A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life.” I have had to be very truthful with myself about my challenges as a woman and particularly as a woman in the entertainment industry. I have found that when I share my stories and listen mindfully to the stories of other women in the business, I remember that I am not alone in the challenges I face. As I realize how powerful and valid my stories are, I help make a world where other women can feel seen, heard, and valued.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kristin West.
Kristin West is an award-winning actress, producer, director, and host. Kristin is currently in post-production of her feature directorial debut “The Central Authority”, a horror comedy. She has been on screens large and small, sometimes covered in blood and sometimes making others laugh and sometimes both!
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 grew up in rural South Texas. My mother was a single mother. I was greatly shaped by her courage and fortitude and by the love and care of my grandparents. I was blessed to have lots of love, despite many challenges. My grandfather was a great raconteur and many of his stories about his youth have shaped my outlook today. My grandmother was a tremendous lover of the arts, along with my mother, and all of them influenced my love of performing.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started acting at age seven in my community theater’s production of “Charlotte’s Web”. It was fun to transform into another character. I also loved watching others transform themselves into pigs, spiders, geese, rats, and the whole community of Wilbur’s world. Sometimes, I wanted to be one of the geese too, but I loved being Fern. I still have a ceramic pig they gave us after the curtain closed. I have treasured it for years now. From that early experience, I learned I could truly be who and what I desired to be with the power of my imagination — and a lot of support!
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My latest project, “The Central Authority”, is a completely socially-distanced, remotely shot feature film. When we were in pre-production, we interviewed every actor about what kind of props and settings were available to them. This is a horror comedy and if you are into indie horror, you will see some familiar faces. At one point, I was keeping lists of who had fake blood (and how much), who had prop weapons, prosthetics, etc. Turns out, I have some awesome, freaky friends. I am so blessed to have talented friends who committed themselves to this endeavor and I cannot wait to debut this horror comedy feature soon!
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?
Stage directions still get me! I am left-handed, so often my instinct is to go left! Stage right, stage left, down right, down left — became downright confusing at times! Once I got to film school and had to deal with camera left, camera right, that was easier, but still it is confusing if I haven’t had my coffee. Just say “over there” and point! I am a widdershins woman and I do not think that will ever be “righted” as it were.
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 grandmother used to help me learn my lines for my plays and coach me a bit. She was fun and compassionate towards me as I stumbled and made mistakes. She had such a love for performing herself and that is partly where I get my performer’s instinct from. I used to make up solo comedy skits as a child and perform them for her and my mother. It was great fun. Some of the voices I perform for voice over work today are directly attributable to the times I spent with my grandma, entertaining her as a child.
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?
Embrace failure. You only learned to walk by falling and failing. Success is not overnight. It is a step by step process, and often a spiral path. Some lessons you will learn quickly, others, not so quickly. Have patience with yourself and your journey. There are no deadlines, only benchmarks.
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?
I used to bemoan not being more of an ingenue type, and now I appreciate the gift of being a character actor. I enjoy exploring the complex female characters who are not damsels-in-distress or pretty, naive things. That is why I get up. I get up so I can embody the fierce, protective goddess that is present in every woman. I get up because I relish being a woman who can be terrifying in a horror flick or irreverent in a comedy. I want more women to have those opportunities on screen, regardless of their “type”. That is why I am committed to creating those roles and opportunities for women in front of the camera, as an actress, and behind the camera, as a producer, director, and screenwriter. Going forward, we need to complicate women on the screen. We need to get deep into the lives of women on their own terms, with nuanced portrayals and more women being protagonists and anti-heroines instead of just living on screen in the context of a man’s journey.
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 am looking forward to a post-COVID world, where we can resume traditional TV and movie production. However, for the time being, I am championing fully socially distanced production, with my directorial debut, “The Central Authority”. We literally had over 30 actors all over the world come together virtually to create a feature film using the available technologies. We are currently in post-production and anticipating release this fall.
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?
Statistics indicate that White Americans will be in the minority by 2040. Yet, most roles and many of the best and highest paying roles go to White, middle-aged males. If you want to make media that has relevance into the future, you need to be making media that reflects the diversity that the U.S. already has and is heading toward. Moreover, we know that the self-esteem of our youth is directly influenced by media portrayals. As a plus size woman, I can attest to this directly. It is important to see people of all sizes, races, abilities and ages as protagonists in particular. Lastly, portraying diversity is part of the anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ageist, anti-homophobia and anti-ableism fight. If you are committed to any and hopefully, all these causes, you should have a firm commitment to diversity. When we commit to diversity, we commit to a better, more just world. Media products, whether TV, commercials, movies, et al, is one of society’s greatest teachers. We need to commit to teaching ourselves and youth better than what we have in the past.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- A career in entertainment is a marathon, not a sprint. — Many people come to Los Angeles and just give themselves a year to do this nebulous thing called “making it”. The fact is the move to Los Angeles is a big one and it may take some people a long time just to get acclimated.
- Sometimes, it’s feast and sometimes, it’s famine. Prepare. — One day, you will book a well-paying job, and then you may not work again for a year. The reality of in-front-of-camera careers is that you will not be working all the time. You must prepare for the lean times, and you may have to augment your earnings with side hustles for a while.
- You can be the best at what you do and still not get the job. — I’ve lost jobs because I was too tall, I was too thin (I’m plus-sized) or I was too heavy. You are not perfect for every job, even if you gave an amazing performance. Not every “no” is a judgment about your talent. Some rejections have nothing to do with you.
- Remember to play. — Entertainment is a competitive business. You may compete against 100 other actors for a job, week after week. That level of pressure can often have you making safe choices that you know “work”. After a while, though, you risk stagnation. That is why it is important to play and have joy with no expectations of “getting it right”. Sometimes, getting it wrong and being free to play is the best thing for you.
- An opinion is just an opinion. — I had an administrator of an acting school I attended tell me I did not have acting talent and that I should pursue another career. Years later, I have been on TV and won awards for acting in several indie films. An opinion is just an opinion, and everyone has one, for better or worse. Do not let one person’s opinion become your perception of yourself. You are the arbiter of your success or failure.
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 am a strong proponent of having a daily discipline. I find that having a daily discipline enables you to be more elastic and puts you in the right mindset. My daily discipline includes journaling, meditation and some kind of yoga or exercise. Journaling, especially early in the day, gets my stray thoughts out of my head and onto paper. It’s cathartic. I usually review my journal twice a month, seeing if a theme or subject recurs. Meditation has served different purposes for me at different times and my meditation practice is quite eclectic. Whether it is chanting mantras or sitting quietly and mindfully, I find that meditation can transport you deeply into the NOW. Often, we are projecting and conjecturing into the future or revising the past in our heads. Meditation creates space in my mind, body, and spirit to accept the now as it is. I am a strong advocate for body positivity. Being a plus size woman working in Hollywood, I think we need to have more plus size role models on screen, especially in fitness. Yoga and swimming help me to feel confident and powerful in my body, regardless of my size. I love water aerobics!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In recent years, in the backdrop of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, women have been sharing the truth of their lives and struggles and really being heard. I came across this Virginia Woolf quote recently, which augmented my already deeply held feminist beliefs, ““A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life.” I have had to be very truthful with myself about my challenges as a woman and particularly as a woman in the entertainment industry. I have found that when I share my stories and listen mindfully to the stories of other women in the business, I remember that I am not alone in the challenges I face. As I realize how powerful and valid my stories are, I help make a world where other women can feel seen, heard, and valued.
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?
There is much discussion of diversity in front of the camera. That is great. We also need to have more diversity in writer’s rooms and among producers and directors. I have said often, both publicly and privately, that the person who controls the money of the production, the investors, and producers, wield tremendous influence over who gets hired and how. Women and minorities need the support of qualified investors to make diverse, representative media. I would love to be part of the changes needed by connecting women and diverse media makers to qualified, enthusiastic investors who share a diverse, inclusive point of view.
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!
Lately, Abigail Disney has inspired me because of her activism and her commitment to justice. She is a champion for the rights of workers and fair pay. Also, she is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Armin Nasseri and I are collaborating on our first documentary and I’d love some of Abigail’s insight. I would also like to thank her for all she’s done to speak out and raise awareness of some of the most challenging issues we confront.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Check out my blog at kristinwestblog.com.
Find me on Twitter at @thekristinwest.
Like my Facebook Page, @kristinwestactress.
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!