Artist: Ph4de

Socials: Twitter/Instagram/Facebook

Hometown: Jacksonville, TX

TrunkSpace: You began recording music when you were 13 years old. Would the 13-year-old Ph4de be surprised by how the rest of your musical journey has gone since you began it back in your bedroom?
PH4DE: Oh man. No question. In soooooooooo many ways too. I grew up super poor with very low expectations for life until I got a bit more matured. I would say my biggest aspirations at that age involved actually making my music sound good technically since I was my own engineer, producer, writer, etc.

TrunkSpace: You grew up in Jacksonville, TX. How did your surroundings help to shape you as an artist and sculpt your artistic point of view?
PH4DE: The city was a major deterrent from wanting to be like the average guy who lived there. Success doesn’t drive down the street and give you the motivation of what is actually possible to be achieved there. I have nothing but love and respect for the city of Jacksonville, but it doesn’t offer opportunity. I think THAT aspect of growing up in the city sculpted my artist influence to be darker and more of a harsh reality. I wasn’t born into dreams, I was born into nightmares.

TrunkSpace: It was recently announced that you were signing with InVogue Records. Do you feel like this is a new chapter in your musical journey and what do you hope comes out of the relationship with the label, not only for your music, but for you personally as well?
PH4DE: Definitely! InVogue offered a proposal that kept me in charge of all creative dynamics while investing in the brand and movement that the fans have helped me create! Network = Net Worth so I’m only hoping to strengthen my core team, and provide a better product for the fans.

TrunkSpace: You also have a new single out. While it’s called “Don’t Say Much,” we think it does say much (or a lot) about who you are as an artist. For those who are being introduced to you for the first time through that particular track, what do you think it tells them about your music, both now and in the future?
PH4DE: DSM is to let everyone know that we will earn our position at the top through the energy that we bring to the stage, studio and our content overall. As an introduction it’s perfectly true to what we represent – in terms of energy. I’m not a one-lane artist, and you will see plenty of other styles from me, BUT, the energy will always influence change.

TrunkSpace: Singles seem to be far more popular with artists than full albums these days. What are the benefits to releasing singles over a record, and do think this is a trend that will continue, particularly as technology continues to advance?
PH4DE: I definitely can see why artists have went towards singles. More than anyone, the up and coming artists. It’s hard to get one song heard, much less a collection of 12. Dropping an entire album over 12 weeks (as singles) is 1200 percent more beneficial to a struggling artist, as their fan base will get a fair listen to every song.

I still love albums. Can’t wait to start working on a debut.

TrunkSpace: Looking over the social media landscape, it seems like it takes more and more for an artist to stand out and be heard/noticed. What are the keys to finding success with your music, and does it change track to track with each single you release?
PH4DE: Social media isn’t producing near as many musical artists as it’s producing actors. It’s simply become the new casting call for industry plants. (Not in all cases, but it’s obvious when a viral personality magically starts doing music.) To me, it’s still about the music. Fuck the stunts, fuck the trolling.

TrunkSpace: What do you get writing and performing music that you can’t experience by being a listener alone? What keeps you writing and creating?
PH4DE: Challenge, competition, adversity. Hip-Hop, to me, is still about it’s core elements, and that is still what keeps me creating. When listening, music can give you the key to your destiny. When writing, you hold all keys.

TrunkSpace: Can you envision a day when music is not a part of your life?
PH4DE: Never.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist?
PH4DE: Lyrics. Period. You will always find metaphors, double entendres, similes, etc. in my music. I’m a lyricist and emcee first. The singing, melodies and beats are extra.

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The Featured Presentation

Mouna Traoré

Photo By: Denise Grant

When you’re pursuing your dreams and things don’t go according to plan, it’s easy to get discouraged and drift from the personal path you’ve set yourself on. It wasn’t that long ago that Mouna Traoré considered walking away from acting, but the joy she experiences while performing kept her focused and driven to succeed. Now she’s starring in two new series, BET’s “In Contempt” and “Condor,” which premieres on the Audience Network June 6.

We recently sat down with Traoré to discuss how working on “In Contempt” has bolstered her confidence, the thing she reminds herself of daily, and why she’d like to establish herself as a writer in the future.

TrunkSpace: You’re currently starring in BET’s “In Contempt.” As far as your own personal journey with the series thus far, where has it impacted your life the most?
Traoré: I think that starring in “In Contempt” bolstered my confidence more than anything else. As a performer, it’s natural to feel insecure because there is so much rejection, and before this project I was very anxious about what direction my career was going to take. I was very clear on the fact that I wanted to work on projects that reflected my social and political views, and made career decisions that reflected that, but I never imagined that my dream job would manifest so quickly or so in line with who I am and the kind of stories I want to tell.

TrunkSpace: The show tackles a lot of hot button topics and handles them in a very real, grounded way. How refreshing is that as a performer to be able to work on a series that is balancing both entertaining people and saying something substantial about the state of things at the same time?
Traoré: It’s not only refreshing to work on a series that is both entertaining and socially engaged, it’s also inspiring. Working on “In Contempt” has been an incredible learning experience. It feels wonderful to be part of a project that validates the stories of oppressed and marginalized people while it actively empowers its audience. For the first time, I feel like I’m using my talent to make a difference and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity!

TrunkSpace: Did you find a connection with your character Vanessa out of the gates or did it take some discovery to find who she is beyond what was presented to you?
Traoré: As soon as I read the breakdown for the character Vanessa Hastings I thought, “THIS IS ME!” Vanessa is a fish out of water at the Defenders Association and I’ve felt like that a lot. Like Vanessa, I’ve been very accustomed to being the only black person in a lot of spaces. I also grew up with white step parents, and have felt very removed from black communities at times. Reading the scripts, I felt as though I knew this girl implicitly. At times, I still am that girl!

TrunkSpace: One of the things that seems so great about BET as a network is that they really give their series a chance to grow and find an audience. Is that a breath of fresh air as an actor, not having to constantly look over your shoulder wondering if a cancellation is looming?
Traoré: It’s definitely lovely to feel like our show has the opportunity to grow and find its audience. It takes a lot of pressure off you as a performer and gives you a kind of freedom and confidence. It’s also awesome to know that the people who watch are dedicated fans, who are in it until the end.

TrunkSpace: We’ve read that you’ve considered walking away from acting on a few occasions. What helped you to stay the course and continue to reach for your dreams?
Traoré: Knowing that deep down, the purest joy I’ve ever felt since I was born has come from acting is the only thing that has kept me from walking away. And valuing the process and experience of creating as an actor more than the goals or the superficial rewards. When I realized I had the ability to make choices based on my happiness and not an idea of what I should do or what other people want, it changed everything. And having a team that loves and supports me 100 percent has also helped!

TrunkSpace: Is it difficult to sometimes separate the business aspect of acting – which at times can be a little deflating – from the side of the craft that fuels you from a creative space? Is it important to remind yourself WHY you love it?
Traoré: The only thing that keeps me in the industry is the knowledge of why I love it. I remind myself of why I do this daily. And I choose to create my own work to keep that feeling alive. Being an artist is a privilege and the business aspect is a necessary component no matter what level you’re working at. You can either use it to your advantage or let it consume you.

TrunkSpace: Beyond “In Contempt you’re also set to star in “Condor” which premieres on June 6th. The series has a really deep bench in terms of the quality of talent both in front of and behind the camera. Again, as far as your experience is concerned, what did you take from your time on the show? What will you carry with you through the rest of your career/life?
Traoré: After working on “Condor” I was moved by the level of dedication and artistry I observed from the cast and crew members on the show. For such a big budget project with so many big names, it was a remarkably relaxed set. The directors as well as the showrunners Jason Smilovic and Todd Katzberg completely trusted us as actors to do our jobs, and it was liberating. The experience illuminated the fact collaboration is key to creativity.

Photo: Sven Frenzel/BET

TrunkSpace: Your character Iris seems far removed from Vanessa of “In Contempt.” Is that part of the dream, getting to play a diverse group of characters in a diverse body of projects?
Traoré: Playing vastly different characters is the most exciting part of the job! It’s such a dream to bounce around different realms of human experience. Iris is moons away from Vanessa, and it’s so much fun making that leap. It can be challenging but also educational.

TrunkSpace: We read that acting first landed on your radar at age three. If you could sit down and have a conversation with that younger version of yourself today, what would she think about your path to becoming a professional actress?
Traoré: She would probably be very unimpressed with me. She would probably say, “Why aren’t you famous yet?” and roll her eyes. She’d probably think I should’ve started earlier and suggest I should’ve run away from home or something. Young me was an idiot. Old me would have a lot explaining to do.

TrunkSpace: Finally Mouna, we spoke about moments where you considered taking a break from acting, but we’re curious, as you look further down the road, are there things professionally that you want to accomplish outside of acting and do you see a day when acting takes a backseat to those other pursuits?
Traoré: I would really love to also establish myself as a writer. I dream of having my own TV show like Issa Rae and eventually creating a whole empire of content for film and TV. It’ll be a long time before acting takes a backseat, but I can see myself getting to a place where creating content is more stimulating than performing it.

In Contempt” airs Tuesdays on BET.

Condor” premieres June 6 on AT&T Audience Network.

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The Featured Presentation

Lisa Vidal

LisaVidal_Wingwoman_wednesday (1)
“Being Mary Jane” episode 404 – Lisa Vidal as Kara Lynch. (Photo: BET)

Lisa Vidal has been making television more interesting since she began her career in the 1980s. Starring in a wide variety of series from “Third Watch” to “ER” and everything network and cable in between, the New York native boasts a resume that most actors would fight tooth and nail for. The versatile actress has seen the industry go through many changes over the years, and while she believes there’s still more work to be done, she is proud to be a part of the revolution happening in the world of entertainment where strong women characters are being presented and represented.

Strong woman character case in point, Vidal is returning as Kara Lynch in the latest season of “Being Mary Jane,” set to premiere July 18 on BET.

We recently sat down with Vidal to discuss how long it takes to find a character, what characters she wishes she had more time with, and how she’s using her recent breast cancer diagnosis to educate others on the importance of early detection.

TrunkSpace: We know you’ve been playing Kara on “Being Mary Jane” for some 40 plus episodes now and you’ve had some long runs with characters on other shows as well. As a show progresses and the writers continue to develop characters, how long does it take you before you feel like you know the character completely?
Vidal: I would say the first season. Within, I would say, maybe the first six episodes. You’re sort of really trying to create a dynamic with the character and find different characteristics and habits and things you’d like to explore. You start to play with that kind of stuff, and then you start finding your footing. Later on in the season, you really sort of start to get a grasp on who the character is and how the writers are shaping the character. And the writers also kind of go by what your strengths are and what you bring to a character in a scene. Everyone’s gonna play that differently, whoever it is. So they sort of play on the strengths of the actor as well, so that takes a little bit of time.

TrunkSpace: Does it ever sort of feel like, especially with the early performance choices you may make with a character in those first few episodes, a bit like a relationship where the longer you go, there’s some things you wish you could change about that person? Do you ever wish you could go back and maybe make different choices?
Vidal: As you play a character for such a long time, you like to explore new things. You like to explore, “Well, what if this character was in this situation? How would she handle that? Or how would he handle that?” That’s the fun about playing a character for so long, that you get to explore all that kind of stuff and you get to be more creative, because you know the direction that the writers have taken the character and then you’ve already developed the opinions of the character and what everyone else has to say about the character. You get to do all that kind of stuff. That’s why it’s fun when you get to play it for so long, because you can do that. You don’t have to worry about going back. You can sort of move forward and create new experiences for the character.

TrunkSpace: With that being said, is there a character that you wish you had some more time to spend with, whether it was a show that was canceled before its time or even a guest spot where you played somebody that was really interesting?
Vidal: Yeah. I loved the character I played in “Third Watch.” I would have played that character forever. I also just recently played a character on “Rosewood” that was a lot of fun, and I would really have liked to have had the opportunity to go even deeper with that character because even though she was very much an outside, big personality, she had a lot of depth and pain. And they explored that a little bit, but it would have been fun to be able to explore that a little more, but unfortunately “Rosewood” got canceled.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like a really interesting time to be an actor because you mentioned “Rosewood” and that was a show that you were doing at the same time as “Being Mary Jane.” The industry didn’t always work that way where you could do two series on two different networks at once, right?
Vidal: No. I got lucky because I got to do it during hiatus time, but I do think that the industry has become so much better so that actors can explore other opportunities, especially because they don’t shoot as many episodes anymore on shows, so they kind of get an opportunity to explore other jobs while they’re off and in downtime. When I started out, you got picked up and it was automatically a 22 episode pick up, so you didn’t have time to shoot anything else, but nowadays it’s so different. Some shows are just six episodes. That’s just how it is now.

TrunkSpace: That must keep actors happy because you’re able to explore other avenues of creativity as opposed to just focusing on one?
Vidal: Absolutely, and you have to keep actors working.

TrunkSpace: “Being Mary Jane” features a lot of strong women characters. Has television come a long way in terms of how it represents women since you first started your career?
Vidal: I think it’s come a long way. I think we have even longer to go as far as the diversity of women and the different roles we play, just generally, in life. But I do think it has come a long way, and especially with the character I play on “Being Mary Jane,” I really had the opportunity to explore so many different parts of Kara. And she’s not one-dimensional, and none of us are, which is really fun when you get to do that on a show and they actually write that for you to play.

TrunkSpace: And the great part of that is, audiences are no longer interested in one-dimensional characters.
Vidal: Right. They want to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. They want to see all of it.

TrunkSpace: So in terms of the industry still having further to go, is a big part of that getting more women in the writers’ rooms, developing shows, and just sort of spearheading more of the creative?
Vidal: I think so. I think that’s part of it. I also think it’s important that we realize that as women get older, we get better. And actually when you think about the really successful shows that have female leads, they’re all older characters and they’re just richer characters. You know, you’ve lived more life, and there’s a lot more to write about. It’s not just the naivete, or the innocent 22-year-old or 25-year-old. It’s much more interesting when someone has lived more life and I think that that needs to be explored more and it also has to be explored in a diversified manner, representing the real world and what it looks like. I think that would be so much more interesting and I think that audiences are ready to see that.

TrunkSpace: With comedy, the end product is fun (or meant to be fun), but sometimes it doesn’t always hit that beat. Is comedy difficult from a performance standpoint in terms of going into those scenes and finding the right beats and the timing?
Vidal: Well, I wouldn’t say that it’s difficult. When you enjoy what you do so much, like acting, it’s fun. It’s fun to find the moments and that’s what’s great about rehearsal. That’s what’s great about having a great scene partner to work with, that you get to find that as an actor. You don’t have to have the perfected version of it the very first time. You kind of get to explore, “Well, gee, how would my character move in this room? What would she do with her hands?” Or, “What is she thinking about in this moment that would prompt an action?” There’s all kinds of fun stuff to try to explore when you’re doing a scene. “Is this gonna be funny? Can we make this a funny moment? Or is this a really sort of dark moment?” That’s the fun of acting and really creating a strong character, that you get to explore all those dimensions within a scene and you kind of get to have different colors going on in the scene.

“Being Mary Jane” episode 411 – Lisa Vidal as Kara Lynch. (Photo: BET)

TrunkSpace: You received a breast cancer diagnosis last year and have since been using your platform as an advocate for early detection.
Vidal: Yes, which I feel really lucky to be able to do. I feel like, “Well, I have this platform, and this happened to me, and let me share it.”

TrunkSpace: In opening yourself up to people and discussing your own experience, have the stories come back to you from people who have also had similar experiences, and in doing so, helped both you and them get through such a personal life moment?
Vidal: Oh, yeah. It’s actually been amazing, and people are just so ready to talk, especially when they feel like, “Wow, this happened to this person. This person’s just as human as I am, and this is what they felt,” or, “I’m so scared. I don’t want to go, and I don’t want to get checked, but this person did it and they’re fine, and they’re doing well, and they found it early and that saved their life, so that’s what I need to be focused on.” So being able to create conversation, and also encourage others to be proactive about their health, especially women, especially minority women, who unfortunately there’s a higher rate of just not having mammograms, or sonograms, or ultrasounds, or any of that… it’s important to me that I can share my experience with them so that they are more encouraged, and more comfortable to talk about those things. I received so many questions from people when I opened up about my diagnosis ranging from “is critical illness insurance worth it?” to “what are the best ways to detect it?” — I’m in no way a doctor but it was nice to be able to answer some of the questions or relate to people’s stories. It shouldn’t be a dark secret. It shouldn’t be something where you allow fear to control you, whereas then you just become inactive and you’re not proactive about your health, and that’s the biggest mistake.

TrunkSpace: Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of times, too, that cancer becomes sort of a dirty word that people don’t want to talk about and when they do, they realize, “Wow, it really has touched everybody is some way, shape, or form.”
Vidal: That’s right. And you know, I understand. I get it, because it’s scary. It’s a scary thing to talk about and you just want it to be far away from you, but when it happens, it happens. My learning from it is that I was grateful that I was going for my mammograms and ultrasounds, even though I was scared because it runs in my family. But it’s something you have to do, because the fear will overwhelm you, and then you won’t know and then it’s too late. You don’t want to do that.

TrunkSpace: Well, and there’s also the other side of it, too, where a person fears going, and then they don’t go, and then they are fearful that they didn’t go.
Vidal: That’s right.

TrunkSpace: Being a human is very complicated. (Laughter)
Vidal: It is. It’s so complicated. (Laughter)

Featured Image By: Victoria Stevens

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The Featured Presentation

Angela Ko

Photo By: Marc Cartwright

Very few people with aspirations of Hollywood greatness end up booking a starring role on a major television series as their very first credit. Even fewer people do it on a series that is produced and directed by a legend in the business. Angela Ko did just that, serendipitously landing the part of Cheena Lin in John Singleton’s “Rebel” for BET.

We recently sat down with Ko to discuss how the series came into her life, how Singleton fought to cast her in the role, and why Cheena is an extension of Angela.

TrunkSpace: “Rebel” is your first major TV or film gig, which seams like a really big and bold way to jump start your career?
Ko: Absolutely! Yes it is the first thing and it’s a blessing. It’s crazy! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Have you seen it directly influence your career in other areas thus far?
Ko: Absolutely. I would say that my whole life changed. Literally last year this time, I had absolutely no idea about “Rebel.” No idea at all. I was still just praying for it, thinking about it, and from here I’ve come across being able to do things like this, interviews, going to events and just meeting different people and talking about collaborating and making my own content with other producers, writers, and directors. So yeah, absolutely… it has completely changed.

TrunkSpace: What was the experience of learning that you had landed the part like and what went through your head when you found out?
Ko: Oh my goodness! First of all, the whole journey of getting it is a completely unique story. I’ll give you the long short version. This Saturday will mark a year of me going to a Natasha Ward casting workshop in which I put up a piece and she mentioned “Rebel” to me and said to put myself on tape. They had already done the casting and callback process but something in her sparked her to say, “Put yourself on tape. You got that energy.” So I put myself on tape, sent it in by that following Monday and didn’t hear anything back. I forwarded it to my mentor for reviewing and the next day I get call from Kim Hardin and my mentor that I was going to chemistry read in front of John Singleton. And I was like, “WHAT?!?!” I had never done anything like that before. I was absolutely blown away, but I knew I was prepared. Flash forward, I did the chemistry read and it went amazing. That was a Thursday. On Saturday I get a call, including from John himself, saying I got the part and my mind was blown. Instantly, within that second, I was in tears.

TrunkSpace: So had you not taken that workshop, the show never would have found its way into your life?
Ko: Absolutely. It gets even funnier. It’s divine timing. It’s about making a choice and moving forward in that choice, even if it doesn’t seem a part of the plan. I tell you, I was moving to New York when I was coming to LA to take the workshop.

TrunkSpace: What’s so awesome is that you can hear the excitement in your voice about being involved in “Rebel.” So often it feels like people are promoting projects just because it’s a part of their contract, but you genuinely seem to love your place in it.
Ko: Yeah. I loved it! I’m blessed. We just had the season finale two days ago and it was bittersweet. We had the viewing at a theater and it literally hit me then because it happened so fast. Everything was new to me. This was my first thing ever. First time shooting a pilot. First time shooting a series. First time being out in LA by myself. It was just a lot of firsts and it happened kind of fast and you have to just kind of pick up and do it. You have to be professional and go to a super higher power version of yourself. Towards the end I started enjoying it a little bit more. During that finale, I had a friend who has been with me since the get go of when I took a turn and started pursuing this and training hard at it, and he was next to me and had been through the process and I was like, “Oh my God, my head is going to be so big on the screen!” (Laughter) I’m funny like that. And then the next sentence was, “Oh my God, this is the first time I’ve ever seen myself on the big screen.” I just started getting flashes in my head of my mom and I going to the movie theater and of just literally, a week ago, going to the movie theaters. It was like, “This is real!” I just got emotional. It’s incredible.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned going through a lot of the firsts on “Rebel,” but as you look back over your time on the series, what was the highlight for you in terms of the acting itself that, if you were putting together a new reel right now, you’d splice in there?
Ko: Oh, man! You know what’s funny, I’ve been thinking about that recently because I’m like, “I’m going to have to add this to my reel.” It’s hard to just kind of be objective.

I think Cheena had a moment with Rebel in episode four where her and Rebel kind of had a moment where she just said, “Take me seriously.” That’s kind of something, but I also see a different side of her. Cheena is really the comic relief and I definitely want to show aspects of that and I think that was shown quite well in the pilot. There was a moment with Mykelti and I, Rene and Cheena, at the table where it’s kind of that first thing and snapping back. That would be one.

See, it’s hard to choose! (Laughter)

The other one would be the scene with Cheena and TJ (Method Man) where she is kind of protecting Rebel and she’s like, “Back up!” I think it shows a different layer of her that is a little tougher. It’s like, “Whoaaa… Cheena can snap back too!”

I think those would be my top three to choose from.

TrunkSpace: Most actors are also fans of the industry itself, so we’d imagine that being directed by John Singleton, particularly as one of your first jobs, must have been pretty exciting?
Ko: Oh my goodness! It was! He is so supportive and he is all about authenticity and bringing the real voice. Initially Cheena was Chinese but he learned that I was Taiwanese and Philppina and he was like, “Well, Cheena is Taiwanese then!”

I’ve trained. I’ve been in the arts for a long time. I’ve always had a passion for it. But, as far as being on camera, God, I was on stage. Being on camera is a whole different beast. I’ve been told growing up that, “Oh, you’re funny!” and I’m, “I’m not funny. I’m not trying to be funny.” I always took it offensively. And he, kind of throughout the process, just basically told me what I don’t even know about myself. He was like, “You have an innate comedic timing. Really nurture that. You take it offensively when people are laughing, but they’re not laughing at you. You’re funny.”

And what an honor to be getting a phone call or a text from John Singleton that says to watch Woody Allen movies or to watch the Marlon Brando documentary. That process is incredible. And he let us play. We really just… we had fun. We had fun! And a lot of time times, he let us do some improv. Like the scene in the pilot, the dinner scene with Mykelti, Danielle and I… my goodness! Mykelti is just a brilliant actor. But, he (Singleton) would put the camera in front of me and he’d be like, “Just react!” To feel special as an actor… to feel comfortable and to feel like you’re able to play that… it’s the best thing ever.

And away from that, I just have to say… I will forever be grateful to him for giving me a chance because not many people in the industry right now would be willing to give somebody with no credits a chance. We just all feel so incredibly blessed that we had somebody like John Singleton willing to take a chance and not give a crap about status quo.

“Rebel” episode 109 – Angela Ko as Cheena Lin. (Photo: BET)

TrunkSpace: Well, and that’s something he has been doing his entire career, all the way back to “Boyz n the Hood.”
Ko: His whole career! And he’s confident about it. He gives people a chance and he believes in people, especially musicians and artists. At the end of the day, he believes in telling an authentic story from people who came from those kinds of backgrounds who fit the character. That’s it. It’s about telling an authentic story and I respect him for that because trust me, they definitely say, “Oh, we want a name for this!” And he’s like, “No! Danielle is Rebel. Angela Ko is Cheena.”

TrunkSpace: That must give you all of the confidence in the world to go in on your first day and own Cheena.
Ko: You know, yes and no. (Laughter) I’m still an actor and an artist and it was my first thing! So honestly, even throughout when I got the script, I read it and I was like, “Holy crap, this is me!” Your first thought is to overthink it. I thank God that I have a great support system because my friends are like, “Ko, this is so close to home for you. Just be you! Be the best you that you can be!” Do you know how hard that is? You go in to be an actor to be everybody else, so it’s actually a little more difficult, at least for myself, to give as much of me and accept all of me and bring all of MY self all to the table. So yeah, there’s a level of confidence, but there’s so much work to be done to get yourself prepared to relax and to just be you and to show the flavor and to show the sass.

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The Featured Presentation

Michael Masini

Photographer: James DiPietro

Michael Masini is a dual-threat. When he’s not wearing his artist hat and starring on the small screen in John Singleton’s BET series “Rebel” and the CBS megahit “Blue Bloods” opposite Donnie Wahlberg, he is tapping into his business roots, working with James Franco’s production company, Elysium Bandini Studios, executive producing big budget blockbusters-to-be “Black Dog, Red Dog” and “The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards.”

We recently sat down with Masini to discuss his acting inspiration, working on “Rebel,” and his road from hockey to Hollywood.

TrunkSpace: You have a really interesting career path from professional hockey player to Wall Street to where you are today acting and producing. How much of that was planned and how much of it was life doing what life does?
Masini: I’d say 90 percent life doing what life does. (Laughter) All I knew was hockey growing up. I just ate, breathed, slept hockey. That’s it. And then when I was 17 I made it to the Junior Olympic training camp up in Lake Placid, NY and then after that you kind of get selected to go to pros or juniors. Juniors is like the best 20 and under players in the country. So I went to the San Jose Sharks training camp. It was like a mini-camp… the rookie camp for San Jose, the Detroit Red Wings, and the Florida Panthers. And out of that I got a hip pointer… kind of like my hip got twisted in the socket the wrong way. I was about 17 or 18 and it never really fully came back. I kept playing on it, but I never was as good as when I was 17. So, your mind just naturally starts to wander. I knew nothing but hockey. I went to prep school and I was groomed to play hockey when I was there. So then my mind just kind of went, “Okay, what else would I like to do?” I always loved movies and I loved telling stories and in the summers to make money I would work for my dad on Wall Street. He was with Salomon Smith Barney and Lehman Brothers. So I worked with him in the summers and then once hockey ended… my hip had enough. I played over in Germany and played in the minor leagues over here, but I couldn’t sustain a season. I could play like three or four games and then the hip would go out. Then it would be months of recovery to try and get back to normal. It wasn’t the life that I wanted at 19 years old. So then I went to college and got my economics degree because my dad was like, “If you’re gonna pursue anything in entertainment, I at least need to know that you have your economics degree so if you wanted to fall back on Wall Street, you have it.”

TrunkSpace: Well, and not even to fall back on… having that knowledge is probably a great thing to have while working inside the entertainment industry.
Masini: Oh yeah, but I didn’t know that. I had no clue. I knew zero people in entertainment. I knew zero people in the acting world or the producing world. I knew no one. I was just going to come out here and start grinding away to figure it out. Honestly, “The Basketball Diaries” is one of my favorite movies and when I saw Leonardo’s performance, that always drew me and I was like, “I want to do that.” So I loved that side, but then I also loved the business side. I wanted to be like a Spielberg. I was like, “How do these movies get made? How does it happen?” It was all just a dream. Then I started to break it down with that business mind I grew up with… with having Wall Street people around me and my brothers are all business owners. With any dream, there are definite steps to take to get there. So then I just started taking the steps to get there. I finished school. I went to Seton Hall and… I went to three different schools because I was also a scratch golfer so a part of me was like, “Can I at at least teach golf or learn how to run country clubs while I’m pursuing all of this stuff?” (Laughter)

I loved it all. Life’s short. Why not do everything? (Laughter)

So, I graduated college and then I got booked on my first movie “Fifty Pills” and it went to Tribeca with Kristen Bell and Michael Pena. I was on set and I’d be talking to the directors and the producers as much as I was talking to the other actors. I loved all sides of it. So then I interned at a sales company to learn how distribution works.

TrunkSpace: That’s another great skill to have because it’s one that a lot of people overlook.
Masini: Yup. And again, my business mind just immediately goes to there. I never would think of starting a company, whether it be as an actor… I think of myself as a company as an actor or a company as a producer… or any company. If you’re going to have a pizzeria or a hot dog stand or something, you need to figure out who your clientele is, where the best place to be is, and how your income is going to come in. You can’t just start it randomly. So my business mind always works backwards. “Okay, this is where I want to be and this is where I want to get to, so what people are in that side of the industry where I can learn from and I can learn backwards.” I know what it takes to get a film distributed. I know the 15 points it takes. When I’m reading a script, there are 15 points… eight that it has to have, but there are 15 that I kind of look for… and then at the end of it, is it going to be too much work to get the script in place and to get these points met so that it’s going to make a return? And I’m talking like a guaranteed return before it even… I mean, you always want to make a great movie, but I’m saying, if it doesn’t turn out to be the best movie, you still want to make a return.

TrunkSpace: And that’s your business mind, which is great, but your creative mind was drawn to “The Basketball Diaries,” which wasn’t a huge financial success.
Masini: Yes. (Laughter) That drew me in as an actor. That was like, “Wow!” It just felt so real and that was my turning point movie. Watching that movie is when I started getting more immersed into the craft of being an artist and being an actor. So, the good thing is, I have the best of both sides. I know what it takes to be an artist and that side of it, and then I also know the business sense, so I try to bring them together in projects that I’m associated with. So, that’s what drew me in as an artist, but always those big budget blockbuster projects are what draws me in as a creator and wanting to be a producer.

TrunkSpace: So how do you separate the two worlds for yourself in terms of the business side and the acting side because what we found interesting is that you don’t always appear as an actor in those projects you’re also producing?
Masini: And I kind of like it that way. One, it doesn’t muddy the waters. When I get brought on to produce or executive produce or oversee… I’ll get brought in on projects just to oversee and to make sure everything is running in sync. I just make sure that everything is in alignment for the best possible chance of getting a distribution deal. So I don’t like to muddy the waters. If I’m going to visit a set or I’m making a decision and all of a sudden I’m popping on the other side playing around with a scene, it’s kind of like, “Wait a second, this guy was just over here trying to keep everything streamlined and now he’s jumping in and doing a scene.” Even the ones that I’m in, I think I only give myself one take because I don’t want to be the guy that’s jumping in. I’m about everything running on schedule and making sure we get the most bang for the buck… I don’t want to be in there getting like nine takes. (Laughter) So I go in and get out.

But yeah, it’s mainly because I don’t want to muddy the waters. They’re separate jobs and I treat them as separate jobs. When I act I act and it’s like full force for that. I just booked a great role on “Stitchers” today. It’s like one that I just get to be totally… it’s a lot of fun. And if I was producing it… sometimes when you’re producing you’re thinking about so many other things and you can’t be totally in the scene.

Photographer: James DiPietro

TrunkSpace: You’re currently starring in the BET series “Rebel.” Outside of your early work in soaps, is this the character you have spent the most time with?
Masini: Yes and I’m so grateful for it. Since I’ve booked that, I just keep booking everything. I’m in seven of 10 episodes, but because a couple are flashbacks, I was actually on set for six episodes. It was fun to have the arc. And my first couple of episodes are small and then it’s all about everybody coming after me to bring me down and you’ll see why. It was great because I had to figure out what makes this guy tick. He’s not the most likable character because he’s a racist cop who killed a kid, but I had to find a heart within him to find the reason why he did that. I had to find an underneath part of why. I couldn’t just make him kind of generic. I had to find an underneath. So, you’ll see little kinks in the armor of why I am the way I am.

TrunkSpace: So if an opportunity came along where you landed a series that went on to do five seasons and over a 100 episodes, would you welcome something like that knowing that you’re also producing these big features at the same time?
Masini: Yes, because like being an athlete… being a hockey player… that’s the player in the game. I like to be the player. That’s my first love. Producing feels more like being the owner of the team or being the coach of the team. But being the player, that’s my main love because that’s why I got into this industry, mainly for that side and then my business sense drew me to the other side as well. But the thing is, with a lot of the producing stuff I do, like with James Franco and Vince Jolivette (Elysium Bandini is the company), they brought me on to oversee, so I can do that kind of at my leisure. They know I shoot and again, I don’t muddy the waters by being in these movies. I was in New York shooting “Blue Bloods” and I came out here and I’ll shoot “Stitchers” and I’ve got some commercials that I’m shooting. I go and shoot and then when I have free time I go and I look at all of the materials, I look at dailies, I sit with the editor, and I go over stuff to kind of executive produce and oversee the project as a whole to see what we can do to maximize our chances of getting the best distribution deal. So, I know a lot of the business side of it where I can still do that and not have to be boots on the ground.


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