Interview With Actress Aliyah O’Brien

By Ruth on November 8, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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Well, who would expect to “discover” a Hallmark starlet at an independent film festival? To be honest, I had seen the work and the name of Aliyah O’Brien before on various Hallmark works. Moreover, I’d even reviewed her work in a Garage Sale Mystery film a while back. But until I saw her in a short film at the Artemis Film Festival in LA this past spring, I never thought to seek her out for an interview. After playing social media tag for a few weeks, she and I were able to recently make connections, and we had an informative and exhilarating chat covering a wide variety of topics, including her well-known Hallmark and other roles.

RH: So nice to talk with you today, Aliyah. I’m glad it worked out at last.

AO: Me too, Ruth. Thanks for reaching out.

I’m going to start off with a fan question about your character in Rookie Blue. This particular fan loved your character on that show, but she said “Holly” seemed to disappear too quickly. Do you happen to know why that happened?

ROOKIE BLUE – “For Better, For Worse” – (ABC/Steve Wilkie)

CHARLOTTE SULLIVAN, ALIYAH O’BRIEN

With recurring characters like that, it is so difficult to know what exactly happened. Unless you’re a series regular, you’re really not guaranteed to be in the show. When you’re a recurring character and you’re in a different city–I was in Vancouver at the time while Rookie Blue shot in Toronto–they had to fly me back and forth every episode, which was quite a few in the fourth and fifth seasons. It is possible, though I’m not certain, that it might have gotten to the point that unless I wanted to relocate to Toronto, the writers may have decided to send my character story somewhere else. But I can’t say for sure that is the reason. It was a large ensemble cast with lots of storylines and stuff going on. They may have even decided there were other storylines they wanted to focus on. I would like to think that they would have wanted to write more for my character, Holly. I know that Tassie Cameron, the showrunner and some of the other writers that I’ve spoken to really loved our storyline and our characters. So I tend to think logistics might have played into it a little bit. It’s tough as an actor. I wasn’t in a position to relocate myself for that role. It wasn’t big enough to justify moving to another city. Unless you’re a series regular, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to move yourself to another city for a recurring role. But I will say that personally, I loved that character. It’s probably my favorite or at least one of my favorite roles , and I would have loved to have continued that storyline.  I always thought there would be more, but it just didn’t happen. And then the show finished.

I’ve heard all sorts of things from actors in similar positions. Sometimes they just don’t get asked back or they are committed elsewhere. 

I had that happen as well when I was on Rookie Blue. I was in Toronto and they needed me for a Bates Motel in Vancouver, but they had to replace me. Luckily, when the next season rolled around, Bates Motel brought me back. I actually got to finish out the last episode of the show with everybody, which was really cool.

Well, it’s nice to know that you still have fans from Rookie Blue who remember you fondly from that show. 

Oh, I know! I see it on my Twitter and Instagram. I have wonderful fans from that show. They are just awesome humans. I’m very thankful for that sort of by-product from Rookie Blue.

So how did you get started in acting?

I guess you could say I did it in my basement when I was around eight years old. I used to put on plays for the neighborhood. But I guess what really happened is that I was going to school for kinesiology and also sort of traveling the world. I alternated going to the university with going to all these various countries. Then a friend of mine asked me to do an acting class with him for fun when I was in my mid-twenties. The class met in either a community center or a church basement, and something came alive in me in that class that I couldn’t quite quantify, but I got a little addicted. It was just supposed to be this beginning class. The teacher was pretty serious. She gave us pretty serious scenes. We did a little performance at the end which I didn’t invite anyone to because I was too embarrassed. There was a director friend of our teacher’s there from Toronto who approached me afterwards and said, “You know, if you like this, you should consider doing it as a profession.” I was like, “Uh, no! You’re crazy!” But it got in my head, and I just kept taking classes and loving it more and more. I lived in Victoria at the time, and I decided I needed to move to Vancouver and give this a go so I would never regret really trying.

Even though I am not working with elite athletes like I planned to, I think there’s a parallel between kinesiology and what I do now. What I loved about fitness is that I got to be in this body and use my body as an instrument. I like to challenge my body to do things and challenge other people’s bodies to do things. When I found acting, I discovered that not only are you working on a physical level, but you’re also working on a mental, emotional and even spiritual level. I discovered that there was a more alive experience through acting.

You’ve been in an incredible amount of projects, and while I try to pay attention to the credits with Hallmark, that is not how I actually found you. I happened to go the Artemis Film Festival for the second time in a row this past spring, and one of Maja Aro‘s shorts was shown, Stealth & Silence: DC Comic Fan Film. My daughter and I loved it, and I thought I recognized you. I watched the credits and immediately looked you up. And sure enough, there were all your Hallmark works and more that you had done. And that is initially why I decided to contact you. 

That is a great story, Ruth. Maja was my stunt double on that; she’s amazing.

I also noticed you had done a small role in the film Stonados

Oh my gosh, yes! So long ago. With Jason Bourque.

Oh, I love his work! But initially I watched that film because my good friend, Sebastian Spence, starred in it. 

That’s awesome! I love the title of that film. I remember going to the audition and asking, “Is this like really what this is? Stone tornadoes? Stonados! Got it.” In fact, I even remember Jason saying at one point during the audition, “Okay, there’s just like stones flying at you!” And I was just loving this! This was my job!

Right! And this was even before Sharknado came out. Who would have guessed a movie about sharks flying through the air would be an actual movie franchise? It’s amazing what catches on sometimes. {pause} Now, I am familiar with your Hallmark work, but I notice you had a tiny part, like so many Canadians did, in the movie If I Stay

Yes, it was a very small part, but very fun. I actually haven’t seen the movie. Is it good?

If I Stay

I actually did see the movie not too long ago. In fact, I was watching it because another of my friends, Giles Panton, was in it.

Oh, Giles! Giles is a good friend of mine!

I kind of thought he might be. And yes, the film was pretty good. I lost track of how many of my Canadian actor friends were in it. I saw you were also on an episode of Supernatural. I often say that being on Supernatural is almost a Vancouver rite of passage. 

Absolutely. If you work in Vancouver, hopefully you’ve been on the show at least once.

Yes, and if you’ve done it once, getting asked back a second time is a really cool thing. I also wanted to tell you that Mark Brandon remembers you fondly, and he was extremely impressed by you. He said that when you both worked together on Ice Sculpture Christmashe remembers watching you prepare for your scenes.

I do remember him being mesmerized and impressed by what he called my naturalism. I don’t have a real structure in how I work. It’s really about being more intuitive, being in the moment. Obviously, every character you play is different in how you approach it, but ultimately, when they say “action,” hopefully you just let everything go and you’re just present. Mark was very sweet about complimenting me on that.

Now, was Ice Sculpture Christmas your first film with Hallmark?

It was the inaugural Hallmark production for me.

So you got to work with Rachel Boston on that.

Yes, I did. She was very sweet.

How did this role come about for you?

Just a normal audition with David McKay, the director of the film. Up till that point, I had auditioned for a lot of Hallmark, and for whatever reason, I wasn’t getting cast. But after Ice Sculpture Christmas, it certainly became a regular affair for me doing Hallmark movies. That was the first of maybe like seven Hallmark movies?

Ice Sculpture Christmas

Well, a lot of people remember you from Ice Sculpture Christmas because it was a nice little role. 

Yes, I got to play a nice friend and assistant. I was kind of a friendly, but tough best friend. Like, “Get off your butt and go get the girl!” It was a really fun role. I enjoyed it so much. And I got the loveliest fan letters from that film. In fact, I remember this older couple sent me a handwritten letter to my agency, and they said that they don’t normally watch modern movies. They said they watched a lot of old movies. I think they were in their seventies. But they said, “We decided to watch this Christmas movie, and we were just delighted by your performance. You lit up the screen and your  energy was so beautiful. We felt compelled to write you a letter.” It was so cute. This little, old couple–it just made my year. I have to say that getting positive feedback like that is always such a joy. It’s nice to know that what you’re doing is touching people.

I agree. There is something special about Hallmark fans. I’ve experienced it too. In the company as a whole, there’s this positive energy from the top executives all the way down. I also always hear about how great the crews are for these films.

Oh yeah, we’re so lucky in Vancouver in that the crews are just amazing. The actors are also amazing and every time I work, I work with my friends. But especially with Hallmark films, it tends to be the same crews you work with over and over. It’s always a delightful experience. There’s never a day when you just feel upset. It’s always pretty and lovely.

Aliyah O’Brien (Kim)

After that nice little role you had, you moved onto Garage Sale Mystery which was not such a nice little girl. 

I was the bad girl.

People certainly remembered seeing you in that role. I know I did. Although someone said they much preferred seeing you in a nice role as opposed to a stalker lady in Garage Sale Mystery

Yes, the black widow. You know, for me, it’s always fun to get to do both. It’s just a broader range and more play time. But I am more accustomed to the bad girl roles because I’m tall, dark-haired, and I have a pretty strong energy. So I tend to get those edgier roles, which I do love to play. So when I do get to play the nice girl on Hallmark, it’s a treat to do that. It seems a little more rare for me to get to play those roles outside of Hallmark.

Jim Thorburn, Lynn Johnson, Wendie Malick, Erin Krakow, Nevis Unipan, Aliyah O’Brien, Callum Airlie Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Kailey Schwerman

Well, we’re happy to see you in these roles. And in fact, you were in one of the top Christmas movies last year, Finding Father Christmas. And we’ve got the sequel coming up this year, Engaging Father Christmas. And I have heard that another sequel is being planned for next year too. Maybe Marrying Father Christmas?

While all the people I work with are fantastic, that particular group of people–cast, actors–are very special to me. I really love everybody that is in that family. I’m just delighted to get to see that group every time I can. I am looking forward to a potential third.

Jim Thorbun, Aliyah O’Brien, Wendie Malick Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Kailey Schwerman

Absolutely. The film has an incredible following. Erin Krakow pulls in the Hearties. And her fans always come out and support everything she does. And then I’ve interviewed Bethany Brown, who is in this one too. 

I didn’t get to work with Bethany on this film, but I worked with her on something else recently. We’ve always enjoyed each other and we’ve seen each other at auditions, but we finally got to work together and connect on a deeper level. And Erin is just the best. I adore her. I’m in contact with her quite a lot. She’s an awesome human.

And then David Winning being the director–he is one of my all-time favorite directors. He is one busy guy. 

Oh, he is the most easygoing, lovely person to work with. He is so chill. I think I’ve done three Hallmarks with him. Tulips in the Spring, While You Were Dating, and now, Engaging Father Christmas. And speaking of While You Were Dating, I loved working with Lochlyn Munro on that one.

We absolutely loved While You Were Dating. We always love getting to see a Hallmark film that is just a little bit different, so that was a nice one that kind of changed things up a bit. But we are all so excited for Engaging Father Christmas.

BTS Engaging Father Christmas

Me too. It’s always fun to be in Christmas movies so that when you go home for Christmas, you can show your family the Christmas movies you’ve been in. You know, parents are always awesome and they want to showcase your work to your aunts and uncles and everyone else while you’re home for the holidays. I remember in the early days of my acting, I had played a lot more badass characters. So my dad wanted to showcase movies like Maximum Conviction, which is a good Steven Seagal movie where I’m playing the bad girl, and I was like, “This is not Christmas-appropriate. You’re not showing people this! There’s swearing and killing people!” So now I can show Hallmark Christmas movies where everyone’s happy and delightful. It’s a lot better.

I know you mentioned Bates Motel, and while I didn’t watch the show, I know a lot of my friends did. So you had a recurring role on that show, right?

Bates Motel

Yes, I had a small recurring role, but I got to be in quite a few episodes. I usually worked with Vera Farmiga or Freddy Highmore, but mostly with Nestor Carbonell because I worked in the sheriff station. I played the receptionist in the show. They are all delightful, top-notch actors, but great people too.

I have only ever heard amazing things from people who guest-starred on the show. It was a bit far out for me to watch, but amazingly, a lot of Hallmark fans did watch it. I noticed you were also in Home For Christmas Day. That first aired during July, but it’s getting airtime now as well.

Yes, my really good friend, Gary Harvey, directed that. He’s actually in Toronto now doing Murdoch Mysteries. And another good friend of mine, Victor Webster, was one of the leads. And I got to meet Catherine Bell for the first time and she’s LOVELY! When I do these films, it’s always like a reunion of friends. I got to work with Noel Johansen and Kelly-Ruth Mercier and Chiara Zanni and probably a lot more–I’m sure I’m forgetting some. But this film had such good, good people, as these films always do.

My family and I really enjoyed Home For Christmas Day. The story, the acting, everything was fantastic. 

That’s great! Well, the producers of that were just like the coolest people ever. They were friends with Catherine Bell; I think that’s how they got her on board. They were on set every day and they were taking care to make sure every moment was really good and the story really stood out. They were very involved in the process.

I know not every producer can do that logistically, but it’s great when they’re like that.

Totally. All the producers I’ve worked with on Hallmark have been lovely. Some are more involved than others, but these guys were really in there. Also, both of the producers are actors, so they were really paying attention to all that stuff. And that’s rare that the actors have been or are actors. I feel that adds a whole other element and attention to detail and story.

So you’re also in the show Beyond

Yes, I am in season two, which as far as I know, doesn’t air till next year. I did two episodes at the beginning of the season and two at the end. And I can’t really say anything about it ’cause I don’t want to ruin the story.  But I had a lot of fun on that show and everyone was really cool to work with. I got along great with the actors. I mostly worked with Erika Alexander. We became friends; she’s just great. I can tell you I get to be pregnant in the show. I had a great big belly they ordered from China.

You are also in the show Insomnia. I’ve heard about that show because I interviewed Erica Carroll. But she told me she wasn’t sure when or where it was airing. Do you have any updates?

I am a part of that show, and I recently had a bit of a reunion with a couple of the actors who are here in Toronto who I worked with in Russia, and it was so great to see them. But they also have no idea  when or where it will air. Apparently, Stars Network bought it, but I’m not sure what they plan to do with it.

I think that’s what she told me too. I’m sure there will be some information about it some time soon. Or you would think there would be. 

According to my friend who saw the first two episodes, they said it was really good. They were impressed. So hopefully, the world gets to see it as well. What a cool experience it was to shoot it in Russia. It’s always a treat when you get sent somewhere like that for work. Being the gypsy traveler that I am, I’m always like, “Pay me to go somewhere? I get to work and I get to travel? Perfect!”

I think you’d mentioned you filmed an episode of Ice as well?

I did do an episode of Ice, but I don’t know when that will air. I just shot that. They’re now on their way to South Africa to finish the season, so I imagine that won’t be out for awhile.

I know their first season ended, so this will be their second season. I did not have the opportunity to watch the first season, but I have heard good things about it.

I didn’t watch their first season either because I don’t think it was readily accessible. I remember trying to watch it to get a sense of the tone, but I wasn’t able to. But actually the most important thing I’m working on right now is just being awesome, Ruth. {laughs}

Photo by Melissa Gidney

Hey, there ya go! Nothin’ wrong with that.

This is my best role ever!! Honestly, I’m firmly committed now to working on loving myself wholeheartedly and being unapologetically authentic. That’s what I really want to strive for.

I think that’s great. You’ve had an amazing career. You’re a working actor, and you’re able to make a living doing that. From what I can tell, you’ve worked fairly steady over the years. 

Yeah, I feel very lucky to do what I do and to be able to have the space to introspect and nurture myself and generate that adventure and do things that are fun. I feel like all of that is important and feeds the artist. This feels like a little bit of a lull for me right now because it’s not that busy in Toronto. I didn’t come here because I thought it was busy; I came here because I wanted a new adventure and some fresh energy and to shake it up. I’m just enjoying being me. But actually, Vancouver is calling me back for work on a video game which I’m not allowed to talk about. But then after that, I’m coming back to Toronto, and I’ll probably be here until Christmas when I’ll go to be with my family. It’s kind of fun. I know a lot of actors get kinda freaked out by the unknown of what’s next and not knowing what your next job will be, which is understandable. But I don’t know, I’m really surrendered right now by just embracing the idea that when the work comes, it will come. In the meantime, there’s plenty of life to be had.

Aliyah, I love your outlook and attitude. I have several actor friends who go through those difficult times when work is scarce, and they get kind of depressed. And it affects their auditioning no matter how hard they try. But I like what you’re doing. It gives off a positive energy that can help to see you through the slow times. 

Yeah, I think it’s a lot more enjoyable, and I think it even goes back to the whole law of attraction thing. What you put out there is what you get back. If you put out fearful, desperate, scared vibes, people aren’t going to be receptive to that. On the other hand, if you and your life is amazing and you’re very joyful, it’s more attractive.

I’m with you on that. I can sense my own journey beginning to lean heavily towards this writing and interviewing now. I don’t feel the same pull towards teaching any more. Don’t get me wrong–I still love teaching. But I feel that strong pull towards the artistic side more than I ever have before.

I know all about the artist’s journey. I was like that with bartending. For many years, I bartended while my acting career got off the ground. I loved bartending–it was fun, it was great. But towards the end when I was acting a lot more and I almost didn’t need the bartending any more, the bartending started to become not fun. And that was when I started making the shift. It was time to let the bartending go and focus on my acting. It’s so thrilling to pursue what you’re passionate about. I think the majority of artists I know pursue this career because they want to affect the world. We want to share and spread love and light in the world. And it is so great when you get that positive feedback, and it often comes right when you really need to hear it. You start questioning whether you’re impacting anyone, and then you get a letter or some kind of response that is exactly what you need to hear. It is great to get something back and know that what you’re doing matters.

What I do want to say is that with my work, I love my job and I love all the projects I work on and I love all the people I work with, but the main thing I’m working on is spreading positive energy and love and light in the world. I think the main way I do that is through my own self-expression because not all the roles I play portray those kinds of stories. I don’t feel I need to talk about any specific jobs or roles. I’m just excited about people loving themselves more.

Absolutely. Especially now when there’s so much negativity out there and so many things to tear you down. I’m so grateful to those out there like you, Aliyah, who are making a positive impact. Even in those darker roles that you do–if nothing else, they’re entertaining to watch and they take you away from reality for a while. And if they hate your character, then you did your job. 

I’m happy to be the character that highlights and shows the dichotomy of good versus evil, positive versus negative.  I do hope in the future to be a part of a lot of inspiring and influential stories. I want to be a part of stories that get people thinking and inspire people to connect more deeply and love each other more. That’s the plan. I’m actually gonna start doing some writing. I feel called to that.

Oh, that’s great! I’m always glad to hear about actors making the decision to write their own works. And haven’t you directed something in the past?

I did direct a short film, and it was more just an experiment in seeing what it takes to produce and direct a movie. And it’s bloody hard! I now have so much respect for all aspects of filmmaking in a different way after doing that. It really does take a village to finish a project. Every single part and every person involved is important. For me, it’s such a beautiful example of interdependence. Everyone working together bringing their skills and talents and their ideas. And then you have this finished product.

Then we will look forward to your writings–something for us to anticipate in the future. 

Yes, we’ll see how it goes. Actually, I went to a party, and of all things, a tarot card reader said a few things to me that were very true, and then she brought up my career. And basically, she brought up writing. And I was kind of like, “Oooh. I don’t know about that.” She said, “Well, it seems to me like you’re at a point where your acting is doing well, but creatively, there’s more for you to bring to the table.” And she was indicating that writing was what I was supposed to do. I thought, “Oh, man, there’s those ideas I have that have just been sitting there, and maybe it’s time.” In Toronto, because they don’t have as large of a film community, I am more isolated and not as easily distracted as when I was in Vancouver. So hopefully, I can get a lot of good, solid writing done.

Well, that all sounds good, Aliyah. We’ll look forward to seeing all of your Christmas films, including Engaging Father Christmas, and most of all, we’ll look out for your writing.

Thank you, Ruth, for all your support. I’m very excited to see what the future holds.

Rarely do I find such a confident, kind-hearted, gentle, passionate positive soul as Aliyah, and I believe that after speaking with her, I couldn’t help but be encouraged by her cheerful inspiration and supportive words. For her, acting is not merely a job that she attends to day in and day out. On the contrary, her career is an unquestionable calling which she approaches with intense sobriety while still finding a way to relish every step in the process. She has an extensive network of friends with whom she has collaborated on multitudinous projects (I was awestruck by how many of her co-workers I have interviewed). Moreover, not only does she not have a negative word to utter about any of them, but she is circumspect to showcase their individual strengths and attributes in the most upbeat manner imaginable. Aliyah does not automatically draw attention to herself, but her quintessential presence and sometimes unorthodox way of approaching and portraying characters is something that attracts noteworthy observation by peers and viewers alike. While her name may not be renowned amongst avid Hallmark viewers (as well as other networks), more than likely, her characters are amongst the most memorable. 

I would invite all of my viewers to tune in this Sunday, November 12th to the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel to savor the premiere of the much-anticipated Finding Father Christmas sequel, Engaging Father Christmas. Additionally, be sure to follow Aliyah at the links below and check out her other Christmas films that will be making their rounds on the Hallmark network throughout the 2017 holiday season. As Aliyah spends her time reconnecting with her authentic self while spreading light and love globally to this darkened world, I wish her nothing but warmth, kindness, and above all, love, to guide her through this new adventure upon which she has embarked. I hope and pray that she writes the next awe-inspiring film and when it comes to fruition, all of us can rejoice at her tenacity and talent as we view and celebrate what may be the next massive megahit with heart!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth

43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl
Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA
Entertainment Writer
Available For Interviews and Reviews
Substitute Teacher

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