Talking to a person with an unmistakable, genuine enthusiasm for life is relatively rare. But actor Tanna Frederick is one of these people.
Her bio reads like the C.V. of a true Renaissance woman - a double major in political science and theatre, she’s also the founder of the Iowa International Film Festival and Project Save Our Surf and an avid surfer and second degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do; all this, in addition to her successful acting career. On stage she can currently be seen in the title role in Sylvia at the Edgemar Center in California, while her most recent screen credit is Queen of the Lot with cutie-pie co-star Noah Wyle.
But disregarding her impressive credentials, when you speak to Tanna over the phone, the first thing that catches your attention is her robust and incredibly contagious laugh. The next is her nearly palpable optimism and passion for both her career and for life, in general. During the course of our hour-long interview, we talked about her move from Iowa to LA after college, her close professional relationship with playwright Henry Jaglom, and the importance of hard work as the foundation of a lucky, happy life.
If you could give your 20-something self a piece of advice or tell yourself something, what would it be?
“I think those were very formative years for myself as a woman, and I think I listened too much to the men I got into relationships with and gave them too much power over . . . who I was. But everything else, I wouldn’t change going after my dreams when everyone told me not to . . . . I’d tell myself not to worry so much about what other people think . . . Stay true to what you want and don’t waver. It may feel like you’re going nowhere sometimes, but you ARE getting somewhere. Focusing on the task at hand, which is the dream you want to fulfill, is very important.”
What with your founding of the Iowa Independent Film Festival, you seem to feel strongly about not only giving back to up and comers but also lifting them up, especially those without the benefit of a location convenient to showbiz, which is of course how you started out. Do you feel like that’s an important part of your calling?
“I love inspiring people and giving people opportunities, and I love the idea of paying it forward. The only reason anyone out here has anything is because someone took and chance, did a favor, believed in them . . . I get inspired by other people getting inspired and going after what I’ve been going after. That’s what drives me - this thing called a dream, and the way positive encouragement affects people - you bring somebody else up and you bring yourself up, and that’s awesome . . . It’s kind of selfish helping people out, seeing them wide-eyed at what they can do - I get goosebumps even now thinking about the energy and the reactions.”
I read that your “big break” wasn’t immediate, and you had to do a lot of small jobs in between gigs. Was it tough doing jobs you didn’t care about rather than your dream job?
“I worked in an architectural firm, I cared for a woman dying from cancer - all those experiences created me as an actor, my skills [as a person]: being kind to people and caring for people on and off the set. I worked probably 17 different jobs before I could settle into films, and I believe every one of those I was meant to work in . . . I think the universe kind of took care of me with all that stuff. I looked at everything as preparation for a movie set, and I committed myself . . . I never half-assed any job I had. That helps you, because then you keep moving up - I never put down anything I did. If I got a small play, I treated it like I was making a picture at Universal. If you treat the task at hand as the utmost that you want, that energy comes back to you.”
Speaking of getting a “break” it seemed like your official entrée into the industry was a happy accident in a lot of ways - do you feel like your career has had any sort of real planning to it, or like the right opportunities have just found you at the right time?
“I don’t know what the hell it was, but it worked out pretty well. Talk about serendipity!” she laughed, but got serious again.
“I was just trying whatever I could, and one of the actors I was working with mentioned that I could write a letter [to Henry Jaglom and he might give me a part in a play or film]. . . I’d written letter after letter to [directors] and Henry was the one that responded . . . Then there was a lot of patience and nurturing of the relationship and proving myself.” The rest, of course, is history, as he eventually ended up giving her a starring role in one of his films, and they’ve since continued to work closely.
About this ‘serendipity,’ Tanna adds, “I think that’s an example of hard work pushing luck.”