DC’s Legends of Tomorrow actress Aliyah O’Brien is passionate about spreading love, and it shows in her work.
The ability to naturally shine has a magnetic result on people, especially in the casting room. Think about it – all day, every day, the Casting Directors are looking at hundreds of auditions, video after video. It can be real tiresome.
So when you have an actor that sparkles, the CDs really take notice. The wheels start spinning – Wow! This actor is perfect for this role! But they would also be great for this role, and that role…!
This is how Aliyah O’Brien created multiple opportunities to take her career to the next level.
You booked a recurring role on the upcoming sixth season of the CW’s DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. You’re playing Kayla, “a fearsome warrior with a high body count and low patience for human incompetence.” How did you get the role? Did you audition?
So I did audition. I was doing a guest spot on a show called Hudson & Rex in Newfoundland and was on house arrest so to speak (because of Covid-19) in a B&B with a couple other actors in town for the show. One of my fellow actors Marika Sila helped me tape it with my iPhone and a teeny ring light that I travel with for these kinds of situations. We had it clipped to a dresser and found the least distracting wall as a backdrop 😉
My process for auditions is always a little different. Generally it’s pretty intuitive. After doing this for awhile now I can usually feel my way through a scene and find its dance. I will add that I’ve been working with a coach through the company ‘The Performers Mindset’ around the psychological process of being an actor which has been really helpful. My coach, Joe, introduced me to a script analysis process of theirs they call “Script Analysis for the 21st Century”. I generally use this now to make sure I’m not missing anything, and to be sure I’m being specific.
I’m such an advocate for working on your mental / emotional well being. I think the work The Performer’s Mindset is doing is really important and often the missing piece for actors to get out of their own way.
When the offer came in I actually had another one come in at the exact same time for another CW show. But Legends of Tomorrow being the wild and wacky show that it is, made it an easy pick for me to choose. I’m really working on moving towards fun these days 😉
Does Kayla have any super powers? What’s it like running around with a bunch of super heroes?
God I wish I could answer this question. But as I’m sure you know, I’ve signed a massive NDA and am not at liberty to disclose ANYTHING. Soooooo…you’ll have to tune in and find out 😉
You’re a seasoned actress, having been in show business for 15 years. You have great credits including series regulars. What’s it like stepping into Legends of Tomorrow, a well established show with actors who have been working together the past six years?
So firstly, I LOVE this cast and crew. We are really blessed to have amazing crews in Vancouver, but this one has been together for six years now and it shows. I’ve fallen in love with so many of them, it’s a sweet treat. To be honest I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to even say which actors I’ve worked with so far, but I will say they’ve all been great! The producers and actors often set the tone of a show, and the vibes on this one are top shelf.
You like to create or learn a backstory for your characters. Other actors aren’t interested in backstories. How does having a backstory for Kayla help you flesh out the character? Were you given any backstory information? Were you able to talk to the EP and/or writers to ask questions?
Yes this was actually very helpful. I had a bunch of questions after doing my own initial work and I was able to reach out to the writers and get a ton of inside information which filled in a lot of blanks. Generally if I don’t have access to this, I will just make it up so that the character feels full enough and rooted for me, but it’s always nice when there are a bunch of details offered to help color your story. Kevin Mock who was the onset EP and also director of the second episode I did, also made himself very available for questions which was great. I think it’s always a good reminder for us actors that it never hurts to ask. Usually writers / producers want you to have all the info so that your performance is in alignment with their vision. It truly is a giant collaboration of all teams.
Aliyah loves the freedom of running around the beach!
You’re Irish/Spanish/Welsh. Give us some family history.
So my name has nothing to do with my ancestry. My sweet, spiritual mother said she “received” my name in a meditation one day while she was pregnant with me. Love that!
My mom’s side of the family is the Welsh/Spanish. My Grandpa used to tell us stories of how our last name used to be Costello which they changed to Cottle to sound more Welsh.
My Dad’s side is the Irish, hence the last name. Apparently we are descendants of one of the most famous kings in Ireland? But O’Brien is also the fifth most popular last name in Ireland, so I have no data to back that claim other than my last name 😉
Our family comes from a town called Ennis, in County Clare. My dad does happen to be a wicked Irish fiddle player, which has always made me feel more connected to my roots. When I used to go on really long travel adventures, I had him record fiddle tunes for me so I could listen and feel connected to home. He still busts out the fiddle every day and always at family events. It’s the best!
Why was Holly Stewart, the forensic pathologist on Rookie Blue, one of your favorite characters to play?
I really loved played Holly for many reasons, but mainly to share a love story between two people that happened to be of the same sex. The writers did such a good job of not making it “the gay story”. I think this is one of the ways we normalize love is LOVE.
I also LOVED everyone I worked with on that show. It was a really special bunch, my heart swells just thinking about them
You’re a supporter for LGBTQ+ rights and also wish to end racism. Why do people tend to put labels on themselves and others? Are you yourself a part of the LGBTQ+ community? Do you think there will ever be an end to racism?
This is a big question…I’ll try and answer succinctly.
Firstly, why do we have to put ourselves into boxes? I think labels are just there so people can feel comfortable. I bet you if you took away all the centuries of stigma and shame around sexuality, most of us would fall into the Queer community bubble in some respect? 50 shades of gay right?! 😉 Even if it’s just 5%, most people don’t go there even in themselves, because of the fear that’s been ingrained.
One of the most beautiful things that’s come out of the role I played on Rookie Blue is that people have written to me telling me that they didn’t even realize they were gay until they watched our characters fall in love and then started realizing and accepting their own truth. One sweet woman told me after coming to this realization, she then allowed herself to explore a relationship with a woman (in a small town where being gay was still met with shame), and they are now married and happier than ever. I am BEYOND passionate about people loving and accepting themselves for who they are, and of course, sexuality is no exception.
I personally am attracted to souls. Sometimes they’re in a male body, sometimes they’re in a female body. Let’s just love who we want to love, starting with ourselves please!!
As far as racism goes it’s a tricky one. I have no real answers. Still unsure, still learning. The world is populated with almost eight billion people, all at various levels of consciousness, who have been taught different things by society, their parents etc. This is messy.
What I do think is very cool is people are waking up. My hope always is that the pathway to change is through love and compassion.
For any of the productions you’ve been in, did you ever have to sign an NDA? What does an NDA actually say?
Yeah this is a good question and one that varies from show to show. I always err on the side of caution and either wait until a public announcement has been made, or ask the higher ups, producers or shows publicist what I’m allowed to say without getting in trouble.
You like to share positivity, love and joy with the world, yet on screen you superbly play a bad-ass. Is that a conflict?
Not at all. I mean I like to consider myself a soulful badass on a mission to spread love and light in the world!! Actually my friend Ashley branded me the ‘Badass Bohemian’ many years ago and it still feels very accurate 😉
But I understand what you’re probably asking is “is it hard to play a villain, when I’m a big ball of love?” hehe. The answer is no. It’s all fun. And it all lives in us somewhere. It’s just about finding your way in. Sometimes I have to get a little more crafty to relate to my character more. I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “you can’t judge your characters”, and it’s true.
Human beings are flawed and ultimately doing the best they can. It’s up to me to figure out how this person sees the world and justify their choices. And when it comes to action I’m all over it.
You love travelling and have been all over the world. If you could magically make your very own destination, what would it consist of?
Oooo la la. I’ve never been asked this question.
Gosh! Without thinking about it too much, it would be very culturally rich, full of foods and
colors and history that I’ve never explored. There would be some seriously sexy nature and physical activity. As well as noise, chaos, music and art that tickles the senses. The people there would have huge, open hearts, and a focus on living life to the fullest. Lots of joy! Lots of dancing!
Aliyah loves relaxing near the water.
Do you ever get stressed or feel anxiety because of work?
Ha! Tell me NO ONE ever says “No, I don’t get stressed”. Lies.
Here’s the thing. For me, my job is always a barometer of how solid and centred I am in myself. Which is of course ever changing. But being a lover of personal growth and expansion, I’m always working on my inner world so that I can show up more free and open in my work. And most importantly, ENJOY it.
The cool (and sometimes annoying) thing is, there’s always another opportunity to level up. Another mountain to climb. Because the jobs get bigger and bigger and the stakes get higher. I will say though, the inner work is where it’s at for me. I work on releasing fear, leaning into joy, and loving myself and my life like a full time job. It always pays off!
Nixon James and Aliyah O’Brien goofing off on the set of a Hallmark movie.
Anything else you want to say?
Well because this is geared towards actors, I’ll just kindly ask that you take care of your sweet selves. We can be so hard on ourselves, always focusing on what’s not working, or where we want to be (don’t worry I’m looking at myself too). This also applies to ALL people, not just actors. It’s a constant work in progress for me, but I think we’re really here to enjoy our lives and we’ve been taught that we can’t until the outer world validates us with success, jobs, money, partners etc. Bullshit!
Your enjoyment is in your hands. Your love for yourself is in your hearts. You have the power to write your story, so write the best one you can imagine. Love love LOVE.
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Photographer: Kristine Cofsky
Stylist: Jaralin Detienne
Hair and Makeup: Swank Makeup Artistry