Spotlight on Olivia Cheng

by Patricia Cullen on November 3, 2008

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Originally published in the Vancouver Actor’s Guide October 2007 newsletter.

She’s bubbly, fun, outgoing, refreshingly honest and very motivated. And she’ll be the first to tell you, it’s a lot of work.

Born and raised in Edmonton Alberta, Olivia first started her career in media as a Script Supervisor then hard news reporter for Global Television, next a features writer for the Edmonton Journal and then having achieved her success she realized something was still missing. “I felt like I achieved a lot of my goals already early on in life, but I wanted more. I realized that after everything, all I wanted to do was act but was too scared to do it and then I was called to audition for American Movie Classic’s Broken Trail.”

“I auditioned four times and got the part. It was nuts because I auditioned for every 4 of the 5 Chinese girls they were looking for and I landed the one role I didn’t want to read for. I automatically assumed I wasn’t right for it.” But she was. And now she had to face the crossroads she was at. In order to take the part, she had to leave her job. “I was living the life I thought I should be happy with so when I had this great curve ball thrown at me, it was scary. I wouldn’t have left Global if there wasn’t something big to shake me up.” Like shooting three months opposite Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church.

“While on set for Broken Trail I realized that I had no idea about acting. Working with Duvall and Church was a great learning opportunity for me. It made me realize this is what I want to do, and I wanted to learn more.” So she packed everything that would fit into her car, drove to Vancouver and started studying the craft.

And with some great experience under her belt it didn’t take long before Olivia chose an agent and she was out auditioning. “My agent warned me it would be tough and I was like ‘yeah sure!’. I had no concept of script analysis, story, curve. My worst audition, well, one of them. I went in with that desperate actor stink, walking in way too thankful to be in the room and totally forgot my lines, five times. I fucked every single line up at the same spot. I kept short circuiting.”

So when did she switch on?
“When I realized I was the most toxic thing in my life. I was so negative. In a really really toxic kind of way where…I mean, I don’t think anyone wanted to be around me. I was just focussing on all the lack in my life. Acting is like unlearning a lot of shit that has conditioned you. It forces you to understand why you are the way you are. Painful, painful awareness and growth. I was so down on everything. Walking into every audition with the belief there was no way I was going to get the role.”

What triggered the change?
(She giggles) “Then I watched The Secret. And it just makes you mindful that the energy you give out to the world is what you’re going to get back. And that’s when it started to shift. When I decided to have fun, I started to book. I realized I was the only one holding myself back. I was the biggest thing in my own way.”

What does she do for prep?
“I always get someone to work on it with me. At the least, to run it Italian. I never used to work with anyone simply because it just didn’t occur to me…and those were the bad auditions. I learn the lines so much faster working with someone. I take every audition seriously even it’s the cheesiest shit I’ve ever read, because there’s always something in there to work on. I look for something in it that will make me want to work. Because that’s all you can do, give them your best performance.”

Keep an eye out for Olivia as she is set to play Asian-American author Iris Chang in an upcoming feature film docudrama about the Rape of Nanking.

Check out Olivia’s biography and demo reels including interviews with Kanye West, Sandra Oh and other celebs at

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