To say Agnes Olech is more than a pretty face is an understatement. Over the past several years, she established herself as an actress on the rise in Hollywood and is poised to become a breakout star in 2015. Fearless, quick witted, intensely expressive and laser focused, she pours her heart and soul into every role to take them to the next level. Her dedication to her craft is evident as she continues to turn heads of fans and critics alike with each new project. She is currently showcasing her tremendous talents with a captivating role on HBO’s critically acclaimed series, “True Detective,” as Veronica Chessani opposite on-screen heavyweights Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams.
Her story begins in Bielsko Biala, Poland. Agnes and her family immigrated to the United States in April 1994. In those early years she started to show the signs of amazing potential. A natural born entertainer, you could find her performing skits or singing Tina Turner songs in her parent’s living room. She has always loved making people laugh and realized she could turn her passion for entertaining into a career. Over the past several years she amassed a string of roles in both the worlds of comedy and drama. Agnes played Julia in “Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf,” (a dark comedy by Michael Urban, writer of “Saved”) which won numerous awards including Best Female Performance (Outfest 2013), Best Feature Comedy (QFest 2013) and Best Screenplay (QFilm 2013). She shared the screen with John Heard and Oscar nominee Bruce Davison in “Stealing Roses,” and she played Danny Trejo’s vivacious girlfriend in “Living the Dream.” She recently appeared as Alyona on CBS’ acclaimed show “Intelligence” and has been seen on shows including CBS’ “Rules of Engagement” and Comedy Central’s “Workaholics.” Balancing out her Hollywood life, Agnes spends her free time with her adopted animals and also lends her voice to some very deserving organizations which benefit amazing creatures (and their humans). Whether it comes to her career or her life outside the spotlight, she is someone who follows the motto, “imagination is everything” and is never content to sit on the sidelines.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Agnes Olech to discuss her journey in the entertainment industry, bringing her character on “True Detective” from script to screen, the challenges she faced along the way and what the future holds for this star on the rise!
I wanted to start by giving a little background on you. Since you are starting to become a familiar face in film and television, I am curious to know how you first got turned on to acting?
I always loved entertaining my family and friends. When I was a kid, I would put on little skits in my living room and make my parents watch. It would be anything from singing Tina Turner to putting on little plays that I made up in my imagination. I was always living in my imagination. Growing up, I always wanted to escape to these cool places that I was making up! In high school, I started doing plays and I really loved it. I loved performing and making people laugh. I was the class clown in high school and I would get such a high from getting people to laugh or smile. When the time came for me to go off to find colleges and start planning for the future, I said, “I’m going to Hollywood. I’m going to be an actress! I’m going to make people laugh and entertain them! That is what I want to do.” There hasn’t been anything I have felt so passionate about since! Sometimes I think, “Oh my God! It would be so much easier had I gone to school to be a veterinarian or a hair dresser!” [laughs] However, acting just keeps pulling me back in and there is nothing else like it!
Who had a big impact on you and your craft early on?
I remember watching stuff like Mad TV, Saturday Night Live or comedy movies that made me laugh so much. I remember thinking, “I want to do that! I want to make people feel the way I am feeling right now!” “Night At The Roxbury” was a big one for me. There was something about that movie that clicked with me. Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan were so funny in that film. Jim Carrey is another actor I have loved watching. Again, I really just wanted to be able to do what they were doing with transporting people to another world for two hours and make them happier. There were also actresses I really admired. Kate Winslet is a great example. She is so good with every role she takes on and really transforms herself in to whatever character she is playing. It was people like those who were big inspirations to me and make me strive to one day get to that level.
You are getting a lot of attention for your latest project, Season 2 of HBO’s “True Detective.” What can you tell us about how it all came about?
My agents got me the audition. It came in very hush-hush. I had to sign all of these non-disclosure agreements because they didn’t want anything to leak, as there was so much buzz coming off the first season. I went in and I remember the breakdown of the character was pretty straight forward in saying the mayor’s wife, Eastern European accent, age, etc. When I read the sides for the audition, I was like “Wow! I’ve got to bring it with this!” I did my homework and I figured out my scenes were going to be alongside major A-listers like Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn and Taylor Kitsch, so obviously, I had to bring it! [laughs] I went in for the audition and I think it was almost a month before I heard anything. At that point, I was like, “Oh. I didn’t get it. It is what it is.” Then my manager called me out of the blue after last Thanksgiving and said, “You booked ‘True Detective!’ It’s a recurring role!” I was like, “What? WHAT!?” [laughs] The breakdown really didn’t give anything away. I didn’t care! I was so obsessed with the first season, I thought, “I will do the show even if it is one little line! I don’t care!” [laughs] It was an awesome feeling to know that I had booked it and that the show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto, picked me out of the hundreds of girls that auditioned for this particular role. It was a truly incredible feeling!
Once you landed the role, did you do anything in particular to prepare yourself and bring this character to life?
Yeah, I mean, I went clubbing in LA a bunch. [laughs] I am just kidding! I could have started by saying a lot of bad stuff but I can’t go there! [laughs] In all seriousness, this character came super organically to me. I know she is completely out of her mind, she is a hot mess, is whacked out on drugs and intoxicated. I don’t know where that part of me is but it is in there and it came so naturally to me. Even when I first got the audition, I knew right away what I wanted to do with this role and how to get there. It was so weird. It was like there is some part of me that is waiting to get out and be Veronica Chessani! [laughs] I used to do a lot of improvisation with Second City and there were a lot of chances there where we got to explore different characters and walk around in another person’s shoes. I think the years of doing that gave me the ability to tap into any character no matter how messed up they might be. In this case, it was like, “OK. I am completely out of my mind. Let’s go for this!” [laughs]
It goes without saying the series has a tremendously talented cast. What did you take away from working alongside these talented actors?
I really enjoyed watching Rachel McAdams work. I really admire her and I think she is great because she has great comedic timing and she can also take on darker roles like the one in this project. It is a great opportunity for her to shine as an actor. She has all of these big blockbusters and here she is playing this really fucked up cop with a dark past. Her character has all of these dark layers that we are seeing her shed as the series moves forward and we are starting to see the person underneath. Watching her work was incredible because she is such a natural. She is so good that she makes it look effortless. You hear people say, “Oh, acting is so easy.” No! No, it’s not! I think people like Rachel McAdams are so well trained and comfortable in what they do that they make it look easy! The hardest part is getting there and getting all the tools to back it up and make it look easy! Watching her, she was just so smooth with lines and little, subtle things she would do with her eyes to enhance the performance. She was just so in the moment and it was amazing to watch. Vince Vaughn was terrific as well. He was really, really playful. One thing I learned from watching him was that he never had the same take. No matter what, he always switched it up a little bit. It was great for me because I fed off of that. His delivery was always a little bit different, something different in his eyes or a different movement he would do. Watching him work in that way was very interesting. It is a great way to work. You can completely lose yourself in it and you don’t get in a repetitive motion and deliver it over and over again in the same way. He had direction from the director but he always had a different take on it. It was so amazing because he had so many ways of doing one little thing. I would love to be that actor who shows up to set and has 50 different ways to do one line! [laughs] Watching them both was really inspiring!
Were there any moments from filming that were special to you?
Absolutely! One of my first days of filming episode three, I think it was the day after the Emmys, we had just rehearsed a scene with Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch. I remember the moment Matthew McConaughey walked in. [laughs] My heart stopped! I thought, “Oh my God! Matthew McConaughey is going to be watching me act right now.” It was a little intimidating at first. [laughs] He ended up staying for a few hours, sitting in the video village with the producers and director watching the whole scene. I totally remember having that moment of, “Holy shit! You better bring it!” When we broke for lunch, he came up to me and told me I did a good job. At that moment, I freaked out! [laughs] I immediately started texting all my friends! [laughs] It was total amateur hour and I probably shouldn’t have done that but it was certainly a moment I will never forget! I have seen most of his work and I admire him so much as an actor, for him to come up and tell me I had done a good job was such a surreal moment.
Each project has its own unique challenges. What challenges did you face and what did you learn along the way?
The biggest challenge dealt with the script itself. The big cast members, like Rachel McAdams, Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Taylor Kitsch, obviously got to see the full script. However, for the secondary actors coming in, like myself, we didn’t get to see the full script. I would see just my little scenes and everything else would be black boxes. Nowadays, more and more people are doing it this way because they don’t want anything to leak or have anyone knowing what is going on with the storylines. It makes it hard in a way because I don’t know what is going on with the full picture. It is also good because then I can only focus on my world because I don’t know about anything else that is going on. I would get to set, especially for episode eight, and ask Nic, “Who am I talking about? Who is crazy?” He would give me some insight on the surrounding story. Those insights would totally change the meaning behind the words for me. I have never worked that way before. Whether it be a feature film or a drama for TV, I always knew the beginning, middle and end. With “True Detective,” I would only see the chunk I was working on, so that was an interesting way of working. It was a cool way but definitely one I had never experienced before.
The biggest lesson I learned really stems from that process. You see the world you are living in as this character in a certain way but then you get to set and it has completely changed and you have to be open to letting anything happen. You can’t be set in seeing or doing it one way because things change. That was the biggest lesson for me because I really thought I knew everything about this chick. I really thought I got Veronica and when I finally learned what was happening with her, I was so wrong! It changed my whole perspective on her and the situation. That was the biggest lesson. To come ready to play, make different adjustments and be ready to play with the character.
Building on that a bit, how have you most evolved as an actor since first starting out?
When I was first starting out, I would get auditions for projects and I would kind of do what I thought people wanted from the character. I was always more focused on being what I thought the character was supposed to be as opposed to letting the character shine through me as an actor. It can be scary with a dark role like Veronica Chessani but you have to be confident enough to let that part of you out. To put it simply, you have to let yourself shine!
I have to say, as a fan of the series and this season, you and the cast of “True Detective” have done a great job creating some memorable characters. It has been an interesting ride and a great mystery. A true detective tale.
Thank you and I totally agree. It is one of those shows that you have to follow very closely. If you blink you could miss something! If you miss one sentence you could get lost. You are always playing detective in a way and are connecting the dots as it goes. If you don’t, it can be really easy to get lost in it.
We have seen you in a variety of roles over the past few years. You keep it eclectic, which is awesome! Where do you see yourself headed in the near future?
Honestly, I love doing TV. I would love to get a series regular role on a comedy or a drama. I always go back and forth! Every time I do a comedy I think, “Oh my gosh, I think I want something more juicy and I want to explore all those parts of myself.” Then I do a drama and I think, “Oh my gosh, I just want to do a comedy! I want to go to set and laugh all day, do a little improv and have a lot of fun.” I always teeter back and forth! [laughs] TV nowadays is amazing! I really feel like we are living in a new golden age of television where the material and writing are developed so well that TV is the place to be. There are so many new outlets from the networks to Hulu to Netflix and Amazon it really raises the bar on what is being done. So, hopefully, there will be more TV work in my immediate future!
You also have another film project in the works. What can you tell us about “Monumental” and the character you play?
That is an indie film I did that is going through post-production right now. We don’t have a release date yet but hopefully we will see it within the next two months. I know it is in the final stages right now. The film is about two brothers who spread their late mother’s ashes around all the different monuments around the United States to honor her memory and find themselves along the way. I play a wife to one of the brothers and there is a conflict within that. Hopefully, we will be seeing that soon!
I always like to ask if we can help shine a light on any causes or charities you might be involved with. What do you have going on in that realm?
I do a lot with animals. Privately, I foster a lot of animals. I have to be honest, I am a foster failure! [laughs] At this point, I have two dogs and two cats in my apartment! I just finished fostering a kitten and found it a home. That was really great! I do a lot of that but I am trying not to do it much anymore because I fall in love everytime and it is heartbreaking! [laughs] I also donate to a pig sanctuary that I really love. It is called Ironwood Pig Sanctuary (www.ironwoodpig.com). They are a home for all these little pot bellied pigs that people abandon. It’s a great place and they really do amazing work! Another organization I am very passionate about is Rebuilding Warriors (www.rebuildingwarriors.com). They are truly amazing with what they do for veterans. My friend Jeff Anderson, who I met working on “Intelligence” for CBS, was a stunt man. He became a very good friend and hero to me. He trains these amazing K-9s to be service dogs for our men and women coming home from war. Some of the veterans are amputees and some suffer from PTSD. These dogs are great therapeutic relief for those suffering from the emotional side of warfare. This is all done at no cost to the recipient. I’ve always believed in the healing power of animals and this cause really does it right!
Those are some amazing programs and thank you for pointing us in their direction! I want to thank you so much for your time today, Agnes! We wish you continued success!
Thank you, Jason! Talk to you soon!