As a working creative, balancing the two can be a challenge. But with the right attitude and persistence, and strategy, doing what you love can be a possibility. For NY-based actress Janel Tanna, she understands that living your passion is the only option worth pursuing.
With her first role in an independent feature film named Savior, she snagged a nomination as ‘Best Actress’, proving that when you do what you love, others will recognize your commitment to the craft. She says “acting is something you have to decide to go for and pursue. You need to stay true to working on what the craft means to you. We as artists and humans all have different aspects to who we are, different paths we could have taken.. Acting is about nourishing those different parts of who we are and becoming that character.”
LA Pulse Mag talked with the rising actress about the importance of loving what you do, how she got started in the industry and her advice for how to succeed as a working actor:
LA Pulse Mag: When was your first role as an actor/ actress? How did you first get involved in acting?
Janel Tanna: My first film role was actually the first feature film I auditioned for when moving out to New York City. It was a low budget independent feature film named Savior (by Marinaro and Matrone) and I played Vanessa, the troubled and street wise love interest of the main character. It was a pretty emotional role and most of her scenes were intense so my character had an impact. I ended up luckily being nominated for best actress in a feature film at one of the film festivals we screened at. The film also won a best picture award.
I always wanted to be an actress as a child, but living in an area not fully conducive to pursuing such a dream. A career was a more definitive path was encouraged, such as the sciences. Despite this, I ended up winning a few free acting classes at a local studio. The women who owned the studio saw a lot of talent in me based on the monologue I did. Through life events and a twist of fate I ended up where I always wanted to be, NYC. I interviewed with The Lee Strasberg Institute and I decided to stay, and as they say the rest is history.
LAPM: You trained in method acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute. Tell us about your experience there and how it shaped you as an actress.
JT: I had applied to the Institute and got accepted the next day. I absolutely loved what I was learned and my very first teacher Mauricio Bustamante made an impression on me. He has such a passion for the true core of the art. After my very first improv on my first day he said to me, “it is unusual to be that open and free without any training. You have talent.” That was all it took for me. Sometimes you only need that one person to believe in you in the beginning.
LAPM: What have you learned from senior actors? Do you have any mentors that you look up to within your field?
JT: I feel one is always learning. I filmed a pilot last year in Los Angeles with more experienced actors. Watching them in character with full devotion and commitment to the role is something that I value and practice when in character myself. Even when I first came out to NYC and decided to become an extra on some sets for experience to see what goes on, I just would watch the main actors over and over on down time during their scenes. What they did, their movements, gestures and mostly focus during take after take. Even noticing how they spent their time in-between takes or scenes. How they focused, etc.I also learn a lot any time I do a play or even a small scene. I feel I always take something away from myself or my scene partner. For me personally, the psychology of the character is of utmost importance. I work to tap into the psychology and what that person must have gone through to get there. From there the physical hopefully manifests.
You learn your best acting and skill training in a theater environment because it takes you to the depths of places and emotions. However, I feel all the emotion and feeling is the same internally but how you put it out there is different. Film picks up everything, so speaking and channeling through your eyes tells a lot. Al Pacino came to talk to us at Strasberg as a former student of his and told us what I believe to be true, “it’s a matter of where your audience is. On film it's a foot away. Keep that in mind. You adjust.”
LAPM: Who are some of your favorite actresses/ actors?
JT: I really love the talent of Kathy Bates. I think she is phenomenal. Her characters can be of this world, out of the world, crazy or sane and you always believe it. She is so intense yet so right on screen and truthful. I also love all of the ladies on Orange is the New Black. It is such an amazing show with a wide talent of diverse women.
LAPM: What advice can you offer aspiring actresses/ actors in the field?
JT: Stay true to working on what the craft means to you. We as artists and humans all have many different aspects to who we are, different paths we could have taken. Nourish those different parts of you. Ask yourself if acting is truly what you want to do. I have had friends who started thinking they wanted to act but then finding more personal joy in things like directing, writing, etc.
LAPM: Any upcoming projects you’re excited to share?
JT: I am excited to be playing the female lead in an upcoming independent feature film Saturn's Window, based on the book by Quanah J. Hicks. What drew me to the character, Cora Cadence, was her introverted and subdued nature. Despite this, she has so much going on internally. Her actions and world she has created is her own respite. That's all I can say for now as not to reveal too much as to be it becomes a reality rather than a story. Initially, Quanah the creator had me in mind for another role, but once I read the script Cora spoke to me. We had a meeting and he heard me out. He agreed and offered me the role. The role is very much a part of me, despite being somewhat different than the femme fatale, love interest or heavily outward emotional roles I have had the honor of doing in the short year and half I have done. Cora's persona is also very much a part of me and something I can relate to so I look forward to getting the opportunity to show this range in my work.
Like Janel, it’s about going on a journey that fulfills your calling. Loved and related to her story? Stay connected with Janel and follow her at @janeltanna.