By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Stefania Owen is an up and coming actress who may not yet be a household name but may be familiar to some moviegoers and TV viewers alike. She got her big break at the tender age of 10 playing Flora Hernandez, one of the child murder victims in Peter Jackson’s big screen adaptation of “The Lovely Bones,” opposite Saoirse Ronan.
Owen later played teenage Carrie Bradshaw’s rebellious younger sister on the TV series “The Carrie Diaries.” Of late, eagle-eyed viewers can spot her in the Hulu original series “Chance,” playing Nicole, the only daughter of Hugh Laurie’s psychiatrist character, whose obsession with a troubled patient puts his child in danger. She played a thoughtful teen who accompanies a Holden Caulfield-obsessed classmate on his search for “Catcher in the Rye’s” elusive author J.D. Salinger in the independent drama “Coming Through the Rye.”
She now plays the daughter of Katie Holmes’ character in the drama “All We Had,” inspired by the Annie Weatherwax novel and adapted for the screen by Josh Boone and Jill Killington. The drama hits theaters Dec. 9 and also will be available On Demand.
Born in Miami, the petite freckle-faced actress divides her time between the U.S. and New Zealand (where her father is from). Having recently moved to New York where she soon begins rehearsals for her first play, Anna Jordan’s “Yen,” directed by Trip Cullman and starring Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea’), Owen is overjoyed.
The 18-year-old says she was excited to be part of Holmes’ feature film directorial debut as well as getting a chance to act alongside the renowned actress, who herself began her career at a young age. In “All We Had,” Owen plays Ruthie, a bright youngster who is constantly on the move with her peripatetic alcoholic single mother. When their jalopy breaks down at a rural diner, the duo set down roots, making friends with the thoughtful owner, his transgender niece waitress and the eatery’s regulars. Things aren’t easy for Ruthie, who frequently has to act as the adult in the complicated mother-daughter relationship, while also going through the usual challenges of adolescence.
Reached by phone, the perky Owen spoke about working with Holmes (who dedicated the film to her real life daughter Suri), the joys and challenges of acting and embarking on the next phase of her chosen career.
Q: How did you get involved in the project? What was it like working with Katie Holmes?
Owen: I was in New Zealand at the time. I was in my last year of high school. I put myself on tape for the audition. At the time I was really sick so I didn’t want to do it but my mom convinced me to do it. She said I had nothing to lose so I put myself on tape. I sounded horrible. So I didn’t think anything more of it. Then my mom went overseas while I was in school. Two days later I received a call from my mom who was in the States while I was in New Zealand, and she says, “Katie Holmes wants to Skype you.” I was like, “Oh my God!” I couldn’t believe it. I rushed home. I hadn’t read the script yet so I quickly read the script and I had a short Skype session with her. I thought maybe it didn’t go so well because it was only about five minutes long. After that, I didn’t expect anything to come of that. But three days later I get a call from my agent saying, “You got the part.” I got on a plane to New York two days later. It happened really fast.
Q: You filmed in New York last year?
Owen: We filmed on location in upstate New York, Brooklyn and Manhattan. It was cool to see parts of New York that I hadn’t seen before.
Q: Ruthie has to be the mature one at the beginning while her mom is drifting and often unfocused.
Owen: There’s definitely a reversal of (traditional) mother-child roles. For the most part, Ruthie is more mature than Rita (Holmes’ character) by far.
Q: You spent a lot of time with Katie as both an actor and a director?
Owen: I wondered, at first, how it would work. But she did it so seamlessly and didn’t make it a big deal. She was so respectful in how she directed me. She’d sometimes take me aside or whisper in my ear and we’d do these little adjustments. It never felt like she was switching roles (from actor to director). She kind of did it simultaneously. It was really cool to watch. She actually made me want to act and direct a film of my own. She makes people feel so comfortable and she’s so gentle in the way she communicates. So it was really easy.
Q: You’ve got a lot of emotional scenes. You’ve got to cry. And there’s a party scene where your character is acting out, smoking pot and making out with boys. Do you find those scenes challenging and do you welcome those challenges?
Owen: I enjoyed doing all of those things because you get to live this whole life of the beginning, the middle and the end of a character. I really felt like Ruthie for the whole filming period. The filming was so intense that I would just go home afterward and sleep. I’d wake up and then go straight to set. So I really did feel like I was the character. I felt all of the emotions Ruthie felt. When she was sad, I was sad. When she was angry, I was angry. It didn’t feel like I had to switch it on. It just happened organically. That had to do with Katie’s directing and the way that she communicated with all of the actors. It was definitely the most challenging role I’d ever done and I learned so much from being on the set of “All We Had.” I also learned so much from all of the actors, including Katie, and I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of doing.
Q: Your cast includes Luke Wilson, Judy Greer, Eve Lindley and Richard Kind. What was it like working with them?
Owen: Eve (who plays transgender waitress Pam) and I became very close. Before we started filming, Katie set up a lunch date for me and Eve at a place called The Stardust Diner, which is one of the coolest places in New York. It’s a fun place to go to lunch, have an Oreo milkshake and just watch the waiters and waitresses perform and sing as if they’re on Broadway. After the table read, Eve and I went there and clicked straight away. We hung out a lot, even on the weekends. That kind of shows in the film because we have to be close as Ruthie and Pam, and it was helpful being close in real life. We trusted each other. In some of the darker scenes, like in the trailer where I’m crying and she’s comforting me, I could trust her. That’s really important when you’re filming those scenes. I was able to get to know certain cast members more than others, but especially Eve. She’s one of my closest friends now.
Also, Katie and I got to know each other well. She’s been so amazing this year too. It’s my first year out of high school and she’s been so supportive. She’s always checking up on me. She sent me books while I was filming in San Francisco when I was on my own. So I made a lot of lifelong friends on this film.
Q: Ruthie has a certain thing when she’s up to no good she pulls her hood up. Was that in the script or did you come up with that?
Owen: That was in the script. We wanted to make it her thing. It was written for one of the first scenes when she’s stealing something. I think it was Katie who decided that that would be Ruthie’s thing whenever she was up to something.
Q: The film is based on the Annie Weatherwax novel. Did you read it beforehand?
Owen: Before we started filming I read about a quarter of it and then we decided that because the movie is just based on the book, it doesn’t follow it in detail, Katie told me it was better not to read it so we could create our own character. Because this story is different, it did require a change in direction. I did read the rest of the book after we finished filming and it’s an excellent book. But I’m also glad that I didn’t read it beforehand because I was able to give my own creative input without the pressure of being married to the book.
Q: This isn’t the first film you’ve been in that was based on a book. Your first film was “The Lovely Bones.” That must have been exciting—your first movie role?
Owen: Yes. It was an amazing experience. Being able to work with (director) Peter Jackson was insane. I was 10 at the time. I started reading the book before I did the film but it was too dark for me so I decided not to read it because I was scared. That was my first film that I ever did.
Q: Speaking of scared, your character, Nicole, on “Chance” is kidnapped. Without spoiling the plot, can we expect to see more of her in the next few episodes?
Owen: You can expect more. It gets juicier. I’ve only see the first two episodes so my head isn’t in “Chance” right now. I’m taking it one step at a time. I’m focused on the play so I’m not sure what’s happening with Season 2. So it’ll be a surprise to me. At the end of Season 1, it gets darker for Nicole, so you’ll have to keep watching to see what happens.
Q: Did you live in San Francisco while shooting the first season of “Chance?”
Owen: Yes. This year I lived by myself in an apartment for the first time. I was in San Francisco for about three months. It was a challenging experience. It was cool to be living in a different city and I’d never been to San Francisco before.
Q: Now that you’ve finished high school, are you planning to go to college? Or do you plan to continue acting?
Owen: I love what I do. I love acting. I’ve always wanted to go to school, to go to college. It’s just about knowing when to go, and maintaining a balance. I will make it happen. I’m a person that likes to do it all. So I know I will go to college at some point. I was going to apply for next year but now that I’m doing a play for the winter, it’s gotten so busy that I’m going to wait it out a few more months. But I definitely will go to college. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time.
Q: What’s happening with “Yen?”
Owen: We start rehearsing on December 13 and opening night is January 30. I’m really excited. It’s the first time I’m doing theater. I’m so happy that it’s going to be in New York. It’s going to be an exciting winter. It’s an off-Broadway show about these two brothers with no boundaries. Their mom is rarely around. I play Jennifer, this girl that comes into their lives. It’s a dark story but I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be extremely challenging. It’ll be an amazing experience so I’m really excited about it.
Q: What are your holiday plans? Are you going home to New Zealand?
Owen: I was going to go home but because of the play I’m not able to. My family is really close so they’re actually coming here. We have a place in Miami so I’m going to be spending Christmas there. I will be going back and forth between New York and Miami.