Yes, it gets better. Just ask Ksenia Solo.
Sitting in a Toronto bistro opposite the poised, confident young woman who is juggling new roles on both Orphan Black and Turn: Washington’s Spies, it’s hard to believe that bullying made her life such hell as a child that she had to be dragged to school every September.
“It’s true,” she says, fixing you with pale blue eyes that look like they have never known a day of doubt. “On the first day of school, my mother had to drag me there, holding my hand, and when I looked at that sea of strange faces I’d break down in tears and Mom would have to take me to the bathroom where I could have my little panic attack.
“And from that moment forward, they’d all know how shy I was and how sensitive I was, and just how they could destroy me.”
Solo has a pretty good idea of why she was such a magnet for bullies back then. “Oh my God, I was tiny, a total shrimp in their eyes and I had this grotesquely kinky, curly hair. They made fun of me for all of that and because I couldn’t speak English that well at first, either.”
She was born in Riga in Latvia in 1987 and has only a few disjointed memories of the country where she spent the first five years of her life.
“I remember my grandmother’s apartment and I remember this forest by our house where I would search for snails, which I was obsessed by in those days.” She giggles. “Yes, there is photographic evidence of that.”
She says her parents’ move to Canada “wasn’t politically motivated,” but “it was just around that time when the whole Soviet Union came crashing down.”
She thought Canada “was very beautiful and so incredibly free,” but she didn’t’ speak any English at first “and that was very hard. It was such a barrier to overcome. I had been taken out of a world I knew and put into another where I was a perfect stranger. For years after that, I always felt like an outsider.”
And the bullying only added to that sensation.
“You know what it’s like. It’s that person or those two people who pick on you and then everybody else jumps on the train. Everybody wants to fit in, so if one person is leading the pack then the others all have to join in hating you so they can feel they belong.”
She looks down at the snow-white tablecloth, smoothing it nervously.
“I switched schools a lot and I had to get my books from the school I was leaving. I was too afraid to meet any of the people who had been bullying me, so I showed up after hours and had the janitor open up the classroom for me.”
Solo is now a director of the anti-bullying foundation Stand for the Silent and offers her advice on survival.
“You have to find people you have something in common with, whether it’s sports or theatre or ballet. You can’t change the bullies, you can’t change the school system, but you can find a way for those of us being bullied to survive.”
For Solo, that way out was initially ballet. When she began to study arts at Earl Haig Secondary School, “things definitely improved.”
There was a line of ballerinas in her family, so it seemed like a logical choice, but that didn’t work out either.
“I have a bad back and my body just wouldn’t allow me to do things a real ballerina needs to do. Ballet was never really my calling, but it taught me a lot about discipline and hard work, and it was a natural transition to acting. But I didn’t have a moment when I said, ‘This is the end of my life.’ I was already going to auditions for acting before I stopped dancing.”
Ironically, she was later to appear in Black Swan, the infamous movie about the behind the scenes neuroses of the ballet world and she laughs about it now. “When I did Black Swan, I said, ‘Oh that’s what I missed! Dodged that bullet.’”
Her acting career took off rapidly and she got two back-to-back Gemini Awards for her work as Zoey Jones on the series renegadepress.com, but it was when she stepped into the cult series Lost Girl as Kenzi in 2010 that her celebrity went viral.
“You know, I never thought they were going to cast me on that show. I kept auditioning and auditioning. I thought I wasn’t funny enough, I wasn’t the kind of a girl they wanted. But they kept exploring the image they were looking for and I kept changing to fit what they thought they wanted.”
“I’m happy they saw Kenzi in me, because I never thought I could be a tough funny street kid. But they sensed something inside me. Once we began filming, I was so different from this character it took me a long time to build what I was doing.”
Her work as Kenzi made her so popular with the show’s fan base that she knew when she left after Season 4 that “I would have to find the complete opposite of Kenzi to let people know that wasn’t me.”
And then along came the offer from Turn: Washington’s Spies, the AMC revolutionary war thriller that was looking to sex up its scenarios for its second season.
“The minute I read the script, I just knew I should do it,” she grins. “It’s not often that you find such a complex character for a young woman, especially a historical figure who was a real person.”
They were asking Solo to play Peggy Shippen, the born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-her-mouth daughter of Philadelphia aristocracy who fell deeply in love with the troublesome Major John André only to marry the legendary Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold.
“Nobody expects to see me as the girl wearing period costumes, but it fits me perfectly in every way. When I tried on the dresses and the wigs, I kept thinking, ‘This should feel more strange to me. Why does it oddly feel like it’s where I should be?’”
And she’s delighted to be shattering people’s view of her as Kenzi, something she’s also doing with Orphan Black, where she’ll guest as Shay, a holistic healer who meets Cosima, one of several cloned characters played by Tatiana Maslany.
“I loved being on Lost Girl, don’t get me wrong. But it’s so easy to get pigeonholed in this industry and I’m interested in people seeing that I’m a chameleon. Peggy is sexual and she’s not afraid to use what she’s got.”
She’s also interested in keeping her private life private, which is something she works hard at. “I’m really grateful for my relationship with my fans, but I’m a private person and I’ve tried very hard to protect that so I can live my life.”
And when she thinks back to the bad old days of relentless bullying, she has a certain amount “not of revenge, but of satisfaction.”
“There were occasions when people who were really horrible to me at school have reached out to me on Facebook now. How interesting! My last memory of this person is ridiculing me and now they’re all, ‘Oh my God, you’re on TV!’ I’m proud of myself that I haven’t let that bullying hold me back.
“I’ve prevailed in a way. I’ve taken what happened to me and got over it.” (Source)