An Interview with Rana McAnear – Part II
This is the second installment of my interview with Rana McAnear, the face model of Samara and Morinth from the Mass Effect series. In the last segment, we talked about how she acquired the role and started cosplaying. We ended with a description of Rana’s first in-costume experiences.
Robyn: How have [your experiences] changed your understanding of the cosplay —and, by extension, Mass Effect—community?
Rana: As I said before, I didn’t really know the term “cosplay.” I’ve been dressing up ever since I was a kid and dressing up my sisters. I love Halloween. Every year, my friends were in their cutesy Halloween costumes, and I was a vampire, or a zombie, or whatever else I could be that was spooky. Going into the cosplay world and seeing the amazing craftsmanship… I had worked on movies before, and seeing this movie-quality stuff made in people’s homes completely blew my mind. A lot of these people end up going and working for movies because their skills are so amazing.
Of course, the Mass Effect community has been very welcoming and very amazing, and they’re such a fun group of people. Cosplayers in general tend to be very fun. At Dragon*Con, we had this girl, Jordan, who was in this awesome gold suit. She had speakers in her belt, and she was playing music all of the time and dancing. I mean, that’s just the kind of thing that I love to be around, and it makes everything more fun. Yes, we’re Mass Effect and all, you know, “Let’s kill some Reapers!” but we also have fun with it. It’s not all serious. For a while, I was like “No, I don’t smile in pictures.” Of course, it’s very off-putting when you see me smile in pictures, but I’ve also noticed that, when I post a goofy picture of myself in costume, the fans love it. They just go crazy for it. Anything out of character, for Samara, it’s so funny—they share it like crazy, it gets all kind of hits, and I love it. It’s been really fun. I feel like it’s really expanded my circle of friends.
Robyn: I was definitely impressed by how enthusiastic and nice everyone was at that Dragon*Con photoshoot.
Rana: It’s so great; they’re really helpful and encouraging to each other. No one sits there and says “my Shepard armor is better than their Shepard armor.” Or, if they do, they say it privately and don’t broadcast it! I feel like a lot of them go by that rule: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all.” They really are encouraging, and I try to be the same way. A lot of the Asari cosplayers are kind of intimidated by my cosplay because I’ve been trained by a special effects makeup artist. I’ve been doing it for almost three years now, so I have a little more practice. They come over and are like “Oh, your blending edge looks amazing. Mine doesn’t look so good.” I’m like, “Just practice! Just do it! And you’ll get better at it!” The Mad Masker and I have put up tutorials to try and help with all of that. We do what we can to encourage other people to just do it! You’re not going to do anything if you don’t try! You’re going to sit there and fear, and then what? You’re going to be sad that you’re not with everyone else and their awesome armor. Just do it!
Robyn: [laughs] Stay on people like that! That’s the best inspiration that you can give them. And I noticed that you went right over to the other Asari cosplayers and wanted to get a picture with them, which I thought was awfully sweet.
Rana: My first year cosplaying as Samara, there weren’t any Asari there, and I was very A-sorry that there weren’t any other Asari.
Rana: Bad pun! Bad pun! But, you know, it’s something where I was like “Hey, come on! Don’t be intimidated! Just join me! We can do it together. And [it’s] fine that you can’t afford the one that the Mad Masker makes. Make your own!” I’ve seen a really cool cloth one that a girl sewed herself. You learn, you get better, or you learn, get frustrated, and buy yourself one.
There’s a fine line of doing it well and having fun with it, too. I was staying with Jane Justice and David Carpenter [at Dragon*Con]. David Carpenter is Evil FX Props and Armor, and he did an amazing Didact. Jane was really frustrated because she wasn’t able to finish her costume. She wanted to do the Librarian from Halo, and she just wasn’t having fun anymore. Her friend told her “Look, you still need to have fun. What’s the good of you sitting in your room for twelve hours, in a hotel, when everyone else is partying?” If you’re not having fun, and you’re not enjoying yourself anymore, put it down and come back to it later or have somebody help you. There’s a lot of ways of still having fun with it. So, that’s some other advice from [me].
Robyn: It’s all about having fun.
Rana: Yeah! Absolutely. And, of course, it is frustrating. I did have a really hard time with the new headpiece for Morinth because the blending edge was a lot thinner than on my Samara, so I had a hard time getting it smooth. I did what I could with it, and I went out. I knew that, the more frustrated I got, the uglier it was going to be. I got really frustrated because a fan commented on my page about the blending edge. I said “I don’t think you understand how hard this is! This is not just something that you slap on. It’s a very fine-tuned, artistic process where you have to take your time with it, and smooth it, and wait, and smooth it, and wait. It’s not something where I’m like ‘I’m a pro! I’m going to do this right away!’”
If I see someone who’s having trouble with their blending edge, rather than saying “Hey, that looks bad,” I say “You know, what I did on mine is…” And I try to give them pointers and tips. I know how hard it is. It takes three hours for me to do that, sometimes even more!
Robyn: That’s for the blending edge alone?!
Rana: That’s for the whole thing.
Robyn: Whew, okay.
Rana: But the blending edge is what takes so long. You have to build it up and get it smoothed out. The blue makeup—I’ve gotten that down to a science. But the blending edge is the bane of my existence, I tell you! It is so hard to do! It’s practice, it’s patience, and it’s trial and error, for sure. We found that different things work and different things don’t. Temperature is a big thing. You have to be in a cool climate, or everything sets too quickly, and you don’t have time. It’s a lot. The day that I saw you, I’d been up since 5:30 doing makeup since I was in the parade. I stayed up twenty four hours that day too.
Robyn: While we’re on the topic of cosplaying and other’s reactions to it…as a woman gamer and also a cosplayer, have you ever experienced any creepy or lewd behavior on account of your outfit?
Rana: Yeah, absolutely. It was really frustrating. I was at Wonder Con, and I was actually walking around with Aubriana—the Mad Masker—and a man said something about the outfit, pointed down at my chest, and asked me if my breasts were real.
Robyn: Oh, gosh. You’re kidding.
Rana: No! Aubriana and I just kind of looked at each other. We were stunned. I don’t like to cause a stir, and I think if I weren’t so dumbfounded by it, I probably would have said “Um, hey, that’s inappropriate,” but I was so taken aback that I didn’t know what to say. We were both flabbergasted. You run into so many nice people who are so complimentary. Even if they’re thinking it, they don’t say it! And then you come to this one person or these couple of people who are just so crass, and you’re so taken aback. That community tends to protect each other, too, so if they see something happening, they’ll come and step in if they need to. That was the one that really stuck out in my head, where I was just so appalled that he could say that. We don’t need that. We don’t need that type of harassment. Of course, Cosplay is not consent. Just because we are dressing like a certain character doesn’t allow you to say these comments to us. It just doesn’t. Bottom line. So, it is frustrating when you run into those few.
On my site, I try to keep it very PG, and if anyone says anything out of line, there’s no tolerance. Any “blue boobs!” comment or anything like that…just no. I’m done. I don’t need that on my page. We don’t need to be fourteen year old boys. Maybe some of them are, but we don’t need to act like that.
Robyn: Good for you.
Rana: Yeah, it took me a while to get to that point. I was like “Oh, I want to be nice” and “Oh, I don’t want to cause waves.” No, it’s unacceptable.
Robyn: If you could give any advice to other cosplayers who may encounter a similar situation while they’re in costume, what would your advice be for them?
Rana: It’s a really scary thing, being confronted with something like that. You never know what that person is going to do or say if you do confront them about it. I would say try to travel in pairs. Don’t be alone by yourself—that’s usually when it happens. Of course, I think it happened with us because it was two females, which is sad. If you can, travel with a guy. Have a handler. Have someone there who is going to deter those comments.
If someone says that to you, walk away. Don’t get a picture with them. If you see them harassing someone else, tell someone! There’s tons of security at those places. If you know that this person is a creep, let everyone else know, so that they can stay away from them. Then, that person is definitely not going to be welcomed in those communities. It’s a sad thing that we can’t feel comfortable in our own community. We have to be guarded and feel like we need to be protected, but that’s just human nature, I think. People want to push boundaries.
There was an interviewer, too, who said some crude things, but it was very back-handed crude. Aubriana and I continued with the interview, but I gave him nothing. They want a rise out of you—some kind of reaction. During the interview, I just was like “No. No.” I was very Samara, in that moment. Just very stoic. Sorry, you’re not going to get a reaction out of me. It took a lot for me to get to that point, but you kind of have to do it. It sucks.
Robyn: It definitely sucks. Onto more positive territory! I understand that you’re a gamer. So, I’m assuming that you have had the chance to play through Mass Effect 3…
[Rana shakes head]
Rana: I haven’t played 3 yet! I know that I need to! I’m so terrible. I own it; I just haven’t gotten a chance to, and I should be doing that. I’m working on what I call my “Nerd Cred,” so I just finally watched Firefly.
A few months ago, I finally watched Battlestar Galactica. There are a lot of shows that I missed out on. When I moved to LA, I didn’t have cable. I missed out on a lot of shows, so I’m catching up. I’m finally watching Freaks and Geeks, too.
Anyways, I have not played Mass Effect 3, but I do know about the ending. Before I was able to play Mass Effect 2, I wanted to make sure that I knew what Samara was all about. I knew that someone was going to spoil it for me, so I went ahead and researched it. I watched as many videos as I could about her dialogue and story. I did the same for Mass Effect 3. I wanted to know about her part in the storyline, and, of course, I found out about the ending.
Robyn: So, what was your take on the ending?
Rana: I feel like it was really poetic. I thought that it was very noble. I wasn’t up in arms about it all, and then they did the Citadel DLC, and that kind of made up for everything from what I understand. It had a lot of loose ends that they tie up, and I’ve seen them in their panels talking about how it was a very fanfare DLC—they wanted to give the fans what they wanted. You can’t please everybody, and that’s the hard thing about it all. I get it. I could never be a writer. People are so invested in these characters, and they’re so invested in this game, and then you do something that they don’t like. That one girl was getting death threats!
So, what are you going to do? It’s a videogame. It’s awesome, but let’s take a deep breath and come back to reality.
Robyn: It comes down to being able to respect their creative vision and not attack them over it. There’s a big difference between critiquing them and threatening people for doing what they wanted to do with their story.
Rana: Yeah. It’s really flattering that people are so invested in it because you know that you’ve done a good job. There’s also that other side where it’s like “Yes, I see that you’re invested in it, but this is what I’m doing with it. I’m sorry; you’re not the writer.” It’s interesting to see the writers talk about it all.
Robyn: Definitely. Especially because it was so publicized when people first got upset about the ending. Any games that you’re looking forward to playing in the future?
Rana: Mass Effect 3, of course. I need to play that. I really loved the first Bioshock, and I’d love to play Infinite. I want to play all these things that my friends are cosplaying! Borderlands looks really cool. Halo. I’ve never played Halo. I can’t even believe it. I’m such a bad gamer! I grew up on a Nintendo—I guess we had an Atari. And then we had a Nintendo—an original Nintendo, and then we had a Nintendo 64, and a Sega. Sonic was always my favorite. I don’t do scary very well. Actually, you know, Bioshock ended up scaring the crap out of me! It’s all of those dark hallways and the splicers—the Splicers are so scary!
Robyn: Care to tell us about your next cosplay goal or project that you’re working on?
Rana: I’m working with—though this hasn’t been confirmed or anything—the Mass Effect Cosplay Initiative. I’m hoping that they’re going to be making the Samara Loyalty outfit—the black outfit, which I think is really nice. When I originally made the outfit, I wanted to do the red one just because I felt that it was so iconic, and the detail on it was really beautiful. I figured that I might as well have all the Samara outfits (and then Morinth). Actually, one of the other Asari cosplayers—Grace—she had a really cool cosplay, and she was mentioned that they did originally make a dress for Samara.
She said “Hey, if you want me to make that for you, I can.” And, of course, I was like “Well, sure!” This is the kind of thing that just blows my mind. The gun that I have—the Disciple—was given to me and made for me by Quantum Entanglement. I had borrowed a gun last year at Dragon*Con, and I didn’t have a gun of my own. He messaged me and was like “Hey, I noticed that you always borrow guns. Would you like one?” Uh…yeah! I put up a listing [about] what gun I should get. The Disciple was the best choice because it was one that no one had made before, which was cool, and it’s an Asari rifle.
Rana: I love it. That was a cool thing. And of course, Taylor Bennett made my Morinth costume. I have that, and there’s a couple of other secret cosplays coming up that are Asari-related. One of my things for my next cosplay is that I didn’t want to wear anything on my head. I am so tired of putting all of this hair into the headpiece, and I don’t like wigs. My head gets itchy. So, I was like “What can I cosplay that I can use my hair for?” Of course, Poison Ivy. Jean Grey. All of those things came up, but I want to do something a little more original. And, of course, on a daily basis I get call Ariel, so…
Robyn: What’s your next convention?
Rana: I’m still up in the air about New York Comic Con. I really wanted to go, but it’s been pretty rough financially for me to do these cons. I’m fortunate enough to have my fans pay for the airfare, and, hopefully, my hotel. When I’m gone, I’m not earning money, so it’s kind of one of those things where, if I leave, yes, my trip is paid for, but I’m not making money while I’m gone. So, I’m not sure about New York Comic Con.
I’m hoping still to go to Kamikaze since it’s local, and there’s no airfare involved. I’m hoping that’ll be my next one. Kamikaze is like 90%, New York Comic Con is leaning towards 40%.
This concludes the second—and final—part of the interview. Feel free to follow Rana on Facebook or Twitter for additional news about her next costumes and conventions. And check out Part I of the interview here!
(Photo credits: Elysiam Entertainment and Sean Wozniak)