Not long ago, Black Talent TV had the pleasure of interviewing a rising star whose quickly making a name for herself and this talented woman is known as Ciera Payton. Born in New Orleans, Payton is an accomplished actor, writer, social activist, and entrepreneur. Her resume includes Oldboy, Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral, Being Mary Jane, and The Runner, a film that also stars Nicolas Cage, Sarah Paulson, Peter Fonda, Connie Nielsen, and Wendell Pierce. Payton also has a role in the upcoming season of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It as Jameelah Hawkins.
Check out our interview with Ciera Payton where she discusses what fans can expect from season two of She’s Gotta Have It, who’s her favorite actor/actress, what’s next from her, and much more below.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue an acting career?
I was always involved in the performing arts, and attended a performing arts middle school (McDonough #15) in the French Quarter. It was natural for me to want to perform and be on stage, but I would say I took it seriously when I was high school. I attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), a performing arts high school that specialized in prepping students for a career in arts. They covered all the basic arts disciplines, theatre, music, film, dance, and visual art, and I majored in theatre. It was a rigorous program that taught self-discipline and really tested me to see if this is something I really wanted to do.
While I was attending NOCCA my father had went to jail and I moved in with my mother. It was a confusing time for me. I felt very reserved to myself and very misunderstood. I became a little introverted, but I found solace in the craft and work of studying theater.
During that time, in 10th grade, I was cast to play God in a play called the Nativity Play. I was the youngest in my class, and along with being a black woman, it was a little controversial at the time. However, I rocked it out! I had sooooo many lines and had to dig deep to find my power; my voice. My teachers were very empowering, motivating me every step along the way.
It was that experience along with many others that became confirmation for me that this was something I wanted to do. I had a desire to be seen and heard and let my power shine. I remember being so happy on stage and having a fire in me that outshined all of the insecurities I was facing during that time in my life. That’s when I thought, “Hey, I love this work and I want to go for it.” So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
2. Who is your favorite actor/actress?
Angelina Jolie. I just love her fierceness and the underlining joy she brings to each role. That little smirk she has in her eyes when she’s playing a strong tough character is just priceless. My favorite actor is Denzel Washington. I mean he just has it. He enjoys being on screen and taking us on the journey. I have so many others but I would say those two are my favorite.
3. Besides being an actor, you are also a writer, social activist, and entrepreneur. Which of these many professional hats is your favorite?
I love being an arts educator and social advocate. Our inner-city neighborhoods thrive on creative expression and self-development. I love being able to give the gift of art to our youth and allow them to use that as a coping mechanism and as a means of being heard and seen. When we, people of color, are denied our rights to be heard, understood, and seen, we are quick to resort to other means that can cost us so much.
When I work with young people who are dealing with deep stuff such as having an incarcerated parent or living in poverty, I see the affects that such circumstances have on their self-esteem and confidence. When I present to them, “Hey we are going to create a play or a film about anything you want to share about your life,” a light ignites in them. Often for the first time, they have the opportunity to be something and someone in front of people who would normally overlook them.
That is what my program The Michael’s Daughter Project is all about; letting our black and brown youth know that they don’t have to pick up a gun or drugs to be somebody. They can pick up a microphone or get on stage or in front of a camera and exorcise their pain which will ultimately lead to healing. Art is so powerful in that sense, because it connects us, makes us empathize with each other and provides space for healing. So that work is what I enjoy most in lieu of being an artist myself.
4. You’ve been in many films, such as The Runner, American Bad Boy, and A Madea Family Funeral. Which film was your favorite to shoot?
My all-time favorite movie was Flight of Fury. It was my first film ever. I didn’t see it at that time but it was something so monumental for me. As I do these interviews and recount my career, I look back at that film and think “Wow, God is so good.” That movie came at a time when I was questioning my dream of being an actress. I had lost my home and my grandmother had passed away in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I was enrolled in an arts conservatory that had a boot camp style of creating actors.
It was hard and emotional weakness took over and I gave into doubt and some form of depression. But then, as God would have it, I auditioned to be in an action film with Steven Seagal and then I booked it! There was no time to be insecure or weak while filming that movie. I was on set shooting guns, learning fight choreography from Steven Seagal and perfecting my knife fighting skills. I played a woman who was completely in her body, not in her head and honored her power fully. It was what I needed at that time in my life and I still cherish that experience to this day.
My 2nd favorite is Madea. It was such a fun experience. I enjoyed every moment on set as we joked and laughed with Mr. Perry. I love working there at his studio. He’s created something so out of this world that I call it Disney Land for actors. I’m so grateful to have had those two experiences.
5. In addition to appearing in films, you’ve also appeared in many television and web series like The Walking Dead, First, and Ballers. Which project was your favorite to shoot?
Walking Dead and Ballers were both a blast. You know, I love taking on roles that just highlight and push my strength. During my off time, I like to take boxing and Muay Thai classes along with perfecting my gun skills and so it’s such a treat to be able to use those skills on screen. Working with Danai, you can’t hold back or be scared, she’s a tough chick and so am I. So it was great to be equally matched and get to throw some front kicks and shoot guns. I’m looking forward to doing more projects like that.
And Ballers was awesome! I mean c’mon! I got to work with The Rock. He was just so great and generous. I love when I work with those big stars and I see how nice they are but also how they manage the people around them and the set. He just has such an ease and light to him that it makes everyone around want to do and be better. I loved working on Ballers because it forced me to step into my more intellectual side. The action and physical stuff are fun always, but I’ve seen where being a corporate high-class woman can be challenging as well. Spouting out lines with numbers and figures was challenging but I did it and got that one under my belt! It was great!
6. You’re going to have a recurring role on the new season of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. What can fans expect from your role?
I know fans will really enjoy this season and also my role. I play a woman in power who is grappling with the challenges of being a black woman in that position. She wants to do good and ultimately do the right thing. I know fans will really appreciate this role.
7. What made you want to create Sincerely Cosmetics?
I wanted to create a lipstick line that I could wear. I had so many instances where I had to go to the ER or Urgent Care because of horrific allergic reactions to lipsticks. After researching the ingredients in most mainstream cosmetics and realizing how bad they are, I decided to go the natural route; to make a mineral based lipstick line.
At first it started off as me gathering ingredients from Whole Foods and online markets after researching the basic ingredients of making lipstick. I came up with a formula and made my first batch. I wanted something I could wear while working. It was challenging getting in the makeup chair on set and telling the makeup artists that I couldn’t wear any of the lip colors they had preplanned for me. When I made my own, it was like a miracle. The makeup artists loved the options I brought in and my lips were happy!
Friends and family started encouraging me to package and sell them. I was resistant at first because I had started a few businesses in the past and knew the heavy lifting work that went with it. But I couldn’t deny the need. And so I spent about a year looking for the right manufacturer who would work with my recipe and help me develop my brand.
I decided to name it Sincerely Cosmetics because I genuinely want to provide a product that helps people who deal with sensitive skin and who don’t want harsh chemicals in their cosmetics. My brand is cruelty free, vegan, and mineral based. It doesn’t get more sincere than that!
8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in acting?
Know yourself. Take some time to do some self-development. I think our generation and society just thinks oh all you have to do is look good and have some talent and then boom you’re an actor. Not so much. All of the people I look up to and listen to have a strong sense of self and mental-strength. They aren’t easily swayed by what someone said or did. They have integrity and know when to say no and when to say yes. They are never too good to humble themselves and do the work. So, my advice is KNOW YOURSELF because that will inform everything you do from here on out.
9. What is NEXT for Ciera Payton?
Stay tuned because it’s all going to be AMAZING! *Wink*
VISIT Ciera Payton’s official website.
Photo Credit: Miles Maker