For years, Australian-born actress Lucy Fry has portrayed bodies distant from her own. She played an alien in the Australian teen drama Lightning Point, a vampire in 2014’s Vampire Academy, and, as recently as 2017, she could be seen alongside Will Smith in Netflix’s Bright as Tikka, a young Inferni elf. Now, as she portrays Stella in Epix’s Godfather of Harlem, she takes on the other end of the spectrum: a human character in a decidedly human world.
The series, which premiered on September 29, focuses on real-life crime boss Bumpy Johnson (played by Forest Whitaker) after he returns from a ten-year stint in prison. Confronted with the ruins of a place he once called his own, he resolves to take back the neighbourhood, crossing the infamous Genovese crime family in the process. As a daughter of this family, Fry’s Stella appears vulnerable — but this perceived vulnerability, if she plays her cards right, can mean considerable power. Ahead of the show’s second episode, Schön! spoke to Fry about Godfather of Harlem, her thespian beginnings, her hidden skills, and her other upcoming projects.
You’ve been acting from a young age. What was the moment or role that made you realise you wanted to be an actor as a full-time career?
When I was in high school I trained with a physical theatre company called Zen Zen Zo. I loved my teacher there and seeing how she made a career for herself as a physical theatre artist made me realise that it was possible to have a career as an actor. I thought I would continue to train and work in theatre, but when I got an acting agent, the film and television world began opening up to me and I became curious about how I could bring the focus of my physical theatre training into a different medium.
Let’s talk about Godfather of Harlem. How did you first become involved in the project?
I auditioned for the role while I was staying with friends in New York last summer. When I read the script I was thrilled by the world — Harlem in 1963. Seeing the civil rights movement from the perspective of Harlem’s lead gangster, Bumpy Johnson, was fascinating to me. The drug war between Bumpy Johnson and the Chin Gigante becomes the ground in which we get to see politics, violence and religion intertwining to re-shape the city, race-relations, and each individual character. And so I was hooked from the beginning.
What can you tell us about your character, Stella?
Stella is the Chin Gigante’s daughter. She feels like growing up in the Mob was like having a dark cloud over her since childhood. Now in her early 20s, she is trying to break away from her family by expressing herself in the beatnik movement and the Harlem music scene. She is in love with Teddy Greene, and their love story becomes the Romeo and Juliet plotline of the series. She believes wholeheartedly in this love, and she uses all the manipulation and scheming she learned from her father to keep herself and Teddy alive.
How did you prepare for Godfather of Harlem — did you read anything in particular, watch any films, etc.?
I read Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac to get into the Beatnik movement. I watched lots of mob films; I watched Goodfellas on repeat and all of The Sopranos because I wanted to steal Lorraine Bracco’s accent — it is just perfect, I really like her voice! I went to The Museum of the American Gangster and researched the history of gang violence in America. The summary might be that during prohibition gangs from immigrant populations — Irish, Spanish, Italian — who were facing oppression gained money and influence by selling alcohol, and from that rose the methods of “protection.” Between the immigrant gangs and the African American gangs, there is a theme in the series about how oppression is the root cause of violence.
Another way I prepared for and bonded with my character Stella was by playing bass guitar. She loves Jazz, so playing bass was a way to reach across the time and culture gap to get to know her.
What was your most memorable moment while filming the series?
Probably when we filmed at Minton’s, a classic jazz club in Harlem. Kelvin Harrison Junior was so great in the role of Teddy and watching him perform there was just so much fun.
You also just wrapped production on Waldo, with Charlie Hunnam and Mel Gibson. What can you tell us about your role in that?
Waldo is a darkly comedic detective story. I play a Kindergarten teacher in a private L.A. school. The drama of the movie ends up centring around the Kindergarten, and my character is a swirl of secrets.
We heard you learned how to draw while getting made up for Bright. Did you pick up any new skills while on set for Godfather of Harlem or Waldo?
Yeah, for Godfather of Harlem it was the bass guitar. For Waldo… we went axe throwing! It had nothing to do with the role, but Charlie got the crew together to go throw axes, and I feel like that’s an awesome life skill that you never know when will come in handy!
Many of your past roles incorporated fantastical and surreal elements. How is the on-set experience different when working on something like Vampire Academy or Bright in comparison to something like Godfather of Harlem?
Whether my characters are human, elf, or vampire, their energies are always completely different. No matter what genre it is, I get to know my characters gently and respectfully, so they can show me the way in. Tikka, the elf, required a lot of work in mysticism, learning Reiki, working with crystals and seeds. Stella wouldn’t stand for any of that. Stella is super grounded and sassy. To get to know Stella I did a lot of reading and writing and found out how to get to know her from the heart. You might think that playing fantastical characters takes more imagination, but I don’t feel that way. To me, every character requires the same depth of imagination to build a true inner life.
Who are some actors and/or directors with whom you’d love to collaborate in the future?
I would love to work with Maïwenn and Guillermo del Toro. I love magical realism, and making something like Pan’s Labyrinth would be a dream.
We also heard that you begin your day by writing down your dreams from the night before. Any memorable recent dreams you’d like to share?
I only start my day by writing my dreams when I am working on a character. I let my subconscious speak through my dreams to inform the inner life of my characters, to see things I might not have noticed before, and find symbols to work with. It might seem like an obvious symbol, but I had lots of lion dreams while I was filming Godfather of Harlem. So I worked with that in Stella, and let her sass and her step have a feline quality.
What are you looking forward to right now?
Right now I am really looking forward to cooking a delicious dinner for my friends tonight. I try not to think too far into the future because things change so quickly. But, I do know what is happening tonight and I am really excited about that!
“Godfather of Harlem” airs Sunday nights on Epix. Watch the trailer for the series here.
This Schön! online exclusive has been produced by
photography. Ben Duggan
fashion. Lucy Warren
talent. Lucy Fry
hair. John D @ Forward Artists
make up. Jo Baker @ Forward Artists
location. Milk Studios
production. Camp Productions
words. Braden Bjella