Actress Ella Loudon grew up in the British theatre, exposed to the brilliance and grandeur of both traditional and modern styles of acting. The craft is in her blood, so to speak, her lineage includes actors and models. Now, Loudon is carving out her own identity. We talked to her about art as therapy, internal combustion, her massive vintage collection and the pursuit of ‘letting go'.
When I first encountered Ella Loudon, she was standing at a café counter in upstate NY (famous for its organic, farm to table waffles). As Ella stood back from the counter I overheard her explain to her companion, with wide-eyed trepidation, that she ‘could not possibly order a waffle.’ I do not kid you, when I say that the close little community that was in earshot of Ella’s statement all glanced over in amusement - especially coming from this seemingly worldly and most certainly beautiful twenty-three year old. I mean, who doesn’t like waffles!
Being bold as I am sometimes, I leaned in and quietly asked this stranger why she couldn’t eat a waffle. Ella seemed to welcome the banter. Smiling, she explained of the traumatic experience after eating an acutely sweet American waffle many moons ago, but also promised that she would ease into it in the near future.
My second encounter with Ella was a few weeks later. My friend, photographer Shannon Greer was photographing her wearing her personal collection of vintage clothing. Shannon asked if I was interested in being involved in the shoot. Well, what’s not to love about the concept? The morning before the shoot we turned up at Ella’s home for her fitting. That’s where I discovered three large racks bursting with designer vintage clothing. We all starting pulling out our favorites and making selections that would eventually be featured in the current editorial. But why stop there? I proposed an interview and Ella was delighted.
AGB: Where were you born and raised?
EL: I was born in Edinburgh and grew up between Edinburgh and Glasgow. I lived in an old farmhouse, mostly with my grandparents and my mum. Then when I was about five or six, I moved to London. It’s funny, I remember having a really strong Glaswegian accent, so much so it was very hard for Londoners to understand me. So, I made a conscious decision to change it.
AGB: You live in the states now. How did that come about?
EL: I left London at seventeen and was sent to boarding school in Massachusetts, for a few years. Then I went to NYU in Manhattan to study acting and theater, but I dropped out within a year.
AGB: What made you drop out?
EL: My head wasn’t in the right place at the time. I was suffering from depression and as an actor I was supposed to tap into a lot of those feelings, but I hadn’t fully dealt with them yet. So at times, I felt I was internally combusting, and I was definitely heading down a destructive path.
AGB: I would have never guessed that about you, you’re so full of light and positive energy. How did you end up dealing with the depression and confusion?
EL: I became part of a therapeutic community in the Berkshires, Massachussets. I went in there a total wreck - with the feeling of no hope. It ended up being an amazing place, and I was able to get lots a great help.
AGB: Do you feel comfortable sharing more about the issues that you were dealing with?
EL: Yes. I’m very open about it and think it’s important to share this information with whomever needs it. One of my problems was that I struggled with being grounded. I was also very independent, so it was hard for me to ask anyone for help. I was very stuck. Slowly I worked my way out and found my feet. I started having some amazing experiences, and I started drawing. That was then, I’ve changed a lot since that time, and now I surround myself with great friends who call me out on my shit (laughs).
AGB: I do remember seeing your drawings at your home. The drawings are exquisite, so detailed and meticulous. Is there a name for that style of artwork?
EL; I'm influenced by artists like Edward Gorey and Peter Doig… other than that it’s just my own creation. Yes they are very intricate, kind of obsessive. I’m slightly OCD, so line measurements have to be absolutely accurate. I’m like that in life a bit too. But, it felt good to have somewhere where I could obsess safely.
AGB: How long does it take you to do one of your drawings?
EL: (laughs) It depends. I was an insomniac, so I would spend hours and hours on them. Sometimes it would take me a week, but that’s me working on them 24/7. What’s interesting though is that what takes up a lot of that time is all the measuring of intricate lines and spacing and if I made a mistake, I would become terrified to start all over again. Inevitably, I had to let that obsessive impatience go, and that really helped me, in everyday life too. I’m actually starting to design tattoos for close friends as well, which is a lot of fun.
AGB: Is there a story behind each drawing?
EL: Yes it’s mostly about my journey. I know there's a story In Greek mythology that describes Kharon, the ferryman of Hades, who carries souls across the river Styx (that divided the world of the living and the dead). The little person in the boat on the river made of sticks is me, but I only realized that fact after I made the drawings.
AGB: Do you exhibit your drawings?
EL: I’ve had one in the past, but I don’t have anything scheduled for the moment. It’s mostly because I’m struggling with whether I should keep this art for myself. I do this, to calm my head down and of late my head has been very calm, so I haven’t felt like drawing as much which is not ideal for a working artist. In the past I was very possessive about my art, and I would only give them to friends and family who understood what they meant to me. People did start to ask for them, so I made some high quality prints, but it was strange to me that people would want to purchase my art because to me it was just a bunch of lines and a very private experience. It was hard to except the appreciation surrounding my drawings, and eventually I had to let go of that too.
AGB: But, truly your heart is in acting?
EL: Yes, one-hundred-percent. I always knew I wanted to act. Drawing was always a hobby for me. Some people don’t like me saying that, but even though I wasn’t ready, when I went to NYU, and I had to deal with my mental health, I knew that’s where I was heading. Realistically, knowing that it’s a hard profession to be in, I also know that I like to help others in creating and working as a team. That’s why I love Shakespeare & Company, where I’m working and studying right now. They’ve welcomed me with open arms, and they are really helping me create quality work. I feel that I’ve really found my home there. I also have a New York agent that helps with outside auditions.
AGB: When did you decide that acting was going to be your future?
EL: When I was ten years old, I was picked to be in the musical Bugsy Malone. The original film cast children playing adult gangster roles. I had the lead female role in the adaptation, and I remember feeling so naturally confident, I had no anxiety, just a tremendous high, my first high (laughs). But really that natural high is the best kind of addiction to have if you’re prone to addictive behavior. Acting makes me feel calm and grounded. There’s a metaphorical saying that actors and directors use in rehearsals ‘wear big boots’ referring to feeling rooted, present and still. I really admired Phillip Seymour Hoffman for those kinds of performances.
AGB: Are you working on any projects currently?
EL: Yes, actually I’ll be working on a short film that’s directed by a friend of mine, Zara Burdett, she directed a short film called HANDS. Her new short film called Man Eater is about a young woman’s search for love in the modern age. We start filming in November. Yes I play the man-eater (laughs). It’s going to be super fun.
AGB: I would think acting is a hard job. How do you deal with such a complicated craft?
EL: I love it, and I don’t find it hard really. It’s like anything … if you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work - its ‘play.’ But I keep on trying to do better, through either technique or just learning from life experiences. There can be a lot of ego involved; I can see how it can destroy some people. I’ve seen that a lot. I really admire the craft. It’s been a positive thing in my life. It’s also a team and community effort, working with a cast and crew that make it happen with you. It’s exciting and very satisfying.
AGB: Lets talk wardrobe! Do you wear normal clothes as well, because I didn’t see many of those, or just vintage? Three huge racks … when did you start collecting?
EL: (Laughs) Well, I guess that’s part of acting too, putting on costumes from different periods is part of what I do. Some of the pieces are real statements that I’ve worn to big events. So when I need something special, I’ll go to a vintage store. I’ve also been given a lot of timeless vintage pieces from my mum and step mum and their friends, I’ve been very lucky in that way. But I love rummaging and finding gems. It’s also a great way to lift out of a depression or bad mood. I’ll dress up and make an effort to wear a striking outfit, it’s so gratifying.
I worked as a nanny at one point in London for a famous make-up artist Naomi Donne. She had an incredible collection. She gave me many wonderful pieces. My step mum is a collector - so some came from her, and also a wonderful friend that inspired me when I was growing up who taught me how to shop vintage. So, I was surrounded and inspired by all these great women.
AGB: How do you shop vintage?! Any tips to share?
EL: Yes I do have some. Most people get overwhelmed when they first enter a thrift and vintage store, so go by yourself. That way you don’t have the pressure of being hurried. If you need a second opinion, take a photo and send it to a friend. Usually the racks are grouped into colors, so go to the colors you know look good on you and avoid the rest. Try lots on, don’t be scared to do that, and create outfits with the selections you’ve chosen, so you can see how you would wear it eventually. I used to work as a shop assistant so I know that it’s part of the customer experience. Always look for a little black dress, I usually find one, the same with silk shirts. You can’t go wrong with having too many of those in your collection. Look for items that go with everything in your wardrobe, creating looks effortlessly. Lastly go in with a budget, and haggle. Don’t be afraid to haggle for a bargain. Not if it’s the Salvation Army, of course (laughs)
I think it’s important to support the zero waste principle. High Street brands can be very wasteful, so shopping thrift and vintage is the best way to go in my opinion.