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Jennifer Cheon Garcia on the Final Season of ‘Van Helsing,’ Advocating for Representation, & What Comes Next


Around this time last year, Jennifer Cheon Garcia and the rest of the cast and crew had no idea if they would ever go back to filming Van Helsing. Everything had been shut down, all productions had been pushed back, the film industry had no sense of when or if they would ever resume. Van Helsing also features a lot of people in particularly close contact as they fight. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, it was a question of whether Jennifer and the rest of the cast would get a chance to say a proper goodbye to Van Helsing.

Syfy’s Van Helsing premiered its incredible fifth and final season on April 16th. Van Helsing is a science fiction series that centers on Vanessa Helsing, the daughter of Abraham Van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter and Dracula nemesis. Vanessa is resurrected to find out that vampires have overtaken the world and that she has a unique power over them. Vanessa is humanity’s last hope to take back what’s been lost.

Van Helsing is a fascinating show (even if you’re not usually into science fiction) full of gripping storylines, dynamic characters, and strong women. One of the standout characters is Ivory, the former leader of The Sisterhood, a group of bloodthirsty female vampires. Now a former vampire and an “Enhanced human,” Ivory battles other enemy vampires and seeks her purpose. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer, who plays Ivory in the series, about the end of the show, what’s next for her, and how she got to be such a badass woman.

Van Helsing’s final season

Van Helsing was the first production to get back up and running after the initial COVID-19 outbreak. Although there were some changes to production to ensure that COVID-19 safety measures remained in place, Jennifer shares that masks were skillfully written into the series (although you’ll have to tune into season five to find out how and why). The cast and crew also committed to getting tested, staying in their bubbles, filming outside when they could, and ventilating the studio when they couldn’t. Thanks to their commitment, filming never got shut down and now, in just a few days, fans get to see the final season of Van Helsing.

Jennifer says she’s feeling excited about the final episodes, but it’s a little bit bittersweet. “It's exciting that it's finally coming out and that people get to see what we were working on. But it's kind of like the beginning of the end of it,” she says. “So I’m excited and a little sad at the same time, because I had such an amazing experience becoming this character and watching her develop into who she is. This has been a really, really positive and huge learning experience for me.”

Lucky for viewers, Van Helsing is one of the shows that got a proper ending despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The final season will contain all the things that attracted viewers to it in the first place: blood, guts, glory, vampirism, and well-developed backstories for your favorite characters. 

Playing Ivory on Van Helsing 

Jennifer is most excited to see how fans react to Ivory as a human. “Season four is when she turned from vampire to human again, and she was getting her bearings on the whole thing. Now she's making decisions as to what side she wants to be on and who she wants to be. That's something to look forward to, with her journey.”

One of the most compelling things about Jennifer’s character, Ivory, is that her story throughout the series is like a really complicated twist on the relatable coming of age story. Once she turns into a human again, Ivory realizes that she has memories of being someone that she didn’t like but, at the time, had to be. She then begins to take charge of her life and her story. Jennifer explained that she relates to the feeling Ivory’s character experiences between being told to act one way but feeling something inside of you telling you to be different. Jennifer relates to that certain point the series features Ivory getting to, and that everyone gets to, where you have to decide who you want to be and then keep making decisions and proving to yourself who and what that person is.

She also relates to the idea of trying to unlearn things that have been ingrained in you for as long as you can remember. In Ivory’s case, for a lot of her life, she was in darkness and controlled by her vampire mother and The Sisterhood. This season, Ivory works to discover what she wants to keep from the old world and what she wants to infuse with the new world. Although we don’t live in a vampire apocalypse, we’re in a global pandemic during which a lot of people are learning things about themselves and who they want to be.

Getting to play Ivory was a valuable experience. “It's really rewarding to be a character that was both vulnerable and strong,” Jennifer says. “Many times you see examples of a strong woman, but then she's a bitch. So many people mistake kindness for weakness, so you just kind of lead with that bitch attitude. I love that now with her [Ivory’s] humanity, and her leaning into and believing in the good, that she was able to be vulnerable and still be strong. She's a fighter. She's the leader of The Sisterhood. And she’s like me. I really cherish that idea of sisterhood. I really get protective of other women in my sisterhood.” 

Plus, throughout the final seasons of Van Helsing viewers get to see a softer, more vulnerable side of Ivory as she falls in love. On the one hand, Ivory demonstrates this mix of vampirism, fighting, hunting, greed, and getting what she wants. On the other hand, you see Ivory falling in love with Jack, caring for and defending other characters and what they believe in.

Jennifer is going to miss seeing the rest of the Van Helsing cast. “We really got along and I really respect them and love them so much, but we're all lost doing our other projects now," she says. “That's what I'm going to miss the most because I feel like a part of her will always be with me.” She'll also miss how therapeutic it was to play a vampire who could yell, scream, and get out all her pent-up feelings.  

Her most relatable role so far

Jennifer has acted in a variety of roles, from Midnight in Supergirl to Soldier in Colony to Dakiva in The 100, but this role as Ivory in Van Helsing has been her most relatable one. When she stepped into her role as Ivory, she was going through a period of self-acceptance, just like Ivory was. She was growing into an opinion of herself that she had to love and protect, remembering that at the end of the day, you only have yourself; at the end of the day, it’s you looking in the mirror, you dealing with your thoughts, and you working on yourself. Once you find the version of yourself that you want to be, you have to be protective over it. 

“This season, the final season, for Ivory has probably been the most relatable, because I feel like there's been a big click and shift in my personal life, just in terms of discovering who I am as a woman and who I am as a woman of color and stepping into being happy with my body. Growing up as a woman, everybody has an opinion on how you should look and how you should feel and how you should talk. And, I mean, we're so ripped apart for how we are, what we're wearing, or how we're wearing it or how we want to proceed.” Jennifer came into this role at a time where she was over society’s standards and that aligned perfectly with Ivory’s mentality, too. 

In her dream world, Jennifer would play Catwoman, but she knows Zoë Kravitz is going to crush it. She'd love to take on iconic characters, like Zorro or the Joker, which are typically always male roles, and make them into women. She also dreams of embodying a complex and nuanced character. Jennifer wants to play a character who, like her, is more than one thing. Jennifer is a mixed-race woman; she’s half Korean, half Mexican, and she embodies both of those equally. She’s tall, and she’s feminine, yet she’s strong. In her ideal role she would play the character she needed growing up.

Advocating for greater representation

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At a young age, Jennifer realized she was different. She grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and she, as a mixed-race woman, didn’t quite fit in. Being Mexican, Korean and tall, she found that many of her traits set her apart. She found solace in movies and in the characters who kept her company, but she never saw anyone who looked like her onscreen. She made it her life’s mission to get on the screen in the hopes that someday, someone like her would see her and feel inspired. “We draw a lot of our comparisons and a lot of our ideas about what life is, through the TV, and art imitates life,” she says. “That's why it's been so important for me to get out there, so that the other little me or someone that identifies with me will see that we're here. We're living, we're part of this story. We're existing. And you're not alone.” 

Even though most of us aren’t actors like Jennifer, she says we can still advocate for greater representation in media using social media platforms like Twitter. Networks, studios, and different decision-makers in the industry see, through these social media platforms, what people are talking about, who they want to see, and what they want to see. If you want to see more diversity, be vocal about what you want to see and put it out there no matter who you are. 

Diversity in the industry isn’t the only way to support the mission of greater representation though. “I think it's also important to do little things, too,” Jennifer says. In some cases, this might look like supporting local businesses and small-business owners and promoting diversity and representation in your community.

On Taekwondo, the art of combat, and being physically fit

In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, Jennifer is a badass woman. She's an accomplished and active martial artist with more than 10 years of training experience, and she also has her first-degree blackbelt in Taekwondo and is working towards her second degree. She worked security at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and has worked as a bouncer at bars and clubs. Jennifer loves the art of combat, weapons training, and stunts.

She first became inspired to begin her training when she saw Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. She would make her own swords and weapons until one day her dad, who has a black belt of his own, agreed to train her. He taught her how to kick, how to fight, and Taekwondo patterns. As she got older, Jennifer went through the belt system as she saw many men and women in her industry had also gone through the belt system and refined their skills. Many of the characters Jennifer plays are fighters, warriors, and otherwise physical characters which means that her training has benefitted her acting. Plus, Jennifer points out that as a woman, it’s really important to know your strengths and know how to defend and protect yourself.

Training like Jennifer isn’t easy, but it does sound interesting. Depending on where you are, a lot of gyms may still be closed. That doesn’t mean you can’t train, though. For example, if, like me, you want to box as Jennifer does, she recommends YouTube as a good place to start to see what trainers have put online. You can also find workouts from the Nike app, and try cardio exercises like jump roping and running. Even though we (Jennifer included) aren’t in love with cardio, it’ll put you in good shape. When gyms open up again, go to a class and don’t hesitate. The first class is the hardest, and then after that, it gets easier. If you want to box and can go to a class, invest in your own gloves, make sure your facility is clean, and see if you can train outside. There are tons of ways to get into training as Jennifer does. 

What’s next?

While her role as Ivory may be done, Jennifer is still hustling. Last year, she joined the cast of The Wheel of Time on Amazon. Jennifer will play Leane Sharif, alongside stars such as Rosamund Pike, Josha Stradowski, Marcus Rutherford and Zoë Robins. She’s also working on a few other projects she can’t officially talk about yet, feeling lucky about her lot in life. “I'm just so blessed to be able to call myself an actor,” she says. 

Seeing talk online about loneliness and desire for a way to connect, Jennifer would also love to open up a space, whether virtual or face-to-face, to support people who are seeking some kind of friend group. The group could be around fitness, or counseling, or something along those lines. While she isn’t sure exactly what this would look like yet, she wants to contribute to positive change in someone’s day-to-day life.

Season five of Van Helsing aired on Syfy on April 16th, and the previous seasons are available on Netflix. You can find Jennifer Cheon Garcia on Instagram and Twitter.

Camille is pursuing a Ph.D. in Communication at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. She has bylines in the Nonahood News, Her Campus, Screen Queens, and Shifter Mag. In addition, she has worked with "The Cypress Dome," and "The Florida Review." She is enthusiastic about Latina/o/x issues, fitness, writing, and reading. She is on Instagram and Twitter: @camilleeejoan
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