Three years ago, she grabbed the attention of Hindi film lovers with her free-spirited turn in the award-winning Queen . And though its lead heroine, Kangana Ranaut, won acclaim and awards, Elisabeth Marie Haydon (popularly known as Lisa Haydon) proved to be a surprising scene-stealer as Vijayalakshmi. More recently, she essayed the role of a ukulele-playing musician on The Trip (Bindass’ web series about four girls on a road trip). And who can forget her giving the word ‘ vatavaran ’ some swag in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil ?
Not surprisingly, the model-actress who is currently on an enforced holiday — she is expecting her first child with husband Dino Lalvani — is still trending online! In an age when public attention is notoriously fickle, Haydon is maintaining her brand equity by keeping her fans constantly engaged — Instagramming the adventures of her baby bump in The Cotswolds and at beach resorts. It’s this sense of sass and style that has propelled her to the top of the entertainment and fashion circuit, with several national and international brands to her name.
The wild child
Born in Chennai to a Tamil Brahmin father and an Australian mother, the 30-year-old, who is the muse for designers like Tarun Tahiliani, has lived in diverse countries, including India, the US and Australia. At a time when many advertisers feel that using an actor rather than a model is the short-cut to success, her mixed genes and global upbringing have also given her an edge. “Lisa has a unique face, and she exudes a progressive, wild child vibe that she constantly builds upon. While most models are, at best, clothes hangers, her cinema exposure gives her the acting edge,” says Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner at Delhi-based ad agency Bang In The Middle.
It is no wonder then that Haydon has graced many magazine covers. She is in demand for her easy going ways and her ability to carry off any outfit. Photographer-turned-film producer, Atul Kasbekar — whose celebrity management company, Bling! Entertainment Solutions, she has signed on with — has seen her grow, both in modelling and movies. “As a face in front of a camera, there are few to touch her. What makes her a favourite of brands is that she identifies with what she endorses,” he says.
On her terms
Ask her when she realised she could be a show-stopper and Mumbai-based Haydon plays down her appeal, saying, “Oh, that’s something I still haven’t realised yet. There’s always scope for growth.” Films have definitely added to that charm. “Lisa has become a mainstay of the modelling world, but what is special about her is that she has crossed over into movies as well, and that too on her own terms. She is not trying to fit into a Bollywood mould. Rather, Bollywood is trying to make space to fit her unique persona,” shares Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Executive Creative Director, O&M South Asia. And as our interaction reveals, Haydon is looking forward to getting back to some exciting work after her delivery. Excerpts:
Did you always want to be a model or actor?
No, although I did look up to the supermodels of my childhood, especially Cindy Crawford. I grew up watching Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow. I dreamed of working in the arts.
What were your goals while growing up?
I always wanted to be independent. I worked at a few odd jobs as a teen and, when I was in my early 20s, I soon realised that I disliked unfair bosses. I knew I was disciplined and motivated, and that I would work best when I was self-employed.
Is the choice of your roles or brand projects defined by your persona?
I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the people who cast me. But I enjoy playing varied characters, whether in Queen or Ae Dil Hai Mushkil . I’ve noticed though that people will always assume you are the character you last played. I guess it’s a compliment to playing your character convincingly.
You have spoken out strongly about body shaming. How did you cope with it?
All sorts of bullying made me strive to be better, although now I realise that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Bullying and body shaming is so upsetting when you’re younger, because you don’t have the same perspective to deal with it.
At that time, I used to try to eat more rice and bread to be of a ‘normal weight’ like everyone else. But we’re all built differently. Normal for me was thin as a kid. Nothing would change that.
What are your thoughts on feminism?
I certainly do like to live life on my own terms. It would be great to live in a world where women get the respect and support that my family has given me to make my own choices.
Life after marriage, did it change things for you professionally?
Nothing changed after marriage. I have an amazing husband who backs me up in every way and I went straight back to my work commitments. What’s changed things now is my pregnancy. But maternity leave has been awesome so far. It’s like this enforced holiday. I know I’ll be raring to get back to work after we have our baby. I’d love to do a comedy as I have really been enjoying the genre. I hope someone offers me a comedy film shot in London in the summer. That would be perfect.
The younger generation looks up to you and the older ones admire you for your spunk.
That's a big compliment! It’s an honour to be anyone’s role model. I read a really inspiring quote recently by CS Lewis, “The long way around is the shortest way home.” I couldn’t agree more. There are no shortcuts in life. Living life to the fullest for me is to know that I’m pushing myself in all areas. I think free-spiritedness is also born of living oblivious to petty gossiping and not surrounding yourself with people who do.
As a model and actor, Haydon has been the face of many brands. Prominent among these are Aquafina (Pepsi), Bausch & Lomb (Lacelle), Carl F Bucherer, Lakme, Lino Perros bags, Myntra, Nirav Modi, Pantene, Puma, Samsung, and Slice (Pepsi).
“What makes Lisa a designer’s muse is her spirit, modernity and natural chemistry. She is irreverent, fit and has a great sense of humour. Her personality makes her stand out. ”
— Tarun Tahiliani, designer
The Mumbai-based writer is Executive Editor of Verve, the lifestyle and luxury magazine.