The multifaceted Nazanin Mandi may be a staple in the fashion world, also an ambassador for Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty lingerie line, but she has also made waves in both the music and film industries over the past decade. After catching the acting bug after guest starring as Raven’s nemesis, Vicky, on That’s So Raven in 2004, the classically-and jazz-trained vocalist auditioned for the American Idol and UPN singing competitions in the early 2000s, making it as a finalist in the latter. Proving that hard work and patience are virtues, Mandi’s payoff arrived on July 25, 2019, when her debut single, “Forever Mood,” premiered on Billboard. The track, co-executive produced by her husband, Miguel (“Pineapple Skies,” “All I Want Is You”), is a labor of love, is the first of two “collaborations,” if you will, between the couple, the second of which being when Mandi walked and performed alongside Miguel in Amazon Prime’s Savage X Fenty Show, Vol. 2 on October 2, 2020.
After a few stints on reality TV, several guest star appearances on noteworthy series, and a popular CIROC campaign commercial with Aldis Hodge (One Night in Miami), Mandi broke out as the star of the feature film The Last Conception, in 2020, in which she portrays an Indian-American lesbian who must attempt to juggle her conservative familial traditions with her sexuality. Mandi’s latest film, director Jacob Johnston’s Dreamcatcher, is a throwback to the 1980s slasher subgenre renaissance, tapping into the Satanic Panic phenomenon of that era while offering a clever subversion of the Final Girl trope.
Before the release of Dreamcatcher, I had an opportunity to speak with Mandi about the making of Dreamcatcher, her goals as an actor, the juxtaposition between fashion and creativity, destigmatizing mental health struggles, spreading positivity with her social media and life coach platforms, collaborating with her husband, and more.
What initially drew you to this project?
I’ve always had a love for horror films [and] psychological thrillers. So when I got the casting I was like, “I have to go in for this.” I went in twice, and then I got the part, which I was super, super excited about. So now I can say I’ve been in a thriller. Cross that off my bucket list.
What was it like working with Dreamcatcher writer and director Jacob Johnston?
Working with him was just completely seamless. To work with a confident director, in turn, gives you confidence, and that’s exactly what he did. He knew what he was doing. He knew how to address actors. He shot in a way that was super intentional and kept the momentum going which is very important. So it was a pleasure working with Jacob.
That’s always great to hear. Why do you think we, as a society, are so fascinated with horror and crime?
I can only speak from personal experience, but I’m so fascinated by it because it’s so beyond my reality – my personal reality – and what that is in the world. It’s like, “Wow, these things really happen, and it’s crazy, and it’s unfortunate.” But you also want to know about these things. I watch my documentaries and horror films and a lot of these things really do happen, and it gives you signs of “Be aware of this, watch out for that.” That’s how I feel a lot of the times.
And with fiction, we can more readily suspend our disbelief. In Dreamcatcher, something like a Final Girl trope can be molded to the director’s vision.
See, now I’m going to view it differently. Now, when I watch it again, I’m going to view it differently because of what you said. I love that.
I was hoping your character would have fought back a little harder, but that is the nature of these films.
Oh, totally, totally. Somebody’s got to go. It’s a thriller.
Right. You never know when it’s your turn.
Exactly. But that’s what makes these films so great, too.
I agree. As an actress, you’re beginning to receive more prominent and substantive roles, especially with films like The Last Conception. So what are your acting goals looking towards the future?
My ultimate goal is to keep my acting profession going as long as possible. I would love to book more lead roles in feature films. I would love to book a few series regular roles in some shows. As long as I’m acting and in prominent film and TV and making beautiful art, I’m happy.
From your guest role as Raven’s enemy in That’s So Raven, to Kya in Dreamcatcher, how has your acting technique evolved over the years?
To be honest, it’s night and day. You take from life experience, and I put that into my work. Those are my triggers as an actor. I’ve also gotten more comfortable with myself and I’ve grown into a woman, and that also changes you as an actor. So there’s a lot of factors that have changed me and my work. But it’s definitely night and day.
Fashion and film go hand-in-hand. Has working for Rhianna’s fashion line shaped or sparked your own creativity?
Oh, absolutely. When you’re surrounded by creative, powerful, women, it rubs off, and you have no other choice but to be inspired. So it definitely has in a lot of ways.
Your single, “Forever Mood,” was a big hit. What are some of your musical influences?
I grew up listening to Toni Braxton, Aaliyah, Sade. And I still listen to them. That has not stopped. My favorite artist of all time is Prince. So growing up listening to these incredible, timeless artists, they rub off on you, and I appreciate real art, real musicianship, and real artists.
Oftentimes, what comes with the territory of being famous, as you’ve become a larger celebrity moving into multiple creative industries, is being an influencer, particularly when you have a social media platform. It’s admirable that you use your influence to fight stereotypes and encourage positivity. Why do we need to be conscious of what we post, whether or not we’re in the public eye?
Whether or not you have a lot of followers, whatever you post makes an impact. And it’s so important to remember that anything you put online can be seen and influence anybody – and that’s somebody younger, somebody older – so why not use this platform for good? Why not be your authentic self and say, “Hey, I struggle with this. You probably do too. Let’s talk about it?” It just brings a lot of unity, so I feel like it is very important what you post. Be mindful of what you say to people. Be mindful of how you comment and talk about other people, because it really does make a difference.
Well said. Do you think it’s important to speak out and to destigmatize mental health struggles in the public eye?
Yes. I absolutely think it’s important. Especially culturally, there could be stigmas of, “keep it in the family, put it under the rug, we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it, we just get through it.” And we have to shift that narrative, we have to shift that mentality. We can’t just get through things anymore. We have to talk about it and work through them. That’s the only way we’re going to grow as a society.
You recently received certification as a life coach. What are your goals with that title, and does that align with your message of expression your authentic self, vulnerabilities and all?
Yes. What I have been putting out online over the years definitely aligns with what I’m going to do with my life coaching certification. I’m going to be launching my own life coaching platform – my own wellness platform. I eventually would love to have seminars [and] workshops. By the looks of it, I’ll probably start with webinars. That’s probably the smartest way to go, but if that’s my way to do it, that’s my way to do it and help people. I can’t wait to start.
That’s fantastic. Do you have an idea of who your clientele might be?
I’m very, very open. The people that follow me are mostly women, to be completely honest with you. So I’m sure it will be very female-based, but I am open to helping whoever is open to receiving.
I have a quick anecdote. My brother and I were in the car the other day, and we put on “Pineapple Skies” by Miguel, and we were both saying that he’s one of the few artists over the past several decades who’s been able to channel Marvin Gaye’s soul and talent. Do you have any plans for a musical collaboration in the future?
Well, first off, I absolutely agree with you guys. He is just, musically, on a whole other level, and I’ve seen the growth. I’ve seen it from the start, so Miguel’s absolutely incredible, musically, but especially as a person. As far as collabs go, he did executive produce my last project. I’m not currently working on music. He’s working on his own album. So nothing in the works, but never say never. You never know, I might be in the studio with him one day, and we just create something. That [is] most likely [how it] would happen. But nothing in the works as of now.
Are there any projects, film or otherwise, in the future, that you’re excited about?
Yes. I have a new show that I’m about to film in two weeks. I can’t say which show it is – it’s already an existing show – but we’ll announce it very soon. I’m so excited about it. It’s my first job back out of quarantine, so I’m feeling very, very inspired and very grateful. I also have my own lingerie line coming out, a sexual wellness line, my book’s coming out, my life coaching platform, my book’s coming out this year, [aligining] with my life coaching platform. So it’ll be motivational, it’ll be interactive, it’ll be a journal, it’ll have all of the above. So a lot of exciting things.