Since its inception, the stage has served three purposes above all else: to entertain, to recount important events, and to impart morals and lessons on an audience. In her years as an actor, Davina Cole has proven her acumen for all three. With a focus on drama, her work on screen and in theater masterfully encompasses the whole of the human condition through stories that are both fascinating and compellingly layered.
A phenomenal creative force whose talent lights up every project she touches, her work in film has long been acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. Among Cole’s most noted roles was that of Soalaih Ez in the 2011 film “When Soukhina Disappeared.” After a young woman vanishes, a journalism student begins investigating the case in this suspenseful drama.
“Soalaih Ez was one of the last people to see the missing girl, and she gives her account of how Soukhina touched her life. It was an emotional piece and I really enjoyed playing a character with so many layers,” Cole said. “Soalaih was key to the getting an account of the final movements of Soukhina.”
The film was regarded as a cinematic triumph for Cole, whose character was integral to the chilling tale. “When Soukhina Disappeared” was directed by Francoise Ellong, whose work on the film “W.A.K.A.” would go on to win the 2014 Jury Prize at the Festival du Cinema Africain Khouribga.
Cole’s immense skillset is not simply limited to acting, however, which she proved with her one-woman play “All the Colours.” Though she was born in London, Cole’s family hails from war-torn Sierra Leone, and those roots were critical in her writing and performing of the play.
“I felt this role took me to another level in my performance skills. It was, however, very draining at times playing a mother who had lost so much,” Cole said, describing the intimate familiarity with the subject matter that led her to write the play. “Having been through my own personal experience of loss and heartache, I was able to bring that to the role and give a truthful performance.”
“All the Colours” tells the gripping story of a mother, Salimatu, living through the horrifying decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone. Cole based her performance in the one-woman play on her mother’s own experience in the country. Cole’s writing was lauded by critics, and her acting earned her a 2014 nomination for Best Actress at the International One-Man Show Solo Festival in the U.K.
A natural choice to fill the shoes of strong, female lead characters, Cole’s performance in “1867” was a brilliant display of just how at home she is on the stage. Cole played Delilah McAndrew, from whose perspective the semi-biographical play tells the fascinating and inspirational story of Madame C.J. Walker, the first American woman to become a millionaire entrepreneur. Walker, who did this despite the added adversity of being a black woman in the post-Civil War South, employs Delilah, the first generation in her family to be born after the abolition of slavery.
“She was such a strong black woman in a time when black women were regularly looked down upon, and to have that level of success at that period of time is truly amazing,” Cole said, describing the connection she felt to Delilah. “As a character she had many layers and I was really able to explore the role.”
Through these roles and her countless others, Cole has established herself as one of the most powerful actors in the industry today. A dramatist of the highest order, she has used the craft not as a soapbox, but rather as a medium through which to remind us of the things we all too often forget. Where lecturers and historians may fall short of imparting these critical lessons, Davina Cole knows how to use the stage and screen to captivate our imaginations with the finesse and magic of a lifelong storyteller.
In film, theater and television, it’s the writers who create the characters; their personas, their lines and even their fates are predetermined, written down before cameras ever start rolling. But it requires a skilled actor to embody a fictional hero or villain, and there is nobody more skilled in personifying a character than Daniel DelHoyo. Building on the foundation of the writer’s words, DelHoyo immerses himself in his roles. Through him, words on a page come to life and become the living, breathing manifestation of the writer’s creative vision.
Born in Mexico City, DelHoyo’s love of performance began in high school when an opportunity arose for him to write, direct and act in a production showcased to an audience of his peers. The experience awoke in him an immense talent, which had been lying dormant. DelHoyo’s charisma and witty humor had long been recognized by his peers, but the play marked his first foray into drama and serious performance. From the moment he first sat down to write the script, he realized he was destined to pursue a career as an actor.
“As soon as I started writing the story I felt connected and fully plugged into this world like I had never felt with anything else,” DelHoyo recalled. “The play ended up being presented among the best ones at the drama competition in school, and from that moment I knew I wanted to act.”
Since those early days, he has become one of the most sought after actors in the business. Though there was a time when he applied his natural charm and jovial personality almost exclusively to comedic endeavors as a sort of class clown, he has far exceeded that old niche. Now, there is no production mood or genre he cannot expertly adapt to, and he is as at home in the horror and suspense genres as in comedy. His latest role as Danny in “Por Sofia” is a perfect example of how diverse his talents are.
A tale of intrigue and an endless pursuit of justice, “Por Sofia” follows a detective intent on solving a decades-old murder. The film stars Kary Musa (“Iron Man 3,” “What Lies Beyond… The Beginning”) as Alexa, a young woman whose mother’s murder 20 years earlier continues to haunt her. DelHoyo delivers a knockout performance as Danny, a night shift server at a restaurant and one of the detective’s prime suspects in the crime.
The director of “Por Sofia,” Alfredo Ibarra (“Classroom 6,” “Processing”), chose to cast actors in the film who had personalities similar to those of their characters. DelHoyo, however, was an exception. But playing a character so different from himself is his wheelhouse, and the challenge allowed him to exhibit his invaluable gift for shining brilliantly when pushed out of his comfort zone.
“[Alfredo Ibarra] wants you to be yourself and deliver your own persona and emotions to the story. During the pre-production I would ask him questions and he would just answer back ‘What would you do?’” said DelHoyo, explaining how he adapted to the role. “My character is a very quiet and mysterious guy, which I’m really not. But throughout the shooting I realized what Alfredo wanted, and toward the end it all made sense. I learned that the more you trust the people you work with, the better results you’ll deliver performance-wise.”
The intense twists and turns in “Por Sofia” ensure audiences remain firmly on the edge of their seats, and DelHoyo’s gripping portrayal of Danny is an absolute marvel of suspense that keeps viewers questioning his guilt until the very end. The film is in post-production and will be released early this year.
One of DelHoyo’s most fascinating roles, and the one he says is his favorite, was in the 2015 film “Ilusiones SA,” an adaptation of Spanish author and playwright Alejandro Casona’s 1949 play “Los Árboles Mueren de Pie.” His character, known only as Mailman, is part of a shadowy-yet-benevolent organization called The Illusionists. The group specializes in staging well-meaning hoaxes and deceptions and is comprised of equally mysterious codenamed figures, such as The Director, played by Jaime Camil (“Jane the Virgin”). The film tells the story of a man who commissions the group’s services to keep his wife from learning that their grandson has died en route to visit them.
“My character is essential to the story,” DelHoyo excitedly explained. “The grandpa hires The Illusionists to set up a whole scenario with a fake grandson. My character delivers the letter to the grandpa, letting him know that his ‘grandson’ and his ‘grandson’s fiancé’ will be getting there in a couple of days.”
As an exceptionally dedicated and professional performer, DelHoyo was determined to do the role justice. He went to great lengths to embody the part and in the process put the role ahead of his own safety.
“The script is very adamant about the Mailman being exhausted. It’s been a long hot day of work for him, and it’s not over. So, as a perfectionist, I run back and forth on my bike in pretty intense morning heat, added push-ups to get my blood flow pumped-up, and did running sprints too,” said DelHoyo, describing what he called a funny experience. “We do take one and by the end of it I’m practically suffocated, sweating so much my uniform is soaking wet, and feeling sick.”
In preparation, DelHoyo completely immersed himself in the role. His sleepless nights were spent studying 1950’s Campeche, Mexico, the film’s setting, and listening exclusively to music played in the region during that era. He even went so far as to volunteer at the Post Office to better understand the character. Over 1,000 people auditioned for the role, but that level of commitment is what made him the obvious choice. It’s also what made his character so memorable and integral to the film. “Ilusiones SA” was released in Oct. 2015 to audiences in Mexico, and will be released in the U.S. later this year.
There are actors who are defined by a role, and there are roles that are defined by the actor, and careers often hinge on this subtle distinction. Daniel DelHoyo is without question the latter, an asset to every production whose chameleon-like talent for transformation has enabled him to deliver awe-inspiring performances time and time again. When watching him in any of the roles he’s played, it’s not an actor that audiences see on the screen; his characters become actual, living people, with flaws and virtues so compellingly human they become as real as anything else. That quality is the mark of a truly great actor, and it is what has established DelHoyo as one of the most prominent figures in the highly competitive industry.
Audiences around the world will recognize Michelle Castro from the plethora of directorial accomplishments he’s made to date, which span the likes of music videos for renowned artists, award-winning narrative films and commercials.
Castro’s reputation as a highly skilled director became increasingly well-known throughout the Latin American entertainment industry after he directed the music video for Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi’s hit song ‘El Favor De La Soledad.” Trevi, who is often referred to as the “Mexican Madonna,” is also the subject of the biopic “Gloria,” which was released in February 2015.
Michelle Castro’s strength as a director has undoubtedly earned him international acclaim over the years, but his work as a cinematographer is another area of his genius that deserves notice.
As his film “When Negatives Collide,” which he both wrote and directed, was making waves as an international hit at festivals last year including being chosen as an Official Selection of the 2015 Cannes Court Metrage du Festival de Cannes, Castro was busy immersing himself as the cinematographer of several new film projects.
One such project, “The Destroyer,” a documentary film directed by Rupert Luis Sanchez (“Moktane”), follows MMA fighter Sean Loaffler as he prepares for a fight that could make or break the future of his career.
After spending 16 years as a strong competitor in the sport, Loaffler finally got his chance to make it big in 2012 when he was scheduled to fight in the UFC against Buddy Roberts; however, after suffering a massive ankle injury and being deemed unfit to fight, it was back to the drawing board for Loaffler. The film follows Loaffler after the accident up through his fight comeback, which if he wins, will give him another shot at the UFC.
Director Rupert Sanchez explains, “Michelle and I have been working together for years so when I started developing the idea for ‘The Destroyer’ he was a part of the process from day one. We both decided that being a documentary, in order for the film to stand out visually, it needed to feel cinematic. He suggested to film at an extremely shallow depth of field and with a free flowing camera; it proved to be the most important decision for the over all look and feel of the film. His undeniable eye for the human moments and complete understanding of my intention for the film is felt in the cinematography.”
Castro’s creative vision for the shots within the film coupled with his expert versatility behind the camera was a huge asset to “The Destroyer,” as he was able to get up close and capture the action of the fight scenes and the deeply emotional struggle Loaffler experiences in this very real story.
“We shot this with DSLRs because of the mobility that they provide. Also when [Sean] was either training or fighting you are very close to the action and you really need to be able to move away if they are throwing punches at each other,” says Castro.
“The Destroyer,” which is currently in postproduction, will begin making its rounds on the festival circuit later this year.
For Michelle Castro the last few years have been incredibly busy, in fact, since 2013 he has lent his ingenious creative skill as a cinematographer to more than 15 films. From his most recent foray into the documentary film format with “The Destroyer” to dramatic narratives like Álvaro Ortega’s “Waltz” and Anish Dedhia’s “Chypre,” and the experimental mystery feature “Los Títeres de Belial,” Castro has revealed his remarkable ability to capture the visual story of each film, bringing each tale to life in a totally different way.
The film “Chypre,” which stars Svetla Georgieva (“Kantora Mitrani,” “A Punishment to Some, To Some a Gift”) and Christoff Lombard (“Waiting for the Miracle,” “Deguello”) takes audiences inside the cold relationship of one couple and examines how a young wife, who is sadly ignored by her husband, begins to desire a woman she encounters on the train. Castro sets the tone of the film with his visual approach in a way that, combined with the actor’s expressions and body language, allows the story to come across without relying heavily on dialogue.
The film, which had its world premier at the New York Indian Film Festival, earned the Best Film Award at the 2014 Los Angeles Thriller Film Festival, in addition to being chosen as an Official Selection of the India International Film Festival of Tampa Bay, the Third Eye Asian Film Festival, the Rainier Independent Film Festival and many more.
Castro admits, “‘Chypre’ is one of the projects that I hold close to my heart… From train stations to mock up trains this was an exciting film to shoot. Anish Dedhia, the director, is a good friend and did an amazing job writing the script. Another reason that I’m grateful for this project is because I got to work with Svetla Georgieva, which marked our third collaboration. I consider her to be one of the best actresses I’ve ever worked with.”
Prior to working as the cinematographer on “Chypre,” Castro directed actress Svetla Georgieva in his dramatic mystery film “Succubus,” which earned the Honorable Mention Award at the Los Angeles Movie Awards in 2014, as well as a nomination for Best Short Film at the Studio City Film Festival.
As for what’s on the horizon, Michelle Castro, who recently wrapped production as the cinematographer on the films “Charlie,” “Sleep,” “The Four Horseman,” “O1” and “The Delicious,” is slated to work as the cinematographer on three new film projects as well as direct an upcoming feature, with more information to be disclosed at a later date.
No matter how skilled the cast and director are, how polished the script is or how astronomical the budget may be, a film will never reach its full potential without an art director capable of bringing its visual essence to life. Haisu Wang has dedicated years to becoming one of the best in the industry, and has an incredible list of credits under his belt earned while working at some of the most prestigious firms in the world.
Wang, while in China, was an integral part of the Emmy award-winning BASE-FX visual effects production company. BASE-FX has worked with every major studio in the U.S. to produce some of the most stunning and revolutionary CGI effects in 21st century film and television. Wang worked on two of the three projects for which BASE-FX earned Emmy wins. The first was HBO’s gripping World War II series The Pacific, produced by Academy Award winners Tom Hanks (Best Actor – Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) and Steven Spielberg (Best Director – Saving Private Ryan, Best Picture – Schindler’s List). The Pacific won eight Primetime Emmys; the effects work done by Wang and the BASE-FX team was recognized with the 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Miniseries.
The second, Boardwalk Empire, is the critically-acclaimed HBO crime drama starring Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski). Boardwalk Empire was nominated for 57 Primetime Emmys and won a total of 20 in an array of categories between 2011 and 2015. For its visual production work on the series, BASE-FX won the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Series.
After two immensely successful years at BASE-FX, Wang moved to Los Angeles and was accepted into the prestigious Production Design program at the world renowned American Film Institute. It was there that he further honed his already sharp talent for visual production and established his reputation as an extraordinary art director.
In 2014, he was the art director for two films – Contrapelo and Day One – which were both honored with a long list of accolades and critical praise. Both Contrapelo and Day One also caught the attention of Academy Awards judges and were on the top-10 shortlist of nominees for the 2015 Best Live Action Short Film award.
Thanks in no small part to Wang’s position as art director, Contrapelo has taken the festival circuit by storm. It won the Phoenix Film Festival’s award for Best Live Action Short Film and was nominated for Best Overall Short Film at both the Calgary International and Oldenburg Film Festivals. At its core, Contrapelo is a philosophical film about the gray areas of morality. When he discovers that the man in his chair is a cartel boss, a Mexican barber grapples with his desire and opportunity to kill the vile man responsible for innumerable deaths and heinous crimes.
“Because the story is set in a small town in Mexico in the 1990s, the main challenge was recreating the Mexican barbershop interior and the abandoned travel agent office – the hideout used by the leader of the drug cartel – in a soundstage in L.A.,” Wang said. “My personal challenge was designing these two main sets in a short amount of time, and also quickly gathering a really effective construction team to build them in one-and-a-half weeks.”
With his extensive 3D computer design skills, Wang was quickly able to create a digital mock-up of the sets. This enabled the director to visualize blocking and plan shots in earnest, and allowed the crew to prepare camera and rigging placements to meet those demands. Construction crews used Wang’s designs to begin building the sets while all of the planning was being done simultaneously using the same shared computer layouts. Rather than having to wait until the sets were completed, Wang’s quick thinking shaved weeks off of the tight production schedule.
Day One, the emotional true story of an American interpreter in Afghanistan, was also a top-10 Academy Award contender for Best Live Action Short Film. Though the film was set in the Afghan desert, it was filmed in the desert outside Los Angeles. The terrain proved a significant hurdle for the production, but once again Wang was able to apply his high-tech know-how to navigate the situation with ease.
“One of the main challenges of this set build was the uneven ground condition in the desert,” Wang said, describing another instance where his technical expertise proved essential to a production’s success. “I was able to use my digital skills to analyze the topography of the desert location, and I created a 3D model of the real location. I then helped the designer create the set in my 3D replica model.”
A huge critical success, Day One centers around a recently divorced woman joins the military and is deployed to Afghanistan as an interpreter. On her first day in the country she encounters a terrorist bomb-maker and his wife, who has just gone into labor. Her life is forever changed when she must help the woman deliver the child. At the 2015 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences College Television Awards, Day One received Emmys for both Best Drama and Best Directing. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Los Angeles (BAFTA/LA) also awarded the film’s director, Henry Hughes, with the 2015 award for Best Director.
Hughes says, “Haisu’s vision and rare skill using digital software to create some of the most challenging sets for ‘Day One’ was invaluable to our production, especially considering the geographic challenges of the location. Without his contributions it would have been nearly impossible to construct these sets in the amount of time and within the allotted budget. He is definitely a huge asset to the film industry.”
Wang’s skill, experience and qualifications put him in the same class as many lifelong industry veterans. A person with Wang’s talent and drive is a rare and precious asset in this business, and his awe-inspiring list of credits and accolades continues to grow every day. He is a master of the craft, gifted with an instinctive ability to visualize and execute both the subtle and the overt artistic and creative nuances of a film. A film is only as good as its art director, and when a film calls for the very best Haisu Wang is will be there to surpass even the highest expectations.
From the powerful melodic bass lines that drive soul, funk and blues to the heavy and improvisational styles of psychedelic rock and hip hop, Swedish bassist Martin Fredriksson is one of the rare musical forces in the industry that is able to play virtually any bass style with pure precision. It’s not surprising that after his abilities became known throughout Sweden that he was called to bring his talent to the World’s musical melting pot, the United States.
Fredriksson recalls, “My parents bought a bass and a guitar as Christmas gifts for my sister and I when I was about 10 years old. I took the bass and have never let it go since.”
It was not long after picking up bass that Fredriksson began receiving recognition for his prowess back home. At the age of 12 he along with some of the best musicians at his music school in Sweden formed a band known as The Junk. Two years after the band’s inception they received the Culture Prize from Swedish magazine, Frotté, and shortly after two of their songs were voted into the Top 5 on the regional public radio station in Nyköping.
For Fredriksson, playing music is the “sweet spot” that many people search for in life—the true calling that puts one at ease. And, considering that he found his true calling at such a young age, he has had the opportunity to perfect his craft to a rare level of mastery.
“I get very calm and concentrated when playing,” admits Fredriksson. “When I was 16 I was chosen as a young ‘successful’ musician to be presented in a poster together with about 100 other people with different backgrounds and ages from my home municipality. There was a quote from the interview on the poster at the exhibition that said: Life flows when you play, everything will be all right… That is still my experience.”
Fredriksson would go onto play at some of the most notable festivals in Scandinavia including Åmåls Blues Fest, the biggest blues festival in Sweden, and Notoddens Blues Festival, the biggest blues festival in Norway, before taking his talent to the US where he earned the musicianship scholarship for the bass program when entering the bass program at the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles.
Since moving stateside several years ago Fredriksson has become the bassist for a number of well-known bands and internationally acclaimed artists including The Malloy Band, Dream Alive, SuVi Suresh’s band, Major Myjah, Radiorelics/Mary’s Mischief, Jasmine Villegas and many others. What is even more impressive than the sheer number and fame of the groups he plays with however, is the fact that they are all completely different in terms of musical style, something that speaks leagues to Fredriksson’s versatility as a musician.
Fredriksson and Dream Alive were featured on MTV India earlier this week when the music video for their song ‘Drifting Away’ directed by Irving Ong began recieving national airplay on the station on Saturday. The video, which you can check out below, will continue to air on the station for the next week!
Aside from performing at shows across Los Angeles with the band Dream Alive , Fredriksson played bass on the album “After the Dawn,” which was released in 2014 and the “Drifting Away” EP. He has also doted his magic to several music videos over the last two years for the band’s songs ‘See You Tonight,’ ‘Don’t Say No,’ ‘Drifting Away’ and ‘Waiting So Long.’ In the band Dream Alive Fredriksson also plays alongside drummer David Meyer, who has gained attention in recent years for his work with John Mayer and as the drummer in Frank Ocean’s band.
Fredriksson admits, “I love to play many different genres, but I guess my heart right now belongs to soul, funk and blues.”
The extraordinarily talented bassists also plays with soul funk singer Anduze, who recently released “The Lone Wolf Odyssey Mixtape Vol. 3,” alongside guitarist Johann Frank who also tours with Engelbert Humperdinck.
The caliber of seasoned musicians Fredriksson plays with speaks leagues to his unparalleled skill, something that is even more astonishing when considering that he is still in his early 20s!
His ability to complement the soulful singing voice of famed singer songwriter Suvi Suresh with his bass playing led Fredriksson to join her band in 2011. Better known as SuVi, the singer’s music has been featured in a long list of Bollywood films including Highway, Blue, Ghajini and Raavan for Grammy & Oscar Award winning composer, A. R. Rahmanand. 2013 Fredriksson recorded the songs ‘Made of Gold,’ ‘Sweetest Dream,’ and ‘Ricochet’ for SuVi’s album “Made of Gold,” in addition to being featured in three music videos for SuVi’s songs recorded live in the studio.
In 2014 Fredriksson also began playing with Radiorelics, an explosive and alluring LA-based rock band. Last year Fredriksson and the band toured and received major radio play. They went on to receive incredible recognition when their song ‘Jack Daniels’ made it to the number 9 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and continued to maintain a strong position on the chart for 18 weeks. The band has changed their name to Mary’s Mischief since their initial debut.
While Fredriksson’s versatility has been a major factor in his success, he is also a naturally powerful performer on stage.
About performing in concert, Fredriksson explains, “I think people can see that I love what I do, sometimes I just lean back, close my eyes and enjoy the moment…. I have had this longing to play on stage from the start. I have been performing frequently since the age of 13… Therefore I can be very relaxed on stage and just enjoy the flow and the feedback from people in the crowd.”
In 2012 Fredriksson played bass for singer songwriter Laura Warshauer at Lollapalooza, one of the largest rock festivals in America. Warshauer was chosen by BMI and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame to be the recipient of the first ever (Buddy) Holly Prize in 2010.
Fredriksson also performed live on television as the bassist in Jasmine Villegas’ band on AXS Live in 2013. Villegas, who is currently signed to Interscope Records, skyrocketed to success in the music industry after starring in Justine Bieber’s music video for ‘Baby,” as well as performed during Bieber’s 2010-11 My World Tour. You can check out Fredriksson playing bass alongside Villegas and the rest of the band as they perform the song ‘Hello’ off her album “S(he) Be(Lie)ve(d)” for AXS Live in the video below.
Aside from being a killer bassist with an unparalleled capacity for playing a diverse range of musical styles, Fredriksson has also contributed heavily to many of the bands and artists he’s played with as a composer, arranger and songwriter.
“Arranging music together with a band and feeling that we have created something great together is very satisfying,” explains Fredriksson.
“A very important part when I am involved in arranging is that the songs is very melodic and also has variations in melody and strength… I really like to have a strong connection with the drummer I’m playing with because that creates a strong backbone for the rest of the band.”
In between playing with the plethora of bands and artists he plays and performs with regularly, Martin Fredriksson has also been called in as a studio musician to lend his talents to a variety of other projects. In addition to joining Kendall Lake’s band, and playing live shows in the band of Major Myjah, who signed with Warner Bros. Records earlier this year, he also recently recorded eight songs with Japanese rapper Morii Daichi for his third full length album.
If you’re under the age of 45 and you haven’t seen Canadian actress Sidney Leeder on TV yet then chances are you live under a rock or don’t have a television because this young star has been on practically every hit show over the last few years.
From the multi-award winning teen dramas Degrassi: The Next Generation, Beauty and the Beast, Reign, Debra and The L.A. Complex to comedies like Life With Boys and those targeted towards a more middle-aged audience like Satisfaction, as well as the sci-fi and supernatural dramas Alphas and Lost Girl, Leeder has done it all.
Besides the glitz and glamour that comes along with working on such well-known shows, what’s impressive about this actress is the fact that mostly every role she has taken on is starkly different from the others. Leeder is definitely not an actress in danger of being pigeonholed into playing one role over and over—her versatility across the board is just too strong for typecasting.
Aside from playing countless pivotal roles on highly-rated television shows, Leeder has also made an indelible mark on the international film industry where she has not only further revealed her versatility, but displayed the kind of rare magnetism that is required to keep viewers engaged for an hour and a half or more.
For Leeder, drama is her favorite performance genre as an actress, at least for now. And her dramatic performances in films like the Lifetime Originals Salem Falls and The Hazing Secret as well as David Hewlett’s sci-fi feature film Debug take the cake. From being murdered and coming back to haunt her sorority sister’s dream in search of restitution in The HazingSecret to starting rumors about having an affair with her high school teacher in Salem Falls and playing the spunky lead character Lara who is virtually raped to death in the film Debug, Sidney Leeder has a knack for taking on diverse characters.
Leeder was born to perform and her track record of success to date proves it. Anyone can see that she is beautiful; in fact, prior to becoming an actress she spent several years as a model signed to Elite Model Management as well as Ford Models. But, captivating an audience takes a whole lot more than beauty, and Leeder has proven that she has the emotional depth and the remarkable ability to bring characters to life on screen so seamlessly that being beautiful becomes almost secondary to her sheer talent.
To find out more about this insanely skilled young actress make sure to check out our interview below! You can also find out more about her through her website: http://www.sidneyleeder.com/
SL: I was first introduced to the art of performance through dance. I began dance training at the age of three and by age eight was traveling across Canada with a competitive team. After graduating high school I was accepted into Ryerson University’s BFA Performance Dance Program. During my freshman year I signed with Elite Model Management and began working as a professional model. Through Elite I had the opportunity audition for my first commercial, a dance spot for Joe Fresh, which I booked! It was during this experience that I realized my love for the camera and immediately took action enrolling in acting classes. After just a few months of training I was referred to agent David Ritchie at Ambition Talent and began working as a professional actor at the age of 18, and I booked my first role as a guest star in the family channel TV series What’s Up Warthogs.
Can you tell us a little bit about the film Salem Falls?
SL: In the movie adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s novel Salem Falls for Lifetime I played the role of Catherine, a high school student who creates a rumor that she had an affair with her professor/soccer coach that ends up sending him to prison. In the film I acted alongside Sarah Carter (The Vow) who plays the lead Annie Peabody and she makes it her mission to get to the bottom of the false accusations. I also acted alongside James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek) in the film.
How did taking on the role of Catherine in the film Salem Falls character challenge you as an actress?
SL: I booked this role during my first year of acting so I still had much to learn about the technicalities of working on camera. In one of the most pivotal scenes of the film I confess to lying about my alleged affair with professor Jack Mcbradden. The scene takes place while walking down a long passageway. It was lengthy and revealing dialogue that required serious mental concentration. In addition, continuity required specific parts of the scene to be said as I hit specific marks. Slowing and speeding my speech, monitoring my steps and delivering a convincing performance was quite a multi-tasking challenge! It was an eye-opening experience for a newbie like myself and taught me a lot about the discipline and control required to work as an actor on set. I left that day with an entirely new respect for actors on shows like The West Wing! This character was also a challenge to play, as she needed to have just the right balance of maturity and naivety. Prior to shooting I talked a lot with director Bradley Walsh about the characters motivation and significance. Having the opportunity to delve into such a complex character so early on in my career was an amazing challenge.
You were also in Lifetime’s film The Hazing Secret—what happened in this film and why was your character important to the story?
SL: In The Hazing Secret Megan, played by Shenae Grimes-Beech, loses her long-term memory in an accident she had five years ago as a sorority girl. Every night, she has the same dream of a party and the death of a sister. When she’s invited to a Greek reunion, she realizes it wasn’t just a dream. I played the role of Melissa, the sorority sister that haunts Megan’s dreams. I was a college freshman who accidently made out with the boyfriend of her sorority leader, and as punishment/sorority hazing my character is locked in a coffin where she suffocates to death due to claustrophobia. During the hazing Megan tries to protect me but has little power over queen B, Nancy. After witnessing a kiss between her sorority sister’s boyfriend Mike and I, Nancy makes it her mission to ensure that I’m punished, and throughout the film Megan attempts to unveil the secret behind my death.
Can you tell us about your role in the sci-fi film Debug?
SL: I played the lead role of Lara in the intergalactic sci-fi thriller feature film Debug. The film revolves around six computer hackers, including my character, as they try to prevent Iam, an artificial intelligence that will stop at nothing to defend his right to exist, even if it means killing the humans that get in his way. My character Lara is a free-spirited joker and party girl who’s engaged in a clandestine relationship with Mel, another young offender aboard the ship. I’m serving time in a work release program for eco-terrorism, but I can’t resist playing pranks during our mission. In my more serious moments though I admit to having a really bad feeling about the ship. When Mel, who typically wishes I’d be more discreet about our interactions, suggests a simulated sex romp, I jump at the chance — but it’s just a set-up by Iam played by Jason Mamoa.
Does Lara face any major transformations over the course of the film’s story?
SL: Lara is very intuitive right from the get go. She warns the others that something about this mission feels wrong and explains that she is sensitive to the energy of her surroundings but is ignored. She has a good heart and is a smart girl but her fun loving, adventurous nature often gets her into trouble. While she is timid at first about their mission she decides to make the most of the situation and use this time as an opportunity to fool around with Mel. When he suggests ‘virtual fraternization’ Lara is slightly hesitant but intrigued by the concept. She decides to follow the ships orders and enter a sensory system where she is asked to remove her clothing and enter a pool of crystal clear liquid. As she does this she is transported virtually to a blood stained prison cell where Iam awaits her. It is there that he, and every other man who has set foot on the ship rape and beat her to death.
While mentally she in this virtual reality, Lara’s physical body is actually drowning in the sensory system pool she entered. By the time Mel finds her it is too late and she is already dead. During the conclusion of the film all members of the deceased crew (including Lara) come back to life virtually and help Kaida played by Jeananne Goosen, to destroy the ships artificial intelligence for good.
How was Debug different than some of your past work?
SL: Playing Lara was tricky because she could easily be perceived as an irresponsible, foolish girl who ultimately gets what she deserves simply for having promiscuous inclinations. Refusing to settle for playing a forgettable damsel in distress I did my best to give Lara a quiet strength and a wholesome, grounded personality.
What was your favorite part of working on that project?
SL: While working on Debug I met so many amazing people. The cast and crew were incredible. I learned so much during this project simply from listening and observing others. Being on a spaceship everyday was also pretty awesome!
Can you tell us about some of your other film projects?
SL: During my first year acting I booked a role acting alongside Seann William Scott in the feature film Goon where I had the privilege of working with award winning director Michael Dowse. I played the role of an underage, inebriated young woman who projectile vomits onto Seann William Scott as he forces her to leave the bar.
In the feature film Bang Bang Baby directed by Jeffrey St. Jules I played the principal role of Eleanor, the typical mean girl from high school that makes her peers lives hell. She especially has it out for Stepphy, one of the other leads in the film, and she goes to great lengths to crush her dreams.
I was a principle dancer and actor as well as choreographer and producer on Jungle, which revolves around singer/songwriter/producer Drake as he contemplates the price of fame and the point of life. On the production I worked closely with Drake, director Karim Huu Do (Adidas), director Kristof Brandl (Converse) and award winning producer Jason Aita. In the film I played the role of a struggling dancer, a stranger Drake sees in passing and wonders what her life is like. In a quick montage you catch a glimpse of my daily routine and emotional struggles. I was also the 2nd unit producer and coordinated much of the film.
I was the lead actress Lily in the 3D film The Killer. My character Lily is a quiet killer who works at a remote gas station and feasts on her customers’ blood. In the film a serial killer enters the store with plans to kill me but I transform into a vampire and kill him instead. I also co-produced the film and while on set I had the pleasure of working with actor Jeff Pangman (Man Seeking Woman).
How about television projects?
SL: I had a guest star role in season two of The CW/Showcase television series Beauty and the Beast where I worked alongside series leads Jay Ryan and Kristin Kreuk. I played Gina, the daughter of a member of the mob, who is used to lure a beast/creature in “Kidnapped,” the second episode of season two, and I am saved by Vincent Keller, the lead character played by Jay Ryan.
I had a recurring role in season three of the TV series Lost Girl as Kasey, a Kitsune (Japanese word for fox), who is disguised as a sorority sister but is actually a magical creature with the ability to transform into a fox. I help the leads Anna Silk and Rachel Skarsten solve mysteries in multiple episodes.
I landed the role of Raquel in the 13th season of the hit TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation. My character is the new college friend of lead Biannca DeSousa played by Alicia Josipovic, and I discourage and disapprove of her engagement to her high school boyfriend Drew Torres played by Luke Bilyk.
I’ve danced in multiple episodes of the CW TV series Reign where I worked with choreographer Jennifer Nichols and performed alongside series leads Adelaide Kane, Megan Follows and Toby Regbo.
I had a guest star role in season one of the TV series Satisfaction where I played the role of Sarah, a new bartender at the bar where lead Leah Renee works. I play dumb and schmooze customers for large tips often making up elaborate dramatized stories about my grandma and aunt dying. I manage to make lead Pat Thornton fall in love with me and propose with his grandma’s heirloom ring. At this point Leah confronts me and I admit to lying at work to get what I want. I confess that I’m saving up to go on a Barenaked ladies cruise in Phuket. I had the privilege of working with Canadian comedy icon, director Mike Clattenburg. Clattenburg is best known for creating and directing the hit TV series/movie saga The Trailer Park Boys.
I acted in season one of the television series Alphas as a high school girl having a romantic evening at the high school football field with my quarterback boyfriend Marshall Williams. While making out on the bleachers I’m attacked by a zombie who ends up being a teacher from school.
I guest starred as Maggie in the TV series Life With Boys and in the show, the lead Allie Brooks played by Madison Pettis, is annoyed with the girls her brother perpetually dates so she tries to set him up with me thinking it will make him a better person. I guest starred as Cindy in the television series What’s Up Warthogs!, the new girlfriend of lead character Eric Ortiz played by Tiago Abreu. All of his friends and co-workers at the high school radio show end up loving me and he feels his position at the radio show and in his social circle is compromised. I grow more popular than him, and this ultimately this ends our relationship.
In the TV series Debra I guest starred as Helen Tibbles, the evil, controlling girlfriend of lead Auzzie played by Austin Macdonald. His friends are horrified at the thought of a future with me as his wife and bring the relationship to an end. I was also in season one of the TV series The LA Complex, which aired in the USA and Canada on the CW channel and MuchMusic.
They are all very different, what made you choose to participate in these projects?
SL: I love exploring all kinds of characters. No matter how big or small the role, each experience offers tremendous opportunity to grow as an actor and as a person.
You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?
SL: Reading the script always gives me an accurate indication of whether or not I’d like to partake in a project. Quality of writing is so important in filmmaking. To me it’s the bare bones. Without believing that you have a strong foundation, it’s challenging to execute a project with confidence. When presented with a character that is written with depth and purpose I’m instantly intrigued. Resilient, complex characters always inspire me.
Do you feel that you get cast to play a certain type of character more than others?
SL: I find that there are two main categories I typically fall into. One is innocent and vulnerable and the other is a snooty mean girl.
Out of all your productions on screen, what has been your favorite project, or projects, so far and why?
SL: I’ve enjoyed all of the productions I’ve had the pleasure of working on. Each one is special to me in its own way. Salem Falls stands out as one of my most memorable. Playing Catherine allowed me to explore the internal struggles of a young girl finding her voice as a woman. I loved the character’s dark yet innocent complexity. Being taken seriously as a young actress with something important to contribute felt like a great accomplishment. Shooting in the fall on the gorgeous campus grounds of the University of Toronto also made the experience super enjoyable. I have a soft spot for collegiate, fall films.
What has been your most challenging role?
SL: Playing Lara in Debug was my most challenging role. Physically it was demanding, as it required a drowning death scene and tons of screaming! Having to enter the headspace of a rape victim was also an emotionally exhausting experience. In addition, I was faced with the topic of nudity in film. It pushed me to be honest with myself. I learned the importance of expressing my limits and developing strong trust and respect with cast and crew. It was a big learning curve and an arduous project but I loved every second. All of the challenges I faced were huge life lessons.
What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?
SL: My favorite genre to work in is drama.
What do you feel your strongest qualities are as an actor?
SL: My scream and my boobs. Joking. My adventurous spirit and determination.
What projects do you have coming up?
SL: Bang Bang Baby is currently available to rent or buy on iTunes. Debug is now available on DVD and you can catch it on Xfinity TV. I also just wrapped a film entitled Lunch, which will screen at the Beverly Hills Playhouse Film Festival; and I’m currently writing a web series with director Brian Lee Hughes. More details to come!
What are your plans for the future?
SL: I plan on expanding my horizons to the states! I hope to continue working in the film/TV industry as an actor and look forward to landing larger, more challenging roles. This past year I had the opportunity to work behind the scenes as a production coordinator and producer on many commercial, music video and short film projects. In the future I plan on combining my knowledge of production with my passion for acting and creating my own original content.
What do you hope to achieve in your career as an actor?
SL: Creative fulfillment. Reach my full potential.
Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?
SL: Being on a film set is one of my favorite places. It’s like stepping directly into a storybook.
Acting gives me a natural high and allows me to explore myself, connect with others and imagine endless possibilities. I act because not acting simply isn’t an option. The need to perform and create has lived inherently in me for as long as I can remember. Growing up my favorite pastimes included writing and performing plays, choreographing elaborate dance routines, shooting films and starting bands. I’m happiest when performing and creating.
Regardless of whether he’s working on a film, music video or television series, leading art director Badr Farha let’s the director’s vision for a project guide his work. The versatile nature of his creative vision compounded by his intuitive approach has allowed him to nail the mark every time.
As an art director Farha has achieved unparalleled success in the international entertainment industry garnering attention in recent years for his work on the films “A, B, C or D?,” “The Last Conversation,” “More Than Words,” “Deliver Us,” “When Negatives Collide” and many more.
It is no coincidence that practically every project that Farha has art directed to date has received coveted accolades. The film “A, B, C or D?” earned the awards for Best Short Film and Best Cinematographer at the Golden Pomegranate International Film Festival in China, in addition to being chosen as an Official Selection of the prestigious NYC Independent Film Festival and the California Independent Film Festival; and the films “More Than Words,” “Negatives Collide” and “The Last Conversation” were all shortlisted for the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
Back in 2014 Farha leant his inimitable skill as an art director to the film “Deliver Us” directed by Laura Elisa Pérez Rebullén. The film, which followed a young activist who unites his people in a peaceful protest against their government, was included in The Cable Show’s Imagine Film Challenge hosted by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which was juried by industry heavy weights such as Oscar Award winning producer Nick Reed and Golden Globe Award winning actor Rutger Hauer.
Farha helped create the bleak and somber tone of the film with his use of barbed wire spun across the tops of fences, sadly forgotten stuffed animals nailed to wooden posts and an abandoned baby carriage surrounded by trash on the street leading to the protestors’ meeting location; and, in the face of tough competition, “Deliver Us” proved victorious at the Imagine Film Challenge taking home the Best Film Award and a $10,000 Grand Prize.
Farha’s far reaching talent has also helped him gain traction as both an art director and production designer for music videos with some of his past work including the music video for famed EDM DJ Rusko’s hit song ‘Lytah,’ as well as the music video for Tisha Campbell Martin’s new single ‘Steel Here,’ which was released in September and already has over one million views on YouTube.
He also recently finished art directing several episodes of the new television series “Seven Years Switch,” which was purchase by the FYI network earlier this year, as well as the upcoming feature film “Goetia,” which is currently in postproduction.
To find out more about how art director Badr Farha got to where he is today, and what drives him to create the powerful work he does, make sure to check out our interview below!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
BF: I’m a Dubai based filmmaker currently residing in Los Angeles. After graduating from the American University of Beirut with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, I worked in advertising at Leo Burnett as a communications executive for 2 years handling GM communications in the Middle East.
In 2006 I decided to pursue my adolescent passion of filmmaking, a world completely unknown to me at that point. While studying, I managed to direct several independent music videos while in New York City under the Irreverence Group, LLC.
My insatiable yearning to truly understand narrative storytelling led me to pursue my masters in Los Angeles and soon after I directed “The Last conversation,” a film that was accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Right now my passions lays in other below the line areas of production, and the films “More than words,“ which I art directed, and “When Negatives collide,” which I production designed, were also shortlisted as part of the Cannes Film Festival this year.
So how did you first get into art directing and what led you to this path?
BF: During my time spent pursuing my MFA in filmmaking and in April of 2014, I was brought on board to art direct a film titled “Deliver Us,” which was created as a part of the Imagine Film Challenge, a 48 hour Film Festival that took place during The Cable Show. We won the competition and received 10,000 dollars. It was a great milestone and looking back it served me as the universe’s tiny vibration or whisper to continue on this trajectory.
Can you tell us about how you approach your project from the time you’re hired on to art direct through the time of filming?
BF: Depending on the scale and scope of the project, I am either hired as an art director and/or production designer. My process has been the same throughout my career thus far. My first question about any project I consider attaching myself to is always the same and that is to ask for a script (shooting or otherwise).
Earlier in my career and for experience sake I was never too concerned over the content that would be generated during my employment onto a project. As the years have taught me, I have a gravitational pull towards stories that come from a place of truth and those that speak to the human condition. I realize my efforts are best served if I am passionate about the story being told, more importantly, if I can find a way to relate or identify to certain characters within the story, then I am able to serve justice to the film at hand or in discussion.
After having read the script and if I find that I am able to serve the film, further discussions are typically had with the director during preproduction that would entail the director’s vision in terms of color palette, stylistic choices and references of what the movie visually communicates in terms of aesthetics. During this time I make SketchUp presentations to communicate my ideas of what construction of the sets would entail in terms of design plans, budgets and turnaround time, granted that these are pre-visualizations and are not in fact practical locations. Once approved and in parallel, set dressing and conversation with costume designers will have been spearheaded to make sure all involved stay within the scope, palette and framework of the vision of the film.
Congratulations on the films “When Negatives Collide,” “More Than Words” and “The Last Conversation” being chosen as official selections of the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, that is a huge accomplishment!! Can you tell us about your work on these films?
BF: The film “When Negatives Collide” centers on a lower class teenager whose world is turned upside down when the hidden secrets of her past suddenly resurface, and force her and her mother into a painful examination of their lives, their relationship with one another, and their mutual faith, which might heal the damages from the past.
I am extremely happy with the work I’ve done on “When Negatives Collide,” the story takes places in 3 spaces so knowing that ahead of time allowed me to fully explore and flesh out ideas I had to create the complexities of the characters and their environment. With such an emotionally loaded script, I knew the prop selection choices would be fundamental as we shot in practical locations. Moreover, discussions on color palette were extremely important and were discussed very early on for this film as it would have to remain consistent from wardrobe to props etc.
The fact that it was accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival is a great milestone for the director, and I was extremely happy to be a part of the film and family of cast and crew.
The film “More Than Words” examines family, drug addiction, and the limits of love and self worth, all seen through the lens of a couples’ relationship as they face what seems to be an inevitable fate. In the story, Rachel and Nick return to their hometown in rural Colorado to greet friends and family while seeking a solution to Nick’s recent diagnosis with a rare brain disorder
As the threat of possibly dying from surgery or the condition itself loom on the horizon, Nick separates from Rachel and his mom Alli, and he begins recklessly acting out. When Alli suggests Rachel repair the past with her own family as Alli tries to work on Nick, Rachel returns to her home to discover a drug addled mother and her younger sister Bryce enabling the situation. Rachel finds her whole world crumbling around her as she tries to find the words to convince Nick to tempt fate and chance surgery to correct his life threatening disorder.
The director wrote the script so I knew it came from a personal space and time in his life. I was extremely excited to work on this film primarily because we got to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico for three weeks to create the worlds in which these characters lived. The characters were fully fleshed out in the script, so I had a real sense of who they were when moving into the project. I came in with a clear sense of tone palette and set design elements, which brought the story to life.
It was fully immersive and completely isolated in terms of where we actually shot the film and the fact that there was no reception or connection to the outer world. This forced everybody to stay present during production times.
A funny story from the production was when we had to create a trailer park scene in a grimy part of town, so one of the days we went all around town scooping up garbage and waste from the local dumpsters to set the scene and bring the story full heartedly to life. The waste also comprised of food, which drew in all sorts of bugs, termites, and ants to the surface of the ground, which ended up trickling into the DP’s shorts! That was definitely not my proudest moment and a lesson well learned. Having been accepted into the Cannes Film festival is wonderful, and I’m extremely happy I got to work on such a wonderful film.
I directed and art directed the film “The Last Conversation,” which also garnered attention during this year’s Cannes Film Festival and definitely, it was a great accomplishment textually, but when I caught wind of this news I don’t remember fully enjoying the moment. I had been art directing a feature film in Northern California called “Goetia.”
It was at that point that I learned that in our field a sense of accomplishment or pride over your own accomplishments isn’t ever fully realized, because moving on from the work you’ve done is paramount. The quote “You’re only as good as your last film” rings very true, and I find a deep sense of satisfaction when I learn of a new script and when I get to work on it, once it’s done it’s done. I have to let it go, regardless of where it goes and who sees it, that bares no relevance to the present.
I remain humbled by the response to the film and the fact that it was well received.
Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’ve art directed so far?
I worked on DJ Rusko’s music video ‘Lyta,’ which I thoroughly enjoyed. Just by having read through the treatment the director’s vision was clear and I knew the execution. Even though it wasn’t story boarded or even shot listed I knew a lot would have to be thought in scene and on the day of (improv), therein lies a major risk of it being a blessing or a curse. Luckily it proved to be a blessing.
I’ve art directed 3 of Julian De La Chica’s music videos in New York City, which have gathered over 100,000 views to date. At the time of production budgets are usually next to none, so a lot of the world that I along with my team have to create end up having to be extremely resourceful and limited. With this limitation I find comes the greatest challenge and if you’re able to serve absolute justice to the projects completion, that’s the greatest satisfaction you can hope for.
I got the opportunity to art direct Tisha Campbell Martin’s music video titled “Steel Here,” which was a great experience and I am really happy with the end result. I hadn’t seen her since her days on “Martin” and this was her breakthrough moment into music. I appreciate both the music video and film worlds, but in terms of fulfillment I find total comfort and enjoyment in the process of working in film as it’s far less forgiving, which is justified simply by the fact that you have time to fully create these characters’ worlds.
Why are you passionate about working as an art director?
BF: Being entrusted to decide on what goes into a frame is a grave responsibility that not too many people understand, at least the audience at large, when they watch a great film. Art direction always suggests consistency in themeless color tones, a “natural sense of placement,” being meticulous and attention to detail. These are some of the things I’ve always noticed in myself, and I have questioned the natural timidity and yearning I had in my earlier years, but they’ve proven to be useful in creating sets and deciding on the overall creative approach.
Can you tell us about any of the challenges you’ve faced on your way to the top of the industry—or any memorable “aha” moments where you felt like “hey this is the key to success”?
BF: Sometimes in this field when I have a minute to re-charge my batteries, I often think of something someone said to me– “Your own intellect can very much work against you”– at the time I never really understood it, but I now live by that very notion, which is simple really and with time I have learned to accept it. I tend to over analyze situations and dwell in certain moments far after the moment has passed. Milan Kundera’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” speaks to this very notion and answers it beautifully and provided a great breakthrough moment that has gravely helped me navigate in this industry.
What have been a few of your favorite projects so far and why?
BF: Every project I work on is always my favorite because the process is always the same for me. The projects that are less volatile are the ones I tend to worry about , which typically begs further questioning.
What would you say your strongest qualities as an art director are?
BF: I’d say I am highly adaptable, meticulous and detailed. It helps that I possess excellent communication skills, both personally and professionally.
What projects do you have coming up?
BF: I will be working on the feature film “1982” and the documentary film “Free America.”
What are your plans for the future?
BF: I’d like to return to my first love of directing, but thoroughly enjoy art directing in the present and plan to continue down that path for the next 5 years.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
BF: An Oscar. No more, no less.
What kind of training have you done, and how has it helped you in your field of work?
BF: Being on set is the best training in this field. I have seen my work grow over the past few years, or rather my eye has become sharper creatively.
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