Check out our interview with talented Canadian Actress Ayisha Issa.
Her career in acting took off following her landing a role opposite Hollywood royalty such as Micky Rourke, Henry Cavill, Luke Evans and Kellan Lutz in the 2011 epic/fantasy feature film, Immortals. Since then, Ayisha’s feature film credits have included supporting roles in movies alongside world-famous actors like the late Paul Walker, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Skarsgard, and Salma Hayek.
On the small screen, Ayisha plays Dr. June Carter on the upcoming CTV medical drama Transplant and has had recurring roles on the popular Syfy series Dark Matter, 12 Monkeys, and the award-winning CBC comedy Workin’ Moms. In 2018, Ayisha earned a Prix Gemeaux for her portrayal of Brittany Sizzla in the highly acclaimed French Canadian series Unite 9, a role for which she also nominated in 2017. She has also made her mark in the video game world as the fan favourite playable character Fliss in Mad of Medan with Shawn Ashmore and as Jayma in Far Cry Primal.
Ayisha holds a Brazilian Top Team Brown Belt and is a two-time IBJJF World Champion.
Follow Ayisha at @ayishaissa
Hi Ayisha, please tell us a little about you?
I’m a Canadian TV actress and a professional athlete. I own a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Dojo named 4Points located in Toronto. I am also starring in an upcoming primetime medical drama TV show called Transplant which will be premiering on CTV in early 2020.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Who is your role model?
I really admire people who have perseverance and go out and make things happen for themselves. I observe and learn from as many as I can.
How did you get started into acting?
It was such a long and complicated journey. Back in the day, I failed as a model and lost my job at the time. This inspired me to chase my dreams and follow the passion I have for Jiu-Jitsu. Ironically so, although my big break on the big screen came with the 2011 blockbuster movie, Immortals, I almost did not take the opportunity to audition for it because I was so focused on the athletic side of my career. I probably wouldn’t have auditioned for it if it wasn’t for my sister.
How has this changed your life?
I use acting as therapy. It’s a great way to connect with and explore who you are as a person and how you fit into the world around you. I was very disconnected from the world and myself for a long time. Acting and Jiu-Jitsu together have had a tremendously positive effect on my outlook on life and helped me develop many valuable personality traits I strived for. As we all are, I am still a work in progress, but I’m proud to say I’ve come a long way.
Tell us about your work in epic/fantasy feature film “Immortals?”
It was surreal. To participate in a project of that magnitude in such a prominent way – still blows my mind. I had to learn another language, do stunt training, wore elaborate custom-designed outfits by award winning professionals and so much more.
Looking back I’m both absolutely thankful and also mortified to know I almost did not recognize the value of being a part of such a production. Thankful, because it allowed me to be courageous in my approach towards picking the right parts for my career in the future and truly enjoy them. I interacted with people in power who did not expect me to do so, I shamelessly asked A LOT of questions likely deemed amateur at the time, and always prepared myself for the worst to avoid disappointment, which I knew at that point in my career would more likely happen than getting a big hit. It definitely opened my eyes having now seen all the “wrongs” I have done along the way, which I learned so much from.
How was working opposite to Hollywood royalty such as Micky Rourke, Henry Cavill, Luke Evans and Kellan Lutz?
They were all very nice and humble people. Henry Cavill hung out with the stunt team quite often and they’re always a lot of fun. I definitely couldn’t say we were close or became best friends, but he was very easy to talk to and down to earth the few times we did interact.
Mickey and I on the other hand pretty much spent time everyday on set. He would actually have me sit next to him so we could catch up on everything UFC-related at the time. He would tell me about his boxing career and ask me a lot about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I really liked him. He did a lot of improvising on set and I found him very convincing when he walked on set. This was also my first lesson in acting and it stuck with me ever since. Watching how he used the space, how he stayed in character, his focus and his commitment were truly inspiring. He was shameless in his acting. It was a memorable experience for sure.
Now about your work on CTV medical drama “Transplant?”
I don’t even know where to start. The set, the people, the writing, the talent of the other actors, the cinematography, the story…I still can’t believe I have the privilege of becoming a part of something so uniquely incredible. It’s also been amazing to explore such a deep and complex character. It’s a first for me and I’m learning and growing so much as an actor and feel like it’s helping me develop as a person. I can’t wait for it to come out and share it with our national audience. I think it’s such a relatable show that people will really dig it and hopefully learn a thing or two about themselves while they are being entertained.
What other projects you have been part of?
I had a great time working on Dark Matter and Polar. I’ve been on a few other projects like Brick Mansions and I was a series regular on a French TV show called Unite 9. I am normally such an action and sci-fi kinda girl that I’m pleasantly surprised to be having such an amazing time on Transparent.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
With Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the most rewarding part is definitely helping people find new life skills through dedication and training. We basically teach our students what it means to fail and how it leads to success through resistance. It’s very valuable to see adults and kids overcome their fears and challenges in pursuit of their goals not just in learning jiu-jitsu but also applying it to everything else in their lives to achieve the best they can.
On the other hand, the most rewarding part of my work in acting really has to do with exploring who I am as a person through the characters I’m portraying and the situations they face. Acting is an opportunity for me to share vulnerable parts of who I am and I hope people can connect with that.
Now tell us about your two-time IBJJF World Champion title?
You can compete at every belt level at the IBJJF. Back in the day, I won the Novice (white belt) and blue belt (second belt). For me, it was about having the confidence to put myself out there, which I am very proud of. As a current brown belt, I’m obviously much better at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu today than I was 5 years ago when I competed. I also happen to be on a team with several world champions who challenge me physically, mentally and push me to be my best. It really helps me stay humble and keep my ego in check, which I think is very important in a business like this. This only fuels me more to try again and again and keep on winning. It’s still on my bucket list to repeat the experience. The big issue is the budget necessary for traveling to compete across the world and I’ve also been forced to prioritize my work over competitions. I’m still hoping to find that balance in the near future when I have more time to devote and hopefully find some great sponsors to work with and make it happen again.
What is your favorite healthy food?
I generally eat clean, but one of my coaches have me on this green smoothie diet where I have it twice a day and it’s actually very tasty! I also enjoy meat, fish and veggies. Some people would argue if meat is healthy or not but it definitely works for me with the hardcore training I put myself through.
And your favorite cheat food?
Where do I begin?! I can’t resist candy and sticky rice. I love nibs. I actually find having more self-control than others on average when it comes to cheat food/sugar consumption, but candy and junk food are also my soft spot, so I can say I made it a life mission to find tasty yet healthy, satisfying snacks high in nutrition. This actually inspired my to start a blog on all the recipes of snacks and other “healthy” junk food people might enjoy as well, especially if they are trying to improve their eating habits and yet don’t want to compromise too much in their diets. Stay tuned to my Instagram and website for more on that!
How would you explain your fashion style?
I would describe my style as “comfortable” for the times I’m on set. I wear jogging pants or leggings and hoodies to work, mostly because I have very early mornings to get to the set and get my makeup and wardrobe started. That said, I will always make sure to carry a stylish combo of outfits in my bag if I have plans after set!
Even though I am 6-feet tall, I like high heels and wear them quite often. I really do enjoy the time I invest in putting together looks for various events and my style can be vastly different, depending on what I am getting ready for that day. I’ve been regularly doing some photoshoots just for fun lately, and will be sharing the results over the coming weeks and months on my Instagram account. I hope this will allow people to fully realize my sense of fashion and style.
How would your best friend describe you?
– Direct and brutally honest
– Focused, yet strangely absent-minded
– Dedicated; hard to pin down or pull away from my projects
What’s next for Ayisha Issa in 2019/2020?
Transplant comes out in Spring 2020! I’m also going to Brazil to catch up on the training I missed out on during filming. I’m planning on trying to compete again for the first time in a while. I’m trying out some tournaments in Europe, California and possibly the Middle East. I try not to have high expectations other than challenging myself, as I know it makes it much harder when you can only train for about 6 months of the year. Aside from that, I’m hoping to expand my portfolio with more teaching or speaking gigs, partnerships and more. Who knows maybe I’ll even take up cooking!
What is your own definition of happiness?
Self-acceptance. Comfort in discomfort. Gratitude.
How is a normal day in your life?
There really is no “normal day” in my life. I usually start my days around 5 AM with being on set for whatever I’m shooting. Some days I’ll be on set for 16 hours straight. Other times I’ll be working from home on my business just as hard and go teach Jiu-Jitsu outside of my set hours. Many people might think it’s crazy to try to dedicate your time and effort to so many different projects, but I don’t HAVE to do any of this. All these projects are things I took on because I WANT to do them, I have set goals for them and I enjoy every bit of it. I always push myself to take on things that make me happy and content. I even have projects that I’d like to pursue in the future but had to put on hold for now due to lack of time to commit.
What is your idea of a perfect Sunday?
I tend to go to open mat on Sundays, where a bunch of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters gather to compete in friendly matches. If that’s not the case, it means I’m likely locked up in a hotel room somewhere binging on reality TV.
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
I’d really like to shadow a few very accomplished business people. I wouldn’t want to meet anyone just to be able to say I did, but rather because I feel like I can learn something from spending time/meeting them.
Best advice ever given?
I’ve been given a lot of great advice over the years but I think the most life-changing one was: “No one cares and you’re not that important. People have their own lives/ short-coming/ issues to worry about”. Sounds harsh but it gave me the freedom to stop worrying too much about what other people were thinking and live my own life.
Do you support any charity?
Not at the moment but I’m very interested in pursuing something with organizations dedicated to bettering the lives of the Canadian youth.
Name 3 things you can’t live without?
– Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
– Snacks (Junk food 🙂
Where do you see yourself and your career in 5 years from now?
I try not to focus on planning ahead and just go with the flow instead. That said, I do really hope we get a couple more seasons of Transplant since I’m having a lot of fun shooting it. I would also love to watch my gym grow, learn more about the BTS of movie production; screenwriting, directing, producing etc. or even maybe start another business of some sort.
Favorite song? Why?
“Rumour Has It” by Adele. Truly because I feel like I sound great singing it in the shower. No evidence that I actually am, rather just a feeling.
What music do you like?
I have a thing for 90s music.
What do you think of Social Media?
I have a love/hate relationship with it. It’s something I know I need to embrace in order to reach some of my goals professionally, and it’s a great platform for me to interact with my fans. But on the personal side of things, I don’t particularly enjoy it.
Where we can follow you?
Quote: Keep it moving.
Favorite Singer/Artist: I really couldn’t pick one favourite, I have so many, ranging from Our Lady Peace and Eminem to Beyonce and Adele.
Movie: The last one I saw in theaters was Jojo Rabbit. It was awesome.
Travel Destination: I’m Going to Rio de Janeiro next, but that is only one city off the list of places I’d like to see. Basically if I am able to get my hands on a plane ticket, I’m visiting there.
Sports Team: My Academy team is 4Points Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but I currently compete for a top team in Canada which also happens to be the same team I started doing Jiu-Jitsu with 10 years ago.
TV Show: Euphoria was REALLY good. I rarely watch TV, and I tend to forget easily about the things I watch on it. But Euphoria is an exception.
Book: The Talent Code, The Subtle Art of not giving a F#&$, and The Myth of Self-Esteem are some of my favs.