Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 1/3/20- Janel Tanna is known as the rising Indie film queen by many, her latest short film, Intervention, Tanna plays a young mother suffering from opioid addiction and dealing with significant family trauma. It touches upon mental health and addiction and looks at where does someone turn when they appear to hit rock bottom. Intervention is Directed by Linda Palmer, written by Deon VanRooyan, and Co-Stars lead Producer Julia Silverman. During the New York City TV Festival’s award ceremony, Tanna accepted awards presented by R. Couri Hay for “Best Actress” for her performance in Intervention. Tanna earlier this year, graced the cover of Maxim and was honored as one of Maxium’s 2019 Hot 100.
How did you break into the business?
Janel Tanna: I was born an Actor. I have always been an Empath and can put myself into someone else’s shoes very quickly, which is something that I find is important in how I approach patients or alternate personas for characters. I made short films growing up with neighbors but did not get into formal acting until later on. Before formally training, I was always intrigued by how certain Actors prepared for their roles. I started to attend Community Theater while in the Midwest where my instructor told me she felt I was a Method Actor. Even while first in medicine, I always had this feeling something was missing when I would think of acting (or truly feeling I was also an Actor). Serendipity brought me back to the East Coast, ultimately NYC where I started to train at the Lee Strasberg Theater and film institute. From there I auditioned for an indie film and got cast.
What intrigues you about acting?
Janel Tanna: The human condition, knowing at any point in time so many different outcomes could have been in all of our lives based on fate and chance. It is always a thrill, I would describe as an adrenaline rush when I reach the truth. It could be pain, happiness, or even a moment. I know the truth when I feel it. It feels good when you have done the work you need to do (how little or great for that work) and you know you encompassed, created and felt the truth. I feel acting gives you the chance to live out mini lives, or rather alternate lives that truly could have been. I can’t put it exactly into words, and rather keep it internal, but I always approach the work in a way as what would have had to happen to my baseline self to get to where that character is. You really get to examine yourself while inserting other what if’s. It is something I enjoy very much. I also like getting into people’s thoughts when I think the specific role calls for more research, and spend time with someone that might have experienced what I feel the character did. I try to go pretty deep in detail of both feeling and understanding. Grateful to anyone who has ever contributed.
Who inspires you?
Janel Tanna: In acting, anyone I think really has a gift and who really puts in the work. Feeling the raw truth sometimes when you see their work, or someone with a lifetime of experience like Glenn Close, who can be so raw, deep, layered and nuanced all at the same time. Sometimes I admit, I will watch a well-known actor and know I can do that already, but with her I watch and think, ok I need about XYZ more years’ experience ☺ I better make time for those hours along with work right now. In fact, why am I not acting at this moment?
Tell us about Sienna’s Choice. What intrigued you about this particular role?
Janel Tanna: I created Sienna’s Choice. Actually, there is a larger feature film I have always had in mind before creating Sienna’s Choice combining medicine and art. Initially, I figured I would make a quick film to establish myself as a Filmmaker. It ended up being longer (55 minutes) and screened around the world at various festivals. I believe we got about 30 nominations and wins. The film looked at the end of life care, both the ethics and decision making surrounding such a sensitive and important topic. Also, who speaks for someone if they cannot speak for themselves? How does the line of what would have been what the person wanted and everyone else thinks is best get blurred? How do families and medical professionals handle that? Being that I have also spent half my life in healthcare in some manner, I have always been around such discussions. Being an artist, I feel we can reach people that might not have been reached and make them both feel and think about a topic they may or may not have considered.
Initially, I wanted to do this film through a female lens. Ironically, two good friends whom I met on different film sets in different states recommended Linda Palmer. I looked her up and was really inspired by her work. In particular, our Father, which looked at Alzheimer’s among other things, and struck me as the level of intensity I had imagined for Sienna’s Choice. Initially, Linda didn’t seem guaranteed to take on the project. I had enlisted two good friends, Elisa and Azucena, who had done script writing before coming on board. We would send her back draft after draft, and it would be too long. Eventually and gratefully, one day she said, “let’s set a date.” I am forever grateful. She really acted as a mentor in many respects, as I had never produced a film before to that level. The relationships, collaboration, and friendships that would come into play from the project have been invaluable. I was grateful to the entire team involved in that experience.
Besides the subject matter, it was still at heart a narrative drama. I knew as an Actor, the kind of depth I would like people to see (and that I would like to develop). Sienna was an otherwise healthy youngish woman, a former ballerina who had just graduated from law school. She started to have vague symptoms that might not have been taken seriously as they should have until she seizes and ends up in the ER. I don’t want to give away the rest in case people have not seen it. It was very challenging but even more rewarding. I was the Executive Producer, Creator, and medical expert. Being the lead actress who likes to truly focus on being in character (especially for this role as it took a lot of deep and intense truths I had to be in during the duration), I found that to be a little challenge. We got it done though, with Mark, Linda’s husband helping out in that regard. Next time I will hire someone to do that job once on set if I am also acting in a substantial way. Acting wise, it was to date the most challenging role. I will say Intervention, also directed by Linda and co-producer/co-star Julia Silverman was also deep and layered, but it was a shorter time course. Intervention is on the circuit now and looks at addiction and mental health. I am a lead actress and Co-Producer on that film, which was written by Deon. I am grateful to Julia (who played my mom in Sienna’s Choice) for calling me up and feeling I was the woman for the job. I am forever grateful to her for a lot.
You have won 16 acting awards from various film festivals. Who do you credit for your success?
Janel Tanna: I think a lot of things come into play that facilitate someone delivering a truth that moves someone, whether it be the audience or jury. First and foremost I believe an Actor has intuition, their interpretation of a subject matter. Some things I read and just automatically feel inside. The truth right away. On top of that, I believe I received great training from several teachers in my life, both from Strasberg (many of them, I learned a lot of different things from different people) and Jim at the Neighborhood playhouse. Then if I get a role I often work with Carl Ford at Susan Batson Studio. I trust him with the work. It is a weird thing, I cannot talk to everyone about the work. I also don’t like to line read when I am creating. I just like to talk about who the person was. It is more to it, but that is simplifying things. I like the words to come out when they come out at the moment when the work is done. You can’t always do that of course, but for Indie Films, I have done when you can prepare this is what I enjoy doing. I don’t do one specific thing, I use what I think is needed at that time for that persona. You do need to be prepared. I prepare before the shoot, so I arrive in the person’s mind. At that point, I am confident that I will react as the person would so by then I am not too worried about any specific way of saying things. I feel it by then and how it comes out it comes out. If it needs to be tweaked the Director will let you know.
Second, no award or performance is won alone. What I described above is a baseline. The team who selects you for the role, the director, writer, producers, co-stars. Acting is so much easier when the person or people you act with are so in the truth. There have been times when I have been intimidated before the shoot going into a scene if I know someone is an excellent Actor, but that always is gone as soon as we start as they elevate my abilities. It is a blessing when you get the chance to act with very experienced actors. It is easier to act your best when the script is well written. That is also a blessing. The Director, the one who sets the tone and believes in your intuition while giving you tweaks of direction when they feel it is warranted. Without them, no award would be possible. Then everyone else involved editor, lighting, DP, great first AD etc… It really is a team award to me. Then, of course, the festival juries whom I am also very grateful for recognizing the work and screening our work.
Do you have a favorite role?
Janel Tanna: Playing an eastern European futuristic assassin was fun. We shot in LA, and I earned my SAG card for the role. I did my stunts (a few back handsprings) and played the role. The preparation was fun. I started going back to gymnastics (I was a gymnast growing up) and felt like a kid again. I was rusty at first but quickly got my aerials and back tucks back. I also worked out a bit, doing kickboxing. When it was time for the shoot after the table read, our Director asked me to do a Russian accent, so I worked on that the night before the shoot. He called to check in and make sure I was working on it ☺ That was a ton of fun.
Many are dubbing you the next Indie Film Queen. Tell us more.
Janel Tanna: I would say different things resonate with different people. If I had to pick and I am being truthful, I would say everything that comes out by the time I am in character (and hopefully makes the edit) is real. I create someone and then I am there. I think people can feel the truth the same way you can when you are expressing it. I know if I am watching someone I can always feel if they are being truthful or not. I am sure different people find different things truthful though, I can only speak for myself. I also know I have expressive eyes, so it might allow some people to connect. I have been told by several people, they were drawn to my eyes on-screen. The subject matter I am sure as well plays a big part. Different things reach different people, also the same things reach people in different ways. As per labels, I think perhaps because I won a bunch of awards at a festival or few, a few reporters whom I greatly appreciate used the term, probably combined with being a cover model and sounds nice. It is very sweet, but there are many queens☺
Tell us about your film, Intervention.
Janel Tanna: I play a young mother suffering from opioid addiction and dealing with significant family trauma. It touches upon mental health and addiction and looks at where does someone turn when they appear to hit rock bottom. Directed by Linda Palmer. Co-Star lead producer Julia Silverman. Story by Deon VanRooyan.
You recently won the Mary Austin Excellence in Acting Award, where you received at the prestigious 2019 Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema. Tell us about that experience.
Janel Tanna: I love the Idyllwild Film Festival, run by Stephen Savage and Trinity Houston among others. I have been several times and I always walk away with the most amazing memories. It is in the mountains of California. The local community is so welcoming and picturesque, the film community that comes is very talented and supportive. You always get to spend time with old friends and new ones. I have been in several films now that have screened there and am very grateful.
Janel Tanna (Photo: Gilles Bensimon for Maxium Magazine USA)
Share a few of your upcoming projects.
Janel Tanna: Intervention is currently making the rounds, Turnover is playing at select theaters. There are two big projects we are working on for the new year that I am very excited about. Also, there are two films I did that are not yet released. I believe that will be released very soon. Currently, I am juggling a few things with both my careers with psychiatry training and acting/producing (and occasionally modeling), but will be excited to see how the next year or two shapes up. As I always say, they are all a part of me.
But facebook and twitter are both Janel Tanna
Janel Tanna As Jordanna in Sienna’s Choice.
Janel Tanna (as Sienna) in a monologue portion of this Award-Winning Indie Film for which JanelTanna has received 13 acting nominations and 7 wins for this performance on the indie film circuit.
Janel Tanna as Claire-SIU Vengeance (amazon prime)