Stephanie Levi-John stars in the historical drama, The Spanish Princess, which follows the life of Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope) who becomes Queen of England. Stephanie plays the much-coveted role as her loyal lady-in-waiting, Lina, who struggles to adapt to the English way of life.
Stephanie hails from North London. A precocious child, by the age of 8-years-old she’d already decided she wanted to be an actress, after her first visit to The National Theatre. She went onto study film & television at Brunel University before returning to the very same stage which first inspired her to pursue an acting career and performed in two Shakespeare productions – A Winter’s Tale and Macbeth, at The National Theatre.
After landing her first television role in the Irish legal drama, Striking Out, Stephanie has worked consistently ever since. Other shows in which she appears include Silent Witness, Not Going Out, and Top Boy.
How much did you know about this era?
Well, in England, we learn a lot about the Tudors, and it was always super interesting to me. Not only because Henry VIII is just a bit tyrannical, especially about his quest to have a son, but also, having a million different wives (laughs). I always felt for Anne Boleyn but I never knew that Catherine of Aragon was his longest marriage, I only knew she was the first of the six wives, but I didn’t realize that they had gone through so much.
And Lina? I didn’t realize she was not a fictional character.
Yes. I had no idea about Lina. It wasn’t until I got the script for the first time and I was auditioning for this role that it really piqued my interest because I had no idea that Lina was real, let alone that there were Black people and people of color in England during the Tudor times. It opened my eyes to the lesser-known history that we are often not taught.
I read a quote where you said you take pride in being in a period piece as an unapologetic Black woman. Can you expand on that?What it means to me is the uncovering of the silenced voices. Whenever I’d seen Black people portrayed in period pieces, it always seems to be either in a very small or stereotypical, slightly gimmicky role. And I felt with Lina, she is very much valued in the court, and it feels so wonderful to be able to play a character who is multifaceted, who is fully rounded as a person, and who is vulnerable. She has her place within the court, and I take so much pride in being able to play someone who is fundamental to this story and must have been a fundamental part of Catherine coming to England from Spain. So I take so much pride in being able to portray her and I really just hope I’m doing it justice more than anything.
You learned to speak Spanish while you were on a trip to Barcelona. Talk about that trip.
So, the year was 2009, (laughs) and it was a really difficult year. I used to go to Spain a lot because my first love was Spanish. And so, I remember going to Spain and not being able to understand anything that was happening around me, with people laughing and joking and I love being part of conversations because I’m a bit of a talker as you can probably tell! (laughs)
So a lot of things happened. I lost my father, I almost failed my degree, all these sorts of things affected me. And I just kind of woke up one day and I said, ‘I’m moving to Spain!’ I wasn’t with my ex at the time, but it was always something that I wanted to do. His father couldn’t speak any English and I always wanted to be able to communicate with him specifically, so I finished Uni and thought, ‘I am going to Spain and I am going to come back speaking the language.’ I started in a town outside of Madrid, and then after seven months, I moved to Barcelona. I’m still really, really good friends with my ex, and his family is like my family, and I feel so proud now that whenever I go back and I can actually have a conversation with his dad in Spanish.
Apparently, you were 8-years-old when you decided to become an actress?
Yes. I remember the day that I actually decided that I wanted to be an actress. I was about eight and my child minder’s daughter was scouted to play the daughter of someone in a play at the National Theatre. And so I went with my nanny, and it was the first time I’d ever been in a theater. I remember looking at her on stage and knowing, ‘Oh my God this is exactly what I want to do.’ It was instantaneous, and it was so profound at the time. I went home, asked my dad about it, got the Yellow Pages out because dial-up internet was expensive, (laughs) so I looked for Saturday acting classes.
Your publicist describes you as a health fanatic.
I won’t say I’m a health fanatic because I just finished a packet of sweet/salty popcorn! (laughs) But I do take my health very seriously. I’ve weight trained, I pretty much train most days of the week in some way, shape or form. But yes, I am a massive lover of weight training, I love weightlifting so much. I do it at least three times a week and I am talking serious weights, not five-kilo dumbbells, I am not doing that! I’m doing really serious things. My dream is to play a badass in the future where I get to show off the hard work that I’ve been putting in. I have been training with a trainer for about three and a half years and he’s turning me into a beast! (laughs). I said to him, ‘I want a washboard stomach,’ and he said, ‘You are going to lift 100 kilos.’
So, you can lift 100 kilos?
Yeah, my heaviest is 115 kilos for one rep. Last week I did 95 and I think tomorrow he is actually going to make me do 100. I love it. There’s something so great about it, just being healthy, especially how strong your body is as a woman, people don’t expect us to be in the gym lifting serious weights.
So what would be the ideal role?
I would love to play a role where I would have to change for it physically, because I just see it as a massive challenge, and I am up for that challenge. But yeah, a badass villain. But also, I don’t want to be put in a box, I want to do everything. I would love to do a gritty drama; I would also love to play something like a Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada type of role.
Are you still singing opera?
Not that much anymore. In the shower definitely. Again, it’s about breaking stereotypes. I started doing that in secondary school actually because I was doing GCSE music. And I remember thinking, ‘No. I don’t want to do En Vogue, I don’t want to do the typical R&B song, I want to do classical and opera.”
You’ll have to find a movie where you’re an opera-singing assassin!