As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kelly Ann Barrett. Kelly Ann grew up in Milford, Connecticut, although she never really did grow up or want to for that matter. She was always involved in the arts as a kid, she loved dancing, modeling, roller skating, and riding horses. She also liked music, telling stories, reading, and writing. She cheated and partied her way through high-school until she realized she needed good grades for a good college which the guidance counselors forgot to tell her. After graduating high school, (thank God) instead of going to school for dance like she wanted to, she went as fast as she could to NYC. She was a true hustler and had a great career in music for a while until she decided to try acting. She also lived a double life working as an executive assistant in the financial industry. She started studying drama and enrolled in classes and had private coaching with various teachers learning all kinds of acting techniques. She studied improv, scene study, script analysis, the Adler technique, on-camera and theater. Her first acting coach Jason Bennett taught some of the Eric Morris system, which Kelly fell in love with and studied every day. After becoming a non-union actress, making a living at it, being featured on networks such as Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, NBCNY to name a few, she decided she wanted to tell stories and started writing. Since 2011 she’s been writing screenplays and taking online writing courses. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2014, she has been studying with her idol Eric Morris. She is focusing on her acting and writing career and started her own production company called KAB Films.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Kelly Ann! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
No thank you! First of all, let’s just say I didn’t grow up, and I never want to! Why should I? Anyway, My dad was a Marine and he and my mom got knocked up and had me first in North Carolina while my dad was enlisted. We then went to CT and that’s where I spent my childhood. I have one little pain in the butt brother. He’s in FL now. Growing up was tough because my parents fought a lot. It was kind of annoying. I used to run away a lot. I guess you could say I was lucky to have had both of my parents, that was nice. I went to work when I was 14. One good thing my dad instilled in me was my work ethic. I’ve always worked for what I wanted. My mom was great, I was a brat. I hated school. I just wanted to be a dancer. I lived at the Lee Lund Dance Studio. I loved it. I just wanted to be on Broadway, but I didn’t know how to go out and get it. When all of my friends were going to college, my parents didn’t want me to, they didn’t want to pay. I wanted to go for dance, but instead, my mom bribed me and said: “If you stay home and work, I’ll get you a car.” She lied. I paid for it. Then crashed it. Then a few others after that. So I got a job, then I went and spent all my money partying in NY. That was fun! Then because I was partying so much, I became a DJ. A really good one at a young age, and a female. I was world-famous by 19. Could’ve had a pretty cool career, but I didn’t want to be a music producer, and you kind of had to.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
After Djing all over the world, I decided music production wasn’t for me, so I quit and started acting at 23. It was a long hard road because I had some issues I had to deal with. My parent’s always telling me to get a job, so it took some time for me to start taking it seriously. I finally did, overcame some personal issues, and now I’m in LA working a lot.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Oh wow. Aside from having a staring contest with Speilberg, and not knowing it was him on the set of Smash, I would say when I met Todd Bridges. What a good guy! A true gentleman, a good friend, and business partner. After moving to LA about 5 years ago, an old friend called me from NY and said he’s been trying to produce his TV pilot, but no one would do it, because he had no money to do it with. So, I said I have some money, come to LA, I know some stellar people, and we can do it here. So we did, and it was a blast. My first real experience shooting a pilot. I had done smaller things on my own, but nothing like this. I got my friend Aaron Schwartz who was the star of the Mighty Ducks in it, and a guy who used to be in the WWE, and a comedian we found. I also found an amazing DP. My first mistake was not working with contracts, but it’s all good I have emails. This is when you find out who your real friends are. So, we shot the first 2 days and my ex-friend and old business partner Alex Jones the ex WWE Guy was like, “Why don’t we shoot the end of the script?” We said we don’t have the money, so he put in more money. That’s when we reached out to Todd’s Agent amongst others, but we went with Todd because he was the best choice and he gave us a special discounted rate cause he’s cool like that. We shot the end of it with Todd, and it was awesome! We had a blast. When all was said and done, my friends turned on me, people get greedy, the green-eyed monster, and the creator of the show who I’m not talking to right now or ever again, at first said that we, myself, him, and Alex would split the show three ways, I didn’t get that in writing, you’d think you could trust your friend of 20 years, you can’t. So, after was all said and done, the creator said “No, I own 50% and you guys own 50%” I was like ugh, that wasn’t the deal before I gave you the money. So he became a jerk and tried to get everyone else to gang up on me as well. They were calling me yelling at me because of dumb stuff. So long story short, I have in writing that I own 25% when the original deal was one third. Well, it was a learning experience, and the best thing that happened out of that was meeting Todd. What a stand up guy! I am so blessed to know him and have him as a friend, and now business partner in this industry where if you’re not careful people will get crazy on you. Todd has been in the industry since he was a kid, and he’s been through so much, and through it all he is truly an incredibly amazing person, and I know I don’t need contracts with him, because he would never do that to me, but you always have to cover your butt. That so far has been an incredible experience, and also from that, I met my current partner Caspian Bordeaux who can crank out an incredible screenplay in a week. No joke. I’m blessed to be working with such incredible, talented amazing good people. I’m also studying acting with my idol Eric Morris, which was one of the reasons I moved out here. I love the craft.
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?
Great question!Don’t believe every scam artist out there! There are tons! Always do your research, and never take off your clothes for anyone unless you know you’re getting a deal and getting to star in the movie or show for millions and you have a contract! What!? I never did that! I swear! Oh yeah, I’ve been kicked off set’s before for being overworked and underpaid fighting with PA’s, and I told off an agent because he pissed me off calling me yelling at me about something that had nothing to do with him, because of some crazy woman at a casting office. I learned real hard how it was to get an agent after that. Learn from other people’s mistakes. Not your own, and not the hard way! I’m just so blessed to be doing what I love and making a living at it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Because I was so fortunate to have worked with Todd Bridges on the pilot I produced, we became friends, and my new partner Caspian Bordeaux is writing movies with him and his brother. They are called the Bridge’s Brothers. Caspian and I have a partnership between. We also created a beautiful pilot with Aaron Schwartz who recently became a producer and made a documentary called “Stigma” about growing up as a child actor. Another film we wrote and are producing is out there waiting on the green light from a major company. My writer friend from Harvard and I teamed up and he’s working on a historical epic. If I can ever find the time, I’m trying to finish writing a hockey movie that people are interested in as well. I have a few screenplays I’ve written, and a pilot I’m trying to find the time to shoot, and a book to write. It will all come together.
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?
I think it’s very important. Being a woman obviously, I respect companies that empower us and give us the reins. I think it’s sad that last year the very first Asian woman was ever nominated for an Emmy I believe, but if people don’t speak up like Will Smith about the Oscars, then what does anyone care. People should be recognized on their talent anyway no matter what color they are or where they are from. I can’t wait for racism to die out. It’s society group think because people can’t think for themselves, they just think what everyone else thinks. It’s sad. To judge someone on their color or race is horrible. It’s a shame how people of color were treated back in the day, just horrible, and even though it wasn’t us personally, they have every right to be angry. Look what we did? Does that mean I should have to take responsibility for my horrible ancestors? That would make me the bigger person, so yes I think we should. What we did was horrible. It’s important to empower all types of people no matter who they are. The Mexican’s are the hardest working people I know. I grew up working in restaurants, and I’m sure our president never had to work a real job in one day in his life with his rich parents, so for him to isolate one race is horrific no matter how corrupt Mexico is, there’s lots of corruption in the world. All the Mexican’s I know work 10 jobs so they can send money back to their families to give them a better life. America is a place where you can come to have a better life, and it’s sad if we let that slip away. I tried moving to England and it wasn’t easy, but anything is possible if you want it and put your mind to it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t join the union. Everyone thinks just because you have your SAG card you’re an actor. Oh, really what show are you on? You join the union with no resume and no agent to get you the SAG work, then you’re SOL and have to go Fi-Core so you can work, then you forfeit your rights to vote and win awards, but no one tells you that because everyone is giving you false information.
- Don’t tell off your agent off even if he called you yelling at you for something he had nothing to do with. I just got my agent in NY, they were from LA and branching out to NY. They signed me and I was going on auditions. I was living in CT at the time so I had to take the train in, and I had a day job, so it was all crazy. I was at work, and I checked my phone and saw I had a miss call about an audition or something I asked my manager if I could leave she was like no, it was a lifetime movie lead roll. So, I called casting. I guess that’s a big no-no. I mean why do these people have phone numbers if you can’t call them, is it against the law? I called to see if I still come. After all, they did invite me in for an audition. The whinny brat on the phone freaked out because I called her and called my agent and said I was stalking them. I seriously want to find this girls name, I know I wrote it down somewhere. Anyway, my agent called me yelling at me screaming “You can’t be calling casting directors!” I said WTF! You’re calling me yelling at me for an audition I got myself! I submitted not you! I was fuming! How dare you! I told him to Eff off and that I wanted someone on my side! That sucked! Had I known how hard it was to get an agent, maybe I would have let the A-hole yell at me and then kiss his ass. But I didn’t, so that sucked. But now I’m in LA studying with Eric. So it’s all good.
- Don’t get discouraged, keep at it, and don’t listen to anyone else, do what you love. I had everyone telling me to get a job. My parents didn’t support it. So it was a struggle.
- Don’t go to central casting and do background work as everyone else does. Focus on your craft, get an agent and a side job that allows you to audition. It was cool when I was in LA and I was 22 and went to Central Casting and got on set to see what goes into making a show and TV movie, that was awesome. The two times I got to hang out with Spielberg that was fun. It was just hard juggling a job with that, the money wasn’t good. Shows wanted me on as regulars, and they were giving me good featured parts, but I wasn’t headstrong, I had some issues I had to deal with, juggling jobs, etc.
- Get a few mentors. That would’ve been cool. Find someone who’s successful and reach out to them, ask them if they have time to help you. People are generally really cool and will want to help I would think. But, then I heard some horror stories of mentors selling people’s work and not telling them and then there are lawsuits, but you know that’s part of the business, it’s greed, and people are shady. That’s why you have to surround yourself with good people, cover your butt, and not get discouraged.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Burn out? Well, see I don’t believe in such. I got burned out of djing and music production because I just didn’t want to do it anymore. If you don’t have that fire inside you to keep at it, then what’s the point. I changed career’s in my 20’s because I wanted to. I didn’t love music like I love to dance, I got into acting because of dance and fell in love with that. I also love writing and producing too, this I can see myself doing until the day I die which I hope will be at least 50 good years from now.
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. 🙂
Thanks for saying I have a lot of influence! Hopefully, that’s a good thing! It is because I’m a good honest person who stands by her word. We forget that as artists because we are so busy doing our thing. I would say just be a good person, make good decisions, help each other out, don’t be a loser, don’t follow jerks, think for yourself, be careful who you hang out with, surround yourself with good people who care about you, you are who your friends are.
Enjoy life, we came here to have fun. Follow your heart and use your brain. Do what you love and the money will come that’s what I always said. Encourage each other, donate your time or money, stand up for people and what you believe in. Lift others up don’t put them down, there’s no need for jealousy or greed there’s plenty here for everyone. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you, you’re your own boss, follow your dreams and never give up.
Don’t listen to the media and what companies shove down your throat such as meat companies saying you need to eat meat for protein, that’s bollocks. We don’t need meat to survive, it causes cancer, and we’re torturing living creatures and we don’t need to. I hate it and can’t wait for it to end.
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?
Sure, when I was little I got into the arts I loved dancing. I had some family members who were not immediate family members, 4th cousins, who were very successful in the music and the entertainment business. Donnie and Jimmy Ienner. They were a major influence because they were successful, and I always said if someone in my family can do it, so can I. I just love watching Dirty Dancing and seeing Jimmy’s name at the end of it, and watching the Grammy’s and seeing artists thank them for awards. It’s nice to have people to look up to like that. I was always forced to get a job, when I just always loved the arts. So seeing their success encouraged me to continue on my path, and it was when I worked with Jimmy Ienner Jr, my career got going because he produced a video for me that I put up on Actors Access and then I started booking work on the Discovery Channel. My first real casting came from Dick Clark Productions through Judy Keller Casting in NY. I hope I sent her a thank you note. I will forever be appreciative of that, and will never forget it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am never really good at learning life lessons! I’m working on it! What really changed my life was learning about the law of attraction. I prayed to God for an amazing roommate, and I got one. and she swears to this day she manifested it and taught me about Abraham Hicks, for that is life changing! I am blessed! But, I also have an open mind about it. We all have our beliefs, and they prove themselves to us over and over again. I believe we create our own reality, and I love it!
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. 🙂
Oh wow, I have to pick one?Oh man, Johnny Depp. Just because he’s always been one of my favorite actors. No wait! Speilberg, I mean Ridley Scott! Just one? Shoot! Probably the most logical Speilberg or Ridley. Johnny for fun. But probably the best one Speilberg or Ridley because they produce my Epic that Im working on with a writer from Harvard. Oh man I changed my mind. Alexander Dreymon. Yeah Alex Dreymon because he’s awesome. That one for sure. The Last Kingdom is my favorite show and he’s the Star. Yeah him. I love the BBC and would love to work in the UK.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@kabfilms, but be warned it’s not all flowers and roses, I like to keep it real. 🙂
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!