American Refugee is an upcoming thriller directed by Ali LeRoi and written by 2018 Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting winners Allison & Nicolas Buckmelter. Award-winning powerhouses Jason Blum, Chris McCumber, Jeremy Gold for Blumhouse, and Lisa Bruce all serve as executive producers.
The story revolves around a family who is forced to seek refuge in a neighbor’s bunker after the nation falls under martial law. However, the circumstances will make them realize that the risks and dangers they face inside are actually bigger than the outside.
Talented actress, Zamani Wilder, who stars as Zoe Taylor, gives us an inside scoop on her latest project as well as shares her inspiring journey from joining pageants in Atlanta to starring in hit films in Hollywood. She has also appeared in shows and films such as Facebook Watch Original’s Sacred Lies (2018), Marvel’s Ant-Man (2015), and IFC’s Brockmire (2017).
How did you start your career in the entertainment industry? Can you tell us your background and how you developed a passion for acting?
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia in a mixed household, blessed to live with my Mom, Dad, grandma, brother and our variety of pets from rabbits to dogs to even parakeets LOL. I have always been somewhere in front of a camera or on a stage or in my mom’s closet dressing up and acting out my favorite movies. I started off as a pageant baby where I was introduced to the glitz and glam of the performance industry and winning a few of them I was given great opportunities around Atlanta like performing in parades, modeling for magazines, etc. I also performed in many of my local church plays and dance performances.
From what I noticed I am the only performer in my family. My siblings are all either into sports or journalism and my Mom and Dad are both entrepreneurs. So for years, my family would always wonder where did I get my skills from or what has inspired me. My dream at a young age was to be on Disney! Whether it was High School Musical or That’s So Raven etc., I knew every song and almost every line. What brought me into acting was my drama teacher at church. She pulled me and my grandmother to the side one day after rehearsal and asked has she ever thought of the idea of putting me into acting classes and auditions for plays and or TV! I was about 10 at the time and Tyler Perry plays were the talk of the town! I ended up going to a Madea play that following weekend and fell in Love!
What was your first project as a professional actor? Can you walk us through the process of preparing for the role? What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?
My first ever role as a professional actor was Constantine. Constantine was a Horror/Fantasy series on CW. The Episode was called “Waiting on the Man”, John and Zed return to New Orleans when Detective Jim Corrigan asks for their help in the case of a missing girl. Papa Midnite takes steps toward exacting his revenge on John. Meanwhile, the truth behind the Rising Darkness comes to light. (Via IMDB description).
The process of preparing for this role was quite difficult. Being that I was going through extensive training with my mentor to learn to emotionally connect with my characters. This role for me was the first role and I can say that I had a full emotional breakthrough where I learned that acting isn’t pretending, it’s simply being yourself within the situation of your character. I had to mentally put myself in the position that my character was in, in order to give off the most realistic performance.
Which films and actors have been the most influential to you?
I love this question! Hands down one of the most influential films to me was John Q starring the amazing Denzel Washington. Just watching the emotional rollercoaster, he took his character through what was very inspiring and eye-opening for me. Another film for me is Poetic Justice starring the legends themselves, Mr. Tupac Shakur and my girl Janet Jackson. This filmed really highlighted not only women empowerment and poetic strengths and it also brought a light to Black Love and Hip-Hop in our industry which I am a sucker for.
Another actress that I am influenced by is KeKe Palmer. I have been a fan of KeKe since Akeelah and the Bee and watching her grow in her career and through the diversity of her characters will always be inspirational for me. And last but not least, an actress that will always have a special place in my heart, MISS ERIKA ALEXANDER herself! Being that we filmed AMERICAN REFUGEE together, Erika and I got to spend a lot of time together on and off the set and she has taught me so much not only about the business and being in the entertainment industry, but also about positivity and self-worth as a woman. I will always appreciate her for that.
So, Erika if you are reading this HEY BOO! Thank you so much for all our days shopping and trying different foods together but most of all our long conversations about life! Love you forever!
Can you give us a sneak peak of what we can expect from American Refugee? Why did you want to be involved in this project? What makes it different from other films in the same genre?
Expect to be surprised, because it is a lot deeper than most other horror movies! It’s not the usual slasher horror flick. It has a deeper, darker theme that reflects real life with a lot of suspense. I loved how the script highlighted real-life issues that we face every day and I also have always really admired some of the actors. I got the opportunity to work with such as Derek Luke, Erika Alexander, Sam Trammel, Jessi Case and also admired Ali LeRoi for the amazing work he has done with Everybody Hates Chris and other films/shows he has directed.
Can you tell us more about your character? What do you love about it? How did you bring the character to life? Were there particular circumstances or personal experiences that shaped it?
Zoe Taylor is your typical teenager trying to make her way through life and find herself while taking on the battles of situations around her. One thing I love about Zoe is that she can relate to all of us. At some point, we were all teenagers simply just trying to figure life out! With that come emotions, challenges, and puberty, and more. Zoe like most of the characters can some way relate to many of us out here and I know Zoe is going to not only touch some hearts but also shine some light on a better way of figuring life out. Zoe is smart, sassy, outspoken, and stylish, and I hope that through the film she can highlight some personal issues of life and also show some that you are not alone it’s okay to feel a certain way and this is how you can take control of it personally like she has done for me.
What did you like about the story? How do you think the story or characters will change and make an impact in today’s society?
I loved the realism about the story hands down. Shout out to the authors of the original script Allison Buckmelter and Nicolas Buckmelter. I believe this story is something that definitely everyone can relate to. This film really tackles a lot of controversy and issues that are happening today or could happen a few years from now and in a sense, it is preparing and teaching you how to gravitate towards real-life situations if you were ever to get to a point where we have to survive. This film really shows what can happen when you are forced to put all your differences aside to protect yourself and your family.
What was the dynamic like between you, your castmates, and film crew? How did they make you feel? Were there particular moments on set that were memorable?
There were so many memorable moments on set I can’t choose just one haha. But, I have to say the time that we got to spend out in BEAUTIFUL NEW ORLEANS together was something I will never forget. From cast to crew, we all became very close, we became a real family. The dynamic was amazing from inside jokes to random gifts on set to even laughing at TikToks with Derek Luke and Ali Leroi. Chemistry was made on and off the camera. I really looked forward to getting up the next day and filming and working with everyone we even took some fun trips to zoos and events (cast and crew).
The last day was super hard being that so many connections and friendships were made but I can say till this day I still communicate with the majority of everyone that was a part of this life-changing film. I am super excited for what the universe is creating for all of us in our careers.
The pandemic has greatly affected the entertainment industry. How did it affect your side of things?
Honestly, in a way, I think the pandemic actually helped me. It gave me time to do some soul searching and personally work on my craft alone. I got opportunities to strengthen some things I felt I could make stronger, and it made me realize and form more gratitude for how far I’ve come and how much further I could go. While I did miss being out with friends and training in actual studios and working on set, it also helped me form a closer relationship with God and build a more positive and deeper outlook on my career and where Life could take me.
There couldn’t be a more perfect time to be a female filmmaker in the entertainment industry. What were the monumental life lessons, mistakes, and things you’ve learned throughout your career?
YOUR OPINION MATTERS! Sometimes we feel as women our opinions aren’t appreciated or don’t matter. IT DOES! IT ALWAYS WILL! As a female filmmaker, I have learned that keeping the mindset of self-love and building your confidence with affirmations and positivity is a must. Never compare, always enlighten others for the amazing work they have done while also enlightening yourself that you can do amazing work as well. As Women we are Powerful and can really uplift and impact others with just the energy we put out.
What do you think the future of filmmaking would look like? What kind of stories do you think will emerge and capture the attention of producers and executives?
People go to the movies to be moved, the future of film is creating stories that provoke empathy, compassion, and laughter. It’s also amazing to see how much technology has grown and can and will grow over the years with CGI and even hair and make-up.
What’s your advice to aspiring actors who want to break into the entertainment industry?
Train, network, and take that leap of faith, I promise you won’t regret it. It’s going to take time. It might not happen overnight but all the hard work, consistency and determination will pay off in the end. I promise you that.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind as an actor?
I would love to leave behind the legacy of creating things that will last forever and will be remembered even when I’m gone, whether it’s creating a foundation or a cause that can help others. I love the idea of creating something that will keep improving the World and Others as life goes on.
Do you have other upcoming projects you want to share with us?
Yes, I am! I am currently filming a Netflix movie based on the novel series written by Scott Westerfeld Called Uglies, alongside Joey King, Kieth Powers, Brianne Tju, Chase Stokes. It is directed by the One and Only MCG.
American Refugee is distributed by Epix and will be released on December 10th.