One thing that’s clear about Janel Tanna is that despite being credited as a writer, producer, model, etc., acting is certainly her calling. “I really believe I was born an actor,” she says, reminiscing on a childhood spent creating short films with her neighbors. Having an empathetic instinct has worked to her advantage, making it easy for her to jump into other’s shoes and create characters. This paired with formal acting training and respect and dedication to the craft have paid off, with her amassing multiple awards in just the beginning of her career. My conversation with Janel shed some light on her process, inspirations, as well as the current state of the film industry and where she thinks they can go from here.
An interesting part of Janel’s process is just how seriously she takes getting into character. “I consider myself a chameleon; I’ll play anything,” she says, though she does prefer dramatic roles over comedic. Regardless of the type of role, she says preparation is different every time, but as soon as she begins to read a script, her mind starts going places. There’s so much that isn’t in the script. In fact, Janel believes the real character comes together outside of it. To do this, she begins constructing a sort of history of her character, starting around the age of five and building their memories.
Even with characters that may seem to be her opposite, she can pull from some aspect of her life. “Every character I will ever play or create is really me in another universe or another dimension, I approach a character as if it were me, and these memories that I create happen.” For some characters, it’s not hard to find those similarities. For example, Sienna’s Choice is all about an ex-ballerina who goes to law school and ends up facing a challenging diagnostic situation. As a former gymnast, Janel could relate and pull from the studious part of herself (she is a doctor, after all).
“We all have many aspects of who we are. Every experience I can bring to my art also.”
Janel uses not only her personal experiences to fuel her creative process but also those around her. When speaking on what inspires her, no specific people came to mind, rather types of people. “I’m inspired by people who had to make way for themselves, who overcame a lot, people that don’t let anyone stand in the way of what they want to achieve.” Inspiration is everywhere, though, with something as simple as a beautiful photo or painting affecting her.
Similar to what inspires her, her advice to other aspiring actors and actresses might not be what you expect. “There has to be a part of you that believes in your dream when nobody else does.” Building off of this, she discussed how people might try to tell you to ‘just be yourself’ which of course matters, but love for art of acting is even more so. “If you love the craft I think that will sustain you.” It’s clear Janel loves acting down to even the most tedious aspects of the process. Building characters, studying the craft, always working and learning, that’s what it really comes down to.
“I’m still aspiring myself. There’s always new things to learn, that’s what I like about acting is you can do it forever.”
In pre-March 2020, Janel spent her weekends in the city, staying connected to the artistic world. Although that has drastically changed, she has risen to the challenge of staying on top of her craft even during a pandemic. She does virtual reads, auditions, and film festivals have gone virtual, allowing her to still connect with people in the industry, even via computer screen.
As for the future of the industry as a whole, she’s hopeful. The adaptation of virtual film festivals has helped greatly. Not only do they make the film more accessible for those that otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend events, but they connect people within the industry. Through workshops and Q&As, she is still meeting and talking to new people. On top of that, experiences and projects are more unique than ever. Although it has been a huge struggle, Janel is optimistic. “I think we’ll find ways to make art to keep getting out there.” The film has to power to unite people from all walks of life; it’s great to see that continuing despite it all.
Sienna’s Choice is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Cover photo: IMDb