Left to right: Michela Luci (Tabby), Edison Grant (Johnny), Kamia Fairburn (Julia), and Cale Ferrin (Finn). Photo credit: Sinking Ship Entertainment.

By Mary Ellen Holden

The sci-fi adventure series Endlings premiered its 12-episode second season on Hulu on January 15th. The series, set 20 years in the future, releases at a time when anxiety is at an all-time high due to the pandemic, accelerated climate change, social injustice, and emotional isolation. J.J. Johnson, the Emmy Award-winning series creator and founding partner of Sinking Ship Entertainment, hopes that Endlings sparks conversations between young audiences and their families around these complex realities.

The series follows the relationships and experiences of a foster care family as they navigate their environment and connect to each other and the world around them. In doing so, they redefine the notion of family and discover the power of their voices. The storytelling showcases the power of empathy, forgiveness, creative problem solving, learning from mistakes, and teamwork.

Endlings features an engaging and diverse cast, juxtaposed against an extraterrestrial friend (Ling) and fantastical (last of its kind) endlings through a combination of CGI and live action. The actors and the audience explore similarities versus differences and celebrate that we’re in this together. One world. One family.

Let’s Meet the Engaging and Talented Cast

The main cast features four actors playing children in fostercare, including Edison Grant (Johnny), Kamaia Fairburn (Julia), Michela Luci (Tabby), and Cale Ferrin (Finn). They each turn in powerful, emotionally complex performances as collectively they form the heartbeat of the series. Our group interview ended with a virtual hug as Cale exclaimed, “I love you guys. You are my second family”.

Mary Ellen: Why did you audition for Endlings?

Cale Ferrin: I liked that this role has nothing to do with my disability. I auditioned for a regular part, just like a typical kid. It was a profound statement by the production company that they’re so excited to provide me with this opportunity.

Michela Luci: The overall uniqueness of the show drew me in. Tabby’s character caught my attention because I had never played a role that was so layered and complex. It challenged me, which, as an actor, is an incredible way to grow.

Kamaia Fairburn: I felt like the content would significantly impact a large, younger audience. As I am passionate about the environment and being vegan, the show resonated with me.

Edison Grant: This was my first major role, so I didn’t know what to expect. When I was preparing, I noticed that Johnny wasn’t so different from who I am. He was the protector; he tries to look out for everyone, and that’s what I do. I loved the character. I love the story; the messages are so diverse and strong. They speak to so many people; that’s what resonated.

Mary Ellen: Are you similar or different from the character you portray?

Michela: Tabby is an extremely complex character. She’s a strong, intuitive, and intelligent young girl interested in exploring the world of STEM through her creativity. Tabby uses her tough exterior and sarcasm to mask how she’s truly feeling on the inside.

Tabby holds a special place in my heart. The role was incredibly unique for me. I was honored and excited to put myself in her shoes and go through this learning experience. We are similar in the sense that we’re both creative and interested in exploring STEM. Still, we’re also incredibly different because she’s tough and sarcastic, and I’m quite frankly the opposite of that.

Edison: We’re similar. The only significant difference is the trauma that he has experienced. I have a great life. I had to research and work hard to understand trauma. The family part was easy.

Kamaia: I play Julia. In season one, she’s closed off to everyone. In season two, she has found her place in the Leopold family and has opened herself to trusting people again. I’m similar to Julia in the sense that when she loves, she loves hard, and family isn’t necessarily blood, but it’s what you choose.

I channeled my sister for season two as she is the most caring, forgiving, and nurturing human being alive. She taught me, in my real life, also, to be a more empathetic person.

Cale: My character Finn is lovable, quiet, and brings everyone together. He loves to give hugs; I connect that way, but it’s been tough because, with COVID and quarantine, you can’t go up to someone and hug them like crazy. But one way I’m different is that Finn doesn’t speak much. That is the opposite of me, as everyone knows.

Mary Ellen: What was your most surprising learning about yourself, on-set?

Michela: I learned to get in touch with emotions that I didn’t even know I had. My character had quite a few intensely emotional scenes, and I was surprised to learn that the best preparation for me was not to rehearse. That way, the emotions were fresh. I didn’t know if I would be able to stand there and cry in certain scenes, but I did! I discovered methods that worked for me to get in that headspace and execute Tabby.

Edison: I learned how much I love acting. It was a great first experience, and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my career and definitely for the rest of my life because it was so refreshing.

Kamaia: Being on Endlings showed me the importance of advocating for yourself and using your voice because your voice matters. It showed me the importance of standing up for the things that I believe in, like, environmentalism and veganism.

Mary Ellen:: How are you using your power as an actor for good?

Kamaia I use my instrument to spread awareness about the important topics to me, such as factory farming and how that ties in with the environment and climate change. I also use my platform to discuss racial inequality in film.

Cale: I want to serve as a role model and inspire other kids with disabilities to let them know that they can be actors and do wonderful things in the industry. Representation matters, and authentic representation matters. We need more acceptance for those with unique differences and to end societal stereotypes for disabilities. I’m excited to help lead the way and use my powers for good.

Statistics show that less than 2% of disabled actors are lead characters, which is astonishing. I am proud to be a part of that. This role doesn’t focus on my disability. It just focuses on me being a kid. I appreciate J.J. knowing I can do something just as well as any other person.

Michela: As an actor, I’m incredibly blessed to have the platform to advocate for what I believe in and stand up for what I feel is important and vital to the rest of the world. I’ve had the opportunity to encourage kids, specifically young girls, to become engaged in the field of STEM, by working with different STEM-related activities and projects. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with UNICEF Canada as an ambassador to promote several campaigns and spread safety awareness messages regarding COVID-19. The entire cast and show have been extremely lucky and blessed to work with the International Fund for Animal Welfare by advocating and bringing attention to elephant extinction issues in Africa and how we can help as a community.

I get many social media messages from fans who may be going through a difficult time. And I’m always more than happy to brighten their day with a video message from one of their favorite characters. So, it’s truly a blessing and an honor to have this platform.

Edison: Simply being actors and actresses, we are doing a lot of good, especially with this series. It has so many positive messages that speak to so many kids who are struggling. I feel honored and fulfilled when I know that I helped a kid get through a tough time or made them laugh or distracted them from life’s challenges. We can feel success, knowing that we helped someone in some way.

Mary Ellen: What advice do you have for actors entering the industry?

Cale: Do it. Stay positive and keep pushing through barriers. There are a lot of obstacles that hold disabled actors from traditional roles. For the 100 “No’s,” there will be a fantastic “Yes.” So, keep pushing for the “Yes.” Imagine what kind of world it would be if more people believed in their dreams. Dreams come true with hard work and a positive mindset.

Kamaia: The most crucial thing is advocating for yourself. If you see that you’re being treated differently from your castmates, you should never feel afraid to speak up about it. Because using your voice is the only way to create change and keep the pressure on. So, use your voice.

Michela: Learn about rejection. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s the industry’s reality that is not often discussed. As an actor, you’re going to go for many, many, many auditions, and you only get a select amount of roles. You can’t take it personally, as long as you put 100% effort in. You need to accept the result.

Edison: Be confident in yourself. There’s a lot of pressure, especially in this industry, to fit into stereotypical roles, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Know what you want to do and why you want to do it. The “why” is an important thing, don’t do this for the wrong reasons. Make sure you’re doing it because you have a passion for it. You love acting; you love what you’re doing. You love the messages that you can send and the lives that you can change. Please don’t do it because you’re in it for the money or fame.

Mary Ellen: What is your dream role?

Michela: Anything that challenges me as an actor and allows me to grow. A role that includes all my special skills would be exciting. Being part of a film or a series or a project that provides for all acting, singing, dancing, [and STEM] would make me beyond happy because those are the things I’m most passionate about in life.

Cale: I would love to be a part of a hit film playing a superhero that flies or battles the bad guy, or maybe a Ninja. I want to be a part of something legendary with an epic storyline, great characters, something that I would be remembered for. I want to be part of a role that positively impacts those who are watching.

Kamia: My dream role is gritty, something that challenges me, excites me, and allows me to grow as an actor because I think that’s why we do this. We want to grow. And a feature film, obviously.

Edison: Marvel or D.C., either one is fine with me. Like Cale was saying – that cool superhero role or supervillain, even both. I’ve always been obsessed so either one is good for me.

Mary Ellen: Have you been turned down due to stereotyped expectations?

Cale: There have been countless roles that I’ve gone for, where they are specific that it’s for a disabled actor or a disabled part. One time, I made it to the director’s meeting, and it was between another kid and me. And they went with the able-bodied person who didn’t have a disability. It’s frustrating to see someone who wouldn’t usually be in a wheelchair cast in a wheelchair. Wheelchairs aren’t props; they’re for people who need them. Authentic representation is critical.

Edison: There have been a few auditions where it’s like what Cale was saying, but it’s about race for me. I know we’re actors. We act, we act different from ourselves, but casting can seem stereotypical. I feel like stereotypical casting is not doing justice to the actual character and the people who live their lives like that. Sometimes don’t pay them enough homage.

Kamaia: I will touch on what Edison said about how sometimes they want you to fit into stereotypical roles. I have gone out for parts where everyone kind of looks just like me, and I think that’s a little bit odd. At an audition, I can wonder if they think my hair is too big or stuff like that. I feel like we all should be open to different bodies, different hair, and different skin tones. That’s what’s going to move us forward. I think it’s crucial for every little kid out there to see themselves being represented in film.

Michela: I’ve often seen roles that negatively portray girls and females. But I’ve been fortunate to work with Sinking Ship, which promotes gender equality, and especially the Geena Davis Institute, which promotes gender equity, equality, and the importance of equal representation of all genders on the screen.

Mary Ellen: What do you want our community to know about you that hasn’t already been written?

Edison: I would say my family roots, my heritage, that’s not something that a lot of people know. My sixth great grandfather, Jim Schenkel, was a slave in Mississippi; his wife and kids were sold to a Texas slaveowner. His family was torn apart, and he decided to run to Texas despite the consequences. He ran hundreds of miles and swam across the Mississippi River, and eventually, he made it back to his wife. He convinced the Texas slave owner to buy him, and his family was whole again. That’s how I ended up in Texas.

Kamaia: I’m passionate about exercise. I’m on a track team, and I’ve fallen in love with running. I think it’s essential to stay healthy and active, especially during the quarantine, to boost your mood. Even though a lot is going on in the world right now, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Cale: I would love to be a competitive dancer because I love to dance. I love dance parties and freestyling, but competition would be great because I’m incredibly competitive. I also would love to rock a runway during New York Fashion Week. Modeling is one of my favorite things ever. I have one of the best catwalks – I practice at home. One of the last things is that I have a condition called Fanconi Anemia. And I like to tell my story so others can relate because representation matters.

Michela: I don’t have anything in mind, but I would say go stream Endlings. There are links on Hulu and CBC TV.

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