Elisa Lasowski: Defying Definition


photography by BENJAMIN TIETGE / interview by JAMES SANDERS

Whether on “Eastern Promises,” “Game of Thrones,” David Bowie’s “Blackstar,” or the hit period drama “Versailles” as the effervescent Queen Maria Theresa, Elisa Lasowski’s performances defy typecasting. She is not someone to be boxed in. Here, Elisa sits down with MONROWE to discuss her creative background and the importance of discovering success for yourself.

James Sanders: We know who you are as an actress, but if everything stopped tomorrow and you decided you didn’t want to act anymore, what would you be doing?

Elisa Lasowski: (Laughs) I think I would be doing something social in one way or another; something humanitarian, political, or kind of combination of the two. The other answer would be that I would be a musician — a stage performer in that way.

JS: When did you decide that you wanted to be an actress?

EL: I come from a pretty creative family, and I have a grandfather who was a dancer so I grew up dancing quite a lot. My dad is a writer, my brother is a photographer…I come from a creative family, so being in a creative field was somehow in the air. With acting specifically, it had something to do with storytelling for me. The appeal was the possibility of experiencing different lives. It was a desire to explore different worlds and different subjects

JS: You grew up moving around several different countries, can you talk a bit about what that was like for you?

EL: I have pretty adventurous parents who are pretty anti-establishment. I think they were looking for new experiences and new cultures. It was great; I feel incredibly fortunate to have had those experiences and to have gone to an international school growing up. I got to know people from all over the world. It’s really nourishing as an actress as well; we are diving into new subjects all the time, so being able to understand different ways of living is extremely important. It gave me the ability to adapt. It’s made me very curious about the world—I love traveling—which is also one of the reasons I love what I do, because meeting others and traveling is really integral to my job.

It’s very sad to see the way that world politics have taken a turn everywhere. It’s going the opposite direction of everything I grew up with and learned, which was about openness and sharing and everything but the fear of the other. That kind of open-mindedness for difference actually creates incredibly stable and healthy environments; there wasn’t that much bullying in the school I went to, because when everyone is different, everyone is the same.

JS: In “Versailles,” violence and sex take center stage, but what I’ve noticed are the complex relationships between the characters. The gossip girls, the queen bees, the loners…In drama school, how would you have classified yourself?

EL: For a start, I don’t like definitions. If anything, I’m very anti-definition, and I think that comes from my background. Like yes, you can be French, but you can also have a deep understanding of Italian culture and a deep understanding of Brazilian culture, and you can also be fluent in German…There are certain things that I’ve seen around me where I’ve gone, “You know what? You can be an actor and you can also be an amazing musician.” You don’t have to be either/or. You can be very sociable and also keep to yourself. And that’s how I am. The way I lead my career is hoping to not be defined. I try to work against the typecast and reinvent myself wherever I can. On the one hand you can call me a loner, but on the other hand, I’m very sociable when I’m around people. That’s always the way I was at school as well. I can spend a lot of time on my own while still being very active and participating in the business. With the Queen, too, in the show, she can be a bit of a loner and an outsider. She does her thing and that’s okay.

JS: What other experiences are you pulling from personally that have enabled you to relate to and portray the character as honestly as you do?

EL: As actors, we are often asked that question: what parts of ourselves do we bring to our characters? I couldn’t give you an answer and tell you that it is anything I do consciously. Of course, when you work a character, whether it’s an existing person or entirely fictional, you have resources that you can study from. So with Maria Theresa, it’s really interesting because historians are like journalists; whatever they wrote at the time was also their own interpretation of who these people were. So you can delve into that and make it your own. With whatever character you play, there are certain things that may tap into you emotionally that you can relate to — betrayal, loneliness, fear. You link in with what you’ve experienced, and if there’s something in the script you don’t know emotionally, you use your imagination more.

JS: Did you think that the show would garner the sort of notoriety that it has?

EL: Well, I kind of had a sense. It has all of the right formulas to be a successful show. It’s a period drama, and there are huge audiences for that, and it’s a new take on the Louis XIV history. It has young and upcoming actors; there were a lot of elements that made me think that it could really be something. It was also written in a very contemporary way. Kind of like what Baz Luhrmann did for “Romeo and Juliet”. The writing was very fresh and contemporary, and in the stage direction as well. We were given the green light for season two before season one even aired, so there were very positive signs as we kept going. So far so good!

JS: What does success look like for you?

EL: I think I have not chosen my profession with a specific end goal in mind or for a specific glamorous lifestyle. I’ve chosen it because it is close to my heart. I would like to have a life that is filled with creative experiences that feel good to me; that’s what success looks like. So if I can be in a place with my work, I don’t feel that I am yet, where I am known enough to have access to a lot of different projects — to have access to as many scripts, or directors, or people as possible — then I could pick and choose more than I already do. When I can really feel connected, that’s when I can do my best work. Success would look like access to more and more. That would be really great, whether I win an Oscar on the way or not.

Jumpsuit by Rosetta Getty.  Earrings by Maya Magal. Bracelet Maya by Temary London.

Benjamin-Tietge-Elisa Lasowski

Top by Barbara Casasola.

Benjamin-Tietge-Elisa Lasowski

Dress by Emilia Wickstead.