Actress talks movies, Mardi Gras and Galveston memories
Liana Liberato has come a long way from her days as a kid in Galveston theater. Today, she’s one of Hollywood’s young rising stars.
After getting her start at The Strand Street Theater in downtown Galveston, the third-generation islander moved to Los Angeles at age 9 to pursue a career in acting.
She spent years landing guest starring roles on such TV shows as “Cold Case,” “House” and “Sons of Anarchy,” but made her mark in Hollywood as the star of the 2010 independent film “Trust,” directed by David Schwimmer. Her performance in the visceral role of a teenage girl targeted by an online sexual predator opened doors for a career in studio films. Clive Owen and Catherine Keener portray her parents in the film. Roger Ebert called Liberato’s performance “remarkable.” For that performance, she won the Silver Hugo Award for Best Actress at the 46th Chicago International Film Festival.
Late last year, Liberato co-starred in the “The Best of Me,” a film based on a book by the cult romance novelist Nicholas Sparks, and “If I Stay,” which starred Chloë Grace Moretz as a teenager who must decide during an out-of-body experience whether to wake up from a coma after a horrific car accident.
At age 19, Liberato, the daughter of George and Rhondelle Liberato, has been building her career in Los Angeles for more than 10 years now. With a competitive spirit and big dreams, she hopes to do her hometown proud. And in some ways, she’ll always be a Galveston girl with a taste for Texas barbecue, Mardi Gras memories and a love for the beach.
While taking a break during the holidays from her busy film schedule, Liberato sat down with Coast Monthly for a fun Mardi Gras photo shoot at Galveston’s historic Trube Castle and talked about finding success in Hollywood.
CM: I know that you started acting when you were really young in Galveston. Do you remember your first role?
LL: Yes, definitely. My mom started me in theater when I was 3 years old and I just fell in love with it. The first role I can remember was a production of “Oliver” at The Strand Street Theater. I remember auditioning and they said whoever gets the part of Oliver has to be willing to cut their hair, so I just got up and left. I guess I was a lot more attached to my hair back then.
But, I guess you could say the first professional play I was in was ‘Galveston the Musical’ when I was 7. I remember it felt like a huge deal because people were coming down from Houston to try out for it.
The show is based on the Maceo brothers coming to Galveston during Prohibition. But of course I didn’t know anything about that then, I just thought it would be fun to sing and dance. It was a very adult play though — I was by far the youngest in the cast and always getting in trouble backstage.
But a lot of people came to see it, so that was really exciting for me. It really made me feel the pressure of acting professionally, and I found that I liked the competition.
CM: You moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting when you were just 9 years old. How did you and your parents decide you should move?
LL: I knew that if I ever wanted to expand my wings a bit in the acting world, there would be more opportunities outside of Galveston.
I’d been thinking about it for years, but I always remember one moment after we had taken our first trip out to LA to see if I could make the move. I was in a softball league back here and I was getting in trouble for missing so many games — I was so, so bad at softball.
My parents sat me down and said — you can either keep playing softball or move to LA to become an actress. It’s funny looking back on that now — like those were the choices.
It was a hard decision. I remember getting pretty upset when I had to decide between staying with my friends and family or going to LA. Now, I think back and realize that it was because I had to choose if I wanted a normal childhood. And now you obviously know what I chose. I think I made the right choice, but you know it was hard to leave Galveston in a lot of ways.
CM: So this is our issue celebrating Galveston Mardi Gras. Do you have any memories from the big island Mardi Gras celebrations?
LL: Oh yeah, I love Mardi Gras. I thought it was something that everyone celebrated because I grew up with it. There was one time when I was getting back from LA and my dad’s friends had a float in the parade and I got to get on the float to throw beads — and I’m sure I saw some very interesting stuff up there.
I haven’t been able to celebrate Mardi Gras properly most of the time in LA, but this past year I was in New Orleans shooting ‘The Best of Me’ and I went to Bourbon Street to throw beads, which was actually really nostalgic for me, but, you know, I think Galveston Mardi Gras is a little more family friendly.
CM: What do you consider your breakout role?
LL: ‘Trust’ is something that I am really proud of. I haven’t had the opportunity to do a role like that in a long time. I had gone through a really long time before then when I wasn’t booking anything and all I wanted was the opportunity to flex my abilities. When ‘Trust’ came around, it really pushed me. That film also opened a lot of doors for me; I got a new agent and a lot of attention.
But I am also really proud of ‘The Best of Me’ because my comfort zone is drama, and it was the first role that I could actually be very light-hearted, pretty much the only light-hearted person in the movie, actually.
CM: And ‘The Best of Me’ was a Nicholas Sparks movie, which of course comes with a big romantic kissing scene on the roof in the rain.
LL: Oh yeah, I’d never done anything like that before — ever. There was also that Nicholas Sparks pressure and walking in we knew there was a certain kind of image that we had to uphold. But luckily my co-star, Luke Bracey, is such a fun guy — I think there’s something with me and Australians. We have the same personality, so we hit it off really well. And I just can’t imagine doing that with someone you didn’t like.
But of course, as graceful as those scenes look on screen, there was a lot of awkwardness and we were bumping heads and laughing a lot of the time.
CM: So what projects should we expect next from you?
LL: I just finished filming this really great film called ‘Life at These Speeds.’ It is a small, independent movie that just has so much heart. We have some really fantastic actors in it — some of the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
It is a running movie based on a book about a boy who is dealing with survival’s guilt after he loses his entire track team and his girlfriend in a bus accident. My character comes in after the tragedy, and through his rejection and his inconsistency, still stays — despite the fact that he never reciprocates or shows he cares.
This movie has been around for 10 years trying to get made and my name was always thrown around for different parts. But it’s funny when movies come into your life, because when it got to the point when I was defending my character and I related to her so much, I knew I had to do it.
We’ll be taking the movie through the festival circuit, so there’s no release date yet. So right now, I’m looking for new roles — I’m being really picky now — I want to find a role that pushes me and I want to jump into a role that I really care about. That is the ultimate goal.