Ethnicity & Acting: My Personal Story & Insights

oncrystalstill.12293203_large I have been acting since I was around 8 years old. I started in community theater productions, acted throughout high school and college, and transitioned into film at the age of 21 while still a student at Saint Anselm College. I am of Italian and Irish descent. There might be other things mixed in there too, we think maybe some Greek. Maybe. When looking at me, you mostly see the Southern Italian/Sicilian and never would guess a drop of Irish blood would be present. However, people rarely guess correctly when trying to decipher my ethnicity. What I find most interesting in mainstream media, is the uproar over someone playing a different ethnicity from their own. Granted, there have been many instances where playing someone of a different race is completely awful and racist; what I am talking about is something more subtle. I’m talking about the fact that someone like Al Pacino, a fellow Italian/Sicilian, can play a Cuban immigrant in Scarface; or the fact that when Jennifer Lopez (of Puerto Rican descent) was cast as Tejano superstar Selena in the now famous bio-pic of the same name, the Mexican and Mexican-American communities were outraged. I also find it funny that I am rarely brought in or cast as Caucasian. I am Caucasian. I’m of Italian and Irish heritage who has played more Hispanic and Latina roles than I can count. In the film, On Crystal, I play a Puerto Rican girl who is mildly mentally challenged. And today, I just got called in for another audition to play someone of Hispanic heritage. In a weird twist of fate, that character’s name also happens to be Crystal. Weird.  In my day job in retail, I have had customers blatantly question my ethnicity to my face. I’ve had people think I was Iranian, Egyptian, and even bi-racial.  I’ve gotten called names because of the way I look. And I’m not even the ethnicity that they assume I am. Maybe I should be flattered in some sense.  Maybe it harkens back to when I was in the fourth grade and someone asked if my dad was African American because I was so tan. When I see a breakdown now, and it says “All-American” or “Caucasian,” the sad thing is, I rarely submit for those roles, or go in for the EPAs. And if I do, sometimes I am the tannest Caucasian. BUT, if I go in for a more ethnic role, I fit right in. Awkward. Weird. Again, this is just my personal experience, everyone’s is different. And that’s okay. We as people can’t help the way we look. As Lady Gaga would say, “Baby, you were born this way.”

The First Wives Club: Divorce, Revenge, and a New Book That Teaches You How to Get Along with Your Ex

Divorce. It’s not exactly a happy subject. However, it’s become the subject of numerous television shows and popular movies. Previously blogged about, The First Wives Club (1996) one of my movies that makes me smile: Reunited by the death of a college friend, three divorced women seek revenge on the husbands who left them for younger women.– IMDb. It’s one of the funniest movies about divorce ever. Starring Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, the three actresses are geniuses at comedy,  and when combined, one of the funniest movies comes to light. Plus, the ex husbands aren’t too shabby either; character actors, Dan Hedaya, Victor Garber, and Stephen Collins round out the husband cast. Oh yeah, it has Maggie Smith in the mix as well, playing a wealthy divorcee who helps them with their plan. Elizabeth Berkley makes an appearance post-Showgirls, that helped revitalize her image again too.  Revenge has always been the topic of several movies, both comedy and drama. Revenge and divorce seem like the perfect combo. It always has to do with exes not getting along. Always.

There is a new book on the market by Dr. Judith Ruskay Rabinor, PhD. entitled Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids, and Yes, Your Ex. A regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Rabinor is a therapist who has been practicing for the past three decades. Maybe she should have counseled the main characters in The First Wives Club. It might have helped the women deal with their resentment issues and make it better for the children involved, especially Bette Midler’s character. If you are dealing with a divorce or separation, her book would be good to read. Maybe we can go back to 1996 and super-impose her book into the movie. It could have helped with all the revenge plots.  Her book is available on Amazon and is worth the read. Follow her on Twitter:

And now for one for the revenge scenes. Again, they could have used some serious therapy. Good thing it’s a comedy:

Taking Advantage of a “Career Lull”: Using My Words

What do I have in common with Steve Martin, Tina Fey, James Franco, and Andrew McCarthy? We’re actors who are also writers. You read that correctly, Andrew McCarthy is, in fact, a writer. He’s an award-winning travel writer. Check out some of his stuff on National Geographic Traveler. Now, I’m not talking about actors who all of the sudden want to “write” their memoirs, and get a ghost writer to do it for them. I’m talking about people with actual skills, who do their own writing. As a matter of fact, Tina Fey and Steve Martin actually STARTED OUT as WRITERS. I’m guessing they did it while they were pursuing acting as well, due to the fact that they are in both realms of the industry. Granted, there are those actors who have also written screenplays or stage plays, and blogs,  but that’s a different type of article all together.

I started acting when I was around the age of 8, maybe 9.  But I started making up stories as soon as I could talk. I even had an imaginary friend when I was 5 who I would tell my stories to. Her name was Jinglelyn, and again, I was 5. When I actually learned to read and write, writing took a back seat to performing onstage. I had found my passion for storytelling on stage. And I loved it. It’s my first love. Telling stories, no matter what shape or form, is what I love.

What I find funny now, is the fact that my parents kept giving me journals on my birthdays or Christmas, and I never really used them. I wasn’t really a “dear diary” type of girl anyways. It seemed sort of silly to recount my day on paper. I started writing short stories and plays, and when I got to high school, I helped start up the creative writing club at my all-girls, Catholic high school. I wrote stories, parts of novels I was working on, and seriously wanted to become a writer and an actor when I grew up. I was involved in anything creative. I sang in choirs, acted in the school plays and wrote stories. My English teacher even gave me a writing award my junior year of high school.  When I got to college, I majored in English because I love the element of story-telling, plot and characters. I thought it would help in the acting realm because I was able to learn about the different things that make up a good story. It was sort of like four years of script-analysis. I acted throughout college, even directed. My senior year of college, I got my first headshots and auditioned at my first major theater convention, which led to moving to NYC to study at Circle in the Square Theater School.

Within these past six years, I have been acting and putting writing on the back burner. I got my union cards and even pursued stand-up.  The closest I came to writing, before starting this blog, was stand-up comedy, which I still love because you can create your own material.  I started this blog because I wanted to get back into writing, and I wanted to write something from the perspective of an actor who was going through the ups and downs in their career. Not someone who is washed-up and giving advice. I’m still in the trenches and being in a  career “lull,” I have been writing about what I love. Movies I love, movies I loathe, anything and everything that has to do with the industry, with a unique perspective. It seems like I’m in good company of those who came before me. If you use all of your talents, it can lead to something. What that is, I don’t know. But I am pursuing my writing and my acting. So I guess I can add a back-slash to my job description. I’m a writer/actor. And I’m so glad you are reading my blog. Thanks.