Stephanie Levi-John And The Spanish Princess | A Toast To Dreams
Updated: Aug 21, 2019
Calling all #champagnedreamers (yes we’re calling you that now)! Have you ever felt like you had a dream but no matter how hard you try it just won’t come to fruition? Maybe you’ve felt destined for a certain path but everyone around you keeps trying to pull you in different directions…
We’ve all been there.
Sure, we’re told for as long as we can remember that we can become whoever we want to be; but, what no one tells us is how long and hard the journey is to get there. Whether you’re an artist trying to find your home in a gallery or a dancer trying to leap across the world’s stage; a student just trying to pass med-school or a seamstress wanting to start your own fashion line --- there is one thing we all have in common...it is a dream.
We all have this hope that one day our wants, goals, and desires will come true and we’re just trying to navigate the hardships of life until we get there.
So, to all you dreamers out there struggling to figure out how to make it, you’re in for a treat!
After days of research, tons of prep and a whole LOT of nerves...last week, we were blessed with the incredible opportunity to chat with the ICONIC Stephanie Levi-John, one of the lead roles in the STARZ (uniquely female-cast) period drama The Spanish Princess!
Going into it we have to admit -- We. Were. Stressed!
But, what started as a standard, albeit nerve-wracking, interview, turned into a 55-minute heart-to-heart about hopes and dreams. We talked about everything from her role on the show and what it means to be represented as a woman of color in the industry, to her upbringing and the journey to success.
We were truly humbled by the opportunity to talk to a person who counts being able to do what they love as a blessing and who uses their position to create change. We are so happy that we’re FINALLY able to share this with you all!
As those who watch the show may know, Stephanie Levi-John, plays Lina, lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon (The Spanish Princess); and, for those who haven’t watched the show, while we know on the surface “lady-in-waiting” sounds like a servile character, there’s really nothing subservient about her.
Levi-John brings Lina to literal life, and turns her into a multi-dimensional woman we wish could be our best friend too (Catherine... you lucky queen!)
She is loyal, and grounded; and much like Stephanie, she is that voice of wisdom and reason we want to look up to.
“[Lina] is the glue that holds everything together. She is always there for Catherine, she is like a big sister almost mother to Rosa and I think as black women we tend to hold a lot on our shoulders. I think it’s cultural and generational where we take the burden of other cultures and other people.”
With the utmost affection, she said, “I wanted to take that strength into the character of Lina.”
Though the term “lady-in-waiting” suggests passivity, there is this incredible juxtaposition between the nature of her title and nurturing relationship with Catherine and the no-nonsense attitude she holds with everyone else in the English monarchy. She stands up for the disenfranchised and is a force to be reckoned with!
“It’s almost like fighting against the establishment,” said Levi-John. “It felt good to fight against that with Lina and it was a lot of fun.”
Stephanie takes the role of Lina and makes it her own and functions as an inspiration every step of the way. She is even breaking barriers as one of the few women of colour to be portrayed in a period drama.
Because of a serious lack of representation in the industry, even Stephanie, prior to securing her role, doubted the idea of a black woman spearheading a period drama.
She joked, “So, it’s really funny because...I think a year before I got the part of Lina, I was laughing and joking with my best friend, saying ‘ Me in a period drama? Ha! Don’t think so'... because I had never thought that it was a world in which we existed. It wasn’t until I got this role that I realized that there has actually been an erasure. We have been around since the dawn of time; but, historians and the rest of the industry will make you believe we popped up in the slave trade...then disappeared for a bit only to reappear in the sixties...but it’s like no...we’ve been around.”
Often we see depictions of royal life and we admire their gowns, crowns and all the luxuries that come as part of the aristocracy; and for so many women of colour, there is this moment where we catch ourselves imagining what it would be like to be a princess or a queen...that is, until that moment of realization hits that there’s no one like us in sight.
“I’m sure people can relate to her and her struggle and I think finally, this is a time where we get to see ourselves in history where we haven’t been represented. Right now things are really exciting…and more than anything, I just want little girls and women to watch and finally feel seen and finally feel like we have a presence within history that doesn’t put us down.”
“Lina is a member of the aristocracy, we are Kings and Queens and it’s about time we see ourselves within that light.”
Like so many women of colour, Stephanie grew up in a world that lacked representation. She shared in the struggle of being a witness to a life that she wanted; but, unfortunately, couldn’t relate to because there was no portrayal of people like her.
Her dreams of being an actress seemed far-fetched; but, after seeing a friend who looked like her perform in a play, in that moment she knew that she would make it someday.
“My success is coming, it’s happening I just don't know when. As long as I keep that in my sight and I know and I feel wholeheartedly that yes it’s happening…nothing can shake me.”
Believe it or not, before landing the role on The Spanish Princess, Stephanie had no formal acting training. She worked as a teaching assistant and like many of us, she was simply a dreamer waiting for her big break.
Despite the advice from family and the people around her to give up the idea of being a "creative" in favour of becoming a full-time teacher, day after day for about eight years, she knew that success was coming. In fact, without even realizing it, she had been preparing for this monumental role her whole life. She even spent 9 months in Spain learning and becoming almost fluent in the language (talk about destiny)!
She didn’t know when or how; but, she knew that something was just on the horizon… It was The Spanish Princess.
“It’s like a surprise birthday party…A lot of this kind of feels like it came out of nowhere; but, it didn’t because I’ve been dreaming it for ages.”
For us, Stephanie Levi-John is a fresh face that continues to break molds and we are here for it! She is not only an inspiration for all the young actors/actresses out there; she is also a pioneer and champion for women of colour.
“I think people have preconceived perceptions of what I am like and I think most black women feel that way. When you walk into a room people just assume that you’re going to be aggressive, or you're going to be this or that, and so I always try to fight against that stereotype.”
“I do realize that I’m also representing other black women and that is always something that I’m very aware of and I always want to show us in the best light.”
Off-screen, Levi-John brings that same attitude to the table. Though she is up and coming in the industry, she always holds her own and ensures that she conducts herself with grace, kindness and respect. She wants the world to know that women of colour are so much more than the stereotypes that society has created; and through every interaction, as Lina and otherwise, she puts her best foot forward to build a better world for women in the industry.
Though she does play a character in her professional life, you will be pleased to know that Stephanie is human (and a humble one at that!)
“Things change quickly and I have to be grateful for the position that I’m in. I live in the real world with real people, my job as an actress is a job and [outside of that] I am Stephanie.”
Levi-John, who identifies as a “work experience girl” -- one who is always willing to learn on the job and put her best foot forward -- knows the value of hard work and isn’t afraid to put in the time and effort needed to sustain her dreams.
She credits her work-ethic, grounded personality, and approach to life, to her Afro-Caribbean background and her parents, who raised her to work hard and to be receptive to advice and criticism.
“I’m not expecting anything from anyone and the harder I work, the more the fruits of my labour will be shown.”
With a personality that will melt your heart and a sucker for personal engagement, when Stephanie isn’t gracing us with her on-screen presence, she is focusing on her other passion: helping others.
In fact, while working in a primary school, Stephanie took on the role of teaching a group of young students that migrated from Spain, the basics of English.
After about 4 months of those lessons, one of her pupils, a little girl named Mariam, was almost fluent! On the last day of school, Mariam handed her a little note that said, “Thank you -- now I can understand my friends."
Just knowing that she had made an impact on someone’s life, made it all worthwhile.
“That little note meant absolutely everything to me.”
Honestly, if you asked what we had expected when Stephanie agreed to do the interview, we would have said, “A quick chat about the show; and hopefully we’ll learn about her;” but, we can truly say the experience was SO much more.
The instant she said “Hello,” it was clear that Stephanie is a lover of life and people; and her willingness to be so vulnerable about who she is and what she wants to achieve, made our interview less of an interview and more of a midday girl chat full of advice and encouragement!
Her words still echo in our ears. She implored us to keep “Dreaming of days like this to come” and reminded us that we shouldn’t allow failure to discourage us because “How are we supposed to grow and get stronger if we don’t experience failure?”
Stephanie’s honest, candid advice about life truly reflects her humility and desire to support and create real honest connections with people.
“This is bigger than me. We’re all on the come up in some shape or form and I’m here to support others.”
Her little gems of wisdom and tidbits of knowledge carried the length of our conversation as she prepped for an evening dinner. Yes, it was evident that she had other engagements; but, Stephanie still continued talking.
“Time is so beautiful,” she said, “When you give people your time…I think [it] means a lot more than monetary things. If you give somebody your time, it [matters] more than anything else.”
Her statement rang true, and though time flew by with laughter and shared stories when we talked about goals for growth, Stephanie shared her biggest piece of advice for those wishing to reach their life’s goal like she has.
Levi-John, who is very much a dreamer, manifests and visualizes everything she wants in life.
She stressed the importance of not worrying about how fast your dreams will happen; but, rather staying on course. If you keep your goals in sight and keep working towards them, there is no way you won’t achieve them.
For many of us, who have an idea of where we want to go and what we want out of life, holding the faith can be hard. When she said things like, “Fear can stop you from achieving what your heart desires, and from doing many many things”, it resonated so deeply because fear literally can cripple you. Believe us, we have been there many times, beaten down, and ready to give up. But, after speaking with Steph (yes, she’s our friend now!), there our hope has been re-ignited and it is a flame that will keep the dream alive.
“The thing about trying to manifest things… I can set a goal for myself, and when I think about that…it is unwavering. There is nothing that can shake it.”
“The thing that I cannot control is the journey and the time; but, you have to hold on to the faith (wholeheartedly) that it’s going to happen. You have to trust the timing of when things happen and when they're supposed to happen …and you can’t lose faith in what you want.”
Eventually, success for Steph came full force.
She didn’t know anyone in the industry, she didn’t go to drama school, she lived in a council flat…all these things…in her words, made her feel like life was against her. But, she made it --- just like she said she would --- and so can the rest of us!
Her biggest piece of advice: Hold on to your faith, prepare yourself and just stay ready. If you have that 100% belief - Just Go For It!
While creating a name for herself, Steph is still trying to figure out her place in the industry and hopes to inspire some people along the way. With an interview like this one, and her willingness to be so open, we don’t think she’ll be having any problems making all of her dreams come true!
We are so grateful for Stephanie for talking with us and allowing us to get to know her. We hope you enjoyed her story just as much as we did!
The Spanish Princess airs on Sunday at 8 pm EST on STARZ.
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