Olympia Valance: “I’m surrendering to whatever fate has in store.” (Pic: Emily Delphine for Stellar)
Olympia Valance: “I’m surrendering to whatever fate has in store.” (Pic: Emily Delphine for Stellar)

Olympia Valance: ‘It crushes a little piece of your soul’

IT was meant to be a heated scene between mother and daughter, but no-one was expecting the F-word to suddenly come flying out. It certainly wasn't in the script - and youngster Olympia Valance, auditioning for her very first role on Neighbours, had no idea she was about to utter it. It could have been curtains for the budding actor.

But these days she recalls the scene with relish, crediting that slip of the tongue with the launch of her acting career.

"Here's the real story," she tells Stellar. "The F-word got me my job. In the audition, [screen mother] Kate Kendall and I were in this screaming match and I accidentally said it. I just went, 'I'm so sorry!', I got lost in the emotion. I think they liked that, because I had seemed so vanilla. They saw I was like a sponge - and someone they could work with."

Valance is taking on Hollywood. (Pic: Emily Delphine for Stellar)
Valance is taking on Hollywood. (Pic: Emily Delphine for Stellar)

Despite having made her name on Ramsay Street, the place where older sister Holly launched her own career in entertainment years earlier, Valance, 25, is eager to chart her own path.

Holly famously moved to London and recorded an album after she left Neighbours; so too did Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. Instead, Valance is leaving the popular soap and heading to Los Angeles for three months. She has her sights set on tackling a role like Wonder Woman, or perhaps lacing up in corsetry for a quirky period series like Penny Dreadful.

She tells Stellar that she has turned down several offers to record an album, preferring to leave the singing to Holly and her stepfather, Aussie rocker Ross Wilson. "I don't want to go down that road," she laughs. "I do like singing... to myself. But I love acting, being on set, meeting new people, learning new things and being around the crew."

Valance wasn't always so sure about any of those things. She "sort of fell into" the craft soon after finishing Year 12. For years, she had struggled with the air of discipline that surrounded her at her private girls' school. "I was getting in so much trouble at school. I was distracted," she explains. "Mum was worried, but I just said: 'Don't worry, Mum, I am going to be successful at whatever I do. I don't know what it is yet, but I am going to be successful at it.' I said it with such conviction that she accepted it."

She didn't have to wait too long to prove to her mother she was right. The two were on holiday in Bali when Valance got a phone call out of the blue from a make-up artist with Neighbours to let her know she had recommended her for an upcoming role. The artist had met Valance through Holly, and knew she had the right look and personality to play a young firecracker named Paige. Excited at the prospect of leaving her part-time job at a pet shop, Valance gleefully accepted the chance to audition for the TV series.

Unlike her competition, Valance admittedly had some aces up her sleeve in the form of family friend Alan Fletcher (Neighbours' Dr Karl Kennedy) - who offered guidance and ran lines with her in preparation - and, of course, her sister Holly.

Sisters Olympia and Holly.
Sisters Olympia and Holly.

Valance was in primary school when Holly got her big break on Neighbours in 1999. "Kids didn't treat me differently but there were a couple of times when Holly was really, really big and she was singing 'Kiss, Kiss', and she came to pick me up from school and she just got completely bombarded," she recalls.

"I always looked up to her. Her life was fun and she was enjoying it. She was meeting a million people. All kids look up to their big sisters but to have a big sister who is in the public eye and so cool was pretty special."

Valance never got the opportunity to raid Holly's closet for the cool leather jackets and cargo pants she coveted; they may share a father but they were raised by different mothers, and never lived under the same roof.

Valance's parents divorced when she was young before moving on to have more children with their new spouses. "Our Christmases," she says, "we all spend together. And kudos to them for making it work - because it's heaven."

As Paige Smith on long-running soap, Neighbours.
As Paige Smith on long-running soap, Neighbours.

But she admits it wasn't always easy, and that she struggled to accept Wilson's presence in her life at the beginning. "It was difficult because I had to share my mum, but even just having someone around who wasn't my dad was tough," she says. "I put Ross through absolute hell! From when I was five until I was 18, he copped it. Close to my 18th birthday I apologised for being so vile. He only ever supported me. And now I look back and cringe that I was such a brat."

Valance credits her unusual family dynamics - she has eight siblings - with helping to prepare her for the unpredictable life of an actor. Her upbringing exposed her to the intrusive nature of fame, but Valance was still shell-shocked when topless photos of her were posted on the internet last September.

"I was on holiday with my family in Mykonos," she remembers. "The two people next to me had nothing on. It's Greece, you know! It was no big deal [to be topless] but it was just such an invasion [to publish pictures]. You want to keep those parts of yourself sacred for your lover, or just private. So when I woke up the next morning I had a billion missed calls from my agent and my publicist, and I just knew that someone must have taken pictures of me on the beach. And there were like 70 photos. It crushes a little piece of your soul. It baffles me. If it was anyone else that wasn't a paparazzo taking photos of a topless young girl they'd get arrested."

“You have to have a really thick skin to do this... it changes you.” (Pic: Emily Delphine)
“You have to have a really thick skin to do this... it changes you.” (Pic: Emily Delphine)

Valance says she is carefree by nature, but admits the experience made her a little more cautious. "This is why you have to have a really thick skin to do this," she says. "At the end of the day, what can I do? It's done now. But it changes who you are a little bit, more and more. You look at other celebrities and realise the reason they have become the way they are. It's all been chipped away until you are left with a facade."

She was originally supposed to finish up with Neighbours at the end of her third year. "But I wasn't ready," she says. "By the end of year four, I was. I didn't feel like I was being challenged anymore - I could have stayed and been happy, but would have always looked back and thought, 'What more could I have done?'"

Valance grew fond of Kian Bafekrpour, the little boy who played her onscreen baby, Gabriel. "Leaving him was hard," she says. "And playing a mother wasn't weird - I've always babysat. I've always had children in my arms. And when you develop a relationship with them, it's hard to say goodbye.

Olympia Valance is in Stellar magazine.
Olympia Valance is in Stellar magazine.

"I think I cried every day for the last two weeks," she adds. "Even my last drive into [the set at] Nunawading, I was sobbing all the way to work, knowing I may never get to see so much of these people who mean so much to me again."

At the end of last month, Valance departed Melbourne and headed to Hollywood, where she will try her luck auditioning for a variety of TV pilots. She meets with Stellar just days before her big move, and while she is filled with excitement, also reveals she has made no fixed plans. "I'm surrendering to whatever fate has in store," she says. "I don't want to take my work too seriously. I love acting - because I have fun with it. As soon as it starts getting too serious, I might have to rethink.

"I could take on a heavy, dramatic role," Valance continues, "but that's not my aim. I love comedy, I love action, doing my own stunts, dressing up in costumes. I can be emotional [for a role] but it's hard and it hurts! If something great came along, of course, I'd jump at it.

"What I really want to do," she admits, "is be a superhero."

Neighbours airs 6.30pm weeknights, on Eleven.

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