After Netflix’s mystery film Enola Holmes proved a huge success with its release in 2020, Serrana Su-Ling Bliss joined the cast for the film’s sequel – Enola Holmes 2 – as Bessie Chapman, which saw her attend the red carpet premiere in New York, where she reunited with Millie Bobby Brown (who stars as Enola Holmes) and the rest of the cast. Also on screen, Serrana worked on the new Matilda the Musical film, and she booked the role of Sharon Nicholas in Belfast for her first film role, for which she was directed by Kenneth Branagh. As a stage actor, Serrana performed as Summer Hathaway in School of Rock in the West End until the show closed in March 2020, and she made her West End debut in 2019 at the age of nine as Little Cosette in Les Misérables. Alongside acting, Serrana competes in dance competitions with Spirit Young Dance Company and she trains in martial arts. Speaking with us, Serrana chats about playing Bessie Chapman in Enola Holmes 2, having her first film role as Sharon Nicholas in Belfast and performing as Summer Hathaway in the West End’s School of Rock.
Can you tell us about your character Bessie Chapman in Enola Holmes 2 and what was she like to play?
Bessie is an orphan, living alone on the streets when Sarah Chapman finds her and takes her in. Sarah takes care of her and becomes the most important person in Bessie’s world, her only family. She is independent, courageous and street smart. When Sarah disappears, she is desperate and seeks out detective Enola Holmes to find her. Bessie is lovable, but also a fighter. I enjoyed playing Bessie because there were so many different aspects of her character I could explore: strength, vulnerability, affection. It was a great challenge to portray that moment when Bessie’s fear transforms into courage, the courage to stand up and fight when no one else dared to. I had a lot of fun playing her character!
What was it like on set of the film and working with the rest of the cast, which includes Millie Bobby Brown as Enola Holmes?
All the members of the cast and crew were so kind. I really had to pinch myself that I was working with such renown actors! I loved that they didn’t treat me like a child, but rather as a friend and a co-worker, which was a great experience for me. Harry Bradbeer already had a reputation for being one of the nicest directors in the industry to work with and my confidence grew as he encouraged me to contribute my own ideas and opinions on certain scenes. Millie was simply incredible! Not only was she warm, encouraging and playful, but I witnessed how much she was in charge on set, her strength of character and how she was Harry’s equal. She was so, so, so inspiring and is such a great role model for young women. There are certainly many strong female role models in the cast: Hannah (Dodd) and Abbie (Hern) were so supportive, it really felt like they were my older sisters. Sharon Duncan Brewster and David Thewlis gave me not only acting advice, but imparted wisdom on the industry. I loved listening to Henry talk about how his Witcher costumes evolved over time – I learnt so much from everyone!
How was it attending the film’s premiere and the London screening and seeing the film for the first time?
It felt so surreal attending the red carpet premiere in New York! There were so many fans crowded around the theatre, so many reporters and photographers. I remember the night as a flurry of camera flashes and a row of reporters asking me lots of questions, one after another. Of course that was my first experience of such an event, and I probably said a lot of nonsense. I think at the beginning, I was a little overwhelmed, but after talking to more people, it all gave way to just pure joy and appreciation! It was so much fun! After the press, we were ushered into the theatre to watch the film on the big screen. The theatre was packed with an American audience and the Americans are very expressive, simply erupting in cheers, squeals, laughs and gasps throughout the movie. The energy was so high and I was so giddy and excited. As I watched the movie, it seemed like that person on the screen was someone else, not me. And then there was a fancy after-party in the Plaza Hotel where I got to meet so many other interesting people. If that all wasn’t magical enough, at some point in the evening Millie pulled me over to meet Mariah Carey! Thinking back on it, the whole experience was like the most amazing, crazy, vivid dream, and I have to remind myself I was really there!
Is there anything you enjoyed most about being part of Enola Holmes 2?
I enjoyed all of it! I’m a huge fan of Millie, so it was incredible just to meet her, much less work and hang out with her! I enjoyed filming all the scenes, and particularly the action scenes. In one scene, I had to pretend a bullet just missed me, and run by a piece of wood that seemed to explode. I was offered earplugs, but I decided I didn’t need it, and the adrenaline rush made it seem so real! It was amazing to see what actually happens during action scenes, how Millie “jumps” from the balcony and David “falls” from the top of the theatre, and all the fighting and stunts.
How did you find the experience being part of the Matilda The Musical film?
Matilda was a very different experience than Enola Holmes 2. I was part of a large child ensemble and we spent months rehearsing elaborate dance scenes before we even started filming. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by so many talented young people! The restrictions during COVID were very strict and made it harder for the kids to interact, but I still made many friends. It was a project that took seven months of my life and I will never forget it.
You played Sharon Nicholas in the feature film Belfast, which was directed by Kenneth Branagh, can you tell us about working on the project?
Belfast was my first film role, and I think it’s funny that I won my first role auditioning with an Irish accent! Although I didn’t have a prominent part, I got to hang out with the main child actors Jude Hill and Olive Tennant a lot. We played loads of games when we weren’t filming and I remember laughing so much. The school scenes were also a lot of fun. I was really excited to work with Kenneth Branagh, who I recognised from Dunkirk and Harry Potter – how amazing it was to meet someone who was such a renown actor and director!
On stage, you played Summer Hathaway in School of Rock at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, what was the character like to play?
Summer is very different from Bessie. In School of Rock, Summer is the band manager and orders everyone about. Confident, organised and bossy, she’s the overachiever and teacher’s pet. I loved being able to show her sassiness on stage and make the audience laugh. You don’t get a second take, and everyone is working off of each other’s lines and momentum through the entire performance. It’s so wonderful to perform live on stage, feeling the energy from the rest of the cast and the crowd and being carried by it. I absolutely loved it.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from your time in the cast and performing as Summer?
The entire experience performing School of Rock was incredible and so much fun! School of Rock came straight after playing Little Cosette in Les Misérables, so it felt so different, because in School of Rock, it’s the kids who carry the entire show. The audience is cheering, hooting, rising to their feet and dancing with you. I felt like a rock star several times a week! The highlight was definitely the finale show, which concluded School of Rock’s run in the West End. All the former six casts of School of Rock were invited to attend, so the audience was even more electric! They cheered throughout the entire show and poured onto the stage and aisles in the final song. All 200 of the kids who had ever performed in the show, flooding onto stage or into the aisles, joining over 1000 guests on their feet, a packed theatre with everyone dancing and singing their hearts out in the final number! I’ll never forget it!
Having played Little Cosette in Les Misérables at the start of your career, what are some of your favourite memories from making your West End debut in the musical?
Les Misérables is one of my all-time favourite musicals. I was four years old when I watched the show for the first time and had already learned all the lyrics to the entire soundtrack. I never imagined I would actually be performing in it five years later! I loved the musical so much and couldn’t believe I was a part of it. Les Misérables is so dramatic and moving, the audience was very emotionally engaged and I could feel the power of that on stage. The highlight was having the honour of performing in the finale of the original Royal Shakespeare production of Les Misérables, which ran for 33 years on the revolving stage. A new production would be launched afterwards, so there was a terrific celebration for the finale of the original production, with Cameron Mackintosh making speeches, toasts, ribbons and confetti exploding on stage. I’ll never forget it!
We understand you have experience in ballet and are part of Spirit Young Performers/Dance and also do martial arts, what can you say about this?
I’ve been studying ballet with Jemima Renfer for the last seven years and am currently preparing for my ISTD Intermediate Foundation exam. I’ve also been dancing with Spirit Young Dance Company (SYDC) the last four years and am so grateful to Kathryn Elward and team for the incredible training and opportunities to perform and compete. Being able to use your entire body to tell a story, there comes a point when you just lose yourself in the music and movement, and that feels so good! Participating in dance conventions and competitions is so inspiring and it always feels great to win something, as a team and for my solo entries.
Martial arts has also been a big part of my life since I was seven years old. I was absolutely determined to study it after watching the animation Kung Fu Panda (with Jack Black). In Kung Fu Panda, Master Shifu makes a flower bloom with his Kung Fu, and that’s what I wanted to do! I started studying at the Shaolin Temple UK and training directly under 34th generation Shaolin Grandmaster Shifu Yanzi. But I ended up loving not only the forms and self-defence training, but also the philosophy and culture that underpins it: from Buddhism and Confucianism to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War tactics. To master martial arts, one must strengthen the mind, body and heart. Only if you yourself are strong, will you be able to help others. Meditation practice also calms and clears my mind, teaching me to focus on the things that I am capable of influencing and not on the things that I can’t. I have found that really useful, and try not to become distracted by social media and its pressures. My martial arts practice over the years was interrupted often by stage and film work, but I’m fully dedicated and training as much as I can. I hope to compete in sparring competitions as well. Maybe someday I can open that flower!!!
Where does your love of acting and performing come from and how did you start?
I was always very active, but ever since I was very little, I sang. My mum noticed I was singing in the shower, on the street, just all the time. So she enrolled me in a local drama/singing class on the weekends. Eventually, when I was eight years old, she found Spirit Young Performers Company (SYPC), which is an elite musical training company. Initially we didn’t think they would accept my application, and we were thrilled when I was invited to join. Then I joined Spirit’s Dance Company and was surrounded by very talented young people who were actively working on stage and film. Seeing them, training with them, that inspired me to try as well. I will be forever grateful to SYPC founder Sophie Boyce for starting me on this path!
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
When I do have free time, I generally like to calm and clear my mind, like reading or painting nature and landscapes. I also listen to a lot of different genres of music and recently I’ve gotten into Japanese Anime. On holidays, I love to go skiing in the winter and surfing in the summer.
What upcoming projects do you have that you can tell us about and what are you hoping this year brings for you?
I have a couple projects I worked on last year that will be released this year. I feel so privileged to have had all these wonderful opportunities and experiences. I’m looking forward to continue doing all the things I love. I can’t wait for what the future brings!
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