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Filipina-Canadian actress Zenia Marshall carves her niche in Hollywood with 'One of Us is Lying'

LOS ANGELES — Watch out for the name Zenia Marshall.

The 22-year-old Filipina-Canadian actress is proud to represent the Filipino community in Peacock's original teen drama series "One Of Us Is Lying," based on Karen M. McManus' New York Times best-selling novel.

Also an alt-pop indie singer-songwriter, Zenia has been singing since her car seat days and has performed in many ballets, musical, and theater productions since the age of four. She has performed in live shows such as "Beauty and the Beast" as Belle and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as Buffy.

Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, she could not help but be in the entertainment field what with her parents both in the industry—her mom, Luisa Marshall, is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed Tina Turner Tribute artist, and dad, Steve Marshall, is a musician-businessman.

Just like her mom, Zenia is also a tribute artist—Ariana Grande Tribute Artist. She has toured as a singer worldwide for the past seven years with her mom and as a result, has honed her singing and performing talents. As a singer, she has already released her first single, "Ain't Like You," and her most recent release and music video, "Heaven and Hell."

She was in Auckland, New Zealand for five months beginning April 2021 to shoot "One Of Us Is Lying." The production moved to Toronto, Canada after New Zealand recently imposed a strict COVID-19 lockdown.

We were able to catch up with Zenia after her return to Canada and below are excerpts of our conversation with the young and talented actress.

Congratulations on your new role in "One Of Us Is Lying." So, can you tell us more about your character and how did you bag this part?

A bit about "One Of Us Is Lying," I'm playing a character named Keely and she's essentially the girlfriend of one of the main characters. His name is Cooper. He is a baseball player; he is an athlete and they're in the same high school. And essentially there's a lot of secrets going on. People that are trying to out a lot of secrets. And there's a lot of drama. There's some action.

The plot is essentially about five students going into detention. And one of them, being sadly dead, from the detention. After he passes away in detention, then everyone's trying to figure out who did it because there's only five people there including him. So, we have four suspects and they're called the "baby four" and throughout the series, we're trying to figure out who did it.

Photo courtesy of Peacock
Photo courtesy of Peacock

Sounds exciting.

Yeah. And how I bagged the part, I guess there were auditions going around. I feel so lucky to be a part of this cast because everyone is from different places around the world. We have someone from Ireland, we have someone from London, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States and here in Canada. So, we had some auditions happening here and that's how I got in. I met some peeps when I came over. I met Jennifer Morrison, who was the director of our pilot and some of our amazing producers and that's how it took off.

That's great. So how cool is it that your character is half-Filipina? Do you say things in Tagalog or do you do things that show that you are Filipina?

I don't think that it's very outwardly displayed or anything. She definitely doesn't speak any Tagalog during the series. She wouldn't have anyone to speak Tagalog to, in the series, especially. But I think that's one of the amazing parts about this role. For starters, when I first got in the breakdown, it was Keely Moore, and it had little description of her and everything. And I was like, "Okay, this is really cool."

I did some research on the book, the original book, because the series is based on a book called "One Of Us Is Lying." And the character in the book was written to be half-Filipino, half-white. I was just like, "Wow, this is like the first time I've actually seen that intended and written down with intention of that." I've been auditioning for about seven years. I had never, in my life had seen a Filipino role come in. Usually if there are certain roles that they'll put in, that'll be like Asian character, but then it will be really broad and there won't be any specificity to it. So, it was definitely my first time seeing that.

It was my first time even realizing that I haven't seen that too, because we're so conditioned to not really, almost notice that, because of the way that mainstream media and Hollywood has been for a long time. So yeah, that was like the first time that I saw that. And I think it's amazing that it's one of those things where it's a series about all of this and that is going on up here. All this drama, all this action, but it's not focused and it doesn't need to be focused on anyone's background, on anyone's ethnicity, in that sense, because in the real world, we're just all peeps just moving around. And we're not obsessively focused in the way that sometimes Hollywood portrays different ethnicities and different backgrounds.

As you said, this is based on the number one selling book, the New York novel of Karen McManus. Have you ever met her and what was your reaction when you read the book?

I did meet her in Vancouver. We shot most of the pilot in Vancouver and she came over and she hung out on set and she said hi to everyone. She met everyone. And that was super cool. I was like, "Damn, this is..." It's always crazy to meet the writer because they're always that person who has made this whole universe and made these characters one by one and essentially the reason why any of us are here. So, it was so nice meeting her. She's so lovely, Karen. So nice, so nice to us. She'll send us messages of so much positivity and encouragement. She's so, so kind.

I am currently 22 years old. I read the book when I was 19 or 20, I believe. And it's a young adult teen fiction, but I still love reading that kind of stuff. So, when I read it, I was like, "Damn!" I was page flipping and everything. I think it's really great in the book because she goes through every part of the book through a different character's lens. And I think that's just so fun to read. It was great.

You mentioned you filmed in Canada, right? But you also filmed in Auckland, New Zealand. So how was that filming in another country and being away from your family? What adjustments did you make?

New Zealand is beautiful to start off with. It was so exciting. It was such an adventure. There were so many different places that we went and that we visited. When we weren't on set, we were trying to go around and see what we could, like glow worm caves. Some of us went to Hobbiton, some of us didn't quite have the time before lockdown. But it was super fun. It was super fun.

But I did indeed, I really did miss my family. I missed my home. I missed my friends. I missed everyone and everything here. It's the longest time that I've ever had been away from home. So, to be over there all by myself for that long of a time, and having to adjust in that new life and new world was pretty different for me. I had never done that before. So that was difficult indeed, because you miss everyone, you miss your family. And I'm pretty sure everyone there pretty much did, but we had lots of fun and we made our makeshift family of the "One Of Us Is Lying" team. The cast, the crew, everyone. We made our own family there. So, it was really nice that way.

How was it having a love interest in the show? Talk about Cooper who's played by Chibuikem Uche.

We all call him Chib on set. As we can see in the book... Oh my gosh. I don't want to say too much because I might give something away, but let's just say that we're not the usual couple. We're not a normal couple. So, whatever that means to everyone, you got to tune in and find out. Even their relationship.... I'm thinking of anything to say here and everything's just a landmine.

Photo courtesy of Peacock
Photo courtesy of Peacock

So, while you were there, the pandemic happened and the lockdown. Talk about how the adjustments were and the protocols that you had to follow while filming.

For starters, in the first couple months, we were there for five months and pretty much for four and a half months that I was there for, it was absolutely normal. There were no COVID-19 cases anywhere in the country, it's an island. So, they were very isolated and we were able to live every day as if it was a normal day, there was no masks. They had different COVID-19 tracing apps. So, you would sign in before you go into places and it goes and tracks where you are and everything. But besides that, on daily life, it was pretty much normal.

It was just on set because our production is American, they had certain COVID-19 rules that we had to stand by. So even though the cast doesn't have to wear masks because we have make-up and this and that, all the crew had to wear masks and there were still COVID protocols. We still had to get tested once in a while. But yeah, that was most of it, which was really, really great. And we were really lucky, honestly, to be able to live without COVID-19 in like Lalaland for about four and a half months. It was great.

And then we were only three days away from wrapping. We had three days left to shoot and then all of a sudden, the first COVID-19 case came and made its way into New Zealand. We had to lock down on the day of, and the one-week lockdown turned into two weeks, which turned into more weeks. But by that point, we finally, already flew back home and readjusted to film in Toronto for the rest of the days.

You are also known for your roles in "Supernatural" and "Date My Dad." What are your other dream roles?

In general, I really want to do action-based kind of things. Psychologically thrilling horrors. I would love to do those type of roles. I would love something on the darker, edgier realm because when people meet me, I guess they don't really see me in that genre. Lot of the time they'll be like, "Oh, you're bubbly. You seem nice," kind of thing. And I'm just like, "No, in fact give me the other roles, I would love to play those ones." So, I've done, looking back in my history, I've done quite a bit. There's the fashionista, maybe the social media guru, maybe the cheerleader and this one. I'm definitely looking forward to more.

When did you decide to become an actress? I know you're also a singer and a songwriter. So, talk about when you decided, "I want to act."

I first discovered acting actually, through dance. I was dancing up for about 13 years. I was in my mid-teens when a TV series, a production called "Some Assembly Required" that aired on YTV. They came over to my studio and were looking for dancers for background. They picked out a few and I was one of the bunch, one of the litter. We came over and we did the four little swans from "Swan Lake." It's like, da, da, da, that one. We did that variation. We had the tutus on and like a little swan, little ballet things. It was so cute.

Essentially on that day, I don't know, it was just the environment of being on set. At that time, it was such a magical set too. It wasn't just a set that was made to look like a normal house or a normal school or anything. Onset, it was like a toy store, magical kind of set. There are so many things going on and it was just great. It was like a Nickelodeon show. So, it was just so fun to be on. I'm like, "I don't know what I need to do to stay here in environments like this," but I wanted do something in this range. So, I started going into acting and I started taking acting classes. Once I took my first acting class, I was like, "Damn this is cool. I want to keep doing it." So here we are.

Photo courtesy of Peacock
Photo courtesy of Peacock

Your mom, Luisa Marshall, is also known as a Tina Turner tribute artist. Have you seen most of her performances and what have you learned from your mother as an artist, actress and a performer?

I remember watching her from the wings and she was always rocking out in her Tina Turner wig and everything. I feel like just growing up watching her, I've learned so much about making other people happy through song, through music, through performing. For her, it's very much not a selfish endeavor of music. For her, when she sings music to the audience, she does it to make other people happy. She does it to spread joy. I can see when I watched her that every time, I watch her and I look onto the audience there are so many smiling faces. If you weren't smiling before you went into that room, then you were certainly smiling and having a good time now. For her, that's one of her biggest super powers is to make people happy. That's how she does it. So that is something huge that I learned from her.

I like that super power.

Turns grumpy people into happy people. It's great.

Your dad is also a musician. What gems of wisdom has your dad given to you? And what's his superpower?

My dad's super power? Oh my gosh. He's a very great businessman. He's very great with handling so many business ventures and he is the reason why we perform anywhere in general. He always books the gigs; he always finds everything. I think for him, one of his super powers is going forward no matter what. He always sets his sights on something and once he does, then there's nothing else that can sway him. He's going to make that goal happen. He's going to put on that show. We're going to go here on the map. If there's something that he wants to do, there's somewhere that he wants the show to go or something that he wants the show to have, it's going to happen. I think that "think it and then make it happen" mindset is really his super power.

How do you see yourself five years from now?

Five years from now, I'm really hoping to see myself with more music out. I'm wanting maybe a couple of albums out by then. Right now, I'm working on my first EP. I already have two singles out—"Ain't Like You" and "Heaven and Hell." So, I would really love to see that. Hopefully COVID-19 will be a thing of the past by that point. So hopefully, maybe touring and all of that jazz. I can only hope to see what else the acting industry might have as well.

I think it's always a bit of a role of a dice with both industries of acting in music, but with music, I guess there is some sense of being able to, because I'm a singer-songwriter, I'm able to make my own things. Even if it's not successful, I'm going to still be making it in my corner. But there's definitely a bit of a roll of a dice in acting in order just to be able to act in the first place. So, I'm really hoping that I'll be able to get the opportunity to keep doing what I do.

What would you advise young girls who want to follow your footsteps and be involved in Hollywood and music?

For starters, make sure that you really love it. This industry, both industries, music and acting, they take a lot of perseverance. It's quite often a lot of no's just to get to a single yes. And you got to make sure that you are taking care of yourself and that you believe in yourself along that journey and that no matter what happens, no matter how many people say no, no matter how many doors are shut on your face, that you keep on going for it if this is something that you want. You keep on taking care of yourself along the way, you don't let what other people say in the industry affect your mental health and how you perceive yourself.

On top of the passions of what you have in the industries, also make sure that you have a beautiful life outside of those industries as well, because as much as music and acting is essentially for musicians and actors like our worlds... there's also more with your family, with your friends, with other things to do in life as well, that you want to make sure that you are letting yourself experience along the way as a person as well.

—MGP, GMA News