by Sherif Awad
I had a very humble upbringing in the south and northeastern area of the United States. I was born in Chicago, Illinois and lived there until I was six years old and then moved to Knoxville, Tennessee after that due to the harsh winters and hustle and bustle of the city. My maternal grandfather and grandmother, and aunts lived there and my parents wanted a better life with less crime and winters with better morals and stability. In the south, we never had much money, but that never seemed to matter in that part of the country. Materialism and status was not something most people sought after. Most people went to high-school, college, and then married and had children not questioning life too much beyond that. Rarely did people leave or have high-expectations of big dreams and goals. Being in the bible belt in strict christianity, show business and the big city were mostly frowned upon. I was told over and over that Los Angeles and NYC were a dwelling place of bad people and I would not go to heaven if I pursued this dream of acting and filmmaking. However, I realize now being in a place of more advanced awareness and intellect that is definitely not true. The principle of the person inside and their heart and soul is what makes the foundation of a good person.
I would spend the summers at Treemont sometimes with my friends, go to the mall with my cousin and play outside with simple pleasures like hide and go seek and duck duck goose. My parents would frequently have garage sales on my grandmother’s lawn for extra money and I would sell glasses of lemonade for extra cash. I learned early on the value of money as we did not have much. I got discounted lunches at school, a humble weekly allowance, and hand me downs for clothes when we could not afford new clothes. I frequently participated in the school fundraisers going door-to-door selling chocolate candy bars to raise money for summer camp every year. After summer camp, my parents would take me and my sister that’s 7 years younger to Orlando Florida and Daytona Beach. We always looked forward to this luxury as they saved up all year for. We would have the time of our lives at Disneyland, Universal Studios, and MGM.
We lived in a humble two bedroom apartment in Knoxville, Tennessee and then moved into a trailer when my parents grew tired of apartment living. When I was about 22 years old, after dad working at the same hospital for 12 hour days for 20 years they finally bought a luxurious 2 story 4 bedroom home with a pool on an acre of land. My parents worked hard the honest way. My father was a respiratory therapist and my mother was a registered nurse. She stayed home with us a great deal showing us how to cook, do crafts and creative projects, road trip to the mall and grandma’s house, and the local swimming pool we were a member of.
I feel the arts was always something I was drawn to early in life. My uncle on my dad’s side was a star in the Philippines and my aunt was a famous model. I always wanted that, as I would watch Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista on TV, I knew I wanted to pursue modeling and acting. I was 14 years old when the show business bug finally found me.
Rarely does anyone really just intentionally fall into this industry and be successful. It rather came to me as a calling at a young age and never realized my dream until later in life. I did always have this obsession to be popular, especially in school. Seeking that validation by the masses was an unconscious drive even then. I wanted to be a cheerleader, so I could be popular and all the boys would like me. Well, it did not quite happen that way, as my parents did not support the lude reputation of cheerleaders and wanted me to focus on my studies.
The first experience I had with showbusiness was when I was living in a small town where I grew up in Louisville, Tennessee. I was attending the 6th grade at Eagleton Elementary and Barbizon Modeling Agency came to our school to scout talent, models and actors. Out of all the girls at school, even the popular ones I was chosen to receive a free makeover, modeling classes, and be represented by John Casablancas agency. I was elated! I had always been told over and over everywhere I went I should get into modeling and that I had a beautiful face and exotic look. Unfortunately, my mom and dad wanted me to focus on school and not on show business.
However, years later when I was 18 years old, I left for college and fell into doing hair shows for Matrix Essentials, runway, print, and doing a few acting roles locally here and there back in Knoxville. Then later, those small projects launched me into larger markets as Nashville, Atlanta, and eventually Los Angeles and NYC. I left at age 25 for Los Angeles and never looked back!
I love this question about my idos. I feel they have changed over time, as I have evolved as an artists. Whom I admired in childhood has greatly shifted as I have entered adulthood. My old acting coach that has now passed on God rest his soul taught me a great deal about acting and about myself as a person. He was a famous Broadway actor and the Executive Director of the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute, Joseph Bernard. He said to me in my first class 20 years ago, “the most important thing about acting is to know thyself. Once you out those wings on, you cannot take them off.” As opposed to many lines of work, the job is separate from the self. As an artist, creativity a character trait that cannot be separated from the core self and psyche. Once that talent is discovered, it cannot be suppressed.
I wholeheartedly admire what Keanu Reeves has done with his career. He has branded himself into the genre and type of films I find my calling in. He takes center stage as that King of Swords personality type that can conquer all through his trying obstacles and life experiences. His films make you think “outside the box.”
Lastly, I love Joaquin Phoenix! He really took off on-screen in the Joker movie. I don’t think anyone can go as dark, deep, and real as he has in this film. He is true Method actor that embodies the psychological, emotional, and intellectual aspects of the character and transforms them into sporadic brilliance. I don’t feel most people even understood what the film was really about. Mental Illness was just scratching the surface of the many layered themes in that he brought out. It was about the changing New World Order and the upheaval of the old political, social, financial, and government system that no longer work in the world. The common people of humble status are challenging these systems and attempting to overturn the 1% billionaires that have controlled our planet for hundreds of years. Joaquin Phoenix highlights this theme as he challenges millionaire’s Robert De Niro’s character on his talk show about. The insanity of the substructures and defunct systems have been a huge factor in the cause of mental illness. The film clearly eludes to that elements as well.
-I truly artistic ability is in the core of everyone, as humans are naturally creative beings of instinct and intuition. Though, I feel becoming an actor or actress is instinct and a calling to be developed. If the universe intends for it to happen the opportunity will unfold and reveal itself. In my early youth, I never had the financial means to afford an ivy league acting school like Juilliard or USC. Unlike in today’s market where most actors come to LA with no training and do not want to put in the work, I was told over and over I would need to train. Acting is a business and I am the product. I stumbled into Joseph Bernard’s Acting Studio in Las Vegas when I would come visit my family and I took a few classes here and there and ended up staying 6 months there. He was a legendary Broadway actor that taught me so much about the craft, the method, the business, and life experience. I was in my early 20’s then with no clue as to whom I was. I soon learned that the best aspect about becoming an actress was to know yourself, then one would be able to know what roles and characters would fit my type. I then moved onto the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute. I had literally no money, living in a residence hotel because I could not afford an apartment, and taking the bus. I decided to be a guinea pig and do a clinical trial for a pharmaceutical company and I came up with $4500 so I could take classes there. I trained in Method, Technique, and Character classes. Since then I have continued to train. I have trained in also commercial technique, scene study, script analysis, audition technique, and movement. Every single agent or manager in Hollywood and NYC that has ever auditioned me has asked where did I currently study at. Consistently training your instrument is a must! Competition is fierce in either market.
-Having walked a deeply spiritual and intellectual path delving into esoteric wisdom, ancient secrets, and seeing the world from a different light is by far a much broader perspective and satisfying life path. The material plane is fleeting and hollow without a higher purpose or message to humanity. Our artistic gifts are not ours to keep, but to embrace and share with the world to inspire and heal. As the Dalai Lama has quoted “The planet does not need more “successful people.” The Planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.” Chasing the end reward without purpose is shallow and a recipe for an unfulfilling journey. Stardom and money are a result of greatness and hard work, not a destination. Most artists never even achieve this level and it can be a disappointment to focus on just that aspect of life. Less than 10% of actors are working, and less than 1% make a huge breakthrough out of the 500,000 actors in Hollywood alone. I don’t feel most artists are practical about their goals and come out here quite disillusioned. If one can focus being of service in the industry with that as a higher goal, then stardom is by far a greater chance.
-Hollywood has always been known for double standards since the rapid uproar of the studio system in the 1940’s. Women age faster in Hollywood. I mean 35 for a women is a career near ending in the film industry; however, since the “Me Too” campaign and the new aeon of gender balance there has been a rapid transition in mindset. Many high executives and producers have fallen from power forcing the industry to change. Gender is a touchy subject nowadays, especially in Hollywood being that there are more than the classic two genders of male and female. There are Non-Binary, Transgender, Cisgender, Transsexual, Bigender, Polygender, Genderfluid, Demigender, Novigender, and the list goes on. It is said there are over 81 genders now worldwide. It is not a matter of male and female imbalance and inequality, the issue is by far more company than that. This subject in infinite in opinion, challenges, lawsuits, discrimination, and you name it! Casting directors, casting websites, producers, actors, and the entire community are becoming at a loss as to how to identify someone without getting sued or excluding some category without the heat.
-The industry is rapidly changing unlike ever before and I have been in the game in Los Angeles nearly 20 years and I do not even recognize the system and structure anymore. I came to LA where black and white headshots were submitted to casting offices via courier mail and the studio system dominated. Now, it is all about full color photos, social media presence, independent filmmaking, new media agreements and contracts for distribution platforms like Netflix and Amazon, ethnic roles have taken center stage, and actors now becoming filmmakers and making their own content.
I think people destroy themselves without realizing it through drugs, alcohol, sex, greed, deceit, excess, frivolous spending, and...it eats away at the soul like cancer. Its slow cumulative process that deteriorates one’s existence. Hollywood is beautiful, but it is a powerful vortex of unforeseen energy that can extract the life out of someone. If the business is not approached from a grounded perspective and spiritual faith, it can be a slow collective process that damages the emotional body and psyche that can leave irreversible effects. Being thrust into this industry blind-sided without doing one’s homework is a recipe for disaster, as it happens to many. This is a time we live in where everyone wants to be famous, their 15 minutes of fame, instagram followers, make their own films and content, and be their own boss less the counter-intuitive studio system for independent filmmakers.
-Well, the most important aspect of picking roles for film, television, commercial, and theater are all different in perspective. In theatrical work involving television and film, I am known for being a strong femme fatale with a dark side. I tend to roles as Keanu Reeves has done with his career. I am drawn to dark sci-fi or action based thrillers that make one think outside the box of normal reality. There has to be some underlying message to humanity If it doesn’t change the way we think or feel, the process as an artist is empty and meaningless. Money and recognition only go so far. For commercial and print, my agent will send me out for projects that are more geared towards promoting a specific product. The process and audition is completely different. Most commercials do not tend to darker elements or storylines in that promoting a specific product for a company needs to be more cheerful, light, and upbeat, though there are exceptions to the rule.
-I truly feel 2020 will be year and breakthrough. The journey, experiences, extreme challenges, and the people I have met have all been leading up to an epiphany. I am not sure what that will look like, as show business is unpredictable as the lottery. I have been re-focusing my energy and goals on things that matter in life. I feel like decompartmentalization my life is key. There needs to be balanced at this point and philanthropy. When I tackle a vision or goal going forward, I ask myself what does the world need? Years ago, I sat in a lecture of Marianne Williamson that is the creator of The Course of Miracles, and she said very distinctly as I remember it if you put the word “I” and focus on the self in your goals and dreams you are destined for failure. We all have a purpose on this planet, and it is our duty to find that Will in how we can be of service to humanity. I have had many mentors along the way, and she has been one of them.
-I recently completed a feature film called SWEATING SAND directed by Derek Johnson. I loved the cast and crew and the film’s story was an interesting perspective on femininity in modern day society. I play a lead a stern mother of a young daughter that aspires to be a boxer. The project is set to expand into a longer film as the director, cast, and crew raise more funds and wrap on post-production on the current footage shot. I am also set to star in a 4-episode Television series that is a sci-fi based genre inspired by the Alien brand film chain. We shot a short film segment of the idea at YouTube Spaces in the Alien Covenant Film set in conjunction with 20th Century Fox that provided the crew and Intellectual Property. We are awaiting to move forward. More details to be released at a later date... My full-length feature I am writing and directing is on the stages of development with my production company, Envision Motion Pictures. My primary focus with my own productions is to focus in on the thriller, and sci-fi horror genre, there is something profound about the cinematic essence of the dark protagonist type character. Making others see outside of the box of mainstream reality is my goals. Peeling away at the naturalistic pull towards illusions and fantasy is the thread of truth in my work. I am also finishing up my Psychology degree with a focus in Social Psychology. Social Psychology is a prime skill in the Arts in that it encompasses studying the effects of certain social elements and their origins and how they affect and reach the masses. Also, New Age thought, and Ancient Mystery has always sparked my interest and will be integrated in my films. I am well-trained in Reiki, Neuro Linguistic Programming, Tarot, rune, and wax divinations, Kabbalah, The I-Ching, Psychic Intuition, and Mediumship. I hone my skills everyday through prayer and meditation to keep me balanced and refreshed. After all is said and done, I will never give up on my dream. I gave up a lot over the years with no regrets. I still have no family or kids of my own, still single, or as they say nowadays “Self-Partnered,” but reflecting upon this triumphing journey, I realize you are a warrior and the journey is grooming you with wisdom, strength, and inspiration to help others. All the challenges have been set by God as tests and a grooming period to greatness. Finding meaning in those experiences adds clarity to the unusual journey of the artist. If one chooses this crazy path, their lives will be anything but conventional. The artist cannot compare themselves to the rest of society. There is a wide berth of normality between the artist and conventionalism. As I have said before in the past, I am the Queen of Swords just like in the Tarot deck of divination. I am a warrior for humanity! As I have always said as my motto, the Fire in your Soul is the Cascade of Your Life.