Izzy Stevens isn’t worried about the fame, she’s just doing what she loves and living out her dreams on the daily. Hailing from Sydney, Australia, the actress, writer, producer, director, and filmmaker is the true definition of a creative, describing herself as “someone who’s really curious about other people’s ideas.”
“I love to talk about creativity and I love a collaborative exchange,” she adds with a laugh.
You may recognize her from her lead role as Bella Bartlett in the Australian film Occupation, and now the sequel Occupation: Rainfall is slated to be released nationally to the rest of the world. Taking her talents behind the camera, Izzy’s had the pleasure of directing, writing, and producing her own short films including Placidyl, Phenomena, and Leap, all of which received critical acclaim. Fans can also expect her newest forthcoming project titled Sea Foam, released later this year.
Bringing things full circle, Izzy even started her own business called Creative Luminaries, an online film school where she coaches aspiring actors and filmmakers how to reach their full potential. Beyond the film world, Izzy’s hobbies include yoga, ballet, hiking, swimming, camping, and exploring wineries and vineyards all over the world.
Flaunt caught up with Izzy via Zoom, who was posted in Los Angeles. Read below as we discuss her move from Australia to the States, biggest influences, importance in mental health, how she got her lead role in Occupation, upcoming film Seafoam, creating her online school Creative Luminaries, new film Him, and more!
Being from Sydney, Australia, what was the household like growing up there?
I guess different, depending on who you ask. We moved around a lot, so I changed schools a lot of times, which made me really adaptive. I grew up in a big city, so it’d be similar to growing up in LA. There are definitely huge differences there, but I also grew up around the beach and lots of nature. That’s something I miss living in the heart of Hollywood now.
Biggest influences coming up? Who are you mostly inspired by?
I look at people like Sarah Paulson, Francis McDormand, and Octavia Spencer, these women are so amazing. Reese Witherspoon is a big one for me, because she’s such a lady boss. She’s got this amazing way of taking all the things she loves and making a business out of them. That’s something I really admire. Right now especially, Naomi Osaka is top of mind. What a cool person, really courageous and strong. She talks about something that we in the industry deal with a lot, puts a voice to that in an accessible way for a large group of people. That’s amazing.
Are you on your own journey with mental health?
Absolutely. Who isn’t though, right now? The culture is polarizing and it can be really hard to voice your opinion without feeling like you’re going to be judged or reprimanded, especially with the intense culture of social media. What was highlighted to me with Naomi was she exercised a choice that a lot of us feel like we don’t have when we’re in the media, in the industry, and we’re trying to work towards success. There’s this marriage of success and fame, and success and media. I’m not in it for that, I’m not here to be famous. I don’t care for that part of the journey, but it’s sideways to and collective with the success you experience. That’s a big one for me, knowing that someone went “oh, hold on. Yes it’s my contractual obligation, but I’m actually not well, and it’s not good for me to do this.” Who knows that they’re allowed to do that? It’s inspiring.
How did you end up getting your lead role as Bella in Occupation?
It was a really exciting moment for me. I’d gone through a really tough year. You asked about mental health, it’s something that we all deal with. I definitely have fluctuating anxiety. Especially as an artist, you’re in a space where you need to be ready to be vulnerable. You need to be really strong and resilient, have that backbone and have that strength. It’s a bit of a balancing act all the time. At this point in my life, it was 2017, I’d gone through a really hard year personally. I said to my agent, “you know, it’s been a couple years since my last serious, regular role. It feels really hard, it feels like I’m pushing for something and it’s not happening. Maybe it’s time for me to step away and do something else, follow my filmmaking journey and direct more.” She said “whoa, whoa, whoa! You’re not going anywhere.”
The next day, she put a script on my desk and said “Read this.” It was really weird. I said “I think I’m done,” she’s like “Wait, one more. Try this! Audition for this. The director wants to see you. He’s asked for you specifically.” I said “fine,” so I did this audition that was very low stakes for me. Literally ready to pack my bags and be done. 2 days, she called me and said, “The director wants you for the role. They’re gonna fly you out to this part of Queensland, you’re gonna live on the beach for 3 months and shoot this film. It’s an action sci-fi and you’re a lead.” I said “Oh!” It felt like one of those moments the universe was showing up for me and going “no, this is your space. Don’t lose faith.” It really reignited my love for it and I felt so good on that set. It was such a wonderful experience working with the ensemble as well, really special. It was of course great to come and reprise that role and remember how important that first one was for me definitely.
What are your fondest memories from set?
I worked really closely with Rhiannon Fish, who’s now one of my closest friends. You might know her from the 100. She’s such an amazing woman. We have this very intense thing where we had to shoot… I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it’s such an intense moment. She’s giving birth to a child in the middle of this war zone. It’s midnight, there’s a huge rain machine and all the other characters were in the middle of the forest. All the actors are wearing wetsuits under their clothes so they don’t get cold, but my costume doesn’t allow that because it’s this sweater that’s completely torn up, been in warfare and ravaged.
I’m freezing cold at the bottom of this valley in the forest under this rain machine. After about an hour of Rhiannon and I doing this together, I started babbling nonsensically. The production team goes “Oh, we got to get Izzy out of the rain. She’s hypothermic.” I’m like “la-di-da.” Totally an insane experience, but I said “Let’s go again!” They’re like, “No, no, no. You’re stopping now.” [laughs]
What’re you most excited for with the sequel, Occupation: Rainfall?
I’m excited for it to be out, for everyone to see it become much bigger. The first one looks like a really expensive big budget film, but it was an indie film. The second one, they really leveled up. They’ve got Ken Jeong and Daniel Gillies, we’ve got some great casting there. The scope of it is much bigger, the explosions and actions are very explosive. I’m excited to see how that lands, especially for fans of sci-fi action.
It’s not my genre. I’m much more of a psychological thriller or a comedy, which I know sounds like 2 completely opposite things. This is the first time I’ve been engaged in a sci-fi action film and it’s great. There’s a lot of hardcore fans in that space and I can tell they’re so stoked and excited, so I’m glad to be bringing that to the audiences. Reprising my role as Bella Bartlett is really fun because she’s such a badass. She’s really strong, tough, very loyal and takes great care of her family. It’s so wonderful to step back into her shoes, see how she’s grown and feel that out. It was really cool to be able to do that.
Talk about using your acting talents, then going behind the camera directing, producing and writing as well.
I went to film school in between projects, because I thought it’d be really good for me to know more about the industry. When I first started acting, I was 17. I was a series regular on Underbelly and on Puberty Blues. Through those 2 experiences, years of being on set, I found myself staying back and asking questions of the crew. “Why did you put the camera there? What’s the next setup? How does this work?” I’m so curious. Watching more actors advanced around me have questions that were collaborative and have questions that helped the story, I looked at those actors and thought “that’s what I want to be.”
I want to be able to show up to set and have that confidence and knowledge so I can help the story function as best as possible. Film school showed me how much I love to direct and create a story, drive a story and collaborate. Making films for me is a huge freedom. It means bringing teams together, having collaborative conversations, being able to decide who’s on the team. Let’s not just have 10 white men behind the camera, let’s have a whole bunch of people from various walks of life because that’s going to make a better film. I love to be in that driving seat and tell stories that are thought-provoking or take the audience on a journey.
I know you have Seafoam coming out, what can we expect from that short film?
Seafoam is something that really does take the audience on a journey, because we’re so locked into this character’s experience that we don’t know what the real truth of the reality is. It’s about a young woman who visits her mother in a psychiatric facility, then starts to question her reality and feels like she’s being followed. It’s really short, it’s 6 minutes. It’s all about getting you hyper intense in her reality, then in the end going “oh, what was real? Oh my God, we don’t know now!”
Damn, was it hard to compact everything in 6 minutes?
Yeah, it’s still going. We’re in the final stage of production. The edits locked, me and my sound designer are working closely on it now. Sound has so much to do with how we’ve experienced a film and there’s so many choices we could make, so you have to choose the right one. It’s exciting.
Talk about starting your own company, Creative Luminaries, during the pandemic.
Creative Luminaries is a private coaching platform for actors and filmmakers, who are sick of waiting for some elusive big break and are ready to go from script to screen so they can make their own stuff and be celebrated. Creative Luminaries is all about empowering the creative person to produce work and make a career that they decide, rather than be waiting for the industry to knock down their door. It’s a frustration that we all feel as creatives, being like ”well I’ve got this fire in me, this spark, this artist that’s ready to make. And I’m constantly waiting for the phone to ring.” How annoying is that? Okay, maybe you don’t have the skills to make your own film, but there are ways around that.
We can create a team for you. We can make sure that you’re telling stories that are important, that are highlighting your talents. Like an actor that might not want to direct or produce or do anything, they want to show up to the set and act, great. Let’s make that happen. Or an actor that’s ready to transition to directing, but doesn’t have the skills or doesn’t know anybody. I love to work individually with people to figure out what exactly they want and how to make it happen. It seems a bit funny, because “oh, shouldn’t I just be focusing on my career?” This platform, especially through COVID, is such an amazing experience to build community. Make us all remember that we’re in it together, we’re collaborative rather than feel so isolated.
I heard you’re a huge wine connoisseur as well, I was going to ask what you like to do for fun.
I love wine! I love red wine the most, Pinot Noir is my favorite. I’m a bit more discerning now simply because I like to try a lot of stuff, but I wouldn’t say I’m a snobby wine lover. I enjoy the experience of it, especially being in a vineyard when you’re outside and you’re talking to the person that’s really passionate about what they make and that whole process. I love wine, definitely something I do for fun. I’m such a bit of a nerd when it comes to what I do for fun. I’m like “Oh, make films?” [laughs] That’s what I do for fun: I make films, watch movies, go to the beach and drink wine.
I saw you say on Instagram, sound design is your favorite part of filmmaking. Why is that?
I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but it’s definitely up there as one of the biggest ways that I enjoy watching films. Sound is the invisible source of energy behind a film, it’s what carries us through. It’s what drives the narrative if used wisely. You don’t want to sound all the time. I’m not saying a film needs to be filled with sound, it’s about when they use it and when they don’t. It can make such a huge impact. Mostly people who aren’t working in the film industry aren’t watching it going “oh, great sound!” But they’re feeling it, they love the film and they don’t know what part about it is resonating with them. It’s usually the sound design that’s helping them feel the way that the filmmaker is asking them to feel.
What can we expect from your lead role in the Australian thriller Him, arriving in October?
Him is an ensemble film and I was lucky to be one of the leads. I actually did all of my scenes in downtown LA, in this high-rise office with a small crew. The whole rest of the crew and the director were in Australia because we filmed during COVID. It was pretty crazy experience. The director was on Zoom. Wow, how to adapt in a pandemic. I wouldn’t choose to do that again just because that’s not ideal. When you’re making a film, it’s not ideal to have someone on Zoom that’s directing. I love to be in conversation with them in person, there’s a whole energy of being on set. That was such an isolated incident. I haven’t been on set while the rest of the film has been filming, so I have no idea. I’m excited to watch it and I don’t know what to expect.