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Desiree Staples: “Selflessness and empathy would be my movement”

Selflessness and empathy would be my movement. We must start putting others before ourselves, understand that our experience is only our own, and empathize with others and their stories. I think storytelling is one of the most powerful ways we can understand one another, and why it’s such an essential medium. One of the central […]

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Selflessness and empathy would be my movement. We must start putting others before ourselves, understand that our experience is only our own, and empathize with others and their stories. I think storytelling is one of the most powerful ways we can understand one another, and why it’s such an essential medium. One of the central themes of “The Influencers”, is a social commentary on how our lives have become so focused on ourselves, our public social media persona, and our personal wins — even more so in the corona-world we are living in. There’s a great article I read recently about how we have to keep our obsession with our image and our desire for success in check, especially in such a competitive industry, or it will supersede the importance of our relationships. I think we’re all susceptible to it, but we have to find a way to be more self-aware and continue growing to become the best versions of ourselves. Easier said than done, but hey, it’s quarantine right? Let’s make a “Masterclass” on that…. Anything is possible!


As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Desiree Staples.

Desiree “Desi” is an actress, writer, and producer living in Los Angeles. She is a true multi-hyphenate of roles and across mediums. Starting with a love of singing and live theater performance, Desi spent her early career acting professionally Off-Broadway and regionally. She has now expanded beyond the stage and has truly become an up-and-coming major player in the entertainment industry. Desi creates and develops primarily female-driven projects showcasing diverse and underrepresented artists. This has also created an opportunity for her to present her acting chops onscreen and her love of comedy in her work. She recently produced the 2020 Tribeca N.O.W. Selection “Circus Person”, and produced and stars in the upcoming award-winning feature film “Take Me To Tarzana”, starring Jonathan Bennett and Maria Conchita Alonso. Desi’s career has grown from aspiring actress to multifaceted writer-director-producer-content creator, and she is excited to continue her artistic journey. Her goal is to produce, create, and act in major Feature Films and Television Series following the footsteps of Reese Witherspoon and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, her two biggest inspirations.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Here we go! I grew up in Southern California, in a very suburban conservative town, coming from an entire family of electrical engineers and mathematicians. As the absolute wild card, I was somehow, in a crazy turn of events, the artist. I knew already at age 8 that math, science, and all things with calculations and tests (except for Covid testing, I am HERE for Covid testing, people!!) were not for me. Instead, I joined the Improv Group “Comedy Sportz” and the Latin Society’s “Performance Group,” (who knew Latin and performance were intertwined?!) My idea of a dream Friday night was attending my Cappies society (the student critic reviewers of Orange County) — and debating the merits of the lead’s performance in the show, “The House of Blue Leaves.” As you can tell, yours truly was very popular. Welcome to the journey my friends, hilarity ensues.

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

Despite going to a preparatory high school, I decided that my entire life would be in performance — which began in singing and musical theater. From middle school through high school, I participated in nearly every activity, play, and musical possible that had the theater involved. After somehow graduating with considerably impressive marks, I got into Northwestern — despite refusing to take a study period so I could be both the President of the Choir, involved in the Daily News Correspondent Team, and ALSO take Modern Dance II. Happy Day! From there I continued exploring and honing my style of comedy and began Producing and working on shows in all capacities — from props designing a play where every object on stage was the color blue to playing the role of an undead witch that enters on stage through a refrigerator. During that time, I was a part of one of my most fulfilling endeavors to date — writing/producing an entirely student-written book-musical for the “The Waa-Mu Show”, which is a Northwestern tradition, now in it’s 89th year. This production involved nearly 100 other Northwestern undergrads, many of whom are still some of my closest collaborators to this day. Post graduation, I started performing regionally in Chicago, New York, and throughout the US.

After doing that for a few years, I had a seismic shift in what I wanted to do with my life when I took my first ‘acting for the camera’ classes at Vagabond Studios in Chicago. I became totally infatuated with filmmaking, acting on screen, and the entire process on set. I realized I needed to get my little derriere back to LA. Before leaving Chicago I produced and acted in my first short films. Immediately upon my return to LA, I participated in a 48 hour film festival challenge, and from there I have just continued hustling and creating films. My goal and mindset of every project is to create something just a little bit better and more challenging than the one before. As long as it feels like even just a miniscule of an improvement or that I know a bit more on this one than I knew before, that’s a win! And it’s been absolutely illuminating to be involved in a creative and producerial capacity in many of the pieces I also have acted in. It has given me such a greater understanding of filmmaking and a deeper connection to each of the roles, the storytelling, and my work as an artist in this myriad of avenues.

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

Most interesting… hmm, I think the most interesting story has been being open to the opportunities that have come my way. I met one of my dearest collaborators, director/writer Maceo Greenberg, from a literal meeting of happenstance. We randomly met in a restaurant while both attending two different parties at Sundance that happened to overlap for 10 minutes. 3 months later, we were Producing a movie together! And that never would have happened if I hadn’t A). attended Sundance despite not having a film involved there (yet!, big YET!), B). been open to hearing about other filmmakers’ scripts, and genuine excitement for other creators like myself, and C). trusted my gut that this felt like an amazing opportunity. And it revealed itself to be just that. I was looking to gain more experience on set, and I’ll tell you, nothing teaches you more in film than Producing your first feature. There’s nothing like being in the midst of a 17 day shoot for your first time. Pure fear, lots of sweat, glitter, and tears, and so much damn excitement! The adrenaline is nuts!

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?

Oh…there are just so many! I think something that everyone goes through is trying to figure out what kind of work they want to do. Comedy is certainly my thing, along with extremely dry humor, shameless hilarity, women “behaving badly” and reclaiming our power, inter course, and everything in between. But with Comedy — there’s always the chance (and inevitability) of something falling flat hard. And towing the line of absurdity and hilarity has always been a fun challenge and balancing act for me.

Back in Chicago, I auditioned for a director that I really liked and, as I recall, this was a thesis student film, by the way. This piece ended up adding something like 10–15 rehearsals, for a short film that would shoot only 2 days, mind you — and being the theater trained artist I am, I took this very seriously…to my core. It aimed to tow that line of absurd vs. funny…but let’s just say it really went deep into the absurd. All I remember is that I had to take a plane at the end of the shooting day, and had a really challenging “hard out” (also never do that…give yourself a day to travel after you shoot) — and here I was, doing a short “student” film at some random apartment outside in Chicago where I was getting multiple fully whipped cream pies thrown at my face — yes, I said MULTIPLE, and it was pouring down rain. It was one of the most insane things I’ve ever done in my life…And on top of it all, I had to figure out a way to get through the airport covered in pie. Some may say that film is my best work.

What I learned from that experience, and I think this is something you just cannot avoid as a young actor, is that you’re going to be a part of projects that are so entirely different from what you expected beforehand. And it’s going to be an unpredictable rollercoaster. You may go into a project thinking it’s the best darn thing in the world, and it flops. And then something that you thought wasn’t quite as strong comes together in a monumental, transformative, and magical way on set when all the pieces fall into place. That, of course, is the dream! But, a huge part of growth in this industry is also learning to fail. Unless perhaps you are Timothee Chalamet** and your “risky” film happens to be “Call Me By Your Name” at age 21 and you’ve got a bit more options entering the real world with your Academy Award Nomination. For the rest of us, as actors just starting out in the business, it’s invaluable to collaborate and act in some projects of first time filmmakers or film students to learn the nuts and bolts of the process. But if multiple pies to the face are involved, perhaps you pass on that one, darling.

(**Note, no shade towards Timothee whatsoever. I’m a major fan of yours! In fact I weep profusely watching most everything you are in, and rumor has it, you watched “The Influencers” at a film festival in LA and are a big fan of ours as well! I want you to star in a dark comedy series so bad. Let’s make one. Look Mom, I made it!)

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

Well, Covid-19 has been a super challenging time to be in the entertainment industry. Although a lot of film production has shut down in the past 6 months, it’s been a great time to shift focus to creating, post-production, film distribution, and future projects. I’m working on a short that I Executive Produced and acted in called “It’s What She Would Have Wanted”, Directed by Nate Trinrud that’s currently making the festival circuit. I also Produced and acted in the feature film “Take Me To Tarzana” which just won a Golden Remi Award! The Short Form Pilot I produced, act in, and co-wrote — “The Influencers” has had a very thrilling Film Festival Circuit run, screening at over 10 Film Festivals thus far — and has won multiple awards including “Best Ensemble Cast” (Santa Monica Webfest), and the People’s Choice Award and Best Short Film: Comedy (Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival). We are continuing writing for “The Influencers” and developing the show as a short-form episodic series.

In addition, I have also recently created a quarantine talk show in the age of Coronavirus called “Everything But the C-Word” on Facebook Live. The show aims to feature interesting and talented folks from all walks of life. As the host of the show, I interview guests and performers with one goal in mind: to make it through the entire episode without mentioning or alluding to the “C-word”…(Coronavirus). Each mention adds a tally to the episode and with that tally, myself and my guests will donate money to the chosen charity of that episode. The show is committed to being a reprieve from the epidemic, while also raising money for front line heroes programs, social justice causes, and Covid-19 centered charities.

We are very interested in 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?

100%. Now, more than ever, it’s so important to keep the current momentum, movement, and fight for diversity going. I have been watching “I May Destroy You” non-stop, and cannot tell you how monumental that show has been and has created conversations, both introspectively within myself and with others, that were not happening before — about race, consent, gender, and how we tackle difficult questions and uncomfortable topics. I think diversity in art is a way for us all to become more self-aware in our own prejudices and mistakes in society, and make positive change for the better. I believe this starts inwardly in our everyday lives and then has to happen in the workplace and in our media from the bottom up and the top down.

Too long have people made excuses for not lifting up diverse voices within our industry — BIPOC, Women, Trans artists, disabled actors, the list goes on. It is time for us all to create a true representation of the world around us, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. And to be honest, don’t we think we’ve heard so many of the same damn stories coming from the same people? We need to find every opportunity we can to diversify representation in all capacities of our work. It’s so vastly important that our art accurately reflects the human experience. And humanity comes in every different color, gender, orientation, and background. At the end of the day, it’s more clear than ever in 2020 that we must continue to fight for equality. We must fight for change. Black Lives Matter.

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

I think the 5 things I wish someone told me when I first started would be:

1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

2. Go where the love is — I started producing, concepting, and creating my own content (mostly because people asked me to help produce their shorts) — and now that’s definitely what I want to do at a higher and higher level — working with studios, production companies, and major streaming platforms.

3. You are in charge of your own career — no one else. Do what you want to do.

4. Don’t be afraid of change — you may discover you want to be a writer, a producer, a production designer, maybe in charge of casting! Each one of these roles are all necessary to the team, and without any of those missing pieces, the show literally cannot go on.

5. Have fun. Be kind. Never stop challenging yourself because boredom, my friend, leads to watching all the past seasons of Love Island UK — and although I don’t not recommend that, there’s better time spent, my dear. 6. Read Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, you’ll thank me later.

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

I think at the end of the day- as an artist, you have to be creating content that inspires you. I’ve been extremely inspired by women like Reese Whitherspoon who’ve created their own opportunities due to the lack of complex female characters they were seeing in projects come across their desks. A similar example is Phoebe Waller-Bridge developing “Fleabag” which was originally a one-woman show that was workshopped in a theatrical capacity for years.

There’s so much in our world that we’re fighting right now, and so much that’s been ignited that needs to progress, that we must put that fire into the work. I think that’s the key. Get mad, get inspired, create (literally) the change you want to see in the world. And make your own content — especially on specific movements and topics that interest you. For me, that has recently been female power dynamics, friendships and relationships, redefining females in comedy, and pushing the envelope of what hasn’t been seen yet from the female gaze.

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. 🙂

Selflessness and empathy would be my movement. We must start putting others before ourselves, understand that our experience is only our own, and empathize with others and their stories. I think storytelling is one of the most powerful ways we can understand one another, and why it’s such an essential medium. One of the central themes of “The Influencers”, is a social commentary on how our lives have become so focused on ourselves, our public social media persona, and our personal wins — even more so in the corona-world we are living in. There’s a great article I read recently about how we have to keep our obsession with our image and our desire for success in check, especially in such a competitive industry, or it will supersede the importance of our relationships. I think we’re all susceptible to it, but we have to find a way to be more self-aware and continue growing to become the best versions of ourselves. Easier said than done, but hey, it’s quarantine right? Let’s make a “Masterclass” on that…. Anything is possible!

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?

This one will always be my mother Momo, my Dad, and my chosen family for supporting and believing in me. Also I have to thank my incredible writing partner Ally Kornfeld, and collaborator Katie Burris, and all my incredible mentors (David H. Bell), teachers, and creators from Northwestern (too many to count!). To have such incredible co-creators, especially so many up-and-coming females in my professional field, has been monumental to how I’ve worked in this entertainment space, and what I want my creative and production rooms to continue to look like. Also to Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio, thank you for solidifying my love of film in Titanic when I was a wee lass, and for always teaching me, age is just a number.

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

A rising tide lifts all boats.” Too often in this industry, especially when acting, we find it to be a solitary and independent journey. But we can’t forget that film making really is one of the most incredible “it takes a village” behemoth projects you could ever be a part of. It is so often the case, that when the people you surround yourself with are making breakthroughs in the industry, it’s inevitable that you will too, and vice versa. You have to find your most trusted collaborators in this profession. Surround yourself with those writers, directors, actors, and creators that you could stay up till the depths of the morning with analyzing every frame trying to make the work the best it can be, that you can have those 5-hour long debates with on the one scene in the short, that share your passion and perfectionist instinct, and who will be honest with you in improvement and criticism. Those are the people who will support you through thick and thin — and those are the people I want to bring with me on any project and can only hope the same in return. So, let’s get some boats people!

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. :-).

REESE Witherspoon! Let’s do it! I’ll be the Paulette to your Elle Woods! I make an incredible chocolate chip pancake and think we’d have a ball sipping mimosas together and discussing our shared love of Beyonce!

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