I don’t use the term “Renaissance person” lightly, and I have only met a few real Renaissance persons in my life, and the last true Renaissance person I met was nearly 20 years ago, and he was part of the royal court of Thailand. Just to be clear, a Renaissance person isn’t a jack-of-all-trades, someone who just “has their fingers in a lot of pies,” or someone who just has too much to do. A Renaissance person is well educated, sophisticated, and stylish. She has many talents and makes use of them all, isn’t afraid to try new things, and is successful at most of them. This week, I met another one, and she is a fellow Midwesterner – actress, model, entrepreneur and mentor, Larissa Lowthorp.
And did I say stylish? Wow, just have a look at the picture attached to this article. Yes, she is. Talking with me from her home in Minneapolis, Larissa is one of those individuals like me, who lived in California, but came back home to the Midwest to the land of flannel shirts and hats with ear flaps, church potlucks with Ambrosia salad and three-bean hot dish, and people who still talk to their neighbors over the backyard fence.
Why not Hollywood?
“I love Minneapolis. I travel back and forth between here and LA, and I moved back home a couple years ago to care for family. There is a really strong film community here, and the creative community here is great. I can’t quit Minnesota. The work ethic is different here. It can be easier to get into the industry here, easier to connect with authentic people. There’s a willingness to help each other out that I don’t always see in Hollywood.”
You left a corporate job to pursue your creative dream. Tell me about your creative journey.
“The dream never left me. Since I was a little girl I always wanted to be involved in performance, and it morphed into being in Hollywood. I love movies, I love the fantasy, I love the spectacle. I love the feeling when I leave a really amazing movie and I feel like a transformed person. I had plans to move to Hollywood right away when I turned 18, and my parents were encouraging of me being an actress, but they also wanted me to get a reality check. But then my dad got sick and I didn’t end up moving. After my dad passed away my family needed a lot of support, and I went back to school, got a practical job. I went through a series of hard work and coincidence, and I ended up working at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and I got an internship that led to a full-time job. Then all of a sudden I was a grown-up and I had responsibilities, and here I was with a job that I felt I couldn’t really leave.”
There’s that Midwestern sensibility!
“Yeah! It came to the point where I looked back and was blindsided, I didn’t plan to get here, but here I am, I’ve got a really great job, a supportive professional network and I’m good at what I do. Then I had the opportunity to do promotions and marketing for some really big films, so I never disconnected from the entertainment industry, and always kept that dream in the back of my head. And it led me to a lot of self-exploration and I realized I didn’t have the creative outlet any more. I was like, ‘I have to do something. Where did Larissa go?’ I wasn’t living the values that I believed in and encourage my friends to follow. And so I started writing again. I wrote a script, and that’s where I began to become involved behind the scenes, as a producer, writer and director.”
Before we get into your show business career, let’s talk about your involvement in the fashion world.
“As a kid, I was socially awkward, I lived in an imaginary world and authenticity was very important to me. So I was imagining these scenarios, acting in my troupe and in different plays, and I wanted to make costumes to be able to represent the character. That helped me shift my mindset into the character and really become the character. And that cultivated my sense of fashion, since I would design my own costumes. I started putting together garage sale clothes, costumes for myself and for performances for cast members. I was always into drawing so it was natural to start sketching designs and fashions. Every woman I know always has a better idea of how fashions work. Women’s fashions don’t have a lot of pockets. Or seams will be in an unflattering area. Buttons will be in an unflattering area. Things like that. So to sketch out better, or different, or more imaginative concepts came natural to me. I got involved in thrifted fashion, putting together unique outfits, and then I entered the modeling industry and was doing some runway modeling and commercial modeling. Sometimes for jobs they don’t give you the clothes, and even at casting for acting gigs they don’t always provide the wardrobe, so you have to put together your own. I always wanted to stand out and have always been very versatile, and so that led to the style side.
“To make a long story longer [in typical Minnesota style], in 2014 I decided to go to the Cannes Film Festival and I couldn’t afford it. So I opened up a fashion boutique online. I sold pageant wear, fashions, thrifted and vintage clothes and opened a luxury boutique to sell vintage luxury couture and high end vintage clothes that I would style and sew together. And that’s how my boutique came about.”
You don’t usually think of the world of fashion as being part of Minneapolis, or any part of the Midwest. And I get it, I live in the Rust Belt and often joke about how this is where men dress like little boys and women dress like 60-year-old men on a fishing trip. Is there a fashion scene in Minneapolis that goes beyond flannel shirts and big furry hats with ear flaps?
“Absolutely! I love my flannel shirts, don’t get me wrong. But people here are very creative with fashion. I became involved last year with a fashion show with two locals, Farhan Chowdhury, a top model originally from Bangladesh, and Jacelyn Johnson, an agency director out here. As far as the Midwest, Minneapolis is second in commercial fashion and production in the Midwest, and the street style here is amazing. Just go to downtown Minneapolis or downtown St. Paul, and you can see a lot of really creative dressers. I’ve especially seen a revival in thrifted and vintage fashion here over the past few years. The creative crowd is very fashion forward, and it’s cool because they also have a midwestern twist on it.”
So is the The Road to Vintage fashion show, meant to showcase some Minnesota-based fashion designers, still happening?
It is still happening, but has been delayed due to the coronavirus. We have not set a new date for that yet. We have a ton of fantastic fashion designers here in Minneapolis!”
On to show business. You have been a creative consultant for several feature films. What does that involve?
“Creative consulting involves a lot. My role was to help direct some of the artwork, how it’s going to look best, adjust it for digital print, video, to establish a cohesive look and feel. Then as far as marketing in the Midwest, it’s just getting the word out to different publications, getting people into the premieres and getting organic buzz going.”
You had talked about some of the difficulties actors face in choosing between authenticity and wide exposure. Tell me about that choice. Can’t you have both?
“It’s hard to have both. Actors by their nature put themselves out there. When you put yourself out there as a public persona, you open yourself up to rejection, to criticism and to being judged. With the advent of social media, you’re also opening up your platforms to engage with fans, and now they are also being judged very harshly at times on their personal opinions, and that can come back to haunt you years later. So it’s extremely difficult to balance being yourself with being somebody who is commercially viable enough to gain a foothold and do what you love while making money at it, and having that be your living. It can be a really fine line to walk. With the rise of influencers, there’s so much filtering and now it’s more difficult than ever to maintain your authentic voice. So I think there has to be a balance between being authentic in your voice and your public perception. As a performer, you need to know yourself inside and out. You need to be able to own up to your mistakes and acknowledge them, but if you’re able to strive to be authentic, you can use your voice for good. Like right now, in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, don’t be afraid to speak out for justice. It’s more important now than it has ever been, because there is so much more power for people to amplify their voices.”
As far as acting roles, what type of role would you most like to play?
It’s a role that I could never play, but I have tremendous admiration for a woman named Mary Brave Bird. She was a Native American activist who passed away a number of years ago. She is so strong, insightful, and unafraid, and stands up for what is right no matter what. If anybody were to step into her shoes it should be a woman from her tribe. But it would be an honor to be able to play a strong woman like that.”
It’s interesting you talk about how a Native American woman should play that role. Only just recently, the producers of the musical Hairspray clarified their casting rule to indicate that the actors should be cast to be true to each character. Apparently in some local communities you had white actors playing the role of black characters like Seaweed Stubbs and Motormouth Maybelle. I can’t imagine it, but apparently it happened. So the producers said you need to cast to be true to the characters of the production.
“I absolutely agree. It’s a fine line. As an actor, you’re always stepping into the shoes of somebody else, and that’s one of the fun things about it. But Hollywood has such a history of discrimination. Even now, I’ve talked with friends who are facing discrimination both behind the scenes and as fellow actors. I think Hollywood needs to open up more roles to Black actors, to Asian actors, to Native American actors, and not just in typecast roles.
“I wrote a feature film script a couple years ago, and had it at Cannes and was shopping it around. One of my main characters is Black, and I was told by three different studios to change that person to white because it would be more marketable. I couldn’t believe my ears! These were big studios. I did not go with their vision. I’m not going to change my lead character.”
Is that feature film project still being shopped around? Will it become a reality soon?
“Hopefully within the next couple of years it will become a reality. It’s an animation project, and my mentor recently introduced me to a potential animation studio. I’m just beginning to see why some projects take ten years to get off the ground.”
I can’t wait to see it! Next, you are a mentor and role model for youth, for women and for entrepreneurs, and an organization called Fem(me) Power which helps survivors of human trafficking achieve lifelong success and autonomy. What is that all about?
Fem(me) Power – I’m looking to rename it because the idea has evolved since it first came to me. It was a fully formed idea that I woke up with about 14 months ago. It was conceived as I was coming through some of my own struggles as a female entrepreneur, where I have had a lot of difficulty accessing capital, and a lot of people have shut the door on me. In my career I’ve had to work a lot harder to prove myself than did my male counterparts. I’ve spoken with other women entrepreneurs and they have experienced the same thing. And I want to expand it to individuals coming out of oppressed situations to help them get on their feet as business owners. What I’ve noticed is there is a lot of support to get people out of crisis situations and abusive situations, but then there is a space that once you are safe, what do you do now? That’s where the ball is dropped. Survivors are left on their own. They have PTSD they need to overcome. I am hoping that Fem(me) Power can fill this space, and support them and empower them to really get set up for life.”
You have some much going on, I don’t know how you keep up with it all.
“Everybody has always told me to focus, and settle on one thing. That’s what I tried to do when I worked in corporate, but it’s just not me.”
I understand, I grew up hearing the same thing. I think it’s a Midwestern thing. Here where I live, the story was to get a job in the factory, keep your head down and work there for 40 years, and then retire. That was always the gold standard here. But you don’t really need to do that. It’s okay to explore different things, and keep on exploring them. You don’t ever have to settle on any one thing.
“That’s nice to hear! I like that you haven’t done that either.”
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.