Considering the fact that I think discarding the elderly is a travesty in our country and society, if we could honor the aging, we could learn from their wealth of knowledge and experience. They’ve been where we’ve got to go and many of them can inspire us with their courage, maturity, and outlook on life, health, and death. None of us are getting out of this alive anyway so, we best buckle up for the ride. #honortheaging #notdeadyet
I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Lea Gallagher. She is an American television and film actress/producer who most recently known for her role as the sassy homeless woman, Lynn on “Cobra Kai”, the Karate Kid’s latest series. Most recently she played Val, a series regular, on the award-winning youtube web series “Queering” which you can catch at SXSW 2019. Other notable television credits include “Bloodline”, “Queen Sugar”, “Sons of Thunder”, MTV’s “Inbetweeners” and “The Christmas Contract” opposite Hilarie Burton and Cheryl Ladd along with numerous other television appearances.
Susan just wrapped on several films including ‘Beast Beast’ by Danny Madden (Thunder Road) and produced by Alec Baldwin, “Walkaway Joe” opposite Oscar-winner David Strathairn. Susan loves the Indie Film world and has starred in several female-driven projects that are due out in 2019. Her most rewarding and challenging role is that of Ruth, a woman with Alzheimer’s and opposite David Call (Sinner) who plays her son in “I’ll Be Her for a While”. Some other lead roles have included “Picking Back Up” where she received a Best Actress Nomination from the WIFF in Los Angeles for her role as an addict/alcoholic woman hitting her bottom. Other lead roles out soon are ‘The Door Step’ opposite Jon Shaver (Men in Black 3), ‘Windblown’ by Usher Morgan(Pickings) and “Dirty Diamond” by Allen Landver (Brokeass Rich Kid).
As a Producer and forming a production company called Her Little Red Productions, LLC in 2014, she has written and/or produced several award-winning short films and documentaries, but is excited about her current project, ‘Portrait of a Woman at Dawn’, written and directed by Cullen Douglas (Pure Genius) and is currently out on the festival circuit..Born the youngest of four in Charlotte, NC to a jazz musician, June Craton, and Buddy Gallagher, Susan began her studies at the Actors Studio as well as with numerous well-known teachers. After raising a family, she spends a lot of her time studying with renowned teacher and retired Broadway Star/Director, Zina Jasper, in NYC. Susan’s been married to Jimbo Jahna since 1987 and mother to Caroline Jahna and Bo Jahna. Susan and Jimbo split their time between Florida and North Carolina where they enjoy college football, community activities, and their rescue animals.
Thank you so much for joining us Susan Lea! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me!
I was born the youngest of 4. My mother was an incredibly talented jazz musician and my father worked for the family business. He was also a wonderful writer and between Dad’s poetry and Mom’s regular jam sessions, we were all encouraged to foster our creativity. And that we did, my sister played and composed classical music on the piano daily and my brother practiced with his local rock ‘n roll band in our living room. It was a fun house to grow up in.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
The bug for the business was deep inside of me from a very early age, but I wound up taking a lot of wrong turns down some dark roads before finding my way back. After getting my life together back in 1985, I found the love of my life, got married, moved to a sweet little town in Florida where my husband was from and started a family. Even though I loved motherhood and it has always been my top priority, I still had a burning passion deep inside to act. My husband was smart enough to realize that I needed a creative outlet and insisted I take acting classes in Orlando and in Tampa, which also gave me my fix for the city. While I booked lots of commercials and was a successful live on air television salesperson, it was when I had to pass on a nice feature film role that I realized acting was my true passion. From that
moment on, I changed my professional focus to studying acting with some of the best teachers in the country. In the last 10 years, I’ve continued to learn from New York City’s renowned teacher, Zina Jasper, and Dan Bright in Orlando.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve been very blessed with the opportunities to work with a great number of really interesting people! My very first feature film credit was Jon Singleton’s Rosewood, which was based on a true story of a 1923 horrific racist lynch mob attack on an African-American community. Extra security was required on set due to the sensitive nature of the film. Most films and/or series are the result of someone’s creativity and imagination.
The fact that this film was based on a true story, a re-telling of the horrible things that actually happened to people, made it so much more than a film credit with an all-star cast. Not only was it shocking to learn what happened to the community of Rosewood, but it was terribly sad for me, as a southerner, to look honestly at the harsh realities of racism and the pain associated with it. Because these events actually happened, when the director yells cut, you don’t just walk away telling yourself that it’s all make-believe. It stays with you forever and changes your worldview. Being a part of honoring the people who lived and died in that tragedy with historical facts and the truth of what happened in the south not far from where I lived made a real difference in my life and it continues to mean something very special to me.
Can you tell a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One, not so funny at the time, a mistake I made actually involved taking my 10-year-old son, Bo, to an audition during pilot season in Los Angeles. We parked and walked into the Casting Director’s office, checked in and sat down in a small room packed with moms and noisy kids. All of the sudden Bo and I were overwhelmed with a sickening smell, and at some point, I came to realize that the stench was coming from Bo’s shoe!! Apparently, he had stepped in dog poop on our way in!
Well, I forced him into the ladies room with me and tried to clean his shoe, all to no avail. His shoes ended up in the garbage and I made him wear my Birkenstocks that were about 4 sizes too big. Needless to say, this was the crappiest (pun intended!) audition we’ve ever experienced. And yet another shoe incident was in Orlando when I was getting out of my car and walking to the Casting Director’s office when an actor friend of mine yells, “Hey, Susan! Genius idea!” He proceeded to tell me I was a creative genius for wearing two completely different shoes, which of course was not my plan. The lesson is to laugh at our mistakes, learn from our mistakes and always, always… check your shoes!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
One of the most exciting projects I’m working on now is the role of Val in Leticia De Bortoli’s award-winning web series Queering now streaming on YouTube. Set and shot in New York City, Queering follows the lives of Val who is coming out as a bi-sexual, and her lesbian daughter Harper, and some of the colorful characters in their lives. We’re all thrilled to be an official selection to screen at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2019 and participate in the Episodic Competition. Season Two recently aired on YouTube and Leticia has big plans for Season Three. It’s easy to catch up on Seasons One and Two because they’re really short and terrific episodes! Join the other 2.5 million people and give it a watch!
The Karate Kid’s new YouTube hit series, Cobra Kai, has given me the opportunity to play against my type in the recurring role of Lynn, a sassy and very provocative homeless woman who delights in nothing more than getting a rise out of William Zabka’s character, Johnny Lawrence. Cobra Kai wrapped Season Two and is due out Spring 2019.
I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it is important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Well, diversity represented in the entertainment industry, in general, is very important. It allows viewers to have a better understanding of lives that are different from themselves. This is, even more, the case with really well-written pieces like Queering and its representation of the LGBTQ community. Having diversity in programming can expose different cultures and points of view that viewers may have never seen or understood before. One last very important reason is that ageism in the entertainment industry tends to disregard some of our most talented actors. Supporting more actors of age brings depth and experience to the creative process that is only achieved after years of living.
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
One thing we can do is cast outside the bubble in regards to age. I’ve learned so much from elderly folks about acting and life. I’m inspired by their keen insights into the creative process and their courage in facing the aging process with regards to health issues and ultimately, death. We can also cast outside the bubble when it comes to a specific type. If the Cobra Kai creators and Casting Directors hadn’t been open-minded, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read for homeless Lynn based on the small box the business usually puts me in.
I also think that by hiring more women and people of color we can help provide meaningful perspectives and different points of view.
What are your 5 things I wish someone told me when I first started and why?
First is: Don’t take the rejection personally! My agent once told me that I nailed the role, but I looked too much like the Director’s ex-wife. Needless to say, I didn’t book that job!
Second would be: Just remember, it’s not a done deal until you actually see yourself on the big or little screen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up on the editing room floor, but luckily — still got paid.
Next is: Casting Directors are rooting for you! I learned this after becoming personal friends with a Casting Director. Remember, they want you to be great and book the job, which makes their job easier.
Another would be: Study, study, and study some more! I will be studying and learning how to be a good actress for the rest of my life. I would also say: Small parts are important. You just have to keep in mind that it’s not about you. You are there to move the story along.
I also wish that I had learned earlier to: DO LESS! I’ll have to admit, this is a hard one for me.
Oh, yes, and let’s not forget: Always check your shoes!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
First, make sure this is truly what you love to do. It has got to be your passion. Then, surround yourself with supportive people and avoid the negative ones. Remember that acting can be a part of your life, but you also have got to have a life outside of acting. Have other creative outlets besides acting like singing, writing, producing, cooking or whatever inspires you. Take care of your body, your mind, AND your soul. Make sure you learn to manage your finances; that knowledge can make or break you. I would also recommend that you have fun, keep your sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously! It’s all make-believe anyway.
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?
Considering the fact that I think discarding the elderly is a travesty in our country and society, if we could honor the aging, we could learn from their wealth of knowledge and experience. They’ve been where we’ve got to go and many of them can inspire us with their courage, maturity, and outlook on life, health, and death. None of us are getting out of this alive anyway so, we best buckle up for the ride.
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 husband, Jimbo Jahna. He has not only supported me from the beginning but refused to listen to my whining when I didn’t get the job. He has supported our kids and me to live/work bi-coastal so we could fly from Orlando to LA every other week during the pilot season for years. Since the kids are grown and gone, he continues to be my biggest fan and is supportive of me living and studying regularly in New York City. It doesn’t hurt that NYC is the in same timezone of where we live now!
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always loved the saying, “This is life; this ain’t no dress rehearsal”. For many years I blamed others for my problems. I used to think I’d be happy if I had this in my life, or I would only be successful if this part of my life was right. We only have this one life to live and it’s very short so if we live in yesterday or in tomorrow then we’re missing out on today.
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?
I’d love to meet Ellen Degeneres! Not only has she been a tremendous advocate for all women and the LGBTQ community, but she also inspires and brings joy to so many people with her courage, generosity, dance moves and sense of humor. I think she’d love and appreciate the messages Leticia is trying to convey in “Queering” and we can all certainly use more laughter and dancing in our lives!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!