With Siren season 3 premiering on Freeform, we get to welcome Rena Owen back onto our TV screens. Rena has anchored the fantasy adventure series as Helen Hawkins, becoming a fan favorite for everything that she brings to the show.
She spoke to Nerdophiles about the revelations Helen learned last season, how her character has become a mentor to the other residents of Bristol Cove, and why she’s been able to connect so well with her alter ego. Plus, we discuss the value of maturity, both on and off-screen.
Learn more about Siren season 3 in our interview with Rena Owen below, and if you missed Thursday’s season premiere, you can catch up here.
Nerdophiles: Siren season 2 revealed so much about Helen’s family. Was that information that you knew beforehand, or was it also new to you?
Rena Owen: They didn’t. When I went into the pilot, I just knew some of the scenes in the script [and] I thought okay. I think Helen is possibly part mermaid, or something is going on with her and mermaids. And then in season one they always told me Helen is one-eighth [mermaid]. But we didn’t have any specifics about what happened with her family. They were all revelations to me.
They never give us anything concrete, because they’re also developing storylines as they evolve. And the reason they don’t is the writer/executive producer Eric Wald said, we don’t like giving storylines to actors in case they change. And storylines have changed and do change. Sometimes it’s come down to guest stars and an actor is not available, so it gets rewritten.
But certainly, when these new things come in if I’ve got any questions [I can ask]. It’s a bit like that moment when Helen rescues Sarge…Helen reaches down with her mermaid fin later, and on the page, it said Helen is surprised by this. That was something that I called our creators about. I said, is this an element of surprise? Or has she always known that she had these superpowers? And they said no, we specifically want it to be played as a surprise because it’s a bit like oh, where did that come from? These things are coming out of her in the moment of need.
Nerdophiles: Helen has certainly evolved quite a bit over the last two seasons. How have you seen her character arc progress?
RO: If we go right back to the pilot, how far Helen has come. She literally didn’t come out of her closet, which was a shock. She never even talked about merpeople or mermaids, or let alone tell someone that she was a hybrid. She’s a come a long way, but she’s still not about to walk around Bristol Cove with a big card over her head saying, “I’m a mermaid.” So in that way, her character has evolved into this kind of caretaker and safe refuge for mermaids, mermen, and hybrids. She’s become this refuge for all of them.
When you looked at her in her store, she was protecting all her mother’s antiquities, that everyone thought oh well, that’s just tourist stuff. But for her, it was heritage stuff. And she reveals that in season one, that it’s not just fabled. So it’s great that she was able to become more proactive in the storyline.
Then coming out to Donna and Ben and Maddie as safe people and a safe environment. And then finding out oh my God, she’s not alone, and my goodness, there’s a whole tribe. I’m not the only hybrid. Finding out she’s got another safe community. That was a whole storyline there for a while, where Helen did not trust Beth. She trusted her brother Rick but wasn’t sure about the sister and whether the sister and the whole community had killed her father.
Nerdophiles: After all of that craziness, what are we allowed to say about where things pick up in Siren season 3? What should we expect?
RO: There’s a lot of storylines going on. We leave season two knowing that Ryn’s embryo is alive and well in the belly of a hybrid. We’ve known from the trailer that the baby is born and Ryn is united with the baby. Now when we get to that, you’re going to have to wait and see, but we know that. A big theme for the [season] is always going to be Ryn. It always has been and it always will be, because this is a show about men and mermaids, so she’s always going to be the central character. All storylines are set off Ryn. So the baby is going to be a very big part of season three.
We also know from the trailer that Sarge is under the water and Helen is with him, so there are storylines for that. We see that Tia, the new badass mermaid, has come to town and wants to wreak havoc amongst the humans. She’s not as friendly as Ryn. There are different sides of merpeople, and we see that there’s a war. War is coming.
Nerdophiles: Helen has served as the sort of glue that holds the group together. The other characters in Siren have always been able to come to her for help or advice. How would you characterize her relationships with them as we move into the new season?
RO: The other thing Helen has that the other characters don’t have is seniority. She’s double their age. So she’s got life experience, and it’s a bit like what my aunt used to say to me when I was a teenager, and now I’m saying it to my nieces and nephews: “If I only knew what I know now at your age, my life would have been very different.” But we don’t. There are no shortcuts for that.
Helen’s in her 50s. She’s lived life, she’s been around, she’s survived. Survived is a big word for her. She survived this long without being detected or being exposed, so this is something she’s really good at. She knows Bristol Cove inside out. She knows the power plays now. She knows the history and the psychology, and the physiology of mermaids and mermen because this has been the passion all her life. So she is somewhat of a sage when it comes to this world.
Nerdophiles: That’s an incredible thing about her, is that you don’t always see older characters who are so well-developed, and also so well-received, both on-screen and off. What do you think it is about Helen that appeals to Siren fans, or that makes her stand out?
RO: A lot of the young fans on social media say oh, we love Helen. She’s wise, and she’s loving, and she cares about the merpeople. And she does, and all of those things just prove that I know, and I think people know, once you get past 50 wisdom comes with experience. It’s not something you have at 10 years old. It’s life wisdom, and there are no shortcuts to learning that. Helen has it, and I’ve had it because I’m in my 50’s now.
A lot of it is about maturity. Getting older is a blessing because there’s a lot of people I knew that didn’t get past 20, or 30, or 40, or 50. But you’re still around, and you can be of service to younger generations. It’s a blessing. It’s a perspective on life, and Helen has that. And it’s a joy to play Helen, because Helen is someone that’s very comfortable in her own skin, and she’s very clear about who she is…That’s been a blessing for me and a gift, to convey this message to be yourself and to keep it real.
Nerdophiles: You’ve had a very personal experience with Siren and the character of Helen. Why is she so important to you?
RO: The role came at a perfect time for me, professionally and personally. I was at that point in my life where I was like, I don’t know if I can keep doing this. Not knowing where my next job was coming from, and going into the room and putting a lot of time into auditions, and not booking work…I went through a Friday night of just surrendering to my creator – I do believe in God – and just saying I think I’m done. I don’t think I have the resilience anymore to keep doing this.
I thought yeah, I still have this desire [to act]. But I’d really like it to be a character that I’m playing just the way I am, where I can just be me. Then I kid you not, within two weeks I booked this audition. And when I got the script I’m like oh my God, this is exactly the character I was thinking about. A really authentic, organic character that I was just right for the way I was.
It turned out that Eric Wald was a big fan of the film that launched my national career. Even before we started auditioning, he and Emily [Whitesell], the showrunner said oh my God, you know that’s Beth from that film Once Were Warriors, she’d be great for Helen. And I didn’t really fully comprehend that until we were well into season one, and then it was revealed that the mermaid culture was a matriarchal warrior culture.
Once Were Warriors was all about being the matriarch and the warrior culture. And I thought ah, one and one equals Helen and Siren. So it’s a joy to be Helen, it’s an absolute joy, and we’ve got a great cast to work with and great crew. Really my only complaint is it can get pretty cold up in Vancouver. (laughs) But apart from that I really hope we get to come back and do season four because there’s so much to be explored in Bristol Cove and in our mermen, our merwomen and our merpeople.
Siren airs Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. on Freeform.