Being Penny: A Conversation with Olivia Newton for the Release of The Worst Planet On Earth
Olivia Newton is a Nottingham based actor and BAFTA winning Television Workshop alumni. Since returning to acting she has been working widely with parts in CBBC’s Jamie Johnson, the feature film The Devil Outside and National TV advertising campaigns.
After the success of her first short film lead in Catharsis, Olivia is set for her first comedy lead in The Worst Planet On Earth where she stars as Penny directed by Joe and Lloyd Stas and executive produced by Sam Raimi.
The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali caught up with Olivia ahead of the release of The Worst Planet On Earth, we talk about her desire to be in a Period Drama, being a fan of Jane Austen and what made her return to Acting…
If we go back to the beginning, was there a defining moment for you to get into the Film Industry?
It is hard to pinpoint because as a child, I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to act. That began very early. I was lucky enough to get in to the BAFTA award winning Television Workshop so I began working in the film industry as a child and had quite a lot of high profile auditions and a lead in a kids TV show but then I walked away from the industry when I was 15. I had a lot of reasons but basically, I think it all became very real and that is a lot for a 15 year old.
I can pinpoint the moment I decided to come back though. I had had a difficult couple of years, had a baby, struggled with my mental health and left my teaching career. I was on a long car journey and I was talking to my husband about the last thing that had really made me happy and I realised it was acting… and I needed to return to it.
You have The Worst Planet on Earth coming out, what can you tell us about your character and where you fit into the story?
My character is Penny, a disgraced astronaut who was sent on a mission to explore a wormhole (probably just to get rid of her!) She finds herself back on Earth but in the future when humanity is extinct and Earth is pretty rubbish and full of the scum of the universe. She has one friend, Cola the useless wizard, and together they try to find a way to get Penny back home.
Worst Planet on Earth was shot over 2 weekends and the filming schedule was quite tight because we had a lot of locations. There was a lot of running to get the drone shots right and it is not very easy to run across rocky terrain in Doc Martens but it is even harder in a full wizard costume as Micheal Muyunda who plays Cola will tell you! Plus when you are using a drone you don’t have a full crew present to explain what is going on. I am sure some of the ramblers were pretty shocked when an astronaut and a very clumsy wizard dashed past them.
The Worst Planet on Earth has Sam Raimi onboard to Executive Produce, how did that collaboration come about?
Joe and Lloyd, the directors of the film, have been working with Sam for a while on another project and they pitched him the idea for The Worst Planet on Earth and he loved it and jumped onboard with his producing partner, Debbie (who was a producer on South Park). It’s very exciting.
What is your preferred genre, and do you have any favourite films?
I will watch most things but not horror. I enjoy acting in it, in fact I have just been working on a horror short with a Nottingham based director, but I don’t have nerves to watch it! There aren’t many films that I have sat down to watch again and again, The Princess Bride is one though. We used some of the iconic locations from The Princess Bride in The Worst Planet on Earth so look out for some of those.
Are there any other aspects of the Film Industry that you would like to pursue?
The world of behind the camera amazes me like a magic show! I love finding out more about it but I don’t think it will ever really be my where my talents lie. I love being in front of the camera and if learning more about film-making can inform that then that is great but I think all I really want to do is act.
You have an eclectic range of credits from Short Films to TV, are there any genres that you haven’t done yet that you’d like to?
I love having eclectic taste and an eclectic CV. The more variety the better! I would love to do period drama soon though. Some of the classic characters are wonderful to play, not to mention the costumes! I am also hoping to do more theatre but that might be a few years away yet.
You’ve worked with a great crop of talent, do you have a wish list of who you’d like to work with?
I have been really lucky that Nottingham has a thriving community of talent. There are several directors and production companies that I am speaking to about working with when the time is right. In terms of acting talent though, nothing gives me more joy than working with Television Workshop alumni. I am lucky that I grew up surrounded by acting talent such as Vicky McClure and Joe Dempsie so it would be amazing to act alongside them again.
Who inspires you within the industry?
Today I am going to have to be cliché and say Olivia Colman. Her Oscar win is so inspiring to other British actors, especially women. Her CV is so diverse and so obviously shows that she has grafted and made leaps of faith and pushed herself outside of her comfort zone or where others wanted to place her. She worked and, even when her face didn’t quite fit, she worked harder. She is a testament to what talent and determination can do and she has done it without ever losing her charm.
Fandoms are a big part of the industry, who or what are you a fan of?
Fandoms are a foreign idea to me! I am not really even sure what they involve but I guess if it means being into slightly niché things in a big way then my thing is Dog Instagram. I follow loads of cute dogs on Insta and I am totally one of those odd people that wander around Instagram pretending to be my dog! My dog has over 11k followers… so many more than me! It is quite a relaxing little world though, everyone is nice on dog Instagram.
Is there a book that you are a fan of that hasn’t been adapted to film or TV or Netflix yet that you’d love to be a part of?
I am a big Austen fan and although there have been plenty of adaptions before I would really love to play Emma. She is so perfectly flawed and yet so endearing. I would love to do a period piece, but the story is so universal and translates so well it could fit in any time- look at Clueless!
With the emergence of streaming services like Netflix, what do you think the future of Cinema is?
I honestly have no idea but people have been acting and telling stories a lot longer than there has been cinema and my guess is it will go on in one way or another. Filmmaking will evolve but people will always want to be told stories and be invited to empathise and use their imagination. I guess to an actor it doesn’t really matter where that happens, in a cinema, at home on the sofa, in a theatre, in the street- it is all just showing people a compelling story.
Keep up-to-date with Olivia Newton on Facebook and Instagram: @OliviaNewtonActor.