Alison Araya is known for her raw performances and inventive storytelling abilities. Alison can be seen in the anticipated HBO Max series “Peacemaker” starring John Cena from Director James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad.” Fascinated by the prospect of viewing life from another’s experience and perspective, Araya discovered acting in her birthplace of Sydney, Australia.
I had the opportunity to (virtually) sit down with Araya to discuss James Gunn’s Peacemaker on HBO Max and her new film “Brazen,” which just debuted on Netflix. Gunn wrote all eight episodes of “Peacemaker” and directed five, including the first. Araya and I also discussed how she got into acting, her favorite roles she had the privilege to be part of, and some dream projects. We also talked about what the future may hold for the talent, and her “Peacemaker” character, Amber.
Brendan: Thank you for doing this interview. My first question is how is the difference between a CW, Netflix, and HBO Max set?
Alison: I mean, they’re both big productions. This is what made “Peacemaker” a really different and unique experience for me. You know, obviously, the show is starting at everyone’s finding the tone, finding the rhythm of it. So yeah, I think that that was probably one of the biggest differences. Just working with someone as awesome as John Cena was pretty rad. And James Gunn, obviously.
So what was it like working with John Cena? You guys had amazing chemistry. Were you ad-libbing off each other? Was that James Gunn’s writing or was that full-on improv?
No, listen, props to James Gunn for his solid writing. I mean, everything was on the page. He did give us opportunities, though, to do some improv, and the post-credit scenes are mostly, I think all of them, are improv so far. So there’s definitely room for us to play. But in terms of that chemistry, it’s just one of those things where everyone shows up to work, ready to play and dive in. Yes, you do find these moments, and you do find this permission to create that chemistry, which, you know, I think really translates on screen and makes it so much more enjoyable for audiences and for us on set too.
I watched the first three episodes, I did my review, I called it “James Gunn’s creative stroke of genius.” It’s fantastic. It feels like Adam West at times. I mean, the dance number, you’re like watching it feels anime-inspired. And then it goes into like a character study and then it goes full-on James Gunn insanity. So how does this happen?
I mean, honestly, we’d have to explore the inner workings of James Gunn’s mind to get that answer. But I think he does an incredible job of inviting us into his imagination by the worlds he creates in something like “Peacemaker.” It’s this, that, and the other, and it’s just a constant surprise. And that he’s saying that, you know, the eighth episode is going to be the one that, you know, is going to blow everyone away. I can’t wait! I haven’t seen it yet! I can’t wait.
We saw the character of Amber, we know where she is, you did a fantastic job. Your range of acting is incredible. How was it working with John Cena?
Honestly, it was such an amazing experience. You know, we hadn’t met prior to this. This was the first time for us to work together. And I was honestly just blown away by how wonderful, professional, kind and funny he is, and so smart. And like I said, you know, we’re all working out the show… finding, you know, the timing, but it was a real treat. And I’m so thrilled that this is showcasing his acting ability. I mean, there’s the comedy in the action, and then some real human moments, too. I think it’s exceptional to be a part of that world. It really is. It’s an honor. I’ve had such a great time.
I know you started out on Smallville. You did X Men Origins Wolverine. How was it to say I was at the birth of superhero genre media?
I think life has a path destined for us that we don’t even know. And so, you know, seeing that that is where we started and here is where I am today. And I think the best is yet to come. I think the superhero genre chose me.
Do you like working for DC? Or would you want to work for Marvel again? Or is it James Gunn?
If I had to choose, I mean, I would take Amber (Araya’s character in “Peacemaker”) on and continue to explore that character, because I feel like we’re only just scratching the surface to who Amber is. I think the superhero genre is such a great, great medium for storytelling and I think it’s a world that allows for so much social commentary as well. It’s smart. I can’t call myself a diehard fan of comics as some of the fandom truly is. They really are the representation of that fandom, but I’ve always had a deep respect and love for comics. So to be a part of the superhero world is awesome. And I hope to have many more opportunities to work both in DC and Marvel
So is there anything we could hope for Amber going forward? For those who haven’t seen up to episode seven yet, including myself?
Yeah, well, no spoilers. I mean, you got to just look so far as IMDb to see that Amber is credited with a couple more episodes. So I can’t say any more about her journey, but she does pop up and who knows what happens beyond. I mean, the show’s doing really well. And if there was an opportunity for Amber to be a part of the world, that’d be kind of cool.
One thing I’ve loved about the show is that it’s very rigid storytelling. It doesn’t really hold back. You have a father who’s very racist to neo Nazi idealism. You have Christopher Smith, who’s trying to deal with these things, process everything nature versus nurture, the effect of morality on our souls, and I kind of feel every character is hiding something every episode, but every episode peels back a layer.
Oh 100% Again, I think that speaks to the genius of James Gunn’s storytelling in this world that he’s created. Yeah, it’s entertaining. But you look beyond that a deeper story emerging. And I think that’s why this show is so unique. I think it transcends your typical superhero show. It’s why it’s finding such a vast audience.
So how did the music aspect go into it? Because you can you and John Cena ad-lib about Cinderella. And I was born in the 90s. So my dad sitting there with me and Goes, Cinderella, I even heard them since when it was the 80s. And I was like, what’s that? I feel so bad.
Music is such a huge part of James Gunn’s storytelling process. And so one of the things that I got a real kick out of was when we’d get our scripts would also get the playlist. So it was really such a key component in understanding the world that has been created. And so those musical references were really fun. I grew up in the 80s, 90s. I know that style of music, so it was really cool to step into that world and to hear some tracks that I maybe hadn’t heard before.
So one question I know we addressed before, what would be the one thing that could get somebody to watch “Peacemaker” if they’ve never seen anything of DC?
Wow, that’s a good question. I mean, at this point, I think James Gunn is like, that name is synonymous with awesome entertainment. So if you’re looking for something to sort of fall into, look no further. But I think the show is entertaining. It’s funny, it’s action. It’s the violence. It’s all that stuff. But there’s also heart to it. And there’s a genuinely good story there, that’s unraveling.
What was your favorite scene to film? Or what was your favorite day on set?
All of them were amazing days on set. I remember having moments of like, this is what I get to do. This is amazing I’ve never worked with Lenny Jacobson before, and I totally fell in love with his work and fell in love with him. He’s such an awesome guy. Those moments to be able to improv and ad lib. The script is entirely James’s, but those moments that he allows us to improvise give the actors such a gift in that we’re able to find more nuance in the character. And so then when we go back to the text, go back to the dialogue, there’s just a whole new level of exploration and commitment to it, that translates. And that generosity isn’t something that’s extended, that has been extended my way, in every project that I’ve worked on. So to get that with someone a verse in this genre as James Gunn, it’s a treat, like honestly. Every single day, it was just magic.
Every time you hear about James Gunn y he’s just a genius. Everything he does writing-wise, and the music choice, really reflects the cast and the synergy that you guys have every episode. The chemistry is phenomenal. You don’t see that nowadays, and everybody brings their A-game.
I think everyone wanted to bring their “A” game. You have this brand new show, everyone’s working hard, and the vision exists in James’s mind. So we’re all there trying to facilitate this and he does a really good job of communicating and just trusting his actors. I can’t speak highly enough of the process of working with him. He’s just such a genuinely nice guy. And, he is engaging with his fans and answering questions. I mean, there’s a lot of people that take time and who work as hard as he does and still find time to engage. I think it’s phenomenal and the success of his worlds a work is in part to that generosity of spirit, I think.
Can you talk about how you got cast? What brought you to Amber?
I had the opportunity to read for Amber and then the process of casting happened really quickly. I was working on another project when we found out that I’d be on the show. And, then there was the announcement that I’d be joining the cast. So it all kind of happened very quickly and I was just so thrilled/ Again, working on a new show, it’s different when you’re coming into a second season of a show, or midway through a season. It’s been developed and you kind of get a sense of how this world was completely new. I mean, “The Suicide Squad” hadn’t even come out yet. So I felt like I was coming into this world and not really knowing what to expect. So knowing James’s work, I knew it was going to be a lot of fun, it was going to be a riot. And as soon as I signed up for it, I’m in. Then to see the outcome and to see how well it’s been received has been the icing on the cake. All I know is that Amber has is receiving a lot of love and people seem to relate to her so anything can happen. I don’t know.
What’s in store for Amber, your chemistry with John Cena? Um, do you want to talk about anything else? We can talk about “Brazen” or upcoming projects?
“Brazen” was a great project that came our way and I was really excited to step into the role of Captain Rivera. Being a character actor and having the ability to jump into crossover genres, and step into the drama, step into the Sci-Fi, step into the action, the superhero world, it’s so fun. To get this sort of gear shift and work on a film like this was great. I really love the character. I think playing those empowered female roles in leadership is something that I find really fulfilling, and to be telling such a great story. And then also getting to work with Alyssa Milano was wonderful. I was a fan when I was a kid growing up so it was one of those moments of like, “yeah, this is this is really cool.” The film is doing amazing. It was number one across 53 countries over the weekend (Jan. 14 – 16). I attribute a lot of that success to our brilliant director Monika Mitchell, who did an amazing job. They bring that vision to life. I’m not surprised it’s resonated with audiences and had the success that it has.
I want to touch upon the fact you said character actor, and I spoke to a character actress before Lucie Guest. She did a lot of Hallmark films. Could you describe what you like about being a character actress?
I think being a character actor has afforded me incredible opportunities. How do you define a character actor, that’s so nebulous. I really don’t know. I just know that the work that I do, and the work that I have become known for, transcends many different genres. And that, for me, is a blessing because it’s never pigeon holed me into one type. I’ve never been held back because it was off brand. I’ve been able to say yes to lots of opportunities and work with artists that I have wanted to work with my entire career, so I love being a character actor, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Who was the craziest guest star or the person like you never thought you would be working with and then they walked on the set.
Oh my gosh, so many, so many, but when I worked on “X Files” and got to work with Gillian Anderson and I saw Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny on set, it was a real pinch “myself moment” because I grew up watching “The X Files” and never, in my wildest dreams, think I’d have the opportunity to to to meet them, let alone work with them. It was just one of those things, you know. [Entertainment] is such a crazy industry and you can be the most studied and most dedicated and it might not necessarily work out for you, but I have been consistent and that day working on that show I was, I was like this is really cool. I’ve gotten to a new level in my work and these opportunities mean, they mean a lot to me. They mean a lot to me. I really cherish those experiences and other little milestones. But yeah, the day I work with Pedro Pascal is going to be a really good day. I’m manifesting that.
Could you talk about how you got acting?
You know, my journey, I call myself a “lifer,” and acting was definitely, or storytelling, was definitely a way of me expressing myself ever since I was a child. I was that kid that was always putting together shows at parties and was the “watch me” kid. And then that sort of developed. I ended up going to a performing arts high school and really solidified my passion for acting. From that moment on it was really about how do I learn to master this? How do I learn to be the best artist that I can be? So I studied in Italy, I went to theater school overseas, and, when I came back, I went back to Australia, where I was born and raised. I met an actor in a class and he sort of told me about the industry in Vancouver. So I had no real intention of coming to Vancouver, but this chance meeting put Vancouver on the map for me. And so I came here, and I haven’t stopped working since. So this has been a great place for me to establish myself and establish a career. And I look forward to what the future holds. I think there’s lots of possibilities.
What’s a dream project you want to be part of? And you feel that you’re a storyteller? Would you ever want to be a director?
Hmm, that’s great. You read my mind! I think, for me, a dream project would be being a writer, director. I’ve been working on a number of different projects over the years and have had so much interest in developing that skill. So, as an actor, I’ve learned so much and I think there’s always a curiosity to extend. Being that storyteller, and loving the entire process and the humanity of it, and the nuances of it, I think [directing] would be something really fulfilling. So that would be my dream to write and direct.
What was the one piece of advice that somebody on set gave you that you can never forget?
It wasn’t on set, but one of the first acting notes I got way back when, actually at that performing arts high school, was “don’t play the problem.” That’s sort of stuck with me my entire career, and it’s something that I go back to. It’s just one of those lessons that I learned early on. And it just sort of sticks. In terms of career advice, a really dear friend, who’s in the industry, told me it’s not about the destination, it really is the journey. At first, I really hated hearing that because I think there’s this hunger to get to the destination. But the more I do this, and the more I see it unfold before me, no truer words have been spoken. It is all about the journey.
What advice would you give to young women, people trying to make it in the industry and just trying to have their name out there?
Beautiful question. I would say, if this is something that you’re looking to do for fame, attention, money, notoriety, it’s never gonna work out. If there is an innate part of you that is in love with telling stories with imagination and creativity, never give up. Find your voice, find yourself, heal what needs to be healed and launch yourself into this. Know your “why.” Know your why and honor your why. And in that process, get to know yourself. Love yourself. And do it. Do it for the right reasons.
That is absolutely inspiring. Is there anything you can say about your future going forward? Any projects you’re interested in?
Yeah, I mean, you know, unfortunately, I can’t share details of the projects that are coming up, but there’s some really cool stuff coming up. I know that’s such a long answer, but, there’s some cool stuff coming down the pipeline. So I’m really excited about this year.