Aria Mia Loberti‘s journey into the world of acting was anything but conventional. As she reminisces about her childhood, it becomes evident that the seed of creativity was sown early on. She fondly recalls lining up her family at gatherings, a mere six or seven years of age, and putting on captivating shows, complete with impressions, memorized scripts, and dance routines. It was a world of make-believe that hinted at her extraordinary talent, yet she never envisioned it as a viable career path.
For many, the dream of pursuing a passion might be limited by societal expectations, particularly when you hail from a marginalized community. The path to realizing one’s aspirations can be obscured by the weight of preconceived notions and practical considerations. The prospect of becoming an actress was seemingly as distant as reaching the moon. But fate works in mysterious ways. While Aria Mia Loberti was pursuing her PhD at university, her discontent with her academic path was undeniable, despite her commendable journey to reach that point. It was then that she received an unexpected casting call from a long-lost teacher, leading her on an extraordinary journey. In a span of just a few weeks, she went from a series of callbacks to landing a leading role in a show, eventually transitioning to an acting career that was as unexpected as it was remarkable.
As the lead in the adaptation of the highly acclaimed novel All The Light We Cannot See, Aria Mia Loberti provides insights into the challenges of bringing beloved literary works to the screen and the unique dynamics between the book and the miniseries. In conversation with Schön!, she discusses the most challenging aspects of preparing for her role as Marie-Laure and reflects on her interactions with director Shawn Levy and the cast, highlighting the lively atmosphere on set despite the dark themes of the miniseries. Aria Mia Loberti shares her connection to Marie-Laure, emphasizing the character’s persistence of hope and optimism in challenging times.
You transitioned from a non-actor to a lead actress without any prior acting experience. Can you share the story of how you entered the world of acting and what inspired you to pursue it?
I just had never considered that that would be an option for me. I always wanted to do it. I always tell the story of when I was little I would line up family you know in rows at family gatherings and I would put on shows for them when I was under the age of six or seven. I would do impressions and I memorize things easily so I’d memorize entire movies and dance routines and do the voices. But I never thought that it would be a career path even though it probably seemed very obvious to everyone, but I think when you’re part of a marginalized community of any kind you’re sort of taught that this is the expectation the world has for you. It doesn’t matter what you want for yourself or how you envision yourself. if everyone else is seeing you in a particular way. It’s important to be practical. The poverty rates for people who are blind to low vision are very, very real and upwards of 80%. It’s worse for women.
I think learning all of these things at a young age, I mean being an advocate at a young age, instilled in me a sense of practicality. I never pursued acting. It was like pursuing going to the moon or something. When I was in university, I was doing my PhD. I was really unhappy, which is surprising because I had worked hard to get there and I had so much support and so many good people trying to champion my journey. I like to think I was good at it, but I just wasn’t happy doing it. I didn’t know why because I liked reading what I was reading. I just didn’t feel like this should be where I was going and that was alright.
I heard out of the blue from a teacher I hadn’t talked to since my childhood, who sent me a casting call for a show. I just got callback after callback after callback. Then the next thing I knew about two and a half, three weeks later, I had gotten cast and I moved away. The day we wrapped, I went on my second-ever audition. By that point, I had representation and I landed that audition as well.
As an actress who is legally blind, you’ve been breaking barriers in the entertainment industry. How important is representation to you, and what message do you want to convey to the industry about inclusivity and diversity?
I find this question truly remarkable. I’m deeply intrigued by the efforts that have been made, especially in recent years, to promote representation and inclusivity for all communities. It’s not limited to blindness; the entire disability community, as a whole, has lagged behind other marginalized identities and voices. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that many laws and protections for disabled people have not yet come into effect in some countries, and in other countries, these laws have been in place for 20 or 30 years. This has perpetuated the idea that this population is somehow less than fully human, which is a concept that I find truly fascinating. It’s astonishing to see how numerous marginalized communities have had to grapple with the notion of having to prove their humanity and worth. The time for recognizing people with disabilities is long overdue, and it’s genuinely disheartening that it’s taken this long.
In 2023, I find myself taking on the lead role in a production of this magnitude for the first time, which is both saddening and heartening. It’s heartening to witness the progress that’s being made. For me, the most critical aspect is to ensure that the door to representation remains wide open for everyone. In real life, people may encounter me with my guide dog, but without my guide dog, you wouldn’t know that I have low vision or a disability unless you were paying close attention or the situation made it relevant. Many people tend to expect a multitude of visible differences for individuals with disabilities, which is often not the case.
I can speak for the blind community, but I cannot represent all disabilities. It’s worth noting that only two out of every ten blind individuals use guide dogs or white canes. This means that only two out of ten blind people you meet on the street would be identifiable as blind. This fact often leads to the mistaken belief that being blind is an anomaly. I believe that people often fail to recognize the depth and beauty of our culture, which is constantly present all around them. It’s a large and vibrant community of people. I would love to see inclusion shift towards a mindset where certain aspects of my identity, whether you view me as an actor, writer, academic, or business professional, don’t need to precede the title of my work or job unless it’s directly relevant. Regarding the show, it was a truly wonderful experience as it marked the first instance of authentic representation on screen. I believe this will pave the way for many others to follow. Simultaneously, we should also open the door in the other direction. I should not be confined to playing specific roles, just as a sighted actor with similar talent and appearance would not be limited to portraying sighted characters, a practice that has been the norm throughout history. While we are challenging a century of movie stereotypes, it’s essential to acknowledge that the art created before this change was beautiful and valuable, as it paved the way for the transformation we are now witnessing.
Exactly, the thing you are doing right now is pushing the stereotypes at the same time. It’s cool, it’s kind of scary but still.
In terms of your advocacy work, what causes and issues are you most passionate about, and how do you balance these efforts with your acting career?
Advocacy, oh my. I’d say if I had to choose one thing I’m most passionate about, it’s probably literacy. I believe it’s of paramount importance that every child and young person, regardless of their identity, background, or the challenges they face, wherever they grew up, should have the ability to read, learn, and access information. I can’t stress enough how crucial this is because it’s through literacy that you shape yourself and build your foundation. However, I also acknowledge that if our planet is in dire straits due to climate change or if there’s political violence, children may not have the opportunity to attend school, as it might not be safe. So, as my platform has grown, my advocacy efforts have shifted to encompass not only promoting educational equity and literacy, particularly for people with disabilities but also advocating for girls and women. A couple of years ago, I realized that I was missing a crucial piece of the puzzle.
I’ve since broadened my advocacy to focus on the lens of climate change. This entails understanding the obstacles that vulnerable communities face, as they are most severely affected by climate change. I aim to shift some of the blame away from individuals and consumers and place it on the industries and companies that can make more responsible choices to safeguard our planet and future generations. I believe that by ensuring these stepping stones are in place, we can create a world where everyone has the opportunity to learn, be literate, enjoy freedom, and access the opportunities they deserve.
What impact do you hope to make as an artist representing the blind community, both within the entertainment industry and in society at large?
I believe that during my formative years, I never had a role model who truly represented someone like me. Although I had other role models, I lacked someone who shared my experiences and identity to look up to. When you navigate the world, and it persistently conveys the message that you’re insignificant, incomplete, or that there’s something inherently wrong with you, it can be disheartening. In my case, it boils down to a few microscopic cells in my eye. You open a book, turn on the TV, or watch a movie, and you realize you’re not represented in any of those portrayals. Even if there is representation, it often centers around pity or portrays individuals with disabilities as charity cases.
In some cases, those representing your community or culture don’t truly understand what it’s like to be a part of it and merely offer an impression of their assumptions. This perpetuates the feeling of not belonging. If there’s one thing I aspire to achieve, it’s to provide a powerful message to another young girl. A girl who, like me, put on one-woman family shows at the age of six and harboured a deep desire to be in theatre. I want her to be able to turn on her TV and see that this is an attainable path for her, provided she works diligently, finds that inner spark, and pursues her dreams with determination.
Tell us about your journey of self-discovery and self-belief, as you went from assuming acting wasn’t an option to becoming a rising star.
It’s a bit surreal because I’m still coming to terms with the fact that this is my reality. Particularly because I didn’t grow up aspiring to be the lead in a movie, unlike many young people who dedicate their entire lives to reaching the point where I am today. It’s a challenge to comprehend. Sometimes, it’s difficult to grasp the journey I’ve been on, especially in the last two to three years. It’s been a journey of self-acceptance, of not heeding what the world tells you are wrong about yourself, and learning to embrace every aspect of your identity, celebrating them and taking pride in them. At times, it’s still hard to remember that my past and childhood were quite challenging, but they are in the past, and I’ve learned from them, and I’ve moved on. It’s helpful to have a practical mindset, recognizing that the world isn’t always kind and acknowledging it, rather than viewing everything through rose-colored glasses.
On the other hand, I’ve discovered a lot of pride and optimism within myself, and I try to harness that. Getting a guide dog played a significant role in this process. Before, I had learned how to use a white cane, but I hardly used it. Consequently, most people in my life didn’t know about my low vision. However, getting a guide dog was a turning point. When people saw me with my guide dog for the first time, their faces would light up, and they were eager to meet her and witness her incredible job. They realized the significant difference she made in my life. But what was equally remarkable was the impact she had on the lives of everyone she encountered.
Being able to celebrate every facet of my identity has allowed me to recognize that something the world often perceives as a weakness is not a weakness at all. What’s truly disabling is not a couple of microscopic cells in my eye, but rather how people treat you and how society is structured. Changing that societal perspective takes time, but you can initiate that change by first changing how you perceive and stand up for yourself. Recently, I had the privilege of meeting a group of individuals who are blind or have low vision, all of whom were receiving their guide dogs for the first time. This was a profoundly special experience because many of them were also grappling with similar issues. Looking at them, I realized that none of them harboured aspirations to be in the public eye or become public speakers. They were living their lives, working as courthouse clerks, eye doctors, or schoolteachers. By merely being themselves, confident and comfortable in their skin, they were effecting change just as significantly as I am by being in a movie and having a platform like this. This is what I truly want to celebrate, and I hope that engaging in endeavours like this can encourage everyone to be more at ease with themselves. That’s where real change begins.
All The Light We Cannot See is based on a highly acclaimed novel. Can you share your thoughts on adapting such a beloved literary work for the screen?
Speaking from the perspective of a book nerd, I know that lots of us imagine our favourite books so vividly when we read them that it is almost like we have a movie version inside our heads already. That makes it an extra challenge to adapt books to screen, particularly one like this, that is so prosaic and internal, so textual. Seeing this story come to life in a different medium, one that is visual and sonic, is so special, and I love how the book and the miniseries can complement each other and bring out different moments in the same story. The characters, story, and message remain the same but can reach a new audience – even for folks who may never reach for a 600-page novel.
What were the most challenging aspects of preparing for the role of Marie-Laure?
The most challenging aspect was just being a newcomer. I’d never acted and never been on a set before. I was learning my craft for the first time as I was doing it, and that was humbling. But I had great people around me to mentor me and cheer me on – and I got to shadow our director, Shawn, for a couple of weeks before filming, so I learned everything about how film sets worked and everyone’s jobs on set. Every day I was encountering something I’d never encountered before, and that was so exciting – to be thrown in head first and soak it all up.
Working with Shawn Levy and the cast of the series must have been a unique experience. What can you tell us about your interactions with them?
Even though the content of the miniseries is quite dark and the characters are experiencing such devastation, the onset atmosphere is always full of life and laughter. I think we all wanted to ground ourselves in our enjoyment for our work, and our care for bringing this incredible novel to life. Shawn is a dad of four daughters, and it shows! He looked out for everyone and always made sure I was okay, had snacks, and had moments to breathe when I needed them. In between takes, Mark and I were always cracking bad jokes; Hugh and I shared fun facts or talked about world events or books; Louis and I often did silly imitations of our co-stars; Lars and I either discussed acting technique or philosophy. It was the best, most energetic group of people – like a big family.
How do you relate to the character of Marie-Laure Leblanc on a personal level, and what aspects of her story resonate with you?
To be honest, we don’t have much in common. Our way of experiencing the world is so different, and we’re from different times. One of her key character anchors is patience, and I’m not very patient! All we share is a sense of love for and commitment to our family. But I admire her persistence of hope in dark times and her ability to always remain optimistic even when outcomes look unlikely.
All The Light We Cannot See deals with themes of resilience and hope in the face of adversity. How do you think these themes resonate with today’s audiences?
Unfortunately, this story is so timely, that we are facing such dark times today. But the beauty of art and especially of film is creating a place where we can empathize with each other. I hope that this film encourages people to look for the light amidst the darkness, but also to fight for the light to always prevail.
Could you share any insights into the research and preparation you undertake to authentically portray your characters?
These approaches are unique. Character preparation, whether for roles that involve blindness, low vision, or sighted characters, is a highly multisensory process for me. I firmly believe that what defines us isn’t solely intellectual but also includes various sensory experiences. This perspective was a significant departure from my academic background, where intellectualization often takes precedence. In character preparation, I aim to identify triggers that evoke memories and sensations within my body, transporting me to specific moments in my life. These triggers can take the form of sensory experiences, music, or even specific articles of clothing.
To illustrate, in the case of a period piece, I delve deeply into understanding the period by cooking dishes authentic to that era, gaining insights into the social class the character belonged to, and using ingredients they would have had access to. I incorporate music from that period, alongside more contemporary music. Sometimes, I draw upon personal connections to music that trigger the emotions the character should feel. These sensory elements serve as my gateway into character immersion.
When tackling a period piece involving a character with blindness or low vision, the process becomes more intricate. While I draw upon my own lived experiences and qualities I understand, I must consider that characters from different periods might be Braille readers. In those eras, Braille might have been their sole means of accessing information, as audio, large print, or computerized resources might not have been available. Thus, I focus on understanding the evolution of Braille techniques or white cane usage for that specific character. For someone like me, I would rely on my guide dog for navigation, but for individuals before 1950, that might not have been an option.
How would you be learning those skills?
In my approach, extensive research is a crucial part of the process. I endeavour to gather as much information as possible regarding the available resources of the era, which can often be quite limited. Then, I delve into understanding the potential challenges, flaws, or unconventional techniques that a character might employ when using a cane or reading Braille. I explore practices that may not align with contemporary methods but could have been prevalent in earlier periods, such as the 1940s.
Interestingly, I have a background in ballet as a former ballerina. For one of my recent roles, I incorporated rather unique elements into my character preparation. I know it might sound a bit unconventional, but I utilized animal videos to observe how various animals move. This was particularly valuable because the role demanded a significant amount of physical combat and stunt work. I harnessed the training I received in ballet and martial arts, skills I never thought would become relevant in this context. I combined these observations with sensory elements like essential oils, consultations with the costume department regarding fabric choices, and curated playlists to get into the character’s mindset.
This extensive preparation process usually unfolds before or after my hair and makeup routine, allowing me to immerse myself in the character’s world before even stepping onto the set. It often involves creating detailed spreadsheets, conducting thorough research, and adapting texts for book-to-screen adaptations. This approach allows me to delve deeply into the character’s experiences and background.
You’re known for your fashion sense. Can you talk about how you express yourself through fashion, and are there any fashion icons or styles that inspire you?
I was a teenager, and I was always hiding behind really baggy clothes, like oversized blazer jackets, sweatshirts, and big sweaters. I tried to conceal myself because I wasn’t comfortable with who I was, and my clothing reflected that. I also wanted to be taken seriously as an academic, a professional, and an advocate. However, people often suggested that I should wear masculine clothing, like boxy pants or a boxy skirt, and a boxy blazer jacket, to hide my femininity. Femininity was considered a weakness in a professional environment, and I was conflicted between expressing what I wanted to be and what I was afraid to be. Around the time I got past that phase, I began to play with my clothes and express myself more through them. Many of my clothes are vintage and have been passed down through my family, as we come from a working-class background. I wear items that were once my great-grandma’s and great-aunt’s, allowing me to carry on their legacy while making it my own.
As I got cast in roles and worked with costume designers, I gained a deeper appreciation for the thought and beauty that goes into costume design, creating characters through colour, shape, and texture, and conveying different silhouettes throughout their lives. During the campaign process, I worked with the incredible stylist Sarah Slutsky-Tooly, who styled the shoot for this project. Despite facing challenges like the strike, we continued to work together and developed a wonderful relationship. Her work has helped me find confidence in my fashion and body that I hadn’t experienced before, and I give her a lot of credit for that.
On the personal journey front, I have to credit her significantly. Regarding fashion icons, my biggest one has always been Audrey Hepburn. I’ve always loved watching old movies, so I admire her greatly. I also look up to other old Hollywood icons like Ginger Rogers, Grace Kelly, and Hedy Lamarr. Their silhouettes and styles resonate with me. I appreciate the concept of taking vintage fashion from a bygone era and infusing it with a modern twist. It’s a way of paying tribute to these fashion legacies.
Growing up, I was a fan of Emma Watson, and it’s particularly extraordinary for me to work with Sarah, who used to be Emma’s stylist. Being able to say that I get to work with the stylist of one of my fashion icons is a remarkable experience.
How do you envision the future of representation for individuals with disabilities in the entertainment industry?
I think my biggest takeaway is to ensure casting happens with full integrity. The main goal is to seek the best actor for the role, regardless of whether they have a disability or not, or if they come from a different community or identity.
However, when telling a story about marginalization, it’s important to question why you are telling that story. What truth are you trying to convey, and who is the best person to portray that character? In cases where the story is unrelated to a specific identity, disability, race, ethnicity, LGBTQ identity, or anything else, the focus should be on selecting the best actor for the role. You may have preconceived notions about their identity, but they can bring something unique to the character, allowing us to move beyond any preconceived notions, stigmas, or stereotypes, whether positive or negative, to create a more inclusive industry.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of an industry that serves as a model for this, as many businesses are still entrenched in old mindsets and limitations. Nevertheless, there is room for growth for all of us. In recent years, we have made significant progress, and it’s exciting to witness the incredible work of people of colour, especially actors of colour, who have been advocates for their communities and have brought about change. As a white person, I appreciate the understanding they have provided about their cultures and identities, and I stand on their shoulders with gratitude. They have paved the way for greater representation and inclusion, serving as a model for my community to follow.
Beyond your current achievements, are there any specific career goals or roles you aspire to in the future?
I’m not sure how much I should delve into this topic, but there are a couple of characters in films and TV shows that I’m eager to pursue and make my mark on. Overall, I aim to continue portraying well-rounded, fully realized female characters in film and TV, moving away from archetypes of what society expects womanhood to be. I believe this goal isn’t limited to disability.
I don’t want my career to be defined solely by authentic portrayals of blind characters. I’m an actress, and I want the opportunity to act in a variety of roles. This is my approach to film and TV. Additionally, I’m an author, and I have a book that my best friends and I wrote, targeted at middle-school-aged readers. It features an authentic blind young heroine, and I hope to see positive change in the publishing industry since I never saw myself represented when I was younger.
I’m currently working on another book, but I won’t reveal too much about it. This one is a solo project and features a very different authentic blind character. I’m keen to venture into storytelling and writing. Moreover, I’d like to explore production work. I had an incredible mentor Sean Levy who taught me a lot about the inner workings of the film industry. While I can’t go into detail, I’m truly grateful for his guidance. I want to utilize my full voice, not just my physical presence and on-screen performance but also my intellect behind the scenes. Pursuing this goal is very exciting, and it’s a privilege to be an artist.
I understand that some people may fear the uncertainty of not knowing their next job, but I find it exhilarating. The unknown possibilities are limitless, and I’m open to anything. Everything isn’t always the best, but it’s part of the journey.
What advice would you offer to individuals who aspire to pursue their passions, overcome obstacles, and achieve their dreams, similar to your journey in the entertainment industry?
I often reflect on what I would tell my younger self if I knew that this would be my life. Deep down, even as a child, I knew I wanted to act, tell stories, and write. I would encourage people to trust their instincts because, more often than not, they are right. My journey has been incredibly unconventional, so I’d also urge others to embrace such unconventional paths.
It’s common for young people, like my cousins who are in college right now, to feel pressured to follow a linear path: high school, college, job, promotion, retirement, golf, and so on. However, I believe there is so much more to life. Challenge yourself, don’t be afraid, and if the life you desire follows that traditional model, embrace it. But if it doesn’t, find what works for you, take risks, and trust the process, having faith in whatever you believe in. The universe might support you if you leap, as I did when I jumped off the cliff, and it worked out okay. I stuck the landing, and I believe others can too.
The thing is, life shouldn’t be seen as a linear path. As someone once said, “Time is just a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey stuff.” I understand that, and the concept that our lives follow a linear path is a human construct. Embrace the wibbly wobbliness of it all.
All The Light We Cannot See is out now on Netflix.
photography. Celeste Sloman
fashion. Sarah Slutsky Tooley @ The Wall Group
talent. Aria Mia Loberti
hair. Clara Leonard @ The Wall Group using R+Co
make up. Quinn Murphy @ The Wall Group
production. Clara La Rosa
fashion assistants. Carlee Princell + Mia Stella
interview. Alper Kurtel