Heini Tavastia from Finland shares her thoughts about life as an actress in Los Angeles

Who Is Heini Tavastia? What does Heini do and where?

I am an actress living and working in Los Angeles. I was born and raised in Finland and moved to England to study performing at the age of 21. After getting my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Media Performance I moved from London to New York to further develop my acting skills. I studied both in Manhattan and here in LA and finally got my Masters of Fine Arts in Acting in June 2014. I recently signed with an agency and now I’m really looking forward to the pilot season – or what’s left of it.

At what age did you know that you wanted to be an actress/director?

The dream of being an actress started to form around the age of eight. I had been cast as the lead role in a school play when I had an epiphany. I remember standing on the stage looking at the audience and thinking to myself this is kind of cool. I like this feeling. Ever since that moment it was somewhat clear that performing and entertaining would eventually give me my paycheck. However, when I was 17 it became official that I not only wanted to be an actress but I also had to study acting in New York.

Directing was never really my passion to be honest. However, I did learn something about it during both of my BFA and MFA studies and I have directed for both stage and camera. I enjoyed it and liked the feeling of being in charge of everything. However, my passion and focus right now is on acting. Maybe I’ll get inspired by Ben Affleck and get my head around directing later on in my career.

What has been the most exciting “thing” or role that you’ve covered during your career or should we say careers? I think you do some other stuff as well?

Yes, I do presenting and hosting as well but I wouldn’t talk about that as a career – yet? One of the most memorable acting experiences was in England when I was preparing for a role of a woman with mental illness. I did a lot of research about depression, paranoia and psychosis. The author of the play, Sarah Kane, suffered from mental illness herself and eventually committed suicide. All that affected me in a larger than life kind of way and I felt like 80% of my personality changed along the process. I wasn’t really trying to go Method with the role but I felt like I did at least to a certain extent. I started to wear all black outfits on a regular basis – not my style back then – listened only to depressing music – not my style back then – had dreams about death and anxiety – really not my style back then – stopped caring about my appearance or wellbeing and just basked in the overall misery I was experiencing. My whole posture and way of walking changed. One day I walked to class dragging my new bag on the ground not caring about the damage I did to it. That was the  second year of my studies in England and I was a little scared of the whole experience. I learned that getting out of the character sometimes requires as much work as getting into it.

Is there any particular story, moment, an award or an achievement throughout your career that you are particularly proud of?

Making my dream come true by moving to New York. I cried three times every month – yes, I did keep a record – for eight months because I was so happy to be living the life I had  always imagined. Then, two months before I had to leave I started to cry because…well, I had to leave. The whole execution of the dream was mind-blowing itself but it also opened many doors, lead to a few great achievements and introduced me to some of the most precious people in my life. None of that would have happened without the first step.

What would you say is the biggest misconception that people have about your profession?

A lot of people I’ve met who are not in the industry often think acting is easier than it actually is, that it is mostly rainbows and butterflies. Don’t get me wrong, acting is a lot of fun and actually can be all rainbows and butterflies. But if you put a lot of effort into building your character – especially if the role is emotionally demanding – then the job can  become really draining. When I was still studying the days were emotionally really hard. It took a lot of energy to live in an unhappy place mentally in order to stay in the right state of mind for your scene and push yourself to the point that you cry almost every day in front of  the entire class. Being vulnerable is the key and most people think it’s not a biggie because it’s being done “in character”. In reality you have to bring a lot of you to the table in order to access those feelings.

What do you enjoy most about being an actor vs. some “regular” job? What is the worst thing about being an actor?

The best thing is to be able to live different lives; occupations, personalities, backgrounds. I also love emotions. I love scenes and characters that are multi dimensional – well, what actor wouldn’t – and give me a ride to the moon and back. One of my teachers in New York once used an example of what actors are like. He said that only actors get happily excited when they are given a tragic story with a tragic character: ‘Oh my God, I grew up without parents? I have lived out on the streets for ten years? I almost drowned when I was a child and that has traumatized me for life? I lost both of my legs in a war two years ago when I was saving my pet hamster from a burning building? And I also have a disease that no doctor has a cure for? Wow, this is it! My time has come. This is some serious Oscar-winner

I guess the worst thing is the fact that you can’t change your hairstyle just like that. You have to look exactly as you do in your headshot so if you go and make drastic changes in your look the hairdresser is not the only one you have to pay. You’ll also have to pay hundreds of dollars for new headshots.

What have you found to be the biggest difference between acting in Finland and Los Angeles? Do you know if there is a difference between training – and how hard/easy it is to get a university level degree in each country?

The biggest difference is the size of the industry. I can’t say anything from a personal point of view because I’ve never studied acting or done acting in Finland in my adult years. I was a part of a youth theatre throughout my teenage years but that doesn’t really make me  qualified enough to talk about the differences. All I know is that the last year of my MFA studies was almost too intense. Easily the hardest year of my life. 13-hour-long days with two 15-minute breaks were not uncommon in my schedule and I almost burned out during the last few months.

What kinds of people do well in this field of work in your opinion?

Real people who never give up. It’s a cliché but it’s a cliché for a reason. It’s so true. First of all, you’re very likely not going to get a change if you don’t work hard in the first place. Determination and self-belief are fundamental. And when you do get the change you’re not going to get far if you’re not a nice, real person. And by real I mean just be yourself. Be nice to everybody. Fake it till you make it only gets you to a certain point. After that if you still feel like you’re going strong it’s probably because you’re dealing with people who put up with you just because they are the same as you.

Are there any roles that you would hate to cover? Or would love to cover.

Well, I’d love to cover that example story my teacher told my class! Seriously speaking, I would love to take on a role that requires learning something completely new or somehow puts me through hell. Comedy is close to my heart and within my comfort zone so doing something ridiculously hilarious – but with good taste – would be definitely a yes, too. There aren’t many roles that I know straight away I’d say no to. I find it relatively easy to find something in every character that makes me fall in love with them. However, I have tried to stay away from the typical tall blonde characters, meaning ditzy stereotypes that are written in only to be eye candies and don’t have a rich emotional and intellectual life to begin with.

What advice would you give to other aspiring European actors aiming for the stars in Hollywood? Anything NOT to do or expect?

Go for it. Only have a plan A because the minute you start thinking of a plan B you’re already on the wrong track. And do not say yes to everything! You don’t have to do everything you’re being offered. Even if you could use the money think about your future. For example, I have pretty systematically said no to music videos. I’ll consider doing it if the video has a meaningful story and it’s tastefully done. What you do attracts more same kind of jobs so choose wisely in the beginning. Oh and also, be artistically, mentally and physically prepared all the time. All the damn time. You don’t know when a door is going to open. Success is when preparation meets opportunity.

What and who captivate you in the world of the celebrities – and why?

Oh wow, I’ll try to keep the list short. First of all, all the legends from Marlon Brando to Meryl Streep obviously. I also like Jennifer Lawrence and Ryan Gosling. Before anyone thinks I like them because of their looks or them being hot stuff at the moment may I just say hold your horses. I think both have very honest and open approach to acting and their presences radiate those qualities also in general. That is very inviting and captivating to watch. Morgan Freeman has the same spark. I also admire people who can believably make others laugh or cry. That’s why I consider the late great Robin Williams one of a kind.

Since you are Finnish – I must ask what you miss the most from Finland. Do you think you’ll ever return to live back there? And how is the Finnish community in Los Angeles?

In New York I used to miss sauna. Now in LA I miss snow and winter. It’s almost beyond belief how much I long for rainy days, cold weather and grey misery. A rainy day in LA is automatically a happy day. That means there are about five automatically happy days in a year here. Other happy days are just happy despite the sunshine.

I have never imagined my future in Finland. I’ve always seen having a family and career in America. So no, at least at this point of my life I don’t think I’ll return to Finland. I could move back for a short period of time if there was a cool project that I wanted to be a part of but my life and network have become pretty solid out here.

As far as for the Finnish community… I don’t know much about it. I know some Finnish people here but don’t have any Finnish friends. Wow, that sounds sad. But it’s true. I’ve never had a desire to seek for Finns to feel home or some next lever connection that only another Finn could understand. Finnish or not, as long as you’re cool we’re cool.

What do you see is the best about the Finnish culture/people vs. American?

I like the American easiness when it comes to networking and making new friends. Ok yeah,it can be all small talk and lead to nowhere. Nonetheless, opening the door for a possible friendship or a business connection is easy here.

Finland taught me to be down to earth and cut the crap. Too high maintenance princess attitude doesn’t fly with me.

Is there anything else we need to know?

I have a blog and post about my life and experiences in LA (and sometimes New York). It’s in Finnish but I have tested and Google translator gives a pretty decent translation of the content.


Instagram: instagram.com/heinihoo
Facebook: facebook/heinitavastia
Twitter: twitter.com/heinitavastia