Actor Transformation Interviews
Many great actors start their careers on the stage. You have such an extensive background in the world of theatre. Tell us a little about your background.
I feel like I have been acting my whole life. I always had the lead in school plays and then at the age of 12, a friend asked me to audition for our town’s Community College production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I got cast to be part of the fairy chorus and had my first real experience working with adults in the theatre. It changed my life and honestly, I never looked back. From there I went on to study acting at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN with the intention of pursing a life in the theatre. My path has been non-traditional in the sense that I have spent years away from the theatre doing work in Africa. About 10 years ago, however, I decided to move to San Francisco and pursue acting professionally. I knew I was a little behind my friends and colleagues having taken time off, so I piece mealed together an “MFA” by taking classes that would help me hone my skills and found myself working consistently in the Bay Area for eight years. During my time there, I was in several short films and worked with a commercial agent, always toying with the idea of moving to LA. I came to LA for a month to explore and booked the feature film “86 Melrose Avenue” and took it as my sign to make the move. I officially moved in June of that year and have been so happy here!
What advice would you like to share with actors who are transitioning from the world of theatre to TV and Film?
Find a great coach for both developing your on-camera acting skills and your business savvy. Get on set! Any set to start and be a student, be curious. Learn from everyone. I love listening to the crew problem- solve with one another, observing the director in action and being fully present when my fellow actors are working. Be humble, you are learning a new craft. Acting for the camera is supported by many of the same techniques and practices as theatre acting, but it is different and requires it’s own skill. Be open to learning and growing.
You are also a talented yoga instructor. How does yoga improve your life? And how does it help you as an actor?
Oh, I have so many things to say on this topic! Yoga is good for all parts of your life – it helps you stay strong and healthy, it improves your mindset and general sense of well-being. Yoga helps your relationships, your communication and outlook as well. The practice is designed to help individuals be attuned to their bodies in order to be fully aware of the way they are interacting with the world. As an actor it is everything! Did you know that Stanislavski required his pupils to take yoga? Not only does the physical practice keep the body fit and limber – ready for any physical action required of the actor – but it helps you connect to your breath, have clarity of thought and an open heart/vulnerability to tell stories and connect with fellow actors. I also believe that we can learn a lot about how to create a character by looking at the chakras and the role energy plays in the body. I am so happy to tell you more about this- reach out to me!
Special skills can win actors roles. Please share a little bit about your travels and how you learned Arabic.
I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco and learned French and Moroccan Arabic while abroad. I am definitely a wanderer and spent much of my 20s traveling around Africa doing health and education work. Through my travels, I learned a lot about the world. My eyes were open to different ways of living and thinking, as well as to how connected we are in our shared humanity. I know that these experiences provide a depth of understanding to my work as an actor. I also believe that learning/teaching/speaking other languages has given me a deeper appreciation for communication, specifically listening as an actor, as well as keeping my brain sharp. As a result, memorization comes fairly quickly.
What have been your favorite projects and roles so far?
Honestly, they are the ones I’ve created! During the past few months, I have written and produced two shorts: “Embrasse” and “Ruby and Jude”. They were the first pieces I wrote. To be able to see them to completion as both an actress and producer was an extremely powerful experience. I truly feel like a filmmaker in all senses of the word. Look for them online soon!
What is next for you?
My co-collaborator, Timothy Huls, and I continue to create and produce both film and theatre projects. We have created an artist collective called All New People. Through our work, we desire to create a space for artists to play, create and collaborate. We meet weekly to read plays, help develop new works, cast projects and make films! It’s so fun. Additionally, I am producing a virtual theatre piece in January called “Make No Mistake”. Written by the brilliant Betty Shemiah, this short play premiered at the ReOrient Festival with Golden Theatre Theatre Company in San Francisco. I fell in love with the piece while performing it and decided to remount it this year. Look for more information to come soon!
Break Legs Jessica!