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“Be bold and mighty forces will aid you” With Actress Shea Whitehead

“Be bold and mighty forces will aid you.” When I first started strategizing on how I could move my son and I to New York, I knew I’d have…


“Be bold and mighty forces will aid you.” When I first started strategizing on how I could move my son and I to New York, I knew I’d have to make a leap of faith. I decided to rent an Airbnb in Brooklyn for the summer, hoping I’d be able to secure an apartment for September. Looking back, I can see that I blocked out doubts and negativity. I didn’t let questions like, “Who is going to rent to a single-mom waitress?” and “Who would want to share an apartment with a 5 year old?” enter my head. I’ve always lived by the idea: be bold and mighty forces will aid you. Right before we moved, my application was selected through the NYC Housing Authority lottery for a 1 bedroom apartment in the South Bronx. We actually have more space now than we did in Boston! I am so lucky — I think the Universe was looking out.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Shea Whitehead, an emerging film actress living in New York City. Shea started her career in Boston and recently made the move to New York with her 6 year old son, Leon. She’s starred in numerous indie films and commercials. See her work at shea-whitehead.com


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been an actress. When I was a kid I used to write lyrics to my favorite broadway shows phonetically, because I didn’t know how to spell. I learned the songs top to close and would act out the plays in my room. When I got older, I enlisted my friends in making movies, and we would shoot off-beat films with my dad’s giant camcorder.

I was painfully shy as a kid, but when I was acting, I had all the confidence in the world. I loved performing onstage. I starred in several community theatre productions and took voice and dance lessons.

Even though I was very privileged growing up, I was also very unhappy. I had severe depression and suffered from an eating disorder, which landed me in hospitals and long-term treatment programs for the bulk of my high school years.

When I went to college, I was fresh out of that world of lockdown facilities, regimented schedules, meal plans and socialization with girls just as unhappy as I was. I blindly and enthusiastically recommitted to my freedom, and threw myself into things that interested me at Emerson College, where I was studying writing. I received an award in a screenplay contest, and I was cast as the lead in a pilot workshop, produced by Kevin S. Bright, of “Friends” fame. That was my first time on a film set, and I realized then that there was nothing else I wanted to do. I convinced my parents to help me move to LA, which I did six months later, at the age of 19.

Old habits die hard, and when I was alone in a big city I slid back into debilitating but comforting patterns that eventually got me into serious trouble. After developing a substance addiction, I moved back east with my best friend, and tried to rebuild. My experience in LA had deeply troubling moments, and I think I associated acting with all of that. I told myself I was done with acting, and focused on finishing a degree in English at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City.

But there, once again I drifted into self-destruction. I smoked pot constantly, to the point where I had a psychotic break and lost the ability to separate reality from the theatre in my head. I was unable to communicate effectively with people for about a year, and I awoke every morning in terror that I had irreparably damaged my mind.

When I graduated, I moved back home to Boston, and made a deal with myself to get healthy. I thought that if I put myself in a totally new situation, I could also form new habits, so I signed on with a teaching program and made plans to move to Beijing, China. I had my last glass of wine in the airport, threw out my cigarettes and boarded the plane with goals in mind.

I stuck to it. I declined drinks and substances, only to find out three weeks later that my boyfriend back in Boston and I were pregnant. It felt like divine intervention. It was time to go home and put both feet on the ground. I had responsibility to someone else now, and by extension, began to take care of myself as well.

Being pregnant and in one city for the foreseeable future allowed me to connect with my values and passions. After my son was born, I slowly began to ease back into the world of filmmaking, acting in projects here and there. I remembered that feeling of being on set. There’s nothing like it, and when you find something that makes you feel like that, your path is cut clearly for you. I decided to pursue acting professionally in 2016, and in Boston I worked on several indie films and commercial projects. For actors, Boston can only take you so far, so we made the move to New York City in June and already there have been more jobs and opportunities. I’m also sober and the happiest I’ve ever been.


Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

When we first moved to New York, Leon and I were at Central Park and decided to go to the Plaza food court for dinner (I love that place!). He sat down at a communal table while I ordered at the counter. The next thing I know, he’s chatting up a couple who are also sitting at the table. I introduced myself to the couple and it turns out she’s a producer on a CBS network show, and he’s a director. I think they were really charmed by Leon — who is adorable, by the way — because we had a nice conversation and exchanged contact information. I’ve been in touch with them regularly ever since, and they’ve offered advice and guidance. I’m really, really glad I met them.

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?

I’ve fallen asleep on set and on camera several times. If my character is sleeping, I tend to actually fall asleep! It’s unnerving because you aren’t aware of what you’re doing while you’re sleeping, and it’s embarrassing for someone to have to wake you up. I’ve learned to get to sleep early consistently so I’m in that rhythm. When shooting days roll around I’m already in the habit of being well rested.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’ve had a lot of fun shooting different commercials over the last few months, but the most interesting project I’m working on is a script I’m developing. It’s been exciting to be writing again, and the director I met at the Plaza is helping me focus the story. Additionally, a film I worked on in February, “Who’s There?” directed by Mike Pecci, is starting the festival circuit with Morbido Film Fest. That’s a film I’m really proud of — it’s beautiful and scary. The trailer is available online here: (https://bloody-disgusting.com/indie/3529827/teaser-whos-short-offers-fear-soaked-neon/)

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I love meeting people who are passionate about filmmaking. It’s not career you really fall into. If you do it, you love to do it. That kind of energy is inspiring.


Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this question! Ask me again in ten years. I just try to make sure my life is in balance — staying healthy, being gentle with myself, being an engaged parent, making sure basic needs are being met. Doing something each day to strengthen my career, even if I’m not on set.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

Diverse groups of people can caravan from coast to coast and stop in every small town populated with xenophobic communities and talk to them until those people realize racism is a product of fear to let go of.

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. Keep your chops up. Do small things on your own to stay prepared. You really never know when an opportunity will present itself. There are things we, as actors, can do to prepare for cold reads or memorization techniques we can practice to get off book quickly for an audition. And if you’re not working on a project or audition you can still read aloud, you can study, you can do things to enrich your life so that more depth translates itself into your performances.
  2. Get a good self-tape rig. For too long I shot self-taped auditions on my phone with poor lighting, no tripod and distractions behind me. Eventually I caught on that production value matters! I invested in a few tools to make my self-tapes look 100% better. And yes, it’s made a big difference.
  3. Don’t get tattoos. I have several tattoos on my arms and back. Most directors want tattoos covered or nonexistent. They’re not hard to cover, but it does take time, and I think some directors have not seriously considered me for a role because they don’t want to see tattoos.
  4. Keep looking forward. It’s easy to get fixated on your last audition or casting submission. I used to get so disappointed if I didn’t book a job — it would put me in a bad mood for days! Now, once I audition I just let it go and look forward to the next thing.
  5. You can do it. When I was a kid, wanting to grow up to be an actress was considered impossible. I wish I had believed sooner that I can and should do it.

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

“Be bold and mighty forces will aid you.” When I first started strategizing on how I could move my son and I to New York, I knew I’d have to make a leap of faith. I decided to rent an Airbnb in Brooklyn for the summer, hoping I’d be able to secure an apartment for September. Looking back, I can see that I blocked out doubts and negativity. I didn’t let questions like, “Who is going to rent to a single-mom waitress?” and “Who would want to share an apartment with a 5 year old?” enter my head. I’ve always lived by the idea: be bold and mighty forces will aid you. Right before we moved, my application was selected through the NYC Housing Authority lottery for a 1 bedroom apartment in the South Bronx. We actually have more space now than we did in Boston! I am so lucky — I think the Universe was looking out.

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?

My parents are always my number one fans, and they never stopped believing in me. I put them through a lot, but they always met my challenges with love. I’m so grateful for that.


Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 see this. 🙂

Christopher Nolan. I love his writing and originality.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on instagram: @sheawhitehead

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

Originally published at medium.com

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