The name Alison Oliver may not currently be familiar to you, but that will all change soon. The young Irish actress, and drama school graduate, secured the debut TV role of a lifetime when she was cast as the lead in the BBC’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s cult novel Conversations with Friends. Made by the same creative team as the phenomenally successful Normal People, Oliver should no doubt prepare for her career to skyrocket like Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal.
“It was my first job, so it’s kind of my introduction to the industry,” she says, of her portrayal of Frances – the beating heart of Conversations with Friends. “It’s changed my life in so many ways. It felt amazing and terrifying and indescribably exciting. I just feel so grateful that I got to do something as wonderful and something I was so passionate about already. This feels pretty life-changing.”
Oliver was already a huge Rooney fan, who remembers reading the novel when she was herself studying in Dublin – the setting for many of Rooney’s narratives. “I think what Sally Rooney’s writing does, that makes it so successful, is she’s unafraid to write characters that are really flawed and I think that makes them so grounded and makes us relate to them so easily, because they feel like real people. When you read her books, you just feel really seen.”
She is unsurprised by how successfully Rooney’s novels have thus far been brought to the screen, and how naturally the stories have translated. “They are so character driven, and so you want to see them brought to life.”
Oliver herself has a sweet, funny temperament so different from the quiet aloofness of her character Frances. She is quick to laugh and displays a discernible sense of care for others; friendly and approachable to every single member of the set. “I hate to see people be belittled, or quietened,” she says. “That makes me cross.” Conversely, nothing makes her happier than her friends and family. “Oh, and almond croissants,” she adds, with a degree of seriousness that convinces you never to come between her and a pastry. It is unsurprising, therefore, that her dream job – should she not be an actress – would be to be a food critic. “You just get to eat a lot of amazing food,” she shrugs, laughing.
She credits a video of the Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston with imparting the best career advice she has ever heard. “When you’re going to auditions, he says you’re there to do a job not get a job. When you’re auditioning for things, your only job is to create a character and present it to these people who technically have a problem they need solving. You’re kind of going, ‘here’s a potential solution to your problem, and if you want it you can have it’,” she recalls. “I just love that, and I always return to it when I’m auditioning.”
When she’s not preparing for roles, or eating almond croissants, Oliver is out there making bold fashion choices. “My guilty pleasure is socks and sandals,” she grins, almost apologetically. “I actually think it looks really cool?” No matter how much roasting she receives from friends, Oliver has little trouble staying true to the mantra she would impart to her younger self. “Who you are is OK,” she says. “You don’t have to change yourself to be understood or accepted. If you accept yourself, everyone will too.”
After Conversations with Friends hits our screens this week, Oliver’s star will (deservedly) explode and she will no doubt become a firm fixture on the celebrity party circuit. Those encountering her should not fail to ask her for her party trick.
Trust us. You will not be disappointed.
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