Over the Moon for Actress Mouna Traoré

Mouna Traoré is a force — a fantastic actress, who takes her craft seriously and continues to make it fun! Mouna is currently starring on the popular legal drama, In Contempt on BET (www.bet.com) as “rookie” Public Defender Vanessa Hastings. Mouna also made an impact with her portrayal of Dr. Rebecca James on the series Murdoch Mysteries. Traoré is a very talented actress with a beautiful sense of style and a lovely screen presence. Mouna is also a producer and currently has a secret project in the works. She is definitely on the rise, and it was exciting to speak with her about her character roles, her acting ambitions, and her eclectic background.

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Mouna Traoré was born and raised in Toronto in a very diverse and multicultural community. Mouna has a big, blended family, with three sisters and one brother, who are all her best friends. “I’m so grateful to be from Toronto because it’s a city that deeply loves and supports the arts.” “I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a lot of art at an early age and given many opportunities to express myself in different mediums,” says Traoré. When she was not filming or traveling, she spoke with Gemma Magazine.

GM: Hi Mouna!! Thank you for joining us. Did you always know that you were interested in the arts and when did you decide to make it a career?

I knew I wanted to be a performer before I even knew what acting was. I must have been 3 or 4! I never also questioned whether or not to make being an actor my career. It was automatic – an inherent knowledge I had early on. I feel like most of the decisions I made as a child, and young adult was with the mindset that it was what I was going to do. I never considered anything else.

GM: You have such a striking presence as well as a beautiful sense of style. Are there specific fashion brands that you adore?

I love the simple elegance of French brands like Iro and Isabel Marant for day to day wear, and I like to mix things up with Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. I definitely can’t get enough Pleats Please! I am particularly obsessed with Loewe handbags…

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GM: In Murdoch Mysteries, you played Dr. Rebecca James. She’s a great character and develops so well throughout the series into such a rich and multi-dimensional character. How would you describe Rebecca?

Curious, determined, resourceful, and diligent. Rebecca is a humble girl that has an intense thirst for knowledge and genuinely wants to help and support the people around her, especially the constabulary.

GM: I also enjoy your character, Vanessa Hastings, on In Contempt. How has it been working on a legal drama and learning the courtroom jargon?

I think that working on a legal drama is so much fun because the stakes are always so high. Learning the courtroom jargon was a lot to get through, and I found it challenging at times. Playing Rebecca James somewhat prepared me, because medical language from the early 1900’s was also challenging to learn.

GM: Do you feel Vanessa likes her job as a public defender? She is known as “the rookie” and does seem surprised by what her job entails.

Vanessa learns to love her job by the end of the season. Since she starts out as the “rookie,” she learns as she goes along. It’s an entirely new world for her, which is why it seems like she’s a deer in headlights every episode.

GM: I know you travel a lot and are from Canada. However, how do you like LA?

LA is a great city. A little too much driving for me but I feel more and more at ease there. However, I’m very close with my family, and it’s pretty heartbreaking to have so much distance between us.

GM: You are a producer as well. Are you currently working on a project?

I am currently writing a script. It’s too secret (mainly because I’m super sensitive about the whole concept of the project!)

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GM: You have been described as having infectious energy on set and so much fun to work with. Is this just a natural part of your personality?

Yeah! I sometimes describe myself as an 8-year-old boy on drugs. I’m a very open, impulsive, energetic person and I’ve been that way my whole life. I’ve calmed down in the past few years, but I’m still a lot for some people to handle.

GM: Can you give us any clues regarding Vanessa in the upcoming season? 

Zero! … I’m still waiting to hear about Season 2 being picked up!

We cannot wait to see what is in store for Mouna Tratoré— Television, and Film!


All Photos by Lenard Smith

To follow Mouna on her social platforms:

https://www.facebook.com/mouna.traore

https://www.instagram.com/_mounatraore/

https://www.facebook.com/InContemptBET/

 

Podcast Perfection⎮Amanda Payton from “Trial and Error”

Amanda Payton is quite stunning, but she’s also a very talented and a highly trained actress who joined Trial and Error as a regular cast member for Season 2. Payton is perfection as Podcast host Nina Rudolph. Trial and Error is a spoof on crime documentaries (Thursdays at 9pm EST on NBC). Payton is making her mark as an actress on the small screen joining a couture cast of actors, like the esteemed Kristin Chenoweth.

Amanda’s character, Nina, is an ambitious New York podcast host who comes to East Peck to follow the murder trial of Lavinia Peck-Foster (Kristin Chenoweth), for her murder podcast “M-Towne – Where Murder Happens.” Payton explains that her character’s podcast is loosely based off of real-life investigative journalism podcasts S-Town and Serial in a town filled with outrageous characters. “The creator of Trial & Error, Jeff Astrof, is a genius with words and bringing his scripts to life was an honor,” says Payton. All of Season 2 was filmed over a ten week period on location in Vancouver, Canada. Trial & Error, with its serialized storytelling (each season follows a new case), requires viewers to tune in to every episode from the beginning and is meant to be binge-watched.

Gemma Magazine was thrilled to have an opportunity to speak with Amanda about her character Nina, the transition from theater to television, and her unique perspective about Trial and Error when she had a moment.

GM: How did you become interested in the arts? Did someone inspire you?
Well, I grew up in a very artistic household. My dad made his money as a landlord, but his passion was acting. My mom was a dancer. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture thing, but my dad told me that he would read Shakespeare to my mom’s pregnant belly. It was essential to them that I was cultured in the arts in some way and they exposed me to plays, dance, music, theater, film, and visual art from a very early age.
I fell in love with acting when I was about three years old. My mom took me to see a Chekhov play that my dad was acting in. She thought that I would probably sleep through it, but apparently, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. When it was over, I couldn’t wait to see my dad. In the play, he had grey hair and wore glasses. I was intrigued because I knew it was him, but I couldn’t believe the transformation. After the show, I crawled back and forth inspecting the entire stage. I think that was pretty much what started it for me.

GM: I know you had roles on the Animal Kingdom and NCIS, but you must be thrilled about your recurring role as Nina Rudolph in Trial and Error?
Beyond thrilled! Nina was a blast to play and joining the cast of Trial & Error was an absolute joy. Nina’s podcast, M-Towne, is loosely based on the real-life investigative journal podcasts S-Towne and Serial. I am obsessed with murder podcasts and murder mystery documentaries, and I finally got to put this weird obsession to use!
The creator of Trial & Error, Jeff Astrof, is a genius with words and bringing his scripts to life was an honor. The most exciting part of this experience was getting the opportunity to work with a cast of such high caliber comedians. The life that Kristin Chenoweth, Nicholas D’Agosto, Jayma Mays, Sherri Shepherd and Steven Boyer brought to the scripts was sidesplitting! They gave me a lot to work off of, and I had an absolute blast.

GM: Please describe your character and the show, as it is a spoof on crime documentaries.

Nina is an ambitious New York podcast host who comes to East Peck to follow the murder trial of Lavinia Peck-Foster (Kristin Chenoweth), for her murder podcast “M-Towne – Where Murder Happens.” While in East Peck, Nina develops a little crush on Lavinia’s lawyer, Josh (Nicholas D’Agosto). She ends up entangled in a complicated triangle between him and his opposing counsel, Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays), who may be carrying his baby.

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Trial & Error is a broad comedy, so most of the characters are pretty outrageous. Nina is, in a sense, the eyes and ears of the audience. She asks the questions and makes the comments the audience is wondering and thinking; she’s the straight guy, the “normal” one, and it was great to be that different persona in the mix of insanely funny personalities.

GM: What is it like working with Kristen Chenoweth?
Working with Kristin was an absolute dream. Not only is she insanely talented, but she is genuinely one of the most giving and loving people I know. I really can’t say enough good things about her as a person. Onset, Kristin led our ship making it safe for everyone, including our guest actors, to take risks and bring their best work. She taught me that along with being a talented actor, a big part of the job of leading a successful show is having the skill set to bring out the best in everyone. Such a priceless lesson that I will never forget.

 

Nina is, in a sense, the eyes and ears of the audience. She asks the questions and makes the comments the audience is wondering and thinking; she’s the straight guy, the “normal” one, and it was great to be that different persona in the mix of insanely funny personalities. Amanda Payton

GM: You are theater trained (Carnegie Mellon), which is fantastic. How was the transition to television?
That’s a great question! You know, the transition took some time. After graduating, I was being asked to work more differently and subtly than I was accustomed to. My voice didn’t need to reach the last row of a theatre, and my physicality didn’t either. On film, the slightest twitch of an eye is picked up by the camera. It almost felt like learning a new art form. The great thing about Carnegie Mellon is that the program teaches you how to train. I learned how to work hard and ultimately take what I learned in school and scaled it back.

GM: What do you do when you are not filming or rehearsing?

Aside from spending time with friends, family and my dog Harley, I enjoy painting. I also love taking dance classes or just turning on music and moving. I do my best thinking while running on trails out in nature. These activities keep me curious and expand my creative vocabulary. I am blessed to be surrounded with some fantastic mentors along my path, so it’s also a passion of mine to pay it forward to those I am in a position to help.

GM: On a lighter note, you have great style. Very effortless and chic. Do you enjoy fashion?

Thank you! Yes, I do enjoy fashion. My parents were total hippies, and my style reflects that. It’s eclectic, earthy, and relatively comfort-conscious. I love florals and unique patterns, and any color you can find in the sunset. I am more into feeling comfortable and confident than having trendy designer pieces.

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Amanda Payton is so lovely and we were thrilled to speak with her. Trial and Error (Season 3) has not been renewed yet but hoping to see it confirmed, regardless of platform. You can keep up with Amanda and her current projects on her social platforms:

https://www.facebook.com/NBCTrialAndError/

https://www.instagram.com/amanda__payton/

All photos courtesy of Tony Meda


 

The New Level of Style from​ The Next Gentleman

Anthony Mastracci, also known as The Next Gentleman (www.thenextgentleman.com), is a style blogger and yes, he wears it well! Both the job description and the menswear clothing he features. “The Next Gentleman” is a gorgeous and eclectic blog that highlights Anthony’s eye for detail, modern and classy apparel at affordable prices and lifestyle posts that spark the imagination. His website is ahead of the game, and Anthony knows what his audience wants. However, he is also willing to learn along the way, which is such an essential quality as a blogger. Anthony is based in LA but makes frequent trips to Boston. Therefore his sense of style has an East Coast aesthetic fused with the Cali look. Smart!

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“I wanted to show people who were interested in menswear and lifestyle topics like romance, restaurants, and grooming how to stay on top of their game without spending thousands of dollars,” says Mastracci. He also wanted to show the world exactly what it means to be a modern day gentleman from his perspective.

Since 2015, “The Next Gentleman” has gained a strong following on the web and social media, mainly Instagram, as he tears through outfits, theological questions, and life itself one post at a time. He has had the fabulous opportunity to showcase some of the best affordable menswear brands, well established and brand new, from all over the country. “But most of all, I’ve been able to spread the message that good style isn’t a price — it’s just how you bring the inside out for everyone to see,” says Anthony. Every week, “The Next Gentleman” meets new brands with whom they seek to develop exciting partnerships. As a rule of thumb, the team only reviews and promotes products that we have personally tested and love using. You must look at the blog, the fantastic brands, and discounts offered! When Anthony was not shooting, sourcing or blogging, we had I a chance to catch up.

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GM: You said that you grew up reading GQ Magazine and loved the aesthetic. However, the merchandise featured was pricey, and this ignited your concept/passion to start your magazine/blog. (Very savvy btw). I’m assuming you do all your sourcing. Can you please expand a bit on your creative process?

Our sourcing, the items that make up the outfits we build, come from two different streams — pieces we hand select when working with brands we’d like to feature, and simple pieces we’ve had forever that we love and wear frequently. When it comes to deciding what to feature or when to highlight it, we look at the current season and weather, not just in LA but across the country. Of course, classic pieces can play at any time, but fabrics, colors, and specific styles don’t always work. For example, we’re not going to promote sweaters in the 93 degrees LA heat!

GM: Has men’s fashion always appealed to you? I sometimes feel “it’s either in the blood” or not.

I mean, I think there’s a sort of mental proclivity for spatial and artistic reasoning so I can see what you’re saying. But fashion wasn’t always something I cared about, and it’s pretty recent for me. My love for personal style and image creation began in 2010 when I started working at Nordstrom. I remember just being a young 19-year-old and thinking, “You guys want me to wear a suit to work?!” I had only worn suits for funerals and stage performances up to that point. Being submerged in that environment, you’re exposed to so many style options. The hardest part is trying everything on to get your fit down correctly. I always joke about suburban Nordstrom in the sense that it’s kind of a one-way ticket to dressing better for most employees!

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GM: Your lifestyle posts are so streamlined and beautiful. Are these ideas always planned out?

Oh, absolutely. The feed is something that has taken many shapes over the years, but after my friend/photographer, Fabian, joined the team, we spend time every week planning outfits, tossing clothes around, figuring out which brands we can pair together, conceptualizing the feed and the message, and more before we actually post.

GM: From one writer to another, how do you stay on track? I feel I’m either writing or thinking about writing.

It’s challenging to do with a day job and then the communicative and operational tasks on top of that. But when you’re passionate about something, you make it happen! The hardest part for me, and for many others is the first sentence, so if something’s on my mind, I just let it come out and worry about structure later.

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Yes — our LA photographer, Fabian, has been pivotal in organizing and creating new content. We’re looking to plan feet back on the ground in Boston, where The Next Gentleman was born, and hopefully continuing to expand.

GM: What do you think of LA fashion in general (men and women)? Women tend to love men with some swagger, which you have. Did that somewhat come from your Boston roots?
The one thing I didn’t understand until living in LA was how much of the impact weather has on local fashion. Now, back east, we layer, and we layer HARD-CORE. I’m talking first layer, shirt, sweater, jacket, and then overcoat. In LA, you’d be an idiot to do that, and it’s just too hot. But the casual styles you see in LA were born from what makes sense to survive in the climate. There are ways around it to an extent. For example, I’ve swapped out my wool suits for lightweight cotton and even linen options. If I had to choose between the two, I’d say I’m much more into the classic English, and New England inspired styles of Boston.

GM: You have a fantastic fan base. What do you see in the future for The Next Gentleman?

Oh, thank you! Our audience is fantastic. They’re engaging, they ask questions, and they love the style! Initially, the idea was to start a new-age men’s magazine. I didn’t have the people, the funding, or the know-how to do that back then, but we’re making fantastic progress, and I could see it happening one day, in some form. We’re going to keep expanding for now — who know’s what’ll happen!

GM: What sparks your inspiration?

Most of my inspiration comes from my past experiences with work, social circles, hobbies, etc. I’ve never been one to limit myself to one genre of anything, and there’s something very liberating about that. Personal style is the same thing. Some days you’ll see me in a fantastic suit. Other days you’ll see me in joggers and a tee. Other days I’ll be dressed like someone’s dad — and you know, I’m okay with that! It’s all about being yourself.

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GM: You seem so chill in general but what do you do for fun to take a mental break from the blog.

Haha — that’s so nice of you, thank you so much! You’re chill too. I work A LOT. If it’s not the day job, it’s the blog, in some capacity. But I love to play catch. I find it to be a great stress reliever and just very therapeutic. There’s usually someone cool catching the ball on the other side, which makes it even better.

GM: Lastly, what advice would you give to someone wanting to start a men’s fashion site?

Want to be part of my team?! Haha — If someone wanted to start a men’s fashion site or blog, I’d say to take a step back from yourself, write down what you’re all about, and then show the world exactly that.

To learn more about Anthony and The Next Gentleman, you can keep up with him on the following social media platforms.

Thank you, Anthony! You are introducing Gemma to menswear in an elegant fashion. Very refreshing.

https://www.thenextgentleman.com

https://www.instagram.com/the_next_gentleman/

https://www.facebook.com/thenextgentleman/

Authentic Empowerment: Exclusive Interview with Shiva Negar

Shiva Negar is a force: beautiful, smart, and strong (Both mentally and physically). Shiva is known for her role as CIA Agent Annika from America Assassian(https://www.cbsfilms.com/american-assassin/). Her exotic looks derive from her diverse background. She was born in Iran and raised in Turkey and Canada. The name Shiva is of Persian origin and means “Beauty.” Shiva embodies her name in so many ways.

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Photo: Steven Pressler

Shiva began her career as a child performer by performing on piano and guitar at recitals and in singing competitions. In high school, Shiva was involved in several school plays and theatre, which quickly became her art of choice and decided to take her passion for acting to the next level. Shiva then went to film school in Los Angeles and in between following her passion and her auditions, Shiva also managed to graduate from York University with a degree in Psychology.

Shiva played the lead role in Lionsgate and CBS Films’ Action Thriller American Assassin, which is based on the bestselling series of novels by Vince Flynn and is directed by Michael Cuesta. Shiva starred opposite Dylan O’Brien, Taylor Kitsch, and Michael Keaton. Shiva trained hard — with an elite group of specialists, performing a number of different CIA exercises. After watching American Assassin, I cannot imagine anyone else playing Annika, the Turkish CIA associate with her own personal agenda. In the film, Negar navigates the gray waters, always centering her character so that we always understand her motivations.

Shiva Negar is a perfectionist with an intense work ethic and gravitates toward characters that are very empowering, which is inspiring. She is also extremely professional and enjoys pushing herself to the limit. Shiva has that rare fusion of intense strength and vulnerability which makes her so interesting to watch.

Shiva also starred as the lead of Telefilm’s feature Becoming Burlesque for director Jackie English. She just wrapped The Cuban and is also currently filming Heartland.  She is in constant demand. When Shiva had a break from filming, she took the time to speak with Gemma and we could not be happier.

GM: I know your training was intense for American Assassian, however did you also find it empowering to build such physical strength? As you know, it’s such a great asset for your mental game too!

SN: The training was great and a lot of fun! We did a lot of kickboxing, choreographing the fights, weapon training etc.  And yes it was definitely empowering to learn these skills and be able to have the same strength and capability as the men did on the field.

GM: What would a typical day on set be like? Also, can you expand on your experience working with Director Michael Cuesta

SN: Everyday was different, but once we went on camera, typically we would always have a good amount of rehearsal time with the director to go over the scene and talk about our characters before filming. Then we would just go out and play and there was always room to improvise or tweak things around to where we as performers felt most comfortable.

I definitely enjoyed working with Michael Cuesta, he’s a very visual person and I liked that he was very open to hear our side of the story and our view on the characters, and if something didn’t feel right in the scene he was willing to change it to what we felt would be more natural.

GM: Annika is sort of every woman’s dream and men too. She’s smart, strong, confident. I also find her vulnerable at times. Did you feel as well that she had alot of layers to her personality?

 

SN: Oh yes! There were definitely a lot of different layers to Annika. She’s very driven and fearless. Her tragic past has made her become who she is and it’s where her focus and strength comes from. However I like the fact that we get to see other sides of her throughout the film, her feminine side, and her vulnerability when it comes to her family and the pain that she’s been carrying all along. I really enjoyed being able to play all of that and accessing all those layers.

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What did you learn about yourself from playing Annika?

SN: That I can kick ass, lol. One thing I love about acting is the fact that every character and every project is different and you get to learn and experience many different skills, situations etc. You never know how far you can go until you’re placed in that situation. So being a part of such a project that required a lot of physical strength made me realize how far I can push myself physically and mentally and it was definitely more than I had imagined 🙂

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GM: You also starred in Burlesque as Fatima. Your character finds herself and her sense of belonging through the Burlesque environment.  Do you find this suprising?

SN: That was another very fun and empowering role where I got to explore the world of Burlesque and had to learn to perform on stage as a burlesque dancer.

I don’t find the plot surprising at all, in fact I can somewhat relate to it myself as I’m sure many others can as well. Growing up, I was always trying to fit in with friends, in school, family etc. I buried my creative side for years as I was trying to live up to my family’s expectations and follow the “norm”. It took a long time for me to find my sense of belonging and actually embrace who I was and follow my passion which was completely against the rules and my family’s wishes. But things didn’t turn out so bad after all and I’m glad to say that I now do have their support 🙂

GM: I know you are signed on for Street 2 with producer Lyle Howry. I’m sure you are looking forward to it. It also sounds like a great cast and it centers around such an imortant issue.

SN: Yes I’m really looking forward to getting started. It’s a great script and a great cause. It revolves around the issue of human trafficking, which I believe we need to pay more attention to and create more awareness. I’m happy we will shed light on this.

GM: What is coming up next for you? 

SN: I just finished shooting for a film called “The Cuban” starring Louis Gossett Jr. and Shohreh Aghdashloo.  It’s a beautiful story about the connection between music and Alzheimers disease and how music can effect memory. It also sheds a light on different cultures and the history of Cuban Jazz.  I’m also currently filming for the TV Show “Heartland” (http://www.cbc.ca/heartland/), which airs on UP TV USA, CBC Canada and Netflix (www.netflix.com). So there will be a new character and some interesting events happening on the new season 🙂

I would like to thank Shiva Negar for speaking with Gemma Magazine. She is so lovely and inspiring. To learn more about Shiva Negar and her upcoming projects, follow Shiva on her social platforms. We are excited to see what is next!

 

 

 

La Jolla Fashion Film Festival 2018 ~ Is Fashion Dead or Not

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Once again, the La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival 2018 is prepping for its annual festivities. This event is the first international fashion film festival founded in North America. The dates this year are July 19-21st. Gemma Magazine will be attending and we are thrilled to participate. The #LJFFF is considered the Cannes of the fashion film world and the world’s largest gathering of fashion filmmakers. It’s basically creativity from all elements: fashion, film, filmmakers, actors, and beautiful cinematography with stories to tell.

Hundreds of fashion filmmakers from around the world will be in attendance as they are mesmerized by the top 1% of fashion films produced worldwide at the upcoming 9th year of LJFFF. The La Jolla community will gather together once again to network, make deals, attend seminars & panels, screen films, go to press receptions, participate in After Parties, and win awards.

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The films that make it into the final program will represent some of the most brilliant and creative directors in filmmaking today. If you have happen to viewed various clips throughout the year, the talent is stellar. Curated from the fantastic and exploding world of fashion film, are a glimpse of what’s trending in the minds of the world’s top fashion houses, designers, and stylists interpreted through the lens of their filmmaking counterparts. Creativity and on trend styles that will forshadow what’s to come on a high fashion level.

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Max Vogue is an integral aspect of the festival, and Gemma Magazine has had a crush for awhile now. Antonio Contreras Aviance created the concept, stories, and art. Antonio plays Max Vogue and so perfectly. Fred Sweet produces the series. Antonio is also a multiple international Fashion Film Award winner (5x). This year, the festival will pay homage to Gianni versace by featuring the Versace Collection in a wonderful episodic series and musical. also, for the 2018 Fashion Film Festival, Max Vogue The Musical highlights the question of whether fashion is dead or not!

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Max Vogue, a time traveling, gender bending, angst filled Fashion Historian and Detective has come to the conclusion that fashion has stopped changing since the 90’s. Max only envisions revivals and “comebacks.”How is this possible?? During the chaotic madness of a Versace fashion show, Max takes a fatal fallandhis guardian angel, “La Catrina”takes Max to what seems to be the “Fashion Purgatory Salon” where he gets his chance to meet iconic personalities of Arts and Fashion. The costumes are pure fantasy and based off of history. Costume designer Zandra Rhodes created the gorgeous creation for the character of Diana Vreeland.

The musical is inspired by the 2012 Kurt Andersen article “You want a Devolution” in Vanity Fair, the 1944 play “Huis Clos” by Jean Paul Sartreand the 1992 film Twin Peaks by David Lynch.

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Much more to come on this fabulous fashion festival, Max Vogue, and the winners.
In the meantime, you can follow Max Vogue and The La Jolla International Film Festival at the following platforms:
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Antonio Contreas

 

 

The Eloquent Actress ~ Amanda Grace Benitez

Amanda Grace Benitez is an actress, drummer, and an on-air radio personality from Los Angeles, CA. The talented actress is on the rise with a solid fan base and 11.1K Instagram followers. Amanda was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her parents worked as set decorators so she was surrounded by creativity from the beginning. There is a whimsical beauty about her and as she embodies a spirit of sensitivity and strength while having such a cool vibe. Benitez has great versatility and so much to five. Amanda is known for The Ranger, Emerson Heights, and School of Rock. While she was not busy drumming (Yes, she is a drummer) or auditioning, Gemma had the awesome opportunity to speak with the young and talented actress.
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Photo: Dean Foreman


GM: Thank you for joining us to chat! Did you know you always wanted to act or be involved in the arts in some capacity?
Thank you for having me! No, I didn’t. I was the shyest kid growing up! My first love was dancing, which led to performing at my grammar school talent shows. Later on, I became the host of my 6th-grade talent show which is where I got the bug to act. Both of my parents are set decorators and I would fake being sick to ditch school and go to work with them because   I loved the atmosphere on set. The actors really seemed like they enjoyed being there and I thought it would be a dream to play make believe for a living. I enjoy several aspects of performing, but I feel most fulfilled and in my element in front of the camera.

What was your first audition like?
Now that I look back, it was quite embarrassing! From what I can remember, an assistant brought me into the room where casting happened to be enjoying a ginormous lunch.  My nine-year-old self-said to everyone, “I’ll wait till you’re all done

eating” in a matter-of-fact tone.  Of course, everyone laughed, thought it was cute and my BARBIE audition continued.  I was left feeling extremely confused because I thought it was rude to eat during my performance.

You play Amber in The Ranger. Can you please describe your character and the movie a bit?Also, what did you learn about the filmmaking process for a horror film?
AGB: Amber is the life of the party, complete with blue hair. She’s a free spirit who left her privileged background to try the punk scene on for size.  At the end of the day, she’s just seeking acceptance and love, which happens to be all in the wrong  places. Being a punk growing up, assuming the role of Amber was a natural fit.  Amber meets the other punks at a warehouse party, high off of a hallucinogenic drug called “Echo.” Things get out of control and they all have to flee the area.  The punks wind up traveling to the forest to start a whole new life; However, just when everything seems calm, they come into contact with an unhinged Park Ranger. An insane amount of detail is put into every frame.  It’s more than just slash, gore, jump-scares, etc.
I can’t generalize all horror but in the case of our movie, there was an insane amount of detail put into the design of the film.
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Photo: Dean Foreman


GM: How was the Newport Film Festival, which you recently attended for The Ranger?
AGB: It was incredible!  Attending festivals are always interesting due to not knowing how the audience will receive your project.  Newport had a punk energy and understood our film’s intention completely!
GM: You are always so fashionable with great style. Do you enjoy fashion?
AGB: Thank you so much!  The only way I can express myself is through fashion. In my opinion, it’s the last art form left.  Everything else has been done. Fashion is ever changing and you can become anything.

 Tell me a bit about your experience in School of Rock.
It was an utter blast working with such an incredibly talented cast and crew.  Being a    trained drummer, it was awesome to take on the role of drummer girl, “Beth.” Not to mention, Pete Wentz from “Fall Out Boy” happened to be in one of the
episodes and being able to jam out with him was super cool!
You grew up in LA. I’m sure that you meet many young and aspiring actors from all over who have moved here. Do you give them advice about the industry?
Yes, I do!  I tell them to always work on their craft, be true to yourself, stay humble and never give up.

Who are some of your favorite actresses?
 I have been moved by many performances and this list could go on and on; However,       Alicia Vikander, Natalie Portman, Emma Stone and Meryl Streep are my my favorite.

GMEven though yougrew up here, what do you like to do for fun in LA?
AGB: I enjoy going out with my friends to hear live music,  hit up swap meets, art shows and trying out new vegan spots.
Make sure to keep an eye out for Amanda Grace Benitez as she takes Hollywood by storm. You can follow Amanda on social media with the following links.

A Fusion of Eastern and Western Fashion ~Michael Leyva

There is something admirable about a humble designer, and Michael Leyva (www.michaelleyva.com) fits the description. Humility is real, raw, and always keeps you grounded so that you are continually improving your craft. Therefore you learn not to take your talent for granted and an artist can keep growing. Welcome to the world of Fashion Designer Michael Leyva. Leyva has accomplished fusing an Eastern and Western aesthetic with his stunning designs. There are the classic Filipino characteristics combined with the contemporary and modern look from the American culture. His work is pure artistry and the definition of authenticity.

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Michael’s rise to becoming one of Manila’s sought-after haute costume designers is a beautiful story of loss, fulfillment, hard work, and humility. The story continues with Michael Leyva bringing his embellished and elegant gowns to the Los Angeles fashion district as he continues to establish himself as the high fashion designer that he embodies. His work speaks for itself, but Michael also has a beautiful story.

For a touch of background, Michael Leyva did not always know he was destined to be a fashion designer. Leyva was a flight attendant and had spent many years training for this. However, he was not happy and felt that there was something more. During this time, he also went through the tragic event of losing his brother, famed fashion designer, Brian Leyva. Michael was Brian’s biggest fan, and they had a beautiful relationship. After much soul-searching, Leyva took this moment of loss and reinvented himself as a fashion designer, which brought great fulfillment.

Coming from the legacy of his brother, who was a renowned designer, Michael Leyva was able to pick up where Brian left off and continued the LEYVA brand. Ironically, an unfortunate and tragic event in the Leyva family turned out to be Michael’s defining moment of becoming a designer and began his journey in the world of fashion.

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LAFW 2018

After years of training under Filipino Fashion Stewart, Mr. Jojie Lloren, Michael spent a few rapidly evolving years designing for the inner circles of celebrity clientele and created quite the buzz within the fashion industry. Embracing his philosophy of keen attention to detail and learning, Michael decided to refine his skills through his studies at the elite Central Saint Martins School in London. Michael also designs the most beautiful bridal gowns. They are romantic and dramatic.

Through his dedication and passion, Michael has established himself as one of the top couture designers throughout the Philippines and Asia, Michael has prepared himself to continue his immense and rapid growth by branching into and throughout the United States. After just one week after his arrival, his gowns were seen and applauded on the Daytime Emmys red carpet and stage between three presenters, winners, nominees, and producers. Leyva also made his LAFW debut in March of 2018. He featured on-trend couture designs and it was a successful show.

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Daytime Emmy Awards

Michael never ceases to surprise both the local and global audiences with his design and craftsmanship. The story of Michael Leyva will continue to shine. His late brother Brian is always within his heart to guide, support and love.

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To follow Michael on Social Media:

FB:https://www.facebook.com/reymichaelleyva

IG:https://www.instagram.com/michaelleyva_/?hl=en

He is represented by NOW PR LA