It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in LA. It’s a perfect day for brunch, and the Hollywood restaurant I sit at confirms that notion. It looks like something out of a movie, very much like it was set up that way.
At the bar sits a strikingly gorgeous young woman with a mimosa and her phone. She very much looks like her surrounding but she sticks out. She’s alone, but laughing to herself. She’s reading a script for a rom com, something she’s found herself doing lately.
Her name is Liya Shay and at first glance you would think she’s like so many young actresses in LA — trying to find that right role, fighting to be taken seriously — and she is, to an extent. However, Liya has become a little tired of being taken “too serious”.
“I used to go in for a lot of darker roles” she says holding her mimosa flute. “A troubled woman, a battered wife, a rape victim — those were the roles I was being cast for. Or a sexy spy, because I’m Russian. It became monotonous.”
It’s not easy for aspiring actors. You have to have the chops, but also the look. With so many people going after one role, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. It can wear on someone’s nerves. After reading for multiple “depressing” parts, she wanted something a little lighter and fun. Something that resembles her personality.
“I’m a pretty laid-back girl,” she says as she fixes her blonde hair. “At the end of the day, I’m comfortable just being at home and watching a movie. The parts I read for are so dramatic sometimes that I read them and go — is this really how people live? Do these people ever laugh? Who has time to be this upset all of the time?”
I can’t help but be transfixed when she speaks. She’s Russian, but speaks with a lovely British accent. She can weave in and out of it with ease, even throwing in her American accent at times just for fun. It’s a colorful blend that feels accidental, even when she’s doing it purposefully. She’s playful and full of surprises, a sentiment shared by people who have worked with her.
“Honestly, the first time I worked with her I was a little intimidated because she’s so damn pretty,” says Shea Freeman, who directed her in the short film From Within. “She has this commanding presence and beautiful voice, but then we cut and she’s just a big goofball. It’s not what you would expect.”
Liya and Shea met while the latter was an aspiring writer. “Shea’s a really talented writer,” she says, gushingly. “He’s always writing something. He and my boyfriend at the time worked on a project together, and he was constantly writing or rewriting scripts, so I became very familiar with his style.”
One of those scripts in particular caught her attention early on. A story about a young pregnant woman who goes on a road trip with her best friend to find the father of her unborn child. However, it was a lot different than what she expected.
“It was so damn funny,” she says with a grin. “It wasn’t this super-serious, dramatic story and it felt more real to me. Like, this is a movie I could watch over and over again. It’s funny and kind of wild, yet really sweet and endearing. Which is basically Shea.”
A road trip rom/com with a bit of a mystery to it, the pregnant protagonist Nikki is not your typical soon to be mom. “It’s sort of like if the roles in Knocked Up were reversed and she’s the lazy stoner who needs to grow up. It was interesting to me.”
“She (Liya) has a lot to her that I don’t think has been showcased, as far what she’s capable of”, says Freeman of Liya’s interest in the character. “I think with Who’s Your Daddy she gets a chance to let loose a little bit because it’s not something I initially thought she would be into but she liked it.”
“She’s a little selfish” says Liya of Nikki, “but she’s so damn funny and she has a redemptive quality to her that I find in a lot of us. She doesn’t have it all figured out, not even close, but then again who does? To me, that’s real.”
Liya definitely has the girl boss vibe. The way she carries herself, keeping her posture even after a few drinks, is a testament to her ambitious spirit. She’s never tired, always looking for something to push forward.
Between juggling her acting career and her business endeavors, it’s a wonder how she ever finds time to slow down and relax. “That’s what the mimosas are for, darling. It’s like sunshine in a bottle,” she says, giving me a wink as she takes a sip. She’s quite the charmer.
As we exchange goodbyes, I can’t help but feel a little bubbly. Maybe it was the champagne, or maybe it was Liya, but I left feeling refreshed like I had just watched a rom com that was better than expected. However, her friend and the writer Shea sums it up best.
“I still get a little intimidated when I’m around her, not gonna lie,” says Shea with a laugh. “She’s like the cute girl down the hall — every time you see her you’re a little nervous to say something and then when you finally talk, you realize she’s just a cool chick down the hall. That’s Liya.”