From Storybrooke to Launching M&D Entertainment: A Conversation with Isabella Blake-Thomas
Isabella Blake-Thomas is an English actress best known for playing Young Zelena in Once Upon A Time, Peggy Kendall in Game Shakers and Sam in Maybe I’m Fine.
Her first role was at the age of five, when she was selected to present the CBeebies television program Green Balloon Club. This ran for one series between 2008 and 2009. Later in 2009, she had a minor role in the biographical television film Enid, In 2010, she was cast in an adaptation of the Just William series of books, playing Violet-Elizabeth Bott.
Isabella was ‘Izzie’, in the 2011 film Johnny English Reborn. Her first lead role was in the 2011 independent film Little Glory as Julie, alongside Cameron Bright. In 2012, Isabella played the part of Annabelle Crumb in the BBC Christmas adaptation of the David Walliams book Mr. Stink.
She also appeared in the DreamWorks animation of Rise of the Guardians. In 2013 she appeared in Midsomer Murders, Doctor Who and Dancing on the Edge alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor. In 2014, Isabella appeared in The Smoke on BBC and Da Vinci’s Demons. She later appeared in the FX show Married, in 2015. The following year she appeared in Game Shakers, Shameless and ABC’s Once Upon a Time as the recurring younger version of Rebecca Mader. In 2017 she re-appeared in Once Upon a Time and continued on as the lead role in Keplers’ Dream with Holland Taylor, Kelly Lynch, Sean Patrick Flanery and Steven Michael Quezada. She also starred in The League of Legend Keepers: Shadows and Pretty Outrageous. In 2018, Isabella appeared in the leading role of Sam in Maybe I’m Fine alongside Kelly Sullivan, Rob Mayes, Flex Alexander and Daniela Alonso. She can be seen as Jon Voight’s daughter in Orphan Horse and Pepper in Turnover. She also made her 1st AD debut on the film Running on Empty. In February 2018, Isabella released her debut single “Blame” which can be found on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music and more. Her music video is available for viewing on YouTube where she stars alongside Matt Cornett.
In our interview, Isabella tells The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali about her time on the beloved ABC series Once Upon a Time, working with her mother and her desire to act in a musical…
If we go back to the beginning, was there a defining moment for you to get into the Film Industry?
When I was four, I auditioned for a TV show in the UK. It was an open audition so hundreds of kids were being sent out for it. They were looking for five kids and I booked one of them having never acted professionally before. After that, all my roles just kind of happened. The TV roles lead into film roles. I enjoy both mediums but a film family is something very special. You get to know everyone so intensely for a few weeks.
Your most recent credits include Turnover, Sounds of Silence, Orphan Horse, Maybe I’m Fine and Sand Angels what can you tell us about these projects and where you fit into the story?
Turnover was a fabulous project to work on because my character was goth/punk so they put me in a wig and full black goth-like clothes. I’m also up for an award for it as Best Child Actress. I got to work with Rob Mayes as well as many other excellent actors on Maybe I’m Fine. Rob in particular was fantastic to work with. His improv skills are wonderful and we had a blast playing father and daughter. He isn’t a dad yet and so being able to play the fool with him and teach him about being a father was interesting. Orphan Horse was an incredible experience because I got to work with Jon Voigt. I played his daughter. He gave me some great advice on set about dialogue. Working with an Oscar winning actor taught me how to really shine on screen. Filming Sand Angels, Sounds of Silence and Pretty Outrageous were also so much fun. My mum was the director, she directed all three of these and since I love working with her so much, the films were just a joy to work on. I got to be in front of and behind the camera.
You recently launched Mother & Daughter Entertainment with your mother, what can you tell us about the company?
M&D Entertainment is a production company that creates its own projects as well as welcoming external ones. As long as the stories are either true stories or rom-com’s or something to make you laugh then we will either write our own ideas or help produce other people’s. I have written several of our current films ready to produce. I set this up with my mum last year so not only can we keep creating movies together, we can give other people the opportunity to create movies as well. We also mentor regularly and feature those filmmakers as part of the crew. It’s important to give everyone an opportunity, no matter what the age or gender of the filmmaker.
I absolutely adored you in Once Upon a Time as the young Zelena, what can you tell us about that experience?
Once Upon A Time was my favourite show before I booked it so even getting the audition, I was thrilled. When I booked it, I cried because I was so happy. All of the cast on set were phenomenal and so welcoming. I really felt like part of the family each time I filmed. I knew I was right for the role but I didn’t have red hair so I made my mom take me to get it dyed. I also made sure I wore green for the audition. Traveling to Storybrooke was like being in a dream everyday. I will tell you another secret which was that when my mom met Lana, she cried! Each day I would go to school with Jarod and then be called onto set to rehearse. The whole set was green screen in the castle and so you had to imagine where everything was and what it would look like. Having magic was the best part!
You’re gearing up to be Felicity in Community Service, what can you tell us about that project without giving too much away?
This is a funny, heart-warming movie about an ex-con who is forced to be the bodyguard for a young girl from the UK. During their time together, they develop a father-daughter relationship that helps them both get back on the right path in life. I enjoy playing characters that aren’t just sweet and innocent.
What is your preferred genre, and do you have any favourite films?
I love acting in many different genres but I love anything that challenges me as an actress. My favourite genre to watch is comedy because I love a good laugh. Every experience is so unique that I like to learn something new from it. I love Emma Stone so anything she is in always makes me want to watch it. Dustin Hoffman was a big influence on my acting career, especially watching him in Rain Man. Playing a character that is not like me is challenging and the most enjoyable.
Are there any other aspects of the Film Industry that you would like to pursue?
I love writing so that’s definitely something that I actively participate in. I wrote our kids horror called The League of Legend Keepers. I’ve also just finished my next film Three Doors Down. This is a true story about me and my best friend who was 100 years old. I’m a songwriter as well as a screenwriter and my EP was out February 14th 2019 called “Stronger”. I’ve been a 1st AD and 2nd AD so I love working behind the camera as well as in front of it. I will probably try directing on the next film as well or at least co-directing with my mum.
I also work for a producer in Hollywood at the moment and that is teaching me a lot behind the scenes. From script to screen and everything in between !
Also my songs appear in feature films which is fun element to be part of. Not only do I get to see myself on the screen but I also get to hear my songs.
You have an eclectic range of credits from TV Series’ to Short Films to Feature Film, are there any genres that you haven’t done yet that you’d like to?
I’d love to act in a musical. Whether it’s theatre or a Movie, that’s something I aspire to be in. I love the show Wicked and the movie Sound Of Music so I’d love to be in something that’s so iconic. Or even where I could utilise my guitar playing skills. I’m working on a film called Amelia about the young Amelia Earhart because I also fly a Cessna 172 and think it would be fun to actually fly for real in a film.
You’ve worked with a great crop of talent, do you have a wish list of who you’d like to work with?
I was fortunate enough to meet my idol Dustin Hoffman and I’d love to work with him. I would also love to work with Julie Andrews and Emma Stone. I would like to be in a TV show like Big Little Lies.
Who inspires you within the industry?
I’d say the list above applies to both questions. Dustin Hoffman, Julie Andrews and Emma Stone. They all inspire me in different ways but they are all so talented. Behind the camera I’m inspired all day long by people like the Duplass Brothers or any showrunners that create these cool shows. Everyone in the industry makes it run like clockwork, from the people in catering to the people who drive the talent and then the people on set. Anyone that works in this industry deserves an award for hard work.
Fandoms are a big part of the industry, who or what are you a fan of?
Well I’m a fan of all excellent work. The fandom with Once Upon A Time is so supportive and I’m extremely fortunate to be a part of it both as a lover of the show and as Young Zelena.
Is there a book that you are a fan of that hasn’t been adapted to film or TV or Netflix yet that you’d love to be a part of?
The series called The Land Of Stories by Christ Colfer is a book series that I’d love to be in. It’s a similar feel to Once Upon A Time so I guess I love fairytales. Especially anything that includes a bit of magic. It’s fun to play roles that are not normal life.
With the emergence of streaming services like Netflix, what do you think the future of Cinema is?
It’s hard to tell really because everything is changing so quickly. I’m excited to see where everything is in a couple of years because not only is the way film is shot progressing but the way it is viewed as well. I enjoy virtual reality experiences too. I often go to the cinema with my friends, it’s fun to all go out for the day and get popcorn. But sometimes when I’m sitting at home it’s good to be able to just binge watch a show from beginning to end. I enjoy having a screen at my fingertips on the phone or iPad. But the social aspect of us all going out is an important element of the interaction behind watching something. I hope cinema continues and we can all sit and watch shows together, especially with something to eat in big comfy chairs!