Olivia Hamilton Arrives in Hollywood With ‘First Man’

The actress, who is newly wed to director Damien Chazelle, also is a writer and producer of theatrical and musical experiences.

Premiering a film at three major festivals — Venice, Telluride, Toronto — in less than two weeks is intense, but considering “First Man” is the third feature-length effort from Oscar-winning wunderkind director Damien Chazelle, the bar was set rather high.

Actress Olivia Hamilton, 31, is along for the wild ride, in more ways than one. She’s part of the cast in the film about Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. As Pat White, wife of astronaut Edward White, Hamilton’s effective supporting turn illustrates the human cost of NASA’s far-reaching space program. She’s also newly wed to Chazelle, her partner of three-and-a-half years.

“First Man,” which stars Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, hits theaters on Friday, and Hamilton is bracing for a potential long awards season ahead. But on this afternoon in her Venice Beach, Calif., pad, she’s barefoot and relaxed as she discusses the real-life character she portrays.

“She starts off incredibly patriotic and supportive and on the team, and her relationship with her husband is like the dream relationship. It’s almost like they were ahead of their time; they had a real partnership,” she said of Pat White. But, as the movie shows in subtle yet wallop-packing fashion, “as a result of the space program I go through a pretty dramatic transformation. So that was the best part about the role.”

Hamilton also literally lived with the project — and its director — for the two years since its inception, so she had a deep understanding of what the movie’s bigger picture was. “That was really helpful because I knew where I fit in, and the tone,” she said.

While she described Chazelle on set as “intense, focused and dramatic,” she said that their off-set relationship made working on the movie easier. “When there’s total trust in the actor-director relationship, it’s the best ground for creativity because I could take risks and be supportive and I knew he would tell me honestly if he needed me to dial it back and vice versa. On top of that, we had all this down time where we could just reflect and talk about the character and play with it,” she said.

While Hamilton has only appeared in a handful of films that have been released thus far (her small but memorable role as Gluten Free Girl in “La La Land” was her first major premiere, also at the Venice Film Festival), she’s been working steadily since she graduated from Princeton, though not in movies.

“I studied economics in college because I knew I was good at it, and I wanted to be a 4.0 student, so I only took classes that were subjective where I could guarantee an ‘A.’ I do love economics, but I sort of had a midlife crisis and decided to quit my job in New York and study acting. It was like a ‘leap and net will appear’ moment.” While she wasn’t able to support herself with her art right away — she tutored economics and did freelance business projects for companies — after she made the indie “Hold Fast, Good Luck,” she knew she’d be able to make it as an actress.

She’s got another indie, “Justine,” written and directed by Stephanie Turner, in the pipeline, and is writing the next installment of her web series “Facetiming With Mommy” while pitching it as a television show (she costars with Calista Flockhart, Ben Stein and Terry Walters). “It’s sort of like a female ‘Seinfeld’ where nothing really happens,” she said.

She also designs theatrical and musical experiences. “I did a production in downtown L.A. called ‘The Silent Play Experiment’ so I have a couple of those in the works. Right now, we are in talks with some shopping malls about how to repurpose those spaces and make them more about building community.” Her musical experience, called Sensorium, had two events over the summer and she’s working on another one with musician Sam Spiegel. “He’s releasing new music, so he produces them and I design the experience with him. The vision long-term is that these can be the new listening party and an alternative to a concert,” she said. “My mission is to get adults to play more.”

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OLIVIA HAMILTON ON ‘FIRST MAN’, RYAN GOSLING, & THE PURSUIT OF CHANGE

OLIVIA HAMILTON ON ‘FIRST MAN’, RYAN GOSLING, & THE PURSUIT OF CHANGE

Her newest role in the Neil Armstrong biopic shoots for the moon.

“It’s a movie that could be just about men and going to the moon but I love that the story showed the role of the women,” Olivia Hamilton tells me as we sip on lattes at Drake One Fifty and chat about her new film First Man. It’s the day before its TIFF premiere and the buzz around the Neil Armstrong biopic, directed by Hamilton’s husband and Academy Award winner Damien Chazelle (he also directed that itty bitty film called La La Land, which she had a role in as well) and stars Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, is deafening.

Hamilton plays Pat White, the widow of astronaut Edward Higgins White who passed away on Apollo 1, a mission that preceded Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s momentus moon landing in 1969 on Apollo 11. Chazelle’s breathtaking and intense portrayal of one of humanity’s biggest accomplishments focuses on the immense personal impact the space program had not only on the astronauts but also their families. “[Pat White] represents the human sacrifice and the human cost of this mission,” Hamilton tells me. “I fell in love with her. Sort of in the same way that the astronauts are larger than life, so perfect and heroic, she’s that type of woman. She’s the perfect mom and the perfect wife and she’s genuinely on the team and believing in what NASA is doing.”

Playing a character based on a real person posed its own set of pressure for Hamilton, “Having [Pat White’s] children alive really raised the stakes for me. I went down to Dallas and met with her daughter, Bonnie. I wanted to get information and learn from her, but I also think I wanted her approval. I wanted her to say, ‘yeah, you’re going to be great as my mom.’ We have a good relationship!” There was another challenge, “Nobody was sure how she spoke—there is no audio of her. [I had to] work with different dialogue coaches to come up with the voice and work with Damien [Chazelle] to figure out how we wanted her to sound.”
It was this collaboration on creativity that defined a lot of the most immersive scenes. “Damien is very honoring of the craft and respectful of it. Ryan [Gosling] has a very emotional scene in the movie and Damian was like, ‘okay, it’s a closed set. I’m the only one in the room.’ Or when I had an emotional scene, he’s like, ‘bring her in in the last moment,’ He takes care of you,” she explains. In those intimate moments, paired with stunning cinematography, the audience, in synced breath is taken through this gut-churning journey. “Going to the moon was not, ‘oh, let’s go the moon!’ It was an incredibly arduous, dangerous, challenging mission and we’ve never seen that shown in space. It’s often really glamorized and clean, and in this film you see that it is not—it’s really dangerous and a lot of people sacrificed [to make it happen],” Hamilton continues.

Once you catch your breath and blood flows back into your knuckles, Hamilton hopes you take away a bit of that determination for change. “I think it’s going to spark a lot of good discussion and debate about what it takes to really achieve something great, and are we willing in this current day, to put in the political will, the money, the sacrifice to tackle some of the issues that we’re facing?” We ask ourselves the same question.

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VERGE MEETS: OLIVIA HAMILTON

Ahead of the release of Damien Chazelle’s latest film First Man, released in cinemas this week, we sat down with Olivia Hamilton, one of the stars of the film to discuss her role as Pat White, wife of NASA astronaut Edward Higgins White, in the epic blockbuster.

First Man tells the largely untold story of Neil Armstrong’s personal story as he attempts to make history by becoming the first man on the moon. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy star as husband and wife Neil and Janet Armstrong as Chazelle’s masterpiece delicately touches upon their own relationship, Armstrong’s personal mission and explores in great detail, the lengths that The USA were prepared to go to beat the former Soviet Union in The Space Race.

It was an absolute delight to be able to discuss the film in such detail with Olivia Hamilton, who gives a great performance as Pat White and it was fascinating to hear the amount of preparation that she put into the role. Check out our interview with Olivia Hamilton right here!