What I’ve Learned About Myself By Playing a Villain

This summer in NYC, after graduating NYU for drama, I landed my first Off-Broadway role. And for anyone who knows both acting and anxiety about post-graduation employment, it felt pretty awesome to get that call!

My first post-grad role? A clever, yet evil woman- Milady De Winter.

Fierce is Fun

Milady De Winter is the Lead antagonist in Alexandre Dumas’s play the Three Musketeers.

In case you’re not familiar with this theatre classic, Milady and her lover Rochefort are spies for Cardinal Richelieu.  Set in 16th Century Paris, they endeavor to stop the Three Musketeers from prevailing.

She’s cunning, powerful, independent, and fighting for her survival. She is “Pretty and Deadly,” and she uses her seductive charms and level of prestige to get what she wants. The through-line that is most important to her is to keep herself alive and to survive. A villain- yet I believe she is heroic.

A villain – yet I believe she is heroic.

And while playing a villain, I’ve learned a couple heart warming things…

Once you’re in, go all in.

As women in the theatre we all know there are hundreds of us! The competition is outstanding and there are many talented actors just waiting to dig their teeth into a role. It can feel dog-eat-dog. It can feel disheartening when we don’t make the cut.

So, when you are given the opportunity – you want to be present and live in every moment of the character and your journey. This is just good life philosophy whether acting or not.

So, when you are given the opportunity – you want to be present and live in every moment of the [role] and your journey.

Of course, there are obstacles even when you ‘land the part’, but it is persistence and drive that help you keep moving forward.

Real relationships are a prerequisite for success

For me the key to this is relationship building. This starts from the moment you meet someone, it could be a cast member, stage manager, casting director, producer; you are all after the same thing, and that is to create Art.  To engage, to entice and to excite, and what better way than doing this together?

Rehearsals for The Three Musketeers began in June, with an amazing creative team. Shout out to the cast, Ty Jones Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem, Director Jenny Bennett, Choreographer extraordinaire Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Fight Choreographer Emmanuel Brown, with lavish and colorful costumes by Rachel Dozier-Ezell…

All for one and one for all

I’m so grateful to those who came to see the show. Some have just hopped onto the subway in New York, and others have ventured from Canada and even the UK. Rosario Dawson and her lovely family came to our opening week, and Bill Irwin, Theatre Legend, led one of the standing ovations!

This production has been about coming together to fight for what is right! Most importantly it is about coming together as one–the cast, the production team, management, and the audience to celebrate this swashbuckling story. I have learned to take risks, throw myself into the deep end and trust that the choices I make as a woman and as an actor will take shape. (Me to myself constantly: DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE RISKS, PIERA!)

Every day I’ve been learning more about Milady’s secrets and hidden passageways through the journey of this play. As an Actor, your subconscious takes shape with that of the Character’s, and you find yourself making your own discoveries in the role through your personal artistic canvas.

And it feels really good when a review recognizes the risks you took and the Character work you’ve done and says things like “Piera Van de Wiel plays as smooth and as treacherous a Milady de Winter as you could ever hope for with her elegant wickedness.” 🙂

Actors lust after a strong female role in the theatre, and I have felt more and more empowered by Milady every night. I will take this inner strength and use it, as I continue my professional career in the entertainment industry; whether it is Theatre, Film, TV or Music I will be cunning and ready for action! Never forget that it is the team that bonds that makes a great show.

To steal a line from my Musketeer foes, “All for one and one for all!”

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