Check our interview with talented Actress, singer and writer Gina La Piana who steps into the era of soul as she takes on the role of tough, hard-hitting attorney ‘Sandra Jacobs’ in the highly-anticipated new drama series from BET, “American Soul” premiering February 5th at 9/8c. The new series will show the rise and fall of impresario Don Cornelius, who created the dance show, “Soul Train,” the first nationally- syndicated black music show, against the backdrop of an unforgiving Hollywood in the 1970s.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Powerful. Loving. Friend.
Name one of your strengths.
One strength is my ability to put people first. My mission in the short time I have on this planet is to make the people who are closest to me feel important, loved, and appreciated. Success and abundance is just icing on the cake
What inspires you?
Animals, children and people who change the world; like my dear friend Rob Stewart. He spent his last breath fighting to bring awareness to the global shark hunting crisis and how it impacts the environment. The most beautiful thing is when your passion meets your ability to help a cause. It brings a life full of purpose and that inspires me! Thank you for that question.
Why and how did you get started in acting?
I was born to act. I watched “I love Lucy” with my Dad from the time I could walk and talk. I have photos of myself when I was only 5 years-old wearing wigs, costume jewelry, and anything my five-year-old brain thought was glamorous. It was in my DNA and I never had any other dream than to act. These days I often fantasized about random jobs like living in the country, being a librarian, an astronaut. It’s a fanciful reverie.
What roles do you like to play? And why?
My first thought is to say that I do not have a preference on what type of character I play. I have been cast as the underdog for most of my career, but I am always grateful just for the work. There is a lesson I learn about humanity for every character I bring to life, however; I feel the most expressed playing powerful women who have a choice, and who control their own destiny. It personally took me a long time to feel that way.
Film and TV heavily influenced me as a child. My female role models were women like Audrey Hepburn, Oprah, and Meryl Streep. They helped shape my ideas of what I could become. In a way, those women helped me survive my youth.
If I can help empower even one girl or one woman to believe she can take on anything and create it from nothing, then I feel as if I’m on my path. Sometimes, what may seem like a hopeless circumstance, is truly your own personal gold. My story is extraordinary and I am grateful I get to share it.
Tell us about your role as Sandra Jacobs in BET, “American Soul?”
Don Cornelius is a true pioneer and legend of our time. Honoring him in this way just feels right. It’s a story that needs to be paid homage and I hope it gets the light it deserves. There was nothing cooler than “Soul Train”! It was a gift and a privilege to be a part of such an iconic piece of American history.
How was the casting for the series?
To be honest, the casting came during a murky time for me. I had reached an impasse, I wasn’t sure I had the energy to continue down the road I was on with the same amount of drive and vigor that I had sustained for so many years. This business takes all the passion you can summon.
I had just sold the first home I had ever owned, which was a huge benchmark for me and I was in escrow on a new home I had been working on for months. Letting go of my house had me feeling a bit lost and out of sorts before the casting arrived. I remember saying a prayer, something like: “If this house isn’t meant for me, and I am supposed to continue in LA and continue acting, please give me a sign, something to show me I’m doing the right thing.”
Within a few hours of learning I lost the house, I received a call from my agent telling me to jump on a plane to Atlanta and in an instant, I felt connected to the divine, a reminder that we’re not on this journey alone.
What does a normal day in your life look like?
It looks like a day at the zoo! I am in love with a dog-man named Atlas. A Great Dane, Pitbull, Terrier mix. He is my best furry pal. I inherited Atlas from my friend and filmmaker Rob Stewart, he passed away almost two years ago. Since then, my life has been a series of dog park runs, pee pee walks, and a very timely feeding schedule, along with some great hikes. Atlas keeps me in the moment and laughing no matter what’s going on. There’s also some meditation, possibly some writing and a little Netflix in the mix of the day.
What has been the hardest part of your career?
I would have to say not having the proper support system. I started acting very young and at such vulnerable age that it’s easy to get pointed in the wrong direction and take some bad advice. I feel as if I’ve finally found my LA family. It took me a long time to earn and cultivate those relationships which is really the greatest inspiration for me now. CAN live with them, cannot live without them!
I’ve also started building a strong business team, finally!
Best advice ever given?
It was from George Lucas! He is such a kind wise man. I smile so big when I think of the time I spent with him and how positively he guided me all these years. It’s people like George who helped nudge me in the right direction. It is easy to get caught up in a world of perception and he told me that building a family was far more important a goal than any amount of money or fame I could achieve. He said that even reaching the highest pinnacle of success in the entertainment business could only ever buy me a more “comfortable” place to call home. It was strong family values that were most important to him above all else. His message landed, along with some cool acting advice that has helped me garner more work along the way. Thank you, George!
What’s your favorite show on T.V. right now?
There are some incredible female-driven shows right now that are among my absolute favorites. “Killing Eve’ from Phoebe Waller- Bridge, “Smilf” from Frankie Shaw, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” from Amy Sherman-Palladino, “Alias Grace” From Sarah Polley and Mary Haron, and “Big Little Lies.” Thank you, ladies for rocking my world!
What do you do when you have some time off?
Pet Atlas, brush Atlas, play with Atlas… no! I spend time with friends, try to squeeze in some self-care like massages, and most of all, I fantasize about all the things I wish to see around me.
What is on your bucket list?
To hang out with Hugh Jackman, again! (My Hero)
To spend more time with elephants: The Gorrah Elephant Camp in Port Elizabeth, South Africa is an EPIC adventure! Live in a forest for a while, directing a feature film, spend a month in an ashram doing things like Panchakarma, and trying Ayahausca! Maybe jump out of a plane. It hasn’t been a f**k for that one yet.
How would your best friend describe you?
My two best friends Johann Urb and Adam Ambruso both often say, “YOU ARE A BADASS!”
What quote do you live by?
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman Vincent
Today is MLK day so it’s only fitting that I share one of his quotes too, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Oh, my goodness, it would be to lay in bed all day in my Pj’s, watch classic movies, ordering in food, and reading Vanity Fair from cover to cover. All while listening to Atlas snore. Yes! The end.
What’s next for Gina La Piana in 2019?
We are in pre-production on a film I wrote called “Welcome to Wolfson Castle”, which starts filming in the south of France at the end of March. I will star in the film alongside some of my incredibly talented friends. I am also producing a few TV projects, looking for the right house for my dog (tee hee) and manifesting some romantic love back into my life.
What’s something people don’t know about you?
I haven’t fully let go of my ex-boyfriend, the writer. AND I’m trying my hand at standup comedy, coming soon to a stage near you!
What is your own definition of happiness?
Freedom. Filling my time exactly the way I envision it, with all things that excite me on the day to day, and a world where work is play.
How would you describe your fashion style?
Oh Jeez, these days, it’s bohemian-vintage-thrift store-chic.
What is your favorite healthy food and your favorite cheat food?
Favorite healthy food: Avocados. I would not want to live without them!
Favorite cheat: varies on my mood. Right now, it’s savory/crunchy, without the calories like pop corners kettle corn or BBQ Hippeas. I also LOVE the homemade Erewhon deep dish Pumpkin Pie, but that’s only if I’m feeling particularly cheeky.
What music do you like?
That might be the toughest question on your list. I’m so eclectic with music, I love 80’s rock, Prince, Beyoncé, Journey, Bob Moses, and classical music. I think Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” is my favorite song right now.
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Do I have to pick one?
Living, I would have to say Steven Spielberg. I love every bit of his work and he is one of my creative SUPERHERO’S. Also, OPRAH, she is EVERY woman!
Dead, probably Mahatma Gandhi- because his goal was freedom, and his strategy was peace. And Jane Austen, she is my favorite. I would have loved to collaborate with her! Just divine.
Do you support any charity?
Yes, I have worked closely with the Aviva Center for Girls for over a decade. Some of my best Christmas memories are being there at the La home school, decorating the tree. Aviva provides compassionate support, therapeutic Services, and guidance to at risk children and families. You can volunteer in Hollywood! It’s a simple process to get started and an incredibly rewarding experience. Find out more at Aviva.org
How important is Social Media for you?
I should get better with it, but if I had it my way we would still be communicating via carrier pigeon.
Where we can follow you?
Favorite Song: “Don’t Stop Believing” from journey still gets me high.
Favorite Travel destination: South Africa, there is nothing in the world like being on Safari.
Favorite Movie: This is the toughest question on this list! I cannot name just one.
“It’s A Wonderful Life”, EVERYTHING Alfred Hitchcock, EVERYTHING Steven Spielberg. EVERYTHING Billy Wilder, “There’s Something About Mary”, “Lost in Translation” “The Piano”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Hurt Locker”, “Sense And Sensibility”, “Annie Hall”, “Molly’s Game”, “The Matrix”, “Network”, “The Shape Of Water”, just to name a few!!!
Favorite Actor/Actress: Oh goodness! Not living, Lucille Ball. Alive, I’m a creature of comfort– Cate Blanchett, she always delivers and Penelope Cruz does it for me. I could watch her face and hear that beautiful accent for days, she’s a slice of heaven! AND Rachel Weisz, just wow, those eyes, her choices, she’s timeless.
Favorite Sports team: Here’s where I’m boring, I don’t watch a lot of sports. But if it’s basketball, It’s the Los Angeles Clippers. If it’s Baseball, I like the New York Yankees. I’m a complete follower in this area. If I attend a sporting event it means I’m in the mood for a good beer.
Photo Credit: Philippe McClelland