Beauty & The Beach: Ilfenesh Hadera Interview

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By Nora O’Donnell.

How do you dust off Baywatch, an iconic TV series from the 1990s, and make it feel like a fresh film in 2017? First, give it a tongue-in-cheek slant. Second, find the right cast. For Dwayne “the rock” Johnson, the star and producer of the film, casting his love interest was no easy task. “She had to be a lot of things,” Johnson wrote on Instagram. “Strong, Intelligent, formidable, beautiful and funny.” We can confirm Ilfenesh Hadera is all of those things – and more. The Red Bulletin speaks exclusively to the 31-year old actress.

The Red Bulletin: A 1989 Hollywood Reporter review of the Baywatch pilot read: “Let’s be honest, it’s the oiled bodies that will bring viewers back.” More than 25 years later, how has the Baywatch mind-set changed?

Ilfenesh Hadera: [Laughs.] You know, it is still all about [that]. There is still a huge emphasis on fitness and health: Zac [Efron] transformed himself, and Dwayne’s body is his trademark. However, the film is also fun and does not take itself super-seriously. It is by no means a spoof of the original Baywatch, but it’s action-packed, with explosions and boat chases.

What about as a woman, thinking about where we were 25 years ago?

Versus now? I mean, the funny thing about my character, Stephanie Holden, is that she is the most buttoned-up of the three female lifeguards. So maybe it was easier to go into it not feeling as objectified, as you would have otherwise. 

Dwayne Johnson has praised you for being “tougher than new rope”. Where does that strength come from?

I am lucky to have been raised by some incredibly strong women. My mother and grandmother are the most compassionate, wonderful, lovely women I know, but they are f–king tough. My grandmother is 84, and she is active, self-sufficient, smart, adventurous and as tough as nails. My mom is the same. She is my best friend, and she is the f–king coolest. She is from Vermont and has a total hippy vibe. She never judges, always listens, and gives great advice.

Acting can reach a lot of people…

It does. But you have to actively remind yourself of that. I’m really fortunate that I’m finally able to do what I love to do every day; there were many years of working in restaurants to pay the bills. So what was I? A hostess, not an actress. But that was a stupid way to look at it. As long as you’re hustling to get where you’re supposed to be, there’s no shame in what you’re doing to get there.

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Now, speaking of The Rock, your response to his Instagram post read, “Dedicated to everyone who laughed at me when I fell off the starting block at that swim meet in 1997.” Explain…

I was in the YMCA swim team before starting high school. At my final meet, I was standing on the starting block, and I just fell into the water before the whistle blew. It was the most excruciatingly embarrassing moment. I wanted to stay at the bottom [of the pool]. It was horrible. 

What about your swimming skills now? How much training did you have to do?

I’m a pretty strong swimmer. For two months, we trained twice a week, two hours a session. Two hours in the pool is a long time. Swimming is insane exercise – a total body workout.

Ilfenesh Hadera

Ilfenesh Hadera: photo by Dove Shore

And probably a good way to bond with the cast. How was the vibe on set?

We had a great time. There were so many different personalities. Alexandra [Daddario, who plays Summer Quinn] is just a ham. She’s also from New York, so it was nice to have another New Yorker on board.

You would always hear rumours about the cattiness between the female cast on those classic 1990s TV shows…

There really was none of that. Which seems crazy to me, because you’ve got three women in bathing suits, and you think, ‘Oh, we’re all going to be competing.’

Do you think that’s just a difference between then and now?

Perhaps. Or could it be that’s what people think should happen when three women get together?

But why should it?

I don’t know. I think on Baywatch we all wanted to be our best for ourselves, and not to outshine anyone else.



Read more about Hadera and how she feels about redefining what it means to be a “Baywatch abbe” in The Red BulletinMagazine and online here.

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