Category Archives: Featured Actress

ALEXANDRA HARRIS HAS AND DOES NOT HAVE “MISSED CONNECTIONS”

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Sometimes when things go wrong it can be very right. Consider Alexandra Harris. By all accounts people who know her consider her to be very positive and upbeat. There’s no implication of a duplicitous nature in regards to Harris but, opposites can play very well in cinema. As an acclaimed actress in a wide variety of productions, she exhibits all of the acting skill of the notable peers in her industry. The filmmakers of Missed Connections wanted to use Alexandra’s inherent goodness to drive a less amiable character in this production. Missed Connections is a Zero Film Festival Award-winner and was screened at esteemed events like the Raindance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. The protagonist of the film is Jamie (played by Joseph Cappellazzi), a man who gets ruthlessly dumped by his girlfriend Sophie (played by Harris). The fallout and aftermath leave him incredibly heartbroken and bitter. In an attempt to get back at the world (and to satiate his friends who tell him to start dating) he begins responding to the “Missed Connections” section of the paper, showing up to dates pretending to be the desired person…with less than fantastic results. Through this process, Jamie actually meets a girl he likes, Emma (played by Rebecca Perfect), and then has to come clean about what he’s done. Even more conflict arises when Jamie must decide whether he’s going to keep trying to get back together with Sophie or move on with someone new.

As Sophie, Jamie ex-girlfriend, Harris is cold but not completely unrelatable. Jamie has some maturing to do and the inherent likability which Alexandra possesses makes the audience question whether some of the blame falls upon his shoulders. It’s precisely because of this quality that Rory O’Donnell (casting director on Missed Connections) was adamant that Alexandra would bring depth to the character of Sophie. O’Donnell professes, “I knew she’d be a great fit. Here we were in London, with all these serious Brits and this bright bubbly American (yes, yes, I know she’s Canadian) came bouncing in and just sort of blew us all away. As a casting director, that’s what you hope for. She’s just very, very good, and very easy to work with. It’s quite simple really. She doesn’t make the production about herself and is able to roll with whatever punches may come her way.”

   Sophie has left Jamie bitter and heartbroken but instead of taking responsibility for his part in the failed relationship, he goes about trying to blame other people. Understanding that her portrayal could easily sway the view of Sophie in the eyes of the audience, Harris took care to present her as someone whom the audience could project their own ideas onto. She relates, “I saw Sophie as one of those girls with a five-year plan. The type of girl who knew where she wanted to be and was constantly evaluating herself and those around her to make sure she was on her way to achieving it. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think sometimes it makes people less flexible with the those who are in their lives. Sophie would describe herself as ‘career oriented’ for sure.”

While her performance is magnetic in Missed Connections, there were a few substantial hurdles for ALexandra to overcome in being cast for the film. It seemed highly unlikely that she would be Sophie in this production. Chris Presswell (writer and director of Missed Connections) confirms, When Rory O’Donnell (our casting director) read the script, he thought Alexandra would be great for Jamie’s love interest (Emma), however, I wanted to keep the cast British as it was supposed to be a British comedy. When Alexandra came in for a read through, I knew I wanted her in the film somehow. She’s such a talented actor, and also a genuinely good and decent person; the perfect combination. Rather than Emma, I liked the idea of her for Sophie (Jamie’s ex-girlfriend) because I knew she’d bring some vulnerability and depth to her. While Sophie’s technically the bad guy of the story, it’s boring if the audience flat out hates her; casting Alexandra was the perfect solution to that. It’s pretty hard to hate her. She’s also very fun to have on set and all that positivity was needed when shooting during the British winter as it gets dark at 4pm!”

To hear Harris tell it, the audition wasn’t as much of a cinch as the director implies. It is a testament to her abilities that an early misstep during the audition did not derail Presswell’s desire to use her in the film. It’s often said that bad choices lead to great stories and this aptly applies to Alexandra’s initial choice in the audition. Ever self-effacing, she reveals, “When I was called in, it was for Jamie’s love interest, Emma. Rory had told me it was supposed to be a British dark comedy, so I thought ‘Right, I’ll be British then.’ Keep in mind, I had only been living in the UK for about 6 months and was still under the impression that all British people sounded like Hugh Grant. I’d also never performed with a British accent (I played an American in The Last Man, which Rory had cast me in pretty much as soon as I arrived in the UK). I went in and did THE WORST British accent. It was cringe worthy. Chris was so polite and kept a straight face but I remember Rory just looking horrified. He was nice enough to take me aside and say gently ‘Why don’t you try it with your American accent.’ which I then did. I immediately felt the energy in the room change. Both Chris and Rory relaxed a lot! That experience is something that the two of them still tease me about to this day. The positive result was that I started taking accent work seriously, studying with a teacher and performing as a Brit towards the end of my time living there. I remember being so proud to invite Chris to my performance of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ where I was playing a British Charlotta and afterwards I questioned him and he just looked at me and said “Well, Alex, I’ll give it to you, for a second I thought you were British, but I’ll never forget your Emma”. It’s true what they say, first impressions are real!”

Missed Connections was Alexandra’s first time shooting in London and second time filming in the UK. Her first British film, The Last Man, was shot in the woods outside of London in Essex. Filming in London proper is a much different experience than in Essex, her Canadian homeland, or even Hollywood. The Brits are some of the best actors in the world and Harris took every advantage to soak up the experience of the unique British approach. UK productions are more grass roots and unpolished compared to other film centers, on purpose. The feeling on UK shoots of “we’re all in this together” permeates all levels of production. This lack of hierarchy was something to which Harris was unaccustomed but welcomed. This however does not mean that it was any less challenging. The actress notes, “Chris [Presswell] is soooo British. When I say that, I mean that he doesn’t’t suffer fools and really doesn’t overpraise. When he offers a compliment, it’s genuine and it means a lot. We were on the same page from the beginning so we didn’t’t have to talk about the character too much. I would say ‘I’ve been that girlfriend’ and he would say ‘I’ve dated that girl’ so we knew where to go from there. We knew we didn’t want Sophie to be a bitch but rather someone who was at their ropes end.”

The short days and the brutal London winter temperature were unsuccessful in squelching Alexandra’s well-known positivity. Through her performance and a shrewd stroke of casting, she presented Sophie as an emotionally complex character. What might have originally been a secondary antagonist for this film became a stand-out character which captivated audiences. Mentioning how being different was a prominent facet of her character and her involvement in Missed Connections, Harris recalls, “It became the running joke on set that I had to be called the ‘evil American’ because Canadian’s can’t be mean; however, I think my character proved them wrong.”

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Ariel Zhang talks living her dream, the importance of acting, and dancing in CD-9’s “Get Dumb”

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Actress Ariel Zhang

From the time Ariel Zhang was a child, she always wanted to be a performer. Singing and acting were always her passions, and growing up in Beijing, China, she began to explore these passions, by studying vocal music, dance, and stage drama. At that time, she enjoyed being at center of the stage, being in the spotlight and being admired. As she grew, she began to appreciate the nuances to acting more and more. She wanted a colorful life, where she could constantly have different experiences and see through many different perspectives. She came to truly appreciate Sir Alex Guiness’ words “Acting is happy agony.” This realization solidified her future, and acting became her true love. Now, she is an award-winning actress, with international audiences appreciative of her talent.

I bring life to screen. Being an actress, I can pass all my energy to the audience with my performance. The successful performance of an actress gives vivid and direct descriptions of the hero to affect the inner heart of all the audiences. It also means that I could have the chance to experience the eternity of time and space as well as the immortality of life, as I could have the chance to act in roles from the far past to the never-ending future,” said Zhang.

And Zhang has done just that. She has portrayed characters from the ancient times, like in the film Mo Zi when she had the leading role of Song. She has represented large companies, such as Citic Bank, when they launched a campaign and commercial to help Chinese immigrants coming to the United States. She has used both her singing and acting capabilities while teaching young children English and Chinese with the interactive computer game PreSchool Play with Skoolbo. And she has captivated audiences around the world with her award-winning performance as a schizophrenic in the film Consumemate. There is no limit to what this versatile actress can achieve.

“I think that being an actress is a great almost holy job, where you can redeem people’s souls, just like doctors do to save people’s physical lives. I think that a theater is like a church, where people will get their souls purified. Watching the work of the actors, the audience will be able to look into their own minds, from which they will view the world and the society with some kind of criticism. Staying in a theater for two or three hours, the audience can be there observing themselves from the depths of their heart with quietness. This is the charm of the stage drama, which communicates with the audience by the performance of the actors. That is why I hope to have such power to influence the audience by my acting,” said Zhang.

While Zhang tells important stories, she always enjoys what she does. She always has fun, no matter what role she is playing. And sometimes, she plays roles just to have fun, going back to that thought she had as a child, that when you act, each day is different. That is exactly what happened when she was a dancing girl in Mexican pop band CD-9’s collaboration music video with South Korean girl group Crayon Pop, titled Get Dumb.

“It was fun to be one of the dancing girls. This music video doesn’t really have a proper story line to follow, so your character feels freer to do whatever feels right. In a commercial or a film, you can experiment with the character, but you know where the story is taking you, so this was different and fun,” said Zhang.

As a dancing girl in the video, Zhang got to dance in a pool that was in a fancy car, just laughing and having fun. The video gave her the opportunity to keep expanding her horizons, and work with foreign singers, something the actress had never done before.

“I felt out of my comfort zone, since I was dancing a different kind of music of that I usually listen to. But I felt comfortable enough to be myself and have fun with it. Also, as a dancer, the floor is my world, but having the unique opportunity of doing it in water, it was a nice experience,” she described.

Fellow actress Sabrina Percario worked with Zhang on the video, and describes her as extremely pleasant to work with, a reputation she carries with whatever she works on.

“Ariel is a sweetheart and very professional actress. She is a unique, dynamic and much desired creative artist. She brings to her work both enthusiasm and creative magic, and she excels in many specific areas that take her beyond the range of most artists in her peer group. She is able to play very different characters,” said Percario.

The video, produced by Sony Music, has over 2.5 million hits on YouTube alone. It is an upbeat song, made for dancing. That is exactly what Zhang did when she first saw the final product, and it made the experience even better.

“I was really happy with the video. When I got to see the music video online, I was so excited, that I danced and sang along with it,” she said. “CD-9 and Crayon Pop have so much energy, it’s contagious. Even though everyone was working so hard, they never went off. They kept the set working in a positive way with a smile in their faces. Everyone seemed to be happy to be working there that day.”

You can watch the Get Dumb music video here.

YVETTE GREGORY IS WINE TASTING

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While actress Yvette Gregory looks like Beatriz Jones, the character she plays in the Eros Panhellenios 2017 film Wine Tasting, the dichotomy is clear when you study each woman. It’s even more clear for the woman who becomes the other. The two may share some history with wine, Gregory’s family has a vineyard (Hentley Farm in South Australia) and Jones is in a relationship with a sommelier, but that’s close to the only intersection for these two. While Beatriz is a bit “tightly wound”, Yvette has been an artist seeking out challenges since her days as a child on set in her homeland of Australia. It’s ironic that it takes someone as free spirited as Gregory to convincingly portray the constrained Jones. It’s just one aspect in a series of counter intuitive preconceptions you might make about Gregory…which you’ll soon learn to realign.

Having already experienced a highly successful acting career in Australia and enjoying a comfortable living would be enough for most of us but for Gregory there is always a new mountain to climb. Entertainment is in her DNA (her mother was a model) and she was in front of the camera while still in her single digits. Acting was as everyday as…well, everyday life. While notoriety and financial compensation is the definition of success for most people, new challenges and the pursuit of her craft are paramount for Yvette. Leaving her stable and successful acting career, family, and friends in Australia; this actress headed to Los Angeles in search of success in Hollywood.

The pursuit of success and the conflict it can cause is the theme of Wine Tasting in which Gregory portrayed Beatriz Jones, the girlfriend of aspiring Sommelier Ed Tate (played by Josh Thrower). Wine Tasting follows four men who have struggled and sacrificed vast swaths of their personal and professional lives to become professional wine tasters. When all but one of them passes the incredibly difficult sommelier certification test, the ensuing conflict threatens to tear their close-knit group apart. Yvette’s character is one of the men’s girlfriends, and throughout the film she struggles to maintain their relationship as his wine-tasting obsession becomes overwhelming. Wine Tasting’s Award Winning script by Justin Samuels has won awards at Film Festivals including: the Beverly Hills Film Festival, Sunscreen Film Festival, Evolution and Mallorca International Film Festival, and is an Official Selection to the San Rafael Film Festival. The theme of success, community, and conflict is not foreign to Yvette or her chosen profession. She comments, “Of course we all have that little green monster inside of us. I would say it’s probably even more prevalent in the entertainment Industry. Everyone has their own path and if you stay in line long enough, your turn will eventually come. I have friends who have found success back home and in Hollywood very quickly and others who have hustled for decades. I know my biggest character defect is when I start to compare myself to someone else. It’s good to take a step back, look at what you have accomplished and find gratitude for everything you have achieved so far. The main difference is if you recognize these things in yourself or if you impulsively act on them. One of the great things about acting is that you do a lot of introspection, which allows you to not just react without thinking.” Gregory is much more actualized than the main characters of Wine Tasting who are sometimes defined by the situations that occur in their lives.

Yvette’s role as adult escort Stephanie in Amazon’s “Private Sales” couldn’t be further from herself or Beatriz but the role gave the actress a great deal of exposure, leading to opportunities such as her role in Wine Tasting. While “lady of the evening” may not cause you to think “girlfriend”, the producers of Wine Tasting recognized something in the portrayal that worked exceedingly well. Gregory agrees, “I think my role in ‘Private Sales’ played a big a part in this casting even though Beatriz who I was cast as in Wine Tasting couldn’t be any more different than the role I played in ‘Private Sales’! Beatriz is totally reserved and a bit of a prude with jealousy and trust issues about her boyfriend. I think I pull off the pretty nerd look and that’s Beatriz’ vibe, which helped casting decipher the role for me pretty quickly. Beatriz is a bit conservative and reserved but isn’t afraid to tell it how it is when it gets to the breaking point. She really loves Ed but is torn because he slowly becomes more and more distant, showing little respect for her time. Relationships are hard at the best of times but, when a relationship is new and other commitments seem to become more important, it really tests the trust and stability of the relationship. Beatriz is intelligent, articulate and loving but she is also a little emotionally immature. They both have a lot of growing up to do.”

The conflict that comes from a lack of time is not restricted to relationships and their love. Yvette was cast as Beatriz almost as filming was set to start. Even when you love what you do, a cramped timeline can lead to anxiety. Inevitable last minute changes occur, as in all productions, but the time afforded most actors to truly and deeply understand their character was significantly reduced for this actress…not that you would ever know it. Wine Tasting’s director, Josh Miller, declares, “Yvette is an exceptional actress with everything a director could want from a performer. Her ability to adapt to changes in the material is remarkable, and her talent for improvisation is second to none. Yvette was one of Wine Tasting’s most valuable assets.” You won’t hear any complaining about the twelve plus hour shooting days or lack of prep time from Gregory who is fully aware that she is living out her dream. Even though dreams don’t come easy, they do come with perks. Yvette remarks, “Shooting at the famous Saban Theater in Beverly Hills was a special treat. With all the history of the great actors who have performed there, it demanded excellence of all of us. If I were to be honest, that’s the reason I left behind what I had already achieved in Australia. I wanted to be working in a new setting that demanded excellence from me. Travelling to Hollywood to work alongside those who I perceived to be at the upper echelon of the industry, that’s what success means to me…and it feels pretty great.”

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Maryanne Emma Gilbert shines bright in McDonalds Commercial

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Maryanne Emma Gilbert is from Calgary, Alberta.

Maryanne Emma Gilbert discovered her calling at a young age. She didn’t know she would fall in love with performing, but she saw her mother on film and thought she wanted to try it. As a shy child, there was a lot that could go wrong. But that is how she knew what she was meant to do; when she stepped onto the stage to perform in her first play, the nerves and shyness melted away, and a star was born.

Now, those days of camera shyness seem like a distant memory, even though the Calgary-born actress is only seven-years-old. Her career has taken off, and she is recognized around the country as being one of the best for her age. She has been nominated for two Joey Awards recognizing her acting abilities, and she has performed in commercials for Doritos and Canadian Tire. She has appeared in films such as Jewel Fools, Season’s Greetings, and the upcoming science-fiction flick Space Rippers.

“Acting is super awesome because I make tons of super cool new friends. Also the food is good. And people are really nice. And I like to tell my family to watch me in movies,” she said.

Despite all of this success, for Gilbert, the highlight of her young but blossoming career was when she appeared in a Canadian nationwide McDonalds commercial. The commercial appeared during the 2016 Summer Olympics, and millions of Canadians began to see Gilbert’s face regularly in their living rooms.

“My whole family in Quebec saw me at every Olympics commercial. My grandpas and grandmas said they saw me all the time at the Olympics commercial. They called me. So I got to talk to my grandparents, and my cousins and aunts and uncles too. They said they saw me. Even a stranger we were talking to recognized us, that was funny,” said Gilbert. “Also, my dad loves to eat McDonalds. He would eat there every day if he could. Also, there was a cow named cupcake.”

The commercial is one of McDonalds’ campaigns trying to show canadians that their food is Canadian. This one was Alberta beef. The commercial features a group of children going to a local farm to learn about cows.

“We got to learn how the beef gets to our plate at mcdonalds and how the cows are treated and where the cows live. We meet the cows and the farmer and we run in the field. There were many things I did not know. It was interesting to see cows. I live in the city and rarely see cows that close,” said Gilbert.

During the commercial, the children follow around the farmer and run around in a field. The director, Tom Feiler, was impressed with Gilbert’s natural instincts as a performer. At one point, when she was supposed to be running around the field with the other children, Gilbert stopped to pick up some flowers, a moment that made it into the final cut and one of the highlights of the commercial.

“I only wanted the best and brightest young actors to be part of the shoot. What struck me the most about Maryanne was her ability to provide a lively performance, while still maintaining a great degree of focus, which increased the productivity of the other kids as well,” said Feiler. “I can’t tell you how proud I am to have directed Maryanne in her leading role.”

Even though she had to battle the cold weather that occurred the day of the shoot, Gilbert’s professionalism and genuine passion for what she is doing shines on screen. For her, it isn’t about just getting to try new things and learn something, it is about who she is with along the way.

“I love meeting new friends. This commercial was with other kids. I met a good friend, Victoria. The other kids were super nice. The crew was really nice too. It was not easy as it was cold that day but everybody was still really nice,” she said. “Also we got to run around lots. I like to run. And it was great to discover a farm. I don’t have one.”

You can see Gilbert in the McDonalds commercial here.

Actress Valeria Gonzalez travels the world doing what she loves

 

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Valeria Gonzalez, photo by Rudik Osorio

Valeria Gonzalez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, but her career has taken her all over the world. The diverse actress speaks six languages, and is completely fluent in three. Her cultural experiences both from her home country, and the many places she has been, help make her the extraordinary actress that she is, combined with innate talent, and a passion for what she does.

Despite working in some of the most beautiful and unique locations the world has to offer, Gonzalez remains humble. One of these spots was the island of Carloforte, Italy, when she shot the film Isola.

Isola tells the story of Martina, played by Gonzalez. Martina is of Italian origins, but lives in Madrid. She visits Sardinia to see her Italian grandmother. While on the island, she decides to conduct some video interviews on her late grandfather, Nonno Eugenio, who she was very close to. Unfortunately, the interviews are a disappointment when Martina discovers that those who knew her grandfather, especially as a young man, have very different memories from her own.

“The island is just stunning, and the people there are so beautiful,” said Gonzalez. “It was one of the best experiences of my life. While I was playing a complex and beautiful character going through such an interesting journey, I was also exploring a delightful island together with the wonderful people that helped make the film happen.”

The role required Gonzalez to speak Italian, which is among the six languages she can speak, including Spanish, English, Catalan, French, and some Swedish. Despite Italian not being her native language, and coming from Mexico rather than Italy, Gonzalez’s versatility as an actress shone through, and she was empowered by the character she was playing.

“Martina is hopeful. When she decides to interview her grandmother and other people who knew him, she gets very defensive towards her grandfather, since their view of him doesn’t fit the perception she has always had of him, being an incredible human being. She feels very disappointed when they keep making fun of him even if it is in a harmless way. She finally comes at peace when she realizes that her little cousin still thinks their grandfather was a good person,” she described. “I loved her journey, how she starts being so excited about her personal project, to then being disappointed and hurt when she finds out other people have a very different perception of her grandfather, and then finally she realizes her image of him might be only hers but it is strong and beautiful, and she won’t let that change.”

This message, and Gonzalez’s performance, resonates with viewers, and went on to be selected for the Botti du Scoggiu film festival in Italy. Gonzalez was excited and proud of their film for making it to the festival, but she always trusted the director of the film, Catherine Dewar, to make something exceptional.

 

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Valeria Gonzalez working on the film Isola

“Valeria is an extremely talented and inspiringly natural actress. She is always empathetic and open towards those she works with, generous in her work and in life. While working with a young boy their connection was evident, she really took the time to build a relationship with him and gain his trust. She enjoys improvisation and can manage challenges such as performing and improvising in a foreign language, such as Italian, the language of the film. She is adaptable, open and always enthusiastic about new projects. She is extremely hard working and always positive, a joy to have on set and a precious collaborator,” said Dewar.

 

Continuing her streak of working in some of the world’s most breathtaking places, Gonzalez then worked in Joshua Tree National Park while shooting the award-winning film Sexy Jalapenos. Although the film was set in a Mexican desert, Joshua Tree provided the perfect landscape for the setting.

Sexy Jalapenos tells audiences the story of a devout desert dwelling Latino family, whose harmony is disrupted by the arrival of their teenage daughter’s white boyfriend. Ramona, the teenage daughter played by Gonzalez, meetings her boyfriend in New York, and when she brings him to Mexico to meet her family, she finds herself struggling between her parents’ conservative rules and views of the world, some of which are difficult for her to dismiss, and the freedom that her boyfriend offers in their relationship. In the end, she decides to be brave and accept the consequences, whatever they may be, by choosing an adventurous life with her boyfriend.

“I read the script and really liked the struggle Ramona was going through. I also found it very comedic and I love working in comedy,” said Gonzalez.

The film went on to win the award for Best Directing at the School of Visual Arts Dusty Film Festival.

When shooting the web series Okupados, Gonzalez got to shoot in Spain where the series was set, she filmed in London for the film The Pick Up, and she just finished shooting in Tijuana for the upcoming film Jaloguin. Gonzalez is not afraid to cross borders to tell stories that she wants to tell, and audiences always can expect a treat when they see her name appear in the opening credits.  

Gioya Tuma-Waku Shines Bright in new film

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Gioya Tuma-Waku plays Dalia in Shine Bright.

Many films and television shows driven from the female perspective deal with a lead searching for a romantic companion with funny tidbits along the way in her quest for true love. The genre ‘chick-flick’ although entertaining, tends to portray some two-dimensional female characters that are motivated by little else than their careers and/or romance. On the other hand, there is a typical role for women to be cast as a sexy sidekick in an action-packed adventure. Slowly, Hollywood is stepping away from this type of pigeon-holing, and deeper characters are being written for female leads. The new feature film Shine Bright does just that, and explores the relationship of two sisters dealing with life’s tragedies, love, conflict and surprises. It’s a story about self-discovery and follows how two sisters react differently when faced with grief and their journey to overcome it.

Actress Gioya Tuma-Waku plays Dalia in the film. Dalia is the best friend and right-hand-woman of Genesis, the younger sister in the story, played by Maya Brattkus who is known for her role in the indie film Wild Prairie Rose. They are teens dealing with dating, social media, the pressures of graduating, and enjoying their last year in high school.

“I wanted to be in this film because it’s a beautiful story about the bond between sisters and their journey overcoming pain and grief. I love female driven stories or any stories that have strong female leads because this industry is mostly male driven and as a woman, I enjoy stories that I can relate to and stories that are written from our perspective but that are not clichéd and those are the kind of roles I want to be seen in,” said Tuma-Waku.

The film is written and directed by James Avelar, known for the 2008 film Look at Me, and who also owns the production company Calixtro Films. Avelar describes working with Tuma-Waku as a delight, saying the moment he met her, he knew she would be an integral part to his film. Now, he wants to work with her on all his future films.

“Good actors are very hard to come by. When I met Gioya to go over the role, I knew she was that character. Given that the character was a teenager and Gioya is not, her youthfulness and innocence was the right look I needed for the character. She became a teenager, and it is not that easy for most actors who are over 21 to go back and live and act like a teenager,” said Avelar. “Gioya is also a great improviser. She came up with dialogue that helped the scene, which made it better, and made her character more believable. What makes her a great actress also, is her interaction with the other actors. She was giving, caring and helpful in any way to move the story along. Coming to rehearsals, editing dialogue, even reading other parts when the other actors could not show up for rehearsals.”

Tuma-Waku is originally from the Congo, but was raised in South Africa. She wanted to work on the film because it is a coming-of-age but is female driven, describing the importance of Hollywood starting to diversify, and that includes gender just as much as it includes ethnicity and culture. This is something that Avelar captured in his story.

“James is a wonderful director because he allows you to take he’s written on the page and combine it with your own imagination and script. It was great to be allowed the freedom to add certain things while still adhering to the essence of the script. Some directors don’t allow you to deviate at all from the script but James wanted us to use our natural instincts. And when your character is a teenager, you want to be able to play around with her and be a little silly because the age calls for it,” said Tuma-Waku.

Being silly while playing Dalia was definitely fun for Tuma-Waku. Dalia is a teenager who loves to party and is very techno savvy, but is also a good student and she looks out for her best friend. Although she is playing a teenager, Tuma-Waku says there are similarities between herself and her character.

“Dalia is very protective her best friend and will be the first to raise any concerns she has about people who she thinks are a good influence. I get pretty protective of my close friends too. I don’t like or want anyone messing with their happiness,” said Tuma-Waku. “I could also be a lot quirkier with her dress sense, which is similar to how I used to dress but have grown out of it.”

Tuma-Waku has also appeared in a webisode of Pre-Dates, and an improv based short called Dr. Brown where she was able to go back to her African roots as well as an original theatre piece called Circles in which captured the audience in the leading role at the well known James Armstrong Theatre in Torrance. She has also been cast in a pilot called Up The Ladder and is currently filming two webseries called Dreamchaserz, where she is cast in the supporting role and The Palms Series, where the lead role was offered to her by the producer whom she had previously worked with on Pre-Dates.

Shine Bright also stars actress Rebecca Grimes, playing the older sister Andie. Grimes immediately thought of Tuma-Waku and recommended her for the role, knowing the talent and versatility that Tuma-Waku possesses as an actress.

“When you find people who you work well with, you stick with them,” said Tuma-Waku. “You see this happening every day in the industry, even with the biggest stars and directors, because you know the kind of quality of work you will get, and I got to work with amazing people.”

Shine Bright is currently in post-production and expected to premiere later this year. There is no doubt that with such an impactful storyline and strong cast, it will be making its way through the film festival circuit.

“I wish people would support indies like these more often. Because these are the people who have a dream and no funding but find a way to barely make it work because they are so passionate and eager to tell their story and share it with everyone,” Tuma-Waku concluded. “This is a beautiful film about two sisters who had to rely on each other and are forced to grow up too fast, and should be seen by people, especially the younger generation, because it’s something that actually happens a lot more than it is talked about.”

Anele Morris stars in upcoming film Snake Outta Compton

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Anele Morris is an actress from South Africa.

Most twelve-year olds barely know what they want for dinner let alone what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Many teenagers’ passions change as fast as their clothes. Anele Morris is the exception.

Morris started writing when she was just a twelve year-old growing up in South Africa. She would change the outcome of stories she would see on the television screen by writing her own endings and different scenes. This hobby slowly transitioned into something much more, a love for acting.

When Morris was 20, she was presented with the opportunity to audition for the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, where she was awarded with a partial scholarship. That’s when her professional acting career began. Now, she plays the role of Carly in the upcoming feature film Snake Outta Compton.

“Working on this feature film was an absolute joy. This was my very first comedy and it was an amazing experience to explore that side of my acting ability,” said Morris. “I learned that comedy acting is a lot of fun and I definitely would love to do more of it.”

Morris worked with director Hank Braxtan on Snake Outta Compton, which she doesn’t take lightly.

“Working with Hank taught me how to have more fun on set and to enjoy the experience,” said Morris. “He gave us freedom as artists and directed us in a way that helped improve my creativity.”

Braxtan has directed actors such as James Remar (Django Unchained) in his film Unnatural, which he also edited and got limited theatrical release for.

This is not Morris’ first taste of success. She has a starring role in the film Bloggers, which she wrote and produced and it has been submitted to a variety of film festivals over the next year. She also appeared in an episode of the award-winning web series Adopted. She also is the lead actress in the film Arsenic, and is in the film After.

“As an actress I submit myself to telling someone else’s truth. It is not about me but about the character. I imagine the character as the musician; my body is the instrument, the notes are made from the internal and external dialogue, and the performance is the music she plays,” said Morris. “I like the artistry of it, how you can only really trust yourself to be what each character needs to be. It really challenges you as an artist to be creative and own your performance with no apologies.”

With everything Morris has achieved, she has overcome what she believes to be the largest challenge as an actress: a lack of self-confidence. She did this by realizing that she wasn’t on her way, trying to be an actress but that she is an actress, and this allowed her to walk into auditions more confidently and approach scenes with more creativity.

“My goal is to embody the essence of being not just a talented actor but a professional actor who carries herself well in the business of acting as well as in the craft of acting, which includes owning a production company that produces stories that embody the unique talents of all kinds of actors from around the world. I also aim to be a film actress whose name stands for excellence, truth and inspiration. I want to be the kind of actress who is not afraid of discipline and hard work, manifesting success and a career with longevity,” said Morris.

There is little doubt, with the talent that Morris has, that she will achieve all of her goals. However, there is still one challenge that she has yet to overcome, which was the most difficult part of acting as Carly in Snake Outta Compton.

“Honestly, the biggest challenge was standing in my heels for extended periods of time,” she joked. “My feet were really feeling it, but other than that I had a blast.”

Lanie McAuley is the apprehensive yet unapologetic “Bitchy Girl”

Canadian actress Lanie McAuley has a diverse set of roles on her resume. A pro snowboarder in Aeris, a driven dancer in Center Stage: On Pointe, Hollywood starlet in The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story, and many others. None of them were cathartic in the same manner as her role as Heather in Lost After Dark. Far from her normal films, Lost After Dark is a straight up horror/slasher film which pays homage to the 80’s films that gave birth to the genre. McAuley’s portrayal as Heather (an obvious nod by the filmmakers to the film Heathers) displays the actress in all of her spiteful and venomous bitchiness. The role gave Lanie an opportunity to play a character possessing none of the endearing qualities found in many of her other performances, yet audiences still found a way to make her one of their favorites (likely THE favorite) cast member of the production. With a deluge of one liners that portray Heather to be every bit of the archetype bitchy girl in a slasher film, McAuley’s sense of comedic timing gives a release to the tension found in the frightening tale. It’s the perfect combination of release, terror, and vindictiveness that makes this role (and the actress) so memorable in Lost After Dark. Writer/director Ian Kessner recognized the actress’s ability to clearly communicate Heather’s energy from the moment he saw the audition tape. He recalls, “She was my first and only choice for the role of ‘Heather.’ None of the other actors in contention for the part even came close to displaying Lanie’s level of talent. She’s natural, intuitive, and blessed with amazing comic timing. Lanie can make you laugh just as easily as she can make you cry. It’s crazy! On screen, she crafted a masterful performance that audiences fell in love with. The depth Lanie brought to the role made her character incredibly likable and relatable, and contributed immeasurably to the film’s ultimate success. When the movie was first released, I attended screenings at prestigious film festivals around the world. Lanie was always singled out by the audience as the one they loved most. That’s a testament to her tremendous talent and skill. And it’s the reason I’m writing a role for her in my next film as we speak!”

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So how does one become “the bitchy girl” when you are known for being considerate, amenable, and a consummate professional?  When questioned, McAuley tells of her love for movies like Mean Girls, Heathers, and The Shining. This cocktail makes considerable sense when viewing her performance in Lost After Dark. While she was confident in her ability to deliver a great performance as Heather, she remarks, “Ian [Kessner] hired me off an audition tape. He phoned me and said, ‘When I watched your tape, I knew you were my Heather.’ It was really flattering… although it’s a bit of a double-edged sword because if you’re the obvious choice to play the bitchy girl…is that a compliment?” Playing the role very close to her audition (an occurrence that almost never happens in film), McAuley expanded her understanding of Heather by voluminous viewings of the genre, from the 80’s through to modern productions. She knew that the character would have to be grounded in the archetype but play to the sensibilities of modern fans. Her attempt was to honor the tradition while breaking fresh ground in her presentation.

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The dichotomy in Heather is that her dark and self-centered demeanor fuel the comedy. The two are intertwined and as complimentary as sweet and salty. The approach was carefully crafted to McAuley’s strengths in comedic timing. She comments, “I was thrilled that Ian was happy with my comedic timing! I’ve spent a lot of time in acting classes working on comedy in particular. Growing up, I loved being the funny girl, so I’m sure a lot of it comes from that. I’ve definitely had experience with the bias that attractive women can’t be funny; I’ve been in a lot of auditions and even social settings where people say, “Wow, you’re actually really funny.” as if it’s incredibly surprising. I booked another comedic role this year [Bad Date Chronicles] where I had the director and producers in stitches in the audition room. It’s satisfying to make people laugh. I hope that in my career I can help destroy the stigma that women can’t be funny. There are a lot of women out there blazing the trail who are stunning and hilarious: Kristen Wiig, Amy Schumer, and Emma Stone are some of my favourites.” Lanie continues, “I think a big part of why I was singled out as the audience ‘favourite’ was because I was the comic relief. In a slasher film, there’s so much stressful content…the audience needs a break. I’m lucky my character was written to be the funny one. Plus, everyone loves a good mean girl. There’s a guilty pleasure that comes with watching someone say nasty things. So if the audience was digging it, I’m flattered; it means I did my job right. Despite her less than redeeming qualities, I tried to make Heather likeable where I could. There is one scene where she says, ‘I don’t wanna be eaten by a cannonball!’ The comedy is in her idiocy, but there is almost a level of sympathy you have for this poor girl being so dumb (which is aided by Johnnie’s constant criticism of her). I think audiences had a soft spot for her in that way.”

Some of Lanie’s performance might have been aided by the environment and situation during filming. Production was nocturnal and usually in freezing cold temperatures. Add the requirement of Lanie’s character to be crying in hysterics, screaming, spouting vitriol, and running at top speed in high heels…it creates a weird head space for any actor. Channelling these aspects into a great performance is what McAuley does best. Lost After Dark premiered in the U.S. at Screamfest Horror Film Festival in LA, and had its European festival premiere at the IFI Horrorthon in Dublin, Ireland. The film also screened at Nocturna Film Festival in Spain and Fantasporto Film Fest in Portugal and was nominated for “Slasher of the Year” at the 2015 Moviepilot Horror Awards and “Trashiest Trailer” by the Golden Trailer Awards. Lanie was highly appreciative of the warm embrace the fans gave Lost After Dark noting, “I definitely think horror fans are their own breed! For one thing, they’re extremely dedicated. They know what they like and tend to have a really thorough understanding of the horror genre and sub genres. It’s cool to see. They’re really passionate. A lot of film & TV fans just love the good-looking actors and media hype; horror fans really care about story and the art of the genre.” In a genre which earnestly states about Heather and her ilk “The meaner, the better”, Lanie McAuley is one mean Heather!

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Unstoppable Actress Karen Mitchell Makes Her Name Known Across Continents

Karen Mitchell
Karen Mitchell shot by Simon Watts

 

In what is easily one of the most competitive industries in the world, actress Karen Mitchell has managed to set herself apart from the pack through her unmistakable originality and the intuitive approach she takes in order to bring characters to life. With a deep reverence for authentic storytelling, Mitchell conveys characters both dark and light, lending herself entirely to the process and doing proper justice to both the role and the story.

Originally from Melbourne, Australlia, Mitchell’s love for acting began during childhood. The daughter of a professional dancer, Mitchell began dancing at the age of 3, and that is when her passion for performing began to flourish. She went on to attend the Victorian College of Arts School of Dance, and, while she developed a successful career in business and real estate soon after graduation, she continued to nurture her love for the performing arts.

Already equipped with years of professional training and a natural propensity for captivating audiences, Mitchell decided to lean entirely into her passion for acting a little over a decade ago, quickly booking jobs that undisputedly validated that she was on the right path.

Mitchell admits, “It’s such a rewarding experience to give life to words off a page that an audience can appreciate. I strongly believe that it’s the best way for me to do service to others: serving a story by using my feelings and my understanding of what it means to be human.”

While she works extensively in both TV and film, some of Mitchell’s most unforgettable work can be seen on major network television. Her performances in series such as “Behind Mansion Walls,” “Deadly Women,” “Facing Evil,” “Atomic Kingdom,” “It’s a Dole Life” and many more have definitely struck a chord with audiences– so much so that international fans continually reach out to her to comment on her work.

 

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Karen Mitchell as Twila Busby in the series “Facing Evil”

 

One such project that has brought her quite a bit of attention was the TV series “Nameless: Blood and Chains” where she stars alongside Dean Krywood from the films “Airlock,” “Damaged” and “Felony,” and Craig Walker from the multi-award winning film “Drown,” “In the Darkness” and “Rags.”

In the series five strangers, who are mysteriously linked together by their individual pasts, come together to forge an alliance in preparation for an impending war, with Mitchell giving a riveting portrayal as Catherine, a Queen-like character who oversees the war.

The actress admits, “People have been really supportive of my role in ‘Nameless: Blood and Chains,’ fans from all over the world, even in Serbia and South America, write to me on Twitter and Facebook and send letters to my managers saying how much they want to see more of me and how I should be on ‘Game of Thrones.’ I’m really grateful to generate such an enthusiastic fan response.”

One role where we really get to see the depth of Mitchell craft is through her macabre portrayal of Tracey Grissom in Investigation Discovery’s “Deadly Women,” where her performance is as complex as it is compelling. Since the series revolves around crimes committed by real people, a great amount of research was required to take on the critical role.  

“It was tricky balancing my understanding of the horrible crimes Tracey committed in real life so that I didn’t judge her,” Mitchell recalls, “It was important to me to play her character truthfully.”

While Mitchell was initially apprehensive about playing the part of a woman who’d murdered her allegedly abusive husband, she quickly came around to the idea. She recalls, “Ultimately, I felt compelled to be a part of the story so I could help shed light on such a controversial social issue.”

Mitchell, who has become increasingly well known for her dramatic performances both in Australia and abroad, has a brilliant comedic side to her as well. She put her flair for comedy on display when she took on the lead role of Megan, the love interest of Australian legend and Logie Award nominee Andrew O’Keefe (“Hamish & Andy,” “Big Bite”), in the laugh out loud series “It’s a Dole Life.” With the rare freedom to explore this tongue-and-cheek style on Australian television, Mitchell brings laughter to her fans with her impeccable timing, wit and unmistakable charisma.

Admittedly, comedy is one of Mitchell’s favorite category of work. She explains, “I’ve always been asked to employ my own unique personality into the [comedic] role, and that’s what audiences and critics respond to, being me! It’s funny how easy it might sound but it’s very difficult being yourself, being loyal to the script and making it all work together so that people laugh.”

While her intelligence, commitment and bravery have captivated audiences around the world, her dazzling beauty has helped make her a force to be reckoned with as a commercial actress as well. She has been the face of commercials for many companies including Coles, Lowes, Shark Sonic Duo and Commonwealth Bank.

Mitchell says that she is honored to be associated with so many successful companies. “People have always been so nice when they associate me with a brand,” she admits. “And, as I always choose to work with companies who share similar values to my own, I like to think it makes people think that they know me on a personal level.”  

Most recently, Mitchell shot a campaign for Channel 9, Australia’s number one network. Mitchell cannot help but share herself and her heart with whatever project she works on, and her genuine approach transfers effortlessly across the screen leaving a lasting impression on viewers.

Able to handle any role thrown her way, Mitchell brings grace and a personal, relatable touch to all the strong female characters she takes on. Her ability to deliver positive and impactful performances, which are as necessary as they are beneficial to modern audiences, keeps viewers across the globe looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

“I’m really passionate about making sure people embrace the positive aspects of life, and so I’m always conscious not to propagate harmful values by portraying people in a way that could be construed as endorsing their amoral behavior,” Mitchell explains. “That being said, sometimes playing antagonists and women who have committed crimes is a great way to draw attention to the world’s injustices.”

From Acting to Covering the Red Carpet, Shanika Ocean has Our Attention

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Shanika Ocean at the Vin & Omi show, Congress Hall, London, 2016

 

After years of hard work and dedication, London-native Shanika Ocean has truly done it all — from her innumerable roles in film and television, to hosting television shows live from the red carpet, to a number of widely acclaimed performances as a singer in internationally broadcast competitions. A naturally gifted thespian, she’s a master of adapting to any and every role that comes her way. That talent has proven invaluable in an industry where many actors are often limited in the scope and range of their performing.

Ocean got her first taste of the spotlight as a child modelling and appearing on several children’s BBC shows. She then went on to take part in the British vocal competition series “The Choir.” The show saw her travel to China, where she performed for audiences watching around the world on international television. It gave her a chance to show off her vocal chops, but moreover it was that experience which set her on the path of a career in front of the camera.

“It was the first series I ever did and it was amazing to audition and then be picked along with 20 other people to be part of the choir,” Ocean recalled. “We flew to China to represent Great Britain in the World Choir Olympics and it was an experience I will never forget.”

In the film “Do Us Part,” Ocean delivers an unsettling performance as the lead character Shea, a woman driven to madness by her boyfriend’s incessant philandering.

“She was sweet and innocent and pretty much the perfect girlfriend,” Ocean said, describing Shea before her boyfriend’s constant cheating sends her past her breaking point. “Then the next minute she gets a gun and shoots her boyfriend. She can’t take it anymore.”

The film effectively makes audiences empathize with both Shea and her boyfriend, seeing each as both the villain and the victim. The morbid tragedy gives viewers a peek into the psyche of the serial cheater and the betrayed girlfriend who kills him.

Not all of Ocean’s roles are as dark as “Do Us Part” however, such as her role on “The T-Boy Show.” The British series stars Tolu Lope as the titular T-Boy, a wealthy Nigerian teen who travels to England to live with his working class aunt and awkward cousin.

“In the episode, T-Boy is upset with Abigail, the girl that he loves. She isn’t interested in him so he decides to go on a date with my character, Ella,” said Ocean. “Ella is not at all who he thought she was, and to make things worse Abigail catches him in the act.”

Ocean’s roles span from the light-hearted to the unhinged, from dramas to comedies to action-packed thrillers, and everything in between. But in addition to all of that, Ocean is perhaps best known for her countless appearances as a host and presenter on an array of series over the years. One such series was the enormously popular “Unplugged” on OH TV, which has given new or unsigned artists and bands the opportunity to become breakout sensations in the music industry. In addition to “Unplugged,” Ocean has hosted a myriad of other programs and events, notably the 2012 MOBO Awards, Capital Xtra Radio, and has covered London Fashion Week since 2015 as well as L.A. Fashion Week in 2016 for Fashion Thirst UK, which provides viewers with all the latest news and trends in the world of high fashion.

“When I did the red carpet at the MOBO Awards, that was a big moment for me,” she said. “I had always watched the MOBOs since I was a child and I had always wanted to go. And now here I was, interviewing celebrities from the likes of Rita Ora, Dionne Warwick, TLC and Emeli Sande.”

Ocean just finished shooting her latest project, the first episode of the upcoming series “Pursuit,” in which she gets to show off her skills as an action-star in the role of Officer Torres.

“I was running around with a gun, which I had never done before. I didn’t even know how to hold a gun properly when I started,” she said with a laugh. “But it was super fun and took me out of my comfort zone, and has made me really want to focus on doing action projects. I literally felt like I was in CSI.”

For someone whose skillset is as diverse as Ocean’s, it can often be more difficult to choose roles than to find them. After her roles in film, television, theater and her dozens of hosting and presenting credits, Ocean has developed a simple method of choosing her projects.

“Sometimes when I am given a script to read, I can feel the character and visualize myself playing them instantly,” Ocean said. “If I have that feeling, I know the role is for me.”