Toronto actor stars alongside Nicole Kidman and Zoe Saldana in new series

Toronto’s Laysla De Oliveira knew the competition for the starring role in a series created by Yellowstone’s Taylor Sheridan would be fierce. But when she hopped on a call with Sheridan himself and learned who she would have the opportunity to star alongside in Special Ops: Lioness, she knew this would be the role of a lifetime.

“He said he wanted to work on the first episode with me, and he kept mentioning the name Nicole,” she says. “And I said, ‘Kidman?’” 

The team flew De Oliveira to Montana to work with Sheridan as he was filming Yellowstone.

 “And then I went home to Toronto to quarantine, hoping and praying that I would get the part,” she says. She got an email on her last night in quarantine while she was in bed. “It said, ‘Congratulations on being a lioness,’ and I just started crying.”

De Oliveira stepped into the titular role of Special Ops: Lioness and an opportunity to work with not just Kidman but Zoe Saldana and Morgan Freeman.

“Getting to do this incredible work with people you’ve admired your entire career is something that’s really special,” she says. “I felt like I was getting paid to take a master class.” 

L-R: Laysla De Oliveira as Cruz Manuelos, Zoe Saldana as Joe, and Nicole Kidman as Kaitlyn Meade in Lioness episode 7, Season 1. Photo Credit: Luke Varley/Paramount+

It’s a career that De Oliveira didn’t realize she could professionally pursue until she took her first acting class in high school — but perhaps she should have realized it was one she was destined for much earlier. 

“I loved putting on a show for my parents and family as a kid. I would lip-synch to Britney Spears and charge my mom’s friends $2 to watch me perform,” she says. 

Once she caught the acting bug, De Oliveira moved to Rosedale Heights School of the Arts to pursue acting as a career. “I would go to school at 9 a.m., and often I would come home at 7 p.m. because we’d be rehearsing for plays and doing really fun stuff that I was really passionate about,” she says. 

Though De Oliveira says she loves school, soon after joining Ryerson’s theatre program, she dropped out in an effort to get as many audition hours in as possible — and move to Los Angeles. 

“I wanted to be in the center of the whole thing — still take classes but be in a space where I could professionally pursue my dreams,” she says. “But I got sent home a lot because many of the roles I landed were filming in Toronto, which was nice.”

One of those roles was the antagonist Dodge in Netflix’s Locke & Key, which landed in the global top 10 list on the streaming service for multiple weeks after its debut. She also played a lead role in horror movie In the Tall Grass and acted alongside Luke Wilson and David Thewlis in Guest of Honour — all significant roles for someone who has only been in the industry for a decade.

De Oliveira says there were times when she struggled: “I did the restaurant jobs.” She remembers working at Joey’s at the Eaton Centre, and when she landed one of her first roles, they put it up on the screens and everyone celebrated. 

“But I remember there were often times where I was filled with sadness, because I wanted to be acting, and I didn’t want to be there,” she says.

But she says she got here by being “a little bit delusional,” believing in herself and never taking no for an answer. 

“Definitely, when you have $400 in your bank account, you start to stress out. But I just never had a plan B. This had to work.”

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