Diary of an actress #20: Santana Dempsey - Actress with an empire

Candy Washington: Hi Santana! We actually met on-set while you lived in New York but now you’re based in LA. What are some of the differences and similarities of being an East coast actor vs. a West Coast actor? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when making the transition from NY to LA? And how did you overcome them?
Santana Dempsey: The biggest challenge was starting over. It is still a weekly challenge. I had no idea how difficult it would be to get an audition in L.A, let alone continue making a living solely acting. I honestly figured since I had been a working actor in NYC, I would simply keep climbing that ladder.

And in the entertainment business, it just doesn't matter how many years you are doing it. If people do not know who you are, they will not use you. Simple as that. What I did not think about at the time was that I was moving my business to another city. And in doing that you have to build new relationships, re-create your brand, and make organic connections. And this all takes time. Patience is not my middle name.

What I have learned to do is breathe. Honest to God, I have to remind myself to breathe and be honest with myself about this business and to always think of acting as my business. I am not the actor who will make it overnight. But I am the actor who knows how to talk to people and form honest relationships. It is all about planting seeds and making sure to keep watering them. Also, I surround myself with accomplished actors I admire and who hold similar values and goals. This has been a tremendous help. I finally have found my community (it only took a year lol) and am exposed to things I never imagined were possible.

CW: You have a unique look – how has that served you in the industry and how has that
made it more difficult to ‘breakthrough’?

SD: Aww Thanks Candy. I like unique. You know, being mixed race with crazy curly hair has served me well in the commercial world. I usually always stand out in a crowd and people are curious as to my ethnic background. I never have the problem of people forgetting my name or face. And I am able to play a wide array of different ethnic backgrounds and be whomever people want me to be.

But the catch 22 is when auditioning for a co-star role for instance, where I am trying to support the leads and not call much attention to myself, my looks can get in the way. People are always having to move me slightly out of frame or pull my hair back. In the T.V/Film world my look can be a bit confusing to people. Especially in L.A. I never would have guessed, but L.A in my experience is not as open minded to mixed race people as I would have thought. I am a challenge. And Casting Director's are so overworked that sometimes they don't have time to use their imaginations the way I want them too. I get submitted primarily for Latina and some ethnically ambiguous (but that really just means no White, Blonde actors) roles though I don't speak Spanish fluently and people assume I do. Kind of sucks. Yet my other White Midwestern sides of me are not looked at at all and that can be rather frustrating. In the end, I can not change who I am. I can only share my story and believe my part will come!

CW: What has been your favorite role to play thus far?
SD: I really enjoyed playing Blue, the lead in an independent short called "The Waters Rise". Blue was a 15 year old girl whose mom was a slave and dad was the White slave owner. She witness her mothers brutal death and became a mute.

Playing a mute character in a film is very challenging. Especially for me as I love to talk. But I loved the challenge. You only have body language and facial expressions to tell the story.

I enjoyed branching out of my comfort zone though to play a dramatic lead. It was the first time I've ever had to cry on-camera and everything was out of sequence which I wasn't use to as I did so much theatre. It was very intimidating having the camera right in my face too. But I loved every single minute of it. Oh, there was also a scene where Blue gets slapped by her older sister. And I really wanted to do the slap and not fake it. Several different times, I would react with words forgetting the girl is mute and have to get slapped again. It was a wonderful hot mess!

CW: Is there any role you feel you were born to play? If so, what it is and why?
SD: Two movie roles pop into my head. 1. "Gia" 2. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" Now, I couldn't play the supermodel Gia for obvious physical reasons. But if we put that aside, I absolutely love the grittiness and honesty of the character. She is so raw and untamed.

As for Clementine, I really connect with this role because she has such a quirky personality yet is very pained at the same time. This is the kind of acting I love most. Simply showing how human we all are. All the good and bad...

CW: What’s one piece of advice you have for budding actors?
SD: Be yourself. Every chance you get, find a way to authentically show yourself to the
world. It keeps you grounded and true.

CW: You are very active in the adoption and Latino communities; can you tell us why you are so passionate about these causes?
SD: Sure! My younger sister and I were both adopted at the ages of 6 and 4. We were in a foster home for three years and if it weren't for my parents, Terrell and Vicki Dempsey. I would not be the woman I am today. They gave us a chance to succeed in this world when everyone else turned their backs.

I am very passionate about breaking down the stigmas that are still attached to adoptees and their families and am in the process of creating a web series based on adoption. I just began working with a wonderful foundation called "Mixed Roots Foundation" - www.mixedrootsfoundation.org . They create awareness of the adoption experience and also provide resources to adoptees.

As for the Latino community, it is the one place where my mixed background has always been accepted. My birth father was Latino and growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, I only had Black and White people to identify with. There were no Latinos. When I moved to NYC, I kept getting cast in Latino plays where I had to speak a little Spanish and learn how to dance bomba y plena.

There, I met some of the most wonderful people who embraced me and introduced me to a world I had never known. People with similar experiences. The Latino community is just that: A community. One I support in all aspects of my life and fight hard to again, break down the stereotypes of how middle America views Latinos and lumps us all together when we are so much more!

CW: What’s a funny story or personal tidbit about you that my readers can only find out

SD: During the audition process for the ABC showcase this summer, one of my scenes was a sexual scene where my character had to straddle the other actor. I had a skirt on as usual and not thinking and just going for it, I forgot to face the actor while straddling him but I faced outwards towards the casting directors. In turn, showing all of them my beautiful polka dotted panties. I saw the look in their eyes and heard their laughter but I kept going and acted like I was totally confident. But inside, I literally was mortified and kept thinking, "lord did I shave today". ahahahaaaaa

CW: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the entertainment industry? And
what, in your opinion is the truth?

SD: If you work hard enough, stay in the game long enough, and have faith your time will come. And I'm sad to admit this but it just is not true. You can do all the right things, be a brilliant actor and still never book that big life-altering job. The business is all about money. Not what graduate school you went too, not how long you've been struggling, not the craft but being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people.

CW: You’re starting a business called Act Right Consulting; can you tell us what the business is all about and what is the inspiration behind the concept?
SD: Yes! I've realized, I really enjoy helping fellow actors manage their marketing and take control of their careers in a fun and honest way. I figured why not start an affordable company geared to help creative professionals succeed.

Act Right Consulting is designed to help artists stay consistent and on top of their marketing and brand so they can; arc their career to the next level, feel empowered owning a business and stay focused and confident on their artistic journey. Every actor deserves a chance to have their voice heard, vision seen and ideas executed with someone who understands the beautiful challenge of being an artist.

Act Right Consulting offers several different services:
• Custom-tailored marketing strategy that fits artists personalities and budgets
• Defining actors brand, casting type and examining marketing materials (reel, headshots,
postcards, resume, cover-letter, website..) in a private, non-judgmental setting
• Marketing and social media management for artists on the go or for those who simply
need an extra hand
• One-on-one teaching sessions on how to use the latest technology in creating eblasts,
newsletters with constant contact and mailchimp

While searching for a company name, I knew I wanted a name that was assertive yet inspirational and after months of experimenting, Act Right Consulting came about with the collaboration of a fellow cast-mate of mine. I looked more closely at the name and saw that the acronyms spelled out "ARC" and I was like, holy cow; arc your career to the next level. Bam! It was perfect. Act Right Consulting will launch at the end of January 2013. Check it out at: actrightconsulting.com and let's create together!

Website: http://www.santanadempsey.com
IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/santanadempsey
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SantanaDempsey
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SantanaDempsey
Act Right Consulting: www.actrightconsulting.com

Photo credit: Gabriela Fresquez

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