Lisa Haydon is one of the more visible markers of Bollywood’s shift toward a western idea of beauty: tan, leggy and athletic rather than buxom. Apart from last year’s sleeper hit Queen, the Indian-Australian Haydon has been offered parts in more mainstream films, like Aisha (2010), Rascals (2011) and The Shaukeens (2014). But in Queen, her appeal went beyond the exotic. Her character, Vijaylakshmi, was filled out in warm tones: she’s fun, kind and not given to regrets. In spirit, if not in the details, she seems to have been written for the actor playing her.
There is a lightness to this 28-year-old even in person. She laughs easily, waves at the kids staring at her in the mall and doesn’t let this acting gig define her. “It’s important to be able to step out of it all. I don’t think I’d ever be happy just being absorbed in one way of life. If any one scene starts to define me, I jump out of it.” As she fills her time in between films with Pilates, road trips and working on her skincare line, Naked, she chats with us about what it takes to look your best, find your bliss and generally keep your hair on in showbiz.
ELLE: A lot of beauty advice tends to be about avoiding stress. You’re gorgeous and in a fairly stressful line of work. How do you stay centred?
Lisa Haydon: As I was getting ready to meet you, I looked in the mirror and wondered if the peanut butter pancakes I ate last night were showing on my skin. There is a lot of pressure to look good. But when you think about it too much, that’s when it starts to show. Yesterday, I made the resolution that whatever I spend my time doing, it needs to make me happy. You can look in the mirror and pick your face apart. But when you stop thinking about [your body] so much, you radiate.
ELLE: The pressure of being perfect all the time — does it ever get to you?
LH: It’s very easy when you’re young and fit to take that for granted. But as a model and actor, if I focus on my body too much, I’m just going to look like a plastic, fake bitch. It’s a given that you’re in this business because you have the looks or you have the talent. Like, look at that fat chick from Bridesmaids (Melissa McCarthy). She is fantastic, so much inner confidence! It goes to show that people are not just obsessed with beauty, they also love character.
ELLE: You must have gotten a lot of attention growing up, how did you handle that?
LH: I did not! I wasn’t beautiful growing up. I had buckteeth and was super skinny. People don’t realise this but being skinny when you’re a kid is as bad as being fat.
ELLE: I don’t believe you.
LH: I swear on my life! I was skinny and had crazy curly hair. And my mom would brush it and put it in these huge ponytails. Life has many ways of keeping you humble.
ELLE: You seem a little detached from the typical Bollywood setting — you’re not part of a camp, you have a full life outside of films: modelling and running your skincare brand. Are you choosing to stay on the periphery?
LH: I think I’m always happy to be on the periphery when it comes to camps. I’m detached from ‘scenes’ in general. I think it’s a good idea to wait and pick your films. After Queen and The Shaukeens, I spent a lot of time working. But when you do get the time to do other things — spend time with your family, do Pilates, ride horses, go on road trips — it helps you become more well-rounded.
ELLE: What about being an actor is most satisfying?
LH: The focus it demands. If I could be an actor every single day in my real life, manipulate my emotions like that, I would. It’s such hard work. No matter what you’re going through, you have to leave that behind and act out what your character’s feeling. I like the process of exercising that emotional discipline.
ELLE: What is the most interesting thing you’ve found out about the Indian shopper with your experience as an entrepreneur?
LH: Indian women love face packs! I don’t know why, but they can’t get enough of the stuff. The face packs I make tend to be very food-y — packed with nutshells, kernel oil, aloe vera and lots of honey. I’ve realised since I started Naked how little you really need to nourish your skin and nature provides the best options. I’ve also found that people love products that smell wholesome and fruity; I did a whole collection recently called Tropical Isla, using cold-pressed fruit oils from Mauritius. Naked is a passion project. I wish I had more time for it but right now, it’s very niche and driven by travel and inspiration.
ELLE: What product are you most loyal to?
LH: I’ve always been into body moisturisers. I used to use Figaro almond oil because I had such dry skin growing up. These days, I just blend aloe vera and a little bit of oil to make this thin moisturiser that is absorbed very quickly.
ELLE: What’s your favourite part about your body?
LH: Probably my legs. I love to run, and because I have been running for so long, they’re lean and ripped. They tend to not be my problem area and I love anything that doesn’t cause me problems!
ELLE: Did you have any body image issues growing up?
LH: I had a complex about being too skinny. My biggest wish in life was to put on weight. I used to eat butter, ghee and piles of rice with just pickle on top. But I never put on weight and I got picked on for it at school. I would never have believed then that I’d grow up to be a model.
ELLE: Do you have any advice for your younger self?
LH: I wish I’d treated my body better. When you’re younger, you tend to push yourself really hard. You go days without sleeping, or your boyfriend breaks up with you so you binge-eat and then do 15 km on the treadmill the next day. That’s just not good for you. Now, I’m just trying to be good to myself.
ELLE: How do you help your skin recover from harsh lights, make-up and pollution?
LH: The best thing for my skin is sleeping early. If I go to bed by 10:00pm, I wake up with flawless skin. I drink at least two to three litres of water and as many juices as I can. You can’t really fix the damage, so I just try to balance it out. When I’m not shooting, I try to use as little make-up as I possibly can.
ELLE: Do you worry about ageing?
LH: As long as you’re looking good, you’re in business. My focus is on not wasting time, on getting as much into my years as I can.
ELLE: What have you learnt about your body through the years?
LH: I got majorly into working out at 13 and when you focus so much time working on your body, you are more tuned in to it. I know how to manipulate my body to make it look a certain way. I know what food works. I don’t enjoy cold food, like salads and hummus. I prefer a Thai curry with lots of fish and vegetables, or Indian food. Over the years, I have become more intuitively switched on to my body’s needs.
ELLE: I read somewhere that you’re a vegan.
LH: I was, but realised I need red meat. On a vegan diet, I felt great at first but soon started to feel tired. I did some research on the blood type diet, which basically states that some of us are more suited to eating red meat than others. I’m not promoting the diet, but I have noticed that when I don’t eat meat, my blood levels drop.
ELLE: You trek, ride, snorkel, run — how does an outdoorsy person find bliss in the city?
LH: I found the answer to that a few years ago, when I ran the marathon. I realised that what you do in your city affects the way you feel about it. When you’re training for a marathon and you start hitting north of 25 km, you can’t run in a park anymore, you have to run on the streets. So every morning, I was running with these other joggers, my endorphins were up and I realised that I love Mumbai because I loved the way I was feeling here. It’s important to be detached from the outside to that extent. Don’t associate your feelings with what’s happening around you. It’s really not about the city, it’s about you.
Photographs: Farrokh Chothia; Styling: Malini Banerji; Creative director: Prashish More; Make-up and hair: Dimitra Altani/Anima Creative Management