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American School of Dubai student Eva Petersson caught the acting bug young, right in kindergarten when she performed in a show, and promptly decided that she wanted to do nothing else. Five years ago, she enrolled in drama classes, passing the Trinity London College of Performing Arts exams with distinction and scoring top in the Middle East region. She has since gone on to feature in global commercial campaigns, including those for Dubai Tourism, Amazon, the Share campaign for Majid Al Futtaim malls, Medcare Hospitals and VR Park for Emaar.
Holding dual French and Swedish nationality but growing up with English as her first language, Eva landed her first Hollywood feature film in 2019, Go Iguanas!, about a group of girls who have to overcome their differences at an international boarding school.
‘It was my first time working on a feature-length movie,’ she says. It’s clearly not her last. Eva is all set to head to the US soon for the movie sequel to reprise her role as Penelope Grayson, who ‘is super clever and has a special ability to see the future’. If that wasn’t enough for a child actor, she is currently scripting, directing and producing her own short films in the UAE around the themes of bullying in school and animal protection, along with her own video interview series talking to Middle East film personalities. ‘Nayla Al Khaja, Amal Al Agroobi, and Ali Mostafa have all agreed to be interviewed so I am very excited, and we’ll be working on it most probably after Ramadan,’ Eva says.
Friday spoke with her about her showbiz dreams. Excerpts from the interview:
What got you interested in acting?
My very first variety show was back in kindergarten, and I absolutely loved being on stage. It was a magical moment for me and from then on, I never wanted to do anything else but perform. Even though prepping for auditions and learning long scripts is difficult, I know I want to continue acting when I grow up, that’s my goal.
Which actors did you grow up watching and emulating?
Daisy Ridley, who was pretty much unknown when she was picked to play Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She really did a great job. I know she had to get through six auditions for that role, and it even won her a place on a British postage stamp. After that, she played in Murder on the Orient Express and voiced Cottontail in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. Last December, she appeared in the last film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker.
Who are your favourite child actors?
Debby Ryan, who played Jessie Prescott in the long-running Disney TV series Jessie. She made nearly 100 episodes over five years, which is pretty incredible. Then there’s British actress Millie Bobby Brown, who played Eleven in the Netflix sci-fi drama series Stranger Things. She was nominated for an Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actress aged only 13, and she even featured on Time Magazine’s top-100 list.
What has been your favourite project to work on so far, and why?
Playing the lead in our school production of the musical Annie JR. I take voice, dance and drama lessons and I love being able to do all three at the same time, so performing musicals is an amazing experience. I like acting on set, too, but it’s just different when you can do it all together. I’ve always wanted to play Annie and doing it now with my school friends is an added bonus.
What do you like most about being on set?
When the director wants to shoot a scene again because they think the performance can be better, or they simply haven’t got what they were looking for. I enjoy learning from my mistakes when we do retakes on some scenes. That and the table reads (when we read through the script together before filming starts). That’s a very strong bonding process for actors working together in a cast.
Tell us about your experience working on Go Iguanas.
That was so much fun, travelling across the world to Phoenix, Arizona, and working on a set was all new to me. Prepping for the role was challenging as it was my first time working on a feature-length movie, with so many lines to learn. Meeting new people, making friends with all the other children, being part of a team with high expectations, and not letting people down. We bonded really well on and off the set of St Ignatius Boarding School. And I totally love my character, Penelope Grayson. She is super clever and has a special ability to see the future.
Besides acting, you’re also developing short films in the UAE.
I’m starting a miniseries of short video interviews with high-profile UAE filmmakers about their experience of working in the industry in the Middle East, from a female perspective. Nayla Al Khaja, Amal Al Agroobi, and Ali Mostafa have all agreed to be interviewed so I am very excited, and we’ll be working on it most probably after Ramadan. I’m also working on two short films that I will direct and act in. I have finished one script and we are polishing it up; it’s a story based on women in the film industry. The other is about another issue that’s close to my heart: animal protection.
How has the UAE influenced you and your creativity?
I was born in the UAE and this country is very dear to me, it offers so many opportunities for those who want to take them. I am grateful to be working with the best drama coach here, Neil Clench, who is also an award-winning actor and teacher. Here in the UAE you have the same high level of training as you would find anywhere in Europe, for example. Filmmakers and people in the industry here are not only very friendly, but they’re also very knowledgeable.
Tell us a funny incident that’s happened to you while shooting?
The funniest thing is when you forget a line and just improvise something that comes into your head. Then seeing your fellow actors totally surprised and trying to continue with their cues. It’s called on-set chemistry, but off set we all laugh about it a lot.
And the most challenging?
Shooting a movie is a never-ending learning experience. It’s really a challenge when you have to do a scene multiple times because your fellow actors can’t remember their lines. And last-minute changes of lines when they rewrite the script during filming is tough, because they usually have to be learned overnight. And then I still have to manage my schoolwork, so I take work with me and do it on set between scenes, or on my days off.
What’s the best compliment you’ve had on your acting?
When I was auditioning in Orlando, Florida, for Premiere, I was picked as a top-10 global performer from 10,000 children around the world and received the Best Performer Award. Some American industry agents said it was ‘the best audition ever’, and that felt pretty good. One of them said I was a ‘natural talent’, while another said I could be ‘the next Meryl Streep’. Well, that’s great for my ego but I know that’s going to be a long hard journey.
If not an actor, what’s the career you’d choose?
Well, if I couldn’t become an actor, I’d want to be a vet. I’ve always loved animals and if I saw a lost cat wandering around the neighbourhood, I’d be the one to look after it and try to find its owners. I love James Herriot’s books and I was always fascinated watching vets look after my own pets and trying to make things better for them, without them even being able to say what’s wrong.
Which actors and projects would you like to work with in the future?
I am constantly auditioning for movie projects and series, especially in the US. I’m going to play Penelope Grayson again in the sequel to Go Iguanas! in the near future. Recently, I auditioned for a supporting role in a movie with Oscar winner Ben Affleck. My dream would be to work alongside Millie Bobby Brown on Stranger Things. However, I wouldn’t mind being on set with Ben Affleck either!
Quick 5 with Eva
1. The movie you’d watch one hundred times: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
2. The one actor you don’t like very much: I like all the actors, but sometimes I don’t like how they’ve portrayed a character; one example is Isabela Merced playing Dora the Explorer.
3. The one role you would have liked to play: Rey in Star Wars, although that’s a very hard role to play.
4. Your favourite TV show: Stranger Things and Fuller House.
5. Your favourite movie snack: Popcorn of course!