I think most of us look at child actors with either a sense of compassion for somehow being stripped of their precious childhood or they are a candidate for ostracism for being stupid. But in fact, there are a breed of child actors that come out of the gauntlet pretty damn cool and feel grateful to have such a great job. Larisa Oleynik is definitely the latter.
Spend thirty seconds with Ms. Oleynik and you can’t help but smile. Spend another thirty seconds with her and you’ll probably be laughing. “I’ve been doing this since I was seven and the only thing I don’t like is getting up early,” Oleynik says through her infectious giggle. Oleynik grew up in Northern California and after tinkering in school plays she begged her mom to take her to audition for the San Francisco production of Les Miserables. “I just thought it would be fun to wear my little Esprit dress and sing songs for people! Little did I know I would still be doing this all these years later,” Oleynik says.
After singing her songs on that big stage in San Francisco, Oleynik was bit. “I fell in love with the whole thing,” Oleynik says. “And I wanted to see what else was out there.” Shortly after she finished her run as Cosette in Les Miserables, the nine year old began begging her mother to make regular trips down to Los Angeles to audition for film and television jobs. “We came down every year for pilot season. We would stay at the Oakwood Apartments for two months. I loved the whole thing but it was mostly just fun to see all my new actor friends,” Oleynik says.
But it would be years until she would get a break. “When I was twelve I booked the lead in a Nickelodeon show called The Secret World of Alex Mack,” Oleynik says. “It was super challenging balancing the school and a job. I was flying a lot between LA and home for school. I ended up graduating from the same school I went to from kindergarten through high school.”
As the young Oleynik grew up in front of millions on television, she had a secret bag of interests that were not all about acting. “After four years of going to work everyday on that show, I was ready for another kind of challenge,” Oleynik says. “I wanted to know if I could do something else so I went to college to figure it out.”
The established young actress took off four years from acting to earn a degree from Sarah Lawrence in upstate New York. “It was great to open up personally and not have that professional pressure on me but after taking some time away from it (acting), I realized that acting suits me best. It seems crazy to think that you’ve found what you want to do with your life at age 7. But I think I did,” Oleynik says. “I fall in love with it all the time and keeps me on my toes.”
Since graduating Oleynik has starred in a number of movies and television series including stints on Mad Men, Hawaii Five-0, Pretty Little Liars to name a few. “The challenge I most enjoy is the way I can push myself in this career,” says Oleynik. “When I read Bekah’s play I was like, this is something that will push me and it’s too good not to do!”
Opening April 18th in North Hollywood, Oleynik will be making her Los Angeles stage debut in the West Coast Premiere of Bekah Brunstetter’s Be A Good Little Widow. “The last time I was on stage was when I was like nine, so yeah, I guess you could say I am excited and scared too but in all the best ways,” Oleynik says. In Brunstetter’s dramedy, Oleynik plays a grieving housewife whose husband dies in a plane crash and is left to grieve alongside her mother-in-law played by Caroline Aaron. “It sounds dark and depressing but it’s about life and life is funny. It’s about love and loss,” Oleynik says. “And how we cope with being human, which is actually hilarious when you think about it.”
Be A Good Little Widow opens April 18th and runs through May 25th at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood. For more information call (323) 388-3874 or visit thenohoartscenter.com.