Hannah van der Westhuysen on the magic of Fate: The Winx Saga
If you don’t know who Hannah van der Westhuysen is yet, you will soon. The young actor is fully prepped and ready to shake up the scene, following her recent breakthrough in Fate: The Winx Saga – Netflix’s reimagining of the popular ‘00s animated series. After dreaming of being an actor for years and training at London’s Drama Centre – a school that has launched the careers of actors such as Michael Fassbender, Colin Firth, Emilia Clarke, Tom Hardy and many more – Hannah is truly appreciative of finally landing her big break. We spoke to her a few weeks after the show was first released and she truly convinced us of her immense passion for her craft. Keep reading to find out why this makes her one of the most promising newcomers to watch right now.
How would you describe the show in your own words?
Fate: The Winx Saga is a coming-of-age show about a group of girls who are all thrown together when they go to a magical boarding school, Alfea. It’s a story of female friendships and the ups, downs, and obstacles that can get in the way, whilst trying to manoeuvre creating different friendships. Being a teenager is already difficult, but when you throw some magic in the mix, it gets even more complicated.
Can you introduce us to your character Stella?
Stella is the heir to the throne of Solaria, the magical realm in which the boarding school is based. She is a very misunderstood girl, so she has a lot of barriers up and can be quite cruel. She has a lot of trauma in her backstory, but it’s nice because she goes through a journey of bringing those barriers down and trusting people to make some really beautiful connections with the other lovely characters.
Did you enjoy exploring the layers of her personality?
It was so much fun, and I can’t tell you how therapeutic it was for me. I was badly bullied when I was at school, and even now I find myself worrying too much about what other people think of me. You want to be pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, funny enough, and all of that is so heavily ingrained in the character, so it felt nice to explore that. When she was being her authentic self, it made her much happier and that was very therapeutic for me to experience.
Having a show on Netflix is a big deal nowadays, so how did it feel to find out you had been cast?
No words can express how it felt. I went to drama school, where I trained for three years, and I would lie in bed each night wondering why no one wanted to hire me. I wanted it so badly that I could feel a literal ache in my chest, which I can still remember to this day. I was dreaming of the opportunity to sink my teeth into a real character arch. So, when I was cast after only one audition, it literally felt like a dream come true. I’m just so thrilled.
How did you first get into acting?
When my mum finished her career as a dancer, she ended up doing her A-levels in acting at the age of 30. That really inspired me and I felt as though I wanted to do what she was doing. I had a few years of trying to get into drama school. And when I finally went, it was relentless. The place was called Drama Centre, but they call it “Trauma Centre” because it's so intense. It took me a couple of years after graduating – and of working many horrendous jobs – before I finally ended up in a play. That’s when I auditioned for the show and landed the role. It still doesn’t feel real; it feels like pure luck and almost like one big prank.
I can imagine that the show being released during the pandemic probably added to it still not feeling real
Oh yeah, totally. I have a funny story about this. The other day, I went out for a walk and because it still feels like nothing has changed for me, I didn’t expect to get recognised or anything. But then suddenly a woman came up to me and said, “Excuse me.” And I caught myself thinking OMG! This is it; I’m getting recognised. But then she said, “I really love your jacket.” It was so funny. Maybe one day it will happen, but right now I can still get on the tube or eat my lunch without anyone calling me out on it. I’m actually quite happy with that.
How did you prepare for this role?
So, as I said, the drama school I went to was relentless. Fun fact: it’s actually the same drama school Regé-Jean Page from Bridgeton went to! I know that he did really intense prep. He was asking loads of questions and answering them as his character and finding out every little detail. That helps with turning up on set as anxiety-free as possible. I made diaries, scrapbooks, and things like that. They are really nice to look back on and will be very helpful for filming season two.
Did you form any friendships with your castmates?
Totally. It’s funny how many articles about me online that say things such as “Hannah van der Westhuysen doesn’t have a boyfriend but she has her female friends”. It’s so accurate. I am obsessed with all my friends generally, and I speak to the girls in the cast almost every single day now too. They’re supportive through the ups and downs. It’s been a rough year and they have just been relentlessly kind and brilliant friends. It also makes it special to watch because the connections were so real.
The filming locations were amazing, so what was it like to shoot in such spectacular places?
Magical. I loved it. The on-location sets felt magical; my girlfriends would have all gone mad for it, wanting to do new moon ceremonies and things like that. They’re the perfect location for that kind of thing because you can really feel the history. I found the built sets the most magical though because they were so epic and massive. I remember the first time we walked into the built set for Alfea and I was crying because I couldn’t believe people had come together to make a massive playground for our production. It was so beautiful.
Did you have a favourite scene to film?
I’ve got so many. I really loved the scene with Sky. It looks as if it’s going to be raunchy in the beginning but then turns quite vulnerable. It was very fun filming that with Danny (Griffin). And the best scenes were always the ones where all the girls were together because there was endless laughter and all of us were genuinely having a wonderful time.
What is your best memory from set?
It’s hard to distinguish specific moments because the experience was wonderful as a whole. I really remember hanging out in each other's dressing rooms and making each other laugh. I also loved working with the grown-up actors and talking to them. They all felt that we had the opportunity to really say something with this show and to change the world. That’s what made me realise for the first time that the show could actually have a positive impact on the world.
What has the reaction to the show been like for you since it came out earlier this year?
Firstly, I’m really enjoying the amazing clothes I’ve been able to wear since. That’s fun. Really fun. Of course, I’m also loving the fans and hearing the weird fan theories. There have been petitions for storylines people want to see coming up and there was one for my character to be bisexual, which I think would be brilliant. I just love the openness of the fans and seeing how the community seems to be inclusive. They really want to see diversity in the cast and are open to having conversations about things that I really want to have conversations about too. That’s wonderful. Twitter has been fun.
Why do you think people should watch this show if they haven’t yet?
If you haven’t watched the show yet, you should because it has been a rough year and this is definitely good escapism. Plus, it’s really heart-warming. The messiness of being sixteen / seventeen will either make you feel nostalgic, be therapeutic, or it will mirror exactly what you’re going through right now. It’s really nice to watch the nuance of how tough it can be at that age and coming out on the other side, creating beautiful friendships.
What would you like to see in Stella’s future in season two which has recently been announced?
It would be lovely to see her standing up to her mum and standing up for herself more generally. I love the moments when she’s vulnerable and lets the girls in, so I would love to see more of that. And, purely because I want to get my own hands dirty, I’d love to see her in some sort of physical fight.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say, so for now, I can’t wait to be back for season two. I would also love to be creating my own stuff in the future and be part of things that are really changing the world, making positive changes like the show is hopefully doing right now.
Words by Cailin Klohk
Photographer Joupin Ghamsari
Fashion Ogun Gortan
Hair by Marcia Lee at The Wall Group using Sam McKnight
MUA Lucy Halperin at The Wall Group using REN Clean Skincare & Tom Ford beauty
Subeditor Primrose Jeanton
Location and special thanks to Indra Studios
Editor & Set Design Jheanelle Feanny using :
Edo Toile Navy & Tori Teal, £65 per roll at Graham & Brown