Premiering a film at three major festivals — Venice, Telluride, Toronto — in less than two weeks is intense, but considering “First Man” is the third feature-length effort from Oscar-winning wunderkind director Damien Chazelle, the bar was set rather high.
Actress Olivia Hamilton, 31, is along for the wild ride, in more ways than one. She’s part of the cast in the film about Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. As Pat White, wife of astronaut Edward White, Hamilton’s effective supporting turn illustrates the human cost of NASA’s far-reaching space program. She’s also newly wed to Chazelle, her partner of three-and-a-half years.
“First Man,” which stars Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, hits theaters on Friday, and Hamilton is bracing for a potential long awards season ahead. But on this afternoon in her Venice Beach, Calif., pad, she’s barefoot and relaxed as she discusses the real-life character she portrays.
“She starts off incredibly patriotic and supportive and on the team, and her relationship with her husband is like the dream relationship. It’s almost like they were ahead of their time; they had a real partnership,” she said of Pat White. But, as the movie shows in subtle yet wallop-packing fashion, “as a result of the space program I go through a pretty dramatic transformation. So that was the best part about the role.”
Hamilton also literally lived with the project — and its director — for the two years since its inception, so she had a deep understanding of what the movie’s bigger picture was. “That was really helpful because I knew where I fit in, and the tone,” she said.
While she described Chazelle on set as “intense, focused and dramatic,” she said that their off-set relationship made working on the movie easier. “When there’s total trust in the actor-director relationship, it’s the best ground for creativity because I could take risks and be supportive and I knew he would tell me honestly if he needed me to dial it back and vice versa. On top of that, we had all this down time where we could just reflect and talk about the character and play with it,” she said.
While Hamilton has only appeared in a handful of films that have been released thus far (her small but memorable role as Gluten Free Girl in “La La Land” was her first major premiere, also at the Venice Film Festival), she’s been working steadily since she graduated from Princeton, though not in movies.
“I studied economics in college because I knew I was good at it, and I wanted to be a 4.0 student, so I only took classes that were subjective where I could guarantee an ‘A.’ I do love economics, but I sort of had a midlife crisis and decided to quit my job in New York and study acting. It was like a ‘leap and net will appear’ moment.” While she wasn’t able to support herself with her art right away — she tutored economics and did freelance business projects for companies — after she made the indie “Hold Fast, Good Luck,” she knew she’d be able to make it as an actress.
She’s got another indie, “Justine,” written and directed by Stephanie Turner, in the pipeline, and is writing the next installment of her web series “Facetiming With Mommy” while pitching it as a television show (she costars with Calista Flockhart, Ben Stein and Terry Walters). “It’s sort of like a female ‘Seinfeld’ where nothing really happens,” she said.
She also designs theatrical and musical experiences. “I did a production in downtown L.A. called ‘The Silent Play Experiment’ so I have a couple of those in the works. Right now, we are in talks with some shopping malls about how to repurpose those spaces and make them more about building community.” Her musical experience, called Sensorium, had two events over the summer and she’s working on another one with musician Sam Spiegel. “He’s releasing new music, so he produces them and I design the experience with him. The vision long-term is that these can be the new listening party and an alternative to a concert,” she said. “My mission is to get adults to play more.”