Ria Pavia: “Be YOU. Do YOU. Write what YOU know”

Be YOU. Do YOU. Write what YOU know. It’s dangerous to try to guess what “they” are looking for in terms of a concept, a script or a role. We all have something distinctive to bring to the table. Lean in to that, instead of trying to conform. Think of your favorite TV shows or […]

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Be YOU. Do YOU. Write what YOU know. It’s dangerous to try to guess what “they” are looking for in terms of a concept, a script or a role. We all have something distinctive to bring to the table. Lean in to that, instead of trying to conform. Think of your favorite TV shows or movies. If they’re not a remake, chances are there is something unique and/or risky that got your attention.

As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ria Pavia.

Director Ria Pavia’s debut short film Second Team is currently taking the film festival circuit by storm by premiering at North America’s biggest comedy festival, Just For Laughs and screening at many others including the Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts. Pavia began her career as a commercial actor; her “big break” came via a memorable gymnastics performance in a tampon commercial in the 80s. She went on to recur in unforgettable classics Who’s the Boss, The Hughley’s and Santa Barbara, before moving behind the camera. Pavia also serves as the acting coach on hit TV shows such as Black-ish and Grown-ish and is based in Los Angeles.

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

My journey to become a film and TV director has been 30+ years in the making. After enjoying consistent work as an actor, writer, casting director, talent manager, stage director and acting coach, this next chapter of helming projects was a natural transition. I was ready.

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

I headed out to see a two-character play at a small theatre in Hollywood in the mid ’90s. Truth be told, I wanted to stay at home, but opted to go. So glad I did. I witnessed the best acting I’d seen since I moved from New York to attend UCLA as a theatre major. The young actor’s performance haunted me, in the best way. At the time, I was working as a casting associate with Risa Bramon Garcia and Mary Vernieu; helping set up auditions and reading with actors for feature films like Dead Presidents and Twister. We were also casting Act One, a one-act play festival produced by HBO. One of the plays on the slate was a slice of a full-length play by Kenneth Lonergan, directed by Frank Pugliese. Upon reading Betrayed by Everyone, a two-character play, I had an epiphany: I wanted to play the female lead and have the actor from that play I’d recently seen play my male counterpart! I pitched the idea to the higher-ups and was granted permission to perform in the reading of the play, to see if we were a fit. I found the actor, who was working as a bartender at the (now closed) Good Luck Bar in Hollywood. I gushed to him about his performance, and revealed my grand scheme for us to perform in the excerpt of This Is Our Youth at the MET theatre — together. He agreed to do the reading. Apparently, we made quite the impression on the producers and were both cast in the play. We became fast friends and went on to perform at the festival to rave reviews. Admittedly, his reviews outshone mine… he was exquisite in this role, too. He went on to play the same role in the full-length version on Broadway, while I stayed in Los Angeles. He went on to become an enormous success as both an actor, producer, and activist. So, I’d say this story about how I had the honor to meet, work with, and cherish Mark Ruffalo is the most interesting to date!

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?

Well… this is kind of embarrassing, but I’ll tell it anyway. I was asked to be a part of a super selective improvisation class. I was honored to be invited and nervous about making a good impression. I was injected into an exercise with a couple of other actors on a raised stage in an intimate theatre setting, with the rest of the actors watching the exercise. We were given our fictitious relationships, as well as circumstances and location. I took a deep breath and thought about the rules of improv; including but not limited to, living the “Yes, and…” mentality. “You got this, Ria!” We were less than a minute into the exercise when I bent over to pretend I was fetching something (but really it was to buy me some time because I was all in my head and starting to panic). As I reached for a pretend prop under the bench I was sitting on, people started laughing. Like really laughing, hard. I didn’t think my action was particularly funny, but ok. Yay me! We finished the improvisation and I sat next to another actress who had been in this troupe for a while. She leaned over to me and whispered, “You should probably wear a bra next time.” And that is when I realized what the laughter was all about… I flashed all my new peeps. Yay. Me.

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

Because of the ICK (that’s my word for The Year of Covid), I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating one-on-one with actors. My most recent full-time gig (pre-ICK) was that of a dialogue/acting coach for TV shows, so helping actors unleash their full creative expression is one of my greatest passions. As our industry is slowly waking up, I’ve had the luxury of working with a wide variety of ages and types, setting them up for success with auditions or roles they’ve already secured.

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

In each job I have worked on over the last three decades, I have interacted with hundreds of interesting folks; some celebrities and some newbies. As geeky as this may sound, I look for (and discover) the interesting in everyone I meet. I have found that asking specific questions of even the most introverted people often reveals lessons and insight I have never experienced prior. There is one example that had a huge impact one me; a former production assistant I know, who is now a successful chef. She shared some stories from her humble beginnings with me. When she booked her first gig in the entertainment industry, she didn’t have a place to live. She slept in her car each night after shooting wrapped, would wake up an hour before the next day’s call time to shower in one of the trailers, then go back to her car to change to make it appear that she’d gone home the night before. Everyone has a story; we just need ask and be open to receiving.

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

I have learned to NOT say yes to everything, just because it’s offered to me. This especially holds true for weekend gigs. It’s so tempting to jump onboard the short film that’s shooting on a Sunday with the grip from your weekday gig.

You have been blessed with 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?

Two words: STICK AROUND. The entertainment industry is not going anywhere. Sure, it goes through phases and trends, but there will always be an audience; people will always need our art. If you stay ready, meaning open to studying, learning, connecting, and growing as an artist, your time will come. It may not be on your timeline, but if you have any talent at all, coupled with perseverance, success will find you.

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.

Yoga, meditation, and journaling are staples in my life. I consider these three elements to be self-care practices and treatments. They all aid with detoxing both physically and emotionally. I have found that these are the magical ingredients to combat any toxicity in my life, leaving more room for creative juices to freely flow.

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. Try not to take rejection personally. There are SO many others factors at play in our unique industry, not getting the role or the gig likely has less to do with your talent, experience and/or worthiness than a dozen other obstacles that are out of your control. Perfect example is when I was working in casting and an actress came into our office to audition for a challenging role in a feature film. She was perfectly prepared, having made strong/bold character choices. When she left the room, the director and producers all agreed she was “it” and we agreed not to see anyone else for the role. However, two days later, the role was written out of the script. I found out weeks later from a mutual friend that she was depressed by the fact she didn’t book the gig and assumed it was something she did or did not do in the room. I made sure to provide feedback to her agent to clear up the misconception, but casting directors don’t always have the luxury of providing such information because they’re too busy. This is why I tell actors to give every opportunity your ALL; leave it all in the room. Then “flush it” and onto the next!
  2. Be YOU. Do YOU. Write what YOU know. It’s dangerous to try to guess what “they” are looking for in terms of a concept, a script or a role. We all have something distinctive to bring to the table. Lean in to that, instead of trying to conform. Think of your favorite TV shows or movies. If they’re not a remake, chances are there is something unique and/or risky that got your attention.
  3. Most people in our industry have insecurities. No need to put them on a pedestal. Case in point, Meryl Streep — winner of 3 Academy Awards, 8 Golden Globes, and arguably the best actress of her generation, has said that even she worries after completing a film that she’ll never work again. Yes, even stars are human.
  4. It’s futile to compare our varied lines of work to other industries. Even though we do have multiple unions governing our livelihoods, “real world” rules largely do not apply.
  5. Do not postpone or cancel vacations to make yourself more available during what you think may be a busy time. In fact, rest assured that if you DO plan a trip, you’ll get some coveted job that will sideline your plans! Perfect example of Murphy’s Law, back when I was an actress. I’d been planning my wedding for a year. We were getting down to the wire, emotions were high. I had an audition for the lead in a pilot, then a callback, then a second callback/work session with the studio. Next, my agent informed me that I’d be testing at the network the next Monday, the morning after my wedding. I was to head out to my honeymoon that same day. We decided to postpone the honeymoon because I’d been working toward this kind of opportunity for over a decade. Guess what? I did not get that job. Also, we got a divorce. Learn from me!

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

I have two quotes that I live by: “It is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” and “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” These mantras serve me with regard to everything from getting choice tickets to a sold-out concert to talking my way onto a film set to soak up all the knowledge no film school could ever teach you.

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?

Probably the person I am most grateful for is Sandford Meisner, “one of the most respected and influential acting teachers of the 20th century,” according to IMDb. If you’re not familiar with the name, it’s worth a Google dive. I had the distinct honor of being selected with a group of nineteen other twenty-somethings to study under Sandy on the teeny island of Bequia, in the West Indies, where he had a home that also served as his acting studio once a year for an intensively immersive acting bootcamp in the early ’90s. It was deep, to say the least. We spent 6+ hours a day absorbed in self-reflection that we used as a tool to deepen our work as actors and as humans. These thirty days completely disarmed me; stripped me of my facades and scared the #^@&% out of me! I even priced out a helicopter to get me off the damn island because the location was so remote. But there was no escaping. I was forced to face myself and to rely on these other people I had just met, but quickly came to trust. I came out of the experience with a rawness, gratitude… and vertigo.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

I love food. I love humans. I would like to start a movement that speaks to assembling random people I come in contact with — the deeply spiritual bagger at Trader Joes, the dad who sews and hands out one-of-a-kind masks in the parking lot at the gas station down the street, my neighbor who always smiles at me but I’ve never met. These peeps would collectively comprise a diverse group from varied cultures. We would all gather in my backyard that allows for socially distanced gatherings. We’d eat. And drink. We’d laugh, and maybe cry. For sure, we would CONNECT. Then, one of those in attendance would plan the same, in their space, with a completely different combination of unique humans. And so it would continue. Breaking Bread and Bonding in the Backyard.

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. 🙂

Baz Lurhman. PLEASE SEE THIS, MR. LURHMAN! I have seen each of your films multiple times. I traveled to Las Vegas to soak up your Baz at the Mandalay twice in a week. I devoured Moulin Rouge on Broadway 3 times in 3 months… and I live in LA and was working 14 hours a day. That is how unabashedly obsessed I am with all you do! Let me take you to breakfast or lunch, please and thank you.

How can our readers follow you online?



Facebook: @RiaPavia + @SecondTeamFilm

Instagram: @ria.pavia + @secondteamfilm

Twitter: @ria_pavia + @secondteamfilm

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