Pop-Culturalist Chats with Olivia Edward
Audiences and critics are falling in love with Olivia Edward’s performance as Duke on FX’s Better Things. The series follows a single mother who juggles the challenges of raising a family, while pursuing her career as an actress. Olivia’s character is the youngest of three and full of personality. Pop-Culturalist was lucky enough to chat with Olivia about the season three renewal, how her character has changed throughout the seasons, and what storyline she’s most excited to explore.
Better Things Questions
P-C: Tell us about Better Things and how you got involved with the series.
Olivia: Better Things is about a single mom, Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon), who is an actress and is raising her three daughters: Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Alligood), and Duke.
I got involved in 2015 when I auditioned for the part and was put on tape to read for Duke. Soon after that, Pamela Adlon flew to New York City to meet with the girls for a call back, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. After meeting her, I was hoping to get the part, because she was so nice and I really liked her. A week after that meeting, my mom told me that Pamela was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. When I got on the phone, Pamela asked me if I would play Duke, her daughter. Of course I said yes! It was one of the happiest days of my life.
P-C: How has your character, Duke, evolved throughout the seasons?
Olivia: In season one, you get to learn about Duke. She’s the baby of the family and seems so innocent.
In season two, Duke’s personality is more defined—she’s maturing and a little bit more mischievous, but you see how much Duke really wants to take care of her mom and her concern for the family. That was really seen in the episode called “Eulogy”, where the family discusses death, loss, and love in the family.
P-C: She’s the youngest of three sisters. What else makes her different and what should audiences know about her?
Olivia: Since she’s the youngest, she craves and demands her mother’s attention, but she also worries about her mother, especially when her sisters are giving her a hard time. I would say Duke is the most connected to her mom, as she hasn’t really explored life much outside of the home life.
P-C: Did you draw on personal experiences when shaping your character?
Olivia: Yes, every scene there is something I can relate to in real life. When Duke has to cry about something, I just recall a moment when something similar happened to me. In the episode called “White Rock”, where Duke is talking to the sad lady, you don’t know if the woman is real, a spirit, Sam’s dead aunt that she just learned about, or the woman who died on the beach. I got a chance to connect with that in a real personal way being that my dad is psychic medium, John Edward. As a family, we discussed the importance of Duke having a real experience and how cool that I, Olivia Edward, got to play that role.
P-C: How did you, Mikey, Hannah, and Pam build your relationship on or off set?
Olivia: Pamela encouraged us in the first season to go to a thrift store in L.A. to shop for the characters in our family to create a connection. We’ve also celebrated holidays together off camera and have had sleepovers as well. Mikey taught me how to make gnocchi, chicken pot pie, and Hannah taught me how to make flower crowns, and we would bond doing silly things on and off the set of Better Things. Pamela is like everyone’s mom on the set. She’s very caring and is always making sure that we’re okay, especially when dealing with emotional scenes. Last season when the family dog died, I had to cry and be emotional for the entire scene and Pamela made it so real and allowed me to experience my feelings and share what it meant to me. I have learned so much from everyone.
P-C: How is Duke similar or different to other characters you’ve played?
Olivia: I am getting the chance to create Duke over multiple episodes. The other characters I have played have been tomboyish, but a bit more extroverted than Duke. I have fun playing whatever characters I have the chance to play, as I just think about what they as characters are thinking about. On an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, my character, Madison, has to make her pet snails speak and do a YouTube type show with them. That was a lot of fun because I imagined the snails talking and what they would sound like.
P-C: The series was just renewed for a third season. How did you celebrate and what are you most excited to explore in season three?
Olivia: Well, I celebrated with a big cupcake. I’m excited to see if Duke’s relationship changes with her mom and her sisters. Honestly, it’s fun to see what Pamela comes up with, and there are always these surprise moments on set to get a reaction out of the other characters to keep things real. On last season’s finale, we all, as a family, had to learn the dance scene for Mikey’s character, Max’s, graduation. The dance scene was rehearsed in private without Mikey knowing so that when she saw it, she had a real honest reaction.
P-C: Besides Better Things, do you have any other upcoming projects that you can chat about?
Olivia: I am working with composer and songwriter Scott Alan on my singing and songwriting. Music is another passion of mine, and I want to add some musical theatre in soon.
P-C: When did you first realize you wanted to be an actress?
Olivia: At two-years-old! I would always love pretending to be different characters I watched on TV, and I still do. When I was 2 1/2, there was a Gap commercial on TV with were kids dancing around. I pointed at the TV and asked my dad why I wasn’t on the TV with those kids. He asked if I wanted to play with those kids, I said “No, I want to be on TV like those kids”. So, he and my mom said, “Why not?”
P-C: How do you balance your career with being a normal kid?
Olivia: My family and I talk about everything. We discuss what it means to perform; to act, sing, dance, and why I am doing it. I am working towards being accomplished, not being famous. My parents make it very clear that fame is not an option. I need to work towards acting like it’s math, English, or science. That keeps me normal.
P-C: Who is someone you’d love to work with in the future?
Olivia: Meryl Streep—I loved her in Into the Woods. Emma Watson, of course, as she started acting young and was in Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast. I would love to work with Tom Welling, as I just finished watching Smallville, and I like Erica Durance, who played Lois and she’s now on Supergirl, playing her mom.
P-C: Do you have a dream role?
Olivia: I would love to play a super hero or someone with powers.
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
P-C: Guilty pleasure TV show?
P-C: Guilty pleasure movie?
Olivia: The Nightmare Before Christmas
P-C: Favorite book?
Olivia: The Shack
P-C: Favorite play or musical?
P-C: A band or artist that fans would be surprised to learn is on your playlist?
Olivia: Tiny Tim
P-C: Favorite social platform?
P-C: Hidden talent?
Olivia: I can roll my belly like a belly dancer.
Photo Credit: Melissa Hamburg