EXCLUSIVE | Alison Araya reveals recipe for her 'Julie and the Phantoms' character: 'I grew up with her'
Actress, writer and costume designer Alison Araya, known for her work on the 2012 series 'Arrow', the 2016 psychological horror film 'The Unseen' and more recently 'Riverdale' and 'Julie and the Phantoms', is a performer and creator with two decades of work under her belt. And while that is impressive enough all on its own, what is even more remarkable is the range of work Araya has had a hand in, as well as her journey thus far as a minority attempting to navigate an industry that doesn't always create space for performers like her.
Born in Sydney, Australia, Araya's journey began when she, inspired by Drew Barrymore's role in the movie 'ET', found herself drawn to the world of the performing arts. She went from her performing arts high school in Australia to the Accademia Internazionale d'Arte Drammatica Silvio D 'Amico of Rome where she studied for five years, eventually co-founding her own production company 'GlitterSpank Productions' with her friend and fellow actress Justine Warrington in 2014. Their 2015 film 'Earthlickers' went go on to win the Leo Award for Best Visual Effects in a Short Drama.
Stepping aside from her role helming a project, Araya now stars in Netflix's musical teen drama 'Julie and the Phantoms' as the titular Julie's loving and at times overbearing, aunt Victoria. MEA Worldwide (MEAWW) got the chance to chat with Araya about her extensive body of work, her ability to deliver impactful performances and her plans for the future.
It's been quite a journey going from 'Uncredited Girl' in 'Mission Impossible II' to 'Aunt Victoria' in 'Julie and the Phantoms'. Could you take us through your 20-year journey as an actress?
It certainly has been a journey that funnily enough started around a lunch table on the set of 'Mission Impossible II'. Talking among ourselves, we were sharing what we were planning on doing with our earnings and after trying to break into the industry in Australia, I was frustrated with the lack of opportunities for diverse actors, so I decided and proclaimed I was moving to Italy to pursue my acting. I even opened my day planner randomly, it fell on to July 17th, 1999, and I wrote: "Must be out of Sydney". In a series of magical alignments, I found myself on a plane headed to Bologna, Italy on July 17th, 1999. I worked hard, learned the language and auditioned for theatre school. I was accepted into a regional program and then decided to audition for the National Academy in Rome. My time at the Academy set the foundation for my career. Returning to Australia, I was convinced with my education and experience I'd be able to work but again, I couldn't breakthrough. I was planning on moving to LA on a wing and a prayer when I met an actor in a class who told me about the industry in Vancouver, Canada. So I moved!
I hit the ground running and in a short period of time had representation and was auditioning. My very first agent in Vancouver told me that I'd be cast only in Latina specific roles until my work became known. This was a truth hard to swallow, I had just come out of theatre school and thought I knew it all and was ready for my Oscar! Over the 20+ years of my career, I've learned you can NEVER stop learning. Each role and project has offered me a chance to hone my craft and extend myself. The one constant throughout has been working on myself and trusting my journey.
Your role on 'Julie and the Phantoms' is a short one, yet you manage to make quite the impact as Julie's over-bearing yet loving Aunt. How do you work towards crafting a memorable performance?
I think it starts with confidence that no matter what the size of the role is, you are an important element of the story. When it comes time for preparation, I like to start with understanding the function of the character within the greater arc of the story. I then like to look at my own life and see where I have "lived" experiences that bring truth to my work. With Tia Victoria it was easy, I know this woman! I grew up with her in many forms, from my family members and all the honorary aunties, these women are there through the highs and lows of life, always with a plate of food and always with a huge loving heart, and while at times they can be overbearing, the intentions are pure! At least that's the recipe I followed when I cooked up Tia Victoria.
You've had other short yet impactful roles on shows like 'Arrow' and 'Riverdale', as Officer Lopez and Ms Weiss respectively. Is there one role, in particular, you enjoyed playing the most?
Both experiences were super fun! And I am so grateful for them, but I have to say I grew up watching 'Beverly Hills 90210' and like every teen, at the time I was obsessed. I was 100% team Dylan so when I knew I would be working with Luke Perry I was beyond excited, but I played it super cool, at least I tried to. Luke was so kind and talented, I learned a lot watching him work. It's an experience I treasure deeply, more so since his untimely death.
Your filmography seems to veer into the world of fantasy quite often. Do you have a preference for the genre or is it something that just happened along the way?
Personally, I love the fantasy and sci-fi genres, but when it comes to how it's manifested in my career, it really is something that has just happened. One of my first gigs, when I moved to Vancouver, was on 'Smallville'. I remember being so nervous and I had to carefully inject glowing green goo into an intravenous tube, I was told specifically not to allow any of the goo to enter the tube until the last take, but being "green" myself I totally injected all of the goo into the tube on the first take - oops! I hope I've redeemed myself in subsequent roles.
You had a short, interesting stint as a writer, producer, and costume designer on the 2014 'campy, erotic, science fiction comedy' 'Earthlickers', which earned comparisons to Jane Fonda's 'Barbarella' as well as critical praise. What was that experience like and how did you wind up working on the project?
'Earthlickers' was a creative collaboration between myself and Justine Warrington. One of the most colorful and fun experiences of my career so far. We shot under grueling circumstances and in a near-impossible time frame but it was so wildly fun! We wanted to use sci-fi/fantasy as a platform to transmit a message of love and healing. Growing up I was a big fan of all things camp, from 'Barbarella' to 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' and 'RuPaul' so these influences certainly found their way into the picture. The film was selected as a winner at the 2014 Crazy's 8s short film contest. Since then we have a feature script that awaits developing.
The family drama 'Party of Five' is, quite naturally, an extremely intense show. Did its themes of deportation and struggles of a Mexican family factor into your decision to star in it?
When I read for 'Party of Five' I knew that I had to tell this story. My own family immigrated from Chile to Australia like many families in the 1970's so I felt deeply connected to the themes and struggles of immigration. To seek out a better future for one's family is a natural human desire. I was moved by the narrative shift in this new imagining of 'Party of Five' and knew the power it had to reach into the personal stories of many citizens. It was an honor to be invited to be part of this important story.
Is there a dream project you'd love to tackle in the near future?
I have always wanted to direct, I feel my career and experiences have primed me to step into the role of director. I have many stories I'd like to tell, influenced by my love of fantasy and magical realism. I'm working steadily towards achieving this dream.
What can fans see you in next?
Next up for me, is probably my most challenging role yet. I'm taking a deep dive into the dramatic, in the psychological thriller 'Forgiver'. It's my debut as a lead in a feature film, and I am equal parts excited and terrified but ready to take the leap.