“You are the captain of this ship.”, With Ming Zhao & Amanda Viola

There are a lot of people who are going to say really nice things and make big promises and while it’s fine and totally necessary to remain optimistic, the only person you can rely on is you. You are the captain of this ship. Not your agent, or your boyfriend or your acting teacher. Have […]

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There are a lot of people who are going to say really nice things and make big promises and while it’s fine and totally necessary to remain optimistic, the only person you can rely on is you. You are the captain of this ship. Not your agent, or your boyfriend or your acting teacher. Have an open mind, take advice but ultimately only do what’s right for you

As a part of my interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Viola. Amanda Viola is an actress and writer who has appeared in several independent films, web series and commercials. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles with her 3 cats and partner, fellow filmmaker, Jerry Spears. Amanda hopes to one day have a pet goat.

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

Thank you for having me! I grew up in the San Fernando Valley a.k.a. “The Valley” and I did my first production at a small community theatre when I was 7. My parents had taken me to see Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages a few months earlier and I was in such awe that I knew I had to be a performer. I continued on doing theatre as a child, then into high school where I was lucky enough to go somewhere with a really good arts program and began to study theatre more seriously. A friend convinced me to do an improv class at the Groundlings the summer before my sophomore year which, I believe, taught me some very valuable lessons about listening to your fellow actor and reacting in the moment and most importantly how to fail in front of people and not let it deter you in any way. I was in college studying theatre when I was scouted as a model. Modeling ultimately led me to commercials and commercials ultimately led me back to acting.

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

When I was filming We Take The Low Road, there was a scene where we get pulled over by the cops because we have tape over our license plate. And without giving away too many spoilers, the result of this scene leads to all these other problems the characters come across throughout the course of the film. But because it was a lower budget feature, the actors drove the picture car, a 1985 AMC Eagle (it’s a rad car and worth a quick Google search) to and from set. At the end of this particular day, the actors, one of the directors and the AD all piled into the car to go back to basecamp. The car only had two seatbelts in it and neither worked so the situation was a bit sketchy in the first place. In addition to that, the actors were covered in (fake) blood and dirt and there were about 5 very realistic looking prop guns, ropes and masks all laid in the trunk which has clear visibility since the car is a hatchback. All of the sudden we see a cop zoom by us really fast and then the actor driving notices another cop about 4 car lengths back. We quickly went from laughing about how funny this situation is to realizing that no one had pulled the tape off the license plate before we started driving to base camp. Also none of us had any form of identification on them or any of the paperwork and permits to show the police what we were doing. It was truly a ‘meta’ moment because we had found ourselves in the same situation the characters in the movie were in. Talk about art imitating life. Ultimately, we pulled over, took care of the tape, put the prop guns under a blanket and drove to basecamp without incident. It went from funny to intense very quickly and it’s truly one of my favorite stories of my life so far.

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?

Ohyes I’m sure a lot of actors reading this will relate to this one. Even though I have agents, I do a lot of self submission on various casting websites. One time I submitted for a project that sounded really interesting, got an audition for it, sent in my self tape and then I got an in-person callback. A few hours before my callback time, I was looking at the breakdown and I saw it was for the second season of this series. So I searched the series online to see the tone etc. I was surprised to find that the series was actually a soft-core vampire porn. And, hey, I’m not judging anyone here but that’s not really my vibe and I had to send a very awkward email cancelling my callback.

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

I’m currently producing a short film that I’ve written, and I will star in. This is a particularly exciting project for me because it is a story that tackles pregnancy discrimination in this country. We currently have 23 states that don’t require employers to make accommodations for pregnant women, such as a stool to sit on or extra bathroom breaks, and many of these states have been taking measures to further limit a woman’s right to choose. It creates an unfortunate and totally hypocritical situation for these women where they are told “You must have this baby, but we will not help you in any way.” My film is a scene between a male boss and a female being put on corrective action “excessive bathroom breaks” and “lack of enthusiasm.” I feel it’s an important and heavy subject, but it’s written in a way that it will still be engaging for the audience to watch.

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

Well I live in LA and you can’t even feed your meter without coming across an interesting person. Everyone is interesting, even boring people. But I will say that other actors serve as both a mirror into my own absurdity and an inspiration for future projects. I once was dragged to a “psychic party”, which is exactly what you think it is… a bunch of people sitting in a living room who have pooled money to hire a psychic to give everyone readings while they get sloshed on wine. This party in particular was a room filled with actress/writer types, like myself, who really just wanted this psychic to tell them that they’re going to be famous. I happened to walk in when one young woman was telling the psychic about a project she was working on and that her father had recently passed away and she needed some guidance. The psychic started telling her how proud her father was of her, and he was watching down on her life and he loves her etc. It was really touching and beautiful and whether you believe in psychics or not, it’s still a really nice thing to hear. But without skipping a beat, the young woman says “Oh okay, that’s nice. But what about my script? Does he think it will sell?” (I’m currently in the process of writing a short film based on this story.)

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

There is an old saying “One for the studio, and one for me.” It’s usually something that is reserved for people with the star power that can get art house movies made between big budget projects.

I’m still a grind it out, get excited about callbacks on low budget indie films kind of actor because I think it is really important to continue to make art that you love in your spare time between commercial auditions. We all got into this because it was fun and we love the art but it’s easy to forget that when you’re also trying to make money. So my best suggestion is to always find time for the part of this that made you fall in love with it in the first place.

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.

Ithink this is such a personal and subjective thing and people should just find what makes them feel good. For someone it might be being in the middle of a mosh pit at a show and for someone else it’s meditation… or it might be both! For me, it’s about listening to my body about what it wants… sometimes that’s a burger from Shake Shack and sometimes it’s something healthy. Sometimes it’s playing a game of Scrabble and sometimes it’s watching videos on YouTube. At the end of it all, our life is a collection of days, and I try to go out of my way to have fun or relax physically and mentally everyday. I’m a pretty stubborn person and so trying to make myself have a specific routine or practice if I’m not feeling it usually doesn’t have great results but one thing I make myself do is say yes to one thing a week that I normally would’ve made up an excuse to not do.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

  1. Save your money! This business is “feast or famine” and the last thing you want to deal with when your ego is bruised because you’re not working is financial insecurity.
  2. 2. Social media presence is important. No matter how silly or annoying it may feel, it totally matters.
  3. 3. Just because you have an agent, it doesn’t mean you should stop looking for work on your own as well.
  4. 4. There are a lot of people who are going to say really nice things and make big promises and while it’s fine and totally necessary to remain optimistic, the only person you can rely on is you. You are the captain of this ship. Not your agent, or your boyfriend or your acting teacher. Have an open mind, take advice but ultimately only do what’s right for you.
  5. 5. You have the power to say NO.

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

Your mind is a garden that will grow whatever seeds you plant in it. We’ve all heard something like this before, but for me this idea really lands because of the visual aspect of it. When I plant a seed of discouragement or self-deprecation in my mind, I can see and feel it grow. It can start small and grow into something that feels beyond your control. I try to plant the right seeds, and pull the weeds often.

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?

Iworked with a coach named Barry Papick for a few years. He’s an accomplished actor and a great teacher. His classes explore how to really dive into a character and find their truth. I made great strides in my craft working with him and I know many people who feel the same. I’ve watched him transform people who have an interest in being an actor to people who are ready to go out and book. During class one time, an actor had an audition for a pilot and Barry worked with him on a monologue he was auditioning with. Not only did that actor leave class that night feeling confident and better equipped for the audition, but he booked a leading role on that show. He’s had many students over the years with similar stories and when you work with him, you can understand why.

You are a person of great 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. 🙂

The movement would be called “Do I really need this?” It’s a question that we all would ask ourselves before every purchase we make.

I think the level of consumerism we’re at in this country is abysmal. From fast fashion to the newest smartphone, we’re living in a time where our landfills are overflowing, water is being wasted and workers are being taken advantage of. Not only is excessive consumerism destroying our planet, but it’s destroying, for lack of a better word, our souls. We open up instagram and there’s a bunch of people telling us to buy buy buy these things so that we can be cool and interesting like them, and if we don’t we’re missing out on something. I wish as a society we would develop more conscious consumerism by asking ourselves before we buy anything, “do I really need this?”

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. 🙂

It’s so hard to pick just one person in the world!! I’m a big admirer of women like Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig and Brit Marling. Not only are they brilliant actresses but they write and produce their own work, which is ultimately the goal I’m working towards. I don’t want to simply do good work. I want to make work that does good. These women do that, and they are an inspiration. If not them, then maybe sit me down with Jeff Bezos and I’ll lay into him about this “do I actually need this?” movement and see how he takes to it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram @amandamviola

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!


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