Rising Star Luciana Faulhaber: “Know your worth; don’t accept less pay than your male counterpart”

Know your worth. This is a biggy. I think people talk about this a lot when it comes to romantic relationships but I think women need to hear it more from a professional standpoint. Don’t do projects you don’t believe in, don’t accept less pay than your male counterpart, and when you reach a professional […]

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Know your worth. This is a biggy. I think people talk about this a lot when it comes to romantic relationships but I think women need to hear it more from a professional standpoint. Don’t do projects you don’t believe in, don’t accept less pay than your male counterpart, and when you reach a professional level, don’t work for free. This industry has a bad habit of paying every position except performers, especially on your way up. It’s as if actors will do “anything for a chance to act” and boy, have I heard that before. Don’t be afraid to say “no, thank you.” There is a lot of power in those words.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing actress, activist, filmmaker Luciana Faulhaber. Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Luciana came to the US with a full scholarship to study at Fordham University, where she graduated summa cum laude, and later continued her education with an academic scholarship to Columbia Graduate School of International and Political Affairs. She then went on to study acting with Bill Esper and the Labyrinth Theater Company’s Master Class. A working actress based in Los Angeles, Luciana has acted alongside the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Sir Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Lopez, Ted Danson, and Justin Chambers to name a few. She has even produced and directed some of her own projects as an outlet to provide opportunities to emerging artists of all cultural backgrounds. You can find her next in the films, “Trauma Therapy” (to be released in October), “Pearl,” as well as the pilot “Twenties” by Lena Waithe, “South of Sunset,” “Yard Birds,” and “Scarlet,” currently in development.

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

I grew up the youngest of four in a middle class family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My father died when I was young and my mother had to raise us on her own. Life quickly changed after that. Growing up in a developing South American country had its challenges, but becoming a part of a single parent household brought an added financial and emotional impact on all of us. However, these difficulties taught me to be resourceful, independent and resilient — qualities needed to make through the ups and downs of the entertainment business, making me believe that everything does happen for a reason.

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

I’ve always wanted to be an actress. But my mother never had a chance to go to college so it was important to her that we all did. She wanted us to be financially independent in case tragedy struck, as it did for her, so she wanted us to always be able to take care of ourselves. Her discourse was that once we got our degrees we could do anything we wanted. As an adult, I now know it is not exactly like that. Once you graduate you need a job, etc., so life gets way more real. I was lucky to go to school in New York City so I took advantage of everything my school and the city had to offer. I was part of the dance team and the drama club and watched every play I could on and Off-Broadway, buying the cheapest stand-by or standing room tickets just to see the show. I remember the exact time I realized that ‘telling stories’ was my calling. We were in class performing a Shakespearean sonnet and I burst into tears because I was so filled with emotion. I know it is a romantic notion but that is how I remember it. From that day on, I knew I wanted to feel that way about what I did and help others find their own humanity.

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

It has been so many years since I started my career so I’m not sure what would be the most interesting, but I will share the most challenging. When I decided to produce my first feature with fellow actor and producing partner, Javier E. Gomez, we didn’t know anything about movie making. We wanted to create roles we wanted to play because we weren’t getting cast in meaty, interesting roles like that, so we wanted to create opportunities for ourselves and those around us. We ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and went on to make a movie on our own. It was definitely the most challenging experience in my career. But we learned a lot about the industry, generating a new found respect for every position and every person that makes a project happen. I take that respect and appreciation with me everywhere. We were unsure if we could do it ourselves and by the end, we were able to give people of color, women and young professionals opportunities they haven’t had before. Our film, “Don’t Look,” got world distribution and was released May of 2018. It was a challenge and we made a lot of mistakes in the process but we had an incredible growth curve; teaching me my most important lesson in my career thus far. I learned I can do anything I set my mind to and the first step of that is finding the right team.

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?

The funniest story happened during my first professional job on “Iron Man 3.” The film shot in Miami and I flew in very early that day getting little sleep. I did the fitting on the spot; the amazing wardrobe team made any needed alterations. I was wearing a beautiful tea length fitted gold vintage dress. I proceeded to wait eight hours for my first scene. I was so tired that by the end of the day, I decided to get a cup of coffee to help me make it through. As I slowly sip my coffee, a make-up artist on the way to set tripped on the legs of my chair and the coffee spilled, flying all over my beautiful dress. I was mortified. This was my first job; my first shot and I had now ruined it. My eyes filled with water and the make-up artist protested my tears telling me not to ruin my makeup, too. It was the end of the day and as everyone panicked to figure out how to fix the dress, they call the end of the day on the microphone. We all gave a sigh of relief. I was literally saved by the bell! After this experience, I make sure my coffee always has a lid and I never eat in wardrobe just in case. I was so embarrassed that I never told this story to anyone. Now I know that it’s okay to mess up and make mistakes; you just have to keep going. By the way, the next day the dress was like new and no one ever found out about this. Well, until now that is.

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

I’m really excited about a documentary project I am working on with Javier E. Gomez. This started as a historical project about a Broadway show and as we continue to shoot it, became clear to us the story was deeper. We have been interviewing artists between the ages of 75 and 97, listening to their stories, discussing legacy, and love and loss. We discuss their contribution to this country in the fight for civil rights, freedom of speech and this moment of retrocess in history, and most importantly, we examine what unites us as individuals and what truly matters at the end of our lives. This project is truly special and I can’t wait to be able to share more details as it continues to develop and in a way, challenge me while I am reminded of my own life experiences.

I am also incredibly lucky to collaborate with other amazing artists. Keep an eye out for the series, “South of Sunset,” created by David Tripler using comedy to bring to life racial stereotypes. Another comedy is, “Yard Birds,” by Kevin Brennan that showcases a group of diverse women who love and support each other for who they are. There’s also the heart-wrenching film, “Pearl,” by Bobby Roth that’s based on the true story of his sister’s passing. And finally, there’s “Trauma Therapy,” by Glass House films that’s set to release in October; a thriller about the cult mindset and how far we are willing to go for “change.” I am also currently in pre-production for a new project based on a popular book series I cannot discuss yet, but stay tuned for announcements! These are definitely some projects that are close to my heart.

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’ve gotten the question, “ Who do you wanna be like?” ever since I started acting. I would spend a lot of time thinking about it and always coming up with the same answer: There is no one who looks like me and doing what I want to do. It was so discouraging. When you don’t see yourself in a future you aspire, you start to believe that future is not possible. Mindsets kill more dreams than fear every year. You might be afraid to do something and still try but if you think what you want is impossible, why even try? I think about the majority of parts for women of color and they are usually nurses, not doctors; secretaries, not lawyers. I remember someone saying: “We need more people of color doctors and not only on Shonda Rhimes hospitals.” and I chuckled, but that is a sad truth. The hope is that with representation, those mindsets are broken and little girls like me can imagine themselves in positions and careers they didn’t think possible before. As a culture, we spend so much time in front of screens, which has become the window of a generation. I believe it is important to discuss representation and appropriate representation. As a Latinx woman, I don’t want to watch any more stories of Latinos being portrayed as drug dealers, prostitutes, gang members and other stereotypes. The times have changed and we, as a minority, continue to become more educated; it’s important to see that reflected in the storytelling so that minority groups are not marginalized and alienated. I think it’s also a responsibility of our industry to bring issues to light that wouldn’t reach a larger number of people otherwise. I think they did that beautifully in the last season of “Orange is the New Black,” portraying immigration stories that were real and how they affect the people (in this case, the characters) we love. They highlighted a real hotline that helps immigrants that later got shut down by ICE. That is a clear example of the power of representation and how it affects our behavior and our culture. My goal is for representation to reflect real life and lead to action that will lead to positive change. Information is power and people avoid the news these days. Storytelling has never been so powerful.

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

You don’t need a college degree.

It was important for my mother to give my siblings and me what she felt the lack of formal education could not provide her, but times are changing. Traditional careers are disappearing in the makeshift of this technological revolution. Don’t get me wrong, education remains a strong pillar to overcome poverty and achieve success; I am a big believer in education and I think you need to go learn everything you can about what you want to do for a profession, but in the context of a career in film, television and entertainment, that doesn’t necessarily mean formal education. In the arts people who attended prestigious schools tend to go further but that is not because of what they learned but who they met. Relationships play a big part in this business.

It’s not you, it’s them.

Before the #MeToo movement I experienced many sexual harassment situations when I moved to Los Angeles. I kept asking myself, what am I doing that makes these men think it is okay to say these things or behave this way towards me? You see, I thought it was me and the way things were in LA. I was so disheartened by those experiences that I moved back to New York. After a couple of years out there, I realized I couldn’t go through another winter, but was afraid to return to LA and go through that again. One snow day I decided I couldn’t let these people rule my life. I took back my own power and decided I would go back to LA on my own terms. I cut people out; I said no to dubious requests for “meetings” and I made it work for me. A year later the “Times Up” movement started and I realized that I wasn’t alone and that it wasn’t anything I did or said that made them feel it was okay to treat me like they did. It was them. I am grateful for those who spoke up for all of us and bridged the gaps in our community.

Find your tribe(s).

You might have heard this one before. When I first arrived in LA, people would tell me I had to search for the good people, my people, and once I found that “I would be okay.” I didn’t quite understand what they meant so here is what it means to me. Your tribe is not just your friends. As an artist — a creative — I normally gravitate towards like-minded people. Your “tribe” consists of friends you want to hang out with, sure. But your tribe should also consist of those individuals you want to create with. Your tribe should be the people you want to celebrate with and bring alongside you on your journey to the top and vice versa. These are the people who you admire for being good humans but also for being talented. The people you put your hand on the fire for, in a manner of speaking. If you have a few of those in your life, you can help each other in every area of life. The truth is that it does take a village. You cannot make it alone. Find your tribe and go create!

There is no shortcut.

I come from a science background and I am always looking for the patterns, the formula, the way things worked that can help me get ahead. Well, after 10 years in this industry, I can safely say there is no such thing. There is no step A to B that will lead to C. There is no merit-based hierarchy. And no one owes you anything; no matter how hard you work. Do what you do because you love it and let go of the results. The joy really is in the journey because guess what, it’s all you got. So spend time reconnecting with why you chose to do this work, why you love it and keep doing it.

Know your worth.

This is a biggy. I think people talk about this a lot when it comes to romantic relationships but I think women need to hear it more from a professional standpoint. Don’t do projects you don’t believe in, don’t accept less pay than your male counterpart, and when you reach a professional level, don’t work for free. This industry has a bad habit of paying every position except performers, especially on your way up. It’s as if actors will do “anything for a chance to act” and boy, have I heard that before. Don’t be afraid to say “no, thank you.” There is a lot of power in those words.

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

For me there are two things that keep me sane: hobbies and puppies.

My acting teacher, Bill Esper, used to say that “your career cannot be what makes you happy because you cannot control that.” He was right. Find a hobby, join a group that likes what you like and carve out time to do it. You can create text messaging groups and see who is available to join you. A friend started one and it was life changing. I love being outdoors so I have a surfing group and a hiking group. It’s also a way to reconnect with my friends from all over the world and plan visits. I bask in the joy of doing searches, dreaming up places we will go, and just plainly looking forward to it. I know what you are thinking, though. That’s expensive! How can I manage? The truth is: you can! I start by going places I can stay with friends, going on hikes (they are free!), second hand apps and even Facebook market can help you get what you need like new, for a third of the price. Do your research and you will be pleasantly surprised.

I am also an animal lover. I dream of traveling the world just to hug all of the animals (even a lion if it would let me!). But while I can’t, I hug all the puppies I see. I am a firm believer that we were given two hands so we can pet more dogs. I have one of my own for 14 years and I volunteer for an organization that rescue dogs from kill shelters and helps them find a home. I read an article about a woman who helped to foster and rehabilitate 100 dogs; I aspire to do similarly.

Feeling sad?! Go on a hike, surf, knit, carve wood, do pottery, hug puppies — whatever floats your boat. Find what you can do that makes you happy, that depends only on you, and then go out there and do it. It really is that simple.

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. 🙂

Right now, I want to inspire people to believe they can be heard and that their voice matters. There are over 33 million women that are of voting age in the US in the Latinx community alone, but only 6 million voted in the last primary. That alone would have been enough to make an impact of actual change regardless of partisanship. We, Latinx and other minorities, and our ancestors came to make our American dream a reality and this is a tangible way we can make that happen. I believe in democracy and I want to inspire my Latinx sisters to register and vote in this upcoming election.

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?

You know how they say it takes a village? It really does! So I couldn’t possibly single one person out from the rest. Some of them helped me in my career directly and some of them helped me go further because they were there for me in my personal life when things got tough. It all counts. This business is tough, many times lonely, and not having close relatives in the USA makes it all even harder. I am incredibly grateful for all the people who believe in me and continue to push me forward, whether or not I am aware of, when I am brought up in conversations in the decision-making rooms. Gratitude is so important to me and I make a point to show the people in my corner know I appreciate them. Whenever I get the next role, I always thank the people who hired me before as well, because their faith in me is the reason I keep working. It all adds up; it all counts. I truly takes a village.

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

I read this recently and it really resonated with me so I’m carrying this one around for a while:

“We are born in one day. We die in one day. We can change in one day. We can fall in love in one day. Anything can happen in one day.”

So when things get really rough remember all you got to do is get through that day. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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. 🙂

I just finished reading Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming Michelle” and I am incredible inspired by her story of overcoming, her commitment to her family and grace in dealing with the challenges of being on the spotlight. I just heard that Viola Davis will be playing Michelle Obama in an upcoming project. In our industry, Viola is not only a fantastic actress but an embodiment of Michelle. Her resilience to keep going got her where she is today and now she gets to shed light on stories that will inspire others. No one would have been more fitted for the role. I would love to have breakfast with both of these powerhouses, please. 😉

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on Instagram @lucianafaulhaberofficial and I love connecting with people so make sure to stop by and say hello!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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