Inspirational Women In Hollywood: How Actress Brie Eley of Here and Ready Is Helping To Shake Up The Entertainment Industry
Express your needs and values out loud. There used to be a lot of finger waving around how bad it was to be seen as “difficult” or “angry” especially for Black women. But I say, express yourself. Let people know if they are not matching your demands or standards. This world needs passionate people willing to get angry! Apathy is what got us here in the first place.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Brie Eley.
Brie Eley is an actress/creator from Sugar Land, Texas. After studying at the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer program at Oxford University, she earned her degree in Theater from Marymount Manhattan College. Upon graduation, she was active in both new play development and classical theater in New York City and regionally (Ensemble Studio, Classical Theater of Harlem, The Kennedy Center, Humana Festival of New Plays.) Now based in Los Angeles, she continues to act onstage, in commercials and on tv and film (King Lear at the Wallis Annenberg, Obama-ology at Skylight Theatre, 9–1–1, Shining Vale and the upcoming Ryan Murphy series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.)
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Sugar Land, a formerly rural city outside of Houston, Texas. My parents were passionate about exposing my sister and I to Houston’s amazing arts scene which contains many museums, the Houston Ballet and theaters like The Alley.
Whether it was Muppets take Manhattan or Fraggle Rock and the talented Jim Hansen that set me off something in those shows inspired me to see what it might be like to go after your dream at a very young age. I saw Party Girl with Parker Pose during my teen years, and I felt that I was being fed images of what thriving in New York could be like. Mary’s character (Parker Posey) has little income, yet she still finds ways to spend her nights at clubs. After being arrested for throwing an illegal rave, she asks her aunt Judy (Sasha von Scherler) for bail money. These images became fodder for what life would later look like during my time training in New York. After experiencing the Phantom of The Opera during my high school years, I would soon join a musical theater program which kickstarted my career as an actor.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Like most young girls, I did ballet growing up. I always loved the ceremony and rituals around the end-of-year recitals — walking into the theater’s dressing rooms, the lights, the applause. My teacher at the end of one year pulled my parents aside and said, ”Brie is great, but she sure loves to talk. Maybe, she should do theater.” That led to a Saturday acting class for kids, where those teachers recommended I combine the two in musical theater. I joined a musical theater school called Theater Under the Stars, which hosted most of the larger touring Broadway productions.
I attended classes anywhere from four to six days a week learning theater history, jazz, tap, singing and more. Those teachers then recommended I audition for Houston’s High School for Visual and Performing Arts (HSPVA). It always felt like a natural progression. I think my parents saw the joy and fun I was having and felt that it created a way to keep me in classes. HSPVA was really a major shift for me, since it was my first experience with a conservatory-style of training, which served as an introduction to the craft of acting. HSPVA was focused on creating three-dimensional artists who also understood and respected the work that happens around them. One minute you might be in rehearsals on a contemporary play; the next, running props on a show; the next, building a set; and the next, studying Shakespeare.
When I entered the British American Drama Academy Midsummer program at Oxford University, it felt like a full moment. I was around a ton of passionate students from around the world, who were just as invested in learning as I was. The university had an incredible faculty. We worked on verbally rich and emotional pieces, saw amazing theater at Stratford and spent the days punting on the river. It was really magical. One of my teachers was Fiona Shaw, and she really impressed upon us the importance of seizing acting opportunities, no matter the medium. Before the financial collapse in 2008, actors were very segmented by what type of work they did. You never saw film actors on tv, and tv actors rarely did commercials. But afterward, all bets were off! Now you have actors fluidly moving between streamers, commercial campaigns, podcasts and more because work is work. I’ve tried to bring that variety into my acting career.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In high school, I was represented by Pastorini-Bosby Talent Agency, which still represents me for regional work today. Occasionally they would send over auditions for industrials, commercials and films. I happened to be cast in a driver’s education video for the city of Houston about car care and had maybe four or five days of work from it. Fast forward to me at the movies, and a guy walks up to say he recognized me from that video. Little did I know, they used that video for every driver’s ed class taught through Houston schools! The guy said it was his first celebrity sighting, and I thought, “who me? From the driver’s ed video?” Little old Sugar Land me felt very fancy indeed. Contrast to the time I invited my friends to see Rushmore, my first SAG project, on opening night. This moment fell flat though, as I’d learn that my line and almost my entire scene had been cut. It’s a funny business that way.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first came to Los Angeles, I learned the hard way that you must respect your calendar. One time, I arrived at 200 South on La Brea for a callback. This is a big commercial casting facility where they post the day’s auditions and room assignments on a big chalkboard. I read then re-read it, looking for the name of the project. It was nowhere to be found. What do you know — I WAS A DAY LATE! That was my A-Ha moment. I started color-coding auditions, callbacks and my work schedule and added in calendar holds for driving. I started to think of my calendar as a professional tool.
My agent may provide me with the opportunity, but it is on ME to walk through the door. They are commissioned at 10% of my earnings, so the other 90% comes to me. And that 90% of the work is my responsibility. Once I started analyzing and preparing my auditions with this in mind, I think my bookings really took off. I’ve booked some great commercial campaigns working with people like Paul Giamatti, Amy Poehler, Craig Robinson, Rebel Wilson and JK Simmons. That also inspired me to create a commercial class called The Other 90% that analyzes commercials and their specific audition process. I hope to have another session later this year and will share those dates on my website at Here & Ready.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely. Bob Singleton was my voice and speech teacher who also taught theater history. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to teach all these hormonal kids with Texan drawls about the art of diction, projection and speech. He taught me how to tune my voice like an instrument and let the construction of consonants and vowels work for you. He loved breathwork and how essential it was for living, in life and onstage. We definitely bumped heads, but his passion eventually won me over. I am so grateful for the foundation he built in me. Right now, I’m in a production of King Lear the Wallis in Beverly Hills. I couldn’t imagine how I would attack such a complicated text without his training.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
May the odds be ever in your favor. [laughs] But seriously, this is truly a funny business. So for your own sanity, keep two things in mind:
This is a business. Decisions may not come down to your talent but to the needs of the business, so don’t take rejection too personally.
This is called show business. In all of the hustle and bustle, don’t forget about the magic you create. Enjoy the show and stay true to the needs of the story. Once the show is over, go live your life, stay connected to the world and the people that bring you joy. You can’t live in that swirl every second of every day. Hopefully, that awareness will keep you engaged but also able to disengage when needed.
What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
I’m driven by hope. I’m so excited to see what stories are being told and who is being given space to tell them. Our whole industry shifted thanks to the emergence of streaming. All of a sudden, new voices were able to enter the chat and create series which disrupted the traditional episodic season and shooting schedules. For films, the day and date model was a total disruption. Even theaters adapted, offering plays through platforms like Streamyard. These new voices and formats also seem more open to how these projects are being cast, which opens up opportunities for Black actresses like me, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA community and performers with disabilities. I’m here and ready for it.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
Right now, I’m performing in a new adaptation of King Lear with Joe Morton at the Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center. Joe is probably most known to my generation for playing Papa Pope on Scandal, but the man has been acting almost his entire life, with a career that’s spanned from Broadway to Blockbusters. It’s like a performing masterclass at every rehearsal and show. The whole company of actors is so generous and committed to this production. Earlier this year, I worked on Loot, an Apple+ series where I got to yell at Maya Rudolph, which should be out later this year. As for where I’m going, this summer and fall, I have some travel on the books for the first time in years. I’ll be visiting my theater homes, New York and London.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
- Diverse representation onstage, on-screen and in art makes people feel seen and gives them permission to recognize themselves in the experiences of others. When I look at the crowds for King Lear, which have been so inclusive, I feel proud to know that I’m a part of something which brings people of all types to the theater. I remember watching Never Have I Ever on Netflix and thinking, “finally, one of the awkward girls of color.” We all deserve that.
- Diversity can also expand your box office revenues. When you’re speaking to more than one group, you increase your audience. The global revenue of the Fast and Furious movies has earned over 1.5 billion dollars. I mean, it is a business right?
- Finally, why not diversity? Your projects will only become that much richer once you embrace how universal our experiences are through the lens of our specific experience. From there, empathy and understanding grows. Seems like a win-win to me.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- This career has different demands than most jobs. For example, bankers don’t bank on the weekends. Since you are out in the world all the time — studying work, auditioning, creating — give yourself some off time too. Burnout is not a joke.
- Longevity in this business is a team effort. Send a note of thanks to the casting directors or artistic leaders that bring you in, the friends who come to your shows. Fostering goodwill costs you nothing and never goes out of style.
- Invest in your personal relationships. When you have people around you who love you and speak honestly, it is a beautiful thing. At the end of the day, they may be the only thing you have.
- Express your needs and values out loud. There used to be a lot of finger waving around how bad it was to be seen as “difficult” or “angry” especially for Black women. But I say, express yourself. Let people know if they are not matching your demands or standards. This world needs passionate people willing to get angry! Apathy is what got us here in the first place.
- Entertainment is the largest export that America has, topping at 93 billion US dollars. Cherish the part you play in this global exchange and honor that opportunity by showing up with the professional attitude and humility this art demands.
Can you share with our readers any selfcare routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
I have a few. I love to clear the furniture and have a dance party. I’m the type where I need to move. So if I can’t go out, I turn the house into a club. Before COVID, I would even go out by myself to dance if I needed to sweat out the week. I also run, which I cherish as a part of the time I give to myself. It helps me breathe and get back to a place of peace. Finally, I love caring for and buying plants. It’s a reminder that there is a cycle to all of this. Even if today brings a brown leaf, tomorrow there’s a chance for a flower. I definitely got a little too into plants during the pandemic [laughs]. My friend says I’m barred from buying anymore until at least the first of next month.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Make that money, don’t let it make you.”
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Gosh, I don’t know how I would even measure that. In the fall of 2019, I started a networking group for Black actresses on Facebook. It has steadily grown to become Here & Ready, a searchable talent database and active tool to gain industry access through casting workshops and seminars serving more than 1200 members. I would like to think that the group’s goal to build community over competition has inspired our members to approach situations in new ways, gain skills and stay motivated through the hard parts. We actually received a grant from Tamika D. Mallory and will be launching a new website and member experience this summer!
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to grab a nibble with Viola Davis. I’ve followed her career through regional theater, seen her onstage and love watching how she has gracefully and seamlessly moved between the stage, screen and producing. I also love how JuVee Productions, that she started with her husband Julius Tennon, has managed to develop so many projects that are diverse in tone and style too. She’s truly proving that Black actresses can be anywhere and do anything.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/brie.eley
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.
In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.
Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.
With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.