Balancing Act: A Student's Starring Role

Photo courtesy of Talk Studio. Photo by Sara Nevels Desiree Srinivas plays the role of Queen Moria in a local production of "Helsing." Photo courtesy of Talk Studio. Photo by Sara Nevels

Whether watching a rented flick with friends or attending Friday movie night at the Memorial Union, films tend to be a big part of the college student’s life. Most of us just aren’t lucky enough to be playing a starring role.

Communications sophomore Desiree Srinivas, however, is that lucky. She’s playing the part of the Vampire Queen Moria in the coming film "Helsing."

In an email she says she’s been acting for a year now, but it feels like something she’s done for a long time. Though she had acted in high school plays before for fun, it wasn’t until she was invited to take part in film projects after graduation that she realized how much she loved the industry.

"Helsing" filming took place during the summer, so did it not interfere with her schoolwork and her job allowed enough flexibility to ask for time off in advance, she explains.

“While it feels like a handful, I would probably go a little crazy if I had to cut out my film life altogether,” she notes.

Srinivas says she does intend to pursue acting as a career and not just as an extracurricular activity, along with other filmmaking practices. It’s one of the craziest decisions she’s ever made, she adds, but she can’t see herself doing anything else.

Photo courtesy of Talk Studio. Photo by Sara Nevels Photo courtesy of Talk Studio. Photo by Sara Nevels

“I would probably ask, "what if?" for the rest of my life if I settled for something less than what I absolutely love,” she says.

Occasionally she gets intimidated by being a 19-year-old actress surrounded by those in their mid-to-late 20s, questioning her performance when she sees theirs. She says she then reminds herself they’ve been performing for years and refuses to lose any of her drive to act because she’s “young.”

“I've been granted a gift by knowing what I want to do so young, to which I'd be wasting if I didn't use these few years I have left in school to also take acting classes, music classes and constantly involving myself in the film community so that I'm more than ready,” she adds.

Director Ryan Johnston is the one who got her into film, Srinivas noted. Instead of auditioning parts, she said he approached Arizona actors he was familiar with and offered them the parts he had in mind for them for "Helsing."

Johnston says the project began as a screenplay, adding that making a movie is all about what you do in pre-production.

“You never cover all the bases,” he says, noting you have to deal with schedules, auditions, script drafts, funding and finding your key individuals. Key individuals encompass not just actors, but other crew members.

For the character of Moria, Johnston said he wanted someone who could act dark. He had seen some of Srinivas’ prior work and knew she was someone who “really likes to dive deep” into the characters she plays.

“There was never a doubt in my mind… that the role was hers,” he says. “She blew it out of the water.”

Playing a villain is consuming both mentally and physically for actors, Johnston noted, but Srinivas brought energy to the part.

“She takes her acting very seriously, but she loves to have fun,” he says. “She gets along with everybody on set. Everybody really loves and adores her.”

"Helsing" began life as a modern take on the Van Helsing concept, with Srinivas’ character created early on to serve as Dracula’s right-hand woman and one of the main villains. Srinivas noted this was her first time playing a villain and she spent months diligently hammering out Moria’s characteristics and nature to do the part justice.

Photo courtesy of Talk Studio. Photo by Sara Nevels. Photo courtesy of Talk Studio. Photo by Sara Nevels.

“I had never gone so deep into my own emotions to pull out the sultry, conniving, vengeful emotions that all emulated everything Moria was about,” Srinivas says.

It was her favorite role to date, she adds, being challenging, exotic and a milestone for her career.

“The more I worked with this character, the more I fell in love with the idea of her, whether it be her back story or her approach as a villain in this world of 'Helsing,'” she says.

Vampire Queen Moria has two forms, Srinivas explained, one that allows her to blend in with the world around her and her “goddess” or true form. Special effects makeup artist Autumn Lewis was responsible for much of Moria’s design.

Lewis said she knew Srinivas before filming "Helsing," thanks to Johnston. As she read the script for "Helsing," she knew she wanted to go for a distinct look for a sexy, beautiful character.

Her job tends to involve doing monster makeup, such as zombies, or in this case, vampires.

“When I’m brought on set, it’s mostly to… make someone look like a dead body,” she says with a laugh.

Lewis’ makeup design would accentuate Srinivas’ eyes with jagged points, almost changing her facial structure entirely, she says. It took about an hour to apply, although she noted that she tended to multitask and if she were to focus solely on Srinivas it would take about half an hour.

“Something very sharp… is the best way to describe the makeup I was going for with her,” Lewis says.

Lewis says she and Mark Greenwalt worked on Moria’s body designs to evoke something tribal and animalistic for her true form. Body painting and doing her hair for this took about an hour and a half to two hours, she added. 

Srinivas is working her way through school with a dream of acting and music. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Srinivas is working her way through school with a dream of acting and music.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

“(Srinivas) was… a trooper through it all,” Lewis says. 

Srinivas is one of her closest friends, Lewis says. They have similar traits and tastes, she notes, and they work well on set together.

“The people that I like to keep in my life are just really driven, focused people… passionate, and that I can feel comfortable working with on and off set,” she says.

With filming over, Srinivas’ feelings are bittersweet.

“I can't tell you how empty I felt once I had to shelf Moria next to all of the other roles I've played in the past,” she says.

"Helsing" was a film that reaffirmed her desire to act, she notes, pushing her to excel even further.

“I can honestly say I am proud to have my name attached to this film, in every way, because this film--and Moria--have changed my life for the better,” Srinivas says.

"Helsing" will be screened the evening of Oct. 29 at the Cartel Coffee Lab in Tempe. Interested students are welcome to attend.

Reach the reporter at, or follow @SarahDeAnderson

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a caption for Srinivas' photo said she was pursuing acting and directing. Srinivas is working toward a dream of acting and music. The caption has been changed. 

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