Tanna Frederick: Set for Stardom – Exclusive for Gemma

A few months prior, Gemma Magazine had the fantastic opportunity to attend “Dances with Films,” an exciting Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Many promising films and shorts had their premiere, and all deserve so much credit. One actress and film that stood out to us is Tanna Frederick from Two Ways Home. Tanna Frederick is captivating, raw, and lights up the screen. Frederick’s performance also provokes intense emotion from the audience. You find yourself rooting for her character, Kathy, who is fighting hard to put her family back together. Tanna Frederick is an incredibly gifted actress.

Tanna also produced the film, and Ron Vignone directed the feature. Tanna stars alongside the talented Tom Bower (who plays her grandfather Walter) in the heartwarming production. Two Ways Home is currently on its way to the Women Texas Film Festival womentxff.org this month and has received support from NAMI and Breaking The Chains.

So, who is Tanna Frederick? Tanna Frederick is a Producer, Director, Actress, and Environmental Activist. Tanna alongside Randal Kleiser launched DEFROST, a revolutionary VeeR virtual reality experience (Cannes). Tanna produced and stars in the feature film Two Ways Home premiering as an Official Selection at the Dances With Films 22 festival mental health awareness. She has starred in and produced six feature films with film icon Henry Jaglom, including The “M” Word, Ovation, and three of his plays, including Train to Zakopane. Frederick has a Best Actress awards from Wild Rose Film Festival, World Fest Houston, the Fargo Film Festival and the Montana Independent Film Festival. Method Fest named her “One to Watch” and she received the CineCause Award, the University of Iowa’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival’s Maverick Award. She is the founder of ProjectSaveOurSurf.org (@PSOSurf) hosting monthly beach cleanups and a camp which has reached thousands of underserved youth in Southern California and Mexico, educating them on environmental issues with hands-on instruction in yoga and surfing.

In Two Ways Home, Tanna’s character Kathy returns home to her children, her ailing grandfather, and her ex-husband after being in prison. She has Bipolar disorder and made a few poor choices, which landed her a prison sentence. After becoming clear on why she made a few erroneous decisions and completing rehabilitation, Kathy is released back into society, and most importantly, joins her family. It’s a tough road ahead of her but Kathy takes on the challenge.

The film takes place in Iowa, which is Frederick’s home state. When Tanna had a moment, she spoke with Gemma about her character and her poignant acting experience in the film. We were honored that she took the time to talk with us.

Did you always know that you wanted to be an actress?
I always knew I wanted to be an actress, yes. I had stints of also wanting to be a marine biologist and a sanitation worker to clean the trash up as a kid. And I was a poly-sci major with an emphasis in international relations with honors in college. The needy artist in me won.

Your character, Kathy, is up against many challenging circumstances when she returns home from prison. How does she convince herself to keep going? Her persistence is quite incredible.
I think my character Kathy in Two Ways Home convinces herself to keep going after her release from prison because therapy helps her recognizes the past choices were the result of her unbalanced brain chemistry. Her actions were not something she would have chosen if she had assistance in understanding her Bipolar disorder. In this plotline, she’s been through rehabilitation in prison and was lucky to be in a place to face her demons and the possibility of a beautiful future.

The relationship between Kathy and her daughter, Cori, is strained. You can see that Cori wants a relationship with her mom. She’s pushing her away and can be completely inappropriate at times. How would you describe the relationship between them?
Cori and Kathy’s relationship is typical of Gen X’ers and children whose parent’s mental health issues force the role of parent and adult to be switched back and forth always. Cori has been told her mother has mental health problems and is unfit to be her mother. It is also a predisposed element placed on Cori’s judgment by society. The two women are longing for connection but are always up against each other redefining that relationship based on the terms they face. It’s a tough road for both of them.

I love the scenes with you and your grandpa (played by Tom Bower). What was it like working with Tom Bower. Your scenes together were especially heartwarming.
Tom Bower is an amazing actor! It was a gift to work with him! Working with Tom Bower is akin to merely existing as a character on the frame. He makes it so effortless in a scene because as an actor, he is immensely giving and so present. He’s such a reverberating tuning fork one can’t help but sit back and let a moment unfold naturally. Five years before making Two Ways Home, at every event I’d see Tom, I’d tell him I was going to use him in a movie where he’d play my grandfather. He didn’t believe me until I finally showed him the script.

The film takes place in Iowa, and you were raised there. What was it like to go back and film?
Filming in Iowa and being from Iowa brought this enjoyable down-home family experience I’ve never had and wish I could experience every time. I shot on family farms and had family and friends helping out where I needed backup, ending long days with homemade ice tea at my uncle’s house. We started a neighbor’s house on fire, luckily they were related to us.

In a previous interview, I heard you mention that many Iowa locals were in the movie. What was that like for them?
I think everyone in Iowa had a good time filming the movie despite the one hundred degrees heat and humidity. It was incredibly beautiful in the countryside, and we worked so well as a film family and team.

What would you say are the universal themes of Ways Home?
The universal themes of Two Ways Home are about acceptance and family. The fact that this specific character was dealing with bipolar illness is one of the many things she could have been facing. Tom Bower’s character is suffering PTSD from the war, and Riley Behr’s role as the daughter is dealing with displacement issues from being raised by her grandparents and not her mother. The parents are dealing with the loss of a daughter to the prison system through mental illness and then trying to forgive past transgressions by Kathy. It’s a universal theme I saw growing up in Iowa that stays with me to this day: the priority of family. The resilience of love is a healthy choice, and it can be a more difficult road to keep remodeling the family unit like a piece of Tupperware from 1976. Every Christmas on my grandparent’s farm my aunts would have “The Day after Christmas Tupperware Fight” because you just don’t throw Tupperware away. You keep it. It’s sturdy, and you can count on it through the decades. I think an Iowan sees their family like Tupperware. It’s worth the fight.

When Kathy returns home, it seems there is still so many feelings between her and her ex-husband, Junior. There is resentment as well. Do you feel that Kathy and her husband (Junior) still have feelings for each other? Was it more about repairing the relationship for the sake of the family?
I think Kathy and Junior have feelings for each other. Richard Schinnow (Junior) contributed to the script development, and there were a lot of ways Richard could have teased out the relationship between the two – a lot of tossed pages – that the symmetry of the grandfather and Corey’s relationship could’ve been ignored. I think we hit a perfect balance and suggestion to their history as high school lovers, the flame still burns, and then this sort of ‘Jack and Diane’ story got real once ‘Diane’ developed bipolar after having a child. Their love goes on despite all the factors involved. We pretty much left it up to the audience to detail Kathy and Junior’s relationship.

It’s brave and very empowering that the film took on mental illness as one of its focal points as well as the ability to take responsibility for it. Can you please expand?
There is such a huge stigma now and historically to speaking out about and confronting mental health. I always think of the comparison that if someone has diabetes, it’s not considered shameful or a weakness to have or a risk factor involved relating to that diagnosis. However, when someone has to say, “I have depression, I have anxiety, I have bipolar 1 or 2, etc.”, there is such a fear factor involved in that exchange because the parties receiving that information are so often uneducated about mental health. Whether that be from lack of funding to mental health programs, education, psychological studies, or outreach; there is vagueness. We just haven’t hit the spot where it’s understood yet.

We would like like to personally thank Tanna Frederick for taking the time to speak with us. Two Ways Home is a beautiful story of watching Kathy forge unexpected new levels of love and heroism through self-acceptance and perseverance.

To follow Tanna on social media:


IG: @tannafredrick


Staying Golden with Serena Laurel: Actress and Musician for Gemma Magazine

Serena Laurel is an award-winning actress, singer-songwriter, influencer, and model. She is best known for her lead role as “Lucy” in the feature film “Summertime Dropouts” (release date July 2019) directed by Jhene Chase with Quinton Aaron from the “Blindside,” international punk sensation Simple Plan produced by Winter State Entertainment. Serena was also awarded best actress by Film Fest LA Live in the category for her starring role in “Bird Song,” a Game of Thrones fantasy film. She has received four Best Actress awards for her role as “Georgia Dean” in the thriller “Nasty Habits” directed by Allisyn Arm (AP Bio) currently on the film festival circuit. Serena is a series regular as Jessica in the NC-16 TV Series. Serena co-stars in the Brat TV series “Total Eclipse” and is the star/creator of her own Youtube series “Record Rant.”

Serena Laurel_photo courtesy of EasiHairPro by Tyler Stewart

As if that were not enough, Serena is a musician. As a singer-songwriter; Serena provides a fresh and stylish blend of retro-acoustic pop. Her single “Gold” was released while working in the studio on her full EP. Serena headlines with her own set of original songs in California and has performed at venues like the Whisky Go Go, House of Blues, Roxy, The Hotel Cafe and appears at the State Social House residency monthly on Sunset Blvd. Serena is also working on a college degree in Music Composition.

Some of her brand influencer partnerships include Fender, Kollectin, Bare Minerals, Peace Tea, Speechless Dress, STS Blues, Easihair Pro, Kut from Kloth, Luxury Scent Box, and many more. She models for print, magazines, and walks at Fashion Week. She is a host for Red Carpet Report TV at the Radio Disney Music Awards.

Serena is genuinely kind and you want to see her succeed. Serena entered the spotlight at age six signing a contract with Ford modeling agency while her acting career started in local theaters in Jacksonville, Florida. She then moved to TV with a PSA for the nonprofit organization Hubbard House and a recurring role in BJ’s Teddy Bear Bible Story TV series. Later, she quickly became a recognizable face promoting girls fashions for Bealls department stores in print, billboards and TV commercials. Her hard work has paid off, and when she had a moment, Serena sat down with Gemma to talk about living her passion.

Did you always know that you wanted to be in acting? When did you start?
Yes, I always knew Around seven years old while studying rhythmic gymnastics my mom noticed I enjoyed performing more than competing. I would do a perfect routine with a gymnasium full of people watching and didn’t concern myself with perfection while in class without an audience. So no more gymnastics for me. I was signed to Ford models when I was very young and did a lot of commercial work in Orlando for Bealls Department stores while in elementary school.

You have an incredible amount of acting projects going on. How do you balance it all (in addition to being a singer as well)?
As a full-time college student, an actress, and a musician, balance is not necessarily the goal at this point. I’m thankful for the opportunities that are coming my way and am embracing them all with the help of a supportive family and a stress-relieving cat.

Photo: Rhonda Collins

You recently released your single, “Gold” How exciting was that? Do you write your music as well and are you currently working on the album?
I write all of my songs and have been recording them for many years. “Gold” was the first of many original songs that makes its way into the public’s ears. So yes, my first officially released song and very exciting. I’m obsessed with the cover artwork my mom created for the song. There will be many more songs shortly for my community. Stay tuned, yes an album is in the works.

How would you describe your music?
Sunday afternoon in a convertible with the top down cruising the PCH while watching the sunset.


What are some of the venues people can see you perform around LA?
I perform original songs solo and with backing bands at venues like the Whisky Go Go, House of Blues, Roxy, The Hotel Cafe, and the State Social House.

Would you say you are working on music or acting more?
Both equally. The movie “Summertime Dropouts” allowed me to incorporate both acting and music alike. In “Summertime Dropouts,” my character Lucy is the lead guitarist in a girl’s pop-punk band. The producer wanted to hire actors that are also real musicians so we could record the soundtrack and play like a real band to promote the film. It was the dream job to be able to both acting and music on set. One day on set during a meal break, the six leads started singing and writing songs together.
I’m looking forward to promoting this film soon.

How did you like playing Lucy in “Summertime Dropouts?” Would you say she is similar to you?
Lucy and I have a different style and taste in music. Playing her in the movie allowed me to dive into the history of the angsty side of music with both my listening and playing. After meeting Simple Plan and listening to their music, both Lucy and I can be considered fans.

How would you describe Lucy?
Lucy is the most chill go-with-the-flow person you will ever meet. She is equal parts weird and quirky while still maintaining a sense of inherent cool. We also share a love of music and ice cream.

Photo: Rhonda Collins (on set as Lucy)

How did you like playing Georgia Dean in “Nasty Habits”?
I connected with Georgia Dean because of a shared interest in songwriting and a desire to pursue a music career in Los Angeles. She was fun and sweet, with just enough edge to remain mysterious and exciting. She was so goal driven but didn’t want to wait or bother her mother with the financial issues, so she headed out on her own.

What does each form of creativity bring to you personally?
Music is therapy for me. Sometimes it shows me things that I didn’t know about myself until I finish the song. Acting is more cathartic and fun because I get to put a piece of myself in every character. I feel an obligation to portray the characters accurately, even if they are not based on real people.

I know you are a very popular influencer for some fantastic brands. Can you expand?

I like to genuinely believe in a brand’s products and mission statement. I think of it as sharing style and beauty secrets with my best friends. I would never want to let them down! I like wearing Speechless Dresses and representing their brand because the dresses are affordable, stylish and easy to wear. Their company is always giving back to the community. I just recently helped with a prom dress give-a-way for an underserved demographic at Girls Inc. of OC. I have also worked with Fender, Ipsy, EasiHair Pro, STS Blue, Peace Tea, Bare Minerals, Dermablend Pro just to name a few. I also have a tiny boutique on the Kollectin app. Shop or Flaunt at https://shop.kollectin.me/serenalaurel using code: Serena Laurel. It is important for me to bring the community items that I actually like to use and wear.

Tell us about your YouTube series, “Record Rant?”
Record Rant is a light-hearted and honest chat about music, and it’s an album review show. It is currently on a hiatus, BUT I am working on a second season. Because I self direct, produce, and edit Record Rant, it is hard to find the time to edit. I will keep adding episodes because I like researching and talking about music.

Photo: Rhonda Collins

Are you collaborating with any nonprofit organizations as well?

Yes. I am an artist ambassador for BreakingTheChainsFoundation.org, promoting healing using creative arts for patients recovering from eating disorders. I’m also an artist ambassador for Free2Luv.org, promoting kindness through diversity to help prevent bullying at every level in all demographics.

I would like to thank Serena Laurel for speaking with Gemma. She’s got a lot to look forward to. You can follow Serena on the enclosed social media platforms.




Some Like it Hot: An Evening with Funny Girl Sarah J. Halstead

(All Exclusive Photos by John Collazos)

Sarah Halstead is an actress who is authentically inspiring. I admire her — both as a person and an artist. We met at a fashion show (5 years ago?!?) by chance and have kept the connection strong. She’s kind, beautiful, smart, and genuinely funny. As an actress and comedian, Halstead is talented, quite the chameleon, and seamless in her delivery. Sarah J. Halstead is rare and we love that about her. Recently, Gemma was lucky enough to catch her for a photo shoot and an interview. She definitely has that “girl-next-door” look in regards to certain aspects of her personality. However, there are many layers to Halstead and that’s where it gets interesting. We loved that Sarah could pull off the sultry 1940’/50’s “Old Hollywood Glamour look” at the shoot, and yet, speak about her craft corporately. Halstead is the ultimate multi-tasker and has a sharp business sense. I interviewed her a few years prior and she’s busier than ever — blending all her creative talents into one beautiful brand: Sarah J. Halstead — Actress and Comedian!

Sarah J. Halstead is an actress, comedian, and writer from Flint, Michigan who decided to follow her dream. Sarah started her training in NYC and eventually made her way to Los Angeles. Personally, nothing inspires Gemma Magazine more than meeting someone who takes on the challenges that come with fulfilling one’s purpose. Halstead is also an incredibly passionate person who brings a fire to every creative endeavor that she is working on. We have enjoyed watching her star rise. Sarah can be both sarcastic and forthright within one setting. She is versatile in her craft and never misses an opportunity for growth as an actress or comedian. Her late mother was the biggest supporter of her acting and I’m sure she is proudly watching.

Sarah is currently doing standup comedy, producing a comedy show, hosting a podcast, filming a lot of commercials and auditioning for television. Sarah is quite busy, so we really appreciate her taking the time to speak with Gemma.

What is a new project that you are working on?

Currently, I’m co-producing a comedy show titled Casual Monday Comedy and Champers. The lovely Allegra Riggio (who is a talented TV Host/Comic), produces with me. It’s a two-hour show and we hand-pick the comics who we feel would be a great fit. Our debut was amazing with a crowd of creative luminaries! And unlike a lot of popular comedy clubs in Los Angeles, we treat the comics with respect and don’t require them to each bring “eight people or more”. Ultimately, it should be the producer’s job to fill the room and the comics should only be responsible for being funny.

Do you still film a lot of commercials?

I do! I have booked 89 commercials to date (this includes infomercials). It consists of a bit of everything: hair, skin, makeup, a national car commercial, and some banks. It’s gone well, and I’m very grateful for this.

You are so busy, productive, and creative. Do you ever miss corporate life?

I do. I miss the structure and consistency. It’s nice to get up in the morning, go to work, come home, and play. I’m a very structured person and miss doing just one thing. I currently feel a bit all over the place. Previously, I worked for sixteen years at a wine and champagne company. Ultimately, my dream would be to have one job where I can work hard, get creative, and know my daily tasks. My life might not be the exact schedule I desire at the moment. However, I’m still thrilled about all the creative projects that I have going on.

You do so much performing and auditioning (even though you have only been in the business 3 1/2 years. Do you ever still get nervous?

I get butterflies and a sense of excitement. In the beginning, I was way more nervous. Now, I love a “flutter” and the sense that you “Don’t know if you’re going to sink or swim,” says Halstead. However, I think that I thrive upon that.

Do you feel Hollywood is embracing older women in terms of acting roles? 

No. It’s been my experience that there’s a lot of ageism and the roles for older actresses really emphasize the fact that they’re older. I am working, but I’m booking role descriptions such as “former town beauty who’s best days are behind her.” Or “tired mom of young adults”! I’ve even been offered Grandma roles, which I suppose is possible if I had kids at 15. It’s actually funny and I use it in my bit. The badass roles for older women go to the very established A-list actresses and it doesn’t appear that any network would consider a new face for that role. I shall remain optimistic though because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing and I’m simply grateful for any work.


Tell me a bit about your new podcast 

It’s called Jimmy and Sarah on the Sunset Strip. Previously I tested the waters with a smaller podcast titled “Drinking During Business Hours.” It was received well. Recently, The Comedy Store approached me about this exciting project. My co-host is Jimmy Shin, and we have a good vibe, so it works well. The format is fantastic because all production elements are already in place. It airs every Monday on iTunes and Stitcher. We feature established comics, comedic actors, comedy writers, comedic voiceover stars and talk about their underdog moments. It’s an exciting look into the comedic world.


In terms of acting, what have you worked on recently?

It’s called “I am The Night” for TNT and it’s produced by Patty Jenkins. I play a scantily clad chain-smoking working girl in Episode 1. It stars Chris Pine and takes place in the late 40’s/50’s, which I seem to book that particular time period quite often. The series is based on “The Black Dahlia,” a murder mystery in LA, which has still not been solved.  I’ve also just completed a pilot called Broken Somm. It’s a talk show about wine and I play the transgressive, irreverent host while interviewing high profile winemakers. We’re pitching to networks now.

I Love the way you function famous authors’ books on your Instagram with a selfie of you holding the book. It’s such a savvy idea. How did that come about?

At first, I just wanted to give a shout-out to my favorite authors, and then it took off. Individual authors have messaged me or sent me autographed copies of their books. I genuinely love to read and don’t have the time for it anymore (in the capacity I used to). When I do have a free moment, one of my favorite things is to curl up and dive into a good book.

Do you feel you do get typecast a lot (outside of the comedy circuit)?

It’s funny you ask because I was just interviewing John Pirruccello on my podcast and he said: “being typecast’ can be a good thing because that means people see you as something”. John is the quintessential working actor so I’m going to follow this advice.

Who is your favorite actress/comedian?

I love Tig Notaro and saw her recently at Largo. She’s funny, smart, and such a confident performer with a slow and precise delivery. I also find her very honest and vulnerable which is the recipe of any great comic.

On behalf of Gemma, I appreciate Sarah speaking with us. It was a creative collaboration with a talented woman who we will continue to keep up with. She’s a “gem” in every sense.

All Photos: John Collazos: https://www.instagram.com/john_collazos/

Hair and Makeup: Ash Ortiz: https://www.instagram.com/mua_ortiz/

You can follow Sarah on the following social media platforms!

as well as catch her new comedy show (information below)…



Twitter: @sarahjhalstead
















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.

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.


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.


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.

Lenard Smith 1 - Published on Instagram

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…

Lenard Smith 3 - Published on Instagram

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!)

Lenard Smith 2 - Published on Instagram

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:





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:



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.

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.



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 🙂


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!