Ambulance Star Olivia Stambouliah On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Entertainment…

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Ambulance Star Olivia Stambouliah On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Entertainment Industry

Failure is synonymous with the human experience, and the real failure is in not trying. Yes, this career path is one that is fraught with knock back after knock back and can often feel difficult to keep standing up again. However, if your need to create art and put it out into the world endures, then my advice is learn how to manage “the in-between”, because that is the real labor. Endurance.

As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Olivia Stambouliah. Olivia was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. She studied a Bachelor of Performance at the University of Western Sydney, Theatre Nepean. Shortly after graduating she was cast in Cate Shortland’s television movie The Silence, and later in Ben Elton’s television series Live from Planet Earth. This was followed by recurring roles in Packed to the Rafters and Soul Mates. Her stage performances include Sydney Theatre Company’s Arms and the Man, Griffin Theatre Company’s The Turquoise Elephant, and Ensemble Theatre’s Frankenstein. She made her first U.S. television appearance in AMC’s The Walking Dead, and her feature film debut in Michael Bay’s blockbuster Ambulance.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Kingsgrove, a suburb in Sydney, Australia, with my parents, two sisters and two brothers. Our days consisted of playing a lot; together or alone, depending on ones mood that day. Our imaginations were cultivated during those days of carefree recreation. A pivotal moment in my childhood was when we went to watch The Karate Kid at the cinemas as a family and afterwards I said to my dad

“I want to do that”; that being Karate. Soon after I was enrolled in classes down the street from where we lived. I was 5 years old. This became my passion and safe haven right up until I was 16. I was always very sporty and labelled a tom boy because of that. Another significant moment was in elementary school, when the teacher asked us “where we were from?”

I answered “from Australia”

“No” replied my teacher, “ask your parents where you are from”.

Confused, I asked dad that evening “where are we from, Dad?”

He thought about it.

“We are Sudanese”.

My little mind was blown. I burst into tears having only heard the nese part of Sudanese, and knowing that my Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese friends were treated so differently by the kids at school, I had instantly internalised that we were other. I look back on that moment as the seed which grew into my rejection of my Sudanese and Syrian heritage growing up. Its so funny, cause now if you have Zaa’taar or halloumi with your eggs, the inflation is astounding lol. I truly didn’t begin to embrace my multiculturalism until exploring it through plays, and film and television projects. It was in researching the characters’ plights that I met parts of myself, and accepted them. I tried to fit into a white box, especially in the acting industry. But I was never white enough. I was then placed into a brown box, but was not dark enough.

I still bump up against these boxes, but prefer to flatten them and stand in the freedom of the open air instead.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ever since I can remember, I would impersonate people; family, friends or public figures, and it would make everyone laugh. I can attest to becoming hooked on eliciting an emotional response from people and have chased that dragon till this day. I went to University for acting in Sydney, at Theatre Nepean, and I just loved those 3 years. I would drive 1.5 hours each way to get there everyday, I was so dedicated. It was in the car that I carried a pocket dictionary and listened to ABC radio and anytime I heard a new word, I would look it up at a stop light. Regrettably I wasn’t very conscientious at school unless I liked the subject, but all of a sudden I became thirsty for knowledge and my passion to excel kicked in. Once I graduated I started auditioning for theatre, film and television jobs in Australia. I quickly landed a commercial and an independent theatre lead role in MEDEA, and during that show I booked my first television role directed by Cate Shortland in the ABC telemovie THE SILENCE. These three diverse jobs reassured me that I had chosen the right path for me. I had to work at a bar and cafe and video store etc, don’t be fooled I wasn’t handed anything on a silver platter, but those acting jobs propelled me forward and kept my hunger alive.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

My agent called me in August of 2011 and said there is a sketch comedy series Ben Elton is producing that you have an audition for. You have to write your own 5 minute audition of different characters. I was SO excited, as I knew who Ben Elton was and loved his work! I put my audition together, I think we had a week, and I went in to the channel 9 studio to audition. I was so nervous when I walked into the room and there was a boardroom table of faces staring me. Ben introduced himself and all of the executives watching and said the floor is yours. So I began my 5 minute audition. When I finished, Ben walked over to me and said “well that’s the best fuckin live showreel I’ve ever fuckin seen” (I’ll never forget those words)

I exhaled.

We talked a bit and then I didn’t hear anything for 3 months! I then got a call saying I am part of the core cast of the Ben Elton sketch comedy series (like SNL). I burst into tears of joy! (Something isn’t uncommon), I spoke to Ben on the phone and he asked me if I knew who Amy Winehouse was.

“Sort of, yeah?’

I replied, really not having much knowledge about her.

He said

“well I want you to play her in the main sketch”

I immediately started researching. I watched everything; every interview from as early as I could find of her, listened to every song, and what stuck me was the love she had for her grandmother, which was something we shared. I really found her innocence and sweetness surprising, as it was diametrically opposed to her public persona especially in the latter years of her career.

I had such a thrill playing her up until our show was cancelled. My love for impersonations and in depth detail of characters growing up, again became extremely handy in my adult career. Unfortunately Amy passed away two months after that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh my gosh yes I can. My first ever audition after I graduated was for a cat food commercial. I had never had a pet, I had 4 siblings instead, so when the casting director said “so your cat is curling around your feet” I was so nervous that I have no idea what I did but I can assure you it was not what a cat would do or their owner lol I was mortified afterwards. So I realised very quickly how important our imagination and mime skills are when auditioning.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have been auditioning for some very exciting projects, so fingers and toes crossed the ones that are meant for me come to fruition. Alongside those, I am developing a pilot that I had the chance to pen whilst in early lockdown. I don’t just want to be an actor for hire, I want to be creating and directing also.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Failure is synonymous with the human experience, and the real failure is in not trying. Yes, this career path is one that is fraught with knock back after knock back and can often feel difficult to keep standing up again. However, if your need to create art and put it out into the world endures, then my advice is learn how to manage “the in-between”, because that is the real labor. Endurance.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

In order for us to have a nourished, healthy, cohesive society, we must reflect every humans experience across all platforms. It’s our industries duty to hold up that mirror and reflect all humanity, in the hope of providing examples of change, not just as means for capitalism to thrive.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Hello, I turned 40 after I left the red carpet premiere for Ambulance lol.
  2. You are allowed to make mistakes.
  3. You can take time off to just live! I have not done much of this recently, but am promising myself to. I have honestly been so steadfast in cultivating my career and I am proud of that, I am also becoming acutely aware of how important making space for other facets of life to enjoy and experience are to my spirit.
  4. Your relationship to your craft is ever evolving.
  5. A rising tide raises all ships.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

  1. Stay in your own lane. I remember saying to my agent years ago, “I don’t hang out and do blow in bathrooms with ‘important’ people, am I missing out on work opportunities?” She smiled and said, “stay true to who you are, your work will speak for itself.”
  2. Find a physical activity that lights you up.
  3. Stay curious about the world and learning new skills.
  4. Know when to rest and replenish. We give so much mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually as actors.
  5. Nurture your relationships and its okay to let the ones go that no longer align with your soul.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would also love to see the placement of clothing sizes on racks reversed! Have the biggest size at the front and sequentially recede from there. This movement would subliminally shift the psychology of sizeism in a positive way.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge my incredible family and chosen family. Their unwavering love shown to me through the trials and triumphs have carried me to this point. They are my lucky charm in lifetime

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Courage is fear in action. We don’t always feel 100 percent fearless, but we can turn that energy into facing and surmounting anything. I wouldn’t have moved across the globe if I didn’t have this mantra in my memory bank.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I used to be sycophantic but Im not not anymore. I’d honestly love to break bread with my nephew who is 1 in Australia, and I have only been with him in person once, so it would be nice to see his blueberry smeared face in the flesh not FaceTime lol You obviously can’t tag him lol So if I had to choose someone? I would say Oprah. What a fascinating breakfast that would be. Id love it to be really casual: a picnic on the floor, shoes off type of thing. I’d make scones with my mum’s cream recipe.

How can our readers follow you online?

The old instagram @oliviastambouliah

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Ambulance Star Olivia Stambouliah On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Entertainment… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.