter, but she’s questioning her parents and their beliefs, and she doesn’t know where to go. And so, when she comes into contact with Al-Masih, it allows her an opportunity to those inner demons. He really sees her, and she feels touched by that. Whether he’s divine or not divine, when somebody sees you, it can change your life. I also Rebecca is a representation of the youth in the show, which is a really important perspective. She’s grappling with what it’s like to be a teenager in the world, with social media and how it influences our perceptions and our beliefs, and how it can affect you, personally, in a really dark way. So, yeah, each character is so complicated, including the one that I played.
Did you know that it would be that big of a journey when you signed on?
OWEN: Not really. I remember getting the script, and it was untitled. I loved the script, but I didn’t know how big it would be. It keeps snowballing, really. The scope just kept getting bigger. It’s overwhelming and exciting. What’s so great is that we’re all so close and so passionate about telling the story, and even talking about it, which can be really rare in projects.
This also isn’t a completely straightforward story, and everyone ends up developing different feelings about the characters and themes in it, which is totally okay.
OWEN: Exactly. It doesn’t force an opinion on you. It allows you to look at different perspectives, in an un-judgmental way. With what’s happening in society right now, you see people butting heads, so what’s so great about the show is that it doesn’t take one side. It has multiple sides. It’s not black or white. It’s all fluid. There are so many questions, and you don’t necessarily get to the bottom of them, or when you think you do, then you take another turn and you’re at a whole new section of your life, where you don’t understand anymore. In a personal way, there have been so many moments where I’ve felt like, “Oh, everything is great. I’ve discovered this, and now I feel like I know myself.” And then, you turn a corner and all of that shatters, and you’re in a whole new phase. That can happen to you, no matter what age you are. People have this idea that you’re supposed to know what you want to do and who you are, once you leave school, and it’s like, “Wait, what?! Since when do we believe that? How is that true?” The show is a reflection of not knowing and curiosity. In a world where we have access to so much information and we can get answers, it’s really important to also ask questions, to still be curious, and to ground yourself in that we don’t always know what’s real and what’s not.
Did it help to have just two directors on this, with James McTeigue and Kate Woods, who did big chunks of the episodes, and to not have to listen to so many different voices?
OWEN: That was so amazing about doing the show. On TV shows, you usually have quite a lot of directors. That, in itself, is cool, in its own way. But what was great was that Michael, James and Kate were on set, every day. If Kate wasn’t directing, she was still there. It felt like everyone was on the same page. We were rolling, and it just didn’t stop rolling. It’s this collaboration that was never separate, and it was never somebody else’s turn. It was just this togetherness between the creator, the directors, the crew, the cast, and editing. It really helps to have a very tight knit group that you can trust. It was one of the most special experiences that I’ve ever been through.
How was it to work with such an international cast?
OWEN: It was so cool to have people from all over the world. I’m from New Zealand. I was born in Miami, but I’m from New Zealand, and there was a lot of Australians. We’re different countries, but we’re still from Down Under, so it felt a little bit like home. There were people from France and Tunisia. It really helped our show. It’s all about perspectives and different ways of life, and what was so great about that was the connection that transcends all of that. There’s just a love and a humanness that makes you think that we really are all the same. It makes me even more excited to travel. I love travelling, and knowing more people, all over the globe, is exciting.
What was the most challenging scene for you to shoot?
OWEN: It’s a small scene, but that scene at the bridge, standing on the edge of the bridge, and what that meant for the character. When you’re acting, you’re still doing the thing and it feels very real. You’re in that experience. Also, there was the seizure scene, and getting up in front of everybody. That was pretty scary, but it also worked for the shot because the character was scared. Those two scenes were really intense moments.
When you do something like this, with material that you’re obviously passionate about, does it spoil you, when you’re trying to find the next thing?
OWEN: Yes, especially after this one. It makes such a difference when you’re passionate about something, while you’re filming and even while you’re promoting it. So, after doing this one, this year, I did one film that I was really passionate about, and there’s nothing like that feeling. I want to continue to do things that I really feel strongly about because that’s the stuff that fills you and makes you learn. If I’m not doing something that I’m passionate about, I’d rather live my life, go travel, be with my family, go back to New Zealand, and fulfill myself in other ways. So, yeah, this one did spoil me, but it’s exciting ‘cause it makes you go, “Wow, you can do things that resonate with you and that you’re passionate about.” You just have to be patient.
Does it feel scary, at all, that you won’t find that again?
OWEN: Totally! There are scary moments where I’m like, “I don’t want to do that one. No, thank you.” But then, I’m like, “Wait, am I doing the right thing by saying no?” After Messiah, suddenly this one project came through, where I was like, “Wow!,” and I got that same feeling and passion about telling that next story. You have to give yourself a break and just know that it’ll come when it’s supposed to come. Of course, you have moments of questioning, and feeling scared and lost, and wondering whether you made the right decision, but it all works out, in the end. If you look at the bigger picture, life’s too short to do stuff that you don’t really care about. That’s my perspective now. There are so many things that I enjoy outside of the acting world, that I also want to fulfill, as well.
Does it feel like those experiences also then help enrich your acting?
OWEN: Exactly! I had been working for three years, jumping from job to job, which was so cool and I had such great experiences. I had been home, a couple of times, but only for less than a month. And then, suddenly, while we were about to finish Messiah and I had a plan to go away and travel, and I realized, “No, I need to be home, with my family, and just reconnect.” I was home for four months and it was so important to just take a step away and really be with the people that you truly care about. It’s so easy to become strangers. Of course, the love never disintegrates, but you can become a stranger to the people that you care about most. And then, because I did that, I was so ready for the next thing because I felt fulfilled again and connected with the people that I love. It gave me strength. Of course, there are times when I’m scared, but when I’m with my family, it’s fuel for the work that I love to do, as well. It’s a balance.
Messiah is available to stream at Netflix.