by Kyle Arango
|Recently I had the chance to sit down and talk to Alisha Wainwright and Jason Ritter about their new Netflix series Raising Dion. The series is about a widowed single mother who discovers her seven-year-old son has superpowers and must navigate how to take care of him. They had a lot to say about the series as well as their experiences, so I hope you enjoy!|
Do you feel like you can relate to Nicole?
Alisha: Absolutely! In most of the characters that I play. They have elements of humanity anyone can identify with. Nicole cares so deeply for her son and there are people in my life that are so important to me and I can use that inspiration and channel it towards Ja’Siah who plays Dion. She’s so different for me, a professional dancer, a little all over the place, late all the time. Where as I am usually 5 minutes early so there are these different elements that shape who we are.
Your characters go through some extraordinary circumstances in this series. If you were in the same positions as your characters, would you make the same choices?
Jason: I know that I would probably do the exact same things. At least 90% of the same things. It would be so exciting to meet someone who had superpowers and at the beginning of their discovery of it. To test things out. Can you make this float? Can you teleport over there? How can we corral these powers into the best possible situation?
Alisha: I think if Dion was just a little bit older. Dion’s seven and you don’t even have your whole mind yet. If someone our age had superpowers, I’d be a little bit more excited but someone who is so little, they are still trying to learn the difference between right and wrong and about themselves. I would be more like Nicole and be scared and want to protect Dion.
Jason: That is probably the smarter response. I would say, what can you set on fire?
This isn’t the typical superhero television show. Who is the real superhero in this series?
Alisha: Dion is the one with powers so technically him, but I think the qualities of Nicole are so extraordinary and not a lot of people believe in themselves enough to push through the obstacles of parenting. Anytime you do that is such an incredible feat and not only with your life, but you are a guidance for your children. I like to think Nicole is just as much of a superhero as Dion. She ahs the real-life qualities we strive towards.
Jason: I’d say the list probably stops there in terms of superheroes. There is a real moral clarity to Nicole and Pat is more if you don’t get caught it’s fine. I think a lot of moms are superheroes.
I would say you’re more of a mentor.
Jason: Yes! He does truly love Dion. One of the beautiful things in the show is here’s a woman whose husband passed away suddenly and how a community will rally together to help out. People come in to help where they can, and I think that’s a beautiful thing that happens.
How is this show different from other productions you’ve been on?
Alisha: This is the most I’ve worked with a little kid before. That was interesting because the hours they can work are super limited. It was a different challenge because of those technical issues. Also, I’ve never had this much responsibility on a show so for me I was super nervous, but I had great conversations with people. Jason has been in this industry for so long and has known the kindest people so having him to ask advice from and using not only him but Jasmine Simon, they just offered so much support and guidance for how to be an example. Whether I wanted to believe it or not, people were looking to me for what’s our set going to be like. Just trying to be myself but professional was a challenge but everyone was so great.
Jason: We told her to stay as she was because she is so awesome and cool.
Superheroes and superpowers are such a big thing in today’s pop culture and the industry. If the real world had superpowers, not everyone but random people, would the world be a better place?
Jason: Well people are so complicated. One of the things we enjoy about comic books and superheroes is good and bad and maybe a couple go back and forth.
It’s very concrete
Jason: Yeah and in the real world we all exist on a grey scale of good and evil or selfish to self-serving. You have humans with superpowers and its nice to fly but also this guy just cut me off in traffic so I’m going to run his car into a tree. You don’t have any idea. That’s the thing with Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. Some people have it and take advantage of your power. Morality isn’t clear and you don’t know what the right thing to do is in a situation. I love stories that deal with this kind of thing.
Yeah you’d like to hope you would use it to save people but also if I’m stuck in traffic, I’d love to pick up a car and go under it.
So this isn’t Marvel or DC. How risky was this project for you when you guys were working on it? Did you feel a responsibility for it to succeed?
Alisha: As an actor there is not a whole lot of risk. You gravitate towards a project and hope it does well. The producers who greenlit the show had support of the community because the creators had it crowdfunded. It is such a great indicator of what people are interested in because people they are giving you money to make that thing. S you know people are behind that idea and concept. I think Netflix didn’t see it as that much of a risk because hundreds of thousands of people were already supporting it. They took it and shaped it into something that would fit really good in their portfolio. It’s not risky to say this show will reach that audience and be with them.
Jason: It didn’t feel like a risk because I was so behind everything this show was saying. What’s risky is signing onto a project and liking 90% but thinking “there’s one thing that makes me so uncomfortable and I just hope nobody notices it”. When you believe in a project and what it’s saying, it kind of doesn’t matter what the product is because you fully support it. These are the stories I want to tell, and it offsets the risks of worrying whether it will do well or not.
What was the most challenging thing for you when shooting this show?
Alisha: I think the hours. We were averaging 13 hours a day five days a week and learning lines on the weekends and trying to have your own personal time. We had the benefit of a month of prep before we started shooting and also having all 9 episodes already written out. So I did much character breakdown and development so I could bang it out once we started shooting. I learned so much about selfcare. Taking care of my mind, body, and exercising. Eating things when I wanted and not trying to take myself to seriously.
Jason: Alisha had the biggest load of all of us while Ja’Siah would be there a couple hours and go “see ya!” and I had days off in-between. The challenge for me was it was the first time I had really worked with visual special effects. That was complicated because you don’t want to be general. You have to puck on thing and hope what you trust works out. The VFX department just nailed it. You don’t want to look weird when this stuff is happening. There’s a lot of trust that goes into those moments when stuff is not there. They did a great job making it look like we were in the room with these things.
At what point in each of your lives did you know you wanted to be an actor. Was it an inspiration or gut feeling?
Alisha: Ultimately, I always knew that I wanted a job where I could be around a lot of people. I love the idea of change. To have a job that is constantly changing and evolving. I think I took a quiz in high school that said, “what you should be when you grow up” and event planning made me think I would be really good at that. It can be beautiful and interesting, and you get to help a ton of people meet their needs. Then just move onto the next thing. Then instead of event planning, I took out the event and put an acting job. You go in and really put your mind and soul into this concept and love this character and when you’re done you can put it away ad move on to the next thing or hopefully it’s a series that continues and you can go back to evolve the character and grow up with it or change. There were qualities of our industry that I liked and then realizing acting fit those needs. I discovered that more later in life.
Jason: I had a thing where I really liked doing it as a kid and when I got older, I got a little bit shy and became suspicious of my older self saying, “you just liked the attention you hog”. Towards the end of high school, I got cast in a school fundraiser and I loved the whole process of it so much that it made me realize I’m not just truing to get to some end product, I actually like the thing itself. It gave me the confidence to say no matter how things shake out, I will like doing this in whatever capacity it is.
And it is constantly evolving where you are trying something new every time.
Jason: It’s like therapy and you say, I’m going to learn something from this experience.
The show is very layered with social topics such as loss and grief. How was it working with a child in this kind of setting with this kind of material?
Alisha: We really had to get together and shepherd ways to have these conversations with him. They did an incredible job because he came to set aware of things already. Like you said, it can be therapy for some because they understand the metaphor of acting and applying it to your life. With children it is a bit harder.
Jason: Even as an adult it is harder to access an emotion if you haven’t had the experience of that happening. To have such a relatively little amount of experiences including father loss Dion is dealing with. He hasn’t had that experience in life.
Alisha: But he has a little sister in life that he loves so much. No one wants to think of those things.
Jason: But you can translate
Alisha: And if you know what it’s like to love someone, you’d hate to imagine what it’s like to lose them. That kind of sadness is the kind Dion would feel if he didn’t have his Dad around.
Jason: He really was like a sponge who could take all this information in but sometimes needed a little help.