NINJAK VS THE VALIANT UNIVERSE: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHANTELLE BARRY

Valiant Comics have created one of the most successful new universes in comics. Their characters are of their own worlds and arcs yet still exist in a wider story that informs the journey of each, influencing the direction of the wider world it is set within. With characters like Bloodshot, worlds like the Stalinverse (as featured in the Divinity line of comics) and of course, Ninjak, Valiant have cemented their position as one of the best indie-publishers in today’s sometimes crowded market.
Now Valiant are making a move into on-screen entertainment. But instead of going the Netflix, Network or Amazon route used by other publishers, Valiant have teamed-up with comicbook.com & batinthesun.com to create Ninjak Vs. The Valiant Universe, a six-part web-series, now playing!
We were lucky enough to talk to Australian singer and actress Chantelle Barry (who featured on Popstars, as well as Entourage and How I met your mother) about her role as the super-villain Roku.
Chantelle, thanks so much for talking to us. What was it about this part that made you want to say yes? Was there any hesitation because it was a comic-book tie-in / adaptation?
Well, I’ve been wanting to play a comic book character for a while now so when the opportunity came up to play super-villain Roku, AND be the first person ever to bring her to life on camera, made me jump at the chance!  Zero hesitation.
What are the acting challenges of this role? Did you enjoy the physical aspects?
For me I think the physical aspects were part of the challenge. I’d had limited experience with doing fight scenes previous to this series and since Roku is a weapons expert and a “ruthless assassin” I made it a priority to jump into the fight and martial arts training regime. I trained with Nathan Lee whom I also had some fun on-camera interactions with in NVTVU. Otherwise, I think bringing out the uber mean side of me was tough at times. I was raised to be polite and kind and to never exclude or pick on anyone, so when the team on-set would ask me to go even bigger with the evil I really had to channel that part of myself.  But don’t worry, I got there, ha-ha!
We really enjoy a lot of the Valiant books here at Orbital. Were you aware of the Valiant Universe before you read the script? If any, what comics have you read and enjoyed before?
I’m a little ashamed to say that up until the point where I read the script I hadn’t even looked at a comic book.  But Valiant sent a huge box of comics over to help me with my research and very quickly, I found myself loving them. I love that their worlds are so vivid and rich in narrative. I mean, every character has this awesome back-story and I think what I love most about Roku’s story in particular are the themes of transformation & identity. In very unexpected ways the characters of the Valiant universe are very relatable.
Was it a fast shoot? I imagine the webisodes were relatively short?
The episodes range between 10 – 15 mins each, so combined it’s a feature length series. I started filming back in August of 2016 and only just finished shooting pick-ups last month. So all up it’s been about a year and a half.  This is the longest time I’ve ever been involved in one on-camera project!
Was there anything in particular that was present in the character in the comics that you felt wasn’t there in the script and that perhaps you pushed to be included?
I think the history between Angelina and Colin is really interesting, and then of course how Angelina becomes Roku is something I would’ve loved to explore on camera, but by the time I was involved in the series the narrative was already locked in, so it wasn’t even an option to go there. In terms of character traits, it would’ve been interesting if Roku’s telepathy powers were included but overall I don’t believe it’ll feel like anything missing once the fans see the show.
Sounds great to us! What do you bring from your music career that you found useful in your acting career?
Good question. For me, acting is all about beaming someone else and music is about being as authentic and true to myself as possible. But I believe I can only truly portray a character if I draw from the deepest parts of myself, so I’d say that knowing myself really well helps both careers.
Are you a big fan of superhero movies and TV? If so, any favourites you’d like to share with us?
I love Jessica Jones. What an incredible show and cast.  Really enjoyed Wonder Woman too, oh, and Batman. Of course Batman! I’m big on narrative. Even in my music videos I try to have a story to tell. But when it feels like 3 hours straight of fighting and throwing someone into a building over and over I tend to switch off!
There’s certainly a lot of our favourites on your list! In addition to your acting work, you’re also an accomplished singer and performer. Where do you feel most comfortable? Singing or acting?
I feel the most me in music. Not sure if that’s always necessarily ‘comfortable’ but it’s definitely familiar. That being said I don’t see myself every giving up acting because it really is so liberating to become someone else for a little bit.  You learn so many new things about yourself through the act of being someone else. It’s like an addictive type of therapy for me, ha ha!
I think it’s the same for a lot of multi-hyphenates. How did the role come to you?
Kevin Porter, who plays Armstrong (brilliantly, might I add) and I have been good friends for close to 15 years now. He introduced me to his dear friends Aaron & Sean from Bat In The Sun, and then a few weeks later, right after they came to a show I was playing in Hollywood, Aaron asked if I could put myself on tape for a project he was working on. The only catch was he needed it back the next day.  That week he reached out and said they loved my audition but they weren’t all convinced I could portray ‘Asian’ on screen…which is so funny to me since I am half-Asian and so is Roku. I was ready to accept it, move on… then I decided to do a make-up test and really fight for the role. And it worked! Aaron literally called me at eleven p.m. that night and said “Hey, I’m so sorry to do this, but can you be on set tomorrow for rehearsal? You’re Roku.”
What was it like working with Valiant? Did you get a chance to meet any of the characters?
I loved working with Valiant. Dinesh Shamdassani and Josh Johns are 2 of the loveliest people I’ve ever met, and they really went the extra mile to make sure we were happy and comfortable at all times. But yes, working on this project I got to meet a lot of ‘characters’, lol.
Are you excited about your new album? What can fans of your music expect from it?
I’m so excited about it!  It’s called Lovers Gonna Love and it’s the first project I’ve exec produced…which was heaps of work, but beyond rewarding! I think fans can really expect an evolution in my sound, especially from my last album. But above all my personal truth, summed up in 12 songs, haha. I really just wanna connect with people through my music. If someone walks away after hearing a song or watching me perform and feels like they could relate, or it made them think, or inspired them in some way, I consider that a big win. The album is available everywhere you can stream or buy music…and for Valiant fans who aren’t familiar with my music, I’d suggest them checking out my cover of Bad To The Bone, which is my Roku inspired song.
What’s next for you? Can we expect to see you in UK at all?
I love the UK! After I came off Popstars in 2000 I moved to London and lived/worked there for about 8 months on and off. Hands down one of my favourite places in the world (though a little more sun wouldn’t hurt!). I might be heading to Europe in the summer for a music trip so I’ll have to stop by and say hi on way through!
I’ve got lots of fun stuff in the works. There’s an Aussie film I shot in October, A Long Night, that will be coming out later this year. I played a role in the Metal Gear Survive video game that just came out. And I had a couple fun animation roles like the recurring character I play on Curious George and a singing role on Doc McStuffins that I can’t wait to see! But for the moment I’d really love to be attending more comic conventions and meeting the fans. I did panels at the New York Comic Con the last 2 years and had such a blast. Meeting the fans puts all the work and crazy hours we do into perspective. I mean let’s be real, the fans are the entire reason NVTVU exists.
I’ve really loved meeting and interacting with the Valiant fans.  A lot of them write to me on instagram and they’re surprised when I write back. In fact, one in particular didn’t believe it was actually me responding, so I sent him a video message to prove it! Those moments are funny ‘cuz I’m just a regular person. My experience, from social media and conventions is that comic fans are dedicated and really do their research.  I’m a fan. Wait, can I say that? I’m a fan of fans. Kinda has a ring to it.
Tell us about your co-stars? Did you enjoy working with them? How do their working methods differ from yours and what were the challenges there?
Working on ensemble projects like this is always fun, There are so many different energies, opinions, points of view and skill sets all coming together. You’ll see in the show that Roku doesn’t interact a whole lot with the other superheroes, so I mostly worked with Mike Rowe, which was a blast! Mike is super talented and hard working… He’s all about context and so am I. We got to hang a bunch at New York Comic Con both years, so by the time we had to shoot the meat & potatoes scenes we had a really great off-screen relationship that I hope translates on screen.
I really enjoyed working with Aaron. He’s a strong director and has very specific ideas. And I also loved working with Chrissie, who’s a make-up & hair wiz! She totally transformed us and has the loveliest energy. When we shot the pilot, I was sick and we were shooting in a hotel. Chrissie was likeGirl, just sleep on the bed and I’ll do your make-up while you’re sleeping.” And she did! I literally went to sleep as Chantelle and woke up as Roku!
We wish Chantelle best of luck on the series and the new album! If you want to watch the series, please click on the link below.
Paul.