Five Minutes With: The Strain's Mia Maestro

The actress-singer plays a scientist trying to stop the spread of a deadly vampire virus—but she promises it's unlike any other vamp show we've ever seen

Mia Maestro

Mia Maestro

Do vampires still get your blood racing, or would you rather put a stake in the whole genre? The Strain—premiering Sunday, July 13 on FX Canada—is set to turn everyone’s expectations upside down with a new, quasi-scientific take on the bloodsuckers (trust us, there’s no sparkliness here). Based on the novel trilogy of the same name by Guillermo del Torro and Chuck Hogan, the duo have teamed up with Lost showrunner Carlton Cruse to bring their story to the small screen. Actress and singer Mia Maestro (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Poseidon) leads the cast as Dr. Nora Martinez, alongside Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, CDC scientists trying to stop the spread of the deadly vampire virus. Maestro chatted with FLARE about working with Guillermo del Toro, her fondness for Toronto and why the world needs another vampire series.

Horror isn’t a genre you normally see on TV, so what do you think makes The Strain work for this medium? It is horror, but it’s Guillermo’s horror, which has so many aspects to it, from the mythical to the religious. The story behind our vampires is really well-structured, something that Chuck and Guillermo created. It has epic proportions, nothing like the 18th or 19th century takes on vampires—it’s a reinvention of the genre.

Even though The Strain is a scary and suspenseful show, it still has some elements of humour injected into it. Do you enjoy having that balance? It’s something very particular to Guillermo. The pilot definitely has that a lot because Guillermo directed it, and it’s something that some other episodes have and some others don’t. There’s something a bit macabre about having humour in such a horrifying moment, which I enjoy. There are also some characters, such as Sean Astin’s character, Jim Kent, who provide moments of comic relief, which, I think, is important to have!

Since you acted in the Twilight films as Carmen Denali, do you find yourself more drawn to that traditional, romanticized depiction of vampires, or the way they’re depicted in The Strain? I’m really drawn to Guillermo’s take on it. It’s even strange for me to compare them since they’re such different projects—if it wasn’t brought up in interviews it wouldn’t even cross my mind that there is a point of connection.

Guillermo is known for creative costuming and makeup to make his creatures come alive as opposed to relying on CGI. What’s it like to interact with these creatures instead of having to act against a green screen? It’s so much fun and so interesting—Guillermo has a lot of love for his monsters! To be able to interact with them has been fun and makes our work so much easier.

You’ve worked in both film and TV, do you have a preference between the two? Working on The Strain is different from most TV because it’s only a 13-episode show, so the amount of time that you’re working is actually closer to the amount of time you spend on a film. It’s only four or five months that you really concentrate, but then you have time to relax and prepare for the next season, to take a deep breath and start again with new energy.

How did you enjoy filming in Toronto? Do you have any favourite places here? I love it there. It was a great home to have while we were filming, and I have some really good friends there now. My house was in Parkdale and I love Parkdale. My favourite restaurant is Local Kitchen & Wine Bar, on Queen, and there’s also a great bar nearby called The Geraldine. Toronto has such a good network of farmer’s markets; I especially love the one in Sorauren Park.

Your new album is set to be released in August on the Canadian label Arts & Crafts. How do you balance acting and singing? It all works out. You sometimes have a lot of time in between projects when you’re acting, so it’s a matter of giving music its own space in my life. It’s not something I have to think about too much; there are times in my life that I’m writing music, and other times that I’m 100% in acting mode, but it just comes and goes and it’s a wonderful creative flow.

How do you hope to see Nora’s character grow? I think there’s a big change at the end of the first season for Nora. A number of dramatic incidents happen—the range of emotions that I get to play is really broad. I think that Nora is going to be a different person going into season two. Somehow we are grouped into this bizarre clan of people that come from different parts of Manhattan and have different backgrounds, and we have to stick together to survive, so the whole dynamic of the show, going into the second season, will be interesting to see.