Adventureland // take a ride with Hollywood's latest discovery, South African born beauty Athena Strates
Athena. (Ah-theee-nuh. Noun.) Actress. Born 1996. Eyes hazel. Hair blonde. 5 foot 2. Nationality South African & Dutch. Training at Ivana Chubbuck Studio, Los Angeles. Recent credits include The Good Liar by Bill Condon and Genius: Picasso by Kenneth Biller. Many will read this like any other actors cv. Those immersed within the peculiar world of film and television have, however, quickly understood that Athena Strates is a force to be reckoned with. She’s the kind of actress who lives and breathes for the sole purpose of performing. Without much effort, she delves into new worlds and characters, instantly engrossing those around her. She’s a fearless explorer, a true empath and the kind of talent that doesn’t come around very often.
We first met, better said e-met, in November 2017 when we had arranged to skype after watching a screener of ‘On The Run’, a German feature film Athena filmed in Cape Town earlier that year. She told us about her plans to move to Berlin and longing to pursue a career in acting. Thanks to her Greek, German and Dutch origins, Athena holds both the South African and Dutch passport. This is somewhat a golden ticket because it allowed Athena to move to and work on European grounds without restricted visas or work permits. “People thought I was nuts as I had never been to Berlin,” Athena explains. Berlin was a radical change from her home Cape Town, a place surrounded by a scenery of mountains and ocean views versus Berlin, a flat and concrete ruled city. Athena had to immerse herself into a new culture, but tells us that she “managed to adapt very quickly to its not-even-German, multi-faceted and free-spirited chaos.” From our first skype onwards, we took on the role of Athena’s managers, agents and big-sisters away from home. When we ask her if she ever gets homesick Athena confesses that “trying to find your feet on the other side of the world can be daunting, but Berlin is home for me now.”
When we suggested Athena for the role of Maya Picasso in National Geographic’s highly anticipated second season of Genius, the shows casting director instantly gravitated towards our proposal and agreed to let Athena put herself on tape. Two weeks later, completely unexpected, we received the call that Athena had booked the job. “I still pinch myself about the moment you girls called to tell me I got the part,” Athena exclaims. “I was in a store in Mitte (a neighbourhood in Berlin) and had to run out onto the street to scream.” We are firm believers in the fact that this role was the universes way of rewarding Athena for her bravery, talent and tenacity.
Several sleeps later we were ready to travel to Berlin for the annual film festival and to see our sweet girl, Athena. After a very delayed arrival at Berlin Tegel airport – not only did we miss two meetings as a result of the unforeseen snow chaos at Munich airport, our iPhone batteries were also dangerously low – we rushed to Soho House, where Athena was already expecting us before heading off to film Genius: Picasso in Malta (we had only found out a couple days earlier that our Berlin dates were to coincide with her shooting dates). We hugged hello and goodbye for the first time IRL before watching Athena disappear behind the tinted windows of a black car that had been waiting curb-side, ready to take her to the airport. After only two weeks of living in Berlin, Athena was about fly to Malta where her first week of preparation and filming would begin. Given Athena’s no-name status and “inexperience” (her words, not ours), she feared she would be disregarded on set. “Luckily, they were all so supportive and welcoming of me,” Athena explains. “Especially Antonio. He made me feel very comfortable and heard.”
“I remember waiting in the mini-van for Clémence Poésy and Poppy Delevingne the next morning,” Athena tells us. “Then seeing Antonio Banderas for the first time was also a near-pop experience. The entire thing was a near internal combustion!”
Athena and a few of our other clients joined us for our annual Easter lunch a few weeks later, where Athena slipped into one of our silk dresses to put herself on tape for yet another audition – this time for a Warner Brothers film. Within days, Athena found herself on skype with the director, none other than academy award winner Bill Condon, and once again booked the job. “I got to do a choreography with Anthony van de Laar who did Beauty and the Beast, Mamma Mia – you name it,” Athena tells us, excited. And how was it working with Ian McKellan, we can’t help but ask? “It was a treat. We sat behind the scenes and chatted about the time he was in Cape Town and did his part by showering in a bucket during the water crisis.”
Although Athena never went to acting school – she studied to become an interior designer/architect – she has always loved performing. “I was that eight-year-old that used to stop my parents’ dinner parties because I had a show to give the guests,” Athena remembers. At her fathers 40th birthday party, she lip-sang to Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ in front of everyone. “That was my gift to him,” she confesses. “I did it for the love of entertainment and to make people laugh.” Today, it is the nerves at the audition, the relief when you book a job and the ongoing collaborations which Athena lives for. That and the fact that she is constantly learning new things, not only about herself but the fascinating world around her. “Different characters bring different depths to topics that you might not have given a lot of attention to in your own life,” she explains. Currently, Athena is exploring her new-found love for making music. “I bought myself a baby pink short neck squire (electric guitar) and I have a vintage Casiotone,” she says, gushing. Whenever she’s not filming or playing her electric guitar, Athena is “very into permaculture, herbalism, meditation, yoga and running.” She likes to surround herself with inspirational characters from all walks of life. “I believe in stealing with the eyes, so I watch a lot of movies too,” Athena adds on.
Athena spent the first three months of the new year in Los Angeles, the origin of cinema, where she expanded on her acting skills at the renown Chubbuck Studio. Athena had met Ivana in Amsterdam and Berlin when she first participated in one of her intense masterclasses. Ivana then invited Athena to come out to LA to further immerse herself into the craft or, as Ivana would put it, The Power of the Actor. “It’s the real deal where you really have to be serious about owning your shit,” Athena tells us. She continues, “not only did I gain a lot of confidence in my acting abilities and skills, but I learnt so many things about myself as a young adult and the nature of human beings.”
From an outsiders’ point of view the careers of well-known actors always seem easy and effortless. What many don’t see is the endless struggle, the years of rejection and monstrous adversities that this special breed of individuals have to endure. It is no different for Athena. She too has experienced first-hand that, as an actress, the highs are high and the lows are, well, low. “I’ve cried a few times at the uncertainty of it all, but it’s really something that you get used to and incorporate into your life,” she explains. Whenever she does doubt herself or catches herself feeling a little down, Athena tries to steer clear of Instagram as much as possible. At the end of the day it’s comforting to know that the unsureness actors are exposed to isn’t necessarily something any of us are born to accept naturally. It takes surrounding yourself with the right people, focusing on the little things in life and a lot of perseverance to stay sane in this crazy industry. “I’m very aware of how easy it is to lose your sense of self so I do pay particular attention to staying on track with my morals and values,” Athena concludes.
“Things can’t always go as you expect them to. That doesn’t mean you can’t have optimism and hopes, I do believe in manifestation, but expectation isn’t a long-term endeavour.”
Stood on the Santa Monica Pier, the screeching sound of the amusement park muted behind us, we stare at the pacific, it's waves forming melodically beneath us, unsure when the three of us will next be together in Los Angeles. We embrace the moment and hold on to our day-dreams for as long as possible, hopeful for what the future will hold. Athena mentions that she has “big plans of shouting for those who might not have a voice.” Having worked with some of Hollywood’s greatest artists after only a year of living on European grounds, Athena’s priorities haven’t changed. She lives for the art of acting, the journey behind it and most of all for the individuals who stand beside her no matter what. All bias aside, I think we can all agree that this extraordinary girl is an ember bound to ignite.
Q&A PART I
What time do you wake up?
On average around 8:30/9am
What are your AM music vibes?
Depends how I wake up. It’s different every day. Honestly, I can never answer music questions. I even confuse myself with my intense variety in music taste!
How do you mentally prepare for the day?
I have a routine where after breakfast I brush my teeth/shower, find an outfit that suits my mood the best at that given moment, I make my bed, clean my room and take my vitamins. If I manage to do all of this without a rush and turn on music then it’s usually going to be a stable day
Favorite city you got to visit for work?
So far Malta. Or Los Angeles. I can’t decide!
What is the last book you read?
Waking up, by Sam Harris
Who is the last person that texted you?
My friend Cullan. We’re hoping to find an apartment together in Berlin!
What's the most attractive quality in someone?
When they don’t have a smartphone
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Q&A PART II
Character from a film or novel that is most like you?
I’m reading Dolly Alderton’s autobiography “Everything I Know About Love” and I’ve never related more to someone in my life
What does your ideal food day look like?
There has to be either a smoothie bowl, ramen or ice cream involved
Last movie you saw and cried?
I re-watched Mysterious Skin
Something you always take with you on set?
My script, duh! And earphones. And sparkling water!
How do you recharge?
I go dancing
What would be your perfect date?
We spend the day at the lake/beach/outdoors, incorporate some beers somewhere, meet with friends in the evening, go dancing and maybe even watch the sunrise, but hearing the birds chirp when you exit the venue after dancing all night makes me anxious sometimes!
Upcoming artist you are dying to work with?
Xavier Dolan (although he’s def not up-and-coming he’s already up there)! I think Timothee Chalamet is cute of course, who wouldn’t want to work with him?
If you weren’t an actress, you would be?
A designer. I’d really like to be a musician too. Let’s say an artist still!
Favorite hair & make-up and costume to date?
I got to dye my hair dark brown once which was very cool. I’d like to do that again!
Q&A PART III
Orchids by far they’re incredible
Biggest pinch-me moment since moving to Berlin?
The Berlin summer
Magazine you’d most like to be on the cover of?
What do you wish you were better at?
Something you recently discovered?
I discover so many new things on a daily basis. Silverwater, abandoned buildings, herbalism, falun dafa, my fragile financial situation
Favorite karaoke song?
Sk8r boy by Avril Lavigne
As an actress you need to be?
Describe Antonio Banderas in three words?
Spanish, charming, short
Q&A PART IV
Where will you travel next?
I’m on the train to Munich right now
Do you like to sit window or aisle on the plane?
Difficult! I pee a lot so the anxiety of asking someone to get up out of his or her seat really ruins it for me. I like to stare out of the window at the same time. It’s a constant battle to decide!
Favorite food spot in Berlin?
Mana in Schöneberg. It’s a vegan restaurant that has the BEST all you can eat brunch on a Sunday for 14 bucks. I also love 1990 Vegan Living in Friedrichshain. I’m not vegan but I’m a huge enthusiast of it and I think everyone should try these places to see that vegan food can be god damn delicious.
Podcast you are currently listening to?
Waking up, by Sam Harris as well as the book. I haven’t listened to that in ages though. I’d like to start my own Podcast with my sister someday where we talk about common growth pains given that we’re also seven years apart. She’s very good at communicating in a way that is relatable.
What’s your spirit animal?
I ask other people this question in hopes that one day I’ll have the answer to what mine is. Feel free to send me some suggestions!
Can you relate to your star-sign?
Absolutely. Maybe the Scorpio is my spirit animal/insect?
What’s your most used emoj?
The rock on sign! No way! I was surprised by this
What’s on your bedside table?
My earplugs, a candle, a place for my earrings and Paolo Santos. I also have a Himalayan salt lamp that my roommates gave me for Christmas