Actress Serinda Swan is currently playing Undercover DEA agent Paige Arkin in the USA network hit series Graceland. She is a familiar face on television, having appeared in Smallville, Supernatural, and Breakout Kings, among many others. She is not just a beauty on the outside, but on the inside. She's committed to positively impacting the world with her voice, and acts as an ambassador for the nonprofit organization Friends to Mankind. Her tattoo "May my success be the success of humanity" says it all.
Serinda is a truly remarkable woman and was such a pleasure to talk to! In the ShareTV Exclusive Interview below, she opens up about the intimidation of auditioning for roles, keeping a balance in life in the crazy celebrity world, and all the excitement to come in Season 2 of Graceland!
ShareTV.com: How was the transition from playing Erica Reed in Breakout Kings to playing Paige Arkin in Graceland?
Serinda Swan: It’s a lot of fun! I mean there are a lot of elements that are similar with the two, they’re both badass females, and when given the opportunity can really take care of any situation that they’re in. And again both being surrounded by boys. On Breakout Kings, Erica was kind of the only girl in the field and on Graceland it's very similar. Obviously there’s Charlie, I love having that comradery between the two of them and, on a side note, I really hope they start to pair the two of us together. I think that could be really interesting and fun. But the transition was actually a really wonderful one for me because I feel like Paige has a little more comedy, where Erica was a little more dry and the humor was found in how tough she is. Paige has a little more of that straight comedy where she’s just kind of a goof sometimes, which I love.
ShareTV.com: How did you land the role on Graceland?
SS: It’s really bizarre, I always joke that it’s the easiest job I ever got. It was basically just that they had been interested in me for the pilot for one of the characters and I was already on Breakout Kings at that time, and was obviously unavailable. When they were casting the new role originally it was a guest star, and I was actually testing for another role that Monday and turned down the audition. I was like, "I’m sorry I love the project but I have a test and another audition on that Monday." And I remember being bummed about it. I was like "Awe, I really like that character!" She was fun and I would have loved to be able to take a shot at it. And then I got a call back on Wednesday being like, "We still haven’t found our girl yet, could you just come in?" And I hadn’t even looked at the sides yet because I wasn’t planning on going in on Monday, so on Wednesday I still obviously hadn’t looked at the sides. So I picked one of the scenes, memorized it, went in and was like, "I’m so sorry I only know one scene," and here she is, this is who I think Paige is. I remember it was one of those auditions where I didn’t do my hair, I didn’t do my makeup. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it’s just this is the best I can do at this time, but I’m still gonna give you my best. And it was really great! I went in there and I laughed and I loved the casting directors. They’re just absolute sweethearts and they made it so okay to just show up as me.
SS: They started off with, “We’re huge fans of yours” and whenever you walk in a room and they kind of give you permission to not be intimidated its so wonderful, because a lot of casting directors sort of insist on your intimidation sometimes, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity. A casting director has a position of power, by no means do they abuse it, they just hold something we want so dearly, so you walk in being like, “Oh holder of my future career, please be nice to me.” But as I said, it was really a wonderful experience. I drove home that night on that Wednesday, and by Monday I was in Fort Lauderdale. It was so fast, just boom boom boom.
SS: There were two contracts written up, one as a guest star, and one that was to become a lead. We would know [which one] after three episodes. I remember reading the first episode and being like, “Ok I don’t die,” and reading the second episode being like, “I still don’t die!” When we got to the third episode, the whole cast was aware of my situation obviously, and I got this wonderful group text from everybody being like, “You don’t die!!!” Normally I don’t read the end of a script first but on the last script I flipped to the last page and I didn’t see my name and my heart was racing. Then I flipped a few pages back and there I was, alive and well and ready for the next case. As long as I went into episode four they had to activate my contract so I was like, “Cool I’m a Gracelander now! I’m part of the crew.” It was a really fun experience.
ShareTV.com: Since this is a really action-packed role, did you have to do any special training to prepare?
SS: Well, coming off of Erica I already had that training, and it seems that’s sort of where my career is leading based on my past training anyways. I definitely do more of a mental training than physical when it comes down to it. Mentally, I definitely go in and want to do the character justice. While you bring cues of yourself to the character, you want to make sure you’re really encompassing what these people go through on a daily basis. And obviously undercover work and being a DEA agent there’s a lot to research. I immersed myself into that world and made sure I knew what was going on and kind of became an autodidact on everything that was DEA and undercover work. But that part of my job is always fun, I love that amazing discovery.
ShareTV.com: I know you’re a founding ambassador for the nonprofit organization Friends to Mankind, which is so awesome that you give back. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
SS: Absolutely! I watched a documentary on sex trafficking when I was shooting Breakout Kings actually, and it kind of blew my world apart. I didn’t really know what to do once I received all that information. It's the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, next to drug trafficking. I didn’t understand how I didn’t know about that, how I wasn’t aware of the numbers. It’s an epidemic and for me I learn the best by immersing myself, so I booked a plane ticket and went to Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand. I sat down with different victims and organizations and asked them “What do you need? How can I help?” I’ve been given a small platform and a voice and I plan on growing it. I asked myself," How can I use this spotlight that I’ve been given to shed light on the darkness in the world right now?"
SS: From there it was just this sort of inspiration for me to allow my life and my success to be the success of others. It’s always been hard for me to put the two together. Acting and the whole celebrity world is very “me me me me me” and very celebratory of the person. It was a very interesting duality for me to try to navigate. Once I figured out that my success could be the success of others, that freed me completely. That is the mentality behind Friends to Mankind. The founder is in Malaysia and I’ve known him for many years. I actually met him when it was just a concept. I sat down with him and said “Look I want to make this into a movement,” and activate this “do what you can, where you are” mentality. We’ve raised almost a quarter of a million dollars through that.
ShareTV.com: That’s amazing, you are a great role model in the industry!
SS: I’m just me! I’m an actress and it comes with responsibilities. I won a geographic location lottery at birth and just because my freedoms are something that aren’t pushed in my face everyday, it doesn’t mean that I can forget them. I have to use that and say, “I have a voice. I was given a voice at birth.” There are a lot of women and children that either were never given a voice or had theirs taken away. You can donate anything, not all donations are monetary. They’re a text, a tweet, a retweet, a phone call, the starting of an awkward conversation at a dinner party about sex trafficking or child soldiers or whatever it may be. That’s a donation of knowledge, and that’s just as important.
ShareTV.com: Graceland has just returned for its second season, which is so exciting! Is there anything you can tell me about the new season?
SS: It’s awesome! It’s tons of fun. It definitely goes with our theme of being dark. We haven’t lightened it up; we didn’t get in trouble with USA for the heroin and the arms being chopped off and the suicides and all those things. In fact, they gave us even more permission to go darker. Jeff Eastin, our creator, is really championing that side of things as well, which is just freeing and wonderful as an actor to be able to work with. And they’re just so unbelievably collaborative. I pitched them a concept on human trafficking last year. I felt like she would come in contact with human trafficking quite a bit. I know one of the ladies who I’ve been speaking to who is actually an undercover agent says they deal with it a lot. She says they get briefed on it and they see it, and she said Oklahoma is one of the worst states for trafficking.
SS: So I pitched them an idea of Paige having to deal with a human trafficking ring this season. Not only did they go with it, but they made it this beautiful, amazing, heart wrenching, horrifying story. It’s not heroic and it’s not palatable. It’s really really hard to watch and it opens your eyes to a lot of different aspects that are happening. It was such a phenomenal gift that Jeff and the whole writing team gave me this season, was to be able to bring something that I’m so passionate about, wrap it up in entertainment, and be able to present it to our audience who’s a really intelligent, funny group, who seems to really be enjoying our content. I just think it’s just another opportunity to educate through entertainment.
SS: So, to me, you get to look forward to a pretty awesome story when it comes to the human trafficking, you get to see a lot more of love interests with Paige and Mike, and as the first episode showed with Charlie and Briggs. It’s a lot of fun. It’s explosions and gunshots and Paige doesn’t just drive into barns this year, she’s shooting, she’s fighting, she’s going through windows, she’s tackling 6'7" dudes. It’s a lot of action and a lot of fun. And you get to know the characters a lot better this season. Lots of lovin’ and lots of fighting!
Watch the season 2 premiere of Graceland below!