We first met Elisabet Casanovas (Sabadell, 1994) as the sweet, romantic and innocent student Tània from the popular TV3 series “Merlí”. Since then, she hasn’t stopped challenging herself, something that has become one of her passions: always going one step further than what she’s already done. Her latest, or penultimate challenge: to walk in the shoes of Africa, the protagonist of “Drama”, a series produced by TVE in collaboration with El Terrat (The Mediapro Studio), and which premiered on Playz. Filmed in Catalan and Spanish, “Drama” has now made the leap to the Catalan regional TV network to widespread acclaim from viewers. The story of an ultra-modern girl who gets pregnant but doesn’t know who the father is. So, she decides to find out. Meanwhile, Africa goes to parties, shares a flat, gets into lots of trouble and lives life intensely, on a journey packed with laughter and love. We discussed all of this and more with Casanovas, who, shortly, will become the mythical Marilyn Monroe in a theatrical production. Like I said, she love’s a challenge. And this one’s a biggie!
Is Africa in “Drama” one of those characters that turns out to be a real gem for an actress who loves challenges? Stuff is always happening to her.
Absolutely! Africa doesn’t ask for permission or forgiveness. She’s really impulsive and runs the full spectrum of emotions. And, apart from the issue of her pregnancy, the series deals with much more, including her relationship with her flat mates, played by Artur Busquets and Júlia Bonjoch. “Drama” talks deals with friendship, and despite the title, everything is approached from a comedy perspective.
A comedy sometimes taken to the extreme. When comedy is mastered, as is the case here, it must a real delight, right? It allows you to become someone completely different from who you are, internally and externally.
Yes, it was a real gift. Personally, I’m more about permission and forgiveness. At times, Africa can even be unfair to those around her, because she has to make so many decisions at the same time, and she doesn’t always get things right. In terms of her look, I saw right away that she had to have dyed hair and wear second-hand, vintage clothes, so I suggested that to Ginesta Guindal, the director. The way she wears her hair and clothes gives Africa great personality. I’ve been fortunate to work with many actors and a great technical team, and this enriches you creatively and personally.
What else would you highlight about “Drama”?
Well, the fact that it avoids getting too solemn when dealing with pregnancy and abortion. That her decision to have or not have this child doesn’t depend on who the potential parents are. It’s your decision. And I have to mention characters like her grandmother, who is a kind of mini-angel for Africa. I’m getting emotional, you see, we all have, or have had a grandmother like her, someone who’s a model of wisdom and tenderness.
The one who isn’t exactly a model of wisdom and tenderness, quite the opposite, is the father of the leading character. Played here with great confidence and his usual delirium, by comedian Ignatius Farray.
Filming with Ignatius was a lot of fun, and he’s a very generous person at work. In rehearsals, he did one thing, and then, when they shouted “Action!”, he managed to come up with add-ons and grew his interpretation with surprises, by transporting the father to places that were genuine for him, I mean for Ignatius Farray. In “Drama”, Africa and her father have had an on-and-off relationship because of his absence. I like that the screenwriters introduced the father figure into the story, because our generation has pending issues with our fathers, more so than with our mothers.
Was there room for improvisation during filming?
We had absolute freedom, as long as you didn’t go completely berserk. As long as the improv worked in favor of the situation they’d already written.
What do you recall about joining the series “Merlí”?
I was in my first year at high school in the Institut del Teatre, in Barcelona, and I did a screen test for the series. It was a rush! I had never been in front of a camera! Until then, at the Institut del Teatre we’d only worked on theatrical language. Then, filming on the series stopped for six months, and I did another screen test while I was in my second year. And they picked me, keeping me in the role as Tània, but some of the actors who had also been chosen before with me swapped characters.
Gets besotted easily, filled with love, friendly and, as they say, a good friend to her friends: this was Tània. “Merlí” was an experience that marked and immediately launched your career.
It was a wonderful experience to connect with these young actors from such diverse backgrounds and to see different ways of working. On top of that, with Francesc Orella at the helm. And, throughout the three seasons the series lasted, I had the opportunity to meet other wonderful actors, older than me, like Pau Vinyals and Carlota Olcina, for example. We never imagined that “Merlí” would go so far and that it would be seen in so many different countries in South America, among others. One of the important aspects of the series is that it was extremely critical of the educational system.
Now, with “Drama”, you get to relive and refresh the fame you’ve already known with “Merlí”. How do you handle being stopped in the street, autographs, selfies or being told that they identify a lot with Tània or, currently, with Africa?
I think if I weren’t able to handle fame and popularity it would be very unfair. It’s nice that people empathize with your character. The good thing about ‘Merlí’ is that it managed to interest different generations, so you had the whole family talking about issues raised by screenwriter Héctor Lozano.
In recent years, we’ve seen you in series including “Bienvenidos a la familia” (TV3), in a very funny secondary role, and, in the theater, in “La senyora Florentina i el seu amor Homer”, in “El fantasma de Canterville” and “Kassandra”, a monumental interpretive achievement where, in addition to being alone on stage, you gave free rein to your passion for accents.
The theme of accents amazes me. And I love doing comedy. Sometimes a clever comedy, and sometimes not so much. I’m interested in all kinds of humor. Comedy is ideal for dealing with dramatic issues. I like the stories that fall somewhere between comedy and drama, like life itself, filled with laughter and tears. Since I was little, I had great fun playing and I was always laughing and smiling, even though I was very shy. And I still am!
And, to the essential: what was confinement like for you?
Well, actually, we’re still going through it. We’re only coming out of it now. I had a good time and calm, with my roommates and we were super comfortable. There are other people whose realities were really harsh, so I’ve no right to complain. Lockdown caught me in rehearsals for the play “Monroe-Lamarr”, which we had scheduled to premiere at the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, and where Laura Conejero plays the actress Hedy Lamarr, and I play Marilyn Monroe. Thanks to this production, which we will open at the end of the year under the direction of Sergi Belbel, I have delved deep into Marilyn’s life, and I’ve discovered an amazing woman, who had a tough childhood, who carried many wounds and who had enormous sensitivity, but was often given the roles of just a pretty woman. She was the victim of a patriarchal system.
Theater… Do you hope to get plenty of theatre work in your career?
Absolutely, may it never run out! Theatre is still the great school of interpretation. On stage and in front of the public, your work never ends. After one function, another comes, and it may be that, in that next representation, you don’t do as well as in the previous one. Theater is continuous learning; it keeps you firmly grounded. But filming does too, I can tell you.