VULKAN Interview: Olivia Vinall

From the VULKAN Magazine Interview Archive:

You’ll be appearing in The Woman in White. What do you find most compelling about period dramas?

I think it is the combination of immersing yourself in the lives of people from a bygone time and seeing and feeling how their struggles are relatable and universal, how little things actually change and how we are all connected, no matter how much time separates us. They can hold a mirror up to past mistakes and hopefully show us how to break the cycle and live a more progressive life. As an actress it is wonderful to be in an environment completely different to your own and investigate how people once lived and how the fundamental struggles of being human haven’t changed.

Who is Laura Fairlie & what does she add to the story?

Laura Fairlie is an orphan who lives with her half sister and best friend Marian at her Uncle’s estate. Both of their fathers and their mother have died and Laura’s Uncle is now her guardian. Laura’s father left her with money which she will have access to when she turns 18 (whereas her sister Marian has none). Unlike her sister she has never travelled and lived most of her life at Limmeridge and had a very isolated upbringing. She sees the world in a very particular way as she has kind of synesthesia which makes her sensitive and distances her from others perspectives. The story unfolds around the pressures for women to survive and live in a certain way in accordance to the men around them who so often have the control to dictate how their lives must be because of the lack of their own economic power at the time. 

The original novel was written in 1859 and has had several adaptations since then. What makes this adaption special?

To be honest I have never seen any of the other adaptations but what felt particularly special working on this is the way our director Carl Tibbetts has approached it. He was clear from the beginning he didn’t want to just think of it as a period drama so as to distance ourselves from it as a time gone by but to see it for what it is, brutal, haunting, deceptive… He wanted to approach it as a psychological thriller in the vain of Rosemary’s Baby or Repulsion which immediately had my interest. I think the way it is shot by the brilliant Eben Bolter our DOP is very exciting, they created together a visual way of really quite forensically looking into the minds of each of the characters through extreme closeups and exploring perspective. 

In the series, you will be portraying two characters, that of Laura as mentioned already, and the Woman in White herself. Was it always set out that one actress would play both parts?

This is the first time they have used the same actress to play both parts and is what drew me to the project. The drama unfolds around the two looking alike enough to be confused as the other and so I hope it will make it more realistic for an audience. It was brilliant to explore the two, inside and out and develop with the design team the ways to find variety visually – which did mean I spent many months of this year with bleached eyebrows which was interesting.. !

I imagine it is challenging to jump between roles, what are some you faced in this production?

One of the most memorable days of the shoot for me was when the two characters meet. I worked with a body double to mirror my moves for each. It was just the two characters meeting you felt so fully part of the creation of that moment and scene. It was a wonderful challenge to be in one mindset looking at a character who’s head you are also inside of. It was challenging though as I had to film all one character first and also at the same time be deciding how the other would react physically to this so that the body double could do the moves which I then had to stick to when we turned around, so it became almost like a dance and being the choreographer. 

In what way do you think the production is better served by having one actress play both roles?

Their visual similarities are so intrinsic to the plot that I hope it will serve the story and an audiences understanding and enjoyment. I want an audience to see the two women in the way the other characters do and follow their confusion and bemusement and believe it that as much as possible without thinking ‘ Oh what they look nothing alike ‘ or ‘ obviously they’re different people!’ – though we’ll have to wait and see .. ! 

It’s considered to be one of the first (and best) true mystery novels. Do you have a favourite mystery novel or mystery writer you follow?

When I first read it before the project started I had no idea how much I would enjoy it and honestly it is a brilliant novel, I could hardly put it down and was swept along with the story and mystery from the opening pages. My great-grandpa Brian Flynn wrote over 50 detective / mystery novels so they’ve always grabbed my attention. Though when I was little I used to think he was Sherlock Holmes and would tell everyone at school that’s who my great-grandpa was. 

How was working with director Carl Tibbetts? I loved his work on Black Mirror.

It was brilliant. I’m a big fan of Black Mirror too and after meeting him initially and after he described how he wanted to approach the story and his influences I was so keen to be involved. He suggested a few films for me to watch that were references for him, or part of his visual mood board, like Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion and I watched them all back to back and they completely got under my skin. I think he doesn’t want to shirk away from the reality of the darkness of the story and terror of the situations that occur – they are key to the novel and I think Carl is a fantastic director to bring them out. 

You’ll also be portraying Hermine in the film Where Hands Touch. What is Hermine’s involvement?

Hermine is a German girl who’s family have been taken to a concentration camp and she has become separated from them with the knowledge that they have been killed in the incinerators. She has been selected to work at the labour camp and not killed immediately because of her age and health and so is forced to work along with the rest of the women who have been kept alive for this reason. Bonds between individuals would happen quickly as it was a means of survival if you could get each other food or keep each other warm, you needed allies and she finds one in Lena.  

What was the most interesting or shocking thing you’ve learned while preparing for this role? / 11 The film follows a bi-racial teen in Nazi Germany. In what ways would you say the film highlights struggles that we are still facing as a society today? 

Any research into this period and the reality of the happenings is completely harrowing and distressing. I think it is important to educate ourselves and confront ourselves with what humans are capable of so that nothing like it ever, ever occurs again. I think many of these feelings are still around in our world and it is unbelievable to me. It makes me aware how important it is to try and live each moment from a place of kindness and empathy and knowing that we are all human, with no hierarchy and to see what positive things we could achieve by working together not against one another. 

What might you say to those who, in 2017, still don’t believe people can love whomever they wish?

Life is so short, so fleeting, so intangible. Who is anyone to say or dictate how any other human or being can or cannot live. What could be more wonderful and powerful than love, why not live your life with open hearts and minds and celebrate and enjoy its beauty while you can. What does hate and intolerance really bring you? …That or f*ck off. 

What is it you love most about live theatre?

Being in a moment, in the same space and air as a group of people who collectively are with you on a journey over a few hours. Feeling that energy and having a very real very alive experience, to feel that response in the moment, for me there is nothing quite like it. 

Can we expect you’ll be making your return to the stage soon?

I hope so, though I’m really enjoying exploring the world of film and also creating the feeling of live theatre in that process. So much of stage work is the imagination, making yourself and an audience believe you are in a certain time or place or environment whereas actually being on a heath, in the sun or rain, smelling the sea while you film, being on incredibly designed sets where every detail transports you into that world… it’s a real joy.

What is one thing currently outstanding that you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

To run a theatre company

What advice might you give young girls heading out for their first audition?

Don’t listen to anyone who tries to stereotype you or put you in a box. Ignore the people who say ‘ oh we have plenty of.. blah blah blonde blue pink green actresses’ are you, that is what you bring and no one can ever define you or compare you. Have the courage of your convictions and stick to your beliefs. Value the process.

Which historical figure would you be most interested in portraying in the future?

I’ve always loved silent movies, especially Charlie Chaplin’s and think Lillian Gish’s life was so interesting. She performed in theatre, movies and television and was the same age as film as they both came into the world in 1893. She said in an interview, “I didn’t care about being a beauty, I wanted to be an actress. When I was in the movies, I didn’t care what I looked like, except for that image up there on the screen. I wanted to create beauty when it was necessary; that’s an inner thing. But if all you have is a facade, it isn’t interesting.” I’d be interested in exploring what life was like for her.

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