Actress Irene Yee made the decision to head to “Siberia” this summer and it’s paying off. No, we’re not talking about the remote Russian territory. Instead, we’re referring to NBC’s mocumentary drama series about a reality television show where 16 contestants must survive in the Siberian territory of Tunguska. The show’s been receiving favorable reviews from critics and fans, and Irene has quickly become one of the stand-out stars amongst the group.
We recently had a chance to catch up with Irene Yee, just as the show heads into it’s nail-biting finale on September 16th.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, tell us about the NBC show “Siberia” and your character on the show.
IRENE: "Siberia" is a scripted thriller drama shot in a reality-style manner, making it exciting and innovative as it has never been done before for television. It's like a mix between "Lost" and "Survivor." As such, the actors are sometimes engaging the cameramen and/or talking directly to camera (reality style shooting) when in actuality, the 'cameramen,' 'producers,' etc are all just part of the storyline. In the show, the actors play contestants who are out to win a survivor-type challenge for money. However, strange things start to happen that cannot be explained. Contestants go missing and/or die, eerie lights fill the sky, unexplained winter hits overnight, etc. When my character gets severely injured and no help comes, the contestants realize that they are no longer just playing a game for money and must work together to survive against who or whatever is out there. They have suspicions that the strange occurrences have something to do with a meteor that hit the area in 1908.
I play the character "Irene." She is a naive, innocent, and kind-hearted soul. It's easy to also peg her as helpless- however as things start to unravel, it is discovered that she has a lot of hidden potential and strength that no one could have ever imagined. Being the only character who is proficient with a bow and arrow, she becomes the group's main hunter. She is reluctant at first to kill anything but quickly learns that she needs to do what is necessary to ensure the group's survival. In the middle of the season she gets heavily injured. Instead of wanting to get medical help immediately and head home, she prefers to stay on the show and not give up. She has incredible inner strength and that's what I really admire about her.
Did you already know how to use a bow-and-arrow or was that something you had to learn how to do for the show?
IRENE: When the director asked me if I had archery experience I told him "I have never touched a bow and arrow in my life!" I was really happy when I found out I needed to take archery lessons, since I have always admired characters that could fire a bow (e.g. Legolas from The Lord of the Rings and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.) Speaking of which, the place I went for classes ended up being the same place Jennifer Lawrence went for her archery classes. What a small world! There was also a time crunch for the shoot so I had about two weeks to pick up archery skills.
What’s it been like working on a scripted show about a reality show?
IRENE: It is extremely fun to be able to pretend to be on a reality show because you get to play on situations that others don't normally get to play on. For example, like being able to interact with the cameramen. There was a scene where Johnny Wactor and Sam Dobbins throw a cameraman into the ground and start wrestling him. There's something really authentic about this style of shooting as well. There were some minor 'accidents' that happened on set that were actually real and not originally planned for the script. Like when Johnny cut his part of his finger off with an axe...that actually happened.
Did you really feel like you were in a remote place, battling the elements or was that just the smoke and mirrors of scripted television?
IRENE: I definitely felt like I was in a remote place because we were actually in a pretty untamed part of the Canadian wilderness. When we went to film the shots of my character going deer hunting for example, our driver spotted a bear very close to us. He was hollering "Get back in the van NOW!!" I realized then that something dangerous could very well happen out here. I kept that in the back of my mind the whole time I was out there so that my character's fear would also be genuine. I think the most authentic battling of elements, though, were the winter shots. We were filming in -20 degree weather in knee-deep snow. I felt like the chill was piercing through every layer I had on. Every shiver, look of exhaustion, and frost bitten-look that you see is real. All of us were really struggling to stay warm in this freezing environment.
We understand you weren’t planning to audition for the show, so how did you land the role?
IRENE: Yes, I was never actually called in for the role. I went as my sister's supporter; she had asked me to come along. But I had a lot going on that day and didn't want to make the drive. I told her that she already had a friend going with her so why did she need me too? My sister insisted that she would feel a lot better if I came. I thought she was a little ridiculous for wanting an entourage, but I came along anyway. After about a half an hour of waiting for her to go in, another actor who was reading for another role asked me what role I was reading for. I told him that I wasn't reading for anything and that I was just there for my sister. This actor told me "Well you're here, so you should ask if you can go in." But it was already callbacks and it is not very good to crash a callback so I said no. He sighed and said "I'm just sayin,' you should at least ask." Another half an hour went by and his words started to sink in. I stood up and went to the casting director and said "I wasn't actually called in for this role, but I was wondering if it's possible I can read for it anyway?" Her response was as I predicted, a "no" because they were already behind schedule and it was callbacks. I told her no problem, and went back to waiting. Not long after she came back out. She said "The director wants to see you." I was shocked. Apparently he had saw me sitting there from outside the window and thought there was something about me that was the character. I was given a few pages of script and 3 minutes to look it all over. I had no idea of the storyline or character background. I told myself "All I can do now it just do my best." I went in, not expecting anything to come out of this. About a month or two later I found out I got the part. My sister was absolutely thrilled for me.
Do you have anything else you’re currently working on?
IRENE: I am currently working on a screenplay with my sister, one that was inspired by Denzel Washington. After a chance meeting with him one day, he found our life story interesting and suggested we write a screenplay together about it. We plan to act, direct, and co-write this piece. I have been reading for TV shows and pilots as well in the meantime. I will keep everyone posted on my next project as it comes!
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
IRENE: I just want to tell everyone that they should pursue what makes them happy in life, regardless of what others say. It's difficult sometimes, but life's too short to not be doing what you want. Try not to focus on how you will get to where you want to be. Just start somewhere and doors will open.
Good advice, Irene. We’ll be watching for your next opened door!