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INTERVIEW: Actress and filmmaker Giovannie Espiritu

Actress and filmmaker Giovannie Espiritu was nominated alongside Academy Award Nominees Alfre Woodard and Amy Irving for Best Supporting Actress at MethodFest for the Mynah Films feature film Fiona’s Script. Her primetime credits include a recurring role on ER (NBC), Bones (FOX), Gilmore Girls (ABC), and Trauma (NBC). She can currently be seen as the lead in the Amazon series, “Dyke Central,” which was featured in After Ellen, BuzzFeed, Bust Magazine and Curve Magazine as a top LGBTQ series to watch. As a filmmaker, she was featured in Elizabeth Banks’ WhoHaHa Media for her parody song, “An Introvert’s World,” and her storytelling has been featured in Ms. Magazine. A three-time Outfest Fusion Filmmaker, her short film, “Ultra-Feminist,” was awarded Honorable Mention. Her film, “Ally3000,” just won Best Screenplay at the Culture and Diversity Film Festival (Los Angeles) and the Cyrus International Film Festival (Toronto). It also picked up several awards in the categories of Social Justice / Women Filmmakers / Scriptwriting / Humorist in the IndieFEST Film Awards and International Best Shorts Awards. She can also be seen as Melody in the film, Middleton Christmas, alongside Eileen Davidson and Michael Paré. The inspiring teen drama was released in the holiday season 2020.

She coaches kids/teens online nationwide through HollywoodActorsWorkshop.com and was just named as one of the top 40 Audition Coaches in Los Angeles by the Hollywood Winners Circle founded by Wendy Alane Wright, a top talent manager. Her students are represented by the top agencies in the Bay Area and Los Angeles and notable student alumni include William Lipton (Daytime Emmy Nominee, Cameron on General Hospital) and the Espina Sisters (Hosts of Dreamworks’ “Life Hacks for Kids on the Road”). In her spare time, she rock climbs and advocates for Domestic Violence Awareness/Prevention and LGBTQ equality. She has served on the Board of Directors for C.O.R.A. (a Bay Area domestic violence hotline and agency) and been awarded a Certificate of Recognition from the Senate for her community service.

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about where you come from and how you got started in acting?

Giovannie Espiritu: I actually moved over 12 times when I was younger, but I guess I was born in Tondo, Manila. It’s a small town in the Philippines, kind of notorious for being one of the poorest districts in what is already a third world country. My mom had me when she was just a teenager, and we immigrated to the United States when I was 2. *That’s a story in and of itself. I actually got started acting in a weird way… I was part of a doomsday cult and living next to the National Forest and I used to try to keep telemarketers on the phone because I didn’t have any friends. One of them said that I had a really interesting voice and that I should try voice-overs. I had no idea what that was at the time, so I looked it up on the internet (this was still in the dial up days) and I found the biggest agency in SF, and sent them a really crude recording. The actually called me in, signed me, sent me on my first audition for a video game, and I ended up booking it and recording it that very same day. I took it as a sign from God (although, I don’t consider myself religious now…but at the time, I was still in the cult mindset).

  1. What was your prime motivation behind wanting to become a successful actress?

Giovannie Espiritu: Money… honestly, I just had a kid when the above story happened and his father quit his job because he didn’t trust me as a mom /thought Jesus was coming back soon/I don’t even know why anymore… and the fact that I booked a job where they paid me hundreds per hour to play a little boy in a video game was kind of a miracle to me. I just kept doing it because I had to put food on the table and I didn’t know what else to do. I had dropped out of school because of the cult and I didn’t have an education or other skills that I thought was marketable at the time.

  1. When you decided to be an actress, did your family support you?

Giovannie Espiritu: I remember being younger and my mom supporting me at a speech competition I did in grade school, and I took a few classes at The Young Conservatory when I was in middle school that my stepfather paid for (mainly as a bribe because he was abusive and wanted me to keep it a secret)… so my history with the arts and my parents in general has been a bit complicated. When I booked my first major role (a recurring role as Med Student Ludlow) on the ER series, my mom was proud. I don’t know about my dad though. A lot of the messaging I would get from him was that it wasn’t a “real job,” but I didn’t talk to him that much.

  1. What kind of student would you say you were during your school years?

Giovannie Espiritu: I think I wanted to be a good student. I was President of my elementary student council, and then I was Vice-President during my freshman year, but sophomore year was when things took a drastic turn, family-wise, and we ended up moving back to the Philippines and I got involved in the youth group that turned out to be the beginnings of a doomsday cult.

  1. As an actress, what is the most challenging role you have ever taken?

Giovannie Espiritu:  I think Gin in the series DykeCentral (Amazon) was particularly challenging because I had my hair braided for the pilot and the first couple of episodes. I’m being facetious, but I really do have a tender scalp and I cried a lot. That project was amazing because I love Florencia Manovil (the creator/showrunner) so much and I love the team that she puts together. We were like family.

  1. In which role do you personally think you have given you best performance to date, both technically and emotionally?

Giovannie Espiritu: It won’t ever be seen, but the first audition I did for Dale Fabrigar (the director of D-Railed with Lance Henriksen), I will always be particularly proud of that one – the casting assistant sent me a text right afterwards that said: “Holy Shit. That was amazing.” It wasn’t filmed, but I laid my heart on the line and went through death and back. I think that it was the strength of that audition that led Dale to write in a part for me that was not originally in the script.

  1. How do you handle performance anxiety?

Giovannie Espiritu: I allow myself to feel it and relabel it as “excitement” instead of “nervousness.” I think I suffer more from social anxiety and crowds more, especially these days during the pandemic. I had a mild case of agoraphobia for a bit.

  1. What is your dream collaboration and/or movie role?

Giovannie Espiritu:  I love the Wachowskis. I just LOVE LOVE LOVE them. But I think the part that I have always loved was Needy in Jennifer’s Body. He went from a shy wallflower into a complete bad ass. That’s kind of what I want my life path to look like actually. I would love to work on a sitcom or on a set where people have a lot of fun and laughter, respect each other, and make a lot of money while doing it. That’s the dream. The business isn’t that glamorous though… there are moments where it looks so fantastic and glamorous (like awards shows and premieres), but most of it is 12-14 hour days and waiting in a trailer.

  1. What has been the most difficult thing youve had to endure in your career so far?

Giovannie Espiritu:  The standards Hollywood has surrounding body image are the most debilitating.  I have so many friends with body dysmorphia and are afraid of aging. The apps that pre-filter our faces don’t help things either. Being a woman in this industry is hard because the number of roles available are already limited (men have the majority of speaking lines in a film), and being a woman of color limits the roles even more. And then, on top of that, I’m a pretty average looking actress and not considered beautiful by Hollywood standards, so that further limits the roles that I am considered for.  And then on top of that, you add in the sexism… it can be pretty bleak. Just last week, I was on a set (for the first time since the pandemic), and while I was in handcuffs, an extra made a prison rape joke in front of a majority male crew. I’m fine… I know he was joking, but it was still pretty humiliating.

  1. On the other hand what would you consider a most successful, proud or significant point in your career so far?

Giovannie Espiritu:  I was nominated Best Supporting Actress early on alongside Academy Award nominees Alfre Woodard and Amy Irving pretty early on in my career for a film called, “Fiona’s Script,” so that was nice… but most recently, I started writing in response to the frustration that I was feeling in seeing that there just weren’t the number of roles available to actors like me, and I won multiple awards for my short film, “Ally 3000” in the last year. I’m writing a directing more these days to help foster change in the industry. I’m currently developing my first feature film, “Dis-Graced,” which is loosely based on my cult life, and it won the inaugural Winston Baker Pitch Competition.

  1. As a fairly successful actress, what inspired you to take the time to coach kids/teens through the HollywoodActorsWorkshop.com?

Giovannie Espiritu: Money. Again… don’t get me wrong, I love teaching kids, but I started teaching when my former acting school asked me to teach a class for $50/week. The 2008 WGA strike hit and a lot of the acting jobs dried up and I had to support me and my kid as a single mom, so I branched off on my own. I teach kids through adults (my oldest student was in his 60s and booked an international film that took him on a press tour to the Philippines), but I’m known for my work with kids/teens… they probably like me because I’m such a goofball.

  1. Do you feel that your acting career has given you back just as much as you have put into it over the years, or were you expecting something more, or different to what you have achieved?

Giovannie Espiritu: I don’t know yet. I’m proud of what I have achieved thus far, and could probably die feeling fulfilled career-wise. But there are still things that I want to do and places that I want to see outside of acting. I guess I wish that it was more lucrative monetarily. I think that people don’t understand that actors are primarily gig workers… even if they get booked on a major network show, if it isn’t renewed, we are back to square one.

  1. How would you define the word success” as a working actress? What does success” in doing what you do, mean to you personally?

Giovannie Espiritu: I think that I am reframing my meaning of success to “moments of joy that I create.” I generally enjoy who I work with and feel like I am lucky being able to make a living in an industry that I have fun working in.

  1. Putting aside the accolades or criticisms that fans or the media may afford your performances, what do you think is the one thing about you, or your craft, that people overlook, misinterpret, or underestimate most often?

Giovannie Espiritu:  I’m generally overlooked and underestimated ALL THE TIME. But I kind of like to fly under the radar incognito… especially as an introvert. I think people think I’m an extrovert because I can be very energetic when needed and tend to get cast in high-energy comedies, but I actually am a very private person and don’t talk to more than a handful of people in real life.

  1. Do you have a particular hobby or activity outside of career that you use to rejuvenate your creativity or inspiration?

Giovannie Espiritu: Since the pandemic, I’ve been taking Zoom pole dancing classes. I used to boulder and rock climb, but since the gyms were closed and the pandemic made me even more scared of people-ing in person… pole dancing has kind of been my go-to. I also am learning how to be sexy, since I’m usually socially awkward.

  1. What drives you day after day, more than anything else, to continue pursuing your career and craft?

Giovannie Espiritu: Providing for my kid. Also, I don’t know how to do anything else. I didn’t really have a secondary plan. But I do know that there is an inherent power in storytelling to help shape the world around us. It can make people more emphatic towards one another. I do want to be part of the storytellers that help change the world into a more inclusive society.

  1. What for you is the most exciting and stimulating part of the film making process?

Giovannie Espiritu:  I like the deep dive into humanity. Being an actor is such a lesson in psychology and human motivation. It also gives us space to feel things that society teaches us to repress.

  1. With social media having such a heavy impact on both private and public lives in general, how do you handle criticism, haters and/or naysayers in general? Is it something youve had to deal with, and do pay attention to, or do you simply ignore?

Giovannie Espiritu: So much of social media is a lie. One of my mentors told me, “What anyone thinks of you, good or bad, is none of your business.” So much of an acting career is about rejection – so you have to have a thick skin anyway (at the same time be able to be super vulnerable in scenes).  It does hit sometimes though… the lyrics to that parody song that you featured (the one about Ariel being an Introvert) were taken by a prominent YouTuber without permission and she used my lyrics on her channel and it went viral to 3.2 million before I even found out about the plagiarism. She is stereotypically beautiful (thin, white, pretty) and has a “nice girl” persona online. So when I first tried to get credit/compensation for my lyrics, she had her celebrity lawyer say that I had no value and that I should feel grateful that she even noticed me. When people on the internet found out, a lot of the comments were defending her and that was a little hard to take.

  1. Do you have a favorite motto, phrase or piece of advice, you try to live or inspire yourself by?

Giovannie Espiritu: “But the great thing is…” – It’ a phrase I use to turn my brain from the problem in a situation to the solution.

  1. What do you find most rewarding about what you do? And do you have a specific vision or goal set in your mind that you would like to achieve in the near future?

Giovannie Espiritu: I enjoy creating good stuff with friends. I miss that. I think the next thing on my list is to learn how to create and run a production company so that I can start telling the stories that I want tell with really awesome people. And learn how to monetize the venture so that we can ALL get paid the bucks… or at least have decent health insurance.


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