DATE : 21ST OF JANUARY 2021
Tamela D’Amico is not only an actress but a singer too and The Movie Culture were happy enough to talk her about her latest project which is a mix of Indian and American Production called One Little Finger. She speaks about her Role and how she was first involved with the project and we also talk about her life and career as an Actress and Singer. Let’s get on with the Questions.
Image Credits: Johnny Buzzeri
Q. We’d like to start off this interview by asking you about One Little Finger – could you tell us about how you first got attached to the project as a whole?
Tamela D’Amico: Magic. I had been asked to do two other films in India, prior to this film. My representation was against me doing either of them, because they didn’t know the crew and filmmaking infrastructure in India. They had no way of protecting me, if I traveled over there alone. So, I was led to be fearful of going to India, as an actress, mainly because Americans don’t really know enough about India, in general. Low and behold, one of those films that I did not take, ended up getting into the Cannes Film Festival. I think it was called Kama Sutra, or something thereof. I was bummed. Later on, and randomly, now years later, I was at Lake Shrine near Malibu visiting the Japanese gardens with a friend. It’s a very spiritual yet nondenominational place. We decided to go to the side of the lake, where a swan was in the water, to meditate. We settled in cross legged position and I closed my eyes and as instantly as I did, I saw a flash of India. Like a vision. It was the strangest thing. I opened one eye and turned to my friend and said, “I think I want to go to India.” He opened one of his eyes and said, “It’s already happening.” We were sort of kidding, but two weeks later, the director of One Little Finger contacted me through Facebook messenger and offered me the role. Director Rupam Sarmah said he had offered me the role properly through my reps who had turned it down. He had the foresight to realize I probably wasn’t aware of that fact (I wasn’t). No one told me. And that was upsetting. I told him to send me the script and I would read it myself and get back to him. I was moved by the story and I knew it was something I was meant to do. Rupam had known of me as a music artist through the Grammy Foundation, but we didn’t know each other personally, prior to making this movie. As to why he chose me specifically, I have no idea, except that he works on feeling/vibe too. He was persistent in reaching me, and we had our first international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival! Legendary multi-Grammy winner Quincy Jones has music in the film, as well as so many other amazing and notable artists. Quincy was on my vision board prior to this project. Maybe I manifested all of this. Who knows! All in all, this is a lesson to all actors. If I wasn’t so involved with my own career, networking and knowing what is going on in the business or staying religiously on top of my social media accounts, I would have missed this wonderful opportunity.
Q. Could you please tell us who you play in the film and what can we expect?
Tamela D’Amico: I play Raina, an American neurologist who has many theories about music as therapy, but was never able to test them out in a real way. She is in a not so great relationship with her narcissistic Rockstar boyfriend who believes she has made her focus on music therapy to only grow closer to him. That being far from the truth, she uproots her life to research music therapy in India at a disability institute, when her mentor offers her the opportunity to do so. She leaves the stresses of her personal life behind and finds herself in a new land teaching children and adults with disabilities through her exact theories of music as therapy. When she sees that the students are responsive to her theories and therapies, she inspires them to challenge themselves through their abilities and their lives are transformed, having to plan and put on a concert at the end of her time there in India. While in her studies at the institute, she meets two students, Den and Angel, who are disabled but want to contribute towards the betterment of society by overcoming their physical challenges. Their lives intersect with Raina’s just when she is struggling to further her research. Touched by the beauty of the culture and the varying stories of the children with disabilities, Raina’s philosophy and theories about music therapy change. Through her experience, she understands that balance of mind, body and soul are vital in realizing the true value of life and that disability is a perception and “ability” is what we believe. She would have never learned that if she had not gone to India and had this particular experience. Raina heads back to the States after the students have a successful music concert, having grown as a person, with a new concept about not only music but also love. Ironically, I got to take the journey as Raina in real time. I was a fish out of water, experiencing India and all of its marvels for the first time. Whatever she was going through, I was, as well. Raina’s worries and joys were also my own. We have over 80 people with disabilities in the film, most of which are marvelous musical talents. The film shows what it actually is like to live life with a disability. They are the true heroes of this entire production. There is no movie magic here. Actors with disabilities portraying characters with disabilities. In life, anyone can become disabled at any moment, even you. Disability rights are not to be looked on with charity, this is a Human Rights issue. The film sends a message that has become a movement and a now a foundation. There is “ability in disability” and everyone deserves a chance at their dreams. I hear a lot of producers and casting people talking about inclusion, but so few are actually incorporating it into their projects without being mandated to. We still have a way to go but at least we are on an upward swing. Also, People-First language should be a standard. When you speak in this way, you put the person you are speaking about or addressing before their diagnosis therefore describing what a person “has” rather than asserting what a person “is”. This film is an Indian and US co-production. You will see the sights of India in a new way and come out the other side having been moved by stories based on real life events. We have been all over the world screening this film and it touches people’s hearts. There hasn’t been a Q & A where I didn’t end up crying because of how it makes viewers feel. In the audiences that stay after the film screenings, I have been met by parents of children with disabilities who were so thankful to see something similar to their lives up on the screen. To have them have that acknowledgement on the screen was something I never considered in that way. So I am joyous that it is happening. And within those audiences, they also found community to talk about their struggles and joys. It wasn’t just that we had championed a story for the disabled, but rather that we opened a needed discourse for something that is rarely discussed or depicted on screen. For that, I am absolutely proud to be a part of this film.
Q. As an Actor, what do you think before daunting on a project such as One Little Finger?
Tamela D’Amico: It wasn’t a small decision. I had to consider how this job would affect my life personally and professionally. I had to travel back and forth to India making myself unavailable to other jobs. I missed a lot of other work while doing this film but it was a choice I had to make. As I mentioned, my representatives were not thrilled that I decided to take on this project because they didn’t feel like they could control anything if something went wrong while I was in another country. Director Rupam Sarmah insisted that I met him personally by calling 20 people who knew him and had been or worked in India. We did! His reputation passed with flying colors. The practical information that I received about traveling to India could have been greater though. I spent two weeks in a rural area not understanding how to turn the hot water on. The people there didn’t know why I didn’t understand because they had never been to America to have a frame of reference of how our water systems are. I had to research an American girl’s blog who taught me how to turn the hot water heater on. It was quite humorous. I was treated like gold by everyone in India, because I was there as a Hollywood person, so I recognize that I did not have the typical tourist experience. But I had to research not only my character and her needs but my own while deciding to take on a role that would have me back and forth to India over two years.
Q. One Little Finger is about Music and you being a Jazz Artist yourself, how was that like working on the project?
Tamela D’Amico: They say that you don’t choose to sing jazz, rather it chooses you. I feel that to be true for myself even with this film, it chose me. I have been hired to sing other styles of music and happily do when asked. I started my career in pop, R & B and techno dance music, but ultimately knew that I didn’t want to be singing songs that wouldn’t stand the test of time. So, for my actual music career, Jazz has my heart. An artist can be giving you a song that you may know but it is the interpretation of it that lets you see it in a new light. That’s a gift. Jazz is filled with discovery and I am a creature of change. In this film, music is utilized in such a way that even the frequency and vibration of the soundtrack with songs from Quincy Jones, Siedah Garrett and Kechi and Rupam Sarmah are actually implementing music therapy as you watch it. If you watch the film, you will understand what I mean.
Q. An Actor and A Singer, you wear both hats. Which of the two professions do you prefer over the other?
Tamela D’Amico: They are both lovers that I love equally. One day I hope to marry them both into one project for myself. I have one on my production slate, I just need to raise the financing for it.
Q. You had worked on a Disney Show in the past. What can you tell us about that?
Tamela D’Amico: My NY agent had left the business and ushered his company to a partner in Los Angeles. She didn’t know me at all but submitted me for the role in Best Friend’s Whenever because she heard that I could do comedy. It was the first audition I had with her. I got the audition and as always, I researched everyone involved in the show before I went in. I highly recommend all actors to do this. IMDb is a fantastic resource. I learned that SNL comedy legend Nora Dunn was playing the older version of my character. I love and know her work and think she is hilarious. She has a dry way of speaking and I knew that I should probably incorporate a bit of Nora into my performance, since I was playing the younger version of her. The character had a specific look. So, I invested in her. I went shopping and chose what I thought a female scientist in the 90’s would wear, in addition to what I saw Nora wear on the series. There were a lot of actors playing kissy face with the casting staff in the lobby when I arrived and I just don’t do that sort of stuff. I always keep to myself so I don’t break my concentration, but I noticed another actor looking at my outfit in a particular way. I knew that I had nailed the clothes and I was ready to perform the physicality of the role in them, which there was a lot of in the script. I went into the audition and just the casting director was there. He read with me. He was warm and funny and he gave me a note to go a bit darker on my choices because Disney had decided to amp up their villains to match the demo audience over at Nickelodeon who is a competitor for them with Young Adult content. I took the note and he was like “Great!” That was literally it. I had nothing to go on, but I left there setting a goal for myself that if I got a callback, the next time I left there, the role would be mine. I got to my car and no sooner did I start the engine, my agent called and said I had a callback with producers. A few days later, I went into the callback, calm cool and collected and then turned on a dime when it was time to become my character. She was severe. The casting director’s phone rang in the middle of my audition and I reprimanded him in character and they loved it. I felt I did well, but I left there again with a “Great!”. Not long after, I got word that not only did I book the job but that it would now be a recurring role. Disney fans are far and wide and loyal. My social media exploded after this show. And I got to check “playing a Disney Villain”off my bucket list.
Q. At this point of your career, what kind of movies do you want to be a part of going forward? Maybe a Tent-pole blockbuster?
Tamela D’Amico: I love to work, period. Most actors do. WE love to play. That’s our literal job. As mentioned, I would love to be cast in a project that marries my singing and acting talents completely and I also want to do a period piece and work with Ryan Murphy. And I am currently getting my body in shape for that Marvel call.
Q. What was the reason for you taking up Acting? Is there an Individual who inspired you or a Film?
Tamela D’Amico: I always credit Judy Garland as being the first huge musical inspiration for me because as a young child I saw The Wizard of Oz and then would watch New York’s Nostalgia Network which was like a PBS station that aired old episodes of The Judy Garland Show and I Love Lucy instead of kids programs like Sesame Street. Judy radiated passion and knew when to be still and when to be manic and all with seemingly great ease because she existed from a center of truth. Lucille Ball was never a whore to the comedy. She played her circumstances. That is a huge lesson. She was not “trying to be funny”, she just was because of the situations that she was put in. Obviously it worked, because every comedy actress tries to emulate her today and her shows have stood the test of time. I took all this in at a tender age and knew that I wanted to be a part of the world that I saw on the screen past, present and future. After Judy Garland, I of course was obsessed with music and acting going together and found the music collection of my grandparents, parents and older siblings that ranged from Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, all the way to Doo-Wop music of the 50’s and then the Beatles to operas starring Pavarotti, then Janis Joplin and funk/disco from the 70’s, all the way to 80’s bands like Journey, Prince and Michael Jackson. From the late 90’s till now my “favorites” playlist changes often and I find that people are shocked that a jazz singer likes rap, as if all I must listen to is jazz and the American Songbook. I literally appreciate mostly all types of music and love to dance to anything. Because I always had a natural propensity for performing and working in all forms of media, I was often compared to Barbra Streisand in high school. So, I researched her path and took notes. She did everything and did it well and I wanted to utilize all of my talents in the same way. I may be an old soul for loving Jazz but currently, I appreciate what Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Sia, Lizzo and Cardi B are doing. I’m the product of an environment in love with pop music and art. In short, there is no singular person who influenced my style, my style is my own and I am always in discovery of other artists and appreciate new sounds. But from this background, I have a great love of movies all around. I read Frank Capra’s book The Name Above the Title when I was twelve and it made me want to go to film school. I have a great love of old films. And because I watched so many as a child that were in the Old Hollywood Studio System, I think I believed that one had to be good at everything in order to be in show business so therefore, I am a talent with many paths, myself. Literally everything I have watched and everyone I have come in contact with in this business has shaped me and has influenced by life. I hope it always does. I adore this business. All of it.
Q. The Movie Culture is situated in India and since Bollywood is a hub of producing major films, we’d like to know have you watched any Bollywood films?
Tamela D’Amico: I watched many Bollywood films when I was in India and a few prior. Mainly because I could only get Indian TV there. Netflix arrived after my last filming schedule there. So I had seen a lot of Bollywood and Tollywood films by the time I left. They are gorgeous to say the least. The women of India are some of the most beautiful in the world. Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! , Salaam Bombay (I am a huge fan of Mira Nair), Aiyaa, Queen and many more that I am positive I don’t remember the names of, come to mind. I would love to do a Bollywood film, anytime.
Q. Do you have any future projects lined up which you’d like to share with us and your fans ?
Tamela D’Amico: I’m working on an anthology feature film called The Antiviral Film Project. It’s a collaboration of international filmmakers telling stories from different cultures around the world to the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m directing the story from the Lakota Sioux tribe in South Dakota and I am super excited about it. I was offered the opportunity to direct a piece within this anthology and it was important to me to convey a story about indigenous peoples because their stories are not told enough. Beyond this, I have several projects in pre-production through my own company. As an actress, I have some independent roles coming up but I am looking to sink my teeth into my next major film/TV role, whatever that may be. I am looking forward to Covid being a thought of the past, so I can get back to work properly.
Q. There’s a whole lot of competition in the industry, do you have any piece of advice which you’d like to share with talents reading this interview?
Tamela D’Amico: So much. Create your own opportunities. Do not wait. Be prepared and willing to give all of yourself as an artist, come hell or high water, and keep creating. Vulnerability is a positive thing. This is a business, at the end of the day, and if you want longevity you have to understand how it works. Take a job behind the scenes, work for a manager or lawyer. Learn about contracts. Trust no one. Question everything presented to you. Don’t simply accept the answers. Go on your own journeys. Listen to your gut first then your heart. Step into worlds that you are frightened of and that you know little about so you can broaden your horizon. Every opportunity should be looked into. In this business we call “ Show”, you have to be as soft as silk to enter it and as tough as nails to stay. My wise Italian grandmother who is no longer with us would say “If you’re bashful, you lose. Don’t ever be afraid to go and get what you want in this life.” Go and get it!
The Movie Culture Synopsis
Pretty Interesting right, Tamela D’Amico having knowledge about Classic Bollywood Movie is a pleasant surprise. It is also interesting how she loves both of her professions equally and takes time to give time to both.
Well as One Little Finger heads up for it’s Release, Tamela D’Amico wouldn’t be empty handed as the projects she shared with us certainly looks interesting.
Lastly, the advice from her is head strong and inspirational to keep our admiration minimum. Check her performance in One Little Finger.