A Conversation on Acting

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I first met Reanin Johannink on the set of an Ezibuy commercial in 2010. Here was this strong, confident model (slash actress, slash presenter) with her heart set on the big time, and oh boy was her determination was infectious. This girl was bound for Hollywood, and she knew it.

Reanin’s the kind of girl everyone has an opinion about but not many people actually know. On the outside she’s this striking, vibrant and energetic being but on the inside she’s this wonderfully spirited and deeply soulful young woman with a wisdom beyond her years. To call her a friend is a beautiful blessing.

Currently living the dream in LA, I chatted to Reanin about her love of acting, how to make it in America and what advice she has for anyone at home with stars in their eyes.

Spotlight on you

Tell us a little about who you are and what you do?

I am a girl with a fire in her soul, who loves to express herself creatively – acting, music, painting, writing, dancing (generally when none else is around) and meditating.  But my job is to play make believe for a living.

How did you get started in acting?

I’ve been acting since I came out of the womb, but as far as summing this up in a few sentences; I was in every school production since I could walk and talk, did a lot of theatre growing up, moved into television commercials, then TV hosting and then booked a gig on Shortland Street as bad girl “Anja Sadovenko”. From there I started doing film and then organically made the move over to LA.

What was your first “big break”?

Because I’m from New Zealand, I would probably say “Shortland Street” just because of the huge following in New Zealand and the way the public adopts that show as there own child.

You used to be a successful model, both in NZ and overseas. Did you find it hard to shift people’s perception of you from a model to an actress?

The funny thing is that I was acting way before I was modeling. But I guess whatever job puts you in the public eye is the job that people associate you with. Initially it was a conversation that became a bit of a broken record, but after Shortland Street, the public perception was definitely changed.

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At the red carpet premiere of ‘All Cheerleaders Die’.

How to make it in America

When and why did you decide to move to the US?

It was the organic next step for me. I love NZ but it’s really hard to live solely off acting at home and even though there are many more projects being shot and created in NZ, there still isn’t a great amount of consistent opportunity either. I wanted to be somewhere where there were numerous opportunities for me to make a living off my passion. It’s also something I dreamed about as a little girl – as I’m sure most actors do. Los Angeles is the film and television epicenter of the world.

The life of an actor in LA, tell us about a typical day…

Well if you are on set, shooting, you generally have call time at around 5.30/6am and are working a 12-15hr day. If your not on set then it really varies depending on the day. Usually you juggle around any of the following things: auditions (theatrical and commercial), acting class, accent training (Standard American, Southern, British, Russian etc), casting director workshops, reading, working out, updating/uploading reels and head shots, submitting for independent passion projects, working on your own projects, helping friends with audition sides, keeping up to date on all movies and TV shows, driving a million miles a day and learning, learning, LEARNING sides (scripts).

How does the New Zealand film and television scene compare to the US?

As I said above, it’s just a numbers game really. New Zealand has been developing a great film and television industry (especially over the last 10 yers) and there is some amazing work coming out of NZ. But it’s still very hard to live and work solely as an actor. It has become easier to book an offshore production that’s shooting in NZ, than to get consistent work while living there. Unfortunately I think that is just because of the size of our country. As far as quality of work, I think that kiwis are incredibly talented and the quality level of projects and acting work coming out of NZ is second to none.

Do you think being a Kiwi gives you an advantage over your American competitors when you go into an audition?

Short answer – no. Not only are we here on a limited time frame (1 – 3yr working visa depending) but that actually limits the work you can do unfortunately. A lot of studios are now only accepting roles for people who have green cards or are citizens. We also have the whole accent thing to compete with. Unless you have a perfect standard American accent, there is no competition. But for me it just motivates me to work harder and to be a better actor. There are a lot of British, Australian and even NZ actors working over here and doing incredibly well for themselves. I think having an advantage or not, if you work persistently hard and always give 100% then you will be successful. I truly believe that you can’t fail until you give up.

Any advice for Kiwis back home with Hollywood stars in their eyes?

My only advice is, what are you waiting for??? If you want it, make a plan and make it happen. Life is to short not to follow your heart and your soul.

The acting scene in LA is pretty cut throat. How do you manage to stay level headed and positive while swimming in a sea of uncertainty?

I mean this industry is all about rejection and judgement – of you. Daily, there are so many people who don’t know you, with so many opinions about you, being expressed to you – and these are the people giving you jobs. It’s incredibly hard not to loose yourself and unless you truly believe in yourself, deep down and know who you are, then it will tear even the most outwardly confident person’s soul apart. For me I have been up and I have been deep-down and its about staying true to yourself and going back to center. Meditation has been a life saver. No matter how crazy the waves are around me or how much negativity and rejection I am subjected to that day, I can go inward and find my sense of peace and know that I am ok – in a sea of chaotic white noise. My other lifeline is my family and friends. Chasing a dream on the other side of the world with no friends, family or support system physically around you, is not for the faint at heart and I think just knowing they are there if I need them or even just hearing there voice, makes such a difference for me.

Is it true, are LA industry people just as fake as everyone imagines? Is it all smoke and mirrors?

I think what people have to remember is that when you have a city like LA, that every single person here has come to LA to “make it”. Every single person is the best at what they do in their respective country/city/town and coming here there is time, money and an agenda always. I mean I’m sure you can find people with good hearts who genuinely want to be your friend, but you would consciously have to go searching for those kind of people, you wouldn’t just bump into them at the local coffee shop. I used to be upset by this on an almost daily basis – I think mostly because New Zealanders are so open and lovely and it was a massive culture shock – but now I don’t take it personally anymore. Everyone here wants to be successful, they aren’t here to make friends. So yes there is a lot of “fake people” and a lot of loving you out the door. But that’s LA for ya.

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All Cheerleaders Die.

On your work

Tell us about your recent work in the States. You were a lead in the film ‘All Cheerleaders Die’, how was that experience?

That experience was incredibly exciting as it was my first American film and something I had dreamed about since I was a little girl – shooting an American movie and then watching myself at the movies. So when I got to sit down and watch myself on the big screen over here, I definitely had to pinch myself. We also got to film on the “Desperate Housewives” street set on the Warner Brothers lot which again was an awesome moment. The cast were also great and all us girls became really close. It was a super fun film to make and I think everyone should go see it because its just as much fun to watch!

You also came home recently for the premiere of NZ comedy horror film ‘I Survived a Zombie Holocaust’. Tell us a bit about your character and working on that film.

Jessica is probably one of the lightest and funnest characters I will ever play. I feel like every actor has to play “a Jessica” at one point in there career. She was literally a parody character, one dimensional and completely over the top. All the characters in ‘I Survived A Zombie Holocaust’ were. That was the best part about the film. We got to poke fun of ourselves. I absolutely adored every single member of the cast and crew (that’s what you get on a kiwi set), and the Director, Guy Pidgen has become a really good friend of mine. He is incredibly talented.

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On the set of ‘I Survived a Zombie Holocaust’.

What are your favourite type of characters to play and what would your dream role be?

My favorite characters  are those who have a darker edge to them and a deep emotional range. Characters who are raw and vulnerable and have had a lot of pain in there past or a lot of “experiences” to draw from and energy to use. Multilayer-ed depth that isn’t apparently initially. My dream role would be Eva Green’s Character ‘Vanessa Ives’ in the TV series ‘Penny Dreadful’ or Angelina Jolie’s Character ‘Gia’ in the film ‘Gia’.

Who do you look up to as an actress?

I look up to actresses whose work reflects a similar vein to the characters I am drawn too. I like darker, deeper, more intense actresses who completely let go of themselves as people and let their emotional range become their power and their character. Eva Green, Rooney Mara, Mia Wasikowska, Angelina Jolie and Elizabeth Olsen are some of my favorites.

What about directors, who would you love to work with?

I guess that’s a mood thing because there are so many brilliant directors out there. At times I feel more drawn to relationship type, intimate, intense work by directors like Woody Allen and Kathryn Bigelow, or beautiful, natural and raw foreign film directors like Abdellatif Kechiche, but then who wouldn’t want to be in a crazy epic Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson film?? I would love to work on all of these kinds of film at some point in my career.

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On the set of ‘I Survived a Zombie Holocaust’.

On your craft

Did you, or do you, study any particular methods or styles of acting? Do you have a preferred technique now?

Yes I have studied a few different methods and I have taken a little something from all of them. They were all wonderful building blocks to understanding acting and understanding myself on a lot of levels. But for me, there is no specific technique that completely clicked. At least not in the sense where I would be using that technique solely. It more helped me to gain an understanding of myself as an actor and how I worked. Specifically how I didn’t work. So for me, I have learned my own technique over time, just by repetition of work and auditions and realizing the things that helped me get what I needed from a scene or a situation, that helped me to be present and really listen in the moment.

How do you go about preparing for an audition?

How an actor prepares for an audition is actually the hardest and most important part of acting, weirdly enough. Through many years of trial and tribulation, I have a method that works great for me. It’s nothing I have been taught and doesn’t seem to help other people when they try – or when I try and help them haha. But to try and explain, it’s just getting the material IN my body – my thoughts, emotions and physical body. So I “know” what I’m saying and who I am on all levels, not just the words. That way in the audition room, I’m reacting in the moment.

Any audition tips for aspiring actors?

You need a “way” that works for you and you alone. I have taken many an “audition technique” class and although they can be helpful at times, all they seem to do is jam my brain with technique “styles” that aren’t organic to me and the way my brain processes things. They actually end up making me more nervous and not doing a great job in the room. I think trial and error is the best way. Try everything you know, ask your actor friends, research different ways and then take the bits that work and create your own personal way.

What about when you land a role. How do you “become” the character?

For me, I like to use parts of my own emotional body. So I look at the character and figure out who she is, what is her background, what are her relationships like, her childhood, past experiences, where is she now in her life. Then I take all this to an emotional level and see how she is feeling on a daily basis. How can I relate to her? What pain, anger, joy, excitement have I had in my life experience that would be consistent with her emotions. I take myself back to that place in my life and trigger off that experience – almost relive it, but only in an emotional state – in the moment, as another character, with different thoughts and different memories. Its really hard to describe the process because its quite intimate to me, but I think that’s the best description.

And lastly, what’s next for Reanin Johannink?

I have just booked a film I am super excited about. And actually a role I have always wanted to explore. She is a recovering heroine addict. Without saying too much, the film is about her relationship with her brother (whom she got hooked on heroine) and her battle to save him. But the role is so beautiful because its a relationship between a brother and sister. So you have this tortured soul, with all these demons and emotional fragility then you have this pure selflessness love and courage to move herself out of her own way to help this person she cares most about in the world. It’s a beautiful parallel and I’m extremely excited to start shooting mid November.

And I’m extremely excited for you too. This is only the beginning…

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Behind the scenes of ‘All Cheerleaders Die’.

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