How Model and Actress Lydia Hearst Blends Horror And High Fashion

“Horror movies temporarily create the emotional experience of fear without the devastating consequences—because in reality no psychotic killer, ghostly demon or chainsaw-wielding murderer is truly after you.”
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International covergirl, style trendsetter, rising Hollywood star—it’s the stuff that dreams are made of. And for Lydia Hearst it’s all in a day’s work. She may be best known to horror geeks from the Syfy Channel’s Z Nation, on which she plays Pandora. And when she’s not on set, she’s bankrolling movies of her own and starring in a few more. Hearst recently wrapped two—Root Letter (based on a Japanese video game), in which she plays a heroin addict, and Sinister Sister part of the popular Lifetime Channel series. In it, she plays Zara Downes, the estranged half-sister to Nick (Brando Eaton) who reappears after the death of their father. 

Meanwhile, she’s in pre-production on a vampire movie entitled With Teeth, in which she’ll be co-executive producing and co-starring with Malin Ackerman. In the film, a gamer has to save her brother and her friends from a billionaire vampire at his secluded estate. They plan to shoot this autumn, depending on the pandemic. 

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“I find myself drawn to more character-driven roles and scripts where I’m forced to challenge and change both physically and emotionally for a part,” she tells us about her process when deciding which roles  to inhabit. “I love finding that elusive point of connection to a specific character. And I love a challenge!” 

Sinister Sister is a thriller, and With Teeth is a horror film, which should surprise no one who knows the first thing about Hearst, whose film credits mainly fall into those two genres. She is married to fellow horror-geek and Talking Dead producer and host Chris Hardwick; the two celebrated their 2016 nuptials at Pasadena’s Langham Huntington Hotel with robots and zombies in a horror-themed wedding, so suffice to say horror is in her blood.

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“Horror movies temporarily create the emotional experience of fear without the devastating consequences—because in reality no psychotic killer, ghostly demon or chainsaw-wielding murderer is truly after you,” she explains. “It’s not just about cheap thrills and jump scares. Most great horror films rely on atmosphere and suspense rather than gore. I love a film that isn’t just scary, but that is effectively creepy. Creepy is much more difficult to pull off. I also love the feeling of that adrenaline rush when you’re captivated by a great film and are engulfed by the feeling of suspense.” 

The great-granddaughter of publishing legend William Randolph Hearst, Lydia was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and attended nearby Wilton High School. She remembers accompanying her famous mother Patty Hearst to film sets when Patty worked with her friend, director John Waters, appearing in five of his movies. Even at the age of 10, she was inspired by the experience to pursue a career in entertainment. 

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But legendary fashion photographer Steven Meisel had other plans when he first laid eyes on Lydia in 2003. He shot her for the cover of Vogue Italia’s April 2004 issue, and the beauty, who was studying Communications and Technology at Sacred Heart University at the time, was soon on her way to a glamorous life as a covergirl on fashion magazines in France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latin America and the U.S. With a visage captured by the world’s top photographers, she was awarded Best International Supermodel at the Madrid Glamour Awards in 2008. 

“My life changed overnight when I did the cover and editorial for Vogue Italia,” she recalls. “In my fashion career I have had the opportunity to travel the world and work with some of the most iconic designers and photographers to date. Because of my work in fashion, I developed my own unique and personal sense of style, and learned how to be comfortable in my own skin.” At the same time it prepared her for life as an actor. 

She works constantly, appearing in eight movies over the past five years, including #Horror with Natasha Lyonne and Chloe Sevigny, as well as Between Worlds in which she played the wife of Nicolas Cage. She currently has five films in post-production and another eight in pre-production. 

“As an actress and model, my elastic and chameleon-esque face has provided a blank canvas for a range of transformations that are facilitated by my own personality, where on set I strive to achieve fluidity and personify the vision the directors and photographers have for the project,” she explains in her trademark fluid style. 

“If you are actively engaged in life as an individual, I have found that you are more able to draw from yourself. When you’re an actor you have a script, but you have to make yourself into the character, live the part, own the words and breathe life into the role because in the end, the only thing the camera wants to see is something truthful.”