Creating Lara Croft


No, that’s not Angelina Jolie featured on the cover of this month’s magazine. It’s actress and model Christa Conley, who bears a striking resemblance to the famous Hollywood star. Conley made a six-hour drive from Knoxville, Tennessee, for a photo shoot with a replica of the Land Rover Defender used in the 2001 film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” The Land Rover will be one of many vehicles featured in the “Life on the Silver Screen” exhibit at the 2016 Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance.

Family photo: The Conley family, from left: Sean, 14; London, 22 months; Brian; Christa; Brian, 12; Celia, 16; and Lydia, 13.


Christa and her husband, Brian, purchased a vacation home on Hilton Head Island in 2007. Their family of seven lives full time in Knoxville, but visits the island frequently. Christa helped form HHI Creative Women in Business, a local support group with more than 40 members. In 2014, Hollywood producer Nathan Ives was in town to promote his new film at Park Plaza Cinema. He reached out to Christa to see if her group would be interested in attending the premiere.

Christa decided to bring her husband along as well.

“His dream has always been to make movies,” Christa said. “This was hope to get him in the know of ‘how.’”

Her husband and the director hit it off. The two began writing together and soon produced the film “A New York Christmas.” They followed up that successful debut with a horror film, “Gemini,” starring Mischa Barton, Jackson Davis and Caleb Long. Christa also made her acting debut in the film, which is currently in production and is scheduled to be released in fall 2017.

Off screen, the Conleys have ventured into building and renovating homes on Hilton Head. Christa is also working toward her real estate license.

“Hilton Head Island is the only place I’ve ever felt strongly I belong,” Christa said. “It’s a uniquely beautiful place with hidden little treasures all throughout.”



After Christa agreed to be Monthly’s Lara Croft, photographer Mark Staff  reached out to stylist Roxanne Gilleland of The Porcupine. 

“It’s very easy to create a look when the person requesting the look is clear about what they want,” Gilleland said. “Once I spoke to Mark and saw his inspiration photos, the wheels started turning.”

All the clothing and boots needed for the shoot were pulled from the racks of The Porcupine. As an added touch, Gilleland dug an old fur coat out of her attic. She grabbed a pair of scissors and went to town, cutting out a fur hoodie with detached fur sleeves.

Hair and makeup was done by Hilton Head Island resident Amanda Cole. Christa’s hair color was done by Melissa Alley with Amanda Maddox Salon in Knoxville.


Three Defender TD5 110 vehicles were converted by Land Rover Special Vehicles for “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” The trucks were fitted with 3.5-liter V8 engines, automatic transmissions, custom paint finishes and many accessories. The idea was to create fantasy expedition vehicles, purely for use as movie props, not intended for road use or sale. Of the original three, one was destroyed during filming and the other two are in prestigious collections.

The clone used for Monthly’s photo shoot was built by Dale Knepp of North Carolina’s RVR Barn, who re-created the original as accurately as possible. He started with a 1983 Land Rover Defender with 60,000 miles. The vehicle was disassembled; the chassis and axles were sand-blasted, acid-etched, primed and painted.

Laracroft1The entire body was painted Bonatti Gray before reassembly. The eco-cage, sliders, sand ladder mounts and front bumper were custom made, replicating the original but with greatly improved quality. Finally, a fresh 3.5-liter V-8 with automatic transmission was fitted, as were Corbeau seats.

The vehicle now belongs to Staff, who photographed the truck with Conley at his Spanish Wells home. Staff plans on selling the truck for $39,000 after the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance. For more information, contact Staff at 843-368-2170.