Santana Dempsey is due to make a starring appearance as the lead in the Lifetime movie, Shaker Pointe (February 2015), and can also be seen in the third season of HBO drama, ‘The Newsroom,’ and DirectTV’s drama ‘Kingdom.’ We spoke with Santana about these roles, her non-profit work, and more…
PopCulturez.Com: Welcome to PopCulturez, Santana. You are pretty busy right now in between all of your various roles and your one-woman show ‘The Other Box,’ which is running now (November) in Los Angeles. But let’s go back to the beginning – what got you started out wanting to be an actress?
Acting on stage or in T.V./Film was the one place I felt alive and totally seen. I used to go to the theatre with my parents when I was a kid. For fun they did community theatre. I would help them memorize their lines and sit in the audience during rehearsal trying to find some way to get on that stage too. It would work sometimes.
I never did theatre in high school as I thought it was a bit nerdy. I was a big sports girl but I did enter speech contests. You know, because that is so NOT dorky!! hahaha
When I went to college, I thought I had to be practical so I decided to major in journalism. That lasted three months when I realized I wanted to be the news, not tell the news. Ha! I changed my major to theatre and have never looked back. I love becoming different characters. I love the reward I get when I book a role and know how hard I have worked for this moment. I love being able to inspire people and make them feel.
PopCulturez.Com: With so many roles, how do you get into character for each one, and still make them unique?
I do play a wide range of roles, which I love. I do not want to be type cast. But it can be challenging. I honestly try really hard to know the story, the character’s journey and desires within that story. All of my roles have bits of me in them. I mean, yes, an actor can transform physically, but I believe each character to a certain degree comes from within, from past experiences. I try hard to make sure all of my characters are grounded and authentic within the context of the story. I also really listen to the director’s vision and adjust accordingly. What helps me get into character the most is my attire, and finding a physical trait that a character might do. I may walk around all morning as that character and say or do things she would do. That always helps me prepare!
PopCulturez.Com: Can you tell us what Shaker Pointe is about, and what it was like working with names like Corbin Bleu, Lil Romeo, Tamala Jones, Shanica Knowles, Mike Beach, and Dawnn Lewis? What did you learn from the set?
Oh, I can’t wait for you to see this movie. It is going to be so good! Shaker Pointe was one of the most memorable acting experiences I’ve had thus far. Shaker Pointe is a murder mystery about a preacher’s daughter, Hannah, who loses her father from an accidental death, but soon discovers he was murdered. With the help of her friends and new boyfriend she searches to find her father’s killer. I play Harlow Gilman, Hannah’s best friend. Harlow is a computer genius that reconstructs a fried flash drive that contains evidence about the murder. I’m also the comedic relief, of course!
Working with all of these actors was a dream come true. When I saw Lil Romeo (he goes by Romeo Miller now) at the table read, I got all giddy, but played it real cool. Then seeing Dawn Lewis, I almost peed my pants. I wanted to go jump on her because I have watched her for so long. I held back my urges. I was so happy to be surrounded by so many talented actors. Shanica who plays the lead female opposite Romeo had so much energy. She went around and introduced herself to everyone and even sang a song on her guitar for us. Her voice is fierce.
On the first day of shooting, I got the cast list and that is when I saw Mike, Corbin, Tamala and Malcom’s names and I was speechless. I ran into Corbin first and we talked about how similar our hair was and our mixed race backgrounds! It was so cool. I met Mike and Tamala in a scene where I sit in the middle of them. They both were so nice and giving. Mike is one of my favorite people. Then at lunch, I met Malcolm. I don’t know what came over me, but I was speechless. I started stuttering and acting like a fool. I may have even said I loved him. I don’t really remember, but I seriously was so overwhelmed I couldn’t hold back any longer! HAAHA
I learned so much being on set. The most important was to trust my instincts and be myself. Tamala told me something I loved. She said I should embrace playing comedic, nerdy characters. It is better to be funny and memorable because I will have a very long career and can create an authentic name for myself. She said there are tons of girls who can be pretty and dramatic, but it only lasts for a short time. It meant a lot to hear this coming from her. I always struggle trying to fit this Hollywood standard of beauty. I’ve realized, I don’t fit it, and that is okay. My path may be a little more arduous, but my career will be plentiful!
PopCulturez.Com: As for ‘The Newsroom’ and ‘Kingdom.,’ what are they about, and who do you play?
Both of these shows are heavy T.V. dramas and very different than Shaker Pointe. In the Newsroom on HBO, I play a marathon runner who was in the Boston marathon bombing. I witness the bombing and recount what I witnessed to Jeff Daniels’ character. It was a really challenging role mentally, but the Director Anthony Hemmingway was so amazing. This was my first real T.V. drama I had booked and I was really nervous. Especially having Aaron Sorkin there. I was very intimidated but Anthony and the entire cast and crew made me feel at home!
Kingdom is a new audience drama on DirecTV starring Nick Jonas, Frank Grillo, Matt Lauria, Kiele Sanchez, and Jonathan Tucker. It is about the MMA fighters. It is very gritty, sexual, and raw. I play Muriel who is Carlos’s girlfriend. Carlos is a gang member and underground MMA fighter. My scene was highly sexual and my first time ever performing a sexual act on camera. There was no nerdy, comedic girl in this role at all! It was super intense having to be so intimate and exposed in front of thirty people, but again the entire crew was very supportive. I loved playing both of these roles and challenging myself. That is what it is all about in the end: creating and pushing yourself to do more. Create more. Be more!
PopCulturez.Com: Outside of acting you are also an ambassador for the ‘Mixed Roots Foundation.’ Can you tell us a little about their work, and why you decided to get involved?
Mixed Roots Foundation is a non-profit that creates awareness for anyone touched by adoption. They especially support adult adoptees and mixed race adoptees. I decided to become involved because I am adopted myself in a transracial adoption. That means, adoptive parents are of a different race or not the exact same race as the children they adopt. My parents are both White and my biological sister and I (we were adopted together) are mixed race. I find it very important to educate others about adoption and my personal experience. Mixed Roots Foundation has given me a platform to do this.
PopCulturez.Com: As you say, you have your own ‘mixed roots,’ being a mixed race actress. How did you find it growing up mixed race in America, and how do you think it has effected your career (if at all)?
Well, I did not have the best experience growing up mixed race. I grew up in Hannibal, Missouri which is a very small town in the Midwest, where there are only Black and White people primarily. It was very segregated and had a lot of racial tension. I was bullied a lot in middle school and beat up in high school because of my racial background and my hair. I have big, curly hair that always seemed to get bad attention. Even to this day, people talk about my hair! In good ways now! I did not grow up around other mixed raced people, so it was hard to feel pretty when you were being judged all the time because of your looks. As a kid, I wanted to look like my mom who has blonde hair, green eyes and is very tall. To me that was beautiful. It took a lot of traveling out of the country and living in big cities like Buenos Aires, NYC and LA to see that there are people that look like me who are beautiful, too.
My mixed raced Latin, African, German and Dutch roots definitely have affected my career. I try to think in a positive way, because I get to be a chameleon and always have people guess what I am. I get more opportunities than some ethnic actors because I can cross over. Though, it also comes with a price. Meaning, my team has to fight really hard for me to be seen for certain roles depending on who the casting director is. Either, I am too light skinned to play the Black roles or I don’t look ‘Hollywood Black’ enough to some casting people. Yet, I don’t speak Spanish as a first language nor have an accent and I don’t look Mexican. In L.A, unlike NYC, people forget there are other Latinos out there like Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Salvadorians, Panamanians (the list goes on) too. Thus, playing the Latina roles can be tricky, too. There are only a handful of actual mixed race roles that come along. Seriously, like a two handfuls a year. It is sad.
Earlier this year, my agent had a Black casting director actually say that I looked Latin, possibly biracial but definitely NOT Black. The role was for a light skinned Black character that I really wanted an opportunity to give her a voice. It never came. Something I just thought of, I never play White or even go out for a role that reads “Caucasian” which is always so interesting to me as I am half white. Whereas my other half, the brown parts get all the attention trying so hard to fit into one of the casting categories.
Things are getting better though. I am so happy to be in the business now being mixed race than twenty years ago. That is for sure. And if I have anything to do with it, I will break this whole racial typing thing altogether in the entertainment industry! It really is a silly concept to begin with. Actors have so many obstacles against them, putting so much emphasis on a characters racial background is doing us a disservice most of the time. Especially, if you think about 80% of the roles that come out say “Caucasian”.
PopCulturez.Com: Finally, what’s next for you, and where can people catch you, either in-person or online?
Right now I am auditioning like crazy and prepping for pilot season in February, hoping to book a pilot this year! I also have another independent movie called French Dirty coming out next year that my ABC showcase scene partner Wade Allain-Marcus wrote, stars in, and co-directs. I play his younger sister. It is a great film. You can find me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @santanadempsey. I live in West Hollywood and love a good glass of wine!
PopCulturez.Com: Thanks for your time, but before we go, is there anything more that you would like to add?
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me. I feel really special!