Hippie or Hollywood Diva?
SHE’S the Hollywood starlet with a boho heart, but it’s not all peace and love with Isabel Lucas. Meg Mason delves deeper and discovers the steely determination of a girl who knows what she wants.
Isabel Lucas is a lesson in contradictions. In person and onscreen, the Australian actor comes across as the consummate starlet – luminously pretty, composed, with just the right amount of quirkiness.
But buried within that, there’s something else; a natural reserve and stand-offishness that adds up to an edge as sharp as those famous cheekbones.
The 26-year-old admits she’s so shy, her hands start shaking when she spots a paparazzi flash. “I have to go over and introduce myself,” she muses. “That’s the only thing I can do – create a human connection – so it doesn’t feel as though they’re stalking me.”
Marching up to hardened paps with an outstretched hand is a bold move for a Hollywood newcomer, and it says something else entirely about the tough interior she hides so well. During our photoshoot, she floats around the studio like a woodland sprite, but get her started on any of her passions and she adopts a direct tone, speaking at length about Japanese whaling, clean water or other causes close to her heart.
Any remaining notion of a carefree flower-child vanishes in the hair stylist’s chair, when Lucas decides the results aren’t to her liking. She politely but insistently takes over, while the crew waits. Even the outfit she arrives in is a study in contrasts: a well-loved Chanel bag and a pair of eco-friendly Toms loafers, perfectly in keeping with the power-hippie look that’s made her a staple for style bloggers and fashion magazines.
Her career has the same striking duality. Lucas says she never planned to become an actor. But, after she was spotted by an agent in Port Douglas, aged 17, a part was created for her on Home and Away. Acting soon became her vocation, although the high-school student had been tossing up career options as disparate as natural therapy and fine arts. “Acting kind of chose me,” she says with a modest laugh. “I was curious about it, but I hadn’t considered it because I was so shy.”
Lucas says she never strategises when choosing roles. Yet, since she set foot in Summer Bay (where she played Tasha from 2003 to 2006), her career has followed what could easily be mistaken for a choreographed quick-step. A role in the Hollywood blockbuster Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen came soon after her first reconnaissance trip to LA, and was swiftly followed by a mix of action and arthouse roles, such as her latest turn as the free-spirited love interest in the low-budget Australian film A Heartbeat Away. But even so, big-time success still eludes her.
“I find it tricky to make plans,” admits Lucas. “I go by intuition. Work-wise, that means asking myself if a role will push me outside my comfort zone, challenge me to learn something new. It’s [all down to] instinct and gut.”
After so many years in front of the camera, does she still consider herself shy? “I think you can be shy and strong at the same time. Perhaps shy isn’t the right word. It’s more like I’m constantly sifting information and taking things in,” she says. “I’ve always been quiet, more of an observer.”
That half-breezy, half-determined attitude has helped Lucas through the sometimes brutal casting process. “There are two ways to look at an audition,” she says. “One is to be ruled by fear and terrified of that rejection that you’re not good enough; the other is to go in with no desire to lock it down, but just go for the experience, play a character and think, wow I have an amazing opportunity. I make
a conscious decision to do that.”
Of her move to Hollywood, she says taking the well-trod path was more about convenience. After Home and Away, Lucas decamped to Namibia to volunteer with aid organisation OzQuest (“I needed something completely different, to get away”) but, after a while, she says, “I realised I was missing acting, the storytelling and characters.” So she returned to the business and made the necessary relocation. “I was avoiding moving to LA – it was never my intention – but it was inconvenient flying back and forth all the time.”
Although she’s lived in the industry town since 2008, Lucas considers Melbourne her base camp. “It feels like the right time to be in LA, but I also know it’s not home for me. I know what I’m here for.” (Still, her languid Aussie burr takes on a decidedly American twang on words such as “ever” and “or”.)
The daughter of an Australian pilot and a Swiss special-needs teacher, Lucas travelled a lot as a child, which meant she wasn’t daunted by the prospect of moving to a foreign city at 22. “I was lucky to have travelled so much, so it wasn’t overwhelming in that way.” Not that it was an altogether easy transition. “The culture is…” she pauses, choosing her words. “Everyone is somehow connected to the industry and there’s something about it that lacks uniqueness and variety. You just don’t meet anyone not linked to Hollywood.”
Even so, the actor has carved out a well-documented social life between auditions, workshops and reading scripts. “There are a lot of Australians here, a little community of us. It’s my support system, since we’re all in the same boat,” she explains.
There’s time enough for new buddies, too. A front-row fixture at fashion shows, Lucas is often snapped with style-setters such as Katie Holmes and Kate Bosworth. And, last year, she climbed Tanzania’s Mt Kilimanjaro with a group that included Jessica Biel and Emile Hirsch. “It was intense; a lot of my friends are city slickers and has never camped,” she says. “It took eight nights, carrying our own packs. It was hard work, but really empowering.”
The starlet has also been linked to a string of Hollywood’s serial daters, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Adrian Grenier and Jared Leto. But, right now, Lucas happily confirms, she’s seeing Australian indie rocker Angus Stone, whose career is on similarly skyward trajectory. The blogosphere went into overdrive after the pair made their public debut at the ARIA Awards last year. “It’s something I’d prefer not to discuss. It’s something I just want to keep for us,” she says, apologetic, yet adamant.
The couple had flown under the radar until then, but it was no accident they hadn’t been spotted much before, as Lucas explains with a furrowed brow: “I stay separate to all the buzz. I still don’t understand why the paparazzi want to follow me.”
With her rising career, news-making eco campaigns and A-list arm-candy habit, it’s a line that’s hard to swallow. But with that, she wafts away from today’s shoot, twirling a plait and once again looking every inch the wood nymph.
A Heartbeat Away is in cinemas March 17.
I wish I had…
“less to do with the culture of Hollywood. But I know what I’m here for – to play characters and tell stories.”
I wish I hadn’t…
“seen what I did when I paddled out to protest the Japanese whale slaughter. It was gruelling, intense. But I’m so passionate about conservation, I’m planning to do it again.”