All the best things in life are on the OTHER side of fear: Say yes to the things that scare you; go to that class you’re interested in; go on the date with the nice guy; and introduce yourself to strangers. Open yourself up to the possibility of more.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karlisha Hurley, an award-winning LA based Australian actress with strong drive to help others and who uses her platform as an actor to accomplish that. Karlisha has starred in the lead role in the feature film Wrapped, the Lifetime film ‘Nightmare Tenant’, has a starring role in the series ‘How to Identify a Serial Killer’ and is co-host of the series #Me4TV, a next-gen talk show. She won Best Actor Under 18 at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and the Hollywood Moving Picture Film Festival, and Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Accolade Global Film Competition — all for her role in a film about child suicide called ‘Karlisha and Morgan’ which has also won many other international awards.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Although I was probably too young to watch it, I fell in love with the movie Titanic with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio when I was just a kid. I will never forget the first time I saw it. I was totally inspired by Rose who chose to embark on an adventure within herself that the rest of the world was against; instead of falling in line and having a life with no real feeling or purpose. I decided to do something like that with my life; something that had real purpose to me. One day I want to be like Rose and inspire others to take the leap and do what they want with their lives.
But honestly, I think my mum knew I was going to be an actor even before I did. I was always interested in watching how other people behaved and used to spend hours mimicking them and trying to understand why they acted the way they did. I had a bit of a wild personality too and I was obsesses with watching moves — every movie anywhere. So my mum encouraged me to study acting. In class, I thrived and when I was told I was pretty good at it, I became determined to be better.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
In my job, you get to be in all sorts of crazy scenarios; ones that are intriguing as an actor but in real life are horrifying. In the new feature film Wrapped I held someone at gunpoint and threatened to shoot them and in the recently released Lifetime movie Nightmare Tenant I was murdered. In Karlisha and Morgan I played a suicide victim who was bullied; I played a teenager who struggles to cope with rejection by her family in Bet the Demon Wins; and a pregnant teenager accused of a heinous crime in the horror series Fight Night. It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to explore these bizarre scenarios as if I am actually caught up in them. I think it gives me the chance to better appreciate why people do what they do and helps give me a platform to promote social issues that impact people’s lives with at least some understanding. In an upcoming series, I get to be in the mind of a serial killer.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first came out to LA from Australia I was of course very eager to get in the casting room. I was always taught that if you were ever asked if you could do a particular skill you should say yes and learn later. I went into an audition and was asked if I could play the guitar and before I knew what I was saying I had said yes because I thought I could learn it later. Out of nowhere they pulled out a guitar and said ‘great! Play us something!’- That of course did NOT end well because I couldn’t play the guitar… at ALL. I then fessed up and blurted out ‘but I can sing!!’ which was something I could actually do. They ended up loving that and calling me back.
This made me realize that no, I can’t please everyone right now, but I can be myself and that’s enough. It also taught me to never lie on my resume!
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?
Social media has opened up a whole new world for actors as it gives us a platform to reach so many people around the world and drive issues that we are really passionate about. Teenage suicide seems to be such taboo words these days; people have just stopped talking about it. I want to spread the word about it and use social media to let people know that how they are feeling is okay and that we should share our pain and experiences. If we open up about it then people may feel less alone and we might help save some lives. In the film Karlisha and Morgan, which screened at festivals around the world, I talk about suicide and play a teenager who has committed suicide after being bullied at school. I was bullied at school and I know how alone and unsupported you can feel, but luckily I had a close family that helped me get through it. In my recent film Bet the Demon Wins I also portray how alone a teenager can feel without the support of family after being betrayed by my sister and father. And as a Program Director for the upcoming Port Stephens international Film Festival, which is focusing on bullying, I get to encourage film makers to make films that relate to these important social issues and help spread the word.
Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?
One of my best friends tried to commit suicide. I would say it changed the whole course of my life. He used to share almost everything with me but maybe it was the stigma of talking about suicide that prevented him from sharing this part of his life. His attempted suicide gave me a much deeper understanding of what it was like for someone in that position; how they felt on a day to day basis; and it became one of the main reasons I wanted to spread awareness of this issue. If my friend had been able to talk to more people about it at the time and had known that there was a whole community going through the same struggles as him, he may not have had to fight so hard to stay afloat.
Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?
So apart from one of my best friends I also had a classmate who committed suicide around the time I started filming Karlisha and Morgan in which I play two lead roles as a teenager talking about the impact of bullying and as a victim who has died after committing suicide and talks about what led to that. The Director David Raynor’s sister was at the time on suicide watch at the school she worked at and it really showed me how big the issue was, although few people wanted to talk about it. That and my best friend’s attempted suicide all had such an impact on me that I wanted to spread the word and social media has given me the opportunity to do that. The film won many awards and was screened around the world and I think that shows that as an actor, I have a voice and can help make a difference.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help to you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The community, society and politicians should not shy away from talking about hard hitting issues such as teen suicide and should do more to prevent bullying at school. I was bullied so badly that at one point that the thought of going to school made me so physically sick that I couldn’t even get on the bus to get there. I know so many other people who have been bullied too and some who have thought that suicide was their only way out of that situation.
We need to provide more platforms so people can talk about how they are feeling and who they are without any social stigma; and make more films and spread the word about the issues that lead to teenage suicide whether it be because a person is treated badly for simply being gay or transgender, or for just being of a different nationality; or any other issues.
What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for social good?
I have been talking about teen suicide and bullying through vlogs, blogs, videos and film.
I also took the opportunities to talk about teenage suicide and bullying in radio, print and television media interviews when I won several acting awards for my role as a suicide victim in the film Karlisha and Morgan. I did a promotional video on the impact of suicide and bullying to promote the Port Stephens International Film Festival and I even wrote an education paper on bullying called ‘The Stage is Set to Combat Bullying’. In it, I encourage schools to increase use of drama in education as this, according to research, provides students with skills that enables them to confront difficult social problems such as bullying and therefore can help reduce teen suicide. I talked about how fake media has impacted young people and their self-worth as a host in the web TV show #Me4TV and in my upcoming podcast we are focusing on what it’s like to live in an industry like Hollywood as a young actor and how that affects us not only mentally but physically in all aspects of our lives.
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- Enjoy the beauty of becoming: Stop rushing through your life expecting your happiness will come later. Enjoy the moments that you’re in because I promise you’ll otherwise regret it when your older.
2- All the best things in life are on the OTHER side of fear: Say yes to the things that scare you; go to that class you’re interested in; go on the date with the nice guy; and introduce yourself to strangers. Open yourself up to the possibility of more.
3- High school sucks for ANYONE who is the least bit different: I promise there’s a whole life past this. When I was in High School I really did believe there was nothing else in life. The gossip; the fights; the loneliness. Every negative thing that happened was the end of my life. If I had been able to look past that, look at the bigger picture and start embracing my weirdness, I could have had such a different perspective on my school years.
4- You’re Not Alone: when I was younger I felt very isolated and that no one knew the insane stuff that was going on in my head. But as I grew up, I started saying the things I thought and found that other people had the exact same thoughts and feelings. Once you start feeling like you’re going through this crazy world together instead of alone, everything starts to get a little easier.
5- Stop shrinking yourself to make others comfortable: I never gave myself a voice and would always make my accomplishments smaller in order to make others feel safe and more secure. I wish I had let my younger self know that YOU ARE ENOUGH.
You don’t need to mold yourself into what you think others want in order for them to like you. Once you believe you deserve to be heard, you find that you no longer care what people think.
You are a person of enormous 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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I recently found out about a thing called ‘Cuddle Parties’. And yes, I first thought that it was a giant party where you just spend the entire time cuddling each other but it is actually an event designed with the intention of allowing people to experience nonsexual group physical intimacy through cuddling. It helps you understand where your physical and mental boundaries are and it gives you the tools to learn to be okay with saying no in any given circumstance and become more aware of the different kinds of physical intimacy. Perhaps if more people cuddled one another then they would feel less alone and we could help reduce suicides.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that is relevant to you in your life?
“Being our messy, imperfect, authentic selves helps create a space where others feel safe to be themselves too. Your vulnerability can be a gift to others.”
That quote is my screensaver on my phone because when I’m in social places I can get anxious and start having thoughts like ‘what I said wasn’t funny enough’, or ‘I need to tell people all the things I’m succeeding at so they like me more.’ But when I look down at my phone it helps me remember that being myself lets other people feel like they can be themselves too. It even creates more intimate conversations and moments that create a more lasting relationship with the people around you. Me being weird and joyful can make others feel safe. How badass is that?
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oh wow… that’s such a hard question! There’s so many!
Most of all I would love to have lunch with Jim Carey. I grew up watching him and he was always a huge creative influence on me. Not only is he a brilliant actor but he knew his worth and knew how to share his knowledge to the world. He said something that really stuck with me. He didn’t want his sole purpose in life to be focused on just one thing; he knew that his purpose in life was to ‘free people from concern.’ That has been a part of my career my whole life. I could easily spend the day just listening to him, his thoughts, his life, his jokes, the whole wazoo.
I would take him to an Australian café in LA because we have the best coffee and I could treat him to our favorite breakfast, Avocado Mash.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My Facebook and twitter is Karlisha Hurley and my Instagram is @karlisha.hurley. I would love your wonderful readers to follow me on social media and would love to follow them!
Thank you for these great insights!