Meet the Swedish-born actress Ottiliana Rolandsson, Ph.D.
We’re talking about why she moved from Sweden to USA, about her acting career and how she stays fit.
How old were you when you moved to USA?
Ottiliana: I arrived in New Orleans in December of 1995. I was twenty-four… God! Was I only 24?!
How brave of you to move all the way from little Sweden to the big continent in the west. What was it with the USA that attracted you to go there?
Ottiliana: At that time in my life I was not attracted to the US. Actually, I detested the States for its foreign politics and its mastery of mass-consumerism. Having traveled throughout Europe many times, as well as living in Brazil for a year and a half, and traveling a bit in the South Americas I had developed a strong desire for encountering other cultures and their way of life. And when I felt I was ready to pick up my formal studies, I considered all the nations in the world that had English as their official language. In so doing I began to think about the US. I realized that while my criticism towards this nation and its politics were, in some ways, well-founded, it was also emotionally charged in a way that was fueled by opinions and hearsay, not by an actual lived experience and fully factual foundation. My passionate dismissal of the US reminded me of a state of mind I had noticed in fanaticism and I did not want to maintain that type of ignorant and obsessive attitude.
Do you have any favorite place in the world, if so, where is that and what’s special about that place?
Ottiliana: I love northern Sweden. My father comes from a beautiful valley called Ortrask. We still own land and the old family home there. I love it and feel very much at peace in this village. I plan on creating a small paradise on the field below the main house. It will be my Garden of Eden – a place that I can call my own and can return to for contemplation and rejuvenation.
What are the biggest differences between Sweden and USA according to you?
Ottiliana: That is a good question… Sweden has at its essence a purity, which is expressed in many ways, such as in its love for nature, its reserve towards and respect for others, its intelligence, and its aesthetics. In America I have not experienced this type of purity. America, on the other hand, has an intense drive towards self-realization, which expresses itself in business endeavors, spiritual pursuit, and its individualism and also in interesting cultural movements such as the 60s and a new spirituality which is currently rising massively.
Is there something you miss from Sweden?
Ottiliana: Yes, its quality of life. Its care for family and nature. Its proximity to Europe and Russia.
Do you think that you someday will move back home or do you feel that you want to stay in USA forever?
Ottiliana: I feel that the best for me is to create a life where I can work and live in both Sweden and the US. Each culture has qualities I appreciate. Also, having been in the US for quite a long time it would be strange to pick up my bag and just leave it all behind.
When did you know that you wanted to become an actress? Is that a childhood dream or is it a dream you developed as an adult?
Ottiliana: It was a dream that burst forth in me when I was 17 years old. I did not know that my path led there until I meet a very special man. Andras Fodor was a theatre man from Hungary who had fled Communism in his country and ended up in Umea, my home town. He was brilliant, unique and somewhat outrageous. I loved him as a friend and as a mentor. I came to participate in a few of his theatrical productions but first he invited me to join him when he was traveling producing a directing workshop. Open and curious I accepted. My intention was to observe the work. During the workshop the directors staged scenes and I was invited to act in them. At first I hesitated but finally participated more out of courtesy than any desire, as they needed one more person. It was a delightful and magical experience. Afterwards the directors were all interested to know who I was and where I studied theatre. They even believed that I was a student at the most prestigious acting school in the country (Dramaten – the Royal Theatre in Stockholm). When I told them that I had never acted before they were quite shocked and insisting that this must be my calling. Evidently I had done well acting in their scenes. That was the beginning.
You wrote and performed your one-woman-show, “I Was Greta Garbo”. Is that something you would like to continue doing?
Ottiliana: I foresee that I will continue to perform “I Was Greta Garbo.” Due to its nature it’s a work I can continue to perform even into old age. It is my hope and desire that I will tour the show throughout the world. After the most recent successful shows in historic theatres in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria as well as at sharp small theatre in West Hollywood the Garbo Society in Sweden has invited me to Sweden. A tour in September is in the making, as well as in California. New Orleans is on the map and naturally we are star-gazing at the Big Apple.
Do you want to act, direct or write screenplays?
Ottiliana: All of the above!
How did you come to start teaching drama to the residents at Caza Esperanza in Santa Barbara?
Ottiliana: I was invited to teach an acting class starting January 2010. It seemed to be good thing to do – to reach out to the rather large homeless community in this city. It also intrigued me: what would this marginalized group of people bring to the table? How would it stretch and inform my view of the homeless culture? What did they have to say and share? Would the art of acting somehow help them, even strengthen them?
For how long have you been doing that?
Ottiliana: I have done it two years in a row during a three month period in early 2010 as well as in 2011 and 2012.
I watched Oscar Flores’ documentary, “The Gift of Acting” about your drama class there and it seemed like the residents loved having you as an instructor! Peter Marin, the founder of People’s Institute told that the drama classes in the past hadn’t been so successful until you showed up, so what’s your secret about getting the people to come to your class and getting them engaged?
Ottiliana: I love the art of acting and all its related craft, therefore I am grateful to any persons and situation where I can teach, direct or act. This passion is contagious. Also, I understood the challenges working with this particular marginalized group of people and therefore did not become frustrated by the limitations presented in the situation. Furthermore, it seems that my personality lent itself to the group: I can be sweet, passionate and disciplined, even hard, all at the same time. I would not hesitate to be rough, speak to them as to a child while also seeing them as an absolute equal. While it is a paradox, I still did all this simultaneously. At the very foundation I had great respect for each one of them and was genuinely interested in their story, their genius and their unique expression.
In the documentary you say that it was your dog that opened up your heart to the homeless and that he loves them! You witnessed the interaction between them. Do you think that especially homeless people would benefit from getting the opportunity to be surrounded with animals?
Ottiliana: I believe everyone benefits by having interactions with animals because they are very pure. When we are able to meet an animal on a level of purity and love we are healed. Homeless people often carry many wounds and they are often shunned by the society – at least this is what I have observed in California. The loving animal sees them without judgment, naturally, and the marginalized individual gets to relax in the animals’ attention as well as to express his or her own love and tenderness. This is very good and wholesome.
Did you ever bring your dog with you to Caza Esperanza?
Ottiliana: Yes, I often brought Evert to the homeless shelter. He is much loved wherever he goes!
What has this project given you?
Ottiliana: An opportunity to break down my own judgment about homeless people as well as yet another experience applying the art of acting as a means of exploring and expressing our soul.
Do you want to continue to work at Caza Esperanza?
Ottiliana: Yes, I am open to more projects at Caza Esperanza as well as at other homeless shelters.
What are you hoping to work with next?
Ottiliana: Professional acting roles for stage and screen; professional directing assignments; some type of scholarly work, teaching and establish the Academy of the Enlightened Actor.
Don’t get me wrong now, you look very young and healthy but doesn’t it scare you to try to break into the movie world considering that you’re not 20 years old any longer? I mean youth seems to be an important issue in Hollywood and I have heard that it’s harder for women to get good roles when they get older or is that a myth?
Ottiliana: I have long wanted to be an example that women can act and build their careers at any age. I find it very unhealthy to focus so obsessively and intensely on young women solely. I don’t think it is good for any section of our culture. Also, inspired by America’s notion of unlimited possibilities, why would not my dream manifest, especially since I have the skill and gift? And if I succeed I hope to serve as an inspiration to many other women. The acclaimed Swedish actress, Stina Ekdahl once told me: it takes at least 25 years to become a master actress/actor. I believe that this is quite right. On another hand, a Swedish dancer who had no formal dance training whatsoever and at age 30 auditioned for the world-renowned Swedish dance company, Cullberg Ballet, and became part of the dance ensemble. This was surprising, unusual and rather amazing. A Swedish actress began painting when she was 65, being a natural the work quickly turned phenomenal. These stories struck with me – greatness will happen when it is in you. Regarding the myth of age and Hollywood – yes and no… it is true that many agents in Los Angeles will not take on an actress who is older than 30, but then on another hand, a friend of mine who is in the industry pointed out to me that some of the most popular TV shows star women in their 40’s and 50s. Nevertheless, I have an inkling that it is important to be spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically sound as well as to have a disciplined mind to guide oneself in the right direction. Passion, drive and a bit of luck are also vital.
Do you find it therapeutic to act?
Ottiliana: Yes, I must say I do. Acting can be very healing in that the actor is in direct contact with him or herself. By bringing awareness to the self we see the self, by seeing the self we have an opportunity to honor the self and this is very powerful. Also, as an actor must be in your body, you are aware of your breath, you are in close contact with other people, you tap you own and others imagination constantly – all this is stimulating and often healthy. The best of acting is not egocentric but attune with humanity, even with the universe when pure and brilliant, and it gives of itself generously. Personally, it all makes me feel profoundly happy, even during the most challenging of times.
What do you do to stay in shape?
Ottiliana: I am very much into yoga, particularly Bikram Yoga (hot yoga). I also enjoy power walks on the beach and in the mountains. I eat mainly raw and organic foods. I fast regularly and do facial exercises, meditation, chanting and prayer – maintaining and increasing one’s health and youthfulness. At the same time I try not to be hard on myself when I drink wine, stay up late or eat something unhealthy. Joy, care and kindness – love – is key as an overall attitude I think.
On YouTube you have a video called “Keeping yourself looking young with Ottiliana Rolandsson Facial Yoga”, is that something that you’re passionate about? It obviously works for you, so maybe if you can make more people aware of facial yoga, then maybe you can start to compete with the plastic surgeons.
Ottiliana: Yes! I’d love for more people to turn to facial exercise instead of allowing for harsh treatments to their body. I am passionate about facial yoga because I love the face – the face is such a beautiful portal for the soul to express itself. Facial yoga not only helps with the health of the face but it also puts us in contact with how we use or misuse our face, which in turn can easily lead to an awareness of how our inner being moves across our face to communicate with the world. Soon my website and DVD “Amazing Face” will be ready for the public.
I find it remarkable that you are so down to earth despite that you surround yourself with famous people and people in that business. I guess that many people in your situation would have had their heads up in the clouds, but it seems like you haven’t forgot about the little people, why is that? What is it that keeps your feet on the ground?
Ottiliana: I don’t know that many famous people, I don’t think. But some are, sure. I was never star-struck and I was always interested in the human spirit and how an individual has formed in to what they have become and whereto they are going, thus when I meet a famous person, this is what I am interested in. Should it be in my cards to achieve a high level of fame I know that I would remain grounded and down to earth. Furthermore, my family is very grounded. My mother and father have been able to demonstrate that what matters most is the beauty and kindness one holds in one’s heart. At the core of it all, what is most significant is our spiritual life, which is actually very grounding and sobering in the midst of its lofty nobility. If one keeps that as a compass, one’s life is held somewhat at an even keel.
Do you feel that you are living your dream now or is it something that’s missing?
Ottiliana: No, I don’t feel that I am living my dream yet. I do feel that I am more clearly creating my dream. Interestingly, even answering this question I feel a tang of fear, a daunting type of a feeling, almost doubt, but not quite…. a sense of: How will it be possible for me to live my dream?! Thank you for this question because it brings to the forefront the importance of me zooming in on the fact that I do seek to live my dream; of me tending to the actualization of my dreams.
Finally, I wish that your career will be as successful as it can be and that your life will be filled with happiness!
Ottiliana: Thank you! I wish the same for you too!
You can watch Ottiliana teaching drama in Oscar Flores’ documentary “The Gift of Acting” on YouTube. It’s a documentary well worth watching about how her teaching skills improve the life of the residents at Caza Esperanza in Santa Barbara, California.