REEL Ladies features Actress & Producer Camille Mana.
Best known for her role as Lisa on UPN’s long-running sitcom One on One opposite Kyla Pratt, Robert Ri’chard, and R&B star Ray J. Mana appeared in the Miramax Films dramedy Smart People playing Missy Chin, released April 11, 2008. She also co-starred in the teen comedy film College, released August 29, 2008.
She produced a short film, Equal Opportunity, which won NBC’s First Annual Comedy Shortcuts Festival and earned Mana a development deal with the network. The film is an official selection in the 2007 HBO/U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, and South by Southwest (SXSW).
RL: WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO PURSUE A CAREER IN ACTING?
CM: In middle school. Like lightning struck. And it just never left. Absolute cheese. But honest cheese!
RL: WHAT WAS THE FIRST JOB YOU BOOKED?
CM: Hmm, I think it was the first official commercial I ever got sent out on – and I got Taft Hartleyed. Of course, there would be many after that which I did not book…
RL: BALANCING SCHOOL AND CAREER, WAS THAT DIFFICULT FOR YOU?
CM: When I look back, honestly I have no idea how I got away with it. I was flying home to LA on the day before or even same day as my Berkeley exams to audition for Co-Star roles, and yes- I was paying the airfare all on my own. I must have been insane. (Still am). At the time, I was also still very active in social activities, partying, and regular extracurricular college life. If I had to relive it, I wouldn’t change a thing. It wasn’t really something I had to decide on; I just in my gut could not operate otherwise.
I did the same in high school. I spent one summer taking an AP Spanish course (to clear my regular school year schedule so I could fit in more Drama and not have my parents throw me down the river), while simultaneously holding down my first job, and driving to Pasadena 4-days a week to study at American Academy of Dramatic Arts (which I was paying for with my summer job). Yes, I am a nut.
RL: YOU MAJORED IN ECONOMICS, WHY NOT DRAMA OR FILM LIKE MOST?
CM: I actually started out as a double major – but all throughout college I was acting. I did commercials in SF during school, and was flying back and forth to LA for auditions and showcases, pretending I still lived here… so my #1 goal was to just finish and be in LA full time. I graduated a year early instead of finishing a second major. Also, in order to finish the Dramatic Art major I would have needed to do more plays on campus and I wanted to stay available for auditions so I couldn’t commit to rehearsal/performance schedules…
RL: HOW DID THE AUDITION FOR ONE ON ONE COME ABOUT?
CM: I was actually really frustrated at that juncture. I was consistently getting called back on everything and getting great feedback (this is mostly for Co-Star roles and whatever scraps I could get at the time), but I would never book. I saw many peers moving forward quickly and I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere. I took the summer to live in New York and breathe and explore the option of grad school or quitting acting. My (then) boyfriend and I were trying to make things work so I flew home for his graduation to patch things up, and I happened to get that audition while I was home. It was such a fluke to get called in for a Series Regular at all, especially in the summer (at that time pilot season was still consistent, unlike now where it is pretty much year-round).
I think I was just spent on my career and everything important to me then in general, and that’s probably why I got that job – I was just given up.
RL: DO YOU STILL GET NERVOUS ON AUDITIONS?
CM: Definitely! But I actually am one of the few actors that loves to audition. I get so excited every time I get an appointment, because it is a new opportunity and an exciting challenge in every instance. But yes, just last year I had this crippling anxiety take over for a number of months and I really was not doing my best, even though I’ve always been decent at auditioning. In fact, I had a few of the worst auditions of my life and am probably banned from a couple of offices (haha, I hope not)! Luckily, I’ve had a turning point since then and have been doing well. I think auditioning is largely a psychological battle – and so being nervous – or worse, insecure and doubtful, is a huge impediment we need to stave off.
RL: HOW DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR ROLES?
CM: At this point, I’m not sure I’m in a place to 100% “choose”, but I’ve definitely reached a point where I know what projects I don’t want to be involved with or what level of roles I won’t take. I have strong priorities and know the direction I would like my career to veer in. For example, if I have the chance to play a small role in a quality project, I would much rather do that than have a large role in a project I don’t believe in. I also love that a majority of my auditions now are for roles that are not intended as ethnic and that I have won some of these roles (in fact my last two). To me, that is very exciting and is progress.
Also, I feel like I am at a juncture where I could move in a very character-y/comedic direction for the rest of my career versus a segue into a more mainstream niche as a young woman, and I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of which road to travel down. I’m trying to be careful that I make the right steps…
RL: YOU HAVE ALSO PUT ON YOUR PRODUCER HAT, TELL US ABOUT BEING BEHIND THE CAMERA AND MILLA INK. WHICH DO YOU ENJOY MORE?
CM: I love acting. I wake up everyday and want to find ways to act – whether that is pursuing an audition, working on sides, or helping a friend with theirs. But I found that a lot of elements of producing came naturally to me based on some of my strengths. Right now, I am taking a break from producing for a while -I have zero desire to do it- and am writing a screenplay. Writing has always been the thing I’ve always had a resistance to and I never really have made a full commitment to it, but the times I’ve written I have always been encouraged to DO IT, so here’s to a new commitment!
RL: YOUR FIRST FILM “EQUAL OPPORTUNITY” RECEIVED SOME GREAT RECOGNITION! TELL US ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE.
CM: It was and continues to be a great experience. We received some great accolades, it is amazing. We won the First Annual NBC Comedy Shortcuts festival and they awarded us a $25K grant which was not initially promised to any winners, along with some meetings and and then produced an NBC digital series with the grant. We were in something like 25-30 festivals- (I still get requests for it, I have to let them fall by the wayside at this point!).
We were very honored to be chosen for the HBO/U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, as it is like the Sundance of comedy and only 20 shorts are chosen from around the world internationally, and word on the street was we were favored to be among the 2 best films (and the other one was a studio produced entity with stars). It was insane! We also won awards at the World of Comedy Festival in Toronto and at CineVegas and were included at a plethora of other very respected festivals including South by Southwest.
I feel like it gave me the confidence to go on to Co-Produce a feature film drama which is now completing post-production called The Things We Carry.
Sameer Asad Gardezi, the writer, went on to write for Mind of Mencia and work on CW’s Aliens in America and Fox has now just announced a cast-contingent pilot that he wrote (he is barely 25 now and this is two years after we made Equal Opportunity)! He is amazing, I expect many great things to come from him. I only hope he doesn’t get too big and forget the little people like me.
It is all kind of unbelievable. It was originally intended as an exercise and a weekend fun project, but turned out to be so much more than I could have possibly conceived of. We are very grateful.
RL: WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON CURRENTLY?
CM: Personal growth and development. Ha.
Cultivating my friendships. Growing into womanhood gracefully. Trying to make a road map for who I would like to be in 5 years. Taking care of my family. Trying to find ways to keep my house through the financial crisis. Honestly, I feel like at this stage of my life – the best thing I can do for my career is live my life fully and hopefully the work will find me…
As far as completed stuff, I have a small role in a very good film called Norman that I hope will debut at Toronto or Sundance. I have a couple films that will hit festivals called The Samurai of Strongsville, Ohio and Why Am I Doing This?
RL: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG ACTRESSES OUT THERE JUST STARTING OUT?
CM: Discover who you are and what is unique about you. Even if that doesn’t seem like a very appealing trait or identity. I study with Cameron Thor and he often says that the thing you hate about yourself is the thing that is going to make you famous. I think that for me, once I stopped trying to fit the mold that my category demanded, I actually started to get work.
RL: WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL IN THE INDUSTRY?
CM: I’m always too scared to think about “ultimate goals” and the limitless possibilities of what can happen in this town. For some reason, it is frightening to me that I could actually achieve those things. I actually cried tears-of loss- for a full hour when I was told I booked One on One. I had reached a point where I did not think it was possible for me to have my dreams come true. So, I’m not sure I can answer that. But I do hope that whatever trajectory my career takes, that I am fulfilled at many stops along the way…
RL: WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
CM: Those moments onscreen that jump out at you in their brilliance – even against the backdrop of everything we’ve already seen before and the overwhelming amount of content we have become so jaded with. The same with music. When experiencing a moment in live (or recorded) music where you are just taken to another space and time. It is cheesy to describe that feeling, but those are the moments that make life. So. Exciting.
That and the Obama campaign!
RL: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE FROM WOMEN IN THE FILM & ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?
CM: Keep on keepin’ on. Women, in general, are seemingly more self-critical than men and tend to hesitate before just throwing their stuff out there (or at all). Maybe that is great in a lot of ways, maybe not. And I would love for female driven projects to receive more financial (and ratings) success so that we have power to topline casts or to carry films to box office success.
RL: THANK YOU SO MUCH!
CM: My pleasure.