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Shining Bright ~Amazing Actress and Recording Artist: Gigi Cesare

As a writer, there is nothing quite as fun as when your subject is just as excited as the interviewer for a feature. This is the case with Gigi Cesare. Gigi is wise, vivacious, and loves her work as an actress and singer. For only twelve-years-old, Cesare is entirely composed and extremely wise beyond her years. Where does that originate? A large part comes with the “business,” as they say. Another factor is just her: Gigi Cesare. Occhi Magazine interviewed Gigi (almost a year ago), and Gemma Magazine wanted to follow-up with the accomplished actress and budding singer.

Gigi Cesare is an award-winning actress whose film credits include the celebrated feature film “The Kids from 62-F” and the “Street” series, where she is well-known for her co-star recurring role as “Jessy.” In 2017, Gigi was nominated for an Imagen Award for best actress in a feature film “The Kids From 62-F” competing in the same category as Hollywood A-listers Salma Hayek and Eva Longoria.

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Photo: Natalie Warr, Stylist: Veronika Howard, MUA & Hair: Courtnay Schafer

Gigi is a native of Hershey, Pennsylvania and has been acting and singing for most of her life. Taking notice of his daughter’s talent, she was encouraged by her father to pursue the arts a few years after losing her biological father (South American) at a young age. Her acting career began in NYC. Cesare excelled in acting and success came quickly. In addition to the 2017 Imagen Award, Gigi’s awards and nominations include a Young Entertainer Award for best supporting young actress for “Street” and a nomination for a Young Artist Award for best performance in a short film. Her lead role in the television pilot “Amish Haunting” launched her west coast acting career. Gigi will reprise her role as Jessy in the upcoming “Street 2 – Death Fight” and recently cast in the role of “Exandra” in the fantasy series film adaptation “The King’s Prophecy: The Amulet.” She’s also rumored to be reviving her character, Nina, in “The Kids from 62-F” in a sequel to the multi-award winning indie film. Her credits include acting alongside many veteran Hollywood actors and icons in film and television. Gigi is an accomplished vocalist for School of Rock, equestrian, boxer and animal rights advocate. I was thrilled to chat with her! She’s positive, refreshing, and fun.

 

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Photo: Natalie Warr, Stylist: Veronika Howard, MUA: Courtnay Schafer

Hi Gigi! It’s so nice to talk with you for Gemma Magazine. You grew up (formerly) in Pennsylvania, and I know that your late biological dad was South American. Was their someone who was the driving force behind you pursuing the arts? Did you know early on that wanted to be an actress? It sounds like your family is incredibly supportive.

Firstly, thank you for having me. Well, my journey in the arts probably didn’t start out like most people; it was an accidental by-product of not being able to find a sport I enjoyed. When my biological father passed away, and my mom married my dad when I was age 3, my dad knew right away that I was geared more towards the arts. My mom dreamed of me being a cheerleader, going through the same school K-12 as she did in Hershey, PA, and enjoying all the same activities. My dad knew I fit into a more original box and frankly, the school was a challenge for me. If we had art, theater, and chorus all day in school – I’d be golden. So my dad began to urge my mom to seek out artistic opportunities (after I had failed miserably at cheerleading, soccer and a handful of other activities).

It took a lot of persuading on my dad’s part to convince my mom that this “completely outside the box” pursuit of theatrical arts would be a solid long-term decision. There are many days my mom still wonders! But here we are almost ten years since that fateful decision on my dad’s part. It has not been an easy straight road. Its been a windy road with lots of bumps, some great successes, some sad disappointments, a lot of travel, a few u-turns and several wrong turn repeat circles! I wouldn’t change a thing, and the triumphs have outweighed the losses by far.

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What was it like working on “Street” and how did you like playing Jessy?

It was life-changing being on the set of “Street” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3602106/) and having the opportunity to play Jessy. What’s funny in hindsight is that the producer wanted a name, for example, a kid on Disney or Nickelodeon, someone recognizable. After some consideration, the producer gave me the shot, and he changed my life. It’s like they say, “It just takes one, just one person in Hollywood to give you a shot” you know, to get your big break and Producer Lyle Howry was that person for me. A lot of my scenes didn’t make the final cut of the film however it went on to become a big MMA international hit in places around the globe that we didn’t ever expect, so I am popular in Turkey and Indonesia.

Part “2′ is upcoming, correct? Any hints on how Jessy has evolved?

Yes, it is! “Street II Death Fight” is in the works as we speak. Producer Lyle Howry (http://lylehowry.business.site) has made offers this very week to some big-name stars to round out the principal cast. There are quite a few roles, and he’s even made an offer to an Academy Award-Winner this week. The next installment is going to be huge in every way. The new director Dwight H. Little, who is a legendary Hollywood director, has (along with Lyle) made some changes to the script that are just jaw-dropping. “Street II Death Fight” is going to compete as a major Hollywood studio film. I play one of the lead roles in this film; my part is important to the storyline. There are lots of twists and turns. Since I was 8 when I first filmed the first “Street” I am going to be very different this time around, a lot more grown up. There’s so much I want to tell you, but I can’t give it away…! It’s killing me, but you may see some of my boxing skills let’s just say.

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Photo: Natalie Warr, Stylist: Veronika Howard, MUA: Courtnay Schafer

What was it like to win a Young Entertainers Award for “Street” for “Street” at such a young age?

To win a Young Entertainer Award for “Street” was such an honor, firstly because it was the inaugural year for the award and someone reached out to my mom and said, “Gigi received a nomination for the Young Entertainer Award,” which was a total surprise. The event was like a mini “Oscars” in that it was exquisite and I was star-struck seeing some of my favorite kid stars in person. I will always treasure that magical evening and the shock on my face when they announced my name is forever living on Youtube, haha.

How did you like playing Nina in “The Kids from 62-F Film”? You were nominated for the Imagen Award for this film.

I loved playing Nina in “The Kids From 62-F” which will be on Netflix this summer! We are so excited because the film was a fan-fav at almost every film festival that the director and producer attended. Nina was unlike any character I had ever played because she was whiny and unlikable. I struggled to find a way to make her more likable to audiences. When we attended a screening at the HRIFF Awards back in 2016, the audience erupted in laughter at one particular part of the movie when I altered Nina from super whiny/annoying to funny. That was a big career moment for me. The entire team on 62-F was amazing – from top people to cast to crew. I love the cast as a family, and many of the kids have moved on to major career success. There’s talk of a sequel which would be so much fun.

It was the first film I was in that I was not the only child (in a principal role), which was awesome. My Imagen nomination was insane! Not only because I found my 12-year-old self in the same category (Best Actress in a Feature Film) with Selma Hayek, Eva Longoria, and Edie Ganem but because the news came in just as our flight was taking off., Then we got the news, and everything went dark for 2 hours, lol. It was like “wait, what… oh we have to wait.” It was yet another life-changing moment. My mom thought my manager was playing a joke on us. I felt like Cinderella that evening, and I will never forget the honor of walking the red carpet with many icons and favs of mine. I mean Lin Manuel Miranda and Rita Moreno right next to me… its crazy

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Photo: Natalie Warr, Stylist: Veronika Howard, MUA: Courtnay Schafer

Is there anything you can tell me about being cast as Exandra in the fantasy series film adaptation “The Kings Prophecy: The Amulet”? Has filming begun?
The fantastic “King’s Prophecy” trilogy is still in the works with additional revisions taking it from novel to script. That’s a big task to change a book into a film regarding the script. So that’s in the process of happening now, and that role in all its amazing, medieval glory is something every actress dreams of playing: this super strong, smart, capable, “kind of tough girl,” knight in shining armor. There’s never been a better time in history to embrace this fierce young female warrior role!

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I know you have been exploring alternative creative paths lately — singing to be exact. When did you express interest in music? I saw the video “Valentine,” which I liked a lot. Was that your first music video? Do you have a full album coming out?

That means a lot, thank you. The music video, “Valentine” was such a departure from my norm. Early on, I was exposed to music, just about every decade, genre and style one can imagine. My mom is big on the classics from the stage, opera and jazz, and of course 80’s pop; my biological father loved the likes of The Gypsy Kings, Eros Ramazzotti and classic American Rock. My dad today is straight up old school metal. Apparently, my mom was informed at my preschool when I was four-years-old that singing was definitely in the genes. I was performing concerts belting out Barry Manilow tunes. So we knew it was in there. I could also carry the National Anthem very well by the age of 6. It was a matter of how to make that transition and adding more to my creative arc. However, I was so passionate that I knew it was going to happen.

 

I also had the exciting opportunity to speak with Pamela Cappetta, Gigi’s mom, on making this jump to music and her overall role in Gigi’s creative life.

Hi Pamela! How did you feel about the musical transition? Gigi seems very focused and excited about a adding music to her already exciting career.

We had talked casually for years about Gigi releasing a single. A few years ago, not sure of where to turn, I reached out to my high school beau who was and is a talented musician. He was something of a local PA rockstar in the 1980’s, Jason Hollar. 
Jason sent us a few songs he’d written for his daughters that they hadn’t formally released. In that first catalog of songs was “Valentine.” Jason sent us an updated version; we found a local producer and studio where Gigi could record it and voila! Her first single was born. We recorded her first music video which was big fun.

What’s incredible about this story is “Valentine” caught the eye of a prolific soundtrack composer and Grammy-nominated producer named Tom Marolda. Tom, noticing Gigi’s raw talent, signed on to manage her, swiftly began working with her. Fast forward exactly two months later she’s almost finished with her 12 song debut album, having co-written the songs with Tom. It was supposed to be an EP. However, when Tom ran some of the tracks by his industry contacts, they thought she had enough potential to do a full album and talk label record deals.
I’ve learned more in the last two months in music than I have in a decade of the acting industry. It’s fascinating. Gigi’s film career took years and years to grow and build; music is an entirely different story happening on a meteoric level.

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Photo: Natalie Warr, Stylist: Veronika Howard, MUA: Courtnay Schafer

Gigi is lovely, beautiful, and mature for her age I’m sure a lot of the maturity comes from working in the entertainment industry (especially at such a young age). However, as you know, being a mom is hard work (just on a normal basis). Now you add a full-on acting/musical career to and it has to be overwhelming at times. You seem to keep a close eye on everything (which is excellent). Can you expand?

Thank you. We’ve all heard the cautionary tales of Hollywood when it comes to youth and the business. It’s true, it’s no place for children on many levels, but when you have a child that is bitten by the bug and wants to pursue the arts, well some of us parents push forth in whatever capacity we can to assist in their dream.
If it were entirely up to me, we’d be living in the farmlands of PA right now, and she’d be a “normal” kid doing “normal” kid things.
Gigi doesn’t want that. So for me, choosing not to live in LA, traveling for her work, keeping her in physical school around peers and friends, and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy is paramount, and how I keep a balance.

When you have a child performer, the entire family has to be on board because the sacrifices are enormous, to each, and the family on the whole. I have a 6-year-old, so it’s important to keep her in school and to live her regular kid life and schedule. And I try my best to prevent Gigi’s little sister from being disrupted by Gigi’s professional commitments which require at least one parent travel. We indeed aren’t alone in these sacrifices, child athletes have similar lives, and of course, it’s a choice we make. It’s just our reality. I look back sometimes and think “how did we do all that?”

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Photo: Natalie Warr, Stylist: Veronika Howard, MUA: Courtnay Schafer

Lastly, how does Gigi balance it all (both acting and music and (especially at such a young age)? With her schedule, does she have time to hang-out with friends and just get some downtime?

It’s honestly a great question because it’s been a constant struggle and now that we have added music, it’s overwhelming at times.
She’s the consummate pro I must say. She’s a pro on set and a pro in the studio. No matter how many takes in front of the camera or how many times she must repeat hitting a specific note or key in the studio, she grits it out without complaint. Therefore, that’s why we keep at it. Her commitment is there 300%.She receives a new song over email and must know it correctly in a few days or an audition notice with pages of material, and she must be “off book” (memorized) and studied on the character like ASAP.

It’s an absolute immediate shift in priorities and takes the whole family pitching in, running lines, listening to her songs on her loudspeaker system over and over. These days though you can feel she’s on the precipice of something big, and that’s relative. “Big” could be releasing her album to favorable reviews to landing at a label, or a record deal or maybe a big film comes along- who knows. But she’s ready.She’s long planned to emancipate at age 16 so she can get her GED, become legal 18 and work more extended hours. So we have three more years of the juggle of school and tightrope balance, but who knows what tomorrow may bring! In any case, we are prepared.

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Photo: Natalie Warr, Stylist: Veronika Howard, MUA: Courtnay Schafer

In closing, I wanted to get Gigi’s take on the “life balance” and how it comes together. So, Gigi, how in the world do you do it all?

Um, I don’t really, just ask my parents! Haha, I like to say that because kids are reading this, maybe looking at my Insta may think it seems like life is perfect for me, and that’s just not the case at all. Many days I am overwhelmed by my to-do list and organization is not my strongest trait! Plus, math and science are no friends of mine, so that’s an ongoing antagonistic relationship with my schoolwork. My mom just basically forced me back into physical school after years of on and off cyber schooling. She said “middle school was the most enjoyable years of my youth, you are not missing them. Hollywood can wait.” So I am back in school, made the most amazing new friends, I’m doing teen things I never really did before and well, now I have less time on my iPad which isn’t such a bad thing. I want kids to know that no one’s life looks like it does on Instagram and the reality is that acting (or any pursuit in the arts) takes enormous dedication and commitment, years of work and many times five steps forward and three steps backward. Your whole family has to be on board too; it takes everyone being on the same page to succeed in this biz. You have to have grit, thick skin, and be able to see a long-term big picture. The average overnight success took more than a decade or two or three before you knew their name. Find what you love, work hard at it and know that whatever it is, you can make a career out of it. That’s the secret to happiness!