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.

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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.

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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)…

https://www.facebook.com/sarahjhalstead?epa=SEARCH_BOX

https://www.instagram.com/sarahjhalstead/

Twitter: @sarahjhalstead

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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.

Shining Bright–Actress Ava Justin

Ava Justin is one motivated teen. She is a teenage actress but has been in front of the camera since the age of three. She’s beautiful — but more importantly, Ava is kind, grounded, and respects her craft.  There is an immense amount of competition when it comes to teen actors, but Ava Justin takes it all in stride and has an incredible support system. She has 53.4K Instagram followers and a great fan base. Ava started young and is now growing into more mature roles. We cannot wait to see her shine!

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Ava is based out of Minnesota but travels for booked gigs all over the country. “I’ve filmed a pilot in Florida and Chicago and filmed three projects out in Los Angeles.” “California is my second home,” says Justin.”I feel very blessed for the opportunities I’ve had so far and looking forward to what’s to come. God is good.” After speaking with Ava (as young as she is), I have deep respect for how she focuses upon the work instead of the “Hollywood game.” Ava is an authentic artist.

 

Recently, Ava has featured in several feature films currently playing on the National and International film festival circuit. You’ll spot her on the big screen side-by-side with Hollywood actors Brian White, Monica Calhoun, Loretta Devine and Sharon Leal on their feature film No Regrets which just premiered in New York. Ava just wrapped another excellent feature film playing a younger version of the very talented Hollywood actress Aurora Perrineau on the feature film Virginia Minnesota. Ava has a maturity and sense of composure beyond her years that is an asset on film sets while appreciating the priceless advice of prestigious talents.

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In addition to the light that shines from within, Ava can memorize scripts quickly. She has had the opportunity to work with some of the most requested and sought-after directors and producers. Being bi-racial (Kenyan and American roots) has enhanced her unique range of looks. Her exotic looks combined with her extraordinary acting ability allows her to play multi-ethnic roles. Ava continues to excel in her academics as well. She’s also very athletic while participating in Fast Pitch Softball as a pitcher. Though she has a gorgeous look, she exhibits a unique Tom Boy trait as she tops her class in nearly every athletic event. Without a doubt, Ava Justin is busy but made time to talk with Gemma Magazine!


GM: Hi Ava! We are super excited to have you chat with Gemma Magazine. You have been acting from a very young age. How did this creative process start for you?

You are very welcome! I knew Acting was for me when after auditioning for many national commercials with many talented kids my age and I would get that call “Ava, you’re booked.” I started auditioning for bigger gigs around age 4. I believe because I started young, I got the feel of it and even though I still get nervous depending on the projects, I feel it helped me toughen up more. That helped me know I need to do my best, leave it all there and move on to the next.

GM: What was your first project?

I booked a pretty cool Halloween national project for Target, and that gave me hope and the confidence that I can do this, that I’m capable of booking great jobs. And yes, I started booking modeling gigs for different Toy catalogs than to commercial and films. I was booking many gigs before taking acting classes than when I started getting more into movies, that’s when I started doing acting classes, I say I was around the age 7.

GM: When are you not acting or auditioning how do you spend your time?

When I’m not acting, I’m busy taking photos for different photographers as a social media influencer and brand representative; I have been getting many cool opportunities to represent different brands which have been super fun. I also love sports, and I play softball. I’ve been the pitcher for my team now for the last three years.

GM: Who are some of your favorite actresses?

My favorite actress that I look up and Zendaya, Storm Reid and Lena Waithe. I love seeing people like me are represented on Television. It gives me a lot of hope, you know. Representation matters!

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GM: You have a fantastic support system. Can you expand?

Both my Mom and Dad are such supportive people. There’s no way I’d be where I’m if I didn

GM: What is your current project?

I just wrapped up filming a very cool scene on the upcoming feature film Brother’s Keeper right opposite the Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning actor Laurence Fishburne. It was such a surreal moment that I’ll never forget. We got to talk after our scene, and the gave me amazingly inspirational wisdom. He’s a class act. I’m also in pre-production for a film that I’m incredibly excited about called Betta Fish where I’m playing one of the lead roles. I really can’t wait to get on set for this one.

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Ava also has a business side to her. She recently created her brand of lip balms “Ava’s Luxury Cosmetics.”  She sells the lip balms on Etsy! Make sure you check it out.

I would like to thank Ava Justin for chatting with Gemma Magazine. She has such an exciting future and we will be watching.To follow Ava on Social Media:

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

Website: http://www.avajustin.net

Twitter: https://www.facebook.com/actressAvaJ/