Acting is more than just portraying a character. It is embodying another person and becoming someone else. It is about connecting to a part of you that may have always been there, or discovering a new aspect of yourself. Canadian actress Olivia Scriven understands the nuances to the craft. She knows what it is to transform on stage or in front of a camera, creating a sincere connection with her character that captivates audiences.
At twenty years old, Scriven has soared to the top of the Canadian film and television industry. Her portrayal of Patti in the HBO film The Yard six years ago introduced the world to the outstanding talent she is, and the role earned her a Young Artist Award nomination with the rest of the cast for Outstanding Young Ensemble in a TV series. Shortly after this, she played Bailey Martel in the Hallmark Christmas film Mistletoe Over Manhattan, where she secured yet another Young Artist Award nomination, this time singled out for Best Performance in a TV Movie, Miniseries or Special – Supporting Young Artist. At the time, she was only fourteen, but she understood exactly what it was to act.
“I think that when you are doing it, acting that is, that it is just part of who you become, or maybe who you always were. I think what resonates with me, with actors that I am drawn to, and in my own performances, is honesty. I strive to make a character real. Humans are so wonderfully complicated and layered and as an actress, I feel that my performances reflect that. I want to embody beauty and lightness and at the same time be able to draw on the darker, more troubled aspects of my nature, to create characters that are full and complex, and thus, real,” said Scriven.
After her tremendous success in The Yard and Mistletoe Over Manhattan, Scriven’s reputation made her one of Canada’s most sought-after young actresses, something that remains true to this day. It was only a matter of time before she was cast on the hit show Degrassi: The Next Generation. The Degrassi series is arguably one of the most successful Canadian television shows of all time, leading to the fame of artists such as Drake and Nina Dobrev, making it the goal for many young actors in the country.
“Degrassi is iconic. It really has been, for a while, one of the only coming of age television shows that merges drama with comedy in a very real way, to talk about major social and psychological issues that go on within a high school, all while using real teenagers to portray the characters. because of this, I felt it was a very important project for a Canadian teen actor to be a part of,” she said.
Working on Degrassi: The Next Generation for four years, until it ended in 2015, Scriven’s character of Maya Matlin became a fan favorite. Yet again, her talent did not go unnoticed. She was nominated for multiple Young Artist Awards her role in Degrassi: The Next Generation in the Best Performance in a TV Series (Comedy or Drama) – Leading Young Actress for two consecutive years. Despite such success, the actress remains humble, crediting the writers for giving her a character with a lot of depth.
“It was an invaluable learning experience working on Degrassi. I am so appreciative of the opportunities the writers and directors gave me within the show. My character goes through so many changes, she has so many terrible experiences and so many wonderful happy ones, and I really got to challenge and demonstrate my range as an actor thanks to them,” she said. “I also got to work with some really inspiring directors. In my opinion, directors can really make or a break an actor’s performance, and I have been blessed to have made such a good connection with those who I worked with on this show. With directors like Bruce McDonald, Phil Earnshaw, and Eleanor Lindo, I was given the freedom and confidence to make both bold and subtle choices. I have the entire crew and cast mates to thank for things like award nominations and praise, and the knowledge that I have gained along the way.”
As Maya, Scriven says the role allowed her to explore different things that she had never done in any other role before. She had to break down in tears, sing and play guitar and cello, and kiss passionately on-screen. Such experiences allowed her to become a mature actress even at a young age, giving her the skills that many years older than her do not possess. It is one thing for an actress to portray their character, it is another thing for them to become it, and this is exactly what Scriven achieved.
“I worked many days on set, and the writing for Maya’s character was very undeviating, so as soon as the words were coming out of my mouth, I felt like Maya. She is this very, dedicated, emotional person, who cares so much about things to the point that it causes her anxiety, so there was this tune she had that I would always try to tap into. Physically, I feel like she always has this strained look of stress, an intensity even in her voice, which tends to pitch higher than mine does in real life. She is different from who I am and what my personality is like as a whole, but we do bear some similarities. I definitely brought a bit of myself into the role partly because as a young actor, it was the first time that I was required to portray such charged emotions, and it needed to come from someplace genuine in order for me to reach the desired performance,” Scriven described.
When Degrassi: The Next Generation came to an end, its popularity did not. The saga returned to Netflix and Canada’s Family Channel with a new series titled Degrassi: Next Class last year. Once again, Scriven stepped into Maya’s shoes, and continues to do so with new episodes. The fourth season hit Netflix earlier this month.
Her portrayal caught the eye of Philip Kalen-Hadju, a Canadian Screen Award nominated producer and writer. He has worked in various capacities since 1997 and has produced, line produced, and associate produced on features, TV, and award winning digital series for many Canadian and international companies, including Oxygen Media (NBCUniversal), Canal Evasion, Radio-Canada (CBC), and his most recently produced feature is getting its world premiere at the SXSW 2017 Film Festival. He worked with Scriven on the new series Skal. The show recently premiered on the new mobile platform Blackpills, which is currently working with stars such as James Franco, and filmmakers such as Luc Besson. Kalen-Hadju was impressed with the Degrassi actress’ abilities from the very beginning.
“In order for Skal to shine, we wanted to ensure that our series would have only top talent. We auditioned dozens of women for the role of Emma, but none held a candle to Olivia’s interpretation of the character. The second our executive producers saw her, the reaction was unanimous and fast: she was the only choice for the role. There wasn’t even a close second,” said Kalen Hadju. “Olivia delivered a nuanced and personal performance and was a professional in every respect. While still young, she has vast experience. She learned her trade from years being the star of Degrassi, and she brings this knowledge to every part she plays. She lights up the camera and draws in the audience. She makes subtle and smart choices and she brings her characters to life. It was a pleasure to watch her make Emma real; the director and I could not have been more pleased.”
No matter what she is working on or the continued accolades she receives, Scriven stays entirely committed to what she does best: acting. With such an established career already behind her, audiences around the world can continue to watch out for what is ahead for this extraordinary young talent. There was never a question for her about what she wanted to do, and evidently, her passion led to enormous success.
“At a young age, I knew that I couldn’t wait until I was an adult for my chance to begin my career. I loved the stage and the immediacy of performing live, but it is film, with its magical ability to create whole worlds within which the exchange between actors is integrated, that has always by far been my passion,” she concluded. “For me, it has always felt so natural and satisfying to slip into the mode of another person, to be able to convincingly act as someone other than yourself was and still is a thrill.”