INTERVIEW BY KATINA GOULAKOS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RIE RASMUSSEN
Unique in both talent and charisma, Dichen Lachman is one of those women who can seemingly do it all. The mother, wife, actress, and self-appointed house keeper plays Reileen Kawahara a tough-as-nails woman in the hit series “Altered Carbon”. Imagista was lucky enough to catch up with Lachman and get to know this amazing woman a little better.
Imagista: Can you tell me more about your childhood and moving to a different country?
Dichen: I think it had a big impact on who I grew up to be. When I lived in Katmandu we lived in an extended family situation, with my aunts and uncles and cousins with my grandfather, in a very small apartment. There was a really strong sense of community, I find in third world countries, the communities are stronger because they have so many more challenges. I always had this desire to be surrounded by people, even in my work.
Moving to Australia was a bit of an isolating experience for me because we left all my family behind. We did not have skype or FaceTime and overseas calling in the 90’s was so expensive. It was a very lonely experience moving in with just my mother and father. Being an only child, I was very lonely and I think it triggered my imagination. That desire to have people around me never went away and there is something about being an actor that creates a strong sense of community around you. If you think about making a T.V show or a movie you spend all day with a ton of people and there is always a strong sense of community and there is the idea that all of you are sharing the same goal creating camaraderie.
Imagista: How did you get involved in the world of acting in the first place, was it kind of a search for a community?
Dichen: I feel like I was always searching for something, but I didn’t know what it was. I tried a lot of things that I liked but that didn’t seem to fill the hole inside me. When I discovered acting when I was about 18 or 19, I realized that the community around it, even just in acting class and the intimate way you get to know people was something I loved. The notion of experiencing a creative process with creative people and the idea of transporting yourself to another place or time was all really attractive to me.
In a sense, I feel like I was a late-comer in the process but I do feel like I was always an actor, deep down, I just didn’t realize it until I found the way to apply it in a way that got me excited.
Imagista: You mentioned that you were close to your family, is your acting career something they supported?
Dichen: I feel like if I would have initially told them that I wanted to try it, they would not have received it well. Not because they do not have an incredible amount of respect for the profession, they watch more movies than anyone else I know. The reason I think it wouldn’t have been well received was because of the unknown. When you are from a third world country, or one of your parents is, it is a fear, simply of the unknown. If someone wants to become a lawyer or a doctor its simple, you go to school and get good grades, you will graduate and get a good job. Saying I want to be an actor without having any relationship to anyone who has ever done it, it’s impossible to even think about how someone does that.
Acting is like an apprenticeship in a way, you need to just start and slowly gain more knowledge and relationships. Hopefully, if you are lucky and talented and work hard you may be successful but there is no formula for it.
I didn’t tell my parents when I first started taking acting classes because I was scared of their reaction. I told them I was doing public speaking courses, to improve my confidence. Eventually, I sent out photos to try and get an agent, I got an audition and once that happened I told them that I had started acting. I removed a big bubble of unknown of how it happens, I was able to say “ I want to be an actor and I already got an audition.” At least I was able to explain to them how it all worked at that point and it made everything easier for them.
Imagista: Let’s fast-forward to right now, the show Altered Carbon is awesome and you are great in it. Can you tell me a little bit about what this experience has been like?
Dichen: It was a long process in terms of actually getting on set. I did a tape in July of 2016 and to be honest I just forgot about it and just sent it off. Three months later I got a call saying they wanted to offer me the job. I didn’t know anything about it, I didn’t read the script because it wasn’t provided, very top secret. I didn’t know about the book or anything I had just done the audition and moved on.
When I got the call I obviously said yes, I went to start reading the book and then they told me to stop reading the book because it was going to be very different.
This was the biggest thing I had ever done in terms of the amount of investment being put into it in terms of the budget. It was very exciting and then getting the script and discovering that the entire story takes place because of my character was a lot of pressure but also very exciting. I had never been the center of the story and although her involvement in the show is a little bit ambiguous you but once you get into the second half you realize how important her character is to the entire plot.
Then the training started and I had never trained in sword fight before. It was very grueling and physical, it’s a great workout by the way for anyone interested. Everything felt like a dream come true. The idea of learning something new in order to play a role always excited me and that was exactly what needed to be done for this part.
Then there was the character who is really complex, probably one of the most complex people in the show, in terms of where she is emotionally in her life, her very long life. There was a really delicate balance and notes that had to be hit and not too hard all the time. That was a collaboration with myself and the directors and producers. One of the best things that has happened since is when I speak to people who love the show, they tell me that they were rooting for me, which is so rewarding to hear as an actor. When you are looking at it black and white, you can see that my character is the antagonist. I learnt that even in that case, you can make the audience root for you. Even though that character has done horrible things, there is a humanity there, which for me, if I achieve that, I have really done my job.
Imagista: You spoke about your character a lot, do you have any similarities to her?
Dichen: I think that everybody, even some of the most horrible people in the world can find common ground with moral ethical people. I never approach a character as the good guy or the bad guy, you just have to approach it as an individual.
There may be one or two things I share with my character. One is her fierce loyalty. Would I ever do what she would do to protect her family, I mean she does some pretty horrible things. However, where it is coming from, I can relate to in terms of the great lengths she would go to in order to protect her family. She is also living in a different world so it is a tricky balance.
To be honest, I don’t have that much in common with her because she is kind of off the charts.
Imagista: It must be fun to play her!
Dichen: It was a lot of fun. A lot of people, when they play someone dark, they have a hard time getting out of it or leaving it behind them. I could understand that but I am grateful I was able to separate myself from the character. I approached the role with the notion of analyzing her relationship with her brother. That is what I held onto the entire time.
Imagista: I know you have been working really hard lately, do you want to share with our readers what you have been up to?
Dichen: I just finished a role on a movie called Judy Small with Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry. That was exciting because it was a totally different role than anything I had ever done before. I don’t want to give too much away but the work was very different. IT was such a light and eccentric character that is a bit shifty but is not in the Sci-Fi world.
I don’t get to do stuff like that very often, so that was really exciting. It is a comedy also, I love comedy and I want to do more but it is sometimes not the right fit. People do not expect to see me in a comedy but I really do enjoy doing comedy.
Also, Animal Kingdom was an amazing experience. The chance to work with Denis Leary and obviously the entire cast who is incredible was a dream come true!
Imagista: The first time you caught my eye as an actress was actually on Shameless!
Dichen: Yes, I was so excited to work on that show because I love it.
When they called me to offer me that small part, they told me I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t tell my agents what I was doing- it was this giant secret. The core cast had no idea that Justin would be back on the show.
They sent everyone home except for a few crew members to film that scene with Justin and I in the car. It was such a great experience to be part of such a phenomenal show.
Imagista: This industry is so crazy and there is so much going on constantly, is there something that helps keep you centered?
Dichen: I think previous to my daughter, I would find myself nurturing other people a lot. Actors who needed help with auditions; people who were moving to LA I would help them get started.
I always feel like I make sense when I am helping someone. Now I have a daughter and I am pretty much nurturing her. She is three years old and my focus is her and nurturing her into a human being who is “knock on wood” a good one!
Funny fact, I actually found out I was pregnant on my way to shoot Shameless. I was so nervous because it was a surprise and I just wanted to stay focus on my work.
Being a mom really does keep me grounded but I love it and it’s been great!
Imagista: What advice would you give your daughter that you wish someone would have given you?
Dichen: I don’t know if she needs it because right now she seems pretty good in terms of not being self-conscious. I wish someone would have told me not to be self-conscious. Now I am not, after being in this industry and becoming a mom, I am less self-conscious now then I was when I was a teenager. I wish I had been less self-confident then and just enjoyed being me more.
I think women and men can be so hard on themselves about things that don’t matter. I am going to try and teach Matilda that.
My parents taught me everything I know, I am who I am because of them and I don’t think they ever taught me that because they grew up in a different era, one that was less superficial as well as a different community. I feel like our generation is very superficial and we are constantly worried about things that don’t matter.
I hope I could do that for my daughter.
Imagista: Can you share something about yourself that we can’t find about you on google?
Dichen: I love cleaning! I don’t have a housekeeper, I clean the entire house on my own…sometimes my husband helps me and other times he doesn’t and his excuse is “you love cleaning.” I find cleaning very relaxing, for me it is clean house, clean mind.