Tamela D’Amico an Italian-American actress who is using her talent to raise awareness on disabilities in the film One Little Finger. She plays ‘Raina,’ an American neurologist researching music therapy in India. The film employed more than 80 people with disabilities, many of those being student musicians. The purpose of the film is to educate people about the abilities of those with disabilities, and all money earned is going straight into the One Little Finger Foundation. We chatted about Her Character, Jazz Music & Social Media Impact.
One Little Finger is a film where your character researches music therapy. Do you feel this movie will bring awareness toward the importance of music therapy when it comes to helping children with disabilities?
That is our hope, exactly, but not only for children, for all peoples. In life, anyone can become disabled at any moment, even anyone reading this. Disability rights are not to be looked on with charity; this is a Human Rights issue. The film sends a message that has become a movement and a foundation. There is ability in disability, and everyone deserves a chance at their dream. Also, the People-First language should be a standard. When you speak in this way, you put the person you are speaking about or addressing before their diagnosis, therefore, describing what a person “has” rather than asserting what a person “is.” One walks away from the film with that knowledge, for sure. Music has been clinically proven to serve as an alternative therapy in children and adults with disabilities, not only in the effects of listening to it, but also in creating it.
One Little FInger surely touched the hearts of so many people. How important was this film to you and how were you able to create a heartwarming experience for the audience?
When I read the script, it was clear that I had to be a part of it. It was very moving on paper, so that is a telltale sign that something has legs. Ironically, I got to experience the journey of my character, the same way I was literally experiencing my journey as an actress, filming in India. It was surreal being a fish out of the water and playing one at the same time. I always try to work from a center of truth as an artist. In life, I am too much of an em-path to take on the medical field. I feel things too deeply and cannot handle seeing someone in pain for long, as I start to take on that pain as my own. I practice meditation, so music as a healing source was already a part of my life. So beyond the medical research, I was ready to play her. As a performer, I am a student of The Strasberg method, which is probably no surprise, based on the above statement. The Strasberg Method is based on the great Stanislavski, who first questioned: “What is an inspiration and how can we evoke the creative mood or spirit?” The basics of that training and coming from a place of truth are what I try to bring into the foundation of my work. No matter what I do, I see myself as a storyteller first, and next up is how to get that message across physically. Beyond all this, I like to do actor games and ask questions about my character or write their bios or come up with a secret they have and tell no one, but put those attributes into my performance. Playing someone else is not necessarily about removing yourself. As actors, we have to find our likeness in the people we portray, even if it is just a kernel. That way, I can work from a center of truth where I am exactly who I say I am on-screen, and if I believe, then you believe it and if it is written as “heartwarming”, hopefully, I have shown that in my performance.
How does it feel to be a part of a project such as One Little Finger, which not only brings awareness to disabilities but also has employed more than 80 people with disabilities and helps by contributing a lot to society?
I am proud of this project and of this work and in turn, have become a non-disabled advocate for the disability actor community and community in general.
The One Little Finger Foundation is a project related to the film. Tell us a bit more about how the earnings of this film will benefit those with disabilities in need?
The foundation strives to unlock the potential inside every individual and hopes to do so by generating ideas at the grassroots level. Rupam Sarmah, the director of the film, has set up the foundation to create an educational platform to provide skill-based training curriculum workshops, career development forums, and is working with organizations and school districts. He wants to bring the film into all schools as a learning tool and as well as raise funds for more scientific research in the areas of Music Therapy Neuroscience and Autism etc. I am not a part of the foundation in any real way, beyond my vocal support of it, so one would have to reach out directly to gain knowledge on how they can work with the foundation.
Since you’re working on an antiviral film project along with a great writer, tell us a bit more about how the pandemic has affected your film-making process?
Currently, we are reviewing a draft of the antiviral project and hope to start pre-production soon. Once that happens, we will actually be able to cast, now that Los Angeles seems to be opening up in more of a real way. I have been creating more than ever but in a different way. The entertainment industry is a freelance business, even when you hear A-List actors saying, “Oh, I am just reading scripts, right now,” it really means they are looking for their next paycheck. I don’t think the outside world understands that. So, during the downtime, while the industry has been basically shut down and there were no jobs being offered, I have dusted off some old projects that I have back-burned for myself and launched them in a real way. Also, to stay creative, my fiancé and I produced a little pandemic short based on a nightmare I had. It is sort of Twilight Zone-esque and that is in the festival circuit currently. So that was fun to dream up an idea and just shoot it in our own home.
Being a director, actress, and musician is no joke. Do you feel that being so dynamic helps you when it comes to making a film and improves your acting abilities?
I pride myself on knowing a lot about a little and a little about a lot when it comes to all crew positions in the entertainment business. Having the knowledge of what each person does and why is like a painter having many different paintbrushes in their tool kit. I love having a dynamic sensibility because it only helps me communicate to all the people involved in making a project. If I understand where the producer and director and writer are coming from, as an actress, it will only elevate what I am trying to do. When I first came out to LA, my father insisted that I have my own company to run all of the different arms of my career. I am so grateful for his advice. I started La Strega Entertainment in 2006 and closed it to form Bellona Entertainment LLC, out of necessity, to funnel all of my social media business in addition to my film/tv/music projects. All of my music, films and content creations have been produced under my own banner. Even though I opened my company, as a means to produce vehicles for myself, I have made many other artist’s dreams come true by producing for and collaborating with them on their projects, as well. Merging music with acting and filmmaking is super easy in this day and age of content creation and branding. One has to be able to do it all in order to survive, especially this past pandemic year. In many ways, I am a one-stop-shop, and that is why brands like working with me. My most recent branding collab for Hoover can showcase what I mean.
Since you already have a jazz album out, do you have any plans of releasing another album, or is it just film and TV for now?
Oh, I have recorded other full albums. I just haven’t released them officially, which people think is crazy. I’ve released singles and played on soundtracks, sure, but I don’t have the need to just crank out any old music. I am such a perfectionist when it comes to that. Maybe those other album recordings will see the light of day, someday, but not right now, because I feel like there is more work to be done on them on the production side. I am very particular about it. I am, however, working on a new music project in the electro-swing genre which hopefully will transpire over the summer. Right now, my focus is on my acting and the films on my development slate.
Since you’re directing a movie about the Lakota people, do you feel that their story will resonate with the audience and have a huge impact on them?
Yes, actually, that’s the point of the film. At the end of the day, when everything goes wrong, i.e. the pandemic, you always have the love of your family and that is a universal theme that all viewers will understand, no matter what culture.
Being in Amazon’s The Englishman in L.A. won you the “Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Web Series” award, how does it feel to hold such a title?
I am in a group of many actresses in LA to have won such an award now, and it was special in particular because the role was written for me in mind by an actor friend who also employed a large group of us who had work-shopped together previously. So, to be thought of, first and foremost in that way, that someone likes your work enough for them to write a role with you in mind is rewarding, and then to actually physically win an award for it, is just the cherry on the cake.
Being in a Disney show is a huge achievement on its own, how did it affect your acting abilities after gaining huge popularity and an extensive fan following?
It was such a lesson in realizing just how big Disney’s reach is. Before I auditioned, I learned that comedy legend Nora Dunn was playing the older version of my character. She is a comedy goddess to me. I love and know her work and think she is hilarious. She has a dry way of speaking and I knew that I should probably incorporate a bit of Nora into my performance since I was playing the younger version of her. I got the job and had no idea that the show had fan bases all over the world. It was a multi-cam show and very fast-paced. On any multi-cam, you have to jump in with the regular cast and catch up to their mode of working. So, you have to be on your toes. I love change, so that was natural for me. Disney fans are far and wide and loyal. My social media exploded after this show and I wasn’t even a series regular, only recurring, but I am in some of the most popular episodes, so I gather this is why this happened. It’s on Disney+ where it will probably live forever. My Twitter blew up and then my Instagram and so on and I realized that when that happens, one has a responsibility to honor that. Soon after, I became a social influencer and content creator for brands that fit my demo and I could not be happier about that. And I got to check “playing a Disney Villain” off my bucket list.
Since you’re the brand ambassador of so many brands, how much of a responsibility is it to have so many brands associated with you and how do you cope with it?
I am very judicious about companies that I partner with. I have to 100% believe in the product. I believe in working with companies that pride themselves on sustainability, being culturally responsible and cruelty-free, while also being cool. I have a hashtag #ecoglam because most people think that sustainability means bland granola life and it isn’t, there are plenty of luxury brands who are Fair Trade, Women-Owned and 1% For the Planet accredited. Those are only some of the factors that are important to me. I don’t want to be affiliated with any company that knowingly is hurting any group of people, let alone the Earth in their manufacturing processes. Some companies have lied about such things and when that happens, I disband.
You’re also a content creator. Do social media platforms play an important role in helping you express yourself as a creator?
100%. Any actor right now who is not working, waiting for the entertainment industry to come to them, is missing a great opportunity to not only be creative and showcase themselves but also make money. Social Media is the new advertising of NOW and the FUTURE. GET ONBOARD!
Is there anything I missed out on that you would like to add?
FOLLOW ME ONLINE AT TAMELADAMICO.COM AND ON ALL SOCIAL MEDIA @TAMELADAMICO
Finally what’s your message for JAMO Readers?
YOU GET THIS ONE LIFE. Create your own opportunities. Make genuine connections and keep in contact with that network, even if it is just once a year. Do not wait. Be prepared and willing to give all of yourself as an artist, come to hell or high water, and keep creating. Vulnerability is a positive thing. This is a business, at the end of the day, and if you want longevity you have to understand how it works. Take a job behind the scenes, work for a manager or lawyer. Learn about contracts. Trust no one. Question everything presented to you. Don’t simply accept the answers. Go on your own journeys. Listen to your gut first then your heart. Step into worlds that you are frightened of and that you know little about so you can broaden your horizon. Every opportunity should be looked into. In this business we call “ Show”, you have to be as soft as silk to enter it and as tough as nails to stay. My wise Italian grandmother who is no longer with us would say “If you’re bashful, you lose. Don’t ever be afraid to go and get what you want in this life.” Go and get it! – Tamela D’Amico