By Emlyn Travis
It’s difficult, actress Abigail Cowen explains, to remember a time when performance wasn’t part of her life. Raised with an insatiable love of the arts, she began piano lessons at age six and recalls holding frequent solo, living-room concerts for family members. Her passion for the spotlight only grew stronger when, at age nine, she begged her mother to let her sign up for acting classes. To Cowen, it felt less like a decision and more like a calling; a heavy, knowing feeling that radiated from within and told her no career would ever bring her as much joy or personal fulfillment.
“It was a feeling of I need to do this or I will not be happy with my life,” the 22-year-old tells MTV News over the phone from her home in Orlando, Florida. “It literally feels like a weight in your gut of having to do this thing that you love. It takes over your life in the best way possible. That was when it really hit me and I begged my mom every day to let me take acting classes.”
Growing up in Gainesville, Florida, however, meant that acting roles weren’t always commonplace or easily accessible, so Cowen leaned heavily into the world of sports instead of acting throughout her high school years. It wasn’t until she turned 18 and moved across the country to Los Angeles that she began to earnestly chase down her childhood dream. After stints on Stranger Things and The Fosters, her break came in 2018 when she landed the role of Dorcas Night in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, one of the show’s dazzlingly deadly Weird Sisters. Now, Cowen steps into her first major leading role as the fire fairy Bloom in Fate: The Winx Saga, out today. A live-action adaptation of Iginio Straffi’s beloved mid-aughts cartoon The Winx Club, she plays a 16-year-old who transfers to Alfea, a mystical boarding school, after discovering her true magical identity. There, she learns about friendship, romance, and, ultimately, self-acceptance.
“Playing Bloom was interesting. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself because I knew that so many people are fans of the original Winx. It was a nerve-wracking but exciting and exhilarating experience,” she said on Instagram Live. “I felt like a fish out of water because I had never been in a role like this before, but so was Bloom.” Channeling that pressure into her scenes, Cowen brought much of herself to the role — her high school struggles, her evergreen insecurities — as if she was meant for it all her life. Ahead of the Winx premiere, she speaks with MTV News about seeing her teenage self in the role of Bloom, the songs that helped her tap into her character, and how she’s learned to embrace her own unique superpowers.
MTV News: What was your experience auditioning for the role of Bloom?
Cowen: The day of my audition I was going to Vancouver to shoot The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and my audition was about two hours prior to my flight, so I was in a rush. I was leaving for three or four months so I had this giant suitcase. I literally stumbled into the casting office with the huge thing and everyone was scared of me. But when you’re in the casting office, you can’t really talk, so I couldn’t explain myself. It was so awkward and embarrassing, and I was convinced I would never be invited back because they probably thought I was some actor trying to bring a prop or something, like Bloom arriving in Alfea with her suitcase. I did get invited back, I was shocked, and did two other auditions. On my third, I met with showrunner Brian Young and Lisa James Larsson, our director, and we read through some stuff and they gave me notes on what to improve on. It was a few days later when I found out I got the role and then had to fly out within two weeks to Ireland for the next four months.
MTV News: What was that experience like, hearing that you got the role, and then having two weeks to absorb that knowledge before stepping headfirst into a leading role?
Cowen: I was terrified. I didn’t know what I had just gotten myself into because I had never had a role of that caliber before, so I started to second-guess myself — you know, impostor syndrome sets in. So I was terrified. But the beauty of our industry is that it’s so last-minute. It’s so stressful because it is last-minute, but then so exciting, too, like finding out a week before that I’m about to basically move to Ireland for the next four months. It was very exciting but very scary. I personally love that element of it; you’re constantly living on the edge.
MTV News: How do you personally work to combat impostor syndrome within your own career?
Cowen: I’ve talked to a lot of actors of all different ages and, even later in their careers, it’s something they still battle. I think, as an artist, it’s about recognizing that no art is perfect. It’s not supposed to be perfect and that’s why it’s art. It’s supposed to be your interpretation of things, so I think reminding yourself of that helps combat the feeling. All impostor syndrome is the idea that someone is going to find out that I’m not good enough and I’m not supposed to be here, but you are. And it’s recognizing that in this industry, we’re all in this together. Art is a collaboration and as long as you’re willing to collaborate and trust yourself, then you are meant to be there. There are going to be times where you fall flat on your face and that’s OK.
MTV News: As both an actor and a musician, what songs do you think would be on Bloom’s playlist?
Cowen: That’s funny because I actually created a playlist for Bloom. I didn’t put too many songs on there, but they’re very random. I have a very random taste in music. How many do you want me to give?
MTV News: As many as you’d like!
Cowen: I wanted some hyping up songs for when she is getting angry and getting intense for her powers. I have “High” by Slow Pulp, “TRNDSTTR (Lucian Remix)” by Black Coast, “Out of My Mind,” by B.O.B (ft. Nicki Minaj), “Take A Chance” by Flume, “Warriors” by Imagine Dragons, “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar, “Go Flex” by Post Malone, “3 Nights” by Dominic Fike, “Classic” by MKTO, “Guardians of the Gate” by audiomachine — a lot of different types of songs. Mumford & Sons because we were in the beautiful plains of Ireland, so I felt like that kind of matched the scenery. Blink-182 is great as well because it kind of brings out the teenage angst in Bloom.
MTV News: Did you listen to this playlist prior to shooting certain scenes?
Cowen: Yeah, I would put my headphones in and listen to these songs before I would shoot certain scenes. Actually, Danny Griffin, who plays Sky, would show me songs and I would show him songs, and then we would listen to them both together on speakers and act out what would happen in those moments. We would speak through those songs, like this is where they would fight! It was so dorky, but music was a very big part of discovering Bloom for sure.
MTV News: Fate: The Winx Saga has a much darker storyline than its predecessor, not unlike your work on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. What is it about these fantasy worlds that inspires you?
Cowen: These types of projects are just fun because there are no limits. You’ll read a script one day and one thing will be happening, and you’ll get the next script and something completely absurd and crazy will be happening but it’s allowed to happen because you’re in a fantasy world. You’re allowed to really use your imagination and that’s really fun for me because I definitely have a huge imagination. I also feel like, with fantasy, it’s a nice escape from reality for a lot of people. It’s fun to dive into another world just for a little bit and forget about the world that we’re in. I think there’s always room for fantasy and for these types of shows because it gives people a break from life, good or bad.
MTV News: What do you hope fans of the original Winx Club series take away from the new, live-action version of the show?
Cowen: I’d first like to say that the Winx audience grew up and so did we; that kind of sums up what Fate is right now. I hope that they can find something within these characters — whichever character it might be — that they can relate to and then love themselves for. I hope that they enjoy it as much as we enjoyed filming it and that it helps them in dealing with the general uncertainty of teenage years, or whatever they’re going through now outside of their teenage years, just by being able to relate to what these characters are dealing with. Even though they have magical powers and there is a magical element to it, there’s a very real element to Fate too. It deals with very real-life problems.
MTV News: Brian Young, the showrunner of Fate: The Winx Saga, said in an interview that one of his favorite things about his work on The Vampire Diaries was that it was “a vampire show that really was just a grounded teen show.” I feel like that aspect carried over in Fate too — yes, there’s a magical element to it, but the journeys each of the five main characters embark on throughout the show are very much human.
Cowen: I think Brian does such a great job of combining the two and keeping it real. If you look at these five girls in the Winx suite, you can relate to at least one of them at that age or even now. Their problems are real — in friendships, in love, in life, and in discovering yourself. We don’t shy away from that in the show; we tell it how it is.
MTV News: In what ways do you relate to Bloom and her journey?
Cowen: In a lot of ways, actually. I see a lot of my younger self in her. I definitely understand, at that age, being 15 or 16 and trying to figure out who you are while also thinking you have a lot of the answers to the world’s problems. She’s very stubborn and hard-headed, and I was the same way — I am the same way. That can bring a lot of issues into your life but can also help you along as a person. She’s trying to find that balance. She’s also dealing with typical teenage issues, which I feel anyone can really relate to: trying to figure out who you are, deal with your insecurities, and find your place in the world.
MTV News: To me, Bloom’s journey is one of self-acceptance. From her family history to her fairy identity, her perception of herself and how she fits in between these two worlds is put to the test throughout the entire show. Did any of it mirror your own path growing up?
Cowen: At that age or maybe a little younger, I was going through a really hard time with bullying from age 11. I was homeschooled my eighth-grade year because I was bullied for having red hair, which was just essentially because I was different and I looked different than everyone else. But at that age you don’t want to feel different; you want to fit in and find your place in the world, and that place is where everyone else is. That forced me to either sink within myself or have this radical self-acceptance, and I chose self-acceptance. It definitely was a journey. It took a very long time and sometimes I still deal with it to this day, but I think that the same goes with Bloom. She’s not being bullied for having red hair, but she’s definitely dealing with accepting who she is and this insane power that she has.
MTV News: That reminds me of a particular scene between Bloom and Sky that really stuck with me where she tells him that she’s someone who “doesn’t need to be fixed,” and he replies that “we’re all broken, but there’s a charm in that too.”
Cowen: I feel like once we start accepting ourselves for who we are and what makes us different, we realize that it’s also what makes us special, beautiful, and powerful. When we do that for ourselves, then we can do that for other people. We can just create a better world where we can accept ourselves and accept others. I like to say that whatever your insecurity is, whatever makes you different, is your superpower. That’s what I had to come to terms with and that was definitely a turning point for me.