Tamela D’Amico is an established actress and singer, residing in Los Angeles. She is best known for her role on Disney’s “Best Friends Whenever” and Amazon’s “Englishman in L.A.”, for which she was awarded “Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Web Series” by LA WEB FEST. Tamela is also a recording artist and her music has been heard on more than 140 national radio and cable outlets. She sings the theme song “Love and the Gun” in both English and Italian for the film, Rob the Mob. In Tamela’s latest film, One Little Finger, Tamela plays Raina, an American Neurologist researching music therapy in India. The Indian-American film is an inspirational story on music therapy and purpose is to educate people about the abilities of those with disabilities. All of the money earned is going straight into the One Little Finger Foundation. At the moment, Tamela is working on a new antiviral film project that includes short films threaded together from all over the world about the pandemic experience. Please read our full interview with Tamela D’Amico below.
Where are you based?
I have been in Los Angeles, CA full-time since before the pandemic. Prior to this, I was bi-coastal, New York/LA for most of my career.
What inspired you to get into acting?
I was born in NY and I used to watch a TV station that played old movies/musicals and TV series in black and white. The Old Hollywood Glamour days. None of that seemed that far away or unattainable since Broadway was just a car ride into the city, etc. Specifically, on this network, I watched The Wizard of Oz and then The Judy Garland Show and I was too young to understand that this was all media from long before I was born, but I always say Judy Garland was my first teacher. She knew when to be still and when to be dramatic in a way that was so deeply organic, like lifted from the depths of her soul. That touched me at a tender age and I just wanted to live in that space.
You are also a jazz recording artist! Can you tell us a little bit about this journey? Do you often look for acting roles that you can sing in as well?
I look for those roles alright, but I haven’t found one yet that is a huge showcase for me. So, when that happens, I can’t wait for someone, I just start writing. I have one now on my development slate that is a true tour de force role and I just have to get financing in place. Jazz is my heart. I could have gone anywhere in the music business with my voice, but Jazz is where I want to live, even though I sing all genres and have been hired to sing on Pop soundtracks. At the end of the day, music and melody that stands the test of time is more important to me than having a hit record.
You were recently in an amazing film, One Little Finger, where you play Raina. Can you tell us a little bit about this film and your character?
Raina is an American neurologist in a not so great relationship with her Rockstar boyfriend. He believes she has made her focus on music therapy only to grow closer to him. That being far from the truth, she uproots her life to research music therapy in India at a disability institute when her medical mentor offers her the opportunity to do so. She leaves the stresses of her personal life behind and finds herself in a new land, teaching children and adults with disabilities, through her exact music theories as therapy. When she sees the students are responsive to her theories, she inspires them to challenge themselves through their abilities and their lives are transformed, having to plan and put on a concert at the end of her time there. While in her studies at the institute, she meets two students, Den and Angel, who are disabled but want to contribute toward the betterment of society by overcoming their physical challenges. Their lives intersect with Raina’s just when she is struggling to further her research. Touched by the beauty of the culture and the varying stories of the children with disabilities, Raina’s philosophy and theories about a music therapy change. Through her experience, she understands that balance of mind, body and soul is vital in realizing life’s true value: That disability is a perception and “ability” is what we believe. She would have never learned that if she had not gone to India and had this particular experience. Raina heads back to the States, after the students have a successful music concert, having grown as a person with a new concept about music and love.
What was it like shooting in India?
Ironically, I got to take the journey as Raina in real-time. I was a fish out of the water experiencing India and all of its marvels for the first time. I had never been to India, prior to the film. Whatever she was going through, as a character, I was as well. We have over 80 people with disabilities in the film, most of which are marvelous musical talents. Raina’s worries and joys were also my own. It was a surreal experience. India is a beautiful country and I only got to see the parts I was filming in and our work schedule was very demanding. I was treated with so much care and respect there and have gained literally thousands of new Indian friends which have become like family to me. I would do another film there in a heartbeat. This is an Indian and US co-production. You will see the sights of India in a new way and come out the other side having been moved by stories based on real life events.
The film employed more than 80 people with disabilities, many of those being student musicians in the film. Why is this so significant?
Everyone’s dreams are valid. Inclusion and representation for this community on screen is huge and will be helpful for others that come after to see that they too can achieve what they set their mind to and that there is space for them. This film employs over 80 people with disabilities and shows what it actually is like to live life with a disability. They are the true heroes of this entire production. There is no movie magic here. Actors with disabilities portraying characters with disabilities. In life, anyone can become disabled at any moment, even you. 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 now a foundation. There is “ability in disability” and everyone deserves a chance at their dreams. I hear a lot of producers and casting people talking about inclusion but so few are actually incorporating it into their projects without being mandated to. We still have a long way to go but at least we are on an upward swing. We have been all over the world with this film and it touches people’s hearts. There hasn’t been a Q & A where I didn’t end up crying because of how it makes viewers feel. In the audiences that stay after the film screenings, I have been met by parents of children with disabilities who were so thankful to see something similar to their lives up on the screen. And within those audiences, they also found community to talk about their struggles and joys with each other. It wasn’t just that we had championed a story for the disabled, as a whole, but rather that we opened a needed discourse for something that is rarely discussed or depicted on screen. For that, I am absolutely proud to be a part of this film.
Given the film’s purpose is to educate and debunk misconceptions, how were some of those misconceptions proved false from the experiences you had working with people with disabilities?
As with more discourse, we learn and grow. Daily, there are new terms on how to acknowledge and address people with disabilities. We must adapt to that change. I learned about People First Language which 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”.
Jejune loves how all money earned from the film goes straight to the One Little Finger Foundation. Could you tell us a bit about what the foundation is?
The foundation strives to unlock the potential inside every individual and hopes to do so by generating ideas at the grassroots level. This link is where you can learn more. Right now, 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.
It would be wonderful to see more representation of people with disabilities in film and in the media. How do you think this can be moved forward?
What is happening right now is that a lot of Film/TV productions are subscribing to and have committed to audition actors with disabilities, pledging to follow guidelines created by the Ruderman Family Foundation to make productions more inclusive to help authentically reflect the world we live in. By doing so, this increases the opportunities for those with disabilities and holds the industry accountable for the work they still need to do in order to see systemic change. But I think the point is to not just hire actors with disabilities for simply “disabled” roles only. They should be considered for any part, regardless. Also, their stories need to be told on screen, as well.
We are excited to hear that you are working on a new project that includes short films threaded together from all over the world about the pandemic experience. Can you please tell us a little bit more about this?
The Antiviral Film Project is one that sets out to transcend our differences as a World people. It moves beyond physical restraints and will give us the opportunity to escape from our own affected neighborhoods and travel around the world on an uplifting and edifying adventure. We learned this past year, that no one on the planet is emotionally immune to the effect of the coronavirus pandemic. It leveled the playing field and made us all look at what was really important in our lives. My producers say, “For the first time in living history we are all facing the same direction experiencing the same challenge. We are stuck in our homes separated from family and friends with a damaged public discourse which has made us emotionally isolated…” I am working on a piece about the Lakota people. I could have done any story of my choosing, as a director working on this project, but it is important to me to champion voices that may not always be heard, but also those that I myself am intrigued about. There is not enough understanding or stories told about Indigenous people, especially in America. For most of us, it is a world we have never been educated on, beyond school history books, and we all know how inaccurate those can be. We have partnered with a Lakota writer who is just wonderful, to tell this tale. We are in the early stages of development and I am eager to get filming.
How has the pandemic impacted you personally?
I have lost friends and family this past year due to the virus, and that was hard to take, because no normal mourning process was able to happen, since we couldn’t travel. Not being able to see my parents and be there for them physically is a daily stressor. This too shall pass.
How are you staying positive during shelter in place?
I am a pretty positive person anyway, but I feel lucky to be in a wonderful relationship with someone who is like minded and likes to explore and go on adventures, even if that means stepping out for a drive to the beach. So all that helps. I have been creative more than ever but in a different way. I have dusted off some old projects that I have back-burnered 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. Having so many arms to my career has been a benefit. I am always busy.
What is your motto in life?
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 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
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