Words by RACHEL HILL
Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
If you haven’t heard of her yet, you certainly will soon. 16-year-old actress Mina Sundwall is geared up to bring television classic Life In Space back to, well, life.
As a child of an Italian mother and Swedish father, Mina’s parents were set on providing the New York City native with an international upbringing. After living in Paris for a year at the age of 10, she also studied at a boarding school in Spain for five months at the end of her eighth grade year.
Growing up, Mina was known to tell a white lie or two. It was all part of her storytelling repertoire. “In elementary school we’d always have show-and-tell every week where you’d be like, ‘I’m doing this this weekend,’ and everybody would always say, ‘I’m having a sleepover’ or ‘I went to the zoo,’” she recalls, “I said my mom is quitting her job and going to open a candy store. Everybody in the room was like ‘What is happening?’”
Mina and her family then began to consider if acting was something she would be interested in and could take seriously. (Cue the open casting calls.) Soon after, she booked with an agency and hit as many auditions as she could.
At the age of 7, she acted in a small role in Celebrity Ghost Stories and realized she was on her destined path. Fast forward to 2016, Mina was cast as Penny, the quick-witted middle child, in Netflix’s remake of Irwin Allen’s 1965 sci-fi classic, Lost in Space. Despite being only 16, she’s familiar with the general premise of the show prior to reading the script thanks to various pop culture references, such as ‘Danger, Will Robinson’.
Lost in Space is centered around the Robinson family who must flee Earth as it deteriorates from irreversible environmental changes, a prevalent theme covered in today’s disputes and an issue Mina believes should be taken “much more seriously”. As they flee to the new space colony, trouble arises and the Robinson’s find themselves stuck on an undiscovered planet, having to learn how to survive on their own.
Mina has enjoyed taking part in Penny’s journey of personal growth and development. Initially, Penny struggles with feeling a bit out of place, but by the end of the first season she evolves in her own self confidence. “When we first get to the planet, it’s very much live or die. So I think everybody comes into this mode of, you know, finding the best solution as fast as possible,” Mina says, “But when things get a little more settled in, it’s more about finding who she is and finding out that she’s stronger than she thinks she is.”
Penny’s character development and sarcastic jabs were leading factors in Mina’s attraction to the script. “I was so immediately drawn to it because it was exactly my kind of humor and what I love to do. But mostly just that within the first script was such a roller coaster of emotions. By the end of it I was like, ‘Wait a minute’,” says Mina. We see Penny very shaken at the start, but she transforms through a self-actualization type process and realizes she’s so much stronger than she thought. “She [Penny] can do so much more than she would have ever expected to, both physically saving people and what she can put herself through, but also mentally, who she thinks she is and how secure she is with herself,” Mina adds.
Being a sci-fi centered series, Lost in Space boasts some heavy special effects ranging from robots, spaceships to the planet itself. “You have one X here and one X there the director goes, ‘OK, this one is where this thing blows up drastically and this is where a bunch of people die so look and feel.’ And I’m just like, alright, sure, let’s work with it,” recalls Mina.
This type of acting comes with a learning curve, and understandably so. In many ways, all aspects on this type of set are choreographed in order to achieve the stimulating sensation viewers get when watching. “It’s every little movement working together with lights and effects and green screen and the camera and making sure it’s so precise and so specific that everything is perfect,” says Mina.
Filming for the series took place over six months in Vancouver. Finding, and sustaining, a healthy balance between work and schooling proved to be somewhat of a challenge for Mina. ”The hardest part was kind of going into this immediate, not being in school, putting your mindset to something different, which is something I’ve never done that drastically before,” she says. As a student who takes quite a liking to learning, Mina plans on attending college and studying psychology, which she believes plays a role in the craft of acting by “looking at everything that’s wrong and different moods and disorders and how we think and what we think.”
In terms of what’s ahead, Lost in Space promo, college prep, and maybe even a service trip to Ghana this summer are all on the calendar. Mina’s dream role? Well, she’s a huge Black Mirror fan. “I would love to do something with the whole concept of whether or not people can see you through the camera on your laptop, on your phone and see everything that you’re doing at all hours.” Who knows, that might just be in store for her.