In the 16th century-based new period drama The Serpent Queen, Sennia Nanua plays the series regular role of Rahima, and it has recently been renewed for a second series on Starz. In 2019, Sennia played Maya in the feature film Frankie, and she previously had a guest role in Casualty, and played Emma Bell in The Fight, which was written by, starred and was the directorial debut of Jessica Hynes. For Sennia’s first feature film, she played Melanie, one of the lead roles, in The Girl with All the Gifts, alongside a cast including Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close, with whom she reunited for the film’s premiere. We caught up with Sennia, who talks about her series regular role of Rahima in The Serpent Queen, filming as Maya in Frankie and being in the cast of The Girl with All the Gifts.
You play the series regular role of Rahima in the new period drama series The Serpent Queen, can you tell us about the show and your character?
The Serpent Queen is about the story of Catherine de’ Medici, who was Queen of France for many years. She was a very fierce woman who’s life in the series is shown through many different themes. Including love, betrayal and most importantly survival. I play a young, innocent character named Rahima. Rahima is a very clever and captivating young woman who catches the eye of Catherine and is later chosen to be her personal maid. We see this peculiar yet interesting relationship of theirs grow throughout the series and Rahima start to develop her independence as she rises up in the world.
How was it preparing to film for a series set in the 16th century and what was it like getting into character for the first time?
I wanted to make sure I did plenty of research. I don’t think you can ever do too much. It is a very different time and women such as myself and Rahima are treated very differently today compared to how they were in the 16th century. As a cast, we were beyond fortunate with the locations and sets. We filmed in the real castles Catherine actually walked in and lived in. It was all very surreal and definitely allowed me to further delve into my character.
What is Rahima like to play and was there anything that drew you to the role?
Rahima was so fun to play! One of the first things I loved about her was how playful she was. She had sheer innocence in her words and actions and I think it’s something that makes her so relatable. I also loved the contrast of having Catherine de’ Medici opposite a young servant girl like Rahima. It is almost an impossible situation – practically, they should not get along or relate to one another but they just do and they share that throughout the series and also through their triumphs and tribulations.
What is it like on set of the series and how is it working with the rest of the cast?
Set days were always fun. My character is set in the present day and the past is slowly unwinding as we go along the series so I was not in an awful lot but I truly enjoyed when I was. We all had so much fun with our characters and the crew were amazing.
The Serpent Queen has recently been renewed for a second series, how has it been seeing the viewers’ response to the show?
It’s been great to see the reactions and response to the show in real time! I saw a few theories and predictions as the weeks would pass and the viewers were so lovely with their thoughts on Rahima.
Why would you recommend watching the series and who do you think it will appeal to?
I think watching something that keeps you on your toes and guessing is what TV is all about. You create relationships and attachments to these characters as the episodes go on, to the point you don’t even want the story to end. The Serpent Queen will appeal to everyone (over the age of 18 please!!). It’s so upbeat and modern and really gives you such a sense of realism through the eyes of these characters.
In the 2019 feature film Frankie, you play Maya, how was your time filming for this project?
Frankie! What an amazing project. I had the best time filming this. We were lucky enough to shoot in Portugal and it was so beautiful. The cast were so wonderful and the crew, including the director Ira Sachs. Working with him was an experience in itself. He is such a talented man who has really helped me in the industry!
What was it like having a guest role in Casualty, when you played Keeley Arnolds in 2018?
It was a great experience to work on Casualty. I got to go to Cardiff in Wales and take part in the longest-running medical drama.
How was it playing Emma Bell in Jessica Hynes’ feature film The Fight and what was the film like to be part of?
The Fight was written, starring and also the directorial debut of Jessica Hynes. It was great to be a part of an amazing ensemble cast and tell a story about family dynamics.
You played one of the lead roles of Melanie in The Girl with All the Gifts, do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role and what was Melanie like to play?
I remember my mum got a call from the producer saying that I got the role. I was only 12 at the time but I was so thrilled and excited about filming and the future.
What are some of your favourite memories from filming The Girl with All the Gifts and being part of the cast alongside Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close?
My favourite memories were definitely working with the cast. I was very young but they never made me feel like I was. They were so inclusive and looked after me like their own. It was truly one of the best casts I’ve worked with. They were always so supportive of me and were always open to give me tips and help me out when needed. I will always remember them.
How was it attending the film’s premiere and watching the completed film for the first time?
It was an amazing feeling. I think watching the finished product of a film/series you’ve put so much time, effort and love into is always so fulfilling. I was so proud of everyone.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it?
I have always loved acting. Whether it be 10-year-old Sennia on stage as the lead of The Sound of Music or now 20-year-old Sennia, so in love with my craft, I’ve always known it was for me. I’ve always had a very strong passion for it. The first time I decided I wanted to be in the industry is when my brother was auditioning for The Television Workshop and he didn’t seem that interested in the script he had to learn but when I picked it up, I had the lines in an instant.
Do you have any favourite films and TV shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from acting?
My favourite film is, without a doubt, La La Land. I relate to it so deeply because I am an actress, and Mia in the film is also one. They show the struggles of auditioning but not getting anywhere and being stuck in that cycle. It’s very hard as an actor, it’s not an easy industry and Damien Chazelle beautifully highlights this. The beauty, love and passion, contrasted along with the refusal, pain and doubt. It is a surreal art.
Away from acting, I love to spend my time travelling. Writing this, I’m currently in New York. I love to see different parts of the world and live within different cultures.
Have you been given any advice over your career so far that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a new actor starting out?
I have been given the advice to focus on my craft and to continue auditioning for roles that I really connect with and that will challenge and stretch my skills as an actor. Once I achieve a good level of experience, I would like to be a mentor and a positive role model by imparting the knowledge I have gained.
What are you hoping the upcoming year brings for you?
I would love to focus on passion projects. Projects that really speak to me and characters/storylines that really make me feel something. I love a project that really changes your perspective once you read/watch it. I find it’s SO important with the amount of stuff coming out today. Feeling and connecting to art is so important.
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