Actress Gena Shaw Is Making Headlines and Turning Heads
Actress Gena Shaw was gracious enough to give me some time to discuss her lengthy career in acting and provide insight into her new project, A Savannah Haunting.
1. Let’s start off the interview discussing a bit of your background. I envision you to be a true New Jersey Lady: a killer driver who does speak her mind, is independent and driven to succeed. So, how much of Jersey is still inside of you now? Will there ever come to a point where you may return to your former home?
You pretty much nailed it. As for how much Jersey is still inside of me, I would say a good amount. After being away for so long, I do not think I have as much edge as I used to. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. That being said, I am appropriately blunt, have an opinion if you want to hear it, curse like a sailor – and am a raging pizza snob. The saying is true: “You can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl.” If you asked me about returning to New Jersey ten years ago, I would have said “F***, no.”. However, I have grown to love New Jersey again, so I would absolutely consider it. It is home and always will be.
2. Some people may only be familiar with you as an actor. However, on a personal level, I see you are quite the pet person. With the occupation you have, how do you cater your schedule to accommodate the daily needs of furry friends?
I blame my veterinarian father for how much of a pet person I am. Growing up, I spent so much time at his practice learning about animals and helping take care of them. Our house always had a menagerie of creatures so whenever I would go into a home without ten plus animals running around, it would feel empty. (still does) Over the years, I have accumulated many furry creatures of my own and while I love them, it has undoubtedly added stress to my life – but it is a chosen stress. I am eternally grateful to my friends, parents and the many pet sitters who have helped take care of them through the years. If it weren’t for them, I would not be able to take a vacation or work on a shoot.
3. As I understand it, you also enjoy writing poetry. Is this something you do as a type of stress relief, or more as a means to strengthen your existing writing skills?
In regards to poetry, I wouldn’t call myself a poet by any stretch. However, my first love was poetry and creative writing before I ever started acting. I remember writing my first short story in second grade and when I read it to my class, I was met with blank stares. My stories were dark and strange. Nothing kids my age understood or liked, but I continued writing and sharing them throughout grade school. Writing has always been an important part of my creative life and something I am starting to focus more on.
4. Outside of your parents, how has your grandmother influenced either you as a person or within your profession?
My parents would have LOVED (and preferred) for me to take over my dad’s practice, but it was pretty obvious that wasn’t going to happen when I started acting in my late teens. After they saw me in my first play they said.” Shit, she’s great. We have to let her do this.” (Actual quote). They have supported my career choice ever since. My grandmother… I may start crying, so this is going to take some emotional control. My grandmother was my favorite person on the planet. My best friend. My world. She had a sense of humor that was unrivaled. A stubbornness that could drive a saint mad and go-with-the-flow attitude that I wish I inherited. She could tell stories for days. Her recall to detail made every story come to life in a way that made you want to hear them over and over again. She was a true storyteller and that definitely had an impact on me as a person and creative.
5. In addition to acting, you have carried on in a few different capacities behind the camera. Some of these titles include: Costume Designer, Set Decorator and Wardrobe/Makeup personnel. Is it true that clothing and makeup actually make the character? When one considers clothing an actor, is there such a thing as “taboo” types of colors, looks or styles?
I think in some cases, wardrobe and makeup can absolutely make the character. It can affect the way you walk, talk, and hold yourself. It is the visual component of the character that the performer cannot bring to the table. The actor does not always have a say in what they wear, but I have definitely pushed for certain options over others when working with a Costume Designer. Ultimately, the Director/Producers have final say, and as long as the wardrobe represents the character, I don’t think anything is “taboo.”
6. Throughout the years, you have also been booked to do commercial work. I have heard it said that actors struggle with the speed aspect, as thirty seconds is not long enough to tell your story. Where do you stand on this way of thinking?
Ahhhh – commercials. The story is “buy this product.” Show me really quick what it does in a clever or not so clever way and done! So, yes, I think thirty seconds is long enough. However, there is a lot of pressure on the actor. You have to get it right in a short amount of time. It is a skill you have to develop unless you have the innate ability to jump into the unnatural way of being natural – if that makes sense. Yet, they can also be easy and fun.
7. I note that there can be more financial incentives with doing commercials. Should money be the first factor an actor considers, or are you better suited to meet your overall goals by making this more of a secondary priority?
Commercials are a wonderful way to make money and get exposure. If ever given the opportunity to do one, take it. Work begets work. It took me a ton of commercial auditions before I ever booked one. Unfortunately, I don’t have many opportunities to audition for them since moving to the southeast. If the opportunity came up again, I would jump at the chance to do commercials.
8. Your first listed short film, The Laughter of God, was shot in 2000. If you could go back and change any part of this performance, what would it be? Many times, an actor will say that their debut in any film project is truly a learning experience on every level.
I have not seen it in so long, so I am not sure what I would change. If I had to guess, I am sure I was nervous as hell and afraid to move from my mark. So, I would say I would have been more relaxed. I definitely learned a lot on that set. In particular, how many crew members were needed in each department and the fact that you sit around and wait a lot during filming.
9. Your extensive experience in television is impressive, and it includes some of my favorites: CSI, Creepshow, and Cobra Kai. A great deal of your performances are within the drama genre. Do you see yourself evolving into more comedic performances at some point?
It is true that most of my performances fall within the drama genre. That is not necessarily by choice. If I had my way, I would be doing more comedy! I always try to infuse some humor into every character I play (If I am allowed). Just getting an audition for a comedy can be a fight because I’m seen as a “dramatic actress,” but I promise you I can bring the laughs!
10. You were in two episodes of the Hulu hit, Dopesick. This put you in the homes of millions of people to tell a heartbreaking true story. As both an individual and artisan, do you believe this project made a sizable impact on society as a whole?
The show definitely opened people’s eyes to the beginnings of the opioid crisis. Being a part of a show that has had such a huge impact on society is so rewarding on a human and creative level.
11. You wrote and directed a short film back in 2007 called Dig. What inspired you to make a short film? Was there a particular reason you elected not to be part of the cast?
It is kind of random. I had a dream about a little girl digging holes in the yard. When I woke up, I wrote it down and thought, “I should try to make this.” This is how DIG became my directorial debut. I did not go to film school or have any experience behind the camera at the time. It was definitely a crash course in filmmaking. It was 2006, and digital wasn’t a thing yet – and so we shot on Super16. You could only do so many takes before someone reminded you how many spools were left to finish the project. Very different from how things are done today. I elected to not be a part of the cast because I wanted to fully experience the other side of the camera. It was stressful and I made a TON of mistakes, but ultimately, it was a great experience.
12. On October 28, 2022, A Savannah Haunting debuted in select theatres and VOD. It has been described as “a creepy, spine-chilling well-made horror film.” How does this project set itself apart from the several other horror projects produced this year?
The fact that the film is based on true events that happened in the actual house we shot in IS what sets it apart from other horror films coming out.
13. Did this particular setting help or hinder your ability to act, as I am aware of your love of all things horror. This performance earned you a Best Female Actor Award from the Catalina Film Festival.
The house is legitimately haunted, and so shooting there was strange. It definitely added to the performance. For me, it was hard to relax in the downtime we had between setups or during breaks because no place in the house felt comfortable. I would go and sit in my car whenever I could just to get out of the house. As much as I love watching horror movies (and being in them), I DO NOT like being in a haunted house! Winning Best Female Actress at Catalina Film Festival was a huge career accomplishment. I was on cloud nine for a while after that.
14. Finally, do you envision yourself writing or directing another film in the coming year or two, as I see it has been about three years since your last project?
As for writing and directing, I absolutely plan on getting a project off the ground in the near future. It has always been a goal of mine to make a feature film. Right now, it is about finding a story I want and need to tell. When I do, you can bet you’re a** I am going to make a great movie.
To learn more about Gena Shaw, visit: Gena Shaw | Facebook