When an actor joins the cast of a beloved series with a devoted fan base, they might experience a certain amount of worry about stepping into a pre-existing world. But Ella-Rae Smith felt only excitement when she joined the second season of Apple TV+ hit science-fiction show Foundation, which premiered this past July. “There’s an amazing sense of community among [sci-fi] fans, so I can’t wait to step into the world of another fandom,” she says. The 25-year-old Brit stars alongside Lee Pace (from the Hobbit franchise) and Leah Harvey, who earned a BAFTA nomination for their role in the show’s first season. Loosely based on author Isaac Asimov’s book series by the same name, Foundation follows a band of misfits who want to save their world from destruction. Smith plays Queen Sareth, a conniving yet charming woman who uses being underestimated to her advantage. “She’s one of my favourite characters I’ve ever played,” says Smith. “I feel really lucky to be able to go on an emotional arc with her.” The actor slips into the role seamlessly—and with good reason: Foundation isn’t her first foray into sci-fi. In 2017, Smith played Nix, a warrior-esque character, in the third season of AMC’s martial-arts drama Into the Badlands, and more recently, she starred alongside Suki Waterhouse in the indie film Seance and was in Netflix’s The Witcher series with Henry Cavill. While acting has been her main focus, the Londoner has also been in modelling campaigns for Hugo Boss and Rimmel, and she’s now enjoying a thriving career filled with new opportunities and empowering roles.


“[My first role was] in an independent film called Two Hours. It was the best introduction to being on-set because it was a really small crew, everyone was super friendly and it was a great opportunity to learn how things work on the job without being too exposed, which [I would have been if I’d been] in some huge show that made me famous overnight. [Acting was] something that I fell in love with, and I was gonna do it no matter what.”


“When you’re working on something fantasy or sci-fi, the universe you’re stepping into is so much bigger. The costumes, the props, the sets—it’s all literally out of this world. It was magical. And it was really interesting to have the combination of working in studios on built sets that are just absolutely stunning and being in different locations with really different landscapes and different temperatures. It was a really nice mix of studio work and location work with a huge crew and a huge cast. We all had a lot of fun.”


“There’s something about fantasy and being in a completely imaginary world that means you can let go a little bit more while still holding on to all of the human elements of your character—because that’s what brings it all back down to earth and keeps it relatable.”


“[The film industry] is a world that no one can really prepare you for. I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve worked regularly, I’ve become friends with a lot of actors, directors, writers and producers and I’ve had a lot of different experiences. Now, I don’t feel like there’s much I’m not prepared for, [which is a] credit to the people around me and to my team, who are just the best. I don’t even have the words to explain how much I love and value the women who have supported my career and guided me. It’s a people industry, and it’s nice [to find] your people within it and create community within it.”


“[For] an actor, the most important thing is representing characters, feelings [and] experiences that touch the audience. Someone watching you and seeing themselves in what you’re doing is incredible and very affirming, especially [when you’re] a person of colour. My idols when I was younger were the girls with curly hair—and they were few and far between. To be that for another little girl is very powerful.”


“I love collaborating with interesting artists and bringing visions to life and telling new stories. At the moment, I’m interested in whatever is going to come—there’s not [a single] focus. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that setting specific goals can be to your detriment. Sometimes it’s a little bit easier to be open to anything, because everything is a surprise in this industry. I’m just sitting back and waiting for my next big surprise.”