The So-and-So Profiles shines a spotlight on DeShelle Taylor, an up-and-coming actress who recently booked her first major role in an independent feature. I met her on a location shoot for a friend’s film and found myself staring at her because she reminded me of the late, legendary Eartha Kitt. She caught me staring, we both laughed, exchanged information after the shoot and here we are.
1. When, where and how did you decide to become an actress?
My dad passed away in April of 2011.
It’s been a lifelong dream to act and model but he wanted me to go to school and get a degree first. He influenced me not going into it right away so when he passed away, it was like, “Screw this. I don’t want to live my life for other people anymore. I want to follow my dreams.”
I’m originally from Philadelphia but I moved here [to Los Angeles] from Pittsburgh in September of 2011.
2. What did you study?
I started off as a theatre major in college, but again under the wrong influence, I was told I couldn’t be a theatre major and be President of the Student Activities Board. I couldn’t be a cheerleader. I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do AND be a theatre major.
I didn’t like their attitude toward me being ambitious so I dropped the major. I studied Geography and minored in Spanish and International Business.
3. Have your minor studies come in handy with regard to your acting work?
Spanish does. I speak Spanish. It gets me by. I can speak it if I have to.
Being well-versed in different regional activities, comes in handy but I haven’t found an explicit use for it yet.
4. How do you see those studies augmenting your acting career?
I’ve always found traveling to be an exciting activity. I love food. I’ve been to Spain, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
It’s nice to see how other cultures live. Depending on the role I get, if it is a Spanish-type of character, I can pull from those experiences and use that for the character building.
But that has yet to come so we’ll wait and see.
5. What is it about acting?
I get to be someone I’m not.
Acting allows me to do the things I need to do and hide behind it. It’s the façade of it all.
I got to play the role of somebody who kills people. There are a lot of people out here I can’t stand, [but] I would never pick up a gun and go “matalo!”
Being a mother – I’m not a mother. I’ve always wanted to be a mother but I don’t really know that physically I want to go through that. Acting allows me to be a mom. I can look at people and see the connection of a child and a mother and pull from that and be a mom. I’m not a mother, [but] I get to be that person that I’m not.
If I want to be a freak, I can be a freak -- but really I’m not. I might want to be, you never know. It just allows me to be a character that I might have thought about and never had the courage to actually be. I get to be myself in a weird dichotomous way.
6. Would that freak be your dream role?
No! Maybe. It depends on how I’m feeling that day.
7. What other things would you like to play?
I might be rich in other aspects of my life but I’d like to have the money to have the lifestyle that I want to have and to help the people I want to help.
But you have to put on your oxygen mask before you can help anyone else.
I’ve been like that all my life – wanting to help people where I could knowing damn well I shouldn’t because of my own financial limitations or whatever. My heart is in everything that I try to do for people, but it’d be nice if there was this boundless bank account.
8. Is this role as an assassin your first role?
Yes. I’m really excited.
9. Can you tell me about the role and the movie?
She is a woman scorned by her father. Her father, while she really looked up to him, could only provide her with survival skills. I don’t want to discount what survival skills really are to a person but what she really needed was love.
She really needed her father to be there in terms of moral [and] emotional support. There’s that connection a father and a daughter have – just like a mother and a daughter.
She has a tendency to be very focused and really not care about anybody else. Period. She’s an assassin. She can’t care. She can’t have feelings. She can’t love. She can’t be connected to any human in that way because it’ll make her normal.
She’s a diva. Think Columbiana. She loves what she does and that is probably the only thing she loves at this point. At this point in the movie where I get to bring her forth, killing is probably the only thing that makes her happy because everything else that she loves is dead.
It’s called Sirena. It means “mermaid”.
10. How did this part come about?
Everyday, I sit at a computer and I submit, submit, submit. Sometimes I get auditions, sometimes I get hits. This one came about the day before my birthday. He emailed me the sides and it was like, “Okay, she’s a killer. I get to be something I’m not.”
I love movies like The Matrix, Columbiana, G.I. Jane, and Domino. I like women who kick ass.
I dressed in all black and I just took on that role, that persona. I went in and auditioned. He said, “I’ll talk to you in three days.”
I didn’t hear from him [for] about a week and a half. I’m thinking I didn’t get it. Then I got the email that I was the only one he considered because I had such an amazing audition. There were other people who auditioned but they loved my look. They loved the way I moved. It was just perfect for them.
11. What type of roles do you typically go for?
I submit myself for everything because I feel like I can do it all with the appropriate training and the right amount of attention to it. I can be comedic. It’s not something I see myself as but I pull from the things that I have seen and build on that foundation.
Because of the type of submissions they get, [it] could be anything from a student film to a feature role. I have to start somewhere. If someone from the feature side sees me and looks at my photo and says, “We want her for an audition”, then I consider that a job well done. Just getting a foot in the door -- some people don’t even get that, so I’m fortunate.
I can do anything. Acting to me is about all the colors of a palette -- sometimes you can be red, sometimes you might need to be a little yellow, sometimes you might want to be blue or black.
12. Where does your focus lie?
13. You’re also a model. What is the balance between that and the acting?
When I’m not filming I’d like to be in front of another type of camera.
In between films, I’ll be doing print work and looking for those opportunities. I’ve always loved the camera.
14. Is there a dream photographer, advertiser or publication you’d love to work with?
I want to work with Cover Girl. I love the fact that they use Ellen, which represents diverse culture – the GLBT. Just to see her with Cover Girl, and I haven’t seen anyone else do that, makes me feel they’re open to diversity.
Their whole slogan – easy, breezy, beautiful – that’s me. It represents me well. Why not represent them?
I want a billboard. I don’t know which company, I just know I want to see myself on a billboard.
A couple magazines would be nice – Essence, Ebony.
15. What is the vision for your acting?
I want a trilogy – something that’s a little dark, a little drama, serious and modern that a lot of people can identify with.
The Underworld series. That’s more than a trilogy. She’s a bad ass character. I want to play something like that, but I want it to be more like what’s going on and what’s happening now in 2012/2013. Something current.
There’s a lot of people I want to work with. I’d really like to work with Channing Tatum. Shemar Moore would be fun to work with. I met him and he’s a great, great, great guy. I’m sure he wouldn’t be too difficult to work with.
I referenced Columbiana. That’s the character like I need to portray. But I’m not going to be Zoe Saldana playing Columbiana. You’ll see me. You’ll think her but you won’t see her.
16. What would Channing Tatum and Shemar Moore be playing opposite you?
I almost hate to bring up the white/black relationship thing.
What brings me to that with Channing is [that] I watched some of his other films. There was this boxer movie he did and I was like, “He’s a hard ass”. Then I saw G.I. Joe or something else he was in and it allowed me to see different sides of him.
His coach in that movie was a black man. I want to see him face diversity on a different level. So I’m like “Why can’t I be that girl?”
That’s something I’d like to see.
Shemar Moore, I want him to be a lawyer. I see him in a business suit. Maybe he’s representing me on a case. I want to see him not as a hard ass, but stern, lawyer-like very diplomatic. I’ve never seen him portrayed like that. That’s the vision I see.
The way I’ve never seen these guys would be the way I envision them working with me. Maybe there’s a fairy tale. Maybe I have to sue somebody or somebody had to sue me and I couldn’t afford it. He’s my lawyer on charity and then not only do I win the case, I get the guy in the end. That would be nice.
I guess that’s really more Hollywood than anything. I don’t know. I don’t have to get the guy. He could just definitely do his job.
I want to do action stuff. That’s why Channing Tatum came in mind.
17. Who are your professional inspirations?
I have favorite actors. But what fuels me to act isn’t them. It’s just them getting there. I’m happy for Denzel. I’m having for Channing. I’m happy for Jada and Will. I’m happy for them, for being who they are. They allowed me to see, “They did it. It can be done.”
I love seeing people living out dreams because there are other people who are watching them, like me, that say, “I don’t think I can do it.”
Then there’s something that clicks and you’re like, “if they can do it, I can do it.”
Will Smith came from Philly – DJ, rapper. He wasn’t an actor and then The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?
He got started because of a video. It wasn’t because he wanted to act. He was doing his video and someone saw his video and was like, “I want him for this character on that show.”
Being who you are is so important. Being who you are first is more important than being someone else. That’s a part of acting.
Will, Jada, Channing, Denzel, Halle Berry. The women from The Help.
I’m in the tub in Pittsburgh contemplating moving – tears in my eyes. Dad died. A friend of mine, my roommate from home, comes in and she’s like, “I have a magazine, you have to read it.”
She drops it in the bathroom and I pick it up. It’s an article, I believe it was in Ebony or Essence, on Viola Davis and how she got started. It chronicled her path and for some reason I felt like I could relate to her – not in terms of academics, she went to Juilliard, but in terms of having a vision and having a path. I ripped out the article and I put it on my vision board.
I moved here September 24 and I flew back home in a month. My first month wasn’t easy. I missed home. I was contemplating not coming back here. I was on a flight from Burbank to Pittsburgh that got delayed. It got delayed for four hours.
As I’m coming down the terminal to grab breakfast, Viola Davis walks past me. It was like if the universe could have sent me a sign, that was my sign. Any airport – I could have been at LAX, I could have been at Orange County, [but] I was at Burbank and so was she.
I waited for her to go through the line and I was like, “You’re on my vision board and I’m happy to meet you because that tells me I’m on the right path.”
We talked. She was headed to Pittsburgh. Isn’t that great?
I take stuff like that and that tells me I’m supposed to be here. You too can be here. You can do this. You can do it! Si Se Puede!
It’s magic moments like that that occur in my life that allow me to feel blessed enough to know that I can do this.
Working at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia watching those kids follow their dream – I actually pay THEM homage. I had to be a counselor with a bunch of academically aggressive high schoolers telling me, “Miss Taylor, you should go to Hollywood!”
I felt like a hypocrite. I felt terrible. I love that school. I can’t wait to go back. I can’t wait to be on the silver screen and then go back to that school and say, “thank you”. And give them a scholarship. Some artist deserves that.
If it wasn’t for that school, I wouldn’t be here. If it wasn’t for my dad passing away, I wouldn’t be here.
18. Back to something you said in the last question. So who are you?
Who am I not? I am that I am. That’s me.
I’m an actor and I love the entertainment industry, but I don’t watch a lot of movies and I almost feel like people will look down on me because of that. They may consider it homework, but the less I know about movies that have been done, the more a director can direct me without already having programmed knowledge of how to be and how to do and how to deliver.
Call me play-do, clay, whatever you want. I want to be as pure and as blank of a canvas for a director to work with as possible. Working with a fresh medium, you get to see what they can do and it might be something [they’ve] never seen before.
19. “And the Oscar goes to…DeShelle Taylor.” What would you say and who would you thank?
Happy dance! Why not? It’s my moment. No one gets to take that from me.
What do you say?
I’m going to be more than excited. It’s going to be one of those out-of-body experiences. I can’t believe I’m here. I can’t believe I did it. But at the same time, I can believe it because I put so much work, so much time, so much effort and so much sacrifice into this.
I bought a red carpet so I could practice. I wasn’t going to tell you, but fuck it. Why not? Before I moved here, I bought a swatch. I googled “red carpet” and this Hollywood place where they order their red carpet from popped up. I sat on it for a little bit and I told a friend what I was doing. He googled it and was like, “I got the same place.”
So I went ahead and ordered just enough to walk the catwalk and pretend – stepping out of a car, walking onto the carpet, smiling at fans, giving autographs, taking photos with them and seeing other fellow actors on the carpet.
That’s a dream come true.
Toward the end of the interview, a woman came up with her teenage son. She had “shockingly” overheard our conversation (we were rather boisterous). Based on what she had heard, she felt that DeShelle was her soul sister. Her son is starting out as an actor and a singer and they were in the process of relocating out here from Cleveland.
Be on the lookout for the actor Kole Selznick-Hoffman and the writer Robin Selznick in the near future.
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