Riveting Riffs Logo One Liisa Evastina - Actress, Producer, Screenwriter, Director
Liisa Evastina Photo One

  Liisa Evastina is a brilliant actress, screenwriter and aspiring producer / director with her own film development company, Scarlet Studios and she has worked in her homeland of Finland, England, Malta, Spain and she spent nine years studying and working as an actress in the United States where she had a recurring role in the television series NCIS / NCIS Los Angles, was featured in the film 13 Hours, as well as the HBO production 12 Miles of Bad Road and she was a series regular on Rock, Paper, Scissors and Uncut. Liisa Evastina’s film and television credits are much more extensive than that, but that gives you an idea of well-respected this multilingual (Finnish, English, German) blue-eyed blonde, five-foot seven-inch actress is, and oh did we happen to mention that she is trained in the martial art, Hapkido and performs her own fight scenes?

Liisa Evastina Photo TwoRecently with her dog Scarlet looking on and providing encouragement and her cat Oscar offering sage advice Liisa Evastina sat down with Riveting Riffs Magazine to talk about her career and her very interesting life. One immediately becomes aware of her great sense of humor, which ranges from subtle to larger than life (in a good way), laughter, which comes easily to her and her gift for making others feel at ease. Although, at the time of our conversation she was speaking with us from her home in one of the world’s northern most countries, Finland, she was already in the midst of planning her move to Barcelona, Spain, while she awaits her visa approval, so she can live in Canada.

She was born Vivienne Liisa Evastina Mannerkoski and that would have been a lot to put on a marquee or in the film and television credits.

“When I moved to Los Angeles to study acting, I learned that a lot of people end up taking a stage name, especially at that time it was very important that your name was super easy. Now there are more interesting and unique names out there. When I started you needed to have your name very easy, short and clear. When I joined the actors’ union (SAG-AFTRA) I had to make a decision what my stage name was going to be. I have always been called Liisa. If someone asks for Vivienne, I think it is the police (she laughs). It is so formal, and I am like who is that? Liisa is what I go by and Evastina just worked, they flow together,” she says.

Liisa Evastina describes her life growing up in Finland, “Being a kid in a large family you learn to share, you learn to appreciate that people are different and that we all bring something to the table. It is okay to be you. You don’t have to be just like the other one. I love traveling on my own instead of with family or people (she laughs lightly), because I like my quiet time. When I was a child, quiet time was something that was hard to get because it was such a large family (seven siblings and stepsiblings) with a lot going on.

We always had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, birds, rabbits and all kinds of pets. I have always been an animal person.

I get along with all kinds of people, because I suppose, when there are so many people (in your family) you have to and you also have to be able to defend yourself from the older kids. My brother who is eleven years older than me was training in Karate when he was a kid and a teenager, so I was the best possible person for him to practice with. I learned pretty quickly (she laughs again). He was so much bigger than me I had to learn,” she says.

Liisa Evastina becomes reflective, “I was twenty-three years old when my mother passed and my father turned ninety this summer and he now has severe memory loss. I have been thinking a lot about what our parents teach us and what ends up mattering in our lives. My parents taught us to be kind, considerate and respectful people. If someone was bullied or different, be the first one to be their friend. I think especially nowadays, because in our society people are pointing out that is the way to be. I just thought that it is the way it was supposed to be. My father taught me a lot of really great values and later in life I realized I was really lucky to have that kind of a parent who taught me not to be afraid of people who are different than us, but we should be open minded and respectful. We traveled a lot and more so than my other brothers and sisters. Technically I have been living away from Finland half of my life, just by choice. I am a Finnish person who just lives somewhere else.”

Liisa Evastina’s interest in acting was first sparked by vampires. We told you she had an interesting life!

“When I was a kid, I went to see a theater performance. I was really young and it was the first time I saw actors, acting in front of me. They played little vampires. It was so mesmerizing, because until that I had only seen people who spoke English (on television) do really great work. When I got to see theater, I was wow, some of those actors are kids as well. They were flying with just a little bit of wind and lights. These kids were flying like vampires. How is that? This is happening right in front of me. I wanted to learn that.

I was in regular school plays, but they were nowhere near professional. It was just what you did in school. I wanted to be a part of anything that we did. I was really excited, but scared (the first time she performed). There were a bazillion butterflies in my stomach. Now it is different, because I have a lot of experience and skills, I can channel to it. When you start you don’t have anything but the fire?

I always had interest in international films and tv. I watched American TV series and films. They were what I really fell in love with. We watched them in English. Only cartoons were dubbed. The production quality and the storytelling was better and I always thought I don’t know who is making these or where they are making these, but I want to go there,” Liisa Evastina says, adding that her favorites were sitcoms.  

“I did some modeling and a little bit of theater in Finland, before I left for school. Since then, my career pretty well one hundred percent has been in international film and tv and specifically in English language,” she says.

She was also a pretty good soccer player when she was in her teen years, “I was always really athletic. Soccer and basketball were really important to me when I was (growing up) and a teenager. I think I started when I was eight. I often think of that time in my life when I was playing sports, because the preparation for acting can be compared to sports. If you don’t practice a lot, if you don’t have the right mindset, if you don’t believe in yourself and you start thinking oh, I am not going to win, then you aren’t going to win. Sports can teach us a lot about life and success.”  

We wondered if with a travelogue of places at which she has worked and lived, when added to own cultural heritage, if that has assisted Liisa Evastina as an actress. Liisa Evastina Photo Three

“Absolutely. Most of all it has assisted me as a human being and being more aware. When you live in one bubble your whole life you start thinking things are a certain way, but they are not. So many things are completely different. You don’t even have to go far. You can just relocate in the same country and there are so many big changes.

As an actress character study is very easy for me. Relating to people. Being able to bring authentic performances, that all comes from slipping outside of the bubble you were born in, otherwise you will not be able to know the regional cultural mannerisms that you get stuck on. You think they are part of who you are, but it is something you learn to be. A lot of your values may be what your parents, neighbors or school taught you.

Finland is a very introverted, safe and quiet country, which is wonderful, but at the same time it also prevents you from having strong emotions. You suppress a lot of emotions. I was always over expressive to Finnish culture. (She repeats for emphasis) Always! When I moved to Los Angeles, I was oh, I’m the quiet one! (She laughs). People said oh you keep it to yourself and I was what? What are you talking about, I am the loudest one in Finland? You realize a lot of it has to do with what is going on around you.

Especially, as a writer the stories I write all seem to be a fish out of water story. They are about people who are in new or different surroundings.  The environment has changed or they have moved to another place. All of a sudden (in Los Angeles) I was like wow I am the different kind. You definitely build a lot of empathy or understanding. When you travel, I think it teaches us things and living in another country teaches us things that you can’t learn by just going to school.”

As for how well she spoke English when she moved to Los Angles, Liisa Evastina who in addition to the languages we already mentioned has a degree of competency in Spanish, French and Swedish, recalls, “I didn’t speak English that well. I spoke well enough that I was able to study in English, but later on my friends told me that when we first got to know you, we couldn’t understand you, but we thought you were nice (she laughs). Speaking English as a second language in the United States, Canada or England, the bar is so high that unless you are flawless it is considered that you don’t speak well enough. It is so unfortunate, because when you go to any other country like Spain or Finland if you just try and put five words together (in their language) and they don’t even fit into the same sentence, they are excited. They go great you tried! Awesome, what are you trying to say? I am into this. It was definitely very intimidating going to acting school and speaking English. In the beginning I was horrified and I didn’t think I was good at all. Now I have met a lot of people who have started acting with English as a second language and I am certain their English is not as strong as mine was when I started. They are doing fine and this comes back to confidence as well.”

After her move to Los Angles, Liisa Evastina studied at and received her degree in acting the Theater of Arts acting school in Hollywood. She also credits Playhouse West as the place where “I really learned to act.”

“Playhouse West is a Meisner school, which is typical of LA. I studied twice a week and for eight years in this program. As you (evolve) as an actress you realize the industry is starting to typecast you in a certain way and I needed a place where I can practice that. (She starts to laugh) The audition is not the place where you practice. Still today, the people I studied with at Playhouse West are my soul sisters and brothers. If people ask me, do you know this kind of actor, they are the people I usually recommend. These are people I worked with in scenes and in plays.

I was in awe at Playhouse West. The scenes were dramatic, funny and they were everything and anything. They were so real and truthful. I couldn’t tell that they were acting. I said I want to be part of that. I built a foundation I can always rely on. Regardless of where I am acting or the genre. Thanks to Playhouse West I built a certain level of confidence and a foundation that can never be taken away from me.”

As for mentors she may have had along the way, Liisa Evastina thinks for a moment, before answering thoughtfully, “There have been so many people. I have never been the kind of person that is going to pick one or two mentors. All kinds of people teach us. Some people teach us how not to do things or how someone else does it, but it doesn’t work for you. Robert Carnegie and Jeff Goldblum put together the school at Playhouse West. I had been there for two years when Jeff Goldblum came to teach us. He only had one group of students, but I swear this was the most eccentric group of people, so when I walked in, I was wow this is a nutter house. It was awesome, because he is a very skilled actor and known for some quite eccentric roles. It felt like this is where the misfits meet. Even among actors there are different types of us and some of us might feel too different or too weird like I did. There was no category for me. I thought I had a lot to offer, but where did I belong?

There is a place for everyone and it is a very competitive industry. We all know that. It is a competitive journey, because you are competing with yourself. We can be our best cheerleader or our worst enemy.

After meeting so many unique and interesting people it made me realize that eventually there would be a place for all of us.

For a long time when I started it was very typecast and auditions only went to certain types of people. Physically I was what they were looking for, blonde, blue-eyed, 18 to 25. It was such a cliché. I didn’t get them, because I wasn’t inside what they were looking for. I didn’t sound how they wanted and when I showed my personality it was, oh that is too much (she laughs)! In the last five years and a little before that it has started to change. The industry’s needs started to change to match the audience’s needs.”

In the beginning, “I was auditioning a lot, before I started to book roles and I was getting a lot of callbacks as well. Anyone who is in the industry will understand what that means. It takes a long time, before you do land roles. Los Angeles has the most auditions, but it also has the most actors. As an actor you have to learn to enjoy every little victory. My family couldn’t understand any of the quiet time.

Even though people might think oh now I’ve made it, every teeny, tiny role I did or auditions when I got feedback like you did really great and we can’t give you the role for A, B and C reason, but we all thought you nailed it. Those are even more important victories. It is not easy; it is not fair and there is a lot of rejection. Everybody is going to get more rejections than victories, so you have to build on that.

NCIS is my largest credit and it has been the most amazing experience as well. It is not only because it is such a great series, but I got to experience the best work environment that I ever had. I have been in some bigger TV and film productions as well and I have been in a lot of independent films. I saw how amazing it was (with NCIS) when things function well and when people are such good people. You realize someone above made the decisions to hire good, well-behaving people and who can also do their work amazingly. That is the most valuable lesson I have learned as an aspiring producer. There is a higher level of excellence that we need to continue aiming at and we can reach it. NCIS has been the highlight of my path in many, many ways. I only hope I get to be again in that high caliber of tv series and films. I was also in the pilot episode when NCIS Los Angeles became a spinoff series.”

Liisa Evastina Photo FourBeing trained in martial arts has positively affected Liisa Evastina’s professional and personal life.

“When I moved to LA, I was young, I was foreign and I was new to acting. To be honest I was afraid. I started training in self-defense, just to feel more confident. Very quickly I realized this was an important skill for films and TV series as well. (At that time) most TV series did not have women fighting, now most of the TV series I watch do have women fighting.

The most important thing I learned in martial arts was you start defending yourself by making smart decisions and staying away from trouble. It should be the last resort not the first resort. Self-confidence and knowing that you are not completely vulnerable to physical attacks makes you less likely to run into problems, because if someone is looking to steal someone’s bag they will go after someone who looks like they can’t fight back. If you have done some training in self-defense, you stand differently and you walk differently than someone who has never had any training. You feel confident and problems will stay further away from you,” she says.  

As the industry transitions more and more to creating content that is available on streaming platforms, versus the more traditional markets of cinema and television we wondered how if at all that has affected Liisa Evastina, as an actress.

“I think when streaming started to get bigger a lot of film industry professionals were not excited about it. Your early goal as an actress is to get on a Network TV series or in big movies. Movies started to change first and the mid-size movies disappeared. You only had ultralow budget and low budget productions and super large movies. The competition to get into super large movies became insane, so everyone focused on Network TV. Now people don’t know where they want to be anymore, because even when I started (she lowers her voice) people would say you don’t want to be a TV actor. That quickly went away and then everyone wanted to be a TV actor. I would love to be in either a film or on Network TV.

I have realized that (streaming platforms) are really great for Europe. For instance, Netflix and Amazon are filming a lot of high-quality series in Europe. Some are even in the language of that country and streaming brought high quality filming to other languages. It brought the work here. When I started acting there was no way you would ever think that you were going to be cast from your own city to movies like that. Now I meet actors from all around Europe who got amazing roles from their couch. Is that fair? I don’t know, but the industry is changing,” she muses.

Another area in the film and television that has seen welcome change in recent years is the opportunities that now exist for members of the LGBTQ community, of which Liisa Evastina is one. We asked her for her perspective as a gay actress.

“The change has been insane. The love we feel now and the difference is night and day. As an actress I don’t think it matters that much, but as a writer I think there have been more requests for authentic gay stories. People want to hear them. They are not something that should never be said out loud, like it used to be. The generations after me, nobody told them to be quiet and not say who they are. They don’t even know there was a time when you were not supposed to say things like that. I think it is important for people to know who I am and then hopefully put me into the roles they think I fit in. I want roles in which I feel the environment is welcoming and I don’t have to only act the role, but also act another role,” she says.

So, when Liisa Evastina sits down to watch a series or film that she is does she watch it through the eyes of Liisa the actress or is she able to be like the rest of us and just enjoy the entertainment value?

“Great question!  When the acting is on point, in a way I forget it's me and I just listen and watch the character's experience and have empathy for how things are going for her. And if the acting is off... I see myself making mistakes. I can be quite picky about my own work, but I have also learned to relax about it - after all us actors have a tendency to stare at each moment with a magnifying glass, and the flow of the scene and the story is more important than my own opinion about my take. But yeah, usually I have no problem watching my work as an actress. My singing on the other hand.... oh dear, that always makes me uncomfortable!”

Finally, we wanted to spend some time talking about her film development company Scarlet Studios and at the mention of the name her very cute rescue dog, Scarlet’s ears perk up. Liisa Evastina Photo Five

“When I was living in Los Angeles, I ended up getting a rescue dog whose name was Scarlet. I knew in moving back to Europe that if I adopted a dog or a cat that they would come with me wherever I went. That is where the name Scarlet Studios (came from). Having a pet provides me with really good balance and gets me out of the writing room. We go for walks and get some air. Sometimes when you are writing you isolate too much. She has done a lot of work for the company as well, being the inspiration,” she replies with evident warmth and love in her voice for Scarlet.

One gets the sense that Liisa Evastina may have started writing screenplays, because she wanted to create the kinds of roles and characters that she wants to play.  

“Yes. Absolutely. If you had asked me when I was twenty or ten are you going to be a writer, I would have said absolutely never. That is not what I am going to be ever.

In doing standup comedy, sketch comedy and doing comedy in general (in Los Angeles) it automatically leads you to writing a little bit. With improvisational comedy you are writing on the go. It was a natural process of starting to write characters down and writing scenarios. I was just doing it to learn more. I realized there were so many of us in competition and the roles and stories were very similar that I didn’t quite fit into what Americans saw for those more meaningful roles. Some did, but (generally) these women should be playing these roles. It was not that inspiring. I need more inspiration, so let me start fixing these roles (she laughs lightly).

Some of the roles were if this is how people see me, let me add some life to them or I wish people would see this part of me or I wish this kind of character would get the spotlight instead of that kind of character. That was the inspiration for (my writing) and later I realized I was not the only actor who would like to play those roles. I started looking at it from a business perspective and now I have so many screenplays, I simply wouldn’t have time to play them all. Let’s see what I end up playing. One thing I have learned is I prefer playing roles that someone else wrote than wearing three hats on the set at the same time. I prefer focusing on one hat at a time.

There is a beautiful challenge when someone else writes a screenplay and you get it. Your job is to bring it alive and to bring your essence to it. When we did table reads and someone else played it even better or differently than I would have if I had written it, I go wow that is how it is supposed to be. Awesome! There is something magical that happens when what you created in your head and that you put to paper is brought to life by someone else. It is an insane feeling.

When I first started writing the industry was like, oh are you not an actress anymore? Luckily, that kind of attitude quickly faded away from the industry. More and more actors are also doing other things as well. In recent years one of the reasons, I continued writing is because there is a great demand for unique voices now and for female driven stories from a woman’s perspective. The frustration I felt ten years ago about how women were portrayed in films is now the frustration that everyone is speaking about and they want to change. Now I am glad I have been writing for the last ten years.

I have been at this for twenty years and for a long time I was trying to figure out how I could be of service to the industry and where I could fit in. Still, I am hopping from one country to another country now. I am still not sure where I belong, but mentally I know where I belong. I don’t feel displaced, but definitely I feel timing, great content and great stories (matter).

Your first screenplay isn’t going to be a great story. That is really rough and it hurts. It is the same thing with your first audition, it probably won’t be the greatest audition you ever make. Maybe you won’t get the role and maybe you will get the role, but it is the beginning of a much bigger journey.

Some of the stories that I wrote that are now (attracting) interest I have been working on them for a long time. They have been evolving with me and they now match the world better or the demands (that now exist). It is an interesting journey. It is still a business and it is still art, but it is very much a journey of life. My voice as a writer is very specific and most of my stories have a very similar voice. It is narrower what I can do as a writer than what I can do as an actor. Finding where I belong with my stories was a more complicated path.

Many people have said there are a lot of good screenplays in Hollywood. Eighty percent of screenplays are good, but that doesn’t get them made. You need to get to great screenplays and that is a small, small percentage of them. To get there is a challenge and that requires an enormous amount of work.”

Fortunately, Liisa Evastina is up for that challenge. The teenage girl whose soccer coach thought she had a bright future in the sport, but who instead traveled thousands of miles from Finland to pursue a career in acting and who has become a successful film and television actress is not on a separate journey to become an equally successful screenwriter, producer and director, she is just expanding her creative endeavors.

You can follow Liisa Evastina on her official Instagram account and you can learn more about Scarlet Studios here.  Return to Our Front Page

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This interview by Joe Montague  published August 29th, 2021 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of the producers of Liisa Evastina unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine.