Who's THAT Girl??

[Who’s THAT Girl?] Stephanie Levi-John

In this edition of ‘Who’s THAT Girl?’ Sistem contributor Laverne introduces us to Stephanie Levi-John currently staring in the international hit television series The Spanish Princess.

After figuring out the gruelling dial-in details of how to even connect to the conference call, within precisely 30 seconds of introductions, Stephanie and I are reminiscing about the finality of this extremely peculiar summer and our ‘new normal’.

“I’ve just come back from shopping at Wood Green” she explains, a place she has lived her whole life stemming from humble beginnings of living in a council estate with her family. Even through the crackling phone connection her laugh is infectious as she describes the excitement of doing the press junket for season 2 of The Spanish Princess.

Who are ya?
“That’s actually a very difficult question when you think about it” Stephanie laughs. “I guess I’d probably describe myself as an up and coming artist and actress.
“My mum is from Sierra Leone and my dad is Jamaican and English, so I’ve got quite a mixed sort of background even though I didn’t really know my dad” after a slight pause she reflects “it’s been an incredible and often crazy journey.”

Stephanie has played the role of Catalina “Lina” de Cardonnes (Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting) since the show’s inception in 2019. However, it’s in season 2 Lina’s storyline will really flesh out, as we explore more about her duties.
“We get to explore her family and work life more; she’s essentially balancing everything whilst still trying to find peace in herself. She’s a wonderful character, I feel so pleased and humbled to play someone like her.”
With this current role being the most pivotal in Stephanie’s career so far, the conversation quickly led to something of the obvious, she is playing a Black woman who’s a significant character in a television drama set in the Tudor time period!
We both connected on the aspect that this was essentially something out of the ‘norm’. Myself being in my early 20’s and Stephanie being in her early 30’s, neither of us could recount a Black female character with such a prominent role in a period piece, especially one with such a fleshed out and storyline.

“Representation is so important” she goes on to tell a funny anecdote of a conversation that took place couple of months before she got the role in the show. A friend had asked her if she’d ever do a period piece and she laughed it off. “I thought, me in a period drama?” she chuckles “I guess me brushing it off came from a place ignorance, we didn’t just pop up randomly one day after all!” This was true, we rarely get to see ourselves in history-based programmes unless it’s about slavery.

“I take pride in being in a period piece as an unapologetic Black woman”

How did you get here?
“My journey has been quite different to the ‘norm’ I never went to a drama school or anything like that, I’m a council estate girl” she states proudly. In an industry filled with drama and theatre school kids from an extremely young age, Stephanie began attending evening school classes for acting, a little later than your average actress.
“I’m 31 and I’m not even afraid to say it out loud, I know a lot of actresses do feel some type of way about their age!”
When asked if she always wanted to be an actress, without skipping a beat she explains “oh absolutely, I’ve always wanted to be an actress.”

“I only transitioned into TV just under 3 years ago, I started off in children’s theatre.” Stephanie spent her beginning years in acting going through the ranks and trying different things. The dream of becoming a star on our small screens has not come without bumps in the road. Growing up, the prospect of drama school soon become a lot less likely to become a reality.
“I didn’t really like the atmosphere, I thought if this is what the industry is going to be like, I don’t want any part of it.” Then came the difficulty of actually figuring out fee payments. “My mum was working 2 jobs and my dad was ill, so it wasn’t justifiable for me to go to drama school, so I ended up going to uni.”
After a slew of various jobs and opportunities including moving to Spain “funnily enough” Stephanie laughs, she worked as a conversational English teacher in Madrid and an au pair in Barcelona, but upon returning to England “it ultimately came down to it that I needed to go for this dream [of being an actress] I didn’t want to look back in years to come and think ‘what if?’”

“I take pride in my journey; all the failures and hardships have been so worth it.”

What sets you apart?
Throughout our chat, it’s clear that there are numerous things that sets Stephanie apart as an actress. From the unconventional and ‘late’ start into the industry, to playing characters unlike anything we’ve seen so far, she goes on to drop some more gems about herself.
“I’m a person of juxtaposition, there’s so many complete polar opposites to me” she explains. An avid fitness fanatic and self-professed “gym head” Stephanie proudly announces how she reached her personal best in sumo squats reaching 115 kilos for one rep.
Passionate about lifting the heavy stuff, it’s clear just how proud she is about such achievements. “I don’t know if it’s societal but as women we are told that we can’t lift as much as guys, but our bodies are extremely strong and one thing that I’m loving about training and lifting heavy weights is it tests your boundaries. When you see that you’re actually stronger than you thought you were there’s no other feeling.”

“It relates to life as well, when you keep pushing and pushing boundaries success comes in the end.”
Thinking this impressive hobby along with her occupation most likely takes the bulk of her free time, Stephanie also announces she’s a qualified Reiki practitioner. “Not everyone’s into it, but I like to do it to help the people around me.”
When it comes to what sets Stephanie apart as an actress, I was eager to know if there’s any rituals or procedures she carries out prior to getting in front of the camera.
“I love smells” she states, “smells ignite something in me, and with each character I play they each have their own fragrance so before I’m going onto set or stage I put that scent on and that automatically makes me think of my character.”
Although hair and makeup are obviously a major help when getting into character, for Levi-John the scent is the icing on the cake. “I don’t know, that’s just one of my little things!”

Next 5 years…where are ya?
“I’m excited to see what the future holds. I don’t want to be put in a box. I want to be able to do anything and everything, I love to accept any challenge.”
“I’d also love to play a badass assassin!” Stephanie assures me she’d incorporate her fitness and training capabilities into said future role. Whether it’s learning combat or jujitsu, she eagerly explains how that would be the ultimate dream character.
A variation of roles is the main goal for the actress. “I want to continue to work, continue to inspire and help people through their journey.”

How do we find you?
“You can find me on Instagram. I took a break for a while but I’m back and I don’t have any other forms of social media.”
Stephanie has a little trouble remembering the username format, “is it called an @, I’m not down with the kids!” She hopes to use her platform to showcase her various activities and future projects but also to celebrate herself and her achievements. “We don’t celebrate ourselves enough!” she exclaims.

“Essentially, I hope to inspire people to live their unproblematic lives.”

Instagram: @stephlevijohn

The Spanish Princess season 2 premieres October 11, 2020 and will conclude the story.

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