Laneya Wiles plays Jasmine in the upcoming feature film 'Gimme Shelter' which hits theatres January 24. Laneya, 27, will share the big screen with Vanessa Hudgens, James Earl Jones, Rosario Dawson and Brendan Fraser. Laneya's Twitter: @LaneyaWiles. Photo by King PDT.
Really? Laneya Wiles (pronounced la-NEE-ah) has her fingers, -- sheesh, her toes -- too, dipped in everything. Actor, comedian, director, writer, New Yorker -- you name it. With many projects about to be released and upcoming projects in development, you may want to create a Google alert for her.
If you want a hearty laugh, or if you just want to laugh at someone, Laneya can currently be seen in person making the rounds in the NYC comedy clubs.
Ilana Rapp: You have a very confident look about you. Where does your confidence come from? Did you ever have a shy moment?
Laneya Wiles: Being in the business since I was four-years-old gives me the edge in confidence now, because if I have a moment that I almost feel like the confidence wants to waver, I try to return to that state that I originally was in as a child. You know how as children we almost have nothing holding us back, no cares or worries. As we spend time in school and growing up, there are so many "messages" out there being given to us to, in my opinion, to change that freedom and confidence we once showed if we let it! We hold on to the memories of when we felt embarrassed, were made fun of, made an example out of in front of everybody else by that teacher, that one dumb comment by that boy/girl you liked that made you second-guess yourself. A lot of times these memories pile up subconsciously causing us to lose confidence. I have had my shy moments, and they come at random times. I'll be on stage or in front of a camera all day with no problem, and then when I have to get on a regular phone call get nervous. Laughs. Displaced nervousness.
IR: In the movie 'Gimme Shelter', you play Jasmine, a girl with a background of rape and teen pregnancy. What's it like taking on such a tremendous role? Tell us about your audition. Did you create a backstory?
LW: I asked the director, Ron Krauss, about the "backstory" on my character and he let me know the real history of the girl I was portraying. I didn't know that even my character was based on someone else who lived in the shelter, as well. I only thought it was Vanessa's [Hudgens] role that was. So it was very different for us to hear the stories of the actual girls who lived there. We also were given DVDs of footage taken documentary style since Ron Krauss stayed with the girls at the shelter and so did Vanessa. Authenticity was definitely a huge goal in this film. We all asked Ron why he chose us; how did we stand out from others who auditioned for our roles? He let us know that out of over 200 girls he's seen from coast to coast, that we actually had the look and feel he was going for. I was sent to the audition by my agent and was told that I needed to have a Spanish accent. I arrived to the audition in a full on Spanish accent, and even spoke Spanish doing improv for a particular scene in the sides that were provided. I went to the callback, and they shot behind-the-scenes footage of us girls (before we even knew we had the role or not). I still kept the accent. Later on, Ron let me know I didn't need the accent. Laughs. I felt kind of dumb at that moment and it wasn't until near the end of the callback that he showed us pictures of scenes Rosario [Dawson] and Vanessa already shot, as well as her new hair cut and Rosario's rotten looking teeth. Scary! I just knew I wanted to be a part of it, and was incredibly grateful when I received the news.
IR: How is it that you're actually 'doing' what you went to school for? Did you have any other interests beside show business?
LW: I graduated from St. John's University with a Bachelor of Science in TV/Film. I had been acting all of my life and wanted to also know behind the scenes to get a more well-rounded view and understanding of how productions are completed and to also be able to develop my own work. I didn't have a minor, but I did have plenty of business courses. I have always wanted to be everything in life since I was a child. I wanted to be an astronaut, lawyer, architect, performer. So being an actor definitely made sense. I still want to be everything. After college, I was an intern and got a job at a couple of edit houses. Ultimately, I loved to perform too much to purely do that and not be able to go on auditions or for there to be a conflict should one arise. Honestly, I'd have to say it's my supportive family who helped keep me on track, as well. Often times, after college, we get in this "survival mode" that we want to get that security that comes with a regular nine-to-five job, but it was them who didn't let me shift focus even when things in my career got quiet and I was between representation. If it wasn't for the support and a change in my mind-frame, I wouldn't have wound up in this movie.
IR: You consider yourself a New Yorker now, huh? What makes you think you're so tough?
LW: Laughs. I'm a Native New Yorkerrr! I'm tough because experiences both in the entertainment business with rejection, near misses and just dealing with all kinds of crazy people who live in this beautiful place made me develop a thick skin. Personally, I've developed a body callous!
IR: How did you get your start as a stand-up comedian? Who books your gigs?
LW: I got my start in comedy by living in the same house as my father. People say I look like my mom and have my dad's personality. For years though, I didn't think I could even be funny before. I used humor as self-defense against this boy in school who used to humiliate me. My confidence grew in my comedic sensibilities as I created a couple of sketches of my own that are on YouTube, "Straight Hookin'" and a parody of Beyonce's documentary "Life Is But a Dream 2".
I already had a bunch of friends who are comics, started doing comedic monologues at slams, studied other comics, and I decided to take the leap. I got coached by Kelley Lynn and had my first (unpaid) performance at Gotham Comedy Club. I was nervous as hell because the night before, I hit up an open mic at The Creek and The Cave, and after I got a high from the crowd's laughter -- I couldn't remember what else I needed to say! Luckily, I only had one more minute to go! I made sure to be on point at Gotham. I was extremely excited and my heart was beating out of my chest -- Roger Rabbit Style. I drank wine to loosen up, only for its effects to die off right before I was due to go on stage. So, I learned I don't have to drink at all before a show. I actually prefer an occasional drink afterwards, okay guys? I currently book my own gigs. Wink, wink, cough, cough, agencies!
IR: When you wake up in the morning, are you an actor, comedian, director or writer? Please share one thing about what you hate as an actor, comedian, director and writer.
LW: When I first wake up, I try to pray/meditate and check my cell-phone for any emails/castings. So, I'd say that I wake up an actor first. Sometimes, I have to handle other types of calls dealing with my business ventures. I am a founder in WakeUpNow. When it comes to writing, a lot of times there will be a funny moment that happens, or just nonsense that I encounter in my personal life that I feel I have to share and make fun of. Basically, I initially wake up an actor and business-woman -- the writing comes later in the day (or the wee hours of the morning). I'm my most creative from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.
As an actor, I hate when people try to use what I do against me in regular personal situations by saying statements like, "How can I believe you? You're an actor." -- as if we aren't humans first. If anything, we study "being" and should understand being human better.
As a comic, as soon as I let someone know I'm a comic, they say the typical, "Tell Me a Joke!"or they ask me if I'm funny. Humor is subjective.
IR: Tell us about your heritage/background.
LW: I am a smorgasbord of nationalities. I represent America in the human form. Laughs I am black, Puerto Rican and Native American (Cherokee/Blackfoot/ Shinnecock), mostly. Further down the line there's Bajan (what's up, Ri Ri?), German and Creole. Basically, if you want to visit the UN, come see me!
IR: If you were going to invent a gadget, what would it be?
LW: If I was going to invent a gadget, I'd invent a gadget that could straighten out people's insecurities by erasing the bad memories stored that trigger them. (Could you imagine the side-effects that come with that?)
IR: Anything else you'd like to say?
LW: You could catch me at different venues around the city doing stand-up comedy, an upcoming New Media project called "Livin'," a music video by hip-hop artist Vain feat. Jazzy Joyce -- "I Love It", and I currently have my own projects in the works. I've contributed to IRC, International Rescue Committee, done volunteer work at God's Love We Deliver and at the INN (Interfaith Nutrition Network). I definitely plan on being more involved with charities in the near future.
Follow Ilana Rapp on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LizardLadyNJ