The Rise of Riza Santos: The Inspiring​ and Stunning Influencer — Gemma Exclusive

Riza Santos (Riza Racquel) is on the rise: Fashionista, Influencer, and Making her mark within the music world as a DJ. Riza is also from Canada and expressed her sentiments about her heritage by saying, “As a Canadian, it always warms my heart when people from other countries tell me about their positive experiences with Canadians. Canadians take pride in having a true identity, and we love our hockey!” said Santos. Riza is incredibly ambitious about being a Global Ambassador, becoming a refined DJ, and most importantly; giving back. She’s well spoken and highly professional. Riza also served in the military and highly values her family.

Riza is also an experienced actress and dancer who is vocally trained in music theater and opera. Her additional dance skills include jazz, hip-hop, salsa, and traditional Filipino dance. Riza aspires to become an entrepreneur in order to help students with financial resources who do not have the funds to obtain a post secondary education.

Riza started in pageants because she knew it would lead to the next positive step — which it did. Santos does not take her good fortune for granted. She works hard and with integrity. Riza’s schedule is hectic, so Gemma was so thrilled that she took a moment to speak with Gemma Magazine.

Tell us a bit about growing up in Canada and how you decided to enter pageants and what is your personal view on them?

Canada is an incredible country with a mosaic of cultures. That being said, pageants are not the first thing you’d associate a Canadian with. I entertained the idea of joining a pageant through the influence of my mom and grandpa. My mom is gorgeous and so glamorous. However, my grandma wanted her to focus solely on her chemical engineering degree. I was encouraged to try out pageants as part of an extracurricular activity.

I view pageants as a stepping stone and also to advocate a cause that I’m passionate about. Also, I wanted to see the world, but I was a university student with a limited budget working in retail. Winning pageants gave me opportunities to travel internationally and to see the world through reputable organizations. The pageants I have participated in team up with charitable causes; they have personal meaning. I’ve volunteered nationally and internationally. Pageants were also a gateway to modeling, and that opened up a lot of doors and opportunities for me.

It’s incredible that you have won 3! What has pageant life taught you that you have been able to incorporate into your daily life?

Pageants provide unique experiences that can be transferred for personal development. At the same time, I don’t believe anyone should join a competition without the intention to win. I am a very competitive person; I think the process itself of preparing for arenas of competition–where one has to be self-motivated to produce the best version of themselves–should apply towards everyday life.

The reality is that as humans, we can be both competitive and cooperative. Pageants are competitions, but through them, I’ve made lifelong friendships that have outlasted the competition. Most importantly, I’ve learned that this journey of life is about the people you cross paths with, putting your best foot forward and showing up. People will remember you after the competition. It’s not always about winning.

You are an advocate for environmental protection. Can you please expand?

I think everyone can be an advocate for environmental protection. Just educate yourself and do your part. Lower your carbon footprint, and a be a responsible consumer. For example, I like to ride my bicycle or carpool as methods of transportation. I recycle, carry my reusable bags and utensils, and I love my metal straw. I encourage other people to do the same. Substantive change begins with you.

Can you please tell us why this is valuable to you?

It allows me to speak, and for people to know me behind the image and the persona. I have the real opportunity to be influential, and that being said: I’d like to advocate for a life of principle. The best way I know how to do accomplish this task is to be principled in my own life.

I was on the phone with my sister and niece on the way to the grocery store, when we came up with the acronym #GIFTED. We spoke of our family legacy and what we genuinely practice. Traditionally people think others are born #GIFTED. We want to introduce a new viewpoint. I think it encompasses a mindset that I was brought up with

G is for Generosity starts with being grateful and abundant wherever you’re at in life. It’s also empathetic toward others, seeking to understand them, and having compassion for them.

I is for Integrity. Trust is foundational and valuable because it is the foundation of all relationships in life. My father taught me that you’re only as good as your word and it should be ironclad. My word is my honor, and my courage Geis my life. I aim to live a life of integrity regardless of who is looking.

F is for Focus. Goals can only be achieved through focus and small shifts in action and focus cause people to succeed.

T is for Tenacity. Tenacity is making strong efforts and focusing on purposeful action. It’s not just about working hard but making sure what you do is purposeful. It’s not easy, but I do find that when I stay purposeful in what I do, feelings remain in perspective.

E is for Education. It’s not just about formal education, but learning from experience–and not just the bad ones. You may not always win the battle, but never lose the lesson.

D is for Dedication. Anything worth doing isn’t going to be easy. There are still setbacks, and it can be so easy to not see things through to the end. But dedication is about commitment.

I believe anyone can make the world a better place with these values, because it’s the foundation for a grounded person, and what is society other than the people who comprise it?

Where do you get your inspiration from?
My dad lost his father when he was 17 years old, but thankfully he had his siblings to help support him, and he completed his post-secondary education. My family has taught me the principles of living with integrity, having a self-motivated work ethic, and doing my best. They are conscious of leaving a legacy and creating a better future not only for self but for future generations as well.

“My family inspires me. They have a compelling story to tell, and I see my own life fitting into this larger narrative. My extended family immigrated to North America using education as a vehicle. I have uncles and aunts that earned both MD and Ph.D.’s. One of my uncles had seven degrees and was also a summa cum laude at UP, educated at Harvard Law School on a Fulbright scholarship, and was the first Filipino elected into Canadian government.” (Riza Santos)

Tell us more about some of your hosting jobs and your You-Tube Channel?
I have had excellent opportunities to host various international competitions as well as the Asian Poker tournament in Macau. My You-Tube channel focuses on my international travel, as well as beauty and make-up tutorials.

What are your current goals and aspirations?
I love music, and I am looking forward to DJing. I’m a mezzo-soprano vocalist and musician at heart. I studied Classical Music under a dramatic soprano who studied at the Moscow Conservatory of Music and worked at an Opera house in Paris.

What does music mean to you personally?
I love how music brings people together. I grew up in a home where someone would always be playing guitar, piano or singing. Music moves people and can invoke deep emotions one can’t express in words. Music has always been a big part of my life, and I’m excited to get more involved and share my music on a more general level.

To follow Riza Santos on her social media platforms: https://www.facebook.com/msrizasantos/

https://www.instagram.com/riza.official/

Powerful Producing with Writer and Producer Kate Pazakis

Kate Pazakis is an actress, producer and artistic director for the Rockwell: The Table & Stage. It’s a quaint and cozy theatre house that feature musicals of bold talent and meaning. The entire concept itself is fantastic. Located in the heart of Los Feliz Village, Rockwell: Table & Stage offers Angelenos a truly unique experience by staging live, musical performances while serving unwavering cuisine (Chef Wayne) with seasonal alternating menus. Baroque chandeliers and a dark rustic vibe fashion a warm indoor eatery and performance space. So, who makes the Rockwell “rock”? Producer and Writer Kate Pazakis and her talented team, especially producing partner Bradley Bredeweg (who also directed “Edward Scissorhands”).

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Specifically, Kate Pazakis is responsible for the concept development and artistic vision, with a strong influence on script and song selection. She hires and oversees a director, musical director, casting director, technical director, and stage manager to evolve each show from creative concept to final production. In many instances, high profile personalities perform as recurring lead roles or surprise guest stars, creating substantial buzz around each show, which makes it very appealing.

img_8760Kate and her team produce 25 plus original in-house shows per month as well as lead and motivate a production crew of 15. Pazakis has also created her unique niche within Rockwell: the UMPO, which stands for (Unauthorized Musical Parody Of) and represents productions that Kate feels will resonate strongly with the audience.
Recently, Gemma was extended an invitation to see “Edward Scissorhands,” the musical. It was incredible and makes you realize how exciting theatre is in Los Angeles. Furthermore, when, you have an excellent showrunner like Kate Pazakis, the productions at The Rockwell are going to be high quality, filled with authentic talent and deliver a great story. When Kate had a moment to speak with us, we were able to get insight about her creative process and what inspires her.

How were you introduced to the Theatre World? I know that you were a performer before becoming a producer/writer.
I started doing musicals in first grade. I was hooked from that moment.

Being Artistic Director requires many details and tasks. What motivates you (since you are also responsible for motivating cast and crew members)?
For me, it would be the reactions of the audience members, how excited they get when they see live theatre — especially in Los Angeles. It’s very inspiring.

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What made you want to start UMPO (which stands for Unauthorized Musical Parody Of)? It seems like an incredible combination of creativity and sharp business skills.
Rockwell hired me as the artistic director of the space and part of my job was to bring in outside shows. I did not like the shows that were being brought in and decided to create them myself. Furthermore, I do feel that I’m in a great space for a venue that mixes creativity and business skills.

Can you please describe the audition process? Strong Vocals would have to be at the top of the list. Vocals are first. And then acting is just about as close. It must be a robust double threat.

You and who else are the core members of UMPO?
I have a group of about 30 actors that tend to do a lot of the shows. It is not a company per se, but people always want to return.

What do you love most about the theater world?
I love being able to play pretend as an adult with no holds barred. It’s life, the feedback is honest and immediate.

It’s interesting that you choose certain favorite cult films to parody
Is there a common thread that stands out?
I usually pick a property that is quotable or very current. Being a relevant production that will resonate with the audience and initiate a discussion.

“Edward Scissorhands is phenomenal.” The cast is so talented and the writing is superb! The production was directed by Bradley Bredeweg There were light and heavy moments. Do you feel that you are given a powerful platform to shed light on particular social issues? For Edward Scissorhands, police brutality stood out as well as the fear our country has of someone they perceive as different.
Thank you! I feel it is a great platform to discuss the terrifying politics in our world today.

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Do you ever perform in any of the productions?
I played the T-Rex in J”Jurassic Park” and loved it. It was my return to the stage after many years. It’s interesting because, after such a long break from performing, you get to look at the process with fresh eyes. Who knows. Maybe I’ll do it again soon. LOL.

Lastly, you’re a mom and how do you balance that with all your responsibilities?
I’ve made sure that I’ve set strict boundaries with my time so that there is a healthy balance between family and work. I’m an organized person, but delegating is crucial.

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We want to thank Kate for speaking with us. Edward Scissorhands has been extended until the 30th, and we highly recommend you see it. You might even shed a tear.
Tickets: Rockwell-LA.com
www.rockwell-la.com

 

https://www.facebook.com/katepazakis

https://www.instagram.com/pazakattack/

 

 

 

5 Reasons To Love Julia Garner (Ruth Langmore) from “Ozark”

If you adore the Netflix series “Ozark” the way we do, then you know that Julia Garner, who plays Ruth Langmore, is incredible. Julia is a brilliant actress, and she came on the Ozark scene like a firecracker and is still popping. Netflix is currently streaming “Ozark” season 2, and it’s fantastic. Once again, Ruth is front and center and ready for action.

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For a bit of backstory, after a deal with a drug cartel goes south, “Ozark” follows financial planner Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) and his family as they are forced to relocate from Chicago to a summer resort community in the Missouri Ozarks. Laura Linney stars as Marty’s wife who gets involved with real estate to help Marty launder money after they move to Missouri. Their paths cross with fan favorite and resident badass Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), who also gets involved in Marty’s laundering business.

Garner is a standout, and you can’t help but love her. Jason Bateman (also Executive Producer) is so talented as usual. Marty is a force to be reckoned with — but in a quiet and stoic manner. It’s a bit of crazymaking behavior but it all makes sense to Marty.

Julia Garner is an American actress and model and only 23. She has appeared in the films “Martha Marcy May Marlene”(2011), “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”(2012), “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” (2014) and has leading roles in “Electrick Children,” “We Are What We Are,” and “Grandma.”

Her role as Ruth Langmore, in “Ozark,” is one she has made her own. Ruth is the girl from the wrong side of the tracks living in rural Missouri with dysfunctional extended family members. She’s immensely street smart, wants a better life, and will do what it takes to achieve it. The girl has goals. Langmore basically plays all roles to her family members: caretaker, mom, disciplinarian, decision maker, and the breadwinner.

Here are our five reasons we love Ruth:

Incredibly Strong- Ruth does not take shit from anyone. Some might describe her as bitter, (especially given her family situation), but in reality, it’s like she has a sixth sense in order to protect herself and her family. Ruth is very aware of people, their intentions, and keeps all necessary information to herself. However, Ruth is not afraid to ask questions, take criminal risks and keeps moving. You have to respect her ability not to overthink.

Wicked Smart– She was the first to give Marty a run for his money (Literally). There is a pivotal scene where Marty knows he is dealing with a smart and savvy young woman who has the potential to be a criminal. It’s not long afterward that they become partners in business. Just the way Marty looks at Ruth is classic.

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Ambitious – Ruth will not stop at anything to get what she wants — money, a better opportunity, or even defending her family at times. As crazy as her family is, she remains loyal overall. In season 2, Ruth encourages Wyatt (her cousin) relentlessly to go to college. She knows he’s smart and Ruth says “You are not like the rest of us Langmores.” Unfortunately, when Ruth visits the school counselor on Wyatt’s behalf, she ends up punching her. I mean, it happens.

Hilarious– Julia Garner is serious in how she plays Ruth. It is possible that the writers did not anticipate that she would become such a scene stealer. Julia delivers her lines with such perfection, and sometimes it’s downright hilarious. Her comebacks alone are sharp and quick. She may not have a filter, but she’s always on point.

Vulnerable – In Season 2, the audience sees a more vulnerable side to Ruth. As the FBI starts to close in on Marty and the Byrde family, Ruth finally feels the pressure and does show more emotion. Besides, her ex-con/abusive dad is back home, and that stirs up a lot of angst for her. Ruth desperately wants his love and acceptance — even when he encourages her to make the wrong choices. The audience starts to understand a bit why Ruth is the way she is. The scene where she is taking a shower after FBI questioning and physical abuse is heartwrenching. Underneath it all, Ruth is a young woman who wants to be loved. She was not dealt the best hand in life and has been on her own for the majority. She’s still strong throughout and for this, watching Ruth Langmore is priceless.

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One added element: Ruth’s scenes with Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman). There is intensity, awkward encounters, and they could not be more different. Yet, when they look at each other and converse, it’s almost like there is a sense of self-reflection.

Ozark (Season 2) is currently streaming on Netflix. If you are into crime and heavy drama, you will love this show. On an end note, the entire cast (Laura Linney, Mike Moseley, Lisa Emery, and Peter Mullan) is phenomenal, the directing is so well done, and the series itself is a standout in an “outsider” type of way.


 

 

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


 

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!

 

 

 

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.