As an actor, if your first boss is Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson, you're starting off on a pretty great foot. And if your first boss is Peter Jackson when you're only 10 years old, you're not only starting off on a great foot, you're bounding headfirst into a huge world of possibility — and that's exactly how 18-year-old actor Stefania LaVie Owen began her film career. She did so fearlessly, telling me when we spoke at a photo studio in Midtown Manhattan, that she was "never nervous about [working with Jackson] — I was just ready to take it on, and it was just a fun thing."
Oh yeah, no biggie. Following that first small role in Jackson's The Lovely Bones, Owen parlayed her break into starring roles on The CW's The Carrie Diaries as young Carrie Bradshaw's sister, and on Fox's 2010 comedy, Running Wilde, in which she faced off against the formidable Will Arnett on a weekly basis. Later, Owen would try indie teen drama on for size with 2015's Coming Through The Rye, and the intrepid young actor followed that with a role in the horror-comedy, Krampus.
Now, Owen is turning heads on red carpets with her it-girl style, holding her own alongside Hugh Laurie in Hulu's Chance , and co-starring with Katie Holmes in Holmes' directorial debut, All We Had, out December 9. You'd think any young actor would be satisfied with that lineup, but Owen is hungry for more, and she's not pressing the pause button for even a moment.
"I am so excited because I'm doing a play this winter, and I've never done theater before," she says as she sits with a hairstylist teasing her wild curls on one side and a makeup artist adding a few light touches on the other. Owens has also never done a Welsh accent before (a notoriously tough accent for any actor to master), but she tells me she's about to spend her entire Thanksgiving break learning to do so for the upcoming stage role (the name of which, she says, is still under wraps), as if it's something as simple as learning to use an Easy Bake Oven. This enthusiasm seems par for the course, as Owen seems genuinely excited about the world of possibility before her.
"I love acting so much. I do. But also, I love art history. I love psychology. So, I want to use acting to explore those things. I also really want to go to school. I want to do it all. I want to create a business," she says, rattling off each potential option with more and more gusto.
But while she's ready to take on a sea of new challenges, that doesn't mean she's not enjoying every minute of her fast-paced journey. When I speak with Owen, as the makings of a photoshoot come to life around her, she is beaming. She's just spent 15 minutes getting to know everyone in the room, a genuine smile across her face with every handshake and "hello."
When I ask what advice she would give her 10-year-old self, just starting out in the acting game, with what she knows now, Owen is resolute in her positivity: "I wouldn't change it at all. If anything, I just want to make sure that I keep the way that I've always thought about acting. I want to keep that kind of mentality, because I always want it to be something that I love, something that I'm passionate about, something that's fun."
Owen grew up, for the most part, in New Zealand with her father, two sisters, and her mother, and from a young age, she was a performer. Her mother was a dancer, and Owen and her sisters quickly became acquainted with the stage. "We've always loved performing and the arts, and I've always loved being on stage and performing in front of an audience," she says of her childhood.
Naturally, this path led her to auditions for local productions in New Zealand, being cast in a small role in The Lovely Bones, an American agent, then roles on American television. "Just one thing led to another and it just kind of happened by accident," says Owen, who would often travel to the states for work and then fly back home to New Zealand for school. "So, I was able to have this double life, which has been really, really cool."
But now, Owen has moved permanently to the States at age 18, and while she says it's tough to suddenly be away from home all the time, it's clear that she's got her eye on the prize.
"I want to keep acting. It's something I really love and I'm gonna do it until I don't like it anymore," says the actor, who's also caught the directing bug since working with Holmes on All We Had. "[Katie] also inspired me to want to do that. I really want to direct and act in a film. She was amazing. I really look up to her," she adds.
For her part, Holmes tells me via email that the feeling was very mutual.
"Her intelligence and imagination and creativity were so impressive and inspiring to me," says Holmes. "What surprised me most about working with Stefania was her deep range as an actor. I knew she was very talented when I cast her, but I was truly blown away by her range and her capacity for delving so deep into this character."
And as Owen strived to hit every difficult yoga pose she could muster during our photoshoot in New York — yoga is another of her myriad hobbies alongside her love of extreme roller coasters and bungee jumping — it was easy to see just how dedicated she is to every task, whether it's getting that perfect photo or learning a difficult accent for her next great acting challenge.
"I'm kind of living the dream right now. I'm so excited. When I found out [I got the play], I almost cried. I was really happy," she says. And while she thinks she may love acting forever, her long list of other passions aren't far out of her sight. "I want to think that I'll always like it, but you never know. I'm only 18."
And so her career progresses just as it started, without pressure, without nerves, and with absolutely no fear.
Photos: Hannah Burton/Bustle
Hair: Adam Maclay using Oribe
Makeup: Liset Garza for Chanel at The Wall Group
On Stefania: Sybil Scuba-Knit Pullover, $138, guessbymarciano.com; Black Sleeveless Ribbed Midi Dress, $27, missguidedus.com; Front Back Disc Earring, $38, botkier.com; Velvet Crop Top, similar styles hm.com; Drummond - Blanc Canvas Sneaker, $145, mypopshoes.com; Island Mesh Tee, $90, OR AVAILABLE NOW Pipeline Tee, $95, alalastyle.com; Sports Bra, similar styles hm.com; Leggings, similar styles hm.com; UA Precision Low, $99.99, underarmour.com