In the challenging, disorderly, and often relentless landscape of Hollywood, those that make it do so not just through raw talent, but also a sheer dedication to their craft. Maria Sten, the multifaceted actor best known for her compelling portrayal of Frances Neagley in hit series Reacher, knows this better than most. 

A former professional gymnast and dancer, Maria Sten is now a standout name in acting, writing and directing circles. Chatting to Student Pages, Maria delves into her journey within the industry so far, shedding light on her approach to character development, her experiences on set, and the invaluable lessons she’s learned along the way.

Behind the character: Reacher’s Francis Neagley

The appeal of Francis Neagley was something that posed more questions than usual for Maria – an intrigue that she just couldn’t let slip.

“I read all the books, and there was just something interesting about her,” Sten tells Student Pages. “She was this very tough woman, and she was very skilled. But other than that, she was just different. And she was a little bit socially awkward and had a hard time I think really belonging in the world.” 

Fuelled by a sense of purpose to represent the character in the truest sense, for Maria, it was all about going one step further – delving deeper to truly understand the life and DNA of Francis Neagley. It’s ultimately this extra level of dedication to the craft that sets the likes of Maria Sten apart, as she reflects: “For me, it was about diving into her psyche… ‘Why is she afraid of being touched?’ ‘Why has she trained her body to become a weapon?’ And what is this relationship between her and Reacher?’ That’s the part of my job that I really love: character development.” 

Of course, in the world of acting, being able to truly relate to a character goes a long way – and for Maria Sten, it was this exact skill that enabled her to represent Francis Neagley so authentically. Discussing the parallels of herself and Francis, Maria highlights the unique ways she was able to connect to the character. 

“She’s a woman who doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve,” says the actress. “She’s a quite guarded person, which I can definitely relate to… She’s such a physical person as well, she’s a very skilled fighter, and does a lot to make sure that she can wield her body as a weapon for a multitude of reasons.” 

Although Maria admits she’s not a born fighter like her character, she does find similarity through her past vocations, connecting with Neagley on an emotional level to breathe life into her complexities and add a deeper level of authenticity to her performances.

“I was a gymnast and also a dancer professionally for a number of years, so I’m very used to using my body as a tool for creative and physical expression,” Sten reflects.

Method acting: mastering the art of action

When it comes to her craft, Maria Sten doesn’t do things by half. Bringing an all-or-nothing attitude to her roles, she immerses herself fully. From intense character connections to daring stunts, Maria tells us she happily throws herself in the deep end, expressing her gratitude to those who make it all possible.

Speaking of her experiences performing stunts, she reflects on her past experiences: “I had a little bit of kickboxing training when I was a teenager. But other than that, we work with a great stunt team when we shoot, and they choreograph all of the fight sequences for us. We do have a significant amount of training to be able to execute all that… most of the cast members, myself included, love doing our own stunts. 

We want to give it our all. So we definitely put in time to make sure that we get all the choreography right. And of course, our stunt people won’t allow us to do it if they don’t feel that we’re comfortable doing it. So it’s great that they have that trust in us.” 


From past to present, and looking ahead… 

With plans for season three already underway, Reacher has established itself as a firm mainstayer on our screens. Reflecting on the show’s success and why its latest instalment has resonated so deeply with audiences, Maria tells us it’s a combination of plot and character refinement.

“I think the success of season two comes from the widening of the worlds really,” she shares. “We get to know the background of Reacher well, understanding that he had these people he cared tremendously about.”

Looking ahead, Sten teases: “As we move towards season three, new things will happen, and new people will appear…. Getting to know all of our characters is helpful in terms of how we can relate to Reacher and care about him.” 

Shifting focus from the present to the past, Maria reflects on her journey into acting, tracing back to her childhood experiences.

“I think I’ve always sort of been flirting with acting a little bit. I did a play when I was five or six… I did The Three Musketeers, but it wasn’t a serious thing,” reflects the Reacher actress. “I started taking acting classes in my teens, but I was really focused on dance at the time. Then I went to music, because I also write and sing, and then I decided ‘okay, now I need to really try acting and commit to it and see how I feel about it’.”

Embracing her newfound dedication, Sten acknowledges the depth of character exploration as a driving force behind her passion for acting. 

 “As soon as I did that, I realised this was always my love,” she tells Student Pages. “I think it comes out of a deep need for self-expression. It’s a place where you can sort of put all your stuff and you can let it out in this medium. I’m very curious about life and about people, so for me, being an actor is a way that I get to live many, many lives in one lifetime.”

The gift that keeps on giving: acting and the power of connection

Outside of immersing herself in a variety of different roles and perspectives, Maria highlights that the most rewarding aspect of an acting career lies in the meaningful connections you make along the way, and the profound impact these relationships can have.

“I think it’s so wonderful to get to come into these different families when you’re working on different projects and meet people and have a good time,” beams the actress. “It’s a very intimate process to go and film something. Creating bonds beyond just co-workers, you become friends. It’s such a gift.”

Looking into the world of Reacher, Sten tells us it’s the connections she formed on set that offered a sense of warmth and escape when it mattered most. 

“I love our cast, both from season one and season two,” says the actress. “Even in brutal conditions, like season two was shooting in the winter outside at night in Canada in 40 below, we had our camaraderie, and we were this family that kept each other going. It made it easier to be able to withstand the conditions because we had fun.” 

Despite not believing in regret, which is a valuable skill in itself, Sten offers priceless advice – not just for those trying to pursue a career in the world of acting – but for anyone simply trying to find clarity and purpose on their way through life.

“If you have a dream and a goal and you work really, really hard for it, you shouldn’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” advises the actress. “I know that’s such a cliche, but I really do believe that. I came to the US when I was 18. I’m from Denmark, and I left all of my friends and family behind and came here alone. When I first decided I was going to be an actor, I was getting great feedback, but I wasn’t landing roles. Then I realised that, you know, I’m European, I’m a woman of colour, but I’m not American. I felt when I first started out they didn’t know which box to place me in.”

Underscoring the urgency of seizing control of your own destiny, Maria highlights that the world won’t wait for us – and ultimately, the power lies in our own hands. 

Gabriella Wieland
Author: Gabriella Wieland

Gabriella Wieland is a writer and English Literature graduate. She spends most of her time trying to keep her mini-poppadom obsession at bay and finding adventures of the ‘free’ variety. Residing in Manchester, she also spends much of her time liaising with scientists to find a geographical cure for eternally-grey skies and Vitamin D deficiency.