“I’ve just given birth,” says Olympia Valance. “It was really, really fun to be pregnant. You don’t have to watch what you’re eating; you’re just fat all the time. It was great. And I was pregnant with the priest, which was super scandalous. Of course, when I first met the priest, he wasn’t a priest. We were in this big accident and he fell and got amnesia, so when we fell in love, he didn’t know he was a priest. But his memory has come back, so I’m a single parent.”
It’s a lot to take in. For starters, the 24-year-old Australian actress certainly doesn’t look to have recently given birth, as she chats animatedly in the lobby of a hotel in the middle of Sydney, dressed in skin-tight jeans and towering heels. It helps, of course, that the pregnancy was fictional—simply her character’s latest story arch on Neighbours, the hit Australian soap opera on which Valance stars as Paige Smith, a fiesty spitfire who has been a lead character for nearly four years.
“You can imagine how many storylines I’ve had,” Valance said. “When I first came on the show, I was the daughter of this woman who thought I had died at birth, so I come back to find her. My craziest plot was when I got married, but my fiancé was a police officer and he arrested me at the alter. It’s so hard to explain, but I got set up basically.”
The show originally debuted in 1985, and has since amassed 33 seasons, or, as of last week, 7,600 episodes, making it the longest running drama series in Australian television and the seventh longest running serial drama still on the air in the world. It as, as Valance summed up, an “institution.” Consider it Australia’s much more popular answer to The Young and the Restless or Degrassi. And like the latter, the show has become known as a platform for young Aussie talents before becoming global superstars. Among its most popular alum: Margot Robbie, Chris and Luke Hemsworth, Russell Crowe, and Kylie Minogue.
Like the Hemsworths before her, the show is something of a family affair for Valance; her sister Holly Valance, who went on to star in Entourage and Prison Break, appeared on the show for three years before Valance eventually auditioned. “You look up to your older sister and are like, ‘I want to be you, you’re so cool,’” said the actress. “And I’ve just kind of followed in her steps. I did a few musicals in school but never thought that it was something I wanted to do, or could do. Now that I’ve done it, I literally can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
The show, with all of its many wild storylines, has certainly kept the actress, a Melbourne native, busy for the last four years, during which she’s formed a particularly close bond with the expansive cast. “We have a really, really great cast, and it varies from school kids to people who have been on the show for thirty years,” she said.” Most of the crew members have been there from the very, very start. Two big handfuls of people have never left the building, so they’ve seen everyone come through: Margot, the Hemsworths, everyone.”
It’s another Aussie, however, that Valance hopes to emulate as she ponders the next steps in her career. “I love Rose Bryne so much,” said Valance, emphatic in her delivery. “She’s funny, and she’s talented, and I love her so much.”
The resemblance is definitely there: sure, there’s a physical likeness, all glossy brown hair, gleaming eyes, and sly grin, but what really comes across most strongly is Valance’s infectious attitude and understated sense of humor, which can take you by surprise. (When asked what she likes to do when not filming, she responded, deadpan: “Eat. Food is everything.”).
And much like Byne—and Robbie, for that matter—stardom beyond Australia may soon be in the cards for Valance, with plans to move to Los Angeles full time by the end of the year. I’m not saying the word move; I’m relocating temporarily,” she clarified. “The word move is really daunting. But that’s the plan. That was always the plan. It’s a dream. It’s a big dream, but I know that.”
Paging Martin Scorsese: you may have found your next leading lady.
Related: Margot Robbie Auditions for Marlon Brando’s Role in “On the Waterfront"