You may know Sylvia De Fanti from her role as Mother Superion on Netflix’s Warrior Nun, but that is just one of her many accomplishments. She lived in Montreal, Panama, and Hong Kong as a child before moving to Rome, Italy where she calls home.
She studied in Italy and France, graduating Cum Laude with her Masters in Communications and Anthropology, writing her thesis on Chaos Theory and Complex Identity.
She co-founded Angelo Mai, a globally recognized creative space and cultural center, as well as Bluemotion, a theater company. She was one of three co-founders of Teatro Valle Occupato, an institution that empowers Italy’s creative workers that was integral in the #OccupyRome movement.
She starred for a season on Italy’s long-running television series Incantesimo as well as epic TV series like Medici and the 2005 miniseries Empire. Since it’s cancellation, Warrior Nun has seen a massive fan campaign to #SaveWarriorNun. Fans have tweeted millions of times and have even purchased billboards across from Netflix’s headquarters in an effort to bring back the show.
We had the chance to speak with Sylvia on her role as Mother Superion, her activism, and if she would ever take up the habit again.
Watch or read our full interview with Sylvia below. The interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Matt Davis: There have been some very, very devoted fans who have campaigned for Warrior Nun to come back for a third season. What was it like to see this movement around #SaveWarriorNun?
Sylvia De Fanti: Well, it's been amazing. I think that it's quite historically new. “Epic' was one of the words used to describe it. This is beyond just support, I think it's about the capacity to organize, and the skills to network and to create that attention. And the creativity.
I used to say that I want to hire them. If I could I would hire all these girls for their capacity and abilities and then also how they articulate their thoughts about the content of the show. So it's not just about appreciation, admiration, it's about what they see in the characters, what they read about the story.
And I would say also, it's not just about representation matters, I think it's about the layers of understanding that all these amazing supporters and groups showed and expressed. And I think that's beyond flattering. I think it really gives a meaning to what we do. Because if we were able to empower even just one girl about her own life story, I think that's amazing.
MD: It certainly is empowering. You know, I'm not a female, but I felt empowered. Your character was so badass, if I can say that. What was it that you really hoped people would get out of your performance as Mother Superion because that role was such a breakout character for so many people?
SD: Thank you. I don't ask myself what the effect is going to be. I generally focus on what I'm doing, why I'm doing it. And I think this is a lot about the stakes.
The stakes were really high. So it was immediately about life, death, protecting sisterhood. She's a partisan. She decides to go against the hierarchy of her own institution where she belongs to take part firmly in her belonging to the sisterhood. So to her girls and to the horizontal level, and not to the vertical one.
And so in the show there are many, many pivotal moments where she she takes decisions very clearly. And the stakes are really high. So they're not daily activities. Everything is very extreme. And I think also that the narrative that she brings to the show is about knowing how to change, how to shift also. I have a hope that they also saw the soft part, the funny part, the ironic part about this period that I think is something that came out new in season two.
MD: It was really interesting to see the character arc and growth since season two. Hopefully it's been long enough that we can have that spoiler chat a little bit. But just to see the growth that happened, that we could see her past, her vulnerability, as well as her power. What was that like to get to explore the character more in depth in the second season?
SD: It was a great, great chance, because in the first season I already took some decisions, made some decisions about her past. Not in details, but you need to [know] the previous circumstances, to be very clear about the character about the motivations, what drives her. Where is her wound, what's her need? What's her goal and her mission? So those were decisions that I already had explored, in part.
So then finally reading them on paper, and seeing that “oh good, that's a choice that I've made” because it clearly came from something about the ego, and the pride, and how when she was younger, she pushed boundaries too much. And she had superpowers, but that was dangerous, and she pushed too much.
And so, in order to align myself to that, I asked myself, where and when that happens, or did happen in my life. And you try to create overlapping situations where you can literally see yourself in that. And actually, those are common situations. And it's not about being a superhero. It's about when, in life, you push too much, and you had to learn the lesson in the worst way possible. And when that lesson is so strong, that it leaves you scars, in this case, not just metaphorical scars, but real scars.
And then how, when you put the mask down, and your private persona is revealed, how much you want to reveal about that. And I think that this storyline really gave me the chance to reveal my vulnerability, and “the why” about all the decisions that I took and I take.
MD: Going back to “the why,” reading your biography and hearing about your your life, I know you've done a lot of activism, with #OccupyRome and things like that. And so I just wonder how that activism influences your art for the better?
SD: Very much and I think the influence is about, again, about the stakes. How much you care about what you talk about. Every job is different. And finding a way to use your voice in different characters, I think that is a great luck and opportunity. So even if something seems distant from you, finding a way to make it yours, and to use it as a voice of awareness, I think that is interesting. It's not always possible but I think it's worth it to try.
MD: For you what what is that awareness? What are maybe some of the things that you hope people get out of your career as a whole, and get out of your performances?
SD: Awareness of your rights. It's one of the most important awarenesses there are that exists. Awareness of the interconnection with all the other human beings and how our fortune is not given for granted because we live here [in] Western society.
I think it's just important to have clarity about your position in geography in the society where you live and how you were raised. And I think it's important to get the right information and to give the right information. To take care of the ones that are younger. To give them accessibility to culture and information.
I don't know if they're the ones that are most important but, certainly, those are the aspects that always have driven me.
MD: I think, for me, as someone who has done a lot of progressive activism, I'm always looking at things with a critical lens and thinking what changes do I want to see in society and the industry I work in? One thing I'm always curious to hear from other people who have been both an artist and an activist, is how do you balance wanting to see changes in the world and in an industry and also being a citizen and working within that industry, too?
SD: Oh, you mean the contradiction? [laughs] Everything is a huge contradiction. I strongly don't believe in purity and in purism. I believe in Chaos Theory, so it's not that I believe it exists. So nothing is black or white. Nothing is binary. So I think that you really have to train yourself to that thought. And every moment that you can, try to push a little bit, to talk, to listen, raise your voice if it's necessary, or use it. And just ask yourself the right questions every time.
And sometimes you just can't, or you're not able or you're not strong enough to be that brave or courageous… the point is that you can't be alone. You just can't be alone. You need allies, you need sisters, you need brothers, you need communities. You can't fight alone. You can be the first, second, you can put the first step. I mean, all the revolutions, the big ones, started from a grand gesture, but there was a community in there that was ready to follow that gesture.
So I think that this is the big scheme on a daily basis. I think it's important to ask questions. Why am I doing this? And also be sincere. I mean, we can't be always at the best. We have all aspects inside ourselves- ambition and petty feeling sometimes. We want to avoid pain and get pleasure, that's human. But I think it's part of the growth. Also going through those kinds of phases and just continuing continuing to ask yourself questions about where you want to go, who you want to be, and who you want to be with.
MD: I do have to ask, if the opportunity were to come to get back in the habit, not saying that it would or wouldn't happen, but in a hypothetical universe, would you do it?
SD: [pauses and laughs] It makes me laugh because there are many, many variables there. I mean, I'm very, very attached and I love [the] Mother Superion character. I guess a lot depends on what we want to tell about her.
MD: That's fair.
SD: Unfortunately, she doesn't live there [gestures and points to her side]. She's not my neighbor. She lives here [points at her heart] so it's something that would actually depend on many factors and especially about the story. What we want to say, what we want to tell, and then, you know, there's going to be a Mother Superion in all my characters. So it's in me [laughs].
Great interview. Very insightful actress.