Australian model-turned-actress Alyssa Sutherland has clear artistic goals: “I want to make people laugh, I want to make people cry, I want to provoke people, I want to make them think about something in a different way…” The Vogue cover girl started modeling at the age of 15, and had a massively successful international career, although she admits she was never particularly passionate about the work. “With acting, it’s totally different. I have such a hunger to be a part of this world…to be an actress and work… I can be on set at the 18th hour and just love that that’s what I get to do.”
Her acting credits include roles in films such as The Devil Wears Prada, Arbitrage, and The Fortune Theory, but it’s her current role as Princess Aslaug on Vikings that really gets her enthused. “We’re bringing Viking culture to the 21st century and telling some fairly well-known sagas… bringing that pagan culture to a modern audience; it’s really exciting!” The actress takes inspiration from other fellow Aussies, including her favorite, Cate Blanchett, as well as Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths. Despite her early start in front of the lens, she insists she didn’t always realize acting was her true calling.
“I’m a nerd! I dropped out of drama when I was a kid and moved over to take chemistry. I wanted to study molecular biology!” Fortunately, her path from modeling to acting has grown from strength to strength, and on the second season of Vikings with show creator Michael Hirst, she gets to explore her complex character and expand her acting wings. “It’s such a lovely gift for an actress to start out at one point and end up in another.”
The passionate actress takes pride in overcoming all obstacles, telling us “There are definitely moments along the way where you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, but, again, that’s sort of what brings you such satisfaction when there is a moment of success.” It seems that the challenges she has faced only propel the diligent actress onward, “I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to learn the value of hard work,” says Sutherland. “The satisfaction that comes from that, I can’t describe!”
Alyssa will continue her role in Vikings as it starts its third season, premiering February 19th. Check out our Q&A with the actress below and pick up a copy of the “Legendary” Issue 7 for more or download the free “Legendary” Issue App on iTunes now!
Indira Cesarine: You had a really young start with modeling, do you want to fill us in on how that all began?
Alyssa Sutherland: I was fifteen when my agent first saw me. It’s that typical story; I was in a shopping mall and my agent was there. She asked me to enter the competition that she was having and, yeah, I didn’t look back after that. It all went ahead. I’m from Brisbane, Australia, but I was on a plane to Sydney that weekend to go and do my first photo shoot!
IC: How did that transition into acting?
AS: When I was a kid, I wanted to act and I took Drama in high school, and then dropped it to take Chemistry because it seemed to me to maybe not be the most likely of careers to be successful at, even though I loved it so much! Then I was discovered as a model and started modeling and didn’t actually go to university and study what I thought I would study, and acting kind of found me again. Quite a few years after I’d started modeling, I was asked to do a screen test for an Australian film (which never ended up shooting) but just working with acting coaches again reminded me of how much I loved it. So, I started taking some acting classes when I could, and then it kind of grew from there. I realized that that’s how I wanted to earn a living, that’s what I wanted to do. I love it. I enjoy it so much. You know, I say to people ‘as long as I can pay my rent and support myself, I could die a happy person if this is what I get to do.’, So I started taking some classes and it grew from there! I got some representation and ended up moving out to LA just over two years ago, and things have thankfully sort of started happening and it’s great!
IC: Tell me about Vikings.
AS: The show runner is Michael Hirst; he’s the creator and sole writer of the show, which is pretty unusual. Normally you have a team of writers, but he does it all himself which is just an unbelievable feat! I’m not quite sure where he finds the time to do all of that, but he does and he’s just so wonderful to work with, and you get to collaborate and be a part of the creative process, which is just awesome. It’s a show about Vikings; we’re bringing Viking culture to the 21st century, and telling some fairly well known sagas. It’s a historical drama so there are really interesting little things woven into the show—little facts about Viking culture— which is pretty cool, from a nerdy perspective at least! Seeing different rituals, and hearing the stories about their gods, and what they believed in, and bringing that pagan culture to this modern audience—it’s really exciting.
IC: Can you tell me about your role?
AS: I play princess Aslaug. I came in during the season finale of the first season and caused quite a fuss, because the lead character Ragnar, has a bit of a dalliance with me, even though he’s married to another woman. Season two starts off with me turning up on his doorstep with a big swollen belly. It’s a little bit controversial for some of the viewers! My character isn’t that well-liked to begin with. It’s a really awesome challenge to sort of challenge what the audience thinks and their perceptions, and across the season, Aslaug has this really fabulous character arc and joy arc, which again, is testament to Michael Hirst and what he can do. It’s such a lovely gift to an actress to start out at one point and end up in another.
IC: Who is your favorite actress of all time?
AS: There are a few and it changes all the time depending on what I’ve seen recently. I adore Cate Blanchett, she’s sort of the go-to. She’s a fellow Aussie so it’s really inspirational to see what she’s done and I think she’s just so talented. Her role in Blue Jasmine is fabulous. I also really love Allison Janney. Lately I watched her on ‘Masters of Sex’. I have always been a fan, but she really grabs my attention during ‘Masters of Sex.’ I could go on and talk about a bunch of different actresses but we’d seriously be here for hours so I’m just going to leave it at those two.
IC: If you had never become a model, or transitioned into acting, what do you think you would have ended up doing?
AS: I’m a nerd. I would have been a scientist, believe it or not. That’s what I was actually going to do and study. That’s why I dropped out of Drama and moved over to take Chemistry because, I wanted to study Molecular Biology, as one does…[laughs] That’s what I was interested in. I’m still kind of a science nerd, and I read fairly nerdy books. I’m fascinated by science and biology. How we work is fascinating to me.
ON SET WITH ALYSSA SUTHERLAND FOR THE UNTITLED MAGAZINE
IC: Who comes to mind when you think “Legendary,” in terms of actresses or even models that really inspire you?
AS: Immediately, you have to think of Meryl Streep; how can you not? That’s the obvious one, isn’t it? Who doesn’t think that she’s pretty fabulous? Meryl Streep has to be in that conversation. I think Rachel Griffiths is fabulous, as well as Toni Colette. I’m always a fan of all the actresses that go on and succeed overseas. It’s an inspiration to me; they’re so talented. Definitely, I would call them legendary. I adore the two of them. Emma Thompson is fabulous. She is awesome in everything. I watched her play charades last night on “The Tonight Show.” I don’t know if you caught it, but she was playing charades on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon. It was great.
IC: Do you have a motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
AS: I wish I had a really great answer to that! No, I don’t. For me, I love my job. I have found, I think, what I’m meant to do, because I love it so much! I can be on set at the eighteenth hour and just love that that’s what I get to do, and I think true happiness really comes from loving your work, and working hard for something! That’s the other thing: modeling was really good to me—it was really good to me, but it wasn’t ever something that I was really passionate about. I think it comes along for a lot of girls, and it’s an opportunity that you take because, well, you’d be crazy not to! You can earn a really great living, you get to travel the world and meet interesting people, and be a part of what is seemingly a really glamorous lifestyle. But it was never something that I was passionate about. I didn’t really care about progressing, I didn’t really care about being on the cover of Vogue. That was cool, if it came along, but it wasn’t something that I fought for. With acting, it’s totally different for me. I have such a hunger to be a part of this world, to get to be an actress and work. It’s day and night for me. I’ve put in a lot of hard years in classes, I’ve done a lot of hard work, and to have the pay-off after you’re so determined – the satisfaction that comes from that, I can’t describe to people. I’m so glad that that’s what I’ve found and it brings me such happiness, self-satisfaction, and fulfillment.
IC: Have you ever had a difficult moment of your career where you weren’t sure how you wanted to proceed, or where it was something that you really had to overcome?
AS: I think if you ask most actors, they have. I had one moment when I lost a role, well, I’ve lost a few roles. I’ve had some bad luck along the way: you lose a role in a film that’s not shooting in New York anymore, it’s going to shoot in London and they need to have a lot of English actors cast to get the tax-breaks that you need or something—those things have happened. I lost a role because I didn’t have the right working papers. There are definitely moments along the way where you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall at some point, but again, that’s what brings you such satisfaction when there is a moment of success after all of that. Overnight success takes ten years, that’s what they say! That is sort of the standard for people, but I think there’s some truth in that. When you’re a model, you don’t have to work as much for it. You do have to work (I don’t want to make it sound like models are all just idiots, walking around, looking good) but most of it is: if someone likes your look, you’re going to work. You get to learn on the job, you can be found one day and be shooting Italian Vogue the next. You can have things handed to you pretty soon, and easily. I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to learn the value of hard work. That’s a really great lesson. I don’t want to sound jaded and ungrateful for what I’ve had, but I’m just so happy that I get to do what I love now.
IC: What projects do you have coming out in 2014 that we should look out for?
AS: Well, obviously Vikings. It’s really exciting. I think I was the most excited when the show got renewed for a second season, because I only had one episode for the first season! I knew that if we were renewed, I would have this role in the second season, so I was probably more excited than anyone else when we got renewed. I was like, ‘Yes I have a job! This is so exciting! And a good job!’ If we get renewed for a third season, I’ll be back to Ireland at the beginning of the summer, and I’ll be filming in Ireland again for five or six months.
IC: Where do you want to be when you are in the peak of your career?
AS: Ideally, I would love to be able to pick and choose projects that I believe really strongly in. I’m not at a point yet where people are going to be coming and saying “I have this amazing role for you in this amazing film with this amazing director: it’s yours, if you want it!” I still have to put in some hard yards, but hopefully, in time, I’ll be on people’s radars to think of when they have these roles. So long as I can keep challenging myself and telling interesting stories. At the end of the day, I’m an entertainer—that’s what I love to do. I want to make people laugh, I want to make people cry, I want to provoke people, I want to make them think about something in a different way that they wouldn’t normally. That’s what I love about my job!
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Photography by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Fashion Editor: Brendan Cannon
Hair by Roberto Morelli
Photographed at Milk Studios