New Faces: Odessa Adlon Is Totally Prepared to Take Over the World

The daughter of ‘Better Things’ creator Pamela Adlon and star of the CBS sitcom ‘Fam’ is not short on ambition.

Photograph by Heather Gildroy

Odessa Adlon wants to do it all. No, really—you name it, she has it on her to-do list.

“I’m someone who has no sense of decision-making,” she confirmed recently. “I love doing everything. Anything that you put in front of me, I’ll want to figure out how to do it or at least attempt to. When I have free time, I try to practice with my band, but balancing my time with [them] is really hard, and that’s why I don’t have any music out. I would love to be able to perform with them more. Photography is something that I can do literally anytime, which is what’s so amazing about. And I love writing and I’ve been trying to write a few scripts. I also love clay-making, which is so random…. I also want to have a fashion line. I don’t think it would have a specific look. I would want a little bit of everything. I would want something that people could wear that’s more feminine and more masculine, too. Dude, there’s just so many things I want to do. I wish I could just stick to one thing, but I want to do so many things.”

Whew. But for now, anyway, the focus is on acting, Adlon insisted, on the phone from her home in Los Angeles, which she shares with her mom, the actress and creator of Better Things, Pamela Adlon, her two sisters (Gideon, 21, also an actress, and Rockie, 15), her grandmother, and as of our conversation, one of her sister’s friends and two female dogs. “It’s a house full of women,” she said. “There’s a lot coming at you. It’s a lot.”

Adlon, who turns 19 this June, has been acting for just a few years now, after years begging her mom to let her audition. “When I was eight, I asked for headshots for my birthday and I never got it,” she said. “This sounds so, so, so stupid and cliche, but when I was younger, I always put on different characters for my family, just for fun, and would make mini-movies and literally look in the mirror and pretend to be someone else.” At 15, she finally was allowed to meet with an agency, and immediately got a manager and started going on auditions. “My first audition ever, I didn’t know what you were supposed to wear, so I ended up looking it up online,” she recalled. “It was like, ‘Wear tight black pants and nothing too flashy.’ I literally wore that and was so uncomfortable. I’m not a ‘girly-girly’—I like baggy clothes, and that’s how I feel comfortable. But when I started to go on more and more auditions, I learned it’s meant to be what you feel is right for the role, so now I go in my clothes. It’ll be a Metallica shirt, and people really don’t care.”

As with any budding career, Adlon was met with a few no’s at the get-go. “One that I really wanted and was really excited about, but didn’t even get a call back was that show I Love Dick,” she said. “Is that what it’s called? And another one was Santa Clarita Diet. I didn’t get that one, either.” But then the yeses started coming, including a five-episode arc on Nashville. “That was even my first callback ever,” she said. “I found out I got it in an Uber, and my mom called me and I was like, ‘Holy shit! Fuck!’ I was freaking out. And I didn’t even think I was going to get it. I thought a callback was the biggest thing in the world.”

Adlon’s biggest role to date followed soon after: a starring role on Fam, a family sitcom currently airing its first season on CBS. On the show, Adlon plays Shannon, the rebellious younger sister of Nina Dobrev’s Clem, a reformed party girl. After years apart, Shannon re-enters Clem’s life, and in true 22-minute comedy form, chaos ensues. “It was completely different than what I expected,” she said of the show, which filmed every episode in front of a live studio audience. “It was pretty stressful, because you only have a limited amount of time to film in front of these 400 people that have been waiting there for six hours, and if you mess up… And they are constantly changing and giving you new lines—whatever you are prepared to do at the beginning of the week is totally different by the time you get in front of the audience. It’s scary and it’s stressful, but it’s also a challenge and it’s fun.”

If there’s one thing that Adlon’s up for, it’s a challenge. That long to-do list of hers also encompasses the types of roles she hopes to one day play. “I’ve done a couple of independent movies, and I loved them,” she said. “They were so fun and I got paid jackshit. And I would love to do a feature film—comedy or drama. I would love to see the differences between the two formats… I would also love to do sci-fi and fantasy. I feel like that would be so much fun. And like a really scary horror movie. That would be fun.”

She paused for a rare breath. Then it continued. “I really would love to do roles that are difficult for people to watch. This might sound stupid, but I want to be able to make people cry, and I want people to be afraid of me.” Another pause. “Not in real life, just on screen.”

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