What does it take to be the next big thing? Whether you say innovation, irreverence, or lots of flash, it’s undeniably the elusive It factor—that can’t-look-away but also can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it instinct—and we’re doubling down for It Girl, It Brand, our latest series, speaking to who and what is on the edge of being huge.
This month, we paired actress Hera Hilmar with Copenhagen-based brand Rotate by Birger Christensen. The marriage was a no-brainer: These are simply two of the most exciting up-and-coming names in entertainment and fashion. Hailing from Iceland, Hilmar is striking it big stateside with two buzzy projects this fall/winter season, The Romanoffs and Mortal Engines. Meanwhile, Rotate—launched by friends and street style fixtures Thora Valdimars and Jeanette Madsen—has already developed a cult following among the fashion set with its debut ready-to-wear collection, complete with ’80s-inspired minidresses and gorgeous textures. My advice? Add them both to your ones-to-watch list immediately.
In preparation for my interview with this month’s It Girl, It Brand subject, Hera Hilmar, I found myself one evening cheering for the Icelandic actress at a special screening and the very next morning shouting at my laptop in hatred. In less than 24 hours, I am introduced to Hilmar’s incredible range as an actor.
Eager to meet the talent behind such evocative roles as the resilient protagonist Hester Shaw in Peter Jackson’s latest fantasy-adventure film Mortal Engines (based on the young-adult novels by Philip Reeve) and the ruthless Ondine in Amazon’s The Romanoffs (trust me—it’s an episode not to be missed!), I brave a rare Los Angeles downpour and drive 30 minutes downtown to the Fashion District, the location for our Who What Wear shoot.
Of course, the Hilmar I meet in person is not at all like her devilish Romanoffs character. She is a warm presence on a chilly December day, arriving fresh off a prior press appearance wearing a floor-length black dress paired with a leather jacket and chunky boots, her blue eyes as captivating in real life as they are on the big screen. Not long into our time together, I learn she’s the kind of girl who doesn’t bat an eye at the suggestion of wearing not one, but two leg-baring minidresses despite the low-50s temps outside—all in the name of fashion, of course. She is cool, down-to-earth, and perfect company.
After a successful shoot (it was almost as if the rain stopped just for us), we post up next to a tiny portable heater and get to talking about the fun stuff: her biggest projects of the year, working with the UK’s It stylist, and why Iceland is her favorite destination for fashion inspiration. Keep reading for our conversation.
Mortal Engines is an adventure-fantasy film with a badass female at the center of it. What was the most exciting part of playing Hester Shaw and, on the flip side, the most challenging?
I think it’s kind of the same thing. To be able to go into the mental state, the physical state of someone who is carrying as much grief and anger as she is and then has to live with that every day, plus doesn’t really have any human interaction from the age of eight, you know, it’s a hard thing to imagine how it is for her. You know, what that is [for her] and how it feels, and how she can survive in that place. So, I thought that was the biggest challenge. But when you get there, and to go on that journey, is also very rewarding. You learn something new, and I guess you start to feel for her and know her in a way that you couldn’t really unless you went there.
Is there a day on set that stands out to you?
There is one where we had been shooting this scene—without spoiling anything—that is on top of an airship with one other person. It took like three days to film it; it was very action based and very emotionally filled. I think on the third day of shooting that scene, I just felt like I’m going to collapse, I just don’t think I can go any further, genuinely. And, of course, you don’t go like, Hey look, I’m absolutely drained; you just keep going.
Paley Fairman; On Hera Hilmar: Rotate Ruched Jacquard Mini Dress ($390)
I loved that there were so many strong female characters in this film, and the screenplay was also co-written by women. I think it’s cool that we are seeing more of a female presence in the sci-fi/action/fantasy genre. Who are some other women in the business who inspire you?
Oh my gosh, there are so many. Actress-wise, the ones who pop into my head are Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. It’s a shame, though; when I was growing up I was very often looking up to male roles and male actors because most of the films I was watching had male protagonists, and they had the best storylines and characters. So when I was growing up, I was constantly thinking, Oh, I can be Al Pacino, I can play those parts. And then you kind of realize there is this divide, and hopefully, that has changed now.
We have to talk about your character in The Romanoffs. I have to admit it was a pretty shocking episode. What were your initial thoughts reading the script and learning about your character?
I love playing people who make you go “oh fuck,” you know? They are challenging and make us a bit uncomfortable. It’s just fun to go there. One of the audition scenes was me with the kid. To know that someone could turn so quickly, it’s so gross and so full-on, but so honest from her. Yeah, it was fun to play, I guess.
Both of your parents are in the business. Was acting always going to be the path for you?
Yeah. They didn’t get me into acting. They were very much protective of me not really going into it, but it was what was always around me. I was just obsessed with it. I never stopped having to write something or play something; it was a constant thing. I mean, I’m not writing or directing now, but maybe I will at some point.
What are the projects that excite you right now?
It really depends on the writing, but it can be so many different things. Like for Mortal Engines it was Hester and how original she is, how multidimensional she is, and how she challenges the idea of what’s beautiful, especially now in this age of everyone being flawless online with filters and all of this bullshit. And so, in that case, it was like wow, to be able to play a character like that in a film of this scale—that was great. Then for The Romanoffs, it’s a character that challenges the norm, and it was a challenge to play different ages. Like she is scary and a challenging character, therefore really interesting. I think it’s mainly when someone is just written well enough because you can have all of these characters out there and scripts, but when a character is not written well, they can come off as one-dimensional even if they aren’t. So it’s so up to the writing, writing that challenges me and excites me.
You wore Oscar de la Renta to the global premiere of Mortal Engines and Valentino the premiere last night. What are you drawn to in terms of fashion?
I used to be someone who would always wear jeans and a T-shirt and like a jumper, and I would think why do you spend time thinking about this stuff? And then as a teenager, I met a lot of my good friends who ended up being in fashion and they loved dressing me up in things and stuff, so suddenly I became really interested in that and loved playing with it. You realize I can be all kinds of things and go in so many directions. With stuff like red carpet, to be honest it’s so random. When you try on something, you just know. With the Oscar de la Renta, it was the first dress I tried on because we all knew it would be great, and it just fit perfectly. When something is handmade so well, that always makes you feel amazing, if it just fits your body beautifully and is made out of beautiful materials. I try to think about where does it come from, what does it mean, who is making the clothes. I would actually like to educate myself more on that in general.
You are working with Rebecca Corbin-Murray, who is fantastic stylist. What do you love about working with her?
Yeah, it’s fun. I’d never really worked with a stylist before. I used to find the idea of a personal stylist really uncomfortable because I was like why do I want someone else telling me what to wear? I’ll just wear what I like and what I feel good in. And then I realized what it actually is when you are filming and doing a tour and you need someone to help you out. There is both the practical side of just actually helping get the stuff together, and then there is the talent of being like this, this, and this will look good together, which you wouldn’t have thought about. It’s great—I’m enjoying it.
Who do you think is doing really cool and interesting things in the fashion space right now, designer or actress?
You know, I’m not really sure about that one. I sometimes just think about artists in general. It’s usually not actors I think about; it’s usually musicians. But then it’s very different if you are a musician because you are creating your persona, and you can be more creative. I think actors can be creative, but the creativity comes out more in shoots because you want to have that neutrality about you as an actor to morph into different roles. I just love people who wear whatever the fuck they like and feel good in. Where I live in London, there are a lot of shops with really snazzy clothes, fashion that is a little more foreign to me being from Iceland, and I think, Oh my god, how could they wear that? And then I see someone in it, and they are really loving it, and it just takes confidence. It’s such a cliché to say in a way, but I’m always fascinated by Björk because she is someone who is so close to home and has a unique and really creative style.
Of all your travels, what city inspires you most in terms of style?
Actually, Reykjavik, Iceland. We’re quite fashion obsessed in a weird way. It’s important to us how we look. And also because I know it so well. There are fewer people and you can really get a sense of how things move. It’s really interesting to watch when new things come because it’s so clear, you can see every store pop up, and it’s like okay, that’s what is happening. And we’re so quick at picking things up because we just want to be cool. It’s really easy to see what the trends are.
Paley Fairman; On Hera Hilmar: Rotate Crystal-Embellished Wool-Blend Gabardine Blazer ($560); Celine earrings
Speaking of Iceland, it has become quite the tourist destination in recent years. What would you say is a must-see for anyone visiting the country?
I kind of want to say that I don’t want to tell you, and the reason I say that is because I feel like we are giving out a lot [of info] these days, and I like when you have to work for things and find things. I personally think when you just know where to go and go straight there, it loses a lot of its charm. But I think if you just go to Iceland, you can’t really go wrong. I will recommend if you go in the summer, I wouldn’t recommend doing this in the winter, but if you go in the summer and you have a week, to rent a car and just drive around the country and see where you end up. That would be my advice. And definitely, too, try some hot natural pools. You won’t see the northern lights in the summer, but you will see the sunshine all night, which is lovely. I recommend jumping in the sea as well and experiencing that.
Next: See our It Girl, It Brand shoot with Atypical star Brigette Lundy-Paine wearing one of our favorite NYC-based brands, Collina Strada.
Photographer: Paley Fairman; Hairstylist: Ben Skervin; Makeup Artist: Kate Synott; Market Editor: Kristen Nichols