The world is abundant with tales of teenagers discovering safe haven, liberty, and bliss in the arts, their own place in the world somehow illuminated and celebrated through creative expression. In this regard, the story of Oona Chaplin is unremarkable. The exquisite, 28-year old actress, starring in this month’s The Longest Ride, based on Nicholas Sparks’ bestselling, swooningly romantic novel, was 15-years old when she was bitten by the proverbial acting bug. The volta then is in Chaplin’s blood; she is the daughter of Golden Globe-nominated actor and Altman, Almodovar, Lean, and Scorsese veteran Geraldine Chaplin, the granddaughter of the singular and iconic Charlie Chaplin, and the great-granddaughter of Nobel laureate playwright Eugene (Long Day’s Journey Into Night) O’Neill. In a plot twist The Bard himself would smile upon, it was dressed as her grandfather’s beloved Little Tramp character in a Scottish production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream that Chaplin’s existential dread was instantly relieved. Receiving a rapturous ovation for her familiarly costumed turn as the play’s finest fool, Bottom, Chaplin realized she’d never again have to wonder what she wanted to be when she grew up. Since then, the classically trained actress has offered superlative work on HBO’s Game of Thrones (portraying Talisa Stark on seasons 2 and 3), BBC’s Sherlock (in “A Scandal in Belgravia,” widely considered the series’ finest hour), and in the Sparks adaptation.
Chaplin describes herself as “wildly romantic” and is thrilled to, at last, express that on the silver screen in The Longest Ride. “This film is so romantic and so true to life, as well,” she says. “My grandfather said, ‘Love is enough to get everything done.’ And this is a film that proves his point.”
The relationship between (Jack Huston’s) Ira and (Chaplin’s) Ruth in Longest Ride is a beautiful thing, one of two powerful love stories in the film. It's true love, if such a thing exists, right?
Absolutely! Sadly, I think a lot of people today would call the kind of love they share “old-fashioned,” which is totally ridiculous. It’s the kind of love that is so devoted that you’re actually thinking about the other person first. They love each other so much that they’re willing to grow and to change. Some might call that “sacrifice,” but I don’t really like that word. “Sacrifice” implies something you give up, even though you don’t really want to. “Sacrifice” suggests that what you’re giving up will hurt you or make you a martyr, and I don’t think that’s what this beautiful love is. This love is a choice you make over and over again, to choose the other person first. It’s a positive thing, I think, to actually find someone that you’re willing to change for.
It’s possible that with the truest love, you’re not even really choosing.
Have you experienced that kind of love in your life?
Yes, absolutely! I've seen it in my parents. They're still together after 40 years. They just got married about five years ago, but they’ve been together for a very long time and they're still in love – like, madly in love. My dad gave up his career for my mom and became her one-man army. He sews her socks and replaces her t-shirts and writes quick emails and turns on the TV for her, runs her bath, puts the champagne in the freezer, all those things. They are so in love, and it's beautiful to me. I have it as an example, and that's what I aspire to in my life.
What are your personal connections with Ruth?
One of the things that I love most about Ruth, and this is the thing that I had to work most, is that she comes from this place where everything is really f**ked up and dark – the Holocaust, the horror, the inhumanity, the chaos and confusion of that time – but she dedicates herself to living a life of beauty and freedom and expression. To come from darkness and move into the light, that is profoundly moving to me. I really love that quality in her, in any human being. I think that it’s something we need more of in today’s world, really. We have so much war and confusion and terrorism and extremism — all of the -isms that you like. It can be overwhelming sometimes. I wish there were more Ruths in the world, people who live their lives focusing not on revenge, but on love.
Thanks to John and Paul and Ringo and George, we’ve had the prescription for nearly 50 years: all you need is love.
All you need is love, mate! (Laughs) You are absolutely right! Yes! Love is all you need.
So, Eastwood, Huston, Chaplin. Not Clint, John or Angelica, or Charlie or Geraldine, but their children, Scott, Jack, and Oona. There is a lot of royal blood in The Longest Ride. Is this coincidence or calculation?
(Laughs) I like to imagine (Fox 2000 studio executive) Elizabeth Gabler with a massive, long, fake mustache in a room full of other people with lots of big mustaches and smoking cigars, stroking her chin, going, “Hmm, who else is there? And are they related to someone awesome too?” (Laughs)
The Longest Ride is just one Estevez shy of a full house!
(Laughs) I think (leading lady) Britt Robertson might be the only one who actually deserved the part!
Your family tree is beyond storied; it’s downright legendary. What’s that like for a young artist – inspiring, paralyzing, helpful, or something to overcome?
For me, it’s always been a massive inspiration. Just massive. I know there are a lot of different ways someone in my position might feel about it, but to me – my mother, my grandfather, my great-grandfather – they are just constant, healthy reminders of what one should strive for, of giving your everything to creating lasting work, spreading love. For me, it is constantly inspiring and motivating.
You grew up watching your mother at work in film and theatre. Your grandfather’s films remain ubiquitous. Was there a specific moment when you realized, “I have to do this too”?
Honestly, I resisted acting for so long. So long. I really didn’t want to be an actress. But I did this play at my boarding school and I was cast as Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream, the clumsy player, the fool, the comic relief, and it was suggested that I play the character dressed as my grandfather. I was 15. I don’t think I’d even consider doing that now, and I don’t think I was very excited about doing it then. But I did it, and it was transformative for me. I remember walking off the stage and bursting into tears and sort of falling into my teacher’s arms, like, “I understand now. I get it. I’ve got do to this now.” That was opening night. And then here I am now, still trying to get it right! (Laughs)
Is the itinerant childhood you experienced good preparation for the often gypsy-like life of an actor?
No matter who you are or what you do for a living, I don't think there's any better education than traveling the world. I really think that's what people should spend their money on — going different places and seeing different types of people, being in different environments, seeing for yourself how people around the world are different than you are and all of the ways they’re the same too. I think it makes you a better human being, more tolerant — though some of my friends would probably argue that traveling hasn’t made me a better person! (Laughs) I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything in the world, to be honest. I hope to give my own children a taste of that privilege one day.
What can audiences look forward to in The Longest Ride?
There are so many films these days about things that feed into our lower vibrations, and I think everyone should come out and see The Longest Ride and get a little sappy and get some butterflies in their stomachs and have a good old cry about love. I believe they’ll feel the love and then maybe have an easier time in their lives of expressing that love. Hopefully that’s what this film does. It’s all about expressing the love.