Moving from Belgium to L.A.

interview with Ann-Sophie Van Lommel

Belgium’s talented Ann-Sophie Van Lommel has been intrigued by performing since she was a little girl. At a certain moment, Belgium became too small and she decided to pack her belongings and leave everything behind  to follow her dream of becoming an actress. She applied for a two year education at The Stella Adler Academy of Acting, booked herself a flight, and moved to L.A.

Anne-Sophie Van Lommel. Image by Yvel Sagaille.

I learned quite fast here that friendly people absolutely doesn’t mean the same as kind people.

‘As a child I loved dressing up and standing in front of the camera. I dressed up and performed as Cleopatra or as a bridesmaid, I always picked out a woman with a strong feminine role. At some point in my life, I saw my cousin in a commercial with a well-known actor. I found that as fascinating as a 7-year-old and knew: I want to do that too. I contacted my cousin and that’s how it all started for me. As a child I already had the chance of doing commercials. I loved doing that and knew in my heart that this was what passion is about. Sadly enough I had to quit after a while because my parents decided to move to Dubai.

I remember a family member always told me I would never become an actress. He told me that I’d better put my dream away and focus on a study within journalism. A couple of years later I successfully completed that training in Belgium, but I never threw my dream away. My spirit deep within knew I would always have to work extremely hard but nothing in life seems so meaningful as performing in all different ways. After putting some effort in it I got myself a role in ‘Familie’, one of Flanders’ most famous soaps.

After that I felt sure as hell about my next move: I wanted to take an acting course that I couldn’t find in Belgium. I came to LA because The Stella Adler Academy of Acting appealed to me the most. The same school is located in New York, but as the weather here in L.A. differs big time, my choice was made quite easy.

Obviously applying for a study in the United States involved a lot of paperwork and an audition as well. I had to record a monologue, which meant I had to prepare a script and empathize with a character which I chose myself. Based on that you would be accepted or denied. That audition should separate the wheat from the chaff.

When I was told in September 2017 that I was the last of the group to be accepted into the acting school, I still lived in Belgium and I was expected to start classes on October 19 2017. That meant rushed packing everything in Belgium, finding accommodation in LA, applying for a visa, booking a flight and saying goodbye to everyone within a month. I did get help through the school to arrange my M-1 visa, which is a student visa which allows you stay in America for 1 year, after that year you have to renew it. Only a week before I started school, I had found my apartment through student housing. That whole arrangement went quite smoothly actually. Within a month I had everything sorted out. However, I was only able to move into my apartment a week after my arrival, so moving involved a stay of a week with a large amount of suitcases in a small dormitory of a hostel.

“I once had to imagine very vividly that my character had cancer. I really had to feel pale and shivery. At such a moment it seems as if you are far away from your own self.”

From the first week I knew I had chosen the right school for me. The Stella Adler Academy works with imagination, in  some of the classes you imagine different storylines that happen to you. For example, during the warm-up that lasts an hour in technique classes, we have to carry out all kinds of assignments with our eyes closed. I once had to imagine very vividly that my character had cancer. I really felt pale and shivery. In such moments it seems as if you are far away from your own self. That way, you learn to expand yourself as an actor to take on such heavy characters.

You don’t even need to know what your character has been through because you decide that yourself, unless you are given other instructions. Starting with that idea you build your character from the moment before something bad happens, during and after. In addition, you always look for all kinds of things that are specific to the character you play. Certain tics or traits can be attributed to a character in order to expand the character.

“It’s difficult to trust people this way, because everyone is so superficial.”

I adapted myself fairly quickly in L.A. because I am a flexible person. The worst thing was the bad food. No chance on getting a tasty sandwich with charcuterie, like we know in Belgium. Americans are generally friendly people. The advantage of this is that you quickly feel welcome. In Belgium people are more distant because people are less friendly at first impression. However friendly doesn’t necessarily mean kind. They may greet each other exuberantly here, but right after that something else is said behind your back. That is the normal course of things there: you are polite in someone’s face, but not behind their back. It’s difficult to trust people this way, because everyone is so superficial. Because of that you adjust your attitude towards people..Fortunately I have an international student circle, where there is a different mentality. Everyone is sincere because we are all in the same boat: in LA without parents permitted with a visa which has a limit.

America is and remains a Western country, but faith clearly takes a large place here, with many different types. Around the corner you have, for example, “The Mosaic”, a spiritual church. When you enter, you see a large stage, a clock and you hear loud music where in people go crazy. On the other end of my street where I live you can be baptized in a swimming pool.

“If you don’t have a visa which allows you to work within the given time, you can forget it here. You even have the chance to be deported.”

The average rent here for a one-room apartment is more than $2,000 a month, which is a big difference from Belgium. And that’s without gas, water and electricity. My roommate sleeps on the couch in the living room while I have the bedroom in front of me. Some people therefore have to combine 3 jobs to be able to pay for that. If I was not currently supported by my family, I would find myself in trouble for sure.

I currently have an OPT visa, which means Optional Practical Training. I first had a M-1, which is a one year student visa, and I’m currently trying to get an O-1, which is a three year artist visa. Applying for a visa here takes a long time. Some people really get into trouble because of that. If you don’t have a visa with which you are allowed to work in the given period of time, you can forget it here. You even have the chance to be deported.

“If you are not hired for jobs, you cannot work on your portfolio. But if you don’t have a portfolio, they won’t hire you.”

Many people think I live a dream life here, but it’s mostly about putting effort into my passion 24/7 and dealing with rejection. I recently auditioned for singing competition “Million Dollar Singer”, a program for FOX. The production had seen my performance of “La Vie en Rose”. They wanted to do a Skype interview with me, but at that moment I was on my OPT visa and decided to be honest about it, because not many in the industry take OPT visa’s even though it is a legal work permit. Still, I got that interview. I didn’t know in advance that I had to sing during that conversation. As much they wanted to do their best with my visa, I was not selected, which felt like a disappointment. Very often I auditioned for gigs and didn’t get them. You constantly have to deal with this disappointment within my sector. If you are not hired for jobs, you cannot work on your portfolio. But if you don’t have a portfolio, they won’t hire you.

“You can’t count on anyone but yourself to boost you up”

On the other hand I have the freedom to do what I want to do, but in a foreign country far away from your family and friends where you have to start from the bottom again. If you are not feeling well or facing a mental breakdown it is more difficult. I used to be depressed for a long time in the beginning. The stress to arrange your visa, a job and to pay your rent is high. That’s hard to keep going if you feel defeated. You can’t count on anyone but yourself to boost you up.

“The most important thing is that I regained my confidence here”

Despite all that, I am up and running for a few jobs since a couple of months and the most important about that is how I have regained my confidence here. People actually want to work with me here and I am often recommended.Since I started my life in L.A. I believe that I am good at what I do.”



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