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Women In Film Spotlight: Actress and Writer Annunziata

Women In Film Spotlight: Actress and Writer Annunziata

Annunziata is a dual USA/Italian citizen actress, writer and unapologetic computer nerd based in Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles who divides her time working in film, theatre and television. Originally from New York, she is an award-winning, classically trained actress with leading film roles screened theatrically and at over 50 film festivals worldwide. Most recently, she recurred as Dr. Maya Turner on The Resident (FOX), Carmen Davis on Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots (OWN), Charlotte Burton on the Jenji Kohan hit Teenage Bounty Hunters (Netflix), a tough addict on Blue Bloods (CBS), a meth addicted South Central denizen in TNT’s Southland and the iconic evil witch, Blood Mary Billingsworth, in Nickelodeon’s Deadtime Stories which re-airs every year around Halloween. She will also be appearing on the upcoming Amazon reboot of Dean Devlin’s Leverage, acting with and directed by Noah Wyle, and is currently shooting another soon-to-be-released Netflix show.

Previous favorite theatre leading roles include Duet for One (Winner: Top 5 Leading Actresses), Brecht’s Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Sheila Callaghan’s Scab, Tony Tanner’s The Trojan Women, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona with West Hollywood Shakespeare in the Parks. She has worked on both sides of the camera for Sony Pictures, Netflix, Amazon, CBS, Fox, ABC, NBC, TNT, Disney and Universal.

Annunziata was a speaker and presenter at NATPE, VidCon (industry luminary and actor panels) and New Media Expo (“Advice from Award Winning Actors” panel). She served on the Board of Directors of the Classical Theatre Lab, co-founded the International Academy of Web Television Writers Group East and is a proud member of Women in Film, NYWIFT, SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity. Annunziata is also a freelance journalist and activist, writing and fighting for industry diversity, equality and (currently) voter inclusion.

She writes for the West View News in Greenwich Village, NYC. She co-wrote the award-winning documentary American Tap which world-premiered as the opening night film at Lincoln Center and immediately received international distribution. The film tells the controversial story of the origins of tap dance which highlights the vibrant and powerful nature of our cultural melting pot while simultanously dealing unflinchingly with some of the hard truths of our American past (racism, plantation slavery, cultural appropriation) by meticulously documenting an uncelebrated history of primarily African-American dancers.

Annunziata co-wrote and starred in the HBO Women in Comedy competition film, Peep Show. She has written a NY-based crime series (Battery Park) and is currently working on a gritty science pilot (Biohackers) and dramedy series (The Olios) about 2 competing olive oil families because what Italian doesn’t think they make “the best” anything? “Nunzi” also hand-makes her own limoncello and…it’s well…unequivocally the best you will ever taste.

We Empower Magazine got an exclusive interview with Annunziata.

Tammy: What inspired you to get into the entertainment industry?

Annunziata: I used to spend a lot of my Saturdays watching old movies with my dad, a science/math dude who did community theatre on the side. My sister used to write and produce neighborhood plays and put my bro and me in them, sometimes even casting me as “the bratty sister”…ahem. Our version of “social media” was knocking on the neighborhood doors and saying “Hey we’re doing a play on our back porch. Wanna come?” Mom edited all of my writing and really made me into the writer I am. So I guess you could say it started right inside my family. I’ve always been what I like to call a “maker” – made my first film when I was 11 – Joan of Arc, with mom shooting camera because go big or go home, right? (oh right…I was at home lol).

I always knew that I wanted to affect people in a bigger way – change their minds, open them up, free them from unconscious (or conscious) bias. I just wasn’t sure if it was going to be through acting or another medium. But I was well aware of the power of the medium of film, having made films so early. And as I began researching and creating character after character, I realized how much I was exploring biases about people and uncovering cultural arrogance — and I felt people were in need of more mutual understanding. Because once you get inside of a character, you don’t judge them – rather you see the world through their eyes. And I knew I could achieve this connection with others by bringing an audience member inside my character’s world so they could see the “other” in a more accepting way.

Tammy: What do you enjoy most about the work that do you? 

Annunziata: What do I do? In the simplest of terms, I create people and tell stories. I’ve always done that. All my life. With or without a paycheck. I loooooove what I do. It’s second nature. I get to go to a lot of places and “be” a lot of people. That’s a gift. It’s a mind-opener, for sure. I love meeting new people and discovering new stories. I love being around makers — people who put something fresh into the world. Obviously, that includes actors but it’s also writers, producers, costumers – everyone is engaged in putting something out there. I love collaborating with them.

On my off-set days, every time I get to audition or write a scene, I get a playground upon which to create. I honestly stop and think every now and again “I really get to do this”. Not that it isn’t work, but actual playing is a huge part of the job. Who gets to do that? And in the end, I could even tell a powerful story that moves people to places they’d never imagined. Or I can brighten their day with laughter. 

Tammy: You are highly connected and accomplished within the entertainment industry. What are the most memorable moments in your career so far?

Annunziata: Taking a film to 50 festivals, I saw a lot of the world and met a myriad of creative people from all over the world. Periodically, our worlds intersect and I love hearing what they are doing next. Being around so many hopeful, creative people all the time inspires me enormously. 

I remember once doing a play, playing a character who had MS. She was based on a real person – strong, intelligent, opinionated but struggling with the unfortunate cards life had dealt her. After the show, an audience member approached me and said “Thank you. My brother has MS and now I understand him a little better”. As the Italians say “Senza parole”. No words can express how much that moment meant to me. 

I’ve played a few drug addicts and during my research I worked with a needle exchange (a non-judgemental service which supplies clean needles to junkies on the streets). Once, one of the recipients asked me to help him get off the drugs. So I got him into a program. It’s amazing to me how much power we can have to affect another’s world. One little gesture can change a whole life.

Tammy: How do you use your platform to empower others? 

Annunziata: Through my writing I can tell stores that matter. Also, I love meeting other empowering women and hatching plans. I welcome them into my creative circles and embolden them to tell their stories – sometimes if I can, I come onboard in a bigger way – I’ve even ghost-written some projects just to get a fellow female filmmaker’s first film off the ground. I am always there to say “do it” when a fellow “maker” wants to make.

Here’s my recent pet project: I get frustrated (what the Italians call “agita”) when I see all the roles out there for men – there’s a lot of talk of women getting roles – and we are seeing it a little bit on the production side, particularly with women directors getting hired a lot more often and succeeding at it. YAY! But I still see women in about 10-20% of the acting roles out there – even in the scripts for upcoming productions. So I’m wondering what that does to young girls when they’re looking to get into the business or even to tackle any of the professions portrayed on tv/film.

Do they feel that the odds are against them? I don’t want even one woman giving up on herself because of that. We are 51% of the population so shouldn’t we appear in something near 51% of the roles out there? But it’s still not happening — the statistics are still shockingly abysmal — so whatever I have to do to get that word out, I am shouting it from the rooftops.

Tammy: When you think of women empowerment, what comes to mind? 

Annunziata: It’s easy to fall into the trap of competing, especially with other women because they look and act more like you than men – but we need to steer away from that and reinforce our alliance. Women can be your best allies. When one of your friends succeeds, celebrate them ridiculously, enthusiastically, genuinely. Even from the beginning, when I auditioned for the same roles with some of my earliest girlfriends, I would say “I am going to work just as hard on this role for you as I am for me because, if it’s not gonna be me, I want it to be you!”. I want my friends happy. That makes me happy.

I used to have a hard time finding the women who had a similar generosity and I’d get burned along the way. Now I tend to recognize a toxic situation and stay away. Broken bones and bruises, I guess. You really do have to be discerning and surround yourself with people of integrity. But do make it a priority to find your empowering girl tribe. It’s remarkably affirming, and we need all the support we can get on this wildly uncertain journey.

Tammy: What are you currently working on? 

Annunziata: I’m on a series for Netflix. There’s no telling anyone anything anymore – we are all bound to confidentiality clauses so I can’t share more. But I can tell you it’s a fun, fun role and I can’t wait until it rolls out and I can talk more. I am also writing a couple of pilots (one foodie family dramedy, one nerdy sci-fi thriller/love story, and a crime series. 

Tammy: Who are some women in the entertainment industry that have made an impact on you ? How so? 

Annunziata: Oh gosh, so many — Geena Davis is out there on the front lines fighting for women. Shonda Rhimes is a force of nature. Ava Duvernay. Reese Witherspoon. Women out there making it happen (and giving women actual jobs, full stop) inspire the hell out of me. And women who go against the grain and share an alternate opinion. 

For example, I remember hearing a story that Isabelle Adjani (a rare talent) was once interviewed at her home and the first words out of the interviewers mouth were “you look so good. How old are you?” She promptly replied “Ach, such a bore” and ended the interview. If more women would do that, change the conversation from the tired male gaze focused conventions. we may be able to empower more women to succeed in a (formerly) male-dominated industry. 

I idolized Elizabeth Taylor because of all she had been through in career and life (was she possibly the preeminent victim of a male gaze?) and yet she prevailed. Won Oscars later in her career, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. Now that’s a woman who used her platform well. If I need a jolt of good old fashioned actor brilliance to remind me why I do this, I will re-watch her tour de force performance in Virginia Woolf or Taming of the Shrew.

And I will never discount the brave men who fight for women. It’s important to celebrate them as well. It takes a great man to not feel threatened and to forge alliances and empower us. They are heroes. My husband is one of them.

Tammy: How do you balance self care and career?

Annunziata: Wow! That’s interesting to ask me now because…covid, right? I mean, you work on a show and there is Just. So. Much. Paperwork. And protocols. And lots of legal stuff. And now…even more! The fact that we all went increasingly digital last year to cope with covid amplified this. It puts a lot of burden on the actor. You can barely find time to feel human when everybody needs you to sign something or be somewhere. You are always being pulled in 7 different directions – moreso for women. They need your nails painted, hair cut and curled, different shoes, bra, etc. etc. 

I have this inherent need to get my house in order before I leave it because coming home after a long shoot day (or night!) to a chaotic home is unsettling. My home is my zen space. I have literally been late to an appointment because my “time for myself” was actually washing my dishes. Because it felt like “me time”. I know, right? Me time is literally washing my dishes, but seriously it gets that crazy sometimes. I also work out 6 days a week, running 3 of them. It clears my head and I learn my lines while doing it so…multitasking yay! 

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Also, social media can overwhelm. I know it’s necessary in my field but I need to take breaks. Sometimes I just want to keep my head down and do my work. 

Stress = bad health so I try and minimize it as much as I can, knowing full well that a film set is stressful. I try to DND calls and texts, close out of email, and filter the noise as much as I can (it’s contrary to my personality type but I’ve learned that I’m no good to anyone when I’m distracted). I love sugar but I need to stay away from it during shoot schedules or I get too tired. Protein and veggies really help me be in top mental and physical shape during production.

Also, and most importantly, I prioritize family time. Over everything. Of course, my fam understands when I’m working, but I try not to compromise them. I’ve made a solemn vow to try to be with them for every holiday. They reinforce my values and my sense of self. 

Tammy: Why do you think it’s important for women to be involved with organizations such at the Being That Girl empowerment agency?

Annunziata: Oh my god, it’s such a gift that you exist. Because women need to remind themselves constantly that they are able. They need to remind each other of that…regularly. In all power structures, there is always a gender battle in some form or another. And we need to be on that field, linking arms and joining thoughts so that we matter more. 

And well, I won’t be the first woman to say that women have a hard road to traverse. As Ginger Rogers famously said of Fred Astaire “I have to do everything he does, except backwards and in high heels”. Yes, of course, a tap reference but, as you may know, I’ve been embroiled making a documentary on tap dance over the past few years so it’s fitting. And the spirit of that statement shakes me to my core because women ARE hard workers and have a lot of ancillary issues to contend with that don’t effect men in the same way.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule but typically when I show up on set, there’s a lot more conversation about hair, makeup, costumes. That’s when I wish I was a guy and could just concentrate on my work. Not just on set – where those differences are really conspicuous – but in our daily lives, we tackle all of this “extra”. We are, in fact, “stronger together”, as a vey wise woman once said.

Tammy: What advice would you have for aspiring actresses? 

Annunziata: Networking isn’t what you probably think it is. It’s not partying and socializing. It’s working together. Putting your best ideas out there, believing in them, and collaborating on them until you make it happen. Make no mistake, Cocktails are GREAT (I’m an aspiring mixologist), but they don’t bring people together in the same way that creating together can. In fact, I think the best combination is celebrating your collective creations with a cocktail.

I had an acting teacher who once said “you have to be so good that they can’t ignore you”. And it’s a great belief. It’s a tough ride. If you love it enough, stay with it, make stuff. Be out there, putting art into the world. Constantly. Pretty soon, they (the industry and the audience) won’t be able to ignore you. Oh, and if you want to be a great actor, study with that acting teacher (Larry Moss). He’s phenomenal. 

Learn more and keep up-to-date at http://annunziata.com/

Instagram & Twitter @annunziataactor

For media inquiries please contact https://www.iam-thatgirl.com/

 

 

 

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