Discovery: Lisette Olivera Breathes New Life Into National Treasure Franchise
Eight-year-old Lisette Olivera had a bone to pick with the writers of the hit film franchise National Treasure. In the second installment of the action-adventure flick (National Treasure: Book of Secrets), released in 2007, a key character faces a tragic death, infuriating a young Olivera. “When he was about to drown, I remember I broke out into tears,” the now 22-year-old actress recalls of seeing the movie for the first time in theaters. “I was so angry and said to my parents, ‘I can’t believe the writers did that!’” Fast-forward 15 years, Olivera is the lead of a new National Treasure project, a Disney+ series set within the same world of the beloved films. With the original writers and producers involved, she would finally get to speak her peace. “They literally cracked up,” she recounts. “And I said, ‘No, you guys literally stabbed me in the heart.’”
Despite the untimely demise of a certain villain, Olivera has always enjoyed the National Treasure franchise for the way it weaves what is real with fantasy. The new series, titled National Treasure: Edge of History, premieres December 14 and promises more of what audiences loved about the movies—treasure sleuthing, twisty plotlines, and big thrills—with the metaphorical torch being passed to a younger cast of fresh faces. Olivera takes over for Nicolas Cage as the story’s brilliant-minded protagonist Jess Valenzuela, a 20-year-old Dreamer with a knack for solving puzzles. With the help of her friends, Jess sets out on a journey to uncover the mystery of her family and save a lost Pan-American treasure before it gets into the wrong hands. Cue Trevor Rabin’s National Treasure theme song. (Fun fact: The composer also returned for the series.)
The treasure in question was a big draw for Olivera going into the project. “I think that was the most exciting thing,” she tells me. Careful not to spoil anything, she did share that the item dates back to ancient Mexico and revolves around the indigenous women of the period as well as certain historical figures. Much like us watching, Olivera was eager to embark on a fantastical history lesson with the show and learn what the writers had in store for the characters.
In Jess, Olivera found a fearless, smart, and ambitious young woman. “What I love about her the most is she has a lot of courage in every aspect of her life,” she says. “She shows courage in life because of the circumstances she’s in. She never had a relationship with her father. She’s going through the grieving phase after losing her mother. She’s a Dreamer, so she’s a recipient of DACA, so that in itself is another form of courage she’s had to put on. But she’s also courageous in her friendships. She’s not afraid to be wrong. She has courage in the fact that she’s constantly there for her friends no matter what. And she has courage in her belief in herself, and I think that’s really beautiful.”
Olivera’s entry point to the character came via their shared care for family and their Mexican heritage. Though Jess is first-generation and Oliviera is second-generation, they both have very strong ties to Mexico, which allowed the actress to relate to and understand Jess better.
While stepping in to lead a beloved franchise (and filling the shoes of Nicolas Cage) is no easy feat, Olivera took the responsibility seriously and felt safe in the hands of the creators who entrusted her with the role. It also helped that she had co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones to lean on. The legendary actress, who plays black-market-antiquities dealer Billie Pearce, was like a mother figure on set. “She was so willing to put me under [her] wing, and I really felt like she was going to take care of me,” Olivera shares. “She definitely pulled through for me in moments when I felt like certain set days were more difficult. It was a really grueling filming process. TV works really fast, and I was in almost every scene, so that was very tiring. Every single time she would come to set, she was constantly checking in on me. She was like, ‘How’s my princess?’”
For an actress early in her career, that kind of mentorship proved invaluable. Zeta-Jones also gave Olivera the reassurance to speak up for her needs and take her time. “She gave me a lot of encouragement, and it helped me feel less stuck in that process,” she says. “It was just really lovely to get to hear that she had had similar experiences herself and learned that… In a scene, don’t rush. Take your time. We can take it again if we needed to.”
It’s powerhouse women like Zeta-Jones as well as the likes of Sandra Bullock, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, and Sandra Oh and their diverse acting résumés (crossing over from TV to film and across comedy to drama) who continue to be an inspiration for Olivera. “They have had such longevity in their careers, and what more could I want in mine just starting out? I look up to them,” she says, her eyes starting to light up. Olivera’s exposure to the cinematic world started at a young age when her obsession with the animated film My Neighbor Totoro (“I watched it every weekend”) showed her that something existed in the world where she could escape, feel certain emotions, and be a part of a story that wasn’t her own. And it’s that transformative element that continues to fuel her passion for the craft.
The same goes for Olivera’s fashion philosophy. “I never want to be held to dressing one way,” she says of her ever-evolving aesthetic. When asked if she has any current style icons, she is quick to name Janelle Monáe—with whom she shares a stylist, Alexandra Mandelkorn. “She is constantly showing up to show out!” she says of the actress and musician. “With her, even when she shows up to the Met or any look in general, it’s just so uniquely her. And she can also do a variation of a bunch of different looks.” Similar to acting, red carpets offer Olivera a sense of escapism.
As for the National Treasure: Edge of History press, Olivera and Mandelkorn have some tricks up their sleeves. She can’t tell me much but says to expect some clever nods to the project and maybe some Latin American designers. “For me, I love a lot of patterns. In general, I think color is really brilliant, and if it’s done in a way that suits me, then I think we are hitting the money,” she adds.
As we start to wrap up our conversation, my brain is already thinking about what’s next for Olivera. Surely, the series will be a breakout moment for the rising star, leading to more exciting projects. Not surprisingly, she is also dreaming big. Marvel is high on the list, and she’s already got a role in mind. “If I got the opportunity to audition for somebody like White Tiger, for example, that would be amazing,” she says, putting it out into the universe. And then there’s the idea of doing a biopic, which scares her in the best way. “I want to be limitless with what I decide to do next,” she says.
In my short time with Olivera, I come to learn she is every bit as fearless and ambitious as her on-screen counterpart. That’s my kind of actress.
National Treasure: Edge of History is now streaming on Disney+.