The former competitive gymnast talks career highs, lows and everyday inspiration.
Q Tell us a little about your career path as an actress.
A I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and was a very competitive (and pretty stressed out) gymnast before getting into entertainment, but it never was the actual gymnastics that was my true love. I really just loved the performing aspect of it all.
After breaking my hand during one of the best competitions of my life (and having to have surgery on it), I began to realize how truly unhappy I was, and even though it was ridiculously hard, and seemed almost impossible at the time to quit, I eventually did find the strength to do so (I don’t think I will ever forget how sad and lost I was back then).
Around that same time I went with my family to see the movie Center Stage by Nicholas Hytner. This particular film was so powerful for me, I had crazy goosebumps, chills, and was so filled with inspiration, I literally couldn’t move. Even after everyone else had left the theater I was still sitting there with an overwhelming feeling of joy, passion, a little bit of fear, and lots of excitement. I just knew in that very powerful moment that I would never forget this experience. I knew right then and there that I wanted to be just like that girl that I watched light up that screen and inspired me so much. I went from feeling so sad, so lost, so alone to feeling more alive and full of joy and wonderment then ever before. I wanted to do everything I possibly could and work harder than I ever had before to be able to move and change people the way that film had changed me. I wanted to act, dance, and perform more than anything and I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. After that moment there really was no looking back, I just knew that performing and storytelling was what I was born to do.
I barely slept all through high school because I was too busy dancing and acting all the time. Then the plan was to go to my dream college that had one of the best performing arts programs, then go to LA to follow my dream of being a lead actress. Fun fact, that plan failed big time and I didn’t get into my dream college (even though I had a 3.9 GPA, was captain of the dance line, lead in our school’s non-profit activities, and was in student government all 4 years).
After few weeks of complete devastation, confusion, and not knowing what to do next (I was all set up to go to ASU, however something inside me felt awful about making that move) I saw an opportunity to audition for a super intense performing arts scholarship program in LA. Long story short, I last minute flew to LA with my mom, auditioned, got in (yay!!!!), and had 2 weeks to move and get all set up in this new crazy big city I knew pretty much no one and very little about (I mean other than what I saw in movies).
During this very intense year program (which was one of the hardest but best things I have ever done) I couldn’t audition for anything or have an agent. As soon as I finished the program I got signed to a dance agency and tried to get in with an acting agency but got turned down and was very discouraged.
A couple weeks later I saw a sign on the wall for auditions for the lead girl in Center Stage: Turn It Up (the sequel to the very film that changed me as a little girl). My initial reaction was thinking there was no way this could have been happening. It seemed so surreal, almost not even possible. I will never forget the moment, sitting at home in my room after justifying all the reasons not to go, when I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to go. It was so powerful that it honestly felt like it pushed me out the door and to the audition. I had that feeling through the next month or so, and what seemed like a roller coaster ride of emotions of my childhood dream being so close but yet so far away.
I ended up having to go in 6 different times for that role then finally got the call that I booked it. After what felt like forever I got a call from one of the agents that turned me down saying that Sony Pictures wanted to book me to play Kate Parker in Center Stage Turn It Up and that I would be leaving to film in Vancouver in a couple of days (haahhhhhh… hahhhh… haaahhh… Yeah! that was me screaming in my car…Probably not very safe for me to be driving right then).
It was a literal childhood dream come true, I was about to play the lead in the sequel to the movie that changed my life as a little girl, I was going to get to be “that girl” who had inspired me so much. This crazy, beautiful, overwhelming, and to me, somewhat miraculous experience was what has shaped my entire brand and company. All I want to do is to use this story to inspire others and be “that girl” to move and change anyone’s life I possibly can through the arts, performing, and storytelling.
What is Unbreakable?
Unbreakable was inspired greatly from my “Center Stage” story and is centered around what I have learned along my journey of both going after and achieving really big dreams. Working on Center Stage was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, so surreal, so challenging, and so beautiful all at the same time. From this experience and many others with a similar theme I created my Brand Unbreakable.
Unbreakable Productions (my company) provides fun, uplifting, and inspirational content (and products) on a regular basis to help viewers discover their strength within, utilize the power of inner-inertia, and remain Unbreakable through life’s challenges.
One of my very favorite things (in life) is when I get letters and video message from fans and or those that have attended one of my workshops that say things like, “because of your workshop I finally have the confidence to go after my dream, or love myself, or have the strength to not to listen to all the people telling me I can’t do things really want to do.” One of my favorites letters was from a girl who said she used to self-harm and after my workshop she never did it again (she wrote me this letter a year later) and had started her own program to help others who had her same problem.
I also have a e-book coming out soon called “Your Creative Road Map To Being Unbreakable” and you can currently download my Action-Hero-At-Life EP on iTunes.
How do arts and athletics act as therapy for life?
I am a big believer that the arts and athletics are what makes me able to do all that I do. If I couldn’t act, dance, sing or just workout and get that release as well as confidence booster and recharge that all of these things give… well, let’s just say I would not have the confidence or inner strength to go after such big goals and I would most likely be in a mental hospital.
Every time you try something new you will not only learn a new skill, meet new people, build new brain cells, but also keep your life fun, adventurous, and exciting.
My Freeyo Workouts that go along with FreeYo Shirt Messages that I am coming out with are a super fun combination of yoga flow, hip hop dance cardio, and HIIT training all in one. It’s kind of a combination of all of the things that are so fun, and effective.
I am so grateful I get to be reminded of the beauty of the arts especially in young kids with my recent partnership with THE BIG SHOW where I get to work with young actors, dancers, and singers and see the amazing power that the arts has to transform lives. Just so blessed to get to be a part of this and help mentor aspiring artists in the most empowering way.
What are some of your favourite projects that you have worked on as an actress? Why?
Wow that is a loaded question. How much time do you have?
I played the lead role in films like Bring It On Fight To The Finish, Popstar, A Place In The Heart as well as all kinds of different characters in TV shows like Scream Queens, Anger Management, Two and A Half Men, Entourage but I am honestly so excited about the release of several films I have coming out soon.
I filmed several over the past couple years (crazy how they are all coming out now). One of which was a dream come true character and film that I just got done filming in Puerto Rico. I play the lead girl in this action film opposite Jeff Fahey and Bobby Campo and will be out on Syfy this summer. My character was such a badass and it was both the most amazing and most challenging experience. It was an action film (I have been dying to do action roles/films for a long time now… hence the “dream come true” statement above) and I had to do a lot of crazy intense stuff in this film (kind of crazy actually how much I love things that push me to my limits and make me do challenging scary things). Fun fact – I still have some battle scars from that film that I wear very proudly. Due to my athletic background, I really, really love playing badass action hero characters like I got to play in this film and I just can’t wait to do more like it. I can’t wait for everyone to see this film because I really think it is going to blow everyone away. I swear Griff Furst and Isaiah Laborde (director and producer team on this film), are going to be the best in the industry some day, and some day very soon. Very grateful to work with them.
I play a character named Julie in The Nice Guys [out May 20, 2016]. I loved working with Ryan Gosling. It was so nice to be able to work with someone who is so talented, successful, and who is under a lot of stress and yet still be so wonderful to everyone regardless of who they were. I really appreciate that quality in anyone but especially in the film industry.
Cold Moon [set for release on October 28, 2016] is a suspense thriller that I play a Southern Belle who is the happiest, sweetest, most full of life person you will probably ever meet. She was one of my very favorite characters to play especially since I feel that every character I play rubs off on me a little, and, man, while I was filming that movie I felt happier than I think I ever have in my entire life. I know that this film will be one of those films that comes out of nowhere and blows everyone away. I especially loved getting to work with on of my very favorite directors and producers, Griff Furst and Isaiah Laborde, as well as Christopher Lloyd, Josh Stewart, Candy Clark and so many more phenomenal talents.
Oh and I can’t forget about Center Stage 3 which is obviously super close to my heart because of how special doing the second one was for me (also very interesting how reflective it was of my real life without the writers knowing). It premiers June 25th.
Tell us about your charitable endeavours and why it is important to give back.
I truly believe the secret to living is giving. I usually make it a point to give something everyday even if it is small. I am just always happier and feel better about everything in my life when I live from a giving mindset.
“Unbreakable Dreams ” is the charity element of my company. 10% of all sales from Unbreakable Productions and Freeyo Fashion go to funding Unbreakable Dreams Projects. I feel so passionate about really getting this aspect of my company going. We ask people to send in their stories of how they are living the Unbreakable mindset and what their dream/goal is – we pick one a month to help make it a reality in a fun creative way. We will also be doing videos to feature these stories to continue to inspire people to fight for their dreams.
I also love working with Empower Her, Agape International Center, A place Called Home, and Feed The Hungry.
Favourite city to travel visit?
Honestly no way I could just pick one but here are the ones on the top of my list Cape Town, Paris, and Tel Aviv.
What is your favorite dish and at which restaurant (worldwide)?
I honestly don’t know my favorite dish because I love so many but I am pretty seafood obsessed. Give me a great wild salmon and some awesome steamed veggies and I am a very. very happy girl.
What three items are always in your luggage? What brand of luggage do you always travel with?
Running shoes, healthy snacks, FreeYo T-shirts.
Favourite hotel in the world? why?
Anything with an ocean view.
Most memorable travel moment?
Laying on the edge of the cliff at the very tip of CapePoint, in South Africa and then running from a wild kudu in the dark of night with no flash lights (that was quite a rush).
When I am not working I am…
I am creating and being with the people I love.
3 of the most played songs on my ipod are…
“I wanna set the world on fire”, “Halo Me”, “Invincible.”
Best advice (business or otherwise) that you have received?
Commit to having fun making your dreams come true and make every decision from a place of love and not fear.
I can’t live without…
Music, movies, dancing, travel, and all those whom I love and who love me.
This original travel article first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.