Maintain healthy relationships with your friends, family, self and colleagues. Without my friends and family, my work would have no meaning. When I am with them, we celebrate life and enjoy one another fully. Nurture relationships with the people you love and honour those who have encouraged you along the way. Thank them, share with them, support them in return. Take a vacation. Stress won’t get you hired, that next director admiring your professionalism, focus and calm state of mind will.
I had the pleasure to interview Lanette Ware. Lanette is a New York City born actor, writer and producer currently living in Toronto, ON. Lanette has worked alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Alec Baldwin, Chris Rock and James Gandolfini, has produced several television projects for the small screen and has been directed by Spike Lee, Joel Schumacher and John Singleton to name a few. Her personal essays have been featured in The Globe and Mail and Mothering Magazine and her latest article will be published in Aaduna Magazine. Lanette is the creator of Ahead of the Curve, an upcoming 10-part multi-platform talk series which will showcase the talents of the underrepresented and marginalized artists among us.
I started in music. Playing piano at 6, violin at 12, attending Music and Art, the high school upon which the movie Fame is based, and working under contract with MCA records as part of an all girls singing group. It was 1985, I was enjoying my NYC club life and dancing to the beat of my own drum when New Edition, hit the airwaves. With backstage passes and front row seats to conversations that would eventually shift my focus away from music altogether, I can recall one after party where Michael Bivens, one of the fab five, asked what I really wanted to do. Right then and there, I can’t tell you how loudly the record spinning in my head since the age of 6, came to a screeching halt. Without a word, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would heed the call of my true calling; acting. A fire was lit. That Fall, I was accepted to attend a fully accredited drama program just North of Manhattan. The little girl who’d once performed in the church play just 10 years prior, had re-emerged and was on her way. By my junior year of college, I found myself studying in London, England where I waited for Godot and rubbed shoulders with a young Liev Schreiber, eventually earning my BA in Drama at age 20. That was it, I was hooked line and sinker. Music was herstory, but dramatic storytelling would become my life.
I once auditioned for a role in LA and showed up expecting casting to put me on tape. Not only was the director unexpectedly in the room, but said director was Mr. Quentin Tarantino, casting Kill Bill himself. The audition was completely off book and went entirely as I could have never imagined. It was my first and only improvisational audition to date. Quentin was interested in physical prowess for the role of Vernita Green, so we jumped all up and down that room, me, doing splits my trainer hadn’t quite helped me finesse as Quentin maneuvered the scene of a shot he’d established within the unseen camera of his imaginative eye. What a process! It was kickboxing meets The Matrix meets deer in headlights but it was a blast and there was certainly no prepping for that! Vivica Fox got the role of course and deservedly so, but I will never forget the adrenaline rush of emotions I had that day. As many times as I’d seen Quentin at my local LA gym, there was something about being in the ring with him, without gloves, and staying the course as my college professor Ron Weyand had taught me to do so well! There has been nothing quite like it before or since.
Something happened a few months ago worth sharing. I was invited to audition for one of my favourite directors whom I’d been vying to work with who’d just happen to have won an Oscar for his latest masterpiece. The main note for the audition was not to get stuck on the material. To stay open. Flexible. Sure I can do this, right? So I walk in, loosely prepared as requested expecting to meet the director as informed and not only was he not present and speaking from behind a camera from a remote location a la Oz, and for reasons too abundant to quantify, I got caught up in the room rather than the work. I never put my purse down, but instead found myself more focused on why it was clinging to me as I was oddly to it. Thing was moving in slow motion and that ship had sailed. The funny part is, all this confusion must have come off as an oddly more rehearsed performance than intended. The excitement and expectation of the opportunity overwhelmed me and I lost control of focus entirely. Funny in retrospect, not so hilarious in the room. The lesson? Expect the unexpected.
A rather large network has recently informed me I’ve been shortlisted as a staff writer for a super secret production they are producing offshore. This is the first I am mentioning it because you know when they say just being nominated is the honour and when Sally Field pronounced, “you like me, you really like me!”? well from this vantage point, I can honestly say, I get it now, because despite the opportunity being a long shot, I’m on their vision board and that really does feel like a win win. Next up as an actress: a lovely independent feature that touches upon a very current North American social crisis as well as a juicy new role on a network drama. As a writer: putting the final touches on my first feature screenplay and completing the final draft on my next personal essay for publication which is a bit of an homage to my growing up in El Barrio and salute to the trajectory of how things eventually ended up. As a producer: collaborating with a production company I’ve worked with in the past on a few new concepts for original programming, translating a script I have for a French broadcaster whose expressed interest in one of my scripts, and sourcing funding for a 10-episode talk series I’ve conceptualized that will highlight the talents of marginalized artists in our local communities. I want to shine a light on their offerings in a fresh, new unscripted, let’s vibe over coffee and chillax format.
On Betty: Mrs. Betty Vaughan was an older actress I worked with in an off-Broadway show at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on East 3rd Street in my 20s. Betty was able to cry on cue at every performance, for over 8 weeks, at 8 performances per week. I was in awe and asked where all that emotion came from. She responded in kind: LIfe. The weight of that one word response, never left me.
On Spike: Spike Lee gave me my first major shout out at a screening of All the Invisible Children, a short film he’d cast me in which starred Rosie Perez. I was not only touched by his very public acknowledgment, but was truly caught off guard by the grand and unexpected gesture it was. I will always remember the love I felt in the room that day, and whenever I have the opportunity, I pay the grace forward because I firmly believe it is our duty as artists to give back and keep one another uplifted. I know I am not alone when I speak to the happiness I felt when Spike finally won his Oscar in 2019! Like an ocean of promise and possibility, his movies reach so many of us on so many levels and I will always feel blessed to have worked with him and have lived during a time when his films have made so many political and social contributions to the culture. Rosie Perez and I would appear together on screen again, 12 years later, in season 1 of the television production of Pure, a series about Mennonite drug trafficking.
On Oprah: I can’t. I just can’t explain what Ms. Oprah Winfrey means to me. It would take another 50 pages to give justice to the details of the day I first met her, but I’ll give you the cliff notes. It was the Emmys,1992, she was presenting an award. I happened to be asked to occupy her seat to avoid the overhead empty seat shot on the live telecast, and took my place next to Stedman while Oprah was onstage making introductions. I had just lost my mother, my hero, my best friend. During the break, I shared my story, which if you knew me, you’d know I’d normally do. With the memories freshly flush on the palette of my cheeks and the blush mommy picked out for the event still sitting in my purse, I must have been wearing heartbreak all over my couture gown that night because within minutes of her return, Stedman was introducing us. When our eyes met, the outpouring of love and light seeped deep into my clipped spirit and uplifted my soul from the mere touch of her warm and sincere hands. The takeaway? She is everything you think she is and more and I could see up close what a wonderful rock, Stedman is in her life. Truth blessings and light beautiful people, nothing but blessings in truth and light.
Drink plenty of water, exercise, don’t skimp on your sleep, prioritize and study, study, study everything from the classics to the contemporary, stick close to your friends and family who will hold you down, watch every drama and comedy you can, go to every opera, Carnegie Hall and Lenny Kravitz concert, travel, read novels that speak to your body, mind and soul, watch foreign films, dance, laugh out loud, know your type then switch it up for fun, pay attention to roles that resonate, roles that frighten and study them, remember the names of those who’ve won best costume, best sound and best production design, go forth jubilantly, authentically and unapologetically in the direction of your dreams. You have so much to offer. Enjoy hobbies and live your life to the fullest. Don’t waste time on second thoughts, doubt or regret, you only get one shot, so don’t miss it, forgive yourself and others and move on. Life is but a dream so enjoy yours in technicolor! It will never be about the audition or the booking. The real magic is on the day because that is where the real discovery happens! If they cast you, it was yours before you ever walked in, so own it and rock it!
Have topics of conversation that make you uncomfortable. Do your remember those amazing Gap ads, where Cher sits down with Future and they just kick it? I’d watch a ½ hr. “behind the scenes” docudrama like that, wouldn’t you? Let’s stop tiptoeing around the issues and level up! Have the talks that most unsettles us. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of and face it head on. Live in the now, give abundantly and never doubt your magic.
- No expectations. This goes for everything from opportunity to possibility. In this business, there are many surprises, at every stage. From prepping for a callback and entering a room lined with 18 producers when you were expecting 2, to discovering someone you’ve had an uncomfortable experience with, is the key decision maker on a project you would love to be a part of and still having to walk the plank despite knowing that will likely never happen, to a casting director immediately thinking of you for a project that is not only a dream role, but is truly someone you’d likely be if you weren’t an actor, getting the part without auditioning and discovering you’re 3rd on the call sheet! These things have happened to me and there are so many more. Truth is, it’s all over the map and an exciting gamble, so I always say, just show up and slay.
- Maintain healthy relationships with your friends, family, self and colleagues. Without my friends and family, my work would have no meaning. When I am with them, we celebrate life and enjoy one another fully. Nurture relationships with the people you love and honour those who have encouraged you along the way. Thank them, share with them, support them in return. Take a vacation. Stress won’t get you hired, that next director admiring your professionalism, focus and calm state of mind will.
- Know the business of show. Read every offer letter, know how to spell every directors name, thank every person who’s ever hired you, know your union, your benefits and eligibility rights. You would never skim a script, so don’t skim a contract.
- No distractions. Don’t get sucked into hearsay, gossip and non-scripted drama. Avoid toxic people and toxic behaviour at all times. Stay focused. If you’d rather study your feed then your script, something is up, so shut it down.
- Be fuss-free. I always show up to set camera ready to roll both emotionally and mentally but also physically. I am well rested, well hydrated and well groomed for every gig. Be prepared to do your own hair, make-up and wardrobe on the day of your shoot, just in case production runs out of time.
- There’s no crying in baseball! You’re not a wallflower. You matter. If you’re uncomfortable, something is wrong. Speak up.
“The only way to live, is to grow, the only way to grow is to change, the only way to change is to learn, the only way to learn is to be exposed and the only way to be exposed is to throw yourself into the open and do it.”
I am constantly learning, absorbing and growing. I don’t feel alive if I’m not. On my last birthday, a pretty big one, I gifted myself a 3-month Cinematic Language course in the dead of a dark and dreary Winter, not because I had to or someone urged me to, but because I wanted to. For as long as I can remember, I have idolized the butterfly as a symbolic metaphor for life. In her depth and beauty she symbolizes the belief I hold close to my heart which is if we are changing, we are growing. The title of my original sci-fi series is Monarch 7 not because it sounds cool, but because it encapsulates this idea of elevating the hero within by honouring the 7 cycles of growth maturation. The butterfly is constantly shifting, shedding, blossoming and metamorphosing into the perfect creature she is intended to be. By completion of the growth cycle, she emerges whole, having shed all restrictions and blossoming into the most beautiful creature imaginable. What’s more? She’s free. Free from limitations, judgement and misrepresentation. Free to fly. To me, life is about accepting challenges, choosing to move forward and savouring the journey along the way. I really don’t take myself too seriously because I’ve seen a lot in my day and as an actor in particular, I am firmly rooted in the fact that it’s really not that deep. We’re not saving lives, we’re just entertaining a few, so I keep it light and save the heavy weight lifting for the stage! If a fellow sister actor gets a role I was vying for, I rejoice because it means it was intended for her and mine is waiting just around the bend. We must show up, accept the disappointment when it comes, get back up and start all over again. This is an actor’s constant wash cycle and duty to master, oneself.
Outside of my family, there are two people who’ve made significant contributions to who I am as an actor. One provided a process, the other access.
Firstly, Mr. Ron Weyand, may he rest in power, who taught me everything I know about rhetoric, the classics and theatre as a whole. Without his validating my strengths and highlighting my weaknesses early on, I may have lost time and misdirected. Ron worked tirelessly to hone my natural inclination toward interpretive text. He encouraged me to start from a place of vulnerability and draw upwards helping me graduate with purpose and self direction. Ron gave me a hunger for exploration as he taught the ability to identify subtext and subtle innuendo within every line. Behind every doubt and fear lays the jewel that connects us all, our humanity. This is what powerful performers do, they move us because they make us see ourselves in one another despite differences or circumstance. A great performance should bridge the gap between our shared stories.
Secondly, Ms. Ilene Starger. There aren’t enough words of adulation and praise in the English language I can shower on my dear friend, teacher, casting director, poet and super savvy extraordinaire Ms. Ilene Starger. She’s believed in me from the beginning. Putting me in rooms even I had a hard time believing I was entering, opening doors and pointing me in the direction of my dreams. There are too many opportunities Ilene is responsible for to outline here but I’ll give you the cliff notes; from putting my name forward to Paramount Pictures in the 2nd production of Shaft, to setting up meetings with key players I’d eventually work with in L.A. and Vancouver, I owe Ilene so much more than I could ever mention here. I will be forever grateful and humbled by her support, friendship and love over the years and am so happy to call her a friend. And now a moment for a proud plug: please go to Amazon.com to buy Ilene’s book of poetry: “Forgive Me if None of This Is True”, today. You won’t regret it!
Steven Spielberg. In my 20s, I’d been directed by Tony Kaye in a national campaign for AT&T when Steven spotted my ad and called my team for a project he thought I’d be right for. The audition never happened and I would never learn the role he was considering me for. If I could have breakfast with Steven today, I’d reintroduce myself, buy him the most amazing Salmon Benedict and pick his brain about his screenplay process and sources for inspiration on future projects, especially at this stage in his career where he has absolutely nothing to prove. Ah, but of course, I’d also love to have a full circle moment with Oprah Winfrey as well so that I might express in person, what her meeting meant to me at such a fragile time in my life. I am determined to work with them both someday. Stay tuned!