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"House of Lies" Star Dawn Olivieri Talks Truth

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Mark Seliger/SHOWTIME
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Greg Gayne/SHOWTIME
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Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME

The minute Dawn Olivieri appears on the Showtime series House of Lies, you know things are going to get exciting. Her character, Monica Talbot (ex-wife/rival management consultant of Don Cheadle's Marty Kaan), simultaneously manages to be ferocious, fabulous, feral, and fragile. She walks with supreme swagger, but sometimes crumbles at life's demands. Olivieri's acting resume dates back eight years, but reflects a sought-after actress who is in constant demand. We caught up with Olivieri after wrapping season 3 of House of Lies, in which an overwrought junior member of Monica's pod stabbed her in the leg in episode two.


DivineCaroline: What details can you share about the trouble Monica will cause this season on House of Lies?
Dawn Olivieri: Monica is always into something, and this season we see how she works. Following a "rumor" exposing a few of her unethical business practices, Monica is forced to pay her dues. But it lights a fire that begins to burn brightly by the end of the third season. You can't get rid of her. Monica is like the perfect germ: You can knock her down but she will return stronger than ever with a heat-seeker for weakness.


DC: This is a show that's essentially a comedy, but it also has a lot of pathos. Your character runs the gamut. What is it like to play such a rich character?
DO: Monica makes me feel like the lead of my own corporate carnival side show!


DC: She can be a very unsympathetic character. How do you keep the audience interested in her?
DO: By showing the inner struggle. On the outside she's a powerhouse who appears impenetrable, but that's her wall. I'm like that in real life, so I know it's translating. My vulnerability is rampant within, but only when I work to access it does it gain enough freedom to truly be that which I wear on my sleeve. That vulnerability is inside Monica, but she's being beckoned by delusions. They rule her and she does their bidding, a high society victim of circumstance. But she plays it all as a game; it's her sport in order to ignore any true reality. It's dark, emotional magic existing as a psychopath, but captivating to witness the journey.


DC: Monica's scenes with Roscoe, her gender-fluid son, are very interesting. What intrigues you about this complex dynamic?
DO: She can be most vulnerable with him. Not knowing who she is really is paralleled by his own gender confusion. As long as he suffers, she's not alone and I believe, in a non-malicious way, that comforts her. In all actuality, he is there for her to learn something about herself, but because of her own walls, she doesn't allow herself to take him in completely.


DC: How does Monica manage to be so self-destructive, yet so razor-sharp in her career?
DO: She has a well-developed sense of how to play the power game. Instant rewards of money and power have honed her skills. Emotional prowess is an entirely different set of skills that involve patience, truth, and love. If one is plugged into the perception of "dog eat dog," this idiom informs everything. Business practices are empowered by this type of energy. True connection between others and ourselves stand to thrive on the opposite.


DC: You've spoken about putting on the Monica walk and attitude. How do you get yourself ready for a scene, particularly some of the provocative ones?
DO: Tight power suits and stilettos. Nail color does something for me, too. I know who she is now. I just tie up the bow with the right internal thought process.


DC: Your acting credits on IMDb go back to 2006, but in eight years you have worked a lot in TV and film. What are keys to your success?
DO: I needed to understand what, as an actor, I was selling, so I've studied the product, the self, Dawn Olivieri. If I am going to play someone else, I better study the one character I have the closest contact with: myself. So I did, or I do, and I imagine it will never stop, because change is the constant. There is also something else at play when you "act." I say "act" like that because—strike me down where I stand if you catch me "acting"—I strive for truthful moments at all costs. Alive within these moments is an entire world. Once passing through the threshold of dialogue, there is a world between worlds that you can meet that other actor in if they are able to step through as well. That is what moves me, and that is what I've set out to study. It's taken me through endless books on the craft, emotion, truth, spirituality, magic, energetics and finally quantum physics (where I am now). I'm on the outskirts of thought and the science of existence and what happens between two people when they truly connect is what showed me the way. I'm excited to feel how far it takes me.


DC: Your bio on your website paints quite a colorful picture of your life.
DO: It's all true. Why so blatant? Why not try to shroud myself in the safety cloak of conformity so early on in my career? It was a choice of mine. Climbing through the ranks of struggling actors, we are taught to "put your best foot forward," wear the right clothes, do the "right" thing. Give your power away. There was a pivotal point in my life where I remember saying, "That's enough." My truth became my focus, it became my power source. Whether it was going to work or not, I didn't matter, it felt right. And my story, my experiences are me, in all my pain and glory. Our struggles make us all different and unique and they stand as teachers for some of our most beautiful lessons. I did it half as a conceptual art piece on truth, half as an invitation to inspire others to have a closer relationship to their own truth. I want the people that enjoy watching me play to know I am not lying to them, as a person or as an actress. The first step into that honesty is standing in gratitude behind the struggles that color you in all their brilliant hues.


DC: Are you really wild and crazy? And if you are, how do you harness it in a productive way?
DO: I want experiences and I am down for everything, but I measure and weigh and postulate as I collect. In order to do that, there has to be an organization of awareness and thought which means never completely losing yourself. I philosophize through the acts of adventure and fear. I am always aware of myself or my experience which can also elicit claustrophobic freedoms, so I continue to push even farther into places where being aware of myself becomes the anti-lesson.


DC: What other projects are on the horizon for you?
DO: I'm in Miami filming A Change of Heart starring Jim Belushi, whom I would like to add has been an incredible teacher and mentor through this whole process. The character is a little out of my wheelhouse, but I wanted the challenge so here I am, working out the kinks. There are two other films I'm excited about: Supremacy with Danny Glover, a true events thriller where I play an opportunistic Aryan accomplice, and To Whom It May Concern with Wilmer Valderrama. I play a girl interrupted in her suicide planning by the fight for life experienced by an immigrant. All in all, it's going great and I'm thinking this may be a great year for me.


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