Keeping It in the Family
Actress Emeraude Toubia will go to great lengths for family.
To actress Emeraude Toubia, it all boils down to spending time with family – even if that time includes hunting demons with an older brother.
In Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, a new television series based on the young adult Mortal Instruments book franchise,
Toubia plays whip-wielding Isabelle “Izzy” Lightwood. Izzy, and her brother, Alec, are Shadowhunters, incredible supernatural warriors that keep the world safe from the dark forces of the Shadow World. Izzy and her team are also charged with helping Clary Fray, the Shadowhunters’ latest recruit, find and save Cassandra’s mother.
Toubia was born and raised in Brownsville, a border town in south Texas. Border towns are worlds within and between worlds, something that helped Toubia prepare for a role of a demon hunter that simultaneously exists in a supernatural Shadow World and a mundane, human one.
“My mom is Mexican and my dad’s Lebanese. I have a little bit of both worlds. I have the family values from the Latino side, and, living in the U.S., I get to live free and open and have a good life. I get to appreciate both worlds.”
Toubia’s family values manifest themselves in her portrayal of Isabelle in an interesting way. “What I bring to [the role of Isabel]e is that she’s close to her family,” says Toubia. “It’s her humble beginnings, that she’s willing to risk her life for her family. It’s those strong powerful family values I’m bringing to the character.”
Wasting no time in bringing her parents with her onto the set, Toubia would not have guessed at her father’s reaction when his unfamiliarity with television production led to a surprising and humorous situation.
“We were shooting one scene for about half a day, so my dad asked, ‘Are you doing something wrong, because they keep doing the scene over and over again. What’s happening?’ So I said, ‘No, Dad. That’s how it works. We shoot a long shot, a wide shot, and then close-ups.’ My dad was really worried and asked, ‘Are you doing anything wrong? What’s going on?’”
Accepting the role of Isabelle placed Toubia in the enviable position of entering a series with a loving built-in fan base. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series has spawned a number of sequels, a film adaptation, and the current Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments television show.
But even a briefing by the show’s and network producers had not prepared Toubia for the expectations by the franchise’s devoted following. “The fans have been amazing! It’s so nice to have so much passion for something. It makes me want to do my best and work hard for them.”
Toubia was quickly moved by how fans greeted her at a recent convention. “[The franchise] has changed their lives. It’s a big responsibility to prove to them we are trying our best. [Playing Isabel]e is a dream come true for me, and the show is doing its best for them.”
The world of Mortal Instruments was initially unfamiliar territory for Toubia. Wary of risking rejection at her audition, she instead chose to focus on her audition scene for Isabelle before delving headfirst into the franchise’s mythology.
But once she accepted the role, she devoured the first novel. “I ended up reading the first book and totally understand why there are so many fans of these characters. But to avoid getting confused about what was happening in the books and the TV show, I stopped.”
However, she does ensure that the Shadowhunters’ adventures will adhere closely to the preset path presented in the novels – but with a slight twist. “We are staying true to the books, but going to places they never did, have little adventures. The fans are really going to appreciate that. We still get from point A to point B, just like the book does.”
The opportunity to play a strong woman drew Toubia to Isabelle and to the supernatural genre. She sees Isabelle as a fully realized super-heroine existing in a limitless and imaginative world.
“I think it’s awesome and I love the fact that you have all these powerful women [in the supernatural genre]. You see it in our show and in shows like Supergirl. I think that women, in general, are super-heroes. And the character of Isabelle is so rich. Even though she’s a girly-girl who loves to wear make-up and look pretty, she knows there are more important things in this life.”
Toubia continues, explaining, “I love the fact she is so selfless and willing to risk her life for her family. You see that in the first episode, that she’ll risk her life. She’ll put what she loves the most aside, you’ll see that in the rest of the season, in what she does for her brother. I feel like that’s why I look up to her, and that’s why she’s a role model.”
Playing Isabelle is something Toubia finds physically demanding and rewarding. “Who knew that my dance training would come in handy since it’s really fight choreography? People think [when I’m] fighting I’m really punching someone, but no, it’s choreography.”
She continues, “We have a stunt coordinator and a trainer. It’s something we would do every day of the week. And every time there was a fight, we would rehearse for two to three days, even though you see only a few seconds of it onscreen.”
On the subject of what she would like to see in store for Isabelle, Toubia had this to say: “What I would like for her to focus on in the second season is looking at what she wants for herself. She already fought for her brother. He finally feels comfortable in his own skin and open up about whom he loves. I feel the second season should look at what Isabelle wants for herself. I would love for that to happen.”
As for her own future, Toubia would appreciate a chance to act in a period piece. “I would love be in a movie set in the past where I’d get to play with different costumes. I would also love to be in a Disney movie - maybe play a Disney princess. There’s so much I’d love to do with my career. I’m still learning and training. That’s something you never stop doing.”
Toubia quickly returns the subject to the importance of family. “I’ve been very blessed. My mom is number one fan, and she’s always pushed me to jump [into things], and to not be afraid of jumping. She told me never to stop. She always pushed me to go harder, and that as long as I worked hard for what I wanted, I would achieve what I wanted.
"That is something I would tell young girls. Whatever they want to be, if they want to be a teacher or a doctor, as long they work hard for what they want and prepare themselves, they can achieve it.”
Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments airs Tuesdays at 9 PM ET/PT on Freeform.