Check out our interview with actress, entrepreneur, and multi-award-winning athlete Kijsa Gifford.
Kijsa spent her formative years in intensive training for gymnastics, volleyball, lacrosse, and collegiate pole vaulting. Currently, Kijsa is a college student at University South Florida where she attends virtually in order to purse her acting career, and is set as a D1 Pole Vaulter for USF commencing her competitive season in 2025.
A distant cousin to Marilyn Monroe, Kijsa possesses the same charisma and charm as her iconic relative and named her own production company, Norma Jean Entertainment after her. In the acting realm, Kijsa recently wrapped an episode of “Space Transports,” is in pre-production for “Solace in the Little Things,” appeared in the upcoming short “The Coffee Shop,” and is slated for the lead in “Myra’s Last Hope” as well as other feature films in 2024.
Follow Kijsa @kijsagiffordofficial
Hi Kijsa, please tell us a little about you?
I am a 19-year-old actress and athlete. I have been training since I was very young. I love acting because, as an actor you can experience moments of emotional connection that in your real life you may never have the opportunity to live through.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Driven, happy, and kind.
How do you prepare for a role?
I am very fortunate to have some amazing acting coaches that I regularly work with. I have taken numerous workshops and am always trying to perfect my craft. I first dissect the script and read it over a bunch of times. Then I set up private coaching with one of my coaches for further work on it.
What projects you have been part of?
I have been in a short film called “The Coffee Shop,” a TV pilot called “Space Transports,” and the 2nd season of an existing TV series that I am under contract with but cannot discuss. I am also filming “Dirty Roomies” episode 9, season 1 on a new platform coming out in 2024. I just wrapped another short film and am currently filming an indie feature film in LA. I had some feature films that were set to film in September and October that are on hold due to the strike.
What kind of roles do you like or would like to play and why?
I love roles that challenge me to plunge to my farthest depths of emotional range and teach me to elevate my level of acting. I am really active so I like action roles as well. These roles allow me to empathize and grow rich connections and deep understanding of the human condition.
Which fictional character would be the most exciting to meet in real life?
Spiderman or Harry Potter. It’s a tie for me. I would love to fly through the air with spider-man and experience his body awareness. And for Harry Potter, I would love to borrow his invisibility cloak and wand for a day.
Can you name three actors or actresses you would love to work with?
What book should every entrepreneur read?
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. If you don’t know who you are and what you stand for, you will struggle.
Any plans on creating your own fitness program or podcast?
Not yet. Maybe someday in the future.
Now talking about sports. Any advice for aspiring athletes that want to follow your steps?
Oh for sure. Sports are hard work. However, life is all about balance. When I look back on my younger self I see a kid who trained 36 hours a week at a gymnastics gym. I missed out on birthday parties and hanging out with friends all in the name of sports. This was common in high level gymnastics and other sports. I would say to aspiring athletes, “Don’t miss out on your life. Train hard, for sure, but take time out to have fun, see friends, experience childhood, and live too. There has to be a balance.”
Tell us about being a multi-award winning athlete and if you have to pick in order of all the sports you participated in, what goes first?
My favorite sport is pole vaulting. I love it! It is freeing to fly through the air. I was naturally talented at gymnastics and also love snowboarding, volleyball and lacrosse. I was a Tops Team Gymnast which is the youngest level training to be an elite. I was picked up for the US Olympic Developmental invite team and won many awards, medals and trophies.
I also won quite a few awards in pole vault and volleyball. Unfortunately, I missed my entire senior year season of pole vault due to an injury. I was going well over 13 feet in practice before I got hurt so it was heartbreaking for me. My goal was to break the Florida record, but I ended up sitting out my whole season. I am almost fully cleared to return to training and I cannot wait to get back to vaulting again.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gained from your coaches?
Hone your craft and continue to train and learn throughout your career.
What is your motto?
Never give up. Train hard, work hard and envision success.
What is your workout routine these days?
I work out with a personal trainer five days a week and go to physical therapy two-three days a week. I am not cleared to pole vault yet, but once I am, I will train five days a week there and back down on my personal training.
Name one your strengths?
I have great upper body strength, speed and amazing body awareness. Being an elite-pathed gymnast really helped with that.
As a popular athlete you are followed by so many people, including young girls. How do you feel about that pressure of always doing the right thing, and encouraging people to follow their dreams?
Well I am not perfect at all. I have made many mistakes. It is how one bounces back and grows from those mistakes that counts. Also, it’s how you handle and treat others as well. It’s so easy these days to stand in judgment of others’ mistakes. It takes a stronger person to withhold judgment and extend a helping hand. It’s hard enough being yourself. But my motto is to stay true to yourself and don’t put out an unrealistic image of who you are. Be kind, understanding and nonjudgmental of others, you never know their story.
What did you learn from your biggest failure?
That whenever one door closes and another one opens, be brave enough to let go and walk through it.
What would you say are the greatest lessons you learned so far?
To not let yourself be pigeonholed and to become multifaceted. When I was young everyone thought that I would become one thing and so I set my intention and mind there. But, due to unforeseen circumstances I realized that I was really good at other things too, but people didn’t want to see me that way. I had to work hard to prove myself in all of these things. I had to dig out of that one bucket everyone wanted me in.
How would your best friend describe you?
Friends are an interesting topic for me. Growing up I was so isolated as an athlete and homeschooled for gymnastics, I didn’t have too many close friends. Once I went back to “normal” school the cliques were formed and girls were relentless to me. My athleticism was a big point of contention. I often found myself alone or being friends with guys. A lot of girls were not welcoming or nice to me. I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of young girls out there right now are experiencing social isolation and aggression at the hands of other girls. I want to speak to those girls and let them know to have faith and use this time to build the best version of themselves. I see you, I hear you, I WAS you. A lot of times the parents are all in on it too. They just don’t want it to be their kid being left out so they stay complacent. It does get better. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t until after high school. I was very alone in high school and that’s okay, because I worked on myself and look at where I am at now. Now, I have some of the most wonderful friends anyone could ask for. I am feeling very blessed.
Which project is still on your bucket list?
That one is a secret. But if I get cast in it, I will come back and let you know. I just don’t want to jinx myself.
What advice would you give to your younger self, and why?
Dear lord. I was a hot mess. I would tell my younger self to work harder on staying focused. I would tell my younger self to hold on and know that social anxiety and dealing with things gets better with age and confidence. I went through a lot of bullying and other stuff and I wish that I could go back in time as the person I am today and use my voice. I was emotionally shut down back then. I would love to be able to go back in time and stand there as I am today. Good luck to those bullies against the current me.
What’s next for Kijsa Gifford in the last months of 2023 and for 2024?
I am filming an episode of a TV series that is ending its first season. I am in the last episode and will be in the next season as well. I am booked as the supporting actress in an upcoming nonunion indie feature film that films this November. I am also the lead actress in a short film that films this December and the lead in a feature film filming in January.
Now that the strike is over, I hope to book more projects for 2024.
What is your favorite healthy food?
And your favorite cheat food?
Coffee. I cannot live without it.
What is your own definition of happiness?
Being of clear mind, body, and spirit and knowing who you are and what you stand for. Much unhappiness comes from being a lost soul who doesn’t know these things.
How would you explain your fashion style and what items in your closet you cannot be without?
My fashion style is all over the place. I wear everything from athletic clothes to high fashion to sweats and everything in between. I could not be without sunglasses.
What is your favorite song to belt out in the car or for karaoke?
I love all of Radiohead’s music.
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Marilyn Monroe. I would love to talk with her, learn about how she honed her craft, and hear her advice. I would also like to talk to her about our family connection.
Do you support any charities?
I will in the future but haven’t decided yet
Idea of a perfect Sunday?
Work out, walk my dogs, cook a beautiful breakfast, chill on the boat for a while, read a book or journal, and hang out with family and friends.
Where can we follow you?
FB: Kijsa Gifford