On paper, Leila George should’ve been the leading starlet of a soapy teen drama years ago. She’s Hollywood offspring (daughter of actors Vincent D’Onofrio and Greta Scacchi), she’s gossip mag fodder (see this summer’s Daily Mail photos from her beach vacay with Sean Penn) and, when she strolls up at the Roxy Hotel in downtown New York in an ab-baring crop top and flared white jeans, clearly possesses a natural self-confidence that makes you instantly want to know her story.
But the life of a scion hasn’t interested George, who, at 26, only recently gave into a longtime interest in acting and decided to pursue it slowly, on her own terms, and while supporting herself as a waitress out in Los Angeles.
Despite an upbringing from two industry figures, George is far from a Hollywood princess, and she still maintains the rather adorable innocence of an up-and-comer, before all the media training seeps in.
When asked the reason for her trip to New York, she’s immediately humble. “I’m here to promote my movie ‘Mortal Engines.’ Not my movie,” she says, momentarily embarrassed. ”That was super obnoxious.”
She’s just completed her first Comic Con for the film, and the experience gave her her first taste of Hollywood culture shock.
“I’ve never done that kind of thing before where I’m walking out on stage and people are excited to see me and then we’re doing all the panels where we like do our signatures. And it’s so new to me that my signature changed like five times throughout the day,” she says. “So, like, everyone has a poster with a different signature.”
That, and the craze of Comic Con, is a bit different from the life she’s hopping back to in L.A.
“I’m thinking, ‘This is really weird because I’m now going to get on a flight to go back to L.A. where I’m still waitressing four days a week,’” she says. “I’m here one minute and then the next minute I’m gonna be like, ‘Hi! How are you doing? What do you want to eat today?’”
George was born in Sydney, raised near Brighton, U.K., purposefully out of the film industry’s spotlight — save for some time on the Chelsea Piers set of “Law and Order,” which her father was on for a decade.
“My mom moved us there when I was one; she grew up in the same area,” she says of the Brighton area. “It was kind of like a little nest to raise me in. She’s an actress, too; at that time, she was quite a public figure. She wanted to protect me from that and raise me away from everything. I spent my childhood building huts out of sticks and riding my bike with my neighbor down to the woods with saws to cut down trees.”
Naturally, she resisted acting in retaliation against following in her parents’ footsteps, until she finally gave in.
“Because of my parents, people would always ask me if that’s what I was going to do. Maybe out of embarrassment or feeling annoyed that it was expected, I would just be like, ‘No, no!’” she says. “And I always thought I was going to direct instead — because then I could boss my parents around.”
She was studying film at the Sydney Film School, and when it came time to apply to directing programs for university, she found herself stuck, unmotivated. “I remember sitting in this tiny shoebox room that I had in Sydney on Bondi Beach and I called my dad. He said, ‘What are you afraid of most in the world?’ And I said, ‘Acting.’ And he said, ‘I think that’s what you need to do.’”
She says she was intimidated by her parents’ success in the industry and was afraid she wouldn’t be able to measure up, but knowing that her father was right, enrolled at the Strasberg Institute in New York. “And that was it. It was kind of, like, ‘I guess this is what I’m doing now,’” she says.
She moved out to L.A. roughly four years ago, which is where she is based now, auditioning and waitressing on the side as a newly opened rooftop bar in Santa Monica called Élephante.
“So that’s why I sound like a rescue dog or something,” she says of her accent. “I feel like it used to be this strange mix between English and Australian, but my dad’s born and raised in Brooklyn, so I’ve had him in my ear all my life. Waitressing in America, people don’t understand what I’m saying. So I’ll add Rs to things just to not have to explain my whole life story at every table I go to.”
“Moral Engines” is her first big project. Following, she will be seen in “The Kid,” which is her father’s directorial debut and which stars Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke. George says she’s moving at a slower pace than some of her peers because she’s “picky” and wants to choose projects consciously.
“At the moment, while I don’t have any kids or family to support, I would rather work in a restaurant and support myself that way than do s–tty jobs that I don’t believe in,” she says. “So I’ve been holding out to do the good things. Hopefully it pays off. We’ll see.”
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