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Interview: Zehra Fazal on playing Mara on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Interview: Zehra Fazal on playing Mara on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mara’s legacy as the first She-Ra was a fascinating one. Despite being riddled with Light Hope’s negative interference, Mara served as an honorable and true She-Ra. She was determined to do the best she could to save the world, no matter the consequences. We saw the extent of this in Season 4’s 9th episode, “Hero”, written by Josie Campbell and showrunner Noelle Stevenson.

To find out the impact of playing such an iconic character and get a little more information on what was happening behind the scenes, we spoke with Zehra Fazal, who voices Mara. Zehra is an incredible voice actress and has voiced characters on Young Justice: Outsiders, Voltron: Legendary Defender, Bojack Horseman, and Borderlands 3.

Can you tell us a little about how you came to play Mara?

Zehra Fazal: It happened in the fall of 2017, before anything about the show had been announced or aired. As you know, the process of making an animated show takes a long time! I had been fortunate to audition for several of the roles in She-Ra before. I had read for Adora… Light Hope… Scorpia… Entrapta… Madame Razz! Eventually, I got the audition for Mara, and the audition sides were essentially her monologue from the season 3 episode “Once Upon a Time in the Waste”.

I happened to be taking a class with Charlie Adler, an incredible animation teacher and voice director here in Los Angeles, in which we were able to bring in our auditions and get coaching on them. Charlie’s direction was like-you’re a girl just talking to another girl–just trying to reach that one other person. Go! I sent in the take he coached me on, and I got the part. When I went in for my first recording session, our wonderful voice director Mary Elizabeth McGlynn said my audition had stood out because it sounded intimate, like I was talking to just one other person. I just thought oh my goodness, Charlie Adler, you are worth every penny! 

One thing we love about the characters you’ve previously voiced is that they’re each so uniquely charming. How were you able to bring your own spin to Mara’s character?

Thank you so much! I really love playing Mara. First off, she’s so similar to my own natural voice. Technically speaking, I don’t feel like I need to put anything on or deepen or heighten or accent anything to access her voice. She’s just there, and it was clear from the writing that she’s this deeply emotional, kind, vulnerable spirit. That idea of trying to reach another person–that idea of connection, the desire to connect with the people she encounters and the world she is working to protect and understand, that is inherent in her. Everything is based on that desire to connect, to genuinely understand and empower others. And her way of doing that is not abrasive or loud, it is a gentle and empathetic appeal. 

Was there any pressure in recording such a legendary character for the show? What was the recording process like for you?

I had no idea how pivotal Mara’s character would end up being. We only get to read the episodes we record lines for, so I had no clue Mara was even going to be mentioned before her first appearance! It was probably better that I didn’t know anything about that in advance. I didn’t know enough to be intimidated.

The recording process was wonderful. Animation is still somewhat of a male dominated industry, so it was truly a pleasure to be surrounded by so many women at the sessions–female director, writers, showrunner! They really cultivated an intimate room where you as the actor feel safe to go where you need to go emotionally. That’s how they get such natural and raw performances from the cast.

Most of my records were solo, but I’m so glad that I got to record the flowers scene with the exquisite Morla Gorrondona, who plays Light Hope. That was the first time she and I had ever met, and as we performed the scene, there was this feeling that sort of passed between us of “ah, we are going to be friends.” I’m happy to report that she’s become a very dear friend, indeed!

Zehra Fazal and Morla Gorrondona performing karaoke at the She-Ra premiere party. Photo provided by Zehra Fazal.

I also must say, I’m dying to record with the legendary Grey DeLisle-Griffin in person! She and I have had all these emotionally charged scenes in Young Justice (as Halo and Dr. Helga Jace) and She-Ra (as Mara and Madame Razz) and we have yet to record together! It’ll happen one of these days. 🙂

Though we got a glimpse of Mara in Season Three, her full She-Ra design was finally revealed in ‘Hero’. Did you get the chance to see Mara’s character design, She-Ra and all, before recording?

Nope. I had only seen the back of her head.

Mara concept art from the audition. Photo provided by Zehra Fazal.

What were your thoughts when you first read the script for “Hero”?

I’ll show you! I was on vacation having lunch with my partner when I opened the email containing the script. I started reading the first page, and at the line “It’s me, Mara!” I gasped. He happened to snap a photo of me at that exact moment.

Zehra reading the script for “Hero”. Photo provided by Zehra Fazal.

It was obviously very exciting as an actor to have an episode starring your character, but I also was excited by the lore and mythos of She-Ra that the episode expanded. It was moving to read and even more moving to perform. I mean, what a gift! It’s just a gorgeous writing job by Josie Campbell and Noelle Stevenson. 

One thing I’ve really enjoyed seeing is how much love and kindness you put into your interactions with the fans on Twitter. What are your feelings about the reception of Mara in the fan community, and how excited were you to see their reactions to “Hero”?

Aww, thank you. I am continually stunned by the talent and kindness in the She-Ra fandom, and I love how much Mara-love there seems to be. There have been so many insanely beautiful pieces of Mara fanart and even cosplay already. And all the pie gifs! I wouldn’t complain if people took to bringing me pies in real life, lemme tell ya. 😉  

I also see discussions about race and coloring when it comes to Mara in her She-Ra form, and the differing reactions. As a person of color, and as an actor of color, I will say this: it is a tad frustrating that whenever I play a character of color in animation or video games, without fail, their “color” is commented on or questioned in some way. They’re either not enough “x” or too much “x.” There is a racial scrutiny that white characters (and my white colleagues) simply do not encounter, and it is hard and hurtful to see, even though as the actor I have nothing to do with design or writing decisions. There are reactions that are totally valid, but I also see some online discourse that is, in my opinion, not productive. My wish is that fans understand that there are a lot of creative people and studios working really hard behind the scenes, constantly trying their best to do right by marginalized groups (and often in those groups themselves.) 

Do you have any exciting future projects you can tease? What are you working on next?

You can hear me as the voice of the Spaceship on Lost in Space–our new season is dropping on Netflix December 24. I’ll also be in an upcoming episode of Magnum PI on CBS. Also, I’m in a new animated series coming to Netflix very soon in 2020… can’t wait to share the news when I’m able! 

Season 4 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is currently streaming on Netflix. To hear more about Zehra Fazal’s work and stay up to date, follow her on Twitter or check out her website.

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