The Joanne Vannicola Website
Psi Factor's new recruit, Joanne Vannicola, chronicles recent graduate Mia Stone's investigations into the paranormal.Ghosts, monsters and other paranormal phenomena beware: there's a new OSIR investigator in town. Introduced in Psi Factor's fourth season premiere, Shocking, Mia Stone joins the OSIR fresh from completing her doctorate at the University of Edinborough, and brings a special knowledge of mental phenomena to her team. The character was created to fill the void left by OSIR team leader Matt Praeger's departure from the series, and provided Canadian actress Joanne Vannicola with a welcome opportunity to play a compelling female role model.
"Mia Stone is really smart, strong, probably a little stubborn and fiercely independent," says Vannicola of her Psi Factor alter ego. "The character left home at 14 and ended up studying at university because she was gifted in terms of being able to see auras and stuff like that. So she was fresh out of university when she joined Psi Factor, but very eager and very committed to her work.
"I really enjoyed playing her," she continues. "It was fun, because I got to do things I wouldn't ever do in my real life. And because my character's supposed to be straight out of university, her arrival creates a certain shift in the show because she's quite different from the others. It was interesting."
Vannicola was originally drawn to the idea of starring in Psi Factor due to her personal interests in the paranormal and her strong response to the character of Mia Stone. She subsequently landed the role on the strength of a standard audition. After taking a crash course in parapsychology and all things Psi Factor, she began working on the show in the summer of 1999.
"I was very nervous during my first week on the show," recalls Vannicola. "I had no idea what I was walking into. The cast and crew had been on the show for three seasons already, Matt [Frewer, Praeger] was going to be leaving and I was really nervous. I didn't know if they would be nasty or nice or what! But in the end, everyone was quite pleasant and the crew were fabulous as well, they were a lot of fun. It was pretty intense at times, though, because the budget was slashed and we were working six days to do an episode, where I think they used to have seven days. SO we were always fighting time and trying to get things done. But because everyone was a good and decent person, it really helped things along. There were moments of great fun as well as moments of pure exhaustion!"
Many of Vannicola's most enjoyable moments on the Psi Factor set came when she was working with the show's original leading man, Matt Frewer.
"Matt was a lot of fun and he was really good to me because he knew what I was coming into," she reveals. "We worked together for six weeks and in those six weeks, he was just so much fun. He's just such a good guy. His last day on the set was very sentimental. Everyone was sad to see him go."
Mia Stone's infusion into Praeger's OSIR unit and her subsequent acceptance by its members is one of the driving themes of Psi Factor's fourth season. Tellingly, Mia's character arc also takes center stage in the season finale, Stone Dreams. Looking back at her one-year assignment to the OSIR, Vannicola was more that satisfied with the way her character was treated.
"I had some really good episodes," she notes. "I liked Nocturnal Cabal; that was a lot of fun. Mia Stone ends up at a rave in that episode that turns into a fight against flesh-eating zombies. It's very kitschy, campy and really funny. Damian Kindler wrote it and did a really great job. Persistence of Vision was interesting, but I think the reason I liked it had a lot to do with the music! The last episode, though, was really quite a number. Stone Dreams was a bit of a mindbender, with all that stuff about dream time and reality, and what's real and what's not. It was very interesting."
Stone Dreams, of course, now marks the end of Psi Factor. Vannicola is philosophical about the show's demise and the fact that she only played Mia Stone for a season.
"In a way, I was lucky that I only had to do the character for one season," she explains. "But on the other hand, is was disappointing because I didn't get to develop the character as much as I might have been able to. Plus it's hard being an actor in Canada. There aren't that many jobs, so when you do work, you wanna hang on to that job!"
Although Vannicola would be happy to reprise the role of Mia Stone in a Psi Factor telemovie, for the time being the series currently sits on Vannicola's resume as just one of her many stage and screen credits. Away from the OSIR, she has starred in such TV shows as 9B, My Secret Identity and Night Heat, while her movie appearances have come in everything from the arthouse flick Love and Human Remains and Common Ground to Iron Eagle IV.
Joanne Vannicola plans to maintain this level of variety as she continues to pursue her career. After spending a year as Mia Stone, she also hopes that she can find other strong female characters to portray.
"I'd like to play roles that have character and meaning, as opposed to just being someone's girlfriend," she declares. "I do find the choices for young women to be kind of limited, just because the roles are so repetitive. My heart's desire is often very different to what's actually out there. But I hope to get the opportunity to play more strong female roles and expand my career a bit more."
David Bassom, Cult Times Special #14, 2000, pgs. 59-60.
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