A goal without a plan is a wish, but sometimes, winging it is part of the plan. And that’s exactly what Stefania LaVie Owen is doing. Fresh off of her role in Katie Holmes’ directorial debut “All We Had,” Owen is appearing alongside “Manchester by the Sea” star Lucas Hedges in MCC Theater’s adaptation of “Yen.”
How does one land a role in Anna Jordan’s Bruntwood Prize-winning play? Years of theater study? Not necessarily.
“I’ve never ever done theater before, not even at school,” Owen admits.
Born in Miami and raised in New Zealand, Owen fell in love with New York while doing publicity for the TV series “Chance” starring Hugh Laurie. She was meant to go back to New Zealand after her stay, but became so enamored with the Big Apple that she decided a change of plans was in order. She found an apartment in Brooklyn, moved in about three months ago and decided she’d figure the rest out.
So far, so good — especially since the move allowed her to pursue a part in an off-Broadway play.
“Yen” centers around two teenage brothers who stay home all day, watching porn and playing video games in their dirty apartment. Owen plays Jenny, a charismatic young girl who enters the brothers’ world after trying to save their dog. The play explores the theme of brotherhood, as well as what happens when kids are left to their own devices — apparently they play too many video games and watch too much porn.
There are only four characters in the play, so Owen and her castmates have become quite close. “It’s my first play, so I’m learning as I go, but it’s so nice to have people who I can reach out to and feel comfortable with,” she says, adding that Hedges in particular makes her laugh. “He’s always thinking about other people and making sure that we’re all comfortable and OK,” she says. “He’s also so talented and I’m learning so much from him just by the way that he analyzes his character and his process as an actor.”
Though she’d been acting for years, there was one thing about theater she had to get used to: the live audience.
“When we did our first preview, I freaked out because having the audience there just changes the whole show,” she says. “But after a great discussion with my sister, she put me straight and said, ‘Don’t have any expectation. Don’t compare your performance to any other night or any other day. Be present, have fun, give off everybody else and that’s all you can do. The audience is seeing it for the first time, so enjoy the ride.’”
In “All We Had,” Owen played Ruthie, the 14-year-old daughter of Rita Carmichael (Holmes), a struggling alcoholic with no income who slowly turns her life around after unintentionally landing a job as a waitress. She saw working with Holmes as an educational experience. Plus, she gained a friend.
“[Holmes has] been the most supportive person, especially during this transition where I’ve moved out of my home, I’m not in New Zealand anymore,” she says. “She always calls me up, she sends me books and stuff that I should read. She’s been not only influential during ‘All We Had,’ but since we filmed, she’s been so amazing.”
Her favorite memory from filming was actually an off-camera, self-assigned project. She recruited her fellow cast and crew members to dance and sing in a homemade music video set to Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love.” Jay Z’s verse was reserved especially for Holmes.
Aside from seeing her friends, Owen decompresses by doing yoga and dancing, which reminds her of her mother, a dance teacher. “Me and my sisters grew up performing on stage,” she explains. “I always loved the feeling of performing in front of people and that adrenaline rush when you’re on stage and you’re feeling the audience.” Her older sister, Carly, was in 2007’s “Bridge to Terabithia.”
Owen has a few potential projects brewing for “Yen” wraps, but for now, she’s just going with the flow. She also seems to have her sights set on traveling to France, specifically to Chamonix. Whether that’s a goal or a wish remains uncertain. Either way, she’ll probably figure it out.
“Yen” premieres at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Jan. 31 and will run until Feb. 19.