Who is Stephanie Leonidas?
A closer look at the star of 'Mirror Mask'
by Elizabeth A. Allen



[Index][Background][Who is Stephanie Leonidas?]



1/11/05: Do you know how hard it is to find solid info about Stephanie? I searched for like four hours on the Net before finding the following bits of facts, which I have strung together into an opinionated overview, heavy on the MM.



‘MirrorMask,’ Neil Gaiman and Steve McKean’s high-concept, low-budget fantasy film, features talking sphinxes, monkeybirds, spiders that look like eyeballs on legs…and a single human girl, Helena (Stephanie Leonidas). As she journeys through a land of dreams in search of the titular MirrorMask that will save her mother’s life, Helena encounters a host of odd characters and settings, but, as played by Stephanie Leonidas, she never loses her cool. With her understated, naturalistic acting style, Leonidas grounds ‘MirrorMask,’ making it believable.

Who is this fascinating newcomer to the big screen? Stephanie Leonidas, though little-known in the United States, has a steadily growing reputation in Great Britain as a young, talented actor whose daring choice of indie projects showcases her emotional range.

Born on Valentine’s Day, 1984, in Great Britain, Stephanie gets her last name from her Cyprus-born father. When not filming, she lives in London with her family, including younger brother Shane and younger sister Georgina, both of whom are actors too. (A fourth Leonidas sibling, Stephanie’s older sister, Helen, is not an actress, but an elementary school teacher.) So Stephanie was actually about 20 when she played 15-year-old Helena in ‘MirrorMask.’

Not only does Stephanie bring real-life maturity to her big-screen role as Helena, she also possesses extensive British stage and television chops. An actor since the age of eight, she started in community theater with musicals like ‘Oliver Twist.’ When she was nine, she signed on with an agency and moved into television.

Stephanie Leonidas’ longest-running TV role – and the one that earned her critical notice – was in the experimental British ITV1 soap opera ‘Night & Day’ (2001-2003). Set in Greenwich, Great Britain, the show follows the disappearance of a charismatic 16-year-old schoolgirl, Jane Harper, and its effects on the people closest to her. As Della Wells, Jane’s best friend, Stephanie Leonidas portrays a quiet, passive girl. Usually overshadowed by Jane, Della gains confidence and strength after her friend’s death. Stephanie’s character becomes increasingly central as ‘Day & Night’ progressed, showing that Stephanie could convincingly convey the turbulent emotions experienced by a character coming into her own.

‘Night & Day,’ the first soap launched by the ITV1 network, lasted for only two years. With flashbacks, fantasy sequences, unusual camera angles and use of background music, the show turned off many soap-opera purists. Despite a small loyal following that appreciated the technical innovations and the all-round acting talent, ‘Night & Day’ died a quiet death, and Stephanie moved on to other TV and stage roles.

In summer, 2003, Stephanie Leonidas appeared on stage as one of four characters in Lucy Prebble’s intense modern morality play, ‘The Sugar Syndrome,’ which debuted at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in London. In this play, Stephanie stars as Dani, a recovering bulimic whose chat-room identity games lead her into an erotic, morally ambiguous relationship with a middle-aged convicted pedophile (Andrew Woodall). ‘The Sugar Syndrome’ received rave reviews for its cast. “…Acting throughout is excellent,” said Alistair Macaulay of the Financial Times. Stephanie Leonidas has all the disturbing, honest, precocious ebullience needed for the difficult character of Dani.”

Continuing her penchant for playing smart, emotionally troubled characters in offbeat films, Stephanie jumped to the movie screen in 2004 with ‘Yes,’ written and directed by Sally Potter. ‘Yes’ chronicles the love affair between a rich, Irish, female molecular biologist (Joan Allen) and a poorer, male, Lebanese doctor in exile who works as a cook (Simon Abkarian). Film-maker Potter uses the protagonists’ differences to grapple with gender, racism and colonialism…all with dialogue entirely in iambic pentameter. As the heroine’s goddaughter who’s obsessed with her weight, Stephanie embodied the film’s concerns about femininity. Critics were divided over whether ‘Yes’ was profound or pretentious, but thought that performances throughout were compelling, including Stephanie’s.

National and international fame eluded Stephanie, despite her acclaimed talents, until the release of ‘MirrorMask’ in 2005. Yet another weird, indie film, ‘MirrorMask’ differs from Stephanie’s previous work. ‘MirrorMask’ is a fantasy film, unlike her previous, more realistic roles. In fact, ‘MirrorMask’ relies so heavily on imaginary beings that most of it was shot in a studio on a blue screen, with the unusual creatures added later by CG animators. Thus, Stephanie, used to talking face-to-face with other human actors, spent most of the ‘MirrorMask’ shoot alone on a set, interacting with characters who had yet to be created.

Stephanie took the unusual circumstances in stride. “At first I thought it [blue-screen acting] would be really hard,” she admitted in an UGO.com intereview. “But it all came alive for use once we started working.”

Stephanie’s adaptability and strong imagination helped her out during the scene with her favorite ‘MirrorMask’ creatures, the inquisitive, leaping/flying creatures known as monkeybirds. When Stephanie’s character, Helena, falls down a pit, she talks to the monkeybirds and enlists their help in getting aboveground. For Stephanie, that meant speaking earnestly to a bunch of animals that she had seen only in storyboards.

As Stephanie told UGO.com, though, she “knew exactly what they [monkeybirds] looked like.” With the image of the monkeybirds in her head, Stephanie was able to act in front of the blue screen as if the creatures were really around her. When you watch this scene in ‘MirrorMask,’ you don’t see an actress in front of a blue screen with superimposed animals. Thanks to Stephanie’s down-to-earth performance, you see a girl talking directly to creatures from her dreams.

Stephanie’s role as Helena is about more than talking to invisible creatures. At its heart, ‘MirrorMask’ explores Helena’s imaginative and sexual awakening, as well as her ambivalent relationship with her mother. ‘MirrorMask’ requires blue-screen acting skills, but it also needs a sympathetic human lead to balance its surreality. 

‘MirrorMask’ producer Simon Moorhead identified Stephanie as just the ticket when he saw her in the 2002 TV drama ‘Daddy’s Girl,’ another vehicle for the sensitivity and honesty that Stephanie is renowned for showing. Everyone else quickly agreed that Stephanie was the one. According to an OutNow.ch interview, Dave McKean thought that Stephanie was “amazing” during her audition. And, in his blog, Neil Gaiman described her complete performance as “marvellous.” You could dismiss this as typical suck-up among collaborators, but you also have to admit that it’s a testament to Stephanie’s skill that she stunned two masters of fantasy with her naturalistic talents.

In a 2004 itv.com interview on the set of ‘Rose and Maloney,’ one of her TV gigs, Stephanie put her unusual aplomb and her acting career in perspective: “Acting is all I’ve ever wanted to do and I’ve been lucky enough to work consistently and play some great characters. My ambition is to get a job where I travel and I hope I have a lot to look forward to.” Since ‘MirrorMask,’ Stephanie has expanded her silver-screen presence with two films, ‘Feast of the Goat’ and ‘Crusade in Jeans,’ so it seems that she does, indeed, have a great future ahead of her.



MirrorMask (c) 2004 by Jim Henson Co.
 All original analysis, commentary and art
(c) 2005-present by Elizabeth A. Allen.
Plagiarists will be devoured by shadows.
E-mail: jareth /at/ oddpla /dot/ net