Is there anything more exciting than local talent going global? Playing Toni in the Amazon Original Series “The Wilds”, Erana James is one to watch. Having been brought up on a farm in Whangarei, from Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei hapū and moved to Wellington when she was 10, Erana received her big break whilst still in high school, being casted in local fantasy horror based on Margaret Mahy’s novel, The Changeover. She also starred as Kahu in 2019 series, Golden Boy and My Life is Murder.
And now she is ready for her close up. We caught up with Erana and talk to her about playing a strong willed, feisty young woman, favourite scenes, and what’s next for her.
What was it like to work on The Wilds?
It was amazing! The cast and crew were all so amazing to work with and it was such a good experience for my first time on a big American project! Filming in New Zealand helped a lot too, being surrounded by familiar people and people that understood me really made the experience for me. Being able to work on a TV show with such a strong female voice driving it and with such talented young women leading the show was a dream.
Tell us more about your character you play
I play Toni Shalifoe. Toni is a fierce, strong willed, feisty young woman. She knows herself so strongly and is not afraid to tell people what she thinks is right or wrong – even though it may get in trouble sometimes. She has a tremendous capacity for love which you see through her relationship with her best friend Martha, but her aggressive tendencies definitely get her into a bit of trouble.
How did you prepare for the role of Toni?
I prepared for the role of Toni mostly through having conversations with people. Being able to speak to Jenna Clause about Native American experience and culture and what life might look like growing up on a reservation was so rewarding. Although Toni is not a Native American character, she grew up on a reservation, so getting a stronger sense as to what life might be like for her was super important. I had amazing conversations with Jenna about our shared experience as indigenous people and the similarities we were able to draw from our cultures, even though we grew up on opposite ends of the world. I also had some basketball training, which unfortunately hasn’t quite stuck! I’ll leave the basketball up to Toni.
Do you have a favourite scene from the series?
A favourite scene is so hard to choose! I think my favourite moments would be scenes where we see Toni’s ugliness and how she acts on that ugliness. Toni goes on a beautiful journey through the season so I think just being able to flesh out those moments of change, or those moments were Toni is really faced with her own shit.
What are you most looking forward to this holiday season?
Seeing my family 100%. I moved to Melbourne at the beginning of the year and due to COVID I haven’t returned home. I am currently in a managed isolation facility in Auckland (half way yay!) and I cannot wait to see my family again.
What’s next for you?
I am hoping to be able to continue to work in both New Zealand and Australia. It is so exciting to see that both film industries are in such a strong place after COVID, so being able to work on home soil again would be a dream.
Where can people follow you/find more of your work etc.
You can find me on instagram @erana_james
Part survival drama, part dystopic slumber party, The Wilds follows a group of teen girls from different backgrounds who must fight for survival after a plane crash strands them on a deserted island. The castaways both clash and bond as they learn more about each other, the secrets they keep, and the traumas they’ve all endured. There’s just one twist to this thrilling drama… these girls did not end up on this island by accident.
The Wilds is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.