What inspired you to be an actor? Can you tell us your background and how you developed a passion for the entertainment industry?
I love watching movies and always wanted to be the characters. I also love storytelling and spent a lot of time pretending and dressing up as different characters when I was little. I was born in Columbia, South Carolina and moved to Oklahoma when I was four. My sister and I have always homeschooled, which allowed us the time to develop our interests outside of school. I got my start with acting in musical theater and met my screen acting coach through my theater friends. I found my true passion in the entertainment industry through screen acting. My favorite place to be is on a set.
Congratulations on your hit Sundance film, Cha Cha Real Smooth! Why did you want to be involved in this project?
Thank you so much! It was an amazing experience from start to finish! When I first got the audition, the name of the movie really stood out. I thought it would be fun to be part of the project because of that alone. But, I would say the first time I decided I really wanted to be a part of Cha Cha was after my first callback with Cooper Raiff. I loved the scenes and how he explained the motivation behind them. I felt like we clicked and really wanted to work with him.
Can you walk us through the process of auditioning for the role? What were the challenges and breakthroughs you’ve encountered along the way, and how did you overcome them?
I got the request to self-tape through my California agent. It was pretty much like any other audition. I was interested in the project and eager to do well on my tape. But, I try to not get too emotionally attached to projects at this stage because so many go nowhere. When I got the first callback I was excited but, again, you never know. It wasn’t until my second callback with chemistry reads that I let myself get excited. My biggest challenge has always been that I’m shy. It takes me a minute to warm up but you don’t really have that kind of time in a callback. My callbacks with Cooper were a breakthrough for me because I was finally able to overcome my shyness and be myself.
Can you tell us more about your character? What do you love about this character? How did you bring the character to life?
The character, David, is the younger brother of Andrew (played by Cooper Raiff). He is a sweet kid who is the peace keeper among his family and friends. I loved his desire to help people and care about others more than himself. I also appreciated his ability to defend himself. I think I brought David to life just through my interactions with Cooper. He just came out through the lines and Cooper’s direction. Cooper was very clear about his motivation and telling me who David is. I am also a younger brother so I do have personal experience with that. But, my sister is only two and a half years older than me so it’s not exactly the same.
What makes this story different from others? How do you think this story will change and make an impact in today’s society?
This story is different because it tells the truth. It is very realistic in how people can be soul mates but not right for each other. It is relevant in how everyone feels lost at some point in their life, when things seem uncertain. And it’s important because it’s something that hasn’t been done in a while, if at all, but it’s also so familiar and heart-warming.
What was it like working with director Cooper Raiff? What was the dynamic like between you, your castmates, and film crew?
Working with Cooper was amazing! We clicked immediately and became close friends. Cooper being the director/actor/writer made the whole process very easy for me. He knew what he wanted and how to explain it in a way I understood. Everyone else on set was so nice and approachable. Leslie became a real mother figure on set and Brad always kept us laughing. Dakota always treated me as a peer and not a kid, and Odeya and I still talk today. There were so many moments that were so fun to be a part of with each of the actors. It’s very hard to just pick one, but I would say that the most fun scene to film was a scene that didn’t end up making it into the movie. The scene was with me and Cooper in an office while he was trying to get his LLC for party starting and he gets up on his chair and starts dancing around and the two of us start singing together. It was actually one of our first scenes together so I knew I would have a great time with this project.
Can you give us a sneak peek of what we can expect from this film?
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to watch it again.
What films or shows and which filmmakers have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
I have been in love with so many movies and filmmakers. The movies that have stuck with me from the beginning are, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (which I have watched for the first time at two years old) and The Amazing Spider-Man. These movies opened me up to wildly different characters and worlds. I more recently watched Good Will Hunting and was so impressed with every aspect of that movie and the filmmakers. I’ve been very inspired by the filmmaker Mel Brooks and all of his quirky movies, but especially his movie To Be or Not to Be. I’d also have to say it’s a tie between Chadwick Boseman and Tom Hanks, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie of theirs I didn’t like, and they are both such amazing actors. But, I also love Stanley Tucci. I recently read his book Taste and really connected what he had to say about his experiences acting and growing up. I really could go on and on.
There couldn’t be a more perfect time to celebrate strong, diverse, and authentic characters on screen. What were the monumental life lessons, mistakes, and things you’ve learned in your acting career that you would like to share to aspiring or emerging actors, storytellers, and creatives in general?
First off, great question! This really is an exciting time in the entertainment industry! We are getting to experience such amazing stories and perspectives from so many people. I have been working on sets for a little while now, but I think as I have gotten older I have found more and more appreciation for the crew and everyone who works so hard to make the movie happen. I think it’s really easy to get wrapped up in your own life and job, especially on set. But, we are all serving the same purpose: making a great movie. Ultimately, I have learned the importance of kindness. Being kind to others and especially yourself. Mistakes happen but it’s how you handle the mistake that matters.
The pandemic has greatly affected the entertainment industry. How did it affect your side of things?
The pandemic never truly affected us on the set of Cha Cha, we never shut down once. The hardest part was meeting fellow castmates in masks and not seeing their faces until you actually get in front of the camera. It was always weird having that split second feeling of “Oh, that’s what you look like.” It also made things a little more complicated to connect off screen. We were able to go out to dinner with Cooper one of our first nights there, but it probably would’ve been much easier to connect with the other actors if we all had gotten to go eat dinner or go see a movie together, but it was all just too risky.
What kind of roles do you want to take on in the future?
I’m not sure if there’s a kind of role I don’t want to play. I think it would be very fun, and extremely difficult, to do something like Rami Malek and play an iconic figure. I’m not sure who I would play, but I would love to do that kind of role. I’m really drawn to interesting stories and authentic characters. And, I like to take on other characters that are drastically different from who I am. It would be a dream to work with someone like Taika Waititi. I think I could learn so much from his comedic skills.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind as an actor?
I want to leave behind not only a legacy as an actor but as a person. I want to always work towards being kind and thoughtful as well as the being the kind of person I’d like to be friends with. I am always interested in creativity and finding outlets to express it. That’s always my desire as an actor: to tell stories and express creativity.
What’s your advice to young actors who want to break into the entertainment industry?
Be prepared to work hard, don’t give up and do it because you love it, not for fame and fortune.
Do you have other upcoming projects you want to share with us?
Right now, I’m just trying to concentrate on this film and getting it out there. But I’m always auditioning! I’m looking forward to getting back on set.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.