Adria Tennor: “Rejection is protection”

Moving people emotionally is the most powerful way to communicate, and that’s what fuels me. Telling a story, whether it’s writing it, acting in it, directing it, producing it, lighting it, etc… is a way to connect with people in the most powerful way. I learn best when something stirs my heart and I care […]

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Moving people emotionally is the most powerful way to communicate, and that’s what fuels me. Telling a story, whether it’s writing it, acting in it, directing it, producing it, lighting it, etc… is a way to connect with people in the most powerful way. I learn best when something stirs my heart and I care about it, so that’s what I want to do, stir people’s hearts and make them care. I communicate best when I am able to touch someone’s heart. Our hearts are our compasses, our guide. They’re a powerful resource, a GPS device from and for navigating the universe.

As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Adria Tennor.

Adria Tennor earned her BFA in stage directing and acting at New York University and Playwrights Horizons Theater School. Born in Michigan and raised in Columbia, MD (where she attended high school with Ed Norton), Adria has always had a love for theatre. She works regularly in television and film and is most known for her recurring roles on Mad Men and Mad Dogs as well as in the Academy Award winning film, The Artist. She also stars opposite the late, great Danny Aiello in his final, soon-to-be-released feature, One Moment, a heartbreaking comedy about a single mother trying to harness her already hectic life while her aging father slips into dementia.

Dissatisfied with the amount of work available to women in entertainment, Adria co-wrote, acted in, and directed her latest project,“FETISH” which recently launched on IGTV and YouTube — with two new episodes released every two weeks. The show is also written from the strong female perspective of accomplished novelist Kristen Tracy, whose work can be seen on The New Yorker. After Adria won the CineStory fellowship for her first feature script Never Been Born, she met Kristen and the two conspired to collaborate on “FETISH”. Adria hopes to create and tell more stories for and about women, in order to foster opportunities for a diverse point of view in theater, film and television.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. When I was little my grandmother babysat for my sister and me once a week. The three of us would watch Lawrence Welk, then try to emulate the performers by dressing up in my grandmother’s stash of flowy chiffon nightgowns and curly blonde wigs. She also taught us songs from George M. Cohen musicals. Then we’d sing them and lip sync to my Shawn Cassidy albums and show tunes from the musical Annie.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was eleven, my mother went back to school full time to get a second degree in Industrial Design. When I say full time, I mean she pulled all nighters 3–4 times a week to complete all her homework. One day I was off from school and she took me to class with her. At a break, her teacher came over and asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I told him I wanted to be an actress. My mother shook her head, but her teacher sized me up, then said to my mother, “She’ll probably do it.” That vote of confidence from a teacher my mom respected stuck with me.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

A casting director I’d always wanted to meet, Heidi Levitt (Parasite, Natural Born Killers), developed a really useful smartphone app called Actor Genie which provides a constantly updated list of casting directors and agents in LA & NY. Since this information is ever changing and vital to an actor’s career, I downloaded the app. It was extremely helpful, so I wrote a glowing review. The next day, I got an email from Heidi, thanking me for the positive feedback and an invitation to come meet her at her office! A few months later she cast me in an independent movie that I thought would most likely play at obscure film festivals in parts unknown because film was going to be shot in black and white without sound, an experimental homage to old-time black and white Hollwood flicks. On my way to set, Heidi texted me and said, “I’m so excited you’re working with John Goodman!” I didn’t know John Goodman was also doing what I thought was an obscure indie. As it turns out, that project was called The Artist and went on to win five Academy awards and three Golden Globes, etc, etc…!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Geez, I don’t know how funny this is, but it was a huge mistake from which I learned a very important lesson. I had just graduated from college and was still living in NYC. I had an audition for a powerful play about abuse. I really loved the piece and the role, and miraculously the director offered it to me. I didn’t accept it, though, because I was working in a restaurant at the time, and the rehearsals and performances would have conflicted with my job. The play was a success, and while I wouldn’t have made much (if any) money doing it, it would have been a prestigious theater credit for me, which probably would have led to more work and respect in my newly embarked upon career. The director was Maria Bello who went on to become a powerhouse talent in Hollywood.

What I learned from this is that my day job is meant to facilitate my career, not impede it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The people who have helped me the most along the way are all of the incredible casting directors in NY, LA and Louisiana (where I work sometimes as well). They are heroes who scour the land for talent and facilitate introductions for directors and producers to actors. Without casting directors, I’d have no jobs and no career.

Another person to whom I am especially grateful is accomplished actor/director/producer, Tom Verica. I auditioned for an episode of Scandal which he was directing. I completely messed up the lines the first time, but he and Linda Lowy, the casting director, let me read it again and I did it perfectly which wasn’t easy because it was a lot of legal jargon meant to be delivered at razor speed. Tom and Linda cast me. A couple years later, Tom was kind enough to watch, Pie, a film I made with Jessica Paré. He showed it to Paul Davies, the creator/show runner of For The People and that led to a nice recurring role on that show. When I feel discouraged, I remember that Tom respected me and my work enough to stick his neck out for me, and that means a lot.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Yes. There’s no such thing as failure. Everything is a gift, especially loss. Find the win. If it’s painful, figure out what can you do with that pain? Pain yields the best art and the very best comedy. Rejection is protection. It guides you on your path. Go with that flow. Walk through the open doors, and if you don’t see any open ones, build your own and walk through that one. The biggest leaps in my career came when I produced my own work. You want to be in a film? Make one. You want to be the lead of a TV show? Make one. Connect with the people who want to do the jobs you think you can’t do and make it happen. In this business, “no” does not mean “no.” It means, “not yet,” “not right now.” It will happen. Make it happen. Don’t wait for someone else to give you the career you want to have. Will it into existence.

What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?

Moving people emotionally is the most powerful way to communicate, and that’s what fuels me. Telling a story, whether it’s writing it, acting in it, directing it, producing it, lighting it, etc… is a way to connect with people in the most powerful way. I learn best when something stirs my heart and I care about it, so that’s what I want to do, stir people’s hearts and make them care. I communicate best when I am able to touch someone’s heart. Our hearts are our compasses, our guide. They’re a powerful resource, a GPS device from and for navigating the universe.

I am excited by the shift in our industry to diversify content and produce stories told by and for women and people of color. I’m thrilled about the content that has already come from this shift and look forward to future projects that get to see the light of day because of this demand to diversify. What’s even more thrilling is that audiences are embracing the content and reinforcing the funding.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

I’m excited about the release of our series Fetish which launched last month on YouTube, Facebook and IGTV. We are producing short companion content to publicize the show which is super fun. I’m proud to say that I’m a Gif!

I shot a movie last summer with the late, great Danny Aiello called One Moment. I’m heartbroken that he will not be around to celebrate the finished film, but I hope audiences will respond to and embrace his work in this piece, which is about a family dealing with their father’s slip into dementia.

I’m also writing a new one-woman show in tandem with a series in the vein on Fleabag about healing from heart break with the help of a twelve-foot pole. I loved writing and acting in my series and developing a character over the course of several episodes, so I’m focusing on developing more episodic content. If quarantine lasts much longer, I may explore ways to perform and broadcast the solo show virtually! Stay tuned!

We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?

Geena Davis’ slogan for See Jane, her Institute on Gender in Media is “If she can see it, she can be it.” There are a myriad of women who were inspired to become doctors after watching Ellen Pompeo in Grey’s Anatomy, and another myriad of women who were inspired to become television writers, producers and show runners because they saw Shonda Rhimes do it. Obviously, this doesn’t just apply to gender, but also people of color. Diversity in film and tv is a proven method to move the world to progress and inspire positive shifts and change, and I am all for that. When I watch something, I look for authenticity. Do I believe it? How can I believe if something doesn’t truly represent the world authentically. Diversity is authenticity. Bring it!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Walk through every open door. Say yes to everything. If there’s no door, build/bring your own!

2. Auditions are golden opportunities that not everyone gets granted — make the most of each one. Treat them all like a chance at an Academy Award, because they are.

3. Don’t wait for auditions and jobs to come to you. Create opportunities for yourself. Make your own work. Need inspiration? Check out TikTok! All you need is 30 seconds and a Smartphone. Do it!

4. Embrace your day job. Don’t resent it or where you are. You’re right where you’re supposed to be, and if you pay attention, you’ll find huge opportunity there. I built most of my early acting resumé from contacts I met at my waitressing gig!

5. Enjoy the process and the ride. Your success is not a destination. It’s something that happens periodically along the way.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

I meditate twice a day. I do this before I look at my phone in the morning, before “reality” permeates my consciousness, and then just before I fall asleep. I focus on gratitude, and I don’t just think about gratitude, I feel it in my heart.

Since the quarantine began, I’ve started taking a long walk at least once a week. I focus on feeling my feet on the ground and the fresh air on my arms and my forehead. I also make a point of making eye contact with anyone I see along the way, and I wave at them. Only if I think they won’t think I’m too crazy or even if they do. I live alone right now and I’m very isolated. This simple wave exchange and human eye contact feels incredibly important.

I’ve also been cooking almost every night. My dear friend Naoko Takei Moore owns a shop on La Brea called Toiro where she sells hand-crafted Japanese clay pots called “donabes” in which you can make the most healthy, satisfying and easy one-pot meals. I order super fresh fish from my friends at Kai Gourmet. I find it incredibly soothing and satisfying to make myself something delicious and nutritious to eat.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

From Brianna Wiest: “You’re new life is going to cost you your old one. It’s going to cost you your comfort and your sense of direction. It’s going to cost you relationships and friends. It’s going to cost you being liked, and understood.

But it doesn’t matter. Because the people who are meant for you are going to meet you on the other side. And you’re going to build a new comfort zone around the things that actually move you forward. And instead of liked, you’re going to be loved. Instead of understood, you’re going to be seen. All you’re going to lose is what was built for a person you no longer are. Let it go.”

I love this quote because it reinforces the idea that the hard, rough life stuff that feels like punishment and a hindrance, is actually a gift, that high-powered GPS signal from the world, powering us on a preferred, healthier, more advantageous path paved with gold.

I love Brianna Wiest’s book “101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think.” The essays are short and easily digestible. I like to read one a day in the morning. It’s like breakfast for your brain!

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I mentioned my belief that our hearts are our compasses. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to teach people to listen to and follow their hearts. Too many people allow fear, shame, guilt and other insecurities to rule them and their lives and actions. I’m sure this sounds “Pollyanna-ish,” but I don’t care. If we made more decisions out of love, instead of fear, the world would be a much better place. I will say, I use fear as a compass, too. If something scares me, I walk in that direction, right smack into it.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I’d really love to meet and talk to Mark Duplass. I’m inspired by his will and ability to create his own work. I found the book that he co-authored with his brother Jay, Like Brothers, extremely encouraging. I opted for the Audible version so I got to listen to the two of them read it to me! I’ve also heard from countless friends how he took them under his wing and helped them with their projects, a gesture like that is key in independent filmmaking. It’s refreshing to know that, in an industry that can be so cut-throat, a person like Mark exists and is succeeding.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?


IG & Twitter: @adriatennor

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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