We premiered this season’s Sons of Anarchy with a much anticipated wedding between Opie and Lyla (Winter Ave Zoli). PPLA had the chance to talk with Winter about her role on FX’s hit motorcycle club drama, her film career, and posing for the cover of Playboy. Find out why this good girl loves to play rough.
Q: When did you first know you wanted o be an actor?
A: My first play was when I was nine years old but I didn’t consider myself an actor at the time. I loved singing and it was the Wizard of Oz; I was a munchkin! But I was more of a dancer then. I had been dancing ballet since I was four (my mom had enrolled me) and that was my focus until I was twelve. This was when we moved to Europe. There were so many things for me to get used to in a new school overseas that I sort of put dancing to the side. I started going to the International School of Prague and got into theater. I did this play called Egad What A Cad and I played the lead and had this incredible feeling. Acting replaced my dancing as an artistic outlet and I never looked back.
Q: How is acting in the U.S. different form overseas?
A: I was originally planning to attend Smith College but then ended up meeting my manager in NY, so I decided to defer. I moved to NYC and after a year of auditioning, I booked one job and decided to stay in the city and really study acting. It was a hard decision to leave home, cross the Atlantic, and start out on my own but it was an amazing experience. That first role I booked was in Flawless; it was a Joel Schumacher film. I was naïve at the time to who Joel was in the industry and what a big opportunity this was. I was still so young and not really making that connection so it was more like ‘okay, cool’, until I get on set and meet Robert DeNiro. Then it started to sink in.
Q: How did you first hear about your role on Sons of Anarchy? Tell me about that audition process?
A: I originally auditioned about a year before for another role on the show. It was a guest star role, shooting one to two days tops. I remember there was possible nudity listed in the posting but I decided to go for it and booked it. Now it’s turned into this thing that’s pretty amazing. I didn’t see this coming when I booked the job! On what should have been my last day of filming, I remember having the feeling that the producers liked me and that it might turn into something else. Then I got a call to come back in and was told that the team came up with a storyline for my character and they wanted to create a relationship between Lyla and Opie. I was so excited and thought maybe it would mean another four or five episodes max but here we are and I’m still on the show. I just keep thinking, wow this is amazing, I am so lucky.
Q: Tell me how the storyline between Lyla and Opie evolved. Where do you see your character going?
A: Them getting married was sort of sudden for both of the characters. They got themselves into a situation that neither was prepared for and that’s what they are dealing with this season. Its kind of like ‘okay now what’, how do we handle our life together. There is stuff Opie doesn’t approve of that Lyla has to deal with and vice versa like his involvement with this crazy motorcycle club… but it’s something special between the two of them and the way the writers have joined them is so nice. They are going to make it work.
Q: You are known for playing ‘bad girls’, how are you similar and different to your characters? Do you prefer these types of roles?
A: I definitely prefer to play the bad girl to the nice girl next door. It’s more interesting and more fun for me. I don’t feel like any character is one or the other either. Even in real life, everyone has a Yin and Yang. So yes, Lyla is the bad girl but she’s also a sweet girl at the same time and has a real softness to her that goes against this hardened porn star exterior. For me, showing that softer side is important to bring to her life. I grew up as a ‘good girl’; I always did the right things, never got into trouble… so its’ still hilarious to me and my family and friends that this is the hole I’ve fallen into because it’s not typically me. But, at the same time, it is me because deep down I think I have this rough side too.
Q: What types of roles do you hope to play going forward? Any actors or directors you hope to work with?
A: I would love to play a character in a really cool period piece. I haven’t done one since 2003 and I had such a blast. I truly prefer to play the grayer, darker characters. I would have loved to be in Drive with Ryan Gosling. I thought that film was great. I love Steven Soderbergh and would love to work with him. Also, I am a huge fan of the Czech Director Milos Forman. I am half Czech so it would be great to work with him.
Q: Who inspires you? Which fellow actors do you admire?
A: Some of my favorite actors in my age group are Ryan Gosling, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Carrey Mulligan. I look up to Daniel Day Lewis and John Malkovich because they completely transform themselves for a role. I’d be really happy to have a career like either of them.
Q: You have done films in both English and Czech, how do find transitioning between languages and accents?
A: I was born in the states so I grew up on English and I started speaking Czech at age four so I haven’t really ever had an accent either way. But putting on a strong Czech accent has come in handy for my career because I have had to play European roles and I didn’t have to work too hard on it to get it right.
Q: Of all the roles you have played, what has been your favorite experience?
A: I did a film called The Pagan Queen- a Czech/American/German production shot in Prague and its surrounding forests. It was my first leading role and it was a project where I was there every day by about 4:30am and wrapping at 6 or 7 at night, working outside, in the fall, in the cold. It was a really hard experience but I loved it because for the first time I really got to do what I want, act, every day for three months. I worked so hard on that film and I felt so proud of what I’d put into it. I got to carry that film and at the end I felt like I’d made it, I ‘d accomplished it, I did it.
Q: What do you love most about working on your show Sons of Anarchy? Where do you see yourself headed next?
A: Sons has been a fantastic experience for me. I love the people who work on it, there is a really great energy on that set and we all get along really well- crew and cast, everybody. It’s an easy set to be on because we all just click and it feels good and nothing is better than being on show that is well put together by people who really care about each other. Also, it’s a really different show- there is nothing else really like it on TV as far as the motorcycle club scene and the mix of actors, both older well-seasoned performers and younger talent. It’s well written and has been a success, it’s just a quality show. I feel so thankful to be able to be a part of a show where there are so few female roles and the woman are so tough and badass. There aren’t enough roles where women are tough and empowered on television.
Q: Tell us about your recent decision to pose for Playboy Magazine?
A: Playboy was offered to me and I took a few months to decide if I wanted to do it or not. I had to weigh it. I knew if I did the shoot what the possible repercussions could be. But I also knew what it could mean if I didn’t do it. I didn’t have an issue about exposing my body. For me, it was more about how the decision would be perceived. In the end, Playboy is an inconic magainze and I had the opportunity to be apart of that history so I decided to go ahead with the shoot. I had a great female photography and it turned out to be a very empowering experience. It was not degrading in any way and I had a great time doing it. Of course, I definitely have concerns going forward in my career about how many shoots or roles I can do or want to do where I am naked or in lingerie. It’s something to think about. But I’ve never really had an issue with nudity. It’s a different attitude overseas than in the U.S. and for me nudity is not a big deal and my family was completely supportive. They thought my doing Playboy was great and they love my character on Sons.
Q: What do you like to do for fun in your spare time when you are not on set?
A: I love horseback riding. I’ve been riding since 2007 when I learned for The Pagan Queen and I just loved it, I go out a lot. I had to be very good at horse back riding for that film and before that I’d only been on a horse a few times. I always felt comfortable being on a horse and was never scared but I hadn’t been a rider and so I took two months of training and learning and then I just fell in love. I also like to hike and discover the canyons and mountains of LA. I’m a pretty down to earth peson and love the simple things- reading, hanging out with friends, going to the movies or dinner with family.
Q: Where can your fans find you next? What projects do you have coming up?
A: I have a film called Bad Ass with Danny Trejo that should be in theaters early next year. I’m doing the Easy Rider Bike Tour every weekend in January and the first two weekends in February. I am involved in animal rights and environmental charities like the WWF and ASPCA and I get involved with cast-mate Kristen Renton’s dog charity Boxer Rescue LA. Fans can follow me on Facebook but I’m not into the twitter thing just yet!