Rising Star Tonya Kay: “Young-to-the-business actresses believe their job is to be talented. But an actress’s job is to be available and of good morale”
“An actress’s job is to be available and of good morale.” Young-to-the-business actresses believe their job is to be talented. But I see it differently after 80-some IMDb credits. If you booked the job, you are talented (enough). Since you are talented (enough), your job on set is now to be available (stay close, listen, focus on making the movie, know your lines, stay emotionally open, be easy to direct = available) and of good morale (work gets rushed, shit gets tense, be ready to rock and positive — it helps everyone’s attitude, which helps the day moving on-schedule). The nuance of my job is to be available and of good morale.
I had the pleasure of interviewing actress and director, Tonya Kay. Best known for her moxie and physicality no matter the discipline. You’ve seen her lead acting roles in Saving My Baby (Lifetime), Dark Space (SyFy) and Bastard (Fox Horror). Her directing work debuted on The CW with Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! and she was recognized as one of 30 Female Directors You Should Know by Festigious Magazine.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been making movies since I was a little kid! I used my parents’ VHS camera and lacking the digital intricacies we have today, actually pushed start and stop manually to film a stop-motion claymation short. That one went on to win an award in Detroit. Since the beginning, I’ve been shooting improv, sketch, musicals, dance and a few campy horror films on whatever was available.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
One time I was on stage in Johannesburg, South Africa and swallowed a Tsitsi fly hiding in one of my props. These flies are behemoth and I could feel the fur on its legs with my tongue — no kidding. I spit that giant African fly out right there on stage in front of 3,000 people who had come to see The Lalas. And then parasites wreaked havoc on my immune system for a year and a half after before I figured out why. Tsitsi!
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?
I was touring in STOMP and during our grand finale — a cacophonous, high-energy number — I looked to the wings and saw our stage manager pointing at me and laughing hysterically. WTF?! I looked down and realized I’d split my pants in back from waistband to knee. The rip was so big, what was left of my pant fabric was literally billowing in the wind, like a flag. Since then, I learned to wear panties underneath all wardrobe. The audience got more than their ticket price that night.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
You can see my acting work on Lifetime Movies right now in Saving My Baby, A Daughter’s Revenge and Web Cam Girls — I love these thrillers!
A film I directed and star in, The Ascension of Ava Delaine, was shot in one-take entirely on drone! This high-concept, experimental film is at festivals currently and so far has won Best Experimental (Festigious), Best Original Concept (Free Sprit) and Best Drone Film (EyeCatcher).
I also created, direct, write for and star in Tonya Kay’s Pinup Pole Show, a popular classic car rally, all-female pinup art show and 90 min stage production featuring retro and throwback entertainment, much of it lifted directly from Harlem’s Apollo Theatre comedy or I Love Lucy musical sketches.
I’m seeking brands and networks come on board for a classic cars and pinup girls unscripted tv series I’m developing. Know anyone into classic cars and pinup photography? How about everyone is into classic cars and pinup photography! Send the producers and brands to me to collaborate!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I’ve dog sat for Scarlett Johansson, soloed for Quentin Tarantino, sat next to Gore Verbinski at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner and starred in Stan Lee’s original season of Who Wants to be a Superhero?. All these people were interesting and I have oodles of stories! But I’d rather tell you about one time I made an ass out of myself.
The truth is, I don’t often get star struck, but once at Erewhon (local foo foo health food store), I saw none other than Angelyne in the produce isle. I’ve worked with Johnny Depp, Ellen Degeneres, Rob Zombie — you name it — and have never bat an eye. But I got so star struck when I saw Angelyne for the first time, I walked right up to her, squeezed some fruit like a creep and said something stoopid like, “So, you like tomatoes?”. What an ass! Since then, I’ve had lunch with her and she’s driven her pink Corvette to see Tonya Kay’s Pinup Pole Show. She’s a sweetheart and a Hollywood icon por vida!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Go vegan. Don’t eat crafty food (unless the crafty is Teddy Yonenaka). Drive electric. Take Fountain. And leave Los Angeles often for a fresh perspective — it all can seem very real and very important when you are here, but when you rendezvous regularly, you remember there are infinite realities and other things in life that are important, too.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d like to end the use of animals in entertainment and make every set carbon-neutral.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- “An actress’s job is to be available and of good morale.” Young-to-the-business actresses believe their job is to be talented. But I see it differently after 80-some IMDb credits. If you booked the job, you are talented (enough). Since you are talented (enough), your job on set is now to be available (stay close, listen, focus on making the movie, know your lines, stay emotionally open, be easy to direct = available) and of good morale (work gets rushed, shit gets tense, be ready to rock and positive — it helps everyone’s attitude, which helps the day moving on-schedule). The nuance of my job is to be available and of good morale.
- “Leave your phone in your dressing room.” Quentin Tarantino has a phone-check station outside the thresholds of his sets, which I respect and admire. There’s nothing more off-putting than seeing people at work buried in their smartphone. Not only does production wonder if you might be posting photos, but it also screams “not available” and … it’s your job to be available.
- “Contact production early if you have special needs.” Are you a vegan, like me? Do you have an injury that won’t allow you to wear high heels? Do you have an allergy to Mac cosmetics? Contact production early. They don’t want you to suffer and given enough lead time, will put you in touch with the proper departments to help with solutions.
- “Bring your own warm layers.” Even in Los Angeles, set somehow is almost always freezing! If you are a female, you are almost always also wearing considerably less clothing than your male counterparts and definitely less than the crew. Look out for yourself on this one and have easy-on/easy-off warm clothing in your car or dressing room ready to go. I bring slip on winter boots, hot socks, black leggings/tights, thermal tank, winter jacket long enough to cover thighs, gloves. Worth it.
- “Get high-def copy of your televised work from EditPlus”. I spent years hacking low resolution copies of my televised work for my reel, but let me tell you, for a very reasonable and worth-it price, EditPlus will get you a digital file of your televised work. Just make sure to reach out BEFORE your airing so they can “tape” it for you. I have nothing to do with the company, so this shout out is because I’m a sincere fan of their service.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I’d rather regret something I did than something I didn’t do.” Lucille Ball is one of the role models quoted as saying that. She got her “big break” at 42 and went on to rule Hollywood on camera and off. Every day I think the same thoughts: life is too short to hold back. Does this modo backfire on me? Absolutely — I tend to overdo it and bottom out. But like the saying goes, I’d rather regret bottoming out than not doing all the things passion drives me towards.
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?
I wanna shout out to my parents as my biggest supporters. When I got my first professional gig, I was only 15 and was going to have to miss 6 weeks of high school. I didn’t know this at the time, but my school wanted to fail me for missing and my mom had none of it. I was already the Valedictorian and I guess she went in and threatened to take me (and my SAT scores) to another school system before she’d let them fail me while I pursued my professional career! Gotta love parents who have your back like that!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
There are a few! I’d really like to lunch with Abigail Disney to thank her for her business activism for female film makers through Level Forward and give her big support on working with friend and Broadway producer, Eva Price. I’d also love to meet Taylor Tang because I’m excited about the new Quibi project she’s curating for and I’m enthralled with what Quibi’s format will be and what they are seeking. I’d always wanted to meet Bud Brucksman of BCII Productions because I have a hankering we have similar interests (classic cars and television) and it would be a high-octane connection for both of us.