Emeraude Toubia mastered the whip to play Isabelle Lightwood in “Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments,” but she says there’s more to Izzy than her aptitude for flogging—or flirting with—Downworlders.
The demon hunter is sexy, smart and “has a big heart,” Toubia said at the January meeting of the TV Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif.
“I think that family is No. 1 for her and you’re going to see how she changes,” Toubia said. “She goes from caring most about her sex appeal … to proving to her parents she is an intelligent person. I think a lot of people are going to really like that about her.”
In upcoming episodes, Isabelle and her brother, Alec (Matthew Daddario), along with adoptive brother Jace Wayland (Dominic Sherwood), work to change their parents’ minds about the unsanctioned missions they’ve been going on to help Shadow World newcomer Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara).
Toubia and I discussed Izzy’s red lipstick, role models and how much the show’s diversity pleases the Mexican-Lebanese actress.
New episodes of “Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments” air at 9/8c Tuesdays on Freeform.
Related: Dominic Sherwood can take a punch
Related: Alberto Rosende, Simon would be chill
How much fun you having playing a bad ass?
I feel so blessed to be playing such a strong character because I feel there aren’t many strong female characters on TV. … Being a Latina—we don’t get many opportunities and I feel Freeform opened the doors for me. I hope they keep opening the doors for girls like me to play these really cool characters.
Something that I really look up to Isabelle for is that she loves to wear makeup, she loves to wear heels, she loves to dress up. But at the same time she knows there are things that are more important in life. She’s willing to risk her life for her brother. She’s all about family and she knows what her duties are, and that’s the thing that I admire about her.
She can be sexy and smart.
Yeah, she’s sexy and smart. She’s not afraid to be intelligent. That’s something that a lot of girls sometimes don’t want—to be too smart they scare people off. She embraces it.
How about you? Sexy and smart?
I learn that from her sometimes. It’s very intimidating to be in this business. I get nervous with so many things, but I think as long as you know what you’re talking about and you know what you’re doing you feel a little bit more comfortable.
There’s a lot of talk about a Latina explosion right now on TV. Do you ever get tired of that being a topic of discussion?
No. This is a new generation and we have to prove ourselves and we are doing it. I think that right now it’s a big responsibility because they’re talking a lot about Mexicans, they’re talking a lot about Latinos—so I think it’s very important to be good role models so good things keep coming to us.
With all those reality shows going on, a lot of the young girls don’t know what a role model is. They don’t know what to look up to. They see fighting on reality TV so they think that maybe that’s the way they need to be in school. I feel the best way to do it is just be a positive role model, because it’s very necessary for this new generation that’s surrounded by reality shows to know that there are strong, powerful women they can look up to.
You’re multi-ethnic, which must add yet another dimension to the diversity issue for you.
It’s what America is. It’s a melting pot and I feel it shows in our cast,. We’re all from different places and I feel that’s why people are going to relate to our show because they can each identify themselves with one of us.
The best part about what I do is when girls write to me and say, “I’ve never seen a girl on TV that I can relate to because I’m half Lebanese, because I’m half Mexican or because I’m this or whatever. You play one of my favorite characters.” So it’s a blessing.
I’m from a small town—Brownsville, (Texas)—and I would dream of just booking a role in Hollywood. To then book one of the lead roles in this amazing show—it’s more than a dream come true.
I understand you do your own whip work. Have you suffered from—I don’t know what you’d call it—whip elbow?
I’ve been actually pretty good at it. I don’t know how. But every time they tell me to hit this mark I hit the mark. It’s usually someone’s arm or someone’s neck, grabbing it with the whip. I just have to angle where I’m going with it.
Once, by mistake, I hit a camera guy and I was so embarrassed, but nothing happened. The whip is leather and it could really hurt someone. So every time I walked onto set all the guys would disappear, run away.
Have pranks been pulled? Do they not play them on you because they’re afraid of you coming after them with the whip?
Nobody played a crazy prank on me, but Dom is a prankster. Every time they were in my shot he would tell me a joke. I just couldn’t stop laughing, so the director had to step in. “We’ve got to get this going. Can you please stop laughing?” And I’m like, “I hate you, Dom.”
The book series is huge and spawned a movie. Was there any fear of doing this character that people might have an idea of what they think she should be?
When I auditioned I didn’t want to think about anything. I didn’t even read the books. I didn’t even investigate what Shadowhunters was. I just read the script and walked in the room.
So you weren’t familiar with it?
I heard things but I was kind of blocking it all. I tried to just push everything away and just focus on what was in the script and try to find her in my own way. Once you get the role that’s when the fans tweet things to you; I learned a lot from the fans. I even created her lipstick because of the fans. It never says in the book that she wears red lipstick. But because the fans envisioned her with red lipstick I wanted to give that as a gift to the fans. All their artwork was Izzy with red lips.
That engagement was from the minute you were cast?
From the minute; “Who is Izzy?” was trending topic worldwide. I found out 10 minutes before they were going to announce me as who they cast. The fans are amazing. They are so passionate about it and I’m passionate about what I do, so I hope they like what we bring to set.
Izzy grows fonder of Simon (Alberto Rosende) as the season goes on. As a Mundane—a human—he’s kind of not her “type,” right?
Isabelle loves bad boys so that’s what she’s used to dating. She dates Downworld dudes.
Simon’s not a bad boy.
No, but he might become a bad boy. You’re going to have to watch. There comes a point in Isabelle’s life where she needs someone to protect her and to love her in a different way than what she’s used to.
Than her protecting him, which is what she does early on?
Exactly. We haven’t done anything like that yet, but he’s going to do something really nice. In the books it didn’t happen until book four or five, so we’re not there yet obviously. It’s starting but it’s not there yet. There’s a lot of things that have to happen before it.
Until then, there are looks and flirts. She’s kind of flirty.
That’s the way she is. Simon is something new to her.
What are you excited for the fans to see?
This series is staying true to the books, but we’re going to run places the books never went. Izzy doesn’t always play the sexy character. She gets to play someone very similar to Simon in one of these worlds. I’m so excited for the fans to see what we’ve created. I think they’re going to enjoy it.
I’m sure they’ve read the books so many times that it’s time for them to see different things that happen with their characters while obviously staying true to the books. Like Izzy is never going to end up with Jace. She’s going to end up with Simon, but maybe how she ends up with Simon might be a little different.