LIVING In another look back through our 20-year history, Jack Yan talks to Allie Gonino, the actress who found fame on The Lying Game, in this 2014 interview, and finds her role in The Red Road one with a greater underlying message that taps into her own desire to make our planet a better place
Photographed by Courtney Dailey
Make-up by Hayley Kassel
Hair by Matilde Campos-DGReps
Styled by Erica Sanae
post-production by Ashish Arora
From issue 34 of Lucire
Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.
Allie Gonino says her Lucire shoot was one of the best she had been on, and that’s high praise from an actress who has been getting headlines for both her musical and acting talent in recent years.
Gonino, who is known for her role in Sundance TV’s The Red Road, starring Kiwi actor Martin Henderson, and, earlier, The Lying Game, which ran for 30 episodes on ABC Family, is a Texan with her own independent thinking when it comes to the Hollywood establishment, environmental issues, and her career.
On the surface, Gonino is one of those celebrities who prove that you can’t just make a splash in television and film, you have to have a musical career, too. At 24, she’s balancing the lot, and it has come from a drive that she’s had since she was very young.
There’s no trace of a Texan accent when Lucire spoke with her. ‘I never really had much of a Texas accent,’ she responds. But, she confesses, when she returns to her home state—she grew up in Rockwall, east of Dallas—‘I still say, "Y’all."’
However, Gonino does say that it’s true about Texans having their own mindset. ‘Absolutely. There are so many Texans in LA—Texans are powerful people, with really strong personalities. [The Texan sense of independence] helped me thrive in some way.’
Having begun lessons in classical violin and ballet from age seven, and singing and the fiddle not long after, Gonino seemed set to pursue a career in the public eye. Yet she confesses to being lonely as a child. ‘My brother and sisters were a lot older. In my 20s, I became a whole new self: the world is a lot different, with a lot more responsibilities. One thing stayed the same, and that is how I am socially.
‘I’m the same person as I was in high school, friendly with everybody, but I wasn’t in any specific clique. It can be lonely, but I would rather be a leader, not a follower,’ she says.
Gonino believes that this is ‘fairly typical for artists, and it’s good for finding [your own voice]. Your sense of self is not dependent on other people.’
At 16, Gonino decided to move to Los Angeles to try her luck in the entertainment business. Her first few years did net her some smaller roles, before she landed regular ones on Rita Rocks and, far better known, ABC Family’s sitcom 10 Things I Hate about You, as Michelle.
However, it was The Lying Game that brought her greater fame in 2011, as Laurel Mercer, one of the main characters. The series was cancelled in 2013, although it has unexpectedly found favour on Netflix, netting Gonino a new set of fans.
Ten episodes were made for the second season, and while waiting to see if the network would order a back ten, she was persuaded by friends to consider auditioning for CW programmes. No doubt Gonino could have been successful—her reputation on The Lying Game assured her of a fan following, with a fairly healthy 50,000 on Twitter—but she decided it would be more of a challenge, and more fulfilling, to consider a role on HBO or Sundance TV.
When the audition for The Red Road came up, Gonino grabbed the opportunity. ‘I got excited with the content,’ she recalls. She also noted that those involved were people whose work she respected: ‘There was James Gray [We Own the Night, The Immigrant] directing the pilot—I was excited to see an accomplished film director. I was nervous at the beginning, because these were higher-echelon people.’
Her approach won everyone over. ‘The number-one thing is for me to believe I can play that character, and two, that I believe in the material. I love my character so much.’ Rachel Jensen, the daughter of Henderson’s Harold Jensen character, has been described by Gonino as ‘sensitive, rebellious, brave.’ and she sees parallels between her own personality and Rachel’s.
‘Rachel is a lot different from Laurel. She’s very strong. She sticks to her guns, and is in tune with what she wants. When she has made up her mind, it is what she will do,’ she says.
Rachel Jensen’s character, says Gonino, began the first season in a ‘rebellion’. ‘She was bratty, but by the end of the season, she had a change of heart. She sees how her actions have an effect on the characters. I have to protect my Mom.’
There was an additional motive, too, beyond just wanting to extend her craft. ‘One day, I had a meltdown in the car. I was fed up with acting and wanted something with social commentary. I liked entertainment but not with the heartache. A story needs to be told. It will get people thinking about the decisions that we make, [and the effect they] have on others.’
Gonino elaborates on the meaning of the red road, as it is taught by Native Americans: ‘[it] means to take everything in life into consideration when making a choice, and to treat the planet with respect.’ The series plays on this very message, with Gonino saying, ‘Every piece of art has a message.’
An examination of Gonino’s Twitter and her Facebook fan page shows that this is not a fad to her, part of the luvvie lifestyle in which some celebrities partake. There are messages encouraging people to act on causes ranging from genital mutilation and religious persecution. ‘It’s a soapbox,’ she says of social media. ‘I can tell people who follow me, at least enlighten them, and bring their attention to these issues.
‘My issue is on water, although it does not cheapen the other issues. Water has been my number-one focus,’ she says, and she has lent her name and considerable time to the non-profit organization, the Thirst Project.
Based in LA, the Thirst Project builds wells in developing countries, with a great deal of youth support. Students have raised over $8 million, providing over 300,000 people with clean water. In an earlier interview with Issue, Gonino explained that ‘water-borne illnesses kill more people every year than malaria, Aids and world violence combined, which is the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every hour and a half, but we don’t ever hear about it on the news.’ It became a mission for her. ‘People are resistant to change, and I have to be clear about it, and make a difference,’ she says.
‘My interest has grown to the overall issue of climate change. That’s the whole planet,’ she adds, after being inspired by a Showtime series called Years of Living Dangerously, which has the backing of the likes of James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with correspondents including Jessica Alba, Don Cheadle, Thomas Friedman, Harrison Ford, Ian Somerhalder, and Matt Damon. The series essentially brings together the movie-making talents of Cameron and Weintraub with the journalistic skills of Joel Bach, David Gelber and others.
‘I’m so grateful a small group of individuals are bringing it to the masses’ attention. There is the global consciousness, but we are all sharing this planet.’ Pollution pervades ‘race, sexuality, socioeconomic class, political affiliation and religion,’ Gonino notes.
The Red Road itself hints that the Native Americans in the series are based on the Ramapough tribe, one which has been affected by toxic dumping by the likes of the Ford Motor Co. The car maker, meanwhile, recently announced that it would pay for a tribal medicine garden in Ramapo, New York, and had paid for a $15 million clean-up at the site. Another site, at Ringwood, will also be cleaned up at a cost of $46·7 million, though the human cost to tribes has been astounding: Dwaine Perry, chief of the Ramapough Lenape nation, says 30 per cent of the elders at Ringwood have died, alleging exposure to toxic chemicals on their land, used for hunting, fishing and farming.
Between The Red Road, where she notes that lead actor Henderson will occasionally ‘flip in to his New Zealand accent, saying, “I miss home so much,”’ a film in post-production at the time of writing, and her work for charity, Gonino has continued her music career.
Initially, she joined the girl group, the Stunners, in 2007. The group later disbanded, and Gonino formed the Good Mad during The Lying Game. The band itself—consisting of herself, Adam Brooks and Andy Fisher—even performed on the show when the producers wanted to give Laurel a musical background. And it may be the Good Mad that gets Gonino travelling Down Under. ‘The band has fans in Australia. I would love to do a tour.’
The musical style of the Good Mad is folk–Americana, or as Gonino puts it, ‘pretty much the music I listened to. I grew up on the Dixie Chicks and bluegrass. I sort of shied away from that genre at 13, because I couldn’t have a voice, so I did pop with the Stunners, then returned. Pop helped me be a better songwriter.’
She says she would like to explore playing a villain. ‘We’ll see how that plays out,’ she tells Lucire, ‘but I would love to play one. I love Maleficent, with Angelina Jolie. Her face can do everything—she is so exotic and talented.’
But for now, Gonino is working on season two of The Red Road, set in New Jersey but filmed in Georgia, while continuing to audition, and she is recording an album for a solo project. One can expect to see Gonino, ever more conscious of how people are all connected, continue to make a stand on the causes she believes in, find a balance between her work and her social conscience, and live by example. •
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