Alphas Exclusive: Laura Mennell (Nina) Interview

In our universe we know Mennell as Nina, the woman with the power to force people to do whatever she wants them to in the Syfy hit series. But, she reveals to SFX , things could have been very different.

“The funny thing is, I remember when Alphas was called Section 8 originally, a few years before,” she tells us. “It was picked up by a major network, but then there was the writers’ strike, and it never got made.

“But when it was Section 8 I tried out for Rachel, not Nina,” she recalls. “And I think people would easily see me more as a Rachel. My agent thought it was a better fit, anyway, so I tried for her. It was really funny when I tried out a few years later for Nina. I didn’t even realise that Alphas was the same show as Section 8 initially.”

So instead of having super senses as Rachel, Mennell ended up with super-persuasive abilities as Nina, though it was a role she very nearly passed up.

“I almost didn’t try out for it originally,” she explains. “I was visiting my dad… You know, when you’re an actor you audition for things continually and you feel horrible for your family, because you have plans with them, and then you get work and you have to blow them off. You just don’t feel reliable, and you feel bad.

“I remember when I got this audition, I was just like, ‘You know what? I’m with my dad. I don’t have the time. I’m sorry. I’m not going to go for this.’ But my agent was, ‘No! No! Please just read it. It’s really good. You will want to try out for this’ And I’m so glad I did. I remember, I was with my dad, and we had a nice day, but then he went to bed and I sat down to read the script. And I was like, ‘Wow! This is something special!’”

And Mennell should know a good sci-fi script when she sees one. She’s appeared in enough. Her IMDb entry lists appearances in Smallville , Supernatural, Watchmen, Fringe , Stargate , Eureka , Flash Gordon and Blood Ties among many others. Which makes you wonder if they shoot anything other than sci-fi and fantasy in Canada these days…

“Ha ha. That’s a very good question,” she laughs. “Well, I come from Vancouver originally, and we do tend to shoot a lot of American sci-fi there. It’s true. But you know I really enjoy it, and I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve been lucky to have been part of some really great projects. Specifically Watchmen was a lot of fun. We shot that in Vancouver. The 4400 . The Stargate series. And now here in Toronto shooting Alphas . It’s a lot of fun. You get to be creative in sci-fi shows, which is great. I really enjoy playing with different sci-fi elements. They’re all such different shows and you get to do such a variety of things. I mean, where else do you get to play with mind control or having a radioactive blue boyfriend?”

So what was special about Alphas ?

“I thought it was interesting because we’re not your average superheroes, you know?” she says. “We do these heroic things but we don’t have laser beams coming out of our eyes; we don’t fly; we’re not in Spandex or capes. We’re not leading these glamorous heroic lives. I think it’s funny they go around in this sad-looking minivan. We all have downfalls and flaws. These characters are very much human. It’s more relateable. They all have these quirks and issues and they work together despite all these things.”

Mennell says she thinks of her power to “push” as like an extreme form of hypnosis. “I think essentially her power is her being able to manipulate people into doing whatever she wants them to do. So it’s definitely a form of mind control. A form of hyper hypnosis. I think of it as hypnosis anyway. Eye contact. The tone of voice. But it obviously happens a little speedier than your average hypnosis.”

It’s also a power that means she gets more than her fair share of extreme close-ups. Is that a big ego boost or a pain?

“I like it when we have nice lighting!” she laughs. “But when you shoot television you shoot fast, and every once in a while it's, ‘Hmmm, that’s a strange angle on me…’ or, ‘That could have been more flattering!’ But yeah, I’m fine with it.”

Alphas Season One is released on DVD on Monday

Read our interview with Alphas ’ Ryan Cartwright (Gary)

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.