Many people believe that millennials are going to change the world because they have more sense of purpose and fairness. After all, they were responsible for helping elect America’s first black president. As a mother of three children who are millennials I know from firsthand experience what kind of mindset these young people have, and I am elated and very hopeful that indeed, these young people will help usher in a new America.
I am especially elated with the trend that I am seeing with black actors and directors in Hollywood and the contributions they are making to help eradicate stereotypical biases against people of color. In the last year I have had the opportunity to meet Lanett Tachel Proctor who is both an actress, writer, and producer. In the following interview you can see for yourself how this millennial is helping reshape Hollywood and bringing to the limelight the many hidden talents waiting to be discovered.
What inspired you to become an actress?
My parents told me at a young age that I would be an actress or a lawyer. I was the child who left no one behind. I defended my friends and siblings from time outs, punishments and much more as a young girl. I would recreate the circumstances that ultimately led them to the decisions they’d made (for good or bad). I always felt like if I could challenge someone to walk in another’s shoes, I’d be challenging them to ultimately accept that person and their actions. I’d be challenging people to love and forgive in spite of and because of. Once I realized that as an actress, my sole job was to tell the story of another person’s lived experience, I don’t think I had much of a choice. I started with Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz in sixth grade and I never looked back.
What challenges have you faced being a black female trying to make it in Hollywood?
Being a black female in Hollywood is a burden that I would never trade in. It empowers me. As an African American and as a female, I can be placed in a bit of a bubble. If there is not a role written for a ghetto or funny friend, than I can be quickly overlooked.
Hollywood is always playing catch-up to determine what the new acceptable “black look is on TV.” In a month’s time, I may be told to cut, dye, curl, weave, braid, or wig my hair. The powers that represent us often don’t look like us, so they are trying to monetize our look while we’re just trying to be comfortable in our own skin. Minorities in general are forced to be “more ethnic,” in an effort to advance certain stereotypes that audiences have accepted as gospel.
However, when you know that coming in, it gives you a bit of an edge. You know that Hollywood has NO IDEA what they want, so you might as well make choices for YOU and stand behind your choices until everyone stands behind you.
Can you talk about the projects that you have booked? What was the experience like?
My first project I booked was a TV show entitled Belle’s directed by Ed Weinberger, which had a short run on TVONE. I got to work with some amazing people including Keith David, Elise Neal, Ella Joyce, and so many other talented individuals. I came on the show initially as a consultant. (It was a restaurant-based show and I had managerial experience.) After standing in and filling in as an extra, I was eventually written into the show and did not let that opportunity go to waste.
I then used that platform as well as the relationships I’d made on set (particularly the phenomenal casting director, Phaedra Harris) to navigate my next couple of moves in Hollywood. I’ve since landed several roles on a variety of comedic TV shows including the quirky Sex Sent Me to the ER, Family Time, and more.
In terms of film, I’ve scored a couple of really fun roles so far. My two most recent were from last year’s debut of director Corey Grant, Sister Code, as the comedic character, “Wednesday,” and as the no-nonsense security guard in Charis Orchard’s Love Addict, that won a best new comedy award.
I understand you have co-produced the film Illicit that recently premiered at the prestigious American Black Film Festival; can you talk about that experience?
The production of Illicit was unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. After working with Corey Grant on Sister Code, I began sending him some scripts (both shorts and feature-length) that I’d written and wanted his feedback. He realized instantly that our writing sensibilities were very similar. We both appreciated dry witty humor, and loved to see a script take turns that the audience can’t predict.
In essence, the formulaic workings of the typical rom-com were not of much interest to either of us. And the frustration about always having to wait for some one else’s “green light,” be it financially or otherwise, was what united us in the idea to write the film Illicit. We acknowledged that we wanted it to be in the vein of Fatal Attraction, but with even more twists and turns and occasionally even a bit of humor.
Once we settled on a draft of the script that we both felt rang true, the next step was producing it. After reaching out to like-minded actors and producers, we assembled our team including but not limited to McKinley Freeman, David Ramsey, Phaedra Harris, and New Breed Entertainment. And the rest was history.
It was my first time producing on a feature-length project and what I really learned was to trust my instincts and my relationships. I’m the oldest of four children. My entire life has been managing, organizing, putting out fires, and assembling best-case scenarios on an extremely limited budget. In essence, I had my whole life to prepare for the role of “producer.”
How does it feel to have a role in a movie you helped produce?
Words cannot describe how I feel about my character “Tai,” that I had the opportunity to bring to life first on paper and then on screen. All actors know that we hate to “act” and we only aspire to be present in the moment for our character. The most challenging part of this experience for me was knowing when to take off the writer/producer hat and put on the actor’s hat, because both of them required a different part of the brain and different energy. Once I found my “sweet spot” and was able to focus on my character, I had SO MUCH FUN bringing her to life. Tai is a handful and is easily relatable. She is the know-it-all who would be so much better off if she would just take her own advice.
Can you explain the benefits of having a film premiere at the American Black Film Festival?
ABFF is such an amazing platform and a unique opportunity to premiere your work in front of people who are genuinely rooting for you and want you to WIN. Jeff Friday and the entire ABFF team have gone above and beyond to create a platform that allows people in the African American community to celebrate and promote the work of up-and-coming minority filmmakers and actors. That ABFF stamp of approval allows the first people to endorse our work to be people that look like us. The co-sign of your community is everything.
I know David Ramsey from the popular TV show Arrow also stars in Illicit. How was it working and filming a movie with him?
David is a phenomenal actor and a true professional. He sets the tone for all the actors around him and is very giving. What I enjoyed the most was watching him in between takes. He can crack a joke, improv a line, and be right back in character for the next take. David was simultaneously filming Arrow while we were in production and somehow managed to be completely off book and in character every day he was on set. He would literally jump on a plane at the end of the day and fly back to shoot more scenes for Arrow. Filming can be exhausting for the entire cast and crew, but when your lead makes it look that effortless, everyone else has no choice than to give 100% every time, every day.
The legendary Vivica A. Fox is also in Illicit; please tell the readers your experience working with her on set.
Vivica A. Fox aka Aunty Viv is a force of nature. She is so seasoned in this game that she could do an entire scene with no words and convey every emotion. Her presence, her humor, and the way she effortlessly slid into character were a testament to why she has navigated the industry so well. I can’t wait to work with her again!
As a very young woman, you are already experiencing great success. What do you hope to accomplish in the next five to ten years?
The funny thing about success is you’re usually the last person to know that you’re considered “successful.” When you’re in this journey, you’re typically thinking about what you need to do next, who to get in front of, what role will be your “breakout,” etc. I’m fortunate to have such amazing friends and family that remind me of how far I’ve come and help to encourage me to stay focused on my next steps. I know that in the next five to ten years, I’d like to act and write in an award-winning TV series, I want to star in an action drama that allows me to do fight choreography (e.g. Salt or Mr. and Mrs. Smith) and I want to be known as the actress that can jump from a heartfelt comedy to a gut-wrenching drama seamlessly. My goal is to keep surprising Hollywood and keep surprising myself.
Do you have any advice for aspiring actors or actresses?
Your biggest asset is your uniqueness. Know who you are before Hollywood tells you who you are. Have a purpose that is bigger than you and have a plan to give back to your community. Also, take time to celebrate each of your successes. It helps you keep things in perspective.
Thank you so much, Lanett, for doing this interview. I am wishing you great success with Illicit and all your future projects.