#71. A Conversation with America Olivo

America Olivo is an actress, singer and model known for her work in films like Friday the 13th and Bitch Slap.  Today she joins Fulle Circle to discuss dropping in on How I Met Your Mother, her stint in Iron Man and being on the cover of Playboy.

Jason Anders: So let's talk a little bit about your music career and how you established yourself in the industry.

America Olivo: I started out with my training in Juilliard in Opera Theater and was signed to a record label just out of college with a band called Soluna- we were with Dreamworks Records and toured, put an album out, and played many of the great stages all over the world. That was fun. The music industry tanked and left us all with no record label- Dreamworks Records folded into Universal. At that time we made a television deal as a Monkees-style sitcom which we developed for two years with Paramount and UPN. We didn't get picked up for a series though, UPN folded into the CW, so it really was good luck and bad timing.

I recently got back into music and helped develop some musicals like Zorro, along with two songs being released on the Bitch Slap soundtrack, one song on a horror film called Neighbor, and also a video coming out for a new single I have under Universal.

JA: Did you enjoy your experience at Juilliard?

AO: Well I graduated high school early at sixteen and went to the California Institute of the Arts, which was great, but I wish I would have done that after Juilliard because they are less about foundation and structure and more about playing with your tools once you have them solidified. The director of my new film Bitch Slap is also from CalArts. Juilliard is really conservative- you're there to train for your specific craft, it's very narrow in what it teaches you to do. I enjoyed my time at CalArts more because I am such a broader person- I was in an African drumming class, a latin salsa band, a sargam singing class, private lute lessons, guitar, directing, interpretive dance, tai-chi, and even astrology and search for extra-terrestrial intelligence if I wanted it! It was just a place where you could do no wrong and was all about learning, a place that birthed Tim Burton and Danny Elfman's careers.

So it was fun to have both of those experiences, I just wish I'd done them backwards.

JA: So do you think it's worth the money and time to invest in schooling if you're going into the entertainment industry?

AO: It's completely dependent on the person. Coming from the "University of Life Experience" is just as valid an experience. Making art a technical experience is a really dull thing and to suffer through that period of your artistic training is not for everybody, and it's something that a lot of people lose themselves in. They start to feel like they've lost their connection and are not going to get it back. For me it was the combination of life experience and schooling, and for someone else it's going to be completely different. I worked in the office of admissions at Juilliard and was telling people "you don't need a Juilliard stamp to make it in life". Not everyone with that stamp makes it as an artist in life. You need the soul and work behind it to back it up.

JA: Who would you list as an artistic inspiration in your life?

AO: Anybody I've ever worked with has been such an inspiration in so many ways- I can give you names of people I grew up listening to and wanting to emulate, but so much of my experience that has shaped me was because of the wonderful artists I've been surrounded by.

JA: So let's talk more now about your involvement in theater and when you became interested in acting.

AO: I became involved in theater around age four- my mother was an acting teacher and she would put me in her shows. I lived in the theater growing up just loving the smell of the stage, musty costumes, and the fun, bigger than life people. I only became a professional actor in 2004 when I got my first gig on House M.D..

JA: What was it like working on that show?

AO: Well that was amazing because it was for the first season and before they aired, actually. We taped the episode on the night that House M.D. first aired, so they had no idea it was going to be a hit. It was a really tense and exciting night because they were hearing as we were filming, and everyone was celebrating which was so much fun. They called me back into the second season to make my character more of a recurring role- then they brought me back and realized my character didn't have much of a purpose. I was just his personal masseuse who didn't speak english (laughs). So I was almost a regular, but that's okay because I loved being a part of those two episodes.

In the midst of that I also did How I Met Your Mother, which I loved because I got to work opposite Neil Patrick Harris who was an inspiration, and also Jason Segel who I loved from Freaks and Geeks. It's always fun to be with someone who I admired from another series. I was also in a horror flick opposite Jason Connery (Sean Connery's son), and I thought that was very cool.

JA: Didn't you work with John Stamos on Jake In Progess as well?

AO: I didn't work opposite him, it was opposite one of the other actors- unfortunately it never aired because the show was canceled upon first airing, and I was in the second episode. It was a great show, I thought it was adorable. Sometimes you just get a bad time slot and it just didn't get the right feedback. I also worked on Cuts with Shannon Elizabeth, General Hospital, and even a mockumentary on the porn industry called Love Shack.

I actually got fired from General Hospital- which is a good thing because I got a call from director Rick Jacobson who is the director for Bitch Slap. He said he saw me in the film Circle and thought I would be perfect for the role of Camero. The same casting directors for that film were working on Friday the 13th- I got the part and ended up flying back and forth to Austin, Texas. I had to dye my hair in a trailer and then be thrown out into the woods and set on fire, and then fly back to film more of Bitch Slap.

JA: Did you have fun filming Friday the 13th?

AO: I did have fun in retrospect, it was pretty intense. I became friends with everyone who was part of the show. Such a beautiful part of that movie is that all the actors were genuinely friends with everyone else, and to jump into that was like being the new kid on set. I didn't really know what I was getting into at the time, but I love having been a part of it. In filming, it was more intense than it was fun. I was really put to the test.

JA: Tell me a little bit more about Bitch Slap and working with Zoe Bell.

AO: Zoe was my coordinator and my trainer, and I'm indebted to her for making me look like I kick ass. She trained us on the weekends at her facility and really taught me a lot. I knew nothing about fighting before and have gained an appreciation for stunt work, fight scenes, and fight choreography. It was an absolute blast. She did a cameo as well of her own character. I recently saw her at the premiere of Whip It which she was just in, it was really sweet. She did such a great job in that.
JA: You were also in the new Transformers movie too, weren't you?

AO: Yeah, I also did a little stint in Iron Man as well- a part which I was actually cast for that only ended up on the deleted scenes. But it was fun to be involved in those two movies- with Transformers 2 it was Michael Bay who did Friday the 13th and we became friendly and he said "we should throw you in to pay homage to other films I do". I said "of course!" (laughs). So I got to improvise a scene with Shia over pot brownies. It was a cameo, nothing more.

JA: So let's talk about being on the cover of Playboy Magazine.

AO: I had done a one page for Playboy for Friday the 13th and it wasn't really a full nude shot, it was more modest. I never really planned on doing a whole nude spread. They called back after the film was such a hit and asked if I wanted to do a spread, and I said "no, not unless they give me the cover" as sort of a joke. Then they called back and said that they would give me the cover!

I was fortunate to be photographed by the Andy Warhol of our time, Terry Richardson, something I couldn't pass up- so I just said "okay, I'm getting naked." I later learned that I probably could have asked to only show the top or be a little bit more modest- nobody else that's a celebrity that was on the cover after my issue actually gets naked. And now Marge Simpson is on the cover (laughs). So I am the last celebrity to date on the cover who gets completely naked. That's kind of funny.

JA: I have this feeling that I will never be asked to do anything like that, so tell me about the experience of actually doing the shoot with Terry Richardson.
AO: He's so much fun to work with. Leading up to the shoot I hadn't told my management or agents that I was going to do this because I was afraid they would try and talk me out of it. I was in New York and had just finished wrapping Neighbor, and I showed up on set. There were a lot of people on set to be naked around. About five minutes in after you take your clothes off, you start to feel like you're in a costume. It gets really comfortable and people stop looking at you funny. He also had the whole place looking fun- it had like candy necklaces and lollipops, a pinata, a pogo stick and trampoline, hula hoops, and balloons... it helped with my vibe of feeling less sexy and more playful and child-like.
JA: Fun for kids of all ages.

AO: (laughs) I regressed into that child's thought of "I don't wanna wear clothes!" and went and jumped on the trampoline- I am sure there are some insane outtakes of that photo shoot, some of which I hope to never see. The ones that he captured because of that feeling were really fun, unlike a lot of the Playboy spreads you usually see- this one had a lot more of a fun "I'm going to reach out and grab you and pull you into my party" kind of commanding attitude that he found. He captured that and brought it out of me. I like it because it's different, and I don't feel exploited. I feel much more in control. It was fun.