If you have kids (or like to collect cute toys), you’ve probably encountered LOL Surprise! Dolls. These giant-headed, millennial-inspired dolls come wrapped in opaque packaging, so the opener doesn’t know which doll they will get until the toy is unwrapped. There are also various layers of packaging containing extra surprise gifts like hair ties or glitter spray, which makes the whole unwrapping process an ‘experience’ (this concept was actually inspired by the popularity of YouTube unboxing videos). These dolls have become one of the most popular toys on the market – there’s even a New York Times article about how they became a ‘cultural phenomenon’.
LOL Surprise! Winter Fashion Show is the latest installment in the LOL Dolls film series and is currently streaming on Netflix.
In the new LOL Dolls film, emerging fashion star Neonlicious’ debut fashion collection goes “missing”, so she needs to use all her creativity to create a new, hastily designed collection in time for her fashion show.
We chat with Aussie actor Nerida Bronwen, who voices the character of ‘Sashay’, and may or may not be responsible for the fashion collection’s disappearance.
“I voice Sashay, who is a ‘Miranda Priestly-esque’ fashion designer who doesn’t like being shown up. She’s worked really hard to get to her respected position and will stop at nothing to stay there. She’s kinda the villain of the film – which personally was very exciting to play. But without giving too much away for those who haven’t seen it, she definitely still has a heart.”
Nerida Bronwen is an Australian stage, screen, and voice-over artist best known for her work on Deadly Women, award-winning short Lowering Awareness, web series Wingman, and Aussie TV series 600 Bottles of Wine, which was picked up by Netflix. Theatre-wise, Nerida has been in performances of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, just to name a few.
Nerida, who is based in Los Angeles, got the opportunity to play Sashay from her voice-over agent in the US (yes, voice-over agents are a thing). “I recorded two takes for the audition, one in British and one in American. I was quite proud of that audition actually; I think I even played it for my parents [laughs]”.
Not long after she sent the tape off, her agent told her she’s got the role. “I was so excited. There really is nothing like that “booked” feeling for an actor. I’m grateful to my agent; she really knows my abilities and consistently submits me for things that are super appropriate for me”.
Initially, Nerida wasn’t given much information about Sashay for confidentiality reasons. “All I really knew was that she seemed complex, and despite being successful, she still has a chip on her shoulder and a need to prove herself. I also had an idea of how she should sound, vocally”.
Once Nerida had the chance to read the script, she grew to love the character even more. “I really liked Sashay’s underlying message and character arc. The fashion world is a competitive place, especially for a woman, and the lesson learned through this story is that it doesn’t need to be like that. Working together and lifting each other up brings so much more joy, creation, collaboration, and companionship. Everyone is so different in this film and in life, so being yourself and allowing others to be themselves is so important”.
Although LOL Surprise! Winter Fashion Show is intended for children, the themes the film explores are universal and relatable. “My character feels like she has worked really hard for something and like it’s not being acknowledged. I’ve been in the entertainment industry for such a long time, and I’ve had that feeling too – it’s so common to feel like your hard work isn’t seen or appreciated. We live in such a time of external validation, too, with other people’s opinions about us often meaning more than our own. I’m becoming prouder of my achievements and less interested in what others think about me”.
Nerida has her own home recording studio, which she set up during the pandemic so that she could continue to work. But she recorded this film at a studio in Los Angeles. “I love recording at studios because I can come in fully focused on my role and voice and not worry about any of the production that comes with recording yourself in a home studio. The recording process was so fun. We recorded all my lines together with the producers and directors. It was really collaborative, and we’d get multiple takes of every line. They were really trusting of what I’d come in with, too, and let me play as Sashay. Nothing I tried was ever wrong; it was a safe, creative and supportive session”.
You might think developing an animated character would be quite different from developing a character for the stage or live-action film, but Nerida’s character development process is basically the same. “Whether I’m developing a character for stage, film or voice-over, my process always starts with reading the script and exploring my given circumstances, my objectives, what drives and motivates my character, and their relationships with the other characters. For Sashay, I worked with a voice coach to make sure my American accent was flawless. We meticulously went over every line in the script for both voice and accent in the weeks prior to recording”.
Nerida also embodied Sasha physically. “Even though she’s an animated character, I couldn’t help moving around a lot in the studio. I’ve trained theatrically, so voice and movement go hand in hand with character creation. In fact, when recording, we had to redo a few takes because I’d move away from the mic with my movements [laughs]. The directors would be like ‘that was great, but we need you to stay on the mic Nerida!’. So I can’t help but give my voiced characters a physicality. When I finally watched her, I swear I could see the resemblance in her movements! But many others deserve credit for Sashay’s creation, too; it was an honour to be a part of the team who brought her to life”.
Nerida has always loved the idea of playing a villain. “Sashay is a fairly tame villain in the scheme of things, but I do love playing darker characters. One of my earlier memories of seeing a brilliant ‘villain’ was Angelina Jolie’s Lisa Rowe in Girl, Interrupted. She was portrayed so well that you couldn’t help but be fascinated by her and have compassion for her. She was so layered and so damaged, that my mind went to what had happened to her to bring her here, and thus began my psychological obsession with why people do and act the way they do”.
Nerida was taught very early in college to never negatively judge a character. “As soon as you do, it’s much more difficult to justify their actions and portray them authentically as a human (or whatever they are) with needs, wants, and a motivation that you truly believe in. Sometimes it can be a great challenge. And that’s exactly what I want. The best villains are ones who are difficult to hate that you find yourself trying to justify because their need is so strong. I’m also drawn to characters that will educate the audience in some way – not just entertain them, and I like to explore all the human parts of myself — even the “ugly” traits. I quite like playing less glamorous roles – real life is rarely as glamorous as Hollywood might try to make it at times”.
Speaking of Hollywood, Nerida has been in Los Angeles for 5 years now and assures us it’s not as glamorous as one might think. “It’s been a journey despite having spent a lot of time in the states since childhood prior to the move. There have been times when I’ve called my Mum crying, saying I was jumping on the evening Qantas flight back to Sydney”.
Overall though, she wouldn’t change much about the last five years. “After the first year or so in Los Angeles, I started to figure out my groove. I have achieved so much I never thought I was capable of, and I can honestly say I really love who I’m becoming as both an artist and a human. I’ve definitely ticked things off the bucket list already – like playing an animated character, and a villain. I keep having moments where I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing, and that’s very calming and not something I often felt in my 20s. I used to feel like I was racing toward a destination, but now I truly appreciate the journey. Los Angeles is wild. And it will always blow your expectations up. But that’s not a bad thing. Just a lesson in being more malleable and able to go with the flow and accept new directions”.
As for what’s next on the agenda, “I voice the lead in an upcoming five-part podcast series that comes out on all audio platforms in February, which I’m very excited for! I’m in a Music Video also set to be released early this year, and I have just recorded another scripted podcast. I have some exciting projects that I’ll be starting work on later this year too, but I’m not able to give too much away on them just yet!”.
Nerida, who was diagnosed with ADHD at age seven, also hopes to one day study psychology and counseling, with a focus on ADHD and autism in women and girls. “I’m not quite sure how that will fit in with my acting yet, but I’ll figure it out”.
If you want to connect with Nerida or stay tuned about her latest projects, head over to her website https://www.neridabronwen.com/.