Friday, June 21, 2024

Artistic Spirit: Actress Susan Lavelle’s Extraordinary Journey in Dance, Film, and Faith

Can you share what first drew you to the world of acting and how your early interests in ballet, and gymnastics influenced your career?

I was very fortunate that my mother put me in all the performing arts that were available to me in our community at an early age, including theater and pageants. My first exposure to ballet, tap and jazz just opened my mind to the world of imagination and creativity through dance to last me my whole life! Ballet gave me my core for grace, balance, and poise. Gymnastics empowered me with strength and confidence. All these elements come together as your tools in an acting career but not just in an acting career but in many aspects of your life. And acting is just that, living your life and having as many experiences as you can to bring to your wonderful work!

What motivated your move from Louisiana to Los Angeles, and how did this transition impact your acting career?

I was attending Louisiana State University when the movie “Everybody’s All American” (starring Dennis Quaid, John Goodman, and Jessica Lange) was being filmed at the LSU stadium. There were thousands of people in the stands but during a break, I walked with a couple of my sorority sisters along the side of the field and an actor named David Sheltraw started talking to me. Next thing I knew he was introducing me to Dennis Quaid and John Goodman. With David’s encouragement and guidance, I moved two weeks later to Los Angeles to be a model and actress! This changed the course of my life forever and put me on a journey of truly pursuing my dream of acting.

In your film “Dear Mother,” you play the character Adriana. What aspects of her personality did you find most challenging or rewarding to portray?

Adriana is a very broken person by an unnecessary tragic loss of her husband. It was challenging playing a character so angry and sad but when playing a character like this, I have to find that level of empathy for her. She was also so angry at her son and that was hard for me, as Susan, because I am a mother of 4 and I couldn’t on my worst day be that upset with my own children. I had to look very deep to the root of myself to get every ounce of different emotions I had in me to play that role. The goal with the director, Andoni Zorbas, was to play Adriana as authentic as possible. So, the reward at the end of the movie would be so sweet. The reward is that there is hope for the very broken. As an actress, to be able to portray that in a part like Adriana is a dream come true. It is my most dramatic role to date.

How did your role in “Diamond Heist” and the subsequent recognition at the Mercurio Short Film Festival influence your career?

“Diamond Heist” was my first film project coming out of a very long hiatus, so I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I was going with my gut instinct and with the guidance of director/writer Dianna Ippolito who gave me this wonderful opportunity to be in it. The film won many awards at prominent film festivals, and I won best supporting actress at the Mercurio Short Film Festival. What this told me more than anything, was just maybe, I had found my purpose again in acting, and just maybe, I could be a good actress.

Could you describe your experience working on the set of “Saint Nick” and any memorable moments with co-star Chris Levine?

I laugh just thinking about being on the set of “Saint Nick”! All we did was laugh the whole time! I loved working with Rachel Alig and the rest of the cast in my scenes. Chris Levine is the nicest person in the world! I don’t want to give him away, lol, but he is calm, cool, smiling and greets everyone with a hug. Chris is not in my scenes, but he was on set cheering us on! Justin Knodel was the director, and he was wonderful too! I play Louisa, the cat lady, which is perfect for me because I have two cats in real life! “Saint Nick” will be out Christmastime 2024! “Saint Nick “was also recently screened at the Cannes Film Festival which was so exciting!

You have a notable role as a therapist in the upcoming movie “Transference.” How do you prepare for such psychologically complex characters?

Research. Starting with talking to my own therapist and asking her a lot of questions! Reading books, watching movies on similar topics and many conversations with the writer of the script, Jimmy Andrews!

What has been your most fulfilling moment as an actress so far?

I would say watching the films I am in, succeed in any way, are great fulfilling moments for me. The film, “Saint Nick” just screened at the Cannes Film Festival! That was so exciting! Many of the short films I have been in have won many awards at national and international film festivals. Films like “Dear Mother” that I’ve been in are on Amazon Prime, Tubi, Apple T.V. and other streaming services. This is what an actor dream of! I wish people could understand that it’s not about the money or even fame, it is about the work, the opportunity to do something special and for it to be seen.

How do you balance your professional life with personal interests, particularly your passion for equestrianism and animal advocacy?

I do not know a life without animals. It is not a matter of balance, it just blends. I have had two animal rescues but believe me when I tell you, animals have rescued me more than I ever rescued them. Horses are the gentle giants and to bond with one is breathtaking. These experiences with animals is what helps an actor’s instrument. Experiencing life, loving others. Letting other beings like animals carry you through with the good times and the bad…. I’m so grateful to my dog Scout, my cats, Shadow and Gidgett and my much loved horse, Razzle Dazzle and to all the other beautiful animals that have passed through my life.

What role does faith play in both your personal life and your professional decisions?

My faith is extremely important to me. And just when I thought I had lost it, it finds me again. I am from the South and we were raised in the church and I am grateful for that. I have my roots to ground me. Acting is an unstable and uncertain business. I have often felt alone, misunderstood and it is sometimes hard for others to understand why you are an actor. Faith in believing in yourself, your talent and that God has your back. As far as the characters I do, they are flawed people but that is what real people are. They are also endearing in their own way. I have played a gay person, a vintage prostitute, an angry racist alcoholic mother, senator’s wife, a dead woman …. I don’t shy away from anyone or any complicated character because of my faith. I believe God is love and that is where my faith lies, in love. There are many walks of life to portray as an actor. If anything, I become a more empathetic person because of the characters I play. My faith is what sustains me as a person.

Can you share insights into your involvement with community theatre and how it has shaped your approach to acting?

Acting in theatre is much different than acting in film or tv. In film and tv, acting is much more subtle. It’s important to study the different techniques. I think all actors love theatre because performing in front of a live audience is so rewarding! Acting in community theatre as a child opened my eyes to the love of the performing arts!

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the entertainment industry, and how have you overcome them?

I have been so fortunate to not have any bad experiences as a woman in the entertainment industry. I do believe you have to be your own best protector, hold on to your values, keep your self-worth, not act desperate and don’t put yourself in compromising situations. It is important to surround yourself with good, positive people in the industry and they are out there. Start by finding a good acting community. One good place is in a good acting class. Believe in yourself and know that you are unique and special.

Could you discuss any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?

I’m excited about a film I’m in called “Saint Nick” starring actor Chris Levine, directed by Justin Knodel. It just screened at the Cannes Film Festival and will be out Christmastime 2024! I play “Louisa” in the film. Such a fun-loving movie! It also stars Rachel Alig and Alex Lizzul. In the opposite genre, I have my first thriller/horror film I am in, “Dress for Slaughter”. I play this fabulous character “Eleanor”. Eleanor is a vintage prostitute with a red beehive, ha-ha! One of my all-time favorite characters to play! Dean Werner is the director, and it was just an amazing time with a great cast! I have 4 short films coming out! “The Dead Woman” and “Sweet Disaster” with award winning director, Dianna Ippolito! I’ve worked with Dianna on other award-winning short films, and I love working with her! We need more women directors like her! “Happy Birthday” is a thriller short film I am excited to be in with director Everett Ray Aponte and producer/writer/actress, Lean Tucks! I’ve also been working on a newer short film project based on the comic book “Normandy Gold” with producer Zack Bliss and director and former (Star Trek actor) Tim Russ. I play “Mrs. Sales”, a senator’s wife in this project. I have several films on Amazon prime, most notably, “Dear Mother”. I play Adriana, an angry alcoholic mother. My first starring role in a feature film. Directed by the amazing Andoni Zorbas! 19. How do you stay connected with your fans, and how important is social media in your professional life? I appreciate my fans and anyone who follows me! The love and support inspire me! Social media is the best way for me to connect with my fans, showcase my work and stay connected with my colleagues in the business!

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Looking forward, what are some dream roles or projects you hope to tackle in your career?

I would love to play a wonderful southern character as I know the south and southern people so well. I was born and raised in Louisiana! They are so full of heart and soul and some of the kindest people you will ever meet. If I could play a feisty but good-hearted southern woman, I might retire, lol. Or maybe I would graduate to playing a mafia boss’s wife! (I’ve been talking to my novelist friend, Leonard Wise, about this one, ha-ha!) Who knows? The possibilities are endless! And that is what you must know, the possibilities are ENDLESS when you believe and have a little bit of faith.

Jared Hagen
Jared Hagen
Jared Hagen is a journalist and an active college student in Madison, Wisconsin. When he is not working as a Journalist or AV Technician, Hagen runs a music production company with his brother, Kaleb Hagen, titled Hagen Brothers. Hagen's focuses heavily involve music production and journalism.

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