Anna Elena Pepe: “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes”

I think us actors are used to putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a job, which helps us see things from their perspective. It would be great if everyone could do that every day. Think about putting yourself into some else’s shoes. That guy we don’t like for instance…why does he behave that way? […]

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I think us actors are used to putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a job, which helps us see things from their perspective. It would be great if everyone could do that every day. Think about putting yourself into some else’s shoes. That guy we don’t like for instance…why does he behave that way? Maybe if we try to understand and be compassionate about other people a lot of the hatred in society will disappear. I guess “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes” could be a new movement!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Elena Pepe.

Anna is an award winning Italian-English actress and screenwriter working in the USA, UK and Europe. Her mission is to bring to life great, unconventional female characters. She is currently working on a TV-Series, a short film and 2 full-length films.

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 am originally from Ferrara, a little city in the north of Italy.

I then moved to London more than 10 years ago. There were several reasons, artistic and personal, that brought me there. Artistically, I had experienced England during a high school cultural exchange programme, and I loved the English theatrical tradition. My dream was to study, live and breathe that artistic atmosphere. On a personal level, my family did not support the idea that I could have a career in acting, even though I was already studying and working as an actress in Italy. I realized that to free myself and become what I really wanted I would have to detach myself from that reality and leave Italy.

Noticing that most castings I did through my UK agency were from the US, I then moved to LA year ago.

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

From what I recall, I always wanted to be an actress. Many colleagues will understand, it’s not something you choose, it’s something that chooses you. It’s a gift or a curse, depending on your point of view. As a child, I started telling stories to my classmates at school and staging them as a real performance.

Then, one day, a Hollywood film crew came to my high school, a little school in a little town in the north of Italy. What were the chances? I audition for a film they were doing, I still remember the audition, in my high school gym…. And I got the role! I took it as a sign.

I then moved to London and continued my acting studies there.

I have always been a storyteller, and I found that London was the right place for me. Thus, alongside acting I studied ‘Creative writing’, during a master called European Act organised by RADA and the International Institute of Performing Arts in Paris.

In recent years I have had several experiences that have made me grow artistically, both in theatre and film, in English and in Italian. I performed in some shows in the West End (the London equivalent of Broadway) and in films with important directors (Pupi Avati, Richard Blanshard, Johan Nijenhuis). As a voice actor and speaker, I worked for many major brands such as Vodafone, Ryanair, Amazon and for productions such as Warner Bros, Paramount and HBO.

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

I was born in Italy. I spoke good English as a teenager, for as well as I could learn at school. To get better, I used to listen to the BBC broadcast on the international TV channels, and got hold of a few recordings of plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The first time I came to England was for a high school student exchange program based in North Yorkshire. I remember arriving at the local train station and realizing…no-one spoke like the BBC people! I really could not understand a word of the Yorkshire accent! Then, I began my journey of understanding and studying different English accents. I remember after a long period in Yorkshire I started auditioning for drama schools in London and people were confused…why does this Italian girl sound like a Northerner? It took me a while, but I’m now ready, every time I am challenged to use a different accent for a part, whether it’s American, British, Middle-Eastern and so on.

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?

It was one of my first jobs. We were filming in Sardinia, a Mediterranean island of Italy. It was like a dream, they flew us to a wonderful island to work with a great director on a great story. I remember we had a dinner party scene. For some reason I hadn’t been eating all day. And there I was, at the table, with a ginormous portion of spaghetti in front of me. So I started eating, FOR REAL. Every take was an opportunity to eat a bit more and I just could not stop. Or I did, just to say my lines at least. For the people who are not in film I should explain why this is really bad. In every take, you should try to repeat the same movements with props. This makes it easier to edit the film. The poor editor must have hated me. He must have thought, who’s that girl constantly eating? I definitely learnt not to do that again!

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?

I left my family when I was young and moved to a different country. I am still close to them but I developed a wider sense of family that includes friends. The people that can actively support you in daily life. In the last few years I got married and my husband has been my emotional rock, and a practical help! He is a scientist but moonlights as my camera operator and line reader for auditions!

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?

I think the key point is to understand why you are doing it. What is your mission? Why this particular job, what do you want to say? If your sense of mission is strong there is no chance of failure, because you are going to keep going, no matter what. And remember, it’s a marathon.

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?

My love for telling stories. I think the film industry has really the opportunity to change people’s life. Watching a good movie contributes to people’s culture! It is like going to the museum, it really makes you a better person.

I think the industry should be driven a bit less by money, I understand it is a big ask, but we have to expose the audience to diverse content and at the beginning it might not be that popular. But if we invest in education and culture we will have a better world!

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 just had the great opportunity to work on the TV series ‘Leonardo’ directed by BAFTA winner Daniel Percival and Alexis Cahill. We managed to finish the shooting in Italy respecting the safety regulations on Covid 19.

One of the projects I have co-written and acted in is a series called “Toto e Daiana”. It’s about Italian immigrants in London and has already won awards and has had great reception at international film-festivals. We are now producing the remaining episodes.

A short-film to be filmed soon is “Agata”, which is a black-comedy that deals with violence against women, immigration and clash of cultures. It is directed by a young female director, Aurora Deiana.

This year, I also crossed the pond and started working in LA as an actress on two very exciting films, one is currently in post production and it’s called “The Central Authority”

It’s a completely socially distanced movie that we shot during the pandemic lockdown. It’s a ground breaking film taking place literally all over the world. For example, I was in London and my scene partner was in LA! It’s a horror comedy with heavy satire elements. We are in a dystopian future, where a pandemic has caused the world-wide collapse of governments. A Central Authority has risen to maintain law and order. My character Dr. Elaine Zhivaga is the head sexologist and intimacy advisor for The Central Authority. There is a lot to learn from her in terms of socially distanced sex!

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?

I want to start by acknowledging that obstacles can also be opportunities for change. I am supportive of all the movements that are trying to bring diversity to the industry. I would like to speak about this matter starting from my own direct experience and background, that is what I know and I can comment on.

Being an immigrant in the UK has been an interesting experience: especially after the Brexit referendum, when I’ve been a victim of racist episodes against Europeans. But again, that made me think about what I could do about it. I feel that racist episodes come from lack of public awareness, which is something we can work on as performers. For example, I lived in the UK for 12 years, am educated in London, and am now a British citizen. Yet, as a ‘non-native’ I feel we are not given equal opportunities in film. I think it is important that films reflect reality: Europeans and others are in hospitals, banks, universities, and acting roles need to reflect this diversity, not just the stereotypical Italian waiter. This is another factor that has inspired me to write my own stories.

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. You are enough. I felt a bit of an outsider for a long time, like I didn’t really belong anywhere, but then I realized that was my strength, because I would always have a different point of view that will help me seeing things clearly.
  2. If you don’t see people like you on TV then write your way in. Show business is a business and it’s open. If you write something that is relevant people will listen. There are a lot of people like you out there that need to feel represented.
  3. Just doing a good audition is not enough. There are a lot of competent performers, you need to be extraordinary, and that is possible only by really channeling yourself. Make every audition really personal, it will make the difference.
  4. You are your biggest competition, just focus on what you have to do. Talent is just 10%, the other 90% is dedication. Other people are there to inspire you to do better.
  5. Detach from the outcome. Do your best but then let it go. You can’t control everything. You will win some and lose some. In the grand scheme of things, everything will work out.

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 love physical exercise, especially outdoors, and I love doing it under the sun. Which is much easier when I am in LA compared to when I am in London. I love hiking, nature inspires me and I get many ideas for my writing just by walking around.

A self-care routine for my mind is definitely utilizing my Buddhist practice. I have been a Buddhist for over ten years now, and it is a philosophy that guides all my actions. You become aware that there is no border between us and the environment and we can actively change what’s around us, by changing ourselves.

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

I have heard this “Life Lesson” that really helped me. It was in my Buddhist teachings. Every day put a piece of paper on the floor, and then another one on it and so on. One day, all of a sudden, you will realize that a pile has formed. I guess it is about consistent effort and the trust that it will give good results.

I also once read the phrase There are no pure lands or impure lands. Pure or impure is only the heart of men. In the end it all depends on us and on how we deal with what is around us. Even if the profession of the actor is coveted and competitive, if we focus on preparation and honesty, sooner or later we will reach our goal “.

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 think us actors are used to putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a job, which helps us see things from their perspective. It would be great if everyone could do that every day. Think about putting yourself into some else’s shoes. That guy we don’t like for instance…why does he behave that way? Maybe if we try to understand and be compassionate about other people a lot of the hatred in society will disappear. I guess “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes” could be a new movement!

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 have a few people who come to mind. Reese Whiterspoon has really changed the game, an actress turned producer who makes some the best written shows on TV. She created a whole new platform for showcasing female talents. I will be honored to have a coffee with her.

There are also a couple of actresses-writers that I really admire and inspired me a lot during my journey. Lena Dunham, for instance. We have a similar age and seeing someone like her having a show of her own produced by HBO in her early twenties was mind-blowing to me. I also really like the work she is doing for mental health awareness and against body shaming.

Rachel Bloom is also a personal hero of mine. I love her humor, I love musicals, and I love how unapologetically cleaver she is with her satire. I think it would be really fun and constructive to have lunch with her.

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

Instagram @annaelenapepe

Twitter @annaEpepe

Facebook Anna Elena Pepe

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

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