In conversation with Olivia Lonsdale

“I know what I’m doing, I know what I want from life, and the need to live up to others’ expectations evaporates.”

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You know us—we’re all about young talents that push boundaries and create the culture we believe in. And the movie enthusiasts that we are, promising new film talents are fully part of the creative community we want to be seen and heard. One emerging actress, whose skill and aura we’ve been hooked on for a while, is Olivia Lonsdale. The Amsterdam-born starlet is steadily making a name for herself throughout the local film scene and beyond. Driven, hard-working and incredibly affable, she’s a creative power you should be on the lookout for. With Olivia currently starring in the #zalandodenim campaign, and ahead of our event in Rotterdam tonight, we sat down with her for a chat on good old school days, getting into character and her experience with Amsterdam’s creative scene.

Hey Olivia! Let’s go back in time. What kind of a school kid were you?

Oh, I was so bad at school, and growing up I didn’t go that well with anyone, which led to a change of schools. And all that at the same time my parents were splitting up. Somehow, however, these experiences gave me a push in terms of being open and having a strong opinion. This boost in terms of personality and creativity was not that good for school though, but I could still get my grades higher through the theatre, music, art and sculpture classes I followed. Surprisingly, I passed my yearly exams, which was something no one really believed I could do. Afterwards, I tried my luck with applying to theatre school, but I didn’t get in. That year, nevertheless, I was able to do my first film. Since then, I haven’t stopped.

Was that creative side of you always there? And what about acting, was it a childhood dream?

My dad’s a landscape architect, my mum’s an art historian, my grandma’s a painter and my grandpa was a writer at the Volkskrant. So, there was always lots of creativity around me, yet never acting in particular. Actually, when I was little I really liked to sing and wanted to become a singer.

But how did you know that acting is what you’re good at?

I still don’t know. Every time I get a role, I read the script, I feel if it fits me and then things happen organically if that particular role was really made for me. Also, it’s only been a year since I think about myself as an “actress”. Recently, when my driver license teacher asked me what I do for a living, I had my first experience of saying that I’m an actress. Before that, I could never even get myself to say it, because it’s not like I go to a job from 9 to 5 and can say: “This is who I am, I work there and I do this and that.” Acting, at least for me, is much more irregular; I film for a certain period of time, I get to live as someone else and then, suddenly, it stops.

What’s unique about you is that you never even went to classic theatre or film school. Would you say acting simply comes naturally to you?

Yes, I did only one practice course, so I’m not “professionally” trained. But I’m quite picky with my roles, they could be about anything and anyone, but they really must fit me. Once I know a role would fit me, I read the script over and over, and at some point I start to think like the person I’m about to play—I might even find myself waving at someone in the way that person would wave. I just truly feel the role and after that it comes naturally.

How do you prepare for a role, what steps do you take to get in character?

I start by reading the script, and during that process I already picture myself being that other person, I sit and talk like them even. But I’ve found that clothes are actually the most important thing when it comes to getting in character. I find it interesting how they can totally change the person you are.

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🧘🏽‍♀️ 📷/ @tommynlance

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What’s a film for which clothes played a huge role in the process of you getting in character?

Four years ago, I played a girl who was really insecure about her body, and I got to wear these super skinny jeans and ugly sneakers. That made me feel very uptight and uncomfortable, and I even said I simply didn’t want to wear those clothes. But in the end, the awkwardness that the clothes made me feel showed perfectly on screen, and it fit my role and the entire film as a whole.

When a film is done, how do you measure for yourself if it’s a success or not? 

When I first started out my agent said to me:“Olivia, when you do a film, there are three main things—fun, prestige and money—and you need to have at least two of those to go for it.” After a while, however, I thought, No, if I go for it, I want to have all of them. Nevertheless, money’s definitely last when it comes to these three parts of making a film, because I’ve experienced that projects with the least money turn out the best in the end. For me, fun is first, then prestige and, at last, money. Of course you need money to survive, but having a good time on set, waking up and feeling that I’m doing something meaningful—that makes for a successful project.

Do you see yourself more in low-budget independent films, or is a big production project the goal? How do you manage these two aspects?

I would love to do big productions, but that also means my work will sometimes include things I’d have to do that I don’t necessarily like. But I’m ready for that! I do know that if I want to keep doing what I do, I will occasionally need to go into bigger productions. I try combining these two aspects nonetheless—having one or two big things in a year helps me have the money and time to do other smaller and more independent, art-house projects that I really love.

Is there a film, regardless if it’s big or small, you wish you’d been the lead character in?

Blue Valentine. I mean, I wouldn’t say I connect to the lead character’s life in a personal way, but since it’s a role about very human emotions around growing up, having sex, being rejected, and so on, I think I’d be able to embody that.

Do you like seeing yourself act on screen?

No! It’s the same with interviews too. I read them at least two or three weeks later. I can’t stand the feeling of reading about myself, or watching a film I’m in, whilst knowing that other people might be doing it at the same time as well. Of course, there’s the premiere, or I might go see the film with friends whom I know would like it, but once a project is done, it’s in the past and I simply move on to the next thing.

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🌹 PISA 🌷 @lucasrhee

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Do you ever feel pressured to keep up a certain image when in public or online? How do you deal with expectations?

I feel absolutely no pressure to keep up any image. It definitely helps that I grew up in Amsterdam, however, because I already know a lot of people, and they also know me; they know how I am, how I dress and what I like to do. Throughout the years, I’ve kept my close friends, and also, with going out or partying, in the city people can simultaneously have their jobs yet party a lot, and that’s OK. There’s no pressure to live up to anything that you’re not. I also just know what I’m doing, I know what I want from life, and hence the need to live up to others’ expectations evaporates.

You grew up in Amsterdam, what’s your experience with the film scene here? What are your observations on local creative communities overall?

I wouldn’t say that I’m that involved with the film scene itself. I mean, I do have friends who act, direct and so on, but I’m not only hanging out in film circles. I’ve known most of my friends since high school and that’s the people I still see every week. But I do feel that in Amsterdam there’s a bit of a competitive side to the film scene. My boyfriend is a DJ for example, and whenever he goes to Red Light Radio, he bumps into all these nice, friendly people that play each other’s tracks or show support online. But in the film scene, there’s a bit less of that support.

Have you found yourself confronted with competition for roles?

Personally, no. But that’s because I’m aware when a role is made for me and when it’s not. If I don’t get a role, well then I’m simply not the girl for that film. Maybe it’s my hair colour, maybe it was the audition that sucked. Nevertheless, I simply accept that whichever role is made for me will sooner or later come my way. I never let competition get to my head, because even if I don’t work for a year, so what? I still have my friends, I can go travelling, and also—honestly—I’m always doing something anyway.

Speaking of always doing something, next to film, you’ve become the face of brands and cultural institutions, such as Musemnacht, recently. How do you pick and choose what projects you want to be part of? Is there something you always consider before going for something?

I always look at the creatives behind the project. If I feel like the team behind the scenes and their vision would fit mine, then I go for it. And I also love Museumnacht! I love the idea and people behind it. You see, if it was a football campaign or something, I wouldn’t necessarily vibe with the concept, but when it’s a cultural or art thing I support, then it speaks to me.

Do you also play a role when doing these campaigns and side projects, or you take them on as Olivia?

I’m definitely Olivia. I don’t want to model in anything that boxes me in someone’s vision of how I should be in those particular clothes, poses or atmosphere. No—I’m styled nicely and the images are beautiful, but I’m still me.

Words by Valkan Dechev

Photography: Jasper Rens van Es for #zalandodenim

Styling: Lisa Dymph Megens—House of Orange

Hair and make-up: Suzanne Verberk—NCL Representation 

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