Tasya Teles from hit series “The 100” Talks to DAMAN

Tasya Teles from hit series “The 100” talks about the show’s fifth season, her upcoming projects and her dreams for the future.

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Tasya Teles is best known for her portrayal of Echo in the post-apocalyptic sci-fi TV series “The 100,” where she has just been promoted to series’ regular. What has always been captivating about Teles’s portrayal of Echo, a fierce warrior, is how she fully absorbs her character with the myriad layers of complexity that goes with it. And speaking of layers and nuance, Teles is also known for her mastery of several languages.

Born in Canada with Ukranian and Brazilian roots, Teles is fluent in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. And also Trigedasleng, a fictional language featured in “The 100.” It’s also interesting to note that Teles’ body of work is quite expansive, including voice-acting for video games like the popular action adventure title “Watch Dogs 2,” and is bolstered by an extensive background in theater. Topping it all off, she has launched Unslaved, an organization dedicated to helping victims of human trafficking. So, whether it’s on screens, stages or humanitarian news updates, there’s no doubt that we’re going to see more of Teles in the days to come.

DAMAN: Hey, Tasya. glad to have you on board. So, season five of “The 100” is about halfway finished. Can you tell us what can we look forward to this time around?

TASYA TELES: I think one of the hardest parts of my job is actually learning how to speak about the story without giving any spoilers. So, I’ll just say this: In true form “The 100” offers a menu of unexpected deaths, some good people who make bad decisions, some bad people who make good decisions. And a lot of turmoil, warring factions, and nail biting. Bon appétit!

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DAMAN: How do you think will this season of “The 100” stand out from the rest of the show?

TASYA TELES: Each character has to face the demons of their past in season five, with new bonds that may be tighter than relationships we knew from the past. Six years is a long time to be away from one another, surpasses the few months they’ve spend together as we knew them on earth. So, while we may feel that two characters have an unbreakable bond, we’ll see them make decisions that are wildly different than how we knew them previously. It makes for a rollercoaster of a season, and lots of broken hearts.

DAMAN: Your character, Echo, has been around from the second season, and now she has become a series regular. How did you react when you first learned about Echo’s “promotion”?

TASYA TELES: Well, I was very cool. Very calm. And very, very collected. Actually it was the exact opposite. There was a scream, a jiggle, a shake, a yelp and a little manic run in circles around my apartment where I think I stubbed my toe a few times. In short, I was overjoyed. “The 100” had already started feeling like family, so it was an absolute thrill to be “made,” as they would say, in an Italian mob.

DAMAN: Looking back, in what ways do you think has Echo grown since her first appearance on the show?

TASYA TELES: I think Echo’s persona, as we knew her, was someone who was buried deep in distrust for anything, or anybody she didn’t know. She realized that in some ways, she was being used by the Azgeda Queen, and that her actions may not have been noble but they were all that she knew. So, she had to reconstruct her entire belief system. For the first time we see Echo fighting in the name of love, which I think is super powerful.

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DAMAN: Considering Echo’s not-so-nice past which includes betrayal and so on, what do you think do a lot of viewers get wrong about her?

TASYA TELES: I think a lot of people miss the innocence she was robbed of, in growing up as a spy and assassin for the royal family. Echo is very observant by necessity, and I think she longed for friendships, but in her emotional naïveté, didn’t know how to trust friends. She was raised to distrust kindness. Her survival philosophy, like most Grounder warriors, was to believe that love is a weakness. And since she has no family that we know of, she has never been in a safe place emotionally, call a buddy over for a hangout, or girl’s night. So, it’s not that she’s a bad person, it’s that nobody has ever shown her how to love, and be loved.

DAMAN: Conversely, what is it about Echo that most viewers can relate to?

TASYA TELES: I think we can all relate to the feeling of wanting to fit in, or have purpose in life. Her guiding force was to protect the Queen and King of Azgeda, and she just wanted to do a good job. It was how she kept food on her plate, a roof over her head, and essentially stayed alive! It also gave her life meaning. So, when she was banished her entire world crumbled, which really broke my heart.

DAMAN: How about yourself: is there anything about Echo that you identify with? Or, better yet, has playing Echo influenced your life in some way?

TASYA TELES: One of my favorite qualities about Echo is her ability to push past obstacles with no reservation. No matter what happens, she continues to fight for herself, and fight to survive. She has a strength and resilience that I borrow from when the mundane obstacles of my world seem insurmountable. Life for me is pretty safe by comparison.

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DAMAN: If there’s one thing you can change about Echo or her storyline, what would it be?

TASYA TELES: Backstory. Oh, baby, please, just give me some backstory! I think when you play a character with such unshakeable loyalties and convictions, it’s important to share with the audience why the character has become that way. Otherwise, it seems like a person is doing “bad things” because they lack a moral compass, rather than reacting from a place of deep pain and hurt. I think Echo was an orphan, and endured a violent childhood and a lawless land, which is why she latched on to her given job title so tightly, and protected her royal family so dutifully. She had nothing to lose. Except her job which, as we saw, destroyed her.

DAMAN: On an unrelated note, we also learned that you have a background in theater. What would you say are the biggest differences between performing in front of a camera and in front of a live audience?

TASYA TELES: Oh, man, I live for the stage, I love it! There is an indescribable energy that pulses through the room when you’re on stage, because there is no starting and stopping for lighting adjustments or touchups. The stakes are high, everything could fall apart and you can’t just call “cut.” So, it requires a certain kind of bravery and courage to put yourself through the perils of having an audience hate what you’re doing. You can feel it. But the challenge helps you grow, because there is nothing worse than feeling that the audience isn’t with you. If you can conquer stage, you will do just fine on camera.

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DAMAN: Will we see you on stage in the near future?

TASYA TELES: Yes, absolutely. I’m taking requests if anyone wants to play! The frustrating thing is trying to find the time. In the world of acting, everything shifts at a moment’s notice. They need you somewhere now, etc. I’ve already been in a few play productions that have crumbled because of one reason or another, which has been really disappointing. So the next time will end up on that stage. This summer I may be doing something.

DAMAN: You have a rich cultural heritage; we’ve heard it mentioned that you speak four languages—English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. Has this attribute been particularly helpful in driving your acting career?

TASYA TELES: This is one of those things that in moments of childhood homework outrage, your mom consoles you with the lame promise that “this will help you later in life.” And it’s actually true. In fact, it has helped me tremendously with the Grounder language, Trigedasleng. Trig is a language created by David J. Peterson, who also created the Dothraki language [from “Game of Thrones”] and it’s a combination of the dominant languages in North America, so it has this really cool fluidity to it. It literally sounds like what you would get if you spoke English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. When I read it, I actually understand it, even though the words are completely fabricated. Maybe it was the wine…

DAMAN: Other than “The 100,” do you have any other film or theater projects that you’re currently involved in or that you’re looking into?

TASYA TELES: Right now I am really interested in the back end of production. I’m positioning to write, produce and direct something in the near future. So, I’ve been spending time with the editors at Warner Brothers, learning through them, and behind the director’s chair. I’m still trying to break into “The 100” writer’s room, but that is akin to cracking the Da Vinci code. So I just have to pray that I get some of that sweet writer genius. But yes, some colleagues and I have big plans coming, big plans!

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DAMAN: Are there any particular roles or genres you want to delve into next?

TASYA TELES: Is it nerdy to say that I’m dying to get into romantic comedies? Well, whatever. There, I said it. I want to be on set and laugh all day! Wouldn’t you? Comedy is very appealing to me. But, I do have an unnatural attraction to dark, complex characters. I would love to breathe life into a complex superhero, or combine both worlds and do a dark comedy.

DAMAN: We also heard that you started an organization called Unslaved to help victims of human-trafficking. Can you tell us what inspired you to launch this initiative? 

TASYA TELES: It was really a book written by some awesome journalists from The New Yorker called “Half the Sky” that changed the course of my life and interests. Like many, I was wandering aimlessly, intending to contribute more, and to find some purpose in my life, and that book catapulted me into a place of resolve and inspiration. I think everybody wants to help but often we allow life to get too busy or distracting to actually do anything. So, this is a project to bring people together on simple one-off projects that are as long or short as they want. To empower us all to come together, and have some fun while making the world a funkier, happier and connected place.

DAMAN: Finally, what would be the next milestone—professional or personal—that you hope to achieve?

TASYA TELES: I studied Robin Wright’s approach, and in my research discovered that she started directing in “House of Cards,” which I previously didn’t know. There was something that woke up in my soul when I read that. It was like she introduced me to the idea that it was possible that I could also direct, an idea that seemed implausible before. So, that is definitely on my list, in the near or distant future, but it’s on my list for sure. I would love to one day get into directing.

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Styling Tayo Fajemisin