“Be persistent.”, With Ming Zhao & Ali Stolar

There’s so many things in the world I would change if I could, but mostly I just want to see people being kind to each other. There are so many people out there taking things for granted when others have nothing at all. Maybe bringing balance to that could really help some people. As a […]

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There’s so many things in the world I would change if I could, but mostly I just want to see people being kind to each other. There are so many people out there taking things for granted when others have nothing at all. Maybe bringing balance to that could really help some people.

As a part of my interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ali StolarAli is an actress and writer from Dallas, Texas. She started out in theatre at ten years old and has worked her way into the film industry.

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

I have ALWAYS wanted to act, even when I was little. I don’t remember how old I was when I saw it, but I remember watching the film “True Lies” for the first time, and I immediately decided I wanted to become an actress so I could play Arnold Schwarzenneger’s daughter in a film. That, to me, seemed like it would be the coolest job as a kid. I’ve always had a big imagination and thought about how amazing it would be to travel through space, be a superhero, or jump onto a helicopter, and as an actor you could have the opportunity to do all of those things and be anyone you wanted to be. Growing up with my dad and his love of movies also really made me want to write my own stories. I feel like no other art form can evoke the kind of emotion that film does. I wanted to be able to bring my art to life and tell stories that people will relate to and love or that will transport people to new worlds. I’d never want to do anything else.

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

I’ve gotten to do a lot of things as an actress that I never thought I would do. My favorite experience (SPOILER ALERT) was being kidnapped in a film I did called “The Cliff”. We shot the scenes in an abandoned factory building. It was huge and SO scary inside, and it was so much fun to run around in there and hide from the villain of the film. That’s definitely not something you get to do in everyday life. It’s also probably not something most people would get excited about, but to me the more drama and adrenaline the better.

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 think I was about fifteen when I had my first professional film audition. It was for True Grit, which was obviously a HUGE film, so I was insanely nervous. I was auditioning for the lead, and the casting directors took us into a room in groups of ten to interview us. They went around and asked us to tell them a few things about ourselves, and I was one of the first ones to answer. I completely shut down because I’m really shy and terrible at talking to people, and when they asked me about my experience with acting I think I answered “I like theatre…”. I had no idea what else to say, and I could hardly talk above a whisper. It was SO embarrassing and I realized how unprepared I was for the audition. It did help me gain some perspective and be better prepared for the next time.

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

I’m currently working on producing my first feature film. It’s called “Faded” and it’s a story about a boxer who is struggling to overcome his opioid addiction. This is the second feature script I’ve written, and I’m acting in it as well. There is something really exciting about seeing other actors bring your script to life and act out the words you wrote. I think this is a really important story with a message that people will really identify with, and I can’t wait until I can share more details about the cast and production team.

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

I’ve met a lot of great people either through work or just by chance, Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum were two of my favorites that I’ve met- though I haven’t gotten to actually work with them yet. When I’m not working on any big projects I like to do background work for fun. I was on one episode of Queen of the South in the third (I think) season, and I got to meet several members of the cast. Hemky Madera was super nice and the total opposite of his character Pote on the show. I briefly spoke with him and Alice Braga (who is also a total sweetheart), but I spent most of my time between takes chatting with Peter Gadiot, the actor who plays James Valdez. He was funny and really friendly to all the extras. He would come over and play with the fake drugs I had at my table and we joked about the white extensions in my hair making me look like Storm from X-Men. The other actor I was standing with kept teasing that he thought Peter was trying to hit on me, but I totally didn’t think he was until he asked me if I had family here and I told him I was married. I apparently completely lack the ability to tell when someone is flirting, so it was a really funny experience. He still came over between takes to play with the props, but the flirting did stop after that.

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

Be persistent, and don’t be afraid to make your own opportunities. You will go through a hundred “nos” to get a yes. People often get discouraged when they can’t get a callback or can’t get their script read, I have at times, but if you keep going and try harder each time you will get to that “yes.” Keep looking for work, and make your own work. Write your own films and act in them. It might seem self-centered to some, but people in the industry do it all the time. There’s no better way to show that you’re serious about your art than to keep making art.

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? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I’ll be honest, I’m not the best at self care at times, but I am definitely trying to be better at finding balance for myself. Try to start out by not setting unrealistic goals. Nobody is going to be able to write a screenplay every month or go to ten auditions a month. Set an attainable goal and don’t overwork yourself. It’s great to be busy, but it’s not great to be burnt out. I notice a lot of people have this mentality that you have to focus on the hustle non-stop and never take time to rest. We all need rest, physically and creatively. I’ll take time off from acting and focus on writing instead, and I make sure that I set aside time to be with my family and to relax by myself. Yoga and hot showers are what I use to unwind. If I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed I just give myself permission to take a break. I sometimes feel like I’m failing if I’m not being productive, but recuperating IS productive. I also often take breaks from social media to keep myself grounded. I love connecting with people over social media and following other creatives, but we easily get caught up in comparing our lives to other people’s and that’s not the healthiest habit. The hot showers and Yoga definitely help, but I think I might start to hit the gym more LOL.

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 don’t need an agent to start acting. It obviously helps, especially if you’re trying to get cast in more big-name projects, but it is definitely not necessary when you’re starting out. When I started acting I had no idea how to even go about getting an agent because everyone told me an agent won’t represent you if you don’t have experience, but then you’d hear that casting directors won’t hire you to get that experience if you don’t have an agent. I searched online and found plenty of cheap and even free sites that post casting calls for independent projects as well as studio films. I started to submit myself for auditions, got jobs and made connections, and it was actually a bit easier than I thought to get my foot in the door and start building my resume.
  2. Stage acting and film acting are TOTALLY different. I had several years of theatre under my belt by the time I had my first film audition, and I was extremely unprepared for how different it would be. On stage your audience has a completely different view. In film or television you don’t need to “project” your voice as loudly or exaggerate movements. It’s all about the little nuances and microexpressions and really trying to put the audience right there in the room next to you. The audition experiences are also very different, so don’t expect to show up to a film audition needing to have a Shakespearean monologue prepared- unless it’s a Shakespearean film of course.
  3. You don’t have to go to acting school to be a good actor. I have no formal acting training. I never went to college. I did have an amazing theatre teacher in high school, but beyond that I never studied to be an actor. I do think “natural talent” plays a part in a successful career- because let’s be honest, some actors with an extensive education still lack a lot of skill- but acting DOES also require learning. Although I don’t think you necessarily need to learn through schooling. I got offered acting scholarships to a couple of different colleges, but they were all out of state and my family wasn’t in a position to send me out of state for school- though that’s a whole other story. I finally found a small acting school here in Dallas, but it was extremely expensive, so I decided to keep submitting myself to auditions and try to learn as I work. Some people do great with school, but I found that I actually learn easier through experience. Practice monologues, watch a lot of films, listen to the notes and critiques your director gives you, develop and adapt your skills. Take workshops when you can, and most importantly-
  4. You should ALWAYS watch your own performances. How can you expect to get better at acting if you don’t check your work? This is really important when you’re first starting out in your acting career. I used to get DVDs of my plays and most of the time would never watch them. When I finally did, I saw SO many things that I didn’t even realize I was doing at the time. You look and sound completely different to an audience than you do to yourself in your own head. It’s important to get out of your head and view yourself from different perspectives. I noticed strange mannerisms and things I was doing with my voice that didn’t appear natural, and it helped me realize that I was over-acting and not genuinely feeling what my character was going through in the scenes. You can only improve if you know what you need to work on.
  5. Lastly, the film industry is more about connections than talent. You could be the next Meryl Streep, but if you don’t know the right people then you’ll likely never reach the type of success that you want. You have to put yourself out there and meet people. This was really hard for me because I am naturally a very shy person, but when it comes to my work I had to push myself out of my comfort zone to be able to accomplish my goals. Acting is all about networking. The director of the first feature film I acted in is now a good friend of mine and is even working with me on another project, and he’s also introduced me to a lot of other people in the industry. I’ve gotten roles based on referrals from other actor friends, and I’ve made lists where I get access to auditions or industry events that aren’t available to the general public all just from networking. If you’re an actor (or anyone in the film industry) unsure of where to start, Stage32.com is an amazing network for filmmakers that has a lot of great resources for actors and writers.

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

I love the quote by Marva Collins, “Success doesn’t come to you, you go to it.”

Though things are changing for the better now in places like Atlanta and LA, Texas is still way behind on opportunities for black actresses. When I first started acting, there were not a lot of opportunities for girls that looked like me. Most of the casting calls specified “Caucasian only”, or if the casting call did call for a person of color the (often white) casting directors would ask me to “act more black” to fit their idea of what a black actor should be. I wasn’t finding the roles I wanted here, so I started writing my own. Sometimes you have to go out and make your own opportunities to be successful. Write your own film, shoot a short project with your friends, start a podcast, a web series, do something to put YOU in control of your life and your career. That’s the best tip I could give anyone who wants to act.

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?

Ascheesy as it might sound, my high school theatre teacher Mr. Kelley was probably the biggest influence on the actor that I am today. Not only did he always encourage me to practice and step out of my comfort zone with roles that I never thought I would be able to play, but the best piece of advice he’s ever given me was to never pretend. He would tell us that acting is not lying, it’s telling the truth in another person’s perspective. That completely changed the way I looked at acting. Every emotion your character feels, you have to actually feel it. He taught me how to analyze what my character is doing and feeling and think about a time when I was experiencing the same thing, and really feel it. Don’t pretend to be sad, feel sad. Don’t pretend to be angry, get angry. I honestly wouldn’t be the actor or writer I am today without his lessons, so thanks Mr. K.

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. 🙂

This is a hard one. There’s so many things in the world I would change if I could, but mostly I just want to see people being kind to each other. There are so many people out there taking things for granted when others have nothing at all. Maybe bringing balance to that could really help some people. I love the idea of creating tiny home communities for the homeless. I saw an article once about a group building some for homeless veterans. As someone who has actually been homeless in the past, I love seeing people show that kind of care for others. I think if there was a way to implement tiny home villages complete with gardens and fruit trees for food and shelter to help the homeless communities all over the country, that could really make a difference for those people and encourage others to spread that kindness and help someone else.

We are very blessed 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. 🙂

Ohmy gosh, there are so many people I would love to meet. The list could probably go on and on forever, but if Barack and Michelle or any of the cast of Smallville would like to have breakfast with me I would be there in a heartbeat LOL. In all seriousness, I really love Rose McGowan and the work she’s doing to help empower women. It would be awesome to sit down and have a conversation with her for sure. Arnold Schwazenneger would also be on that list of course, because after all he is the reason I became an actress in the first place.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am on Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/alistolarofficial/

Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/alistolar/

And Stage32- https://www.stage32.com/profile/7892

People can also follow my official website- http://www.alistolar.com/

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

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