Young rising star Olivia Edward plays Duke in FX "Better Things," a TV series about an actress trying to make it in Hollywood while raising her three daughters.
Olivia, what is it like being so young in this industry? Any advice for upcoming young actors/actresses that you would give?
I’m extremely grateful to have been able to start in this industry at a young age because I’ve been able to learn so much. Not just about how everything within the industry works but also a lot about acting, screen-writing, and the audition process. I feel like the best advice I can give for upcoming young actors/actresses is to stay resilient. A lot of the time whenever this question comes up people want to know if being in this industry at a young age can have a negative impact on you, specifically with self-esteem and confidence. And the answer is simple: only if you let it. When I first started going out for different projects I was taught to never use the word audition because it insinuates that you were trying to see if you were good enough for the role, rather than if you fit the role. The best phrase to follow is “you’re a perfect circle, not a square”. In this industry you will always get a billion “no’s” before you get a “yes” and that’s ok, it’s just important to make sure that you don’t equate your worth to how an “audition” goes or whether or not you booked a role. Basically, I define my value, not an external stranger. Hence, the “you’re a perfect circle, not a square” because you may be a really good circle, maybe even one of the best, but you can’t fit into the shape of a square if they are looking for a square.
You have been in the Better Things Series for 5 seasons, how have you changed since season 1?
I can certainly say that I’ve grown a couple of inches since season 1. I feel like I’ve grown up on the show. This show has been 7 years of my life and I started when I had just turned 8 years old. Now I’m 15. I definitely can say that I know a lot more now about how to keep my acting genuine, character driven, how to analyze a script, and how much work it takes to make a show. So, the biggest way that I’ve changed since season 1 would be from all the experience of seasons 2-5. I remember some of my first days on set and feeling like I was a kid in a candy store. Everything was so fascinating and I was almost in a state of awe to actually be on a T.V set. I had just been introduced to Duke and was still figuring out how to play her character. I didn’t really know her yet. Now, I’ve come to know Duke not just as a character but also as a part of me.
What is your favorite part about a part of this cast/series?
My favorite aspect of this series is being able to work with the cast and crew. What makes this show feel so personal and genuine is the fact that the atmosphere on set is super relaxed and homey. It really does just feel like a second family not just with the cast but with the crew as well. There have been a ton of crew members that worked on the show from start to finish and I couldn’t be more grateful to have been able to work with each and every one of them. Without them, the show wouldn’t be the show. As for the cast, the bonds and connections that you see in the show itself isn’t artificial. I’ve found that when you spend so much time with a group of people just acting like a family and doing family things together, you begin to become one.
I’ve also been able to learn a lot from this show. A major part of what I’ve learned has come from Pamela Adlon (who stars, directs, writes, and produces the show). She is an absolute force on set and a genius in the writer’s room. Just watching her work feels like a masterclass but to actually be in a scene with her and feel how she controls the energy and guides it in the way that she wants for the story is something that I always felt fortunate to be able to do.
Does your character Duke remind you of yourself in any ways? Is that the part you auditioned for?
Duke was the original part that I went out for and I remember doing one self-tape and two in person appointments for the part before getting the role. I still remember how much I instantly liked Pamela when I met her. Right after meeting her in person I remember saying to my mom “she’s so cool, like I feel like I want to hang out with her.” Safe to say not much has changed since then in that area. I think that as the seasons have gone on both Duke and I have developed and evolved in different ways so our similarities and differences did too. I used to think that I didn’t have much in common with Duke because our styles were completely different, our communication style was completely different, our lives were completely different, etc.. And then in season 2, Duke’s character got another layer when she saw her dead grandfather in her room one night and we find out that Duke is psychic and has a lot of intuitive abilities. As soon as that happened, Duke’s character became a lot more personal to me because I grew up surrounded with the subject matter of energies and life after death . Once that element of Duke being sensitive to the energies around her was added into the storyline, we began to become more similar than different as time went on.
Tell us what made you become an actress? Who is your inspiration? Why?
Performance has always been my second language. I’ve never really had to think about it, it just always felt like an instinctual way to express myself (whether that was through acting, singing, writing, or dancing). Because of that, I can’t really say I ever made the decision to pursue this, it's just always been that way. There is one particular moment however when I brought this to my parent’s attention. I had to have been around 3 years old. I was sitting in my parent’s room when a GAP kids commercial came on with all the kids dancing and having a good time. When my dad walked into the room I just pointed to the t.v and said “why am I not there?”. My dad assumed I was talking about wanting to play with the other kids so he said “you mean having fun with all of the other kids?” and I responded with “No, why am I not on T.V?” Just like that, acting became my life.
I have a lot of different inspirations for different things. Pamela obviously has been a HUGE inspiration to me over the years and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to work with her and learn a lot about how she does what she does. Another big one would be Lucille Ball. I’ve always loved watching I Love Lucy and after watching Being The Ricardos I was reminded of how much I admire her and the way she worked. For singing specifically, one of my biggest idols is Kristen Chenowith, who I was fortunate enough to get to sing with on stage at the Tilles Center when I was 8. I knew every word to the song “Girl in 14 G” by age 5 and “Popular” from the Musical Wicked was probably my most frequented song.
What is your favorite movie that you could watch over and over again?
My favorite movie (at the moment) that I actually HAVE been watching over and over again ever since I’ve first seen it is Being The Ricardos. I just love every aspect of the movie. I think a big part of why I’m so obsessed with this movie is because it has a lot to do with what goes into making a show and some of the behind-the-scenes things that a lot of people don’t see. I also love how authoritative and detail-oriented Lucille Ball (who was incredibly portrayed by Nicole Kidman) was in the movie because I’ve found that I tend to obsess over trying to get small beats or lines in a scene to be perfect so to see Lucy do the same thing was pretty cool. Every single time I’ve watched it I’ve taken something new from it, whether it be a subtle detail or a different perspective.
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