Lisa Jay called her father, in Boise, Idaho. “Dad,” she said, her giddy enthusiasm barely contained, “I finally made it in Hollywood. I spent the morning in bed with Charlie Sheen. He couldn’t have been nicer.”
At 17, Lisa Jay was modelling in Japan. “I missed my senior prom because I was working, modelling for catalogues, mostly wedding dresses and trying to stay razor thin,” she says. It was not good.
“I was shy,” says Jay. “Performing for a camera mortified me. Now, as I read biographies of performers, I find many of them are shy.”
“Modelling,” she says, “forced me to find and assume a persona in front of the camera.” This prepared her, well, for acting, the last career Jay had in mind.
“A guest role on ‘Buffy the Vampire Hunter’ was my first time on television,” says Jay. The experience overwhelmed her. “There were huge cranes and 300 extras in the middle of the night.” Eleven years later, she says, “I still receive residuals for that one episode. My last cheque, for ‘Buffy,’ was one penny.”
Many of her acting roles cast Jay as hostage, victim or stripper. I did an episode of “Two and a Half Men” as a call girl hired by Charlie Sheen. Yet, on “Everybody Hates Chris,” Lisa Jay portrayed “Mrs Jones, the frumpy librarian.
Jay met Joe Pantoliano, the character actor, on a movie set. He enthralled her with talk of his charity, “No Kidding, Me Too.” NKM2 promotes improved mental health treatment. Jay became the Los Angeles liaison for NKM2.
In 2009, Jay was part of the NKM2 tour of US military bases in Iraq. “After our formal presentations, we talked one on one, with soldiers, often late into the night.” One night, sitting on a lani, a veranda, normally used for downtime, two soldiers serenaded her, with the music of “Guns N’ Roses.”
The NKM2 tour of Iraq was life changing for Jay. “It put me in a mind-funk for a while,” she says, “but helped me deal with mental illness in my family. What a gift Joe Pantoliano gave me. I will always be grateful to him.”
In the new video game, “Lost Planet Three,” Jay portrays Diana Peyton, the central female character. “It was an exceptional role,” she says. “The technology is invigorating and frightening; it’s weird to see your avatar.”
In spring 2013, Jay moved to New York City. Living in LA, she missed the changing seasons she loved growing up in Idaho. As well, says Jay, “New York City has many more and different career and personal opportunities.” She can fly to LA to do television, to location for a movie or change her career, completely.
In our conversation, Lisa Jay talks of her deep caring for the charity “No Kidding, Me Two” and insipidly describes modelling in Japan. Acting, she takes in stride, except for her lead role in, “Lost Planet Three,” which arouses her pride and enthusiasm. Her recent move, from Los Angeles to New York City, is a metaphor for her personal philosophy.
GS You’re living in Brooklyn.
LJ Yes, I just moved here. I’m in Park Slope. I have a great home, close to Prospect Park. It’s lovely, although I’m among a huge number of boxes, some empty and some full, right now.
GS Easy access to Manhattan, take Flatbush Avenue to the Manhattan Bridge or use the Carey Tunnel.
LJ Yes, it’s great. I’ve never lived on the East Coast before. This is my first go at New York City. I always thought I would live in Manhattan. I fell in love with Park Slope.
GS That’s what everybody says these days. Why did you move from the West Coast to the East Coast?
LJ That’s a story. I grew up in Boise, Idaho, but lived in Los Angeles for more than twelve years. I always lived on the West Coast.
I did a year in Tokyo, as a model. Otherwise, LA was my home. My whole career was in LA, so far.
My leaving the West Coast mystified many of my friends, especially since I left to move to the East Coast. Most television and film work is in LA. Many actors are moving from New York City are moving to LA for the greater and more accessible career opportunities.
GS Why did you go in the opposite direction?
LJ I can do theatre in New York City and return to LA for films or television. Still, it was mostly personal. I’m putting my personal life first and career second, at this point.
I always did it the other way around. I think that happens when you get a bit older and too busy. Besides, I’ve always loved New York City.
I’ve come to New York City many times. Every time, especially the last couple of years, I felt like I belonged here. I feel more at home here.
I stopped trying to make sense of it a while ago. Everyone asked, “Why are you doing this?” It feels right is my only honest response.
It was the right move for me. I’m one hundred per cent sure on a personal level. I needed to shake up my life and see what happens. I don’t know what that means for my career or where I’m going to go with it, but I needed a change.
I’m about to go to Turkey, in two weeks, and stay for a bit; call it a little soul-searching venture. I’m in that place, right now, where I want to take a little time for me. Whether that means time off or I continue working, on my own terms, I don’t know.
GS What a great reason for moving back to the sane coast.
LJ Everyone, on the West Coast says, “West is the best coast.” California has great weather, but I honestly miss the seasons. I miss autumn. I even miss the snow, sometimes. I’m looking forward to living life, here.
GS You witnessed the seasons growing up in Idaho.
LJ Yes. Living in LA, I missed the seasons. Here, I’m right by Prospect Park, so I’m going to be able to step outside and see orange and yellow, shortly.
I’ve been enjoying the summer. I had a few weeks of humidity where I thought I was going to die. I’m not use to that.
GS You know there’s a season on the East Coast that they don’t have on the West Coast.
LJ What is that?
GS It’s called, “Slush.”
LJ I have my rain boots.
GS You’re involved with, “No Kidding, Me Too,” the mental health advocacy group founded by actor Joe Pantoliano.
LJ Joe and I met on a film set, in 2007. We took to each other and became good friends. His story, how he started this charity, “No Kidding, Me Too” (NKM2) fascinated me.
Pantoliano looked for a way to wipe out the stigma of mental disease or mental illness. He wanted to give psychiatric disorders the same rights as gall bladder or heart disease. His mantra is that we must care for our brains as we care for other parts of our body.
NKM2 was a great gift for me. There’s a history of mental disease in my family, which shaped my entire childhood; how I grew up. I think my family history of mental illness motivated me, in a huge way, to work in entertainment.
Once Joe and I started talking, I wanted to know all he could tell me, which was a great deal. After the movie, we stayed in touch. He said, “Why don’t you become more involved with NKM2?”
I did. I was the “No Kidding, Me Too” liaison, in Los Angeles. Pantoliano lives in the New York City area. Working with that charity was the most rewarding decision I ever made. I can’t express, fully, how cathartic it is working with NKM2. While I was liaison for NKM2, in LA, it helped me work out issues in my own life.
My mother is open about mental illness. When I was growing up, she received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I had a sister that passed away, which likely triggered bipolar for my mother.
Her illness created many twists and turns in my childhood. I honestly don’t think I had a great understanding of her pain until I became involved with NKM2. Pantoliano helped me understand my mother and her mental health issues.
After a few years of involvement with NKM2, I was serving on the advisory board. Pantoliano asked me to go with him to Iraq. Joe, a psychiatrist, Dr Robert Irvin, from McLean Hospital, in Boston, and I toured military bases all over Iraq.
That was also a game changer in my own life, as well. You can’t go to Iraq, hear the stories and experiences, which we did, and come back unchanged. I think that also played a role in shaping my late twenties and early thirties; involvement with NKM2 helped me as I decided what changes I wanted to make in my life.
GS What year did you go to Iraq?
LJ That was September of 2009. We flew into Kuwait. From there, we went to a military base and took a huge cargo plane into Iraq. We travelled from base to base in Blackhawk helicopters. It was inspiring and incredible.
I was pinching myself, all the time. At Camp Liberty, the first base we stayed at in Iraq, we billeted in a former palace of Saddam Hussein. It’s was converted to aUS Military base, as were all his palaces.
The décor was the same as when Hussein lived in the palace. I stayed in a guest-room, which a favourite guest of Hussein might have used; there was an ostentatious chandelier hanging from the ceiling. I had chills walking around that place.
We presented to soldiers. We weren’t sure how much they would want to hear our message. I think, at first, many came to see Joe, because of the “Sopranos” or “Dr Vegas” and his movies, such as “Matrix” or “Memento.”
It was scary, speaking to hundreds of men and women holding guns. That’s a daunting audience. The audience was so open, though, which surprised me. I liked it.
Our presentations touched on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. We would hold Q&A sessions after the presentations. Then we’d talk with the soldiers, one on one or in small groups for as long as they wanted to talk with us, sometimes long into the night.
To be honest, I didn’t know how welcoming they would be to our visit and presentations. It was suicide prevention week. We talked about the suicide rate in the military, which is high: roughly twenty-two military suicides a day.
Suicide is a huge issue the military is trying to address. It’s not easy. The military grinds away at it, day by day.
GS How did Dr Irvin, the psychiatrist, fit into the presentations? xxx
LJ Bob was the glue that held us together. He’s Medical Director of a residential programme at McLean Hospital, in Boston. The programme treats patients with bipolar and psychotic disorders. His work helps patients regain autonomy and independent lives by understanding, accepting and managing his or her illness.
In Iraq, after our presentations, Bob Irvin would sit and listen for hours, talking one-on-one, with one soldier after another. The presentations raised much distress, bringing deeply held concerns to the surface, for many soldiers.
Many soldiers came to us afterwards, revealing information that, sometimes, I didn’t even deserve to hear. It’s interesting, though, how many soldiers sought us out and thanked us for coming to see them.
Normally, our responses are, “Are you kidding? Thank you, for what you’re doing for our country and your service. Thank you for being so open with us.”
I get it, now. I don’t have anyone in my own family in the military. I haven’t had anyone close to me serve. Soldiering takes a special, a unique, person, not everyone can do it.
In those ten or so days, in Iraq, we bonded with the soldiers. Sometimes, we were on the base for two hours; still we bonded with the women and men, soldiers all and strangers. I’m still in touch with some of the soldiers I meet in Iraq.
I feel as if I gained lifelong friendships. I feel the bond. I can’t explain it and that’s only after a couple of days on the ground among soldiers in Iraq.
Imagine spending a year in the desert, with the same people around you, your life in danger all the time. It’s was the lost translation effect: you hold on to anyone. You feel this intimacy with them.
I didn’t go the battlefield. Everybody babied me. Before I had gone on the trip, my ideas of Iraq on the ground were from the movie, “Hurt Locker.”
Many of the soldiers said they saw the movie. They believed the movie portrayed the emotional turmoil they face when they come home, well. That’s something for a movie to do.
I remember there was one scene in the film, “Hurt Locker,” where the Jeremy Renner character was walking an isle in a grocery store, through the overhead florescent lighting. He’s looking at these rows and rows of cereal boxes; it’s was an existential moment that touched me when I saw the movie.
I swear I had that same moment going into Ralphs, in Studio City, California, after I returned. I thought, “What am I doing? What is the purpose of anything I’m doing? How am I serving? How is what I’m doing making a difference?
It put me in a mind-funk for a while. I will say I feel certain my experience, in Iraq, changed the course for my personal journey. I’m grateful for it.
GS That’s wonderful.
LJ Yes. What a gift Joe Pantoliano gave me. I will always be incredibly grateful to him. I can’t forget that experience.
There was one night, on the last base we visited, Camp Mosul. It’s near the Turkish border. That base was a little more active than the others we visited.
The war was winding down. There was still much going on Camp Mosul, though. We were also there during Ramadan. I would wake up in the middle of the night and hear calls to prayer.
That particular night, we sat on an armoured vehicle, with the soldiers. It was an intimate group of about 30 soldiers. We sat and talked until 3 am.
The soldiers brought out cigars. There was a great, full feeling of camaraderie. Two soldiers, with guitars, serenaded me. Right in front of everyone, on the lanai or patio, they serenaded me with “Guns and Roses,” no less. One of my favourite pictures from that trip was sitting on a chair swing, on the lanai, with the two soldiers singing to me.
I was a mess. I was crying the entire time. I had goose bumps. Every hair on my body was standing straight up.
I’ll never forget that one moment. I was sitting on that armoured vehicle thinking, “I’m in the middle of a desert right now, with men in uniform, serenading me.” It was a good, deep feeling, as if we were all brothers and sisters. It was neat.
GS That’s some adventure.
LJ For a girl from Boise, Idaho, those were chilling moments. I had never heard of anything like it, growing up. On top of that, the soldiers were still doing gun drills.
Camp Mosul was a little more of a boot camp. It had a guerrilla feel to it. I thought, “I’m not in Kansas any more.” We were safe, though.
The military treated us the same way they treated everybody else. We went through an elaborate hand-washing procedure before entering any mess tent or hall. We had to stand at roll call, wearing all the equipment, before boarding any plane or helicopter.
The military put us through it. We went on training drills, with the soldiers. I thought that was fun.
I rode in a simulator that flipped me upside-down, as if my vehicle had rolled. I was laughing the whole time. A voice said, “You’re dead.”
GS That was an experience.
LJ It was and life changing.
GS You mentioned mental illness might have lead into entertainment.
LJ As a child, I was shy. Looking back, I think my shyness roots to when my baby sister passed away. At roughly the same time, as my sister passed, my mother received a diagnosis of bipolar one.
My family went through turmoil, during those years. As a young child, I didn’t know how to deal with it. My parents did their best to explain it to us, my brothers and I, and shield us from it.
My parents could only do so much; they had a great deal on their plate. I spent much of my childhood locking myself in my bedroom. I played pretend or wrote stories.
I would go in the backyard and play pretend. Pretend was my escape from my dystopian childhood world. Playing pretend or writing stories took to me to an idealistic world, where I could be anyone or anything.
Growing up, I thought I would be an author. I loved to write. I loved to create these worlds in my head. That was the only place I felt comfortable.
I was shy, in school, incredibly shy. Later, I accidentally fell into modelling and acting. These lines of work helped me overcome my shyness.
I found performing was the only time I felt at ease, with me and with other people. I used acting as therapy, if you will, to reverse my own shyness. It worked.
GS Why do you think acting made you feel more comfortable?
LJ I could be somebody else, if only briefly. I could be a confident, sexy vixen. I could be a brilliant mastermind. I could be anyone I wanted, even with my insecurities and self-doubts, which I shut out, easily, when I was before a camera or on stage.
Being an actor was the last occupation I guessed I would work. I was so shy. Getting up and performing, in front of a camera or an audience seemed crazy. Now, as I read more and more biographies, of different performers, I find that many performers are shy.
GS Johnny Carson was among the shyest.
LJ Yes, I heard that. Thus, I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one to find solace in performing.
Acting has been a great, for me. I think it helped me come to know myself, better. I found different parts of my personality and examined them, explored them in ways that I might not have done so, otherwise.
Now, as I come to a different chapter in my life, I feel like acting leads me on a journey to whatever is next. I’m not sure what that is next. I am sure acting is a great gift and influential in my personal evolution.
GS Emmett Kelly, the great clown, said he was one person in make-up and another person, a different person, without the make-up. Never would the two meet.
LJ That’s great.
GS In a way, then, you fell into acting.
LJ My experience is that everything in my life served a purpose. My baby sister passed. Then there was the diagnosis of my mother as bipolar. I retreated into playing pretend or writing, which, in a way, prepared me to act.
Now, I try to be open. Making the move to New York City is scary. Still, I trust my decision to move because I learned everything, in my life, has a notable purpose.
New York City is intangible place that I could never be a part of, growing up. New York City was fantasyland. I never believed I could get to New York City from Boise, Idaho.
Now I’m sitting here, in Park Slope, in south-west Brooklyn. I pinch myself all the time. I hope that it never goes away. I hope I’m always going to feel this way about New York City.
GS New York may be the least shy city in the world.
LJ I know. I’ve learned that. I got it from my movers. I thought I was tipping, generously, but one of the movers said, “That’s for both of us?”
GS That’s funny.
LJ I have to earn my street credit, here. I don’t know how long you have to live in New York City before you can say that you’re a New Yorker. Honestly, I’m going to ride the wave of being a newbie as long as I can.
Always, I heard about the hardness, the coldness of New Yorkers, their indifference. I found the opposite. Everyone seems kind and open, when they know you’re new.
The people, in Park Slope are great. I think visitors may misinterpret New Yorkers as rude. Yet, if you drop something on the pavement or lost in the streets, plenty of people will help you.
I think New Yorkers are in a constant hurry.
GS That’s a good way to describe them.
LJ Both women and men, in New York City, walk in a determined way. They must get somewhere, right away. Their walking seems goal directed; nobody ambles or strolls.
I don’t know if that’s a post-911 sense of urgency. I don’t know if it’s always been that way here. I do know it’s great.
GS It’s as if every day is a test.
LJ I’m proud to be a thread in the New York City fabric, now. I hope I can do New York justice.
Living in Park Slope, in a sense, feels as if I’m starting over, again. That, I guess, is my goal. There is this sense of freedom and feeling as if I’m wiping the slate clean. New York City is a good place to re-start.
At first, I think, my family thought I flipped my lid. Moving to New York City was insane. Now, they see it’s good for me, so they’re all right with it.
GS When they come to visit, they’ll be sure of it.
LJ My parents have never been to New York City. That’s going to be an adventure, for them and me. I shiver to think of my father driving 45-mph along the Gowanus Parkway.
GS New York is a walking city, whereas cars, not people, populate LA.
LJ I walked a lot, already, in New York City. In LA, especially after living there for twelve years, I found most people think any time you must walk further than two blocks is a trip nobody wants to take. Truthfully, I saw people at the gym circling the gym parking lot, in their car, three or four times, to get the spot closest to the gym door, to use the Elliptical. That’s LA: we drive to our hiking destinations.
Yes, LA is a car culture. Unfortunately, the public transport in LA isn’t great. You need a car.
Coming to New York, you have to walk everywhere. I love that. That’s part of the charm of New York City. In LA, I started feeling isolated. I felt as if I would wake up. Walk down to my little pot on wheels and drive to where I was going. Get out of the car. Walk ten steps. Go in. Come back. Get in my car. Drive home.
In LA, you must make a conscious effort to contact people. For someone, that, at heart, is an introvert, LA made life easy. I could hide.
Sometimes, on the west coast, I lived in the valley. That made it easy to hole up in my cave and not contact anyone. I had to make a conscious decision to engage people, especially in the movie and television industries.
Part of the draw of New York City is the ease of contact with people from all lifestyles, every single day. I have contacts with women and men in entertainment, but also plumbers, butchers, Wall Street brokers and so forth. I never know who’s sitting next to me on the subway.
New York City is more demanding. Yet, compared with LA, engaging with others is easy in New York City. These cities are different worlds, in many ways.
GS There’s an egalitarian sensibility to New York City.
LJ Yes, even though I see the inequalities everywhere. Everyone makes contact, in some way, with everyone else. I feel a much greater sense of comradery, in New York City, than I did in LA.
Don’t get me wrong, Los Angeles has its moments. Mostly, I think, New York City has more of its moments. Back in LA, the greatest moment of camaraderie, the biggest sense of community, I felt was during the Marathon.
I ran the LA Marathon for first time, last March. People filled the streets. If they saw your nametag, they’d call out your name, offer you orange slices and so forth.
If I dropped my water bottle, someone would pick it up for me. Everybody came together. For me, that was a great way to close my chapter in LA, but I don’t think it’s typical of the city.
GS What was your goal time in the LA Marathon?
LJ My goal time was 4:30 and I did 4:31.
GS That’s a great time.
LJ The Marathon was a great way for me to put a stamp on twelve great years I lived in LA. The city will always be precious to me. I feel, at heart, I will always be an Angelino, in some ways.
Sometimes, though, there comes a point, in your life, when you feel like you’re done and it’s time to move forward. That is how I felt, even when I didn’t know that New York City was next for me. The moment was exhilarating and scary.
GS It’s the thrill of the risk.
LJ Yes. What scares you, I found, always make you grow, pushes you forward.
GS Will you run the New York Marathon on 3 November 2013.
LJ I’ll try. The move got in the way, for this year. I might try the Philadelphia Marathon, but take this as forewarning, “If you print this, I will run the New York Marathon someday.”
GS That then is a done deal.
LJ I’m calling my thirty-third year, “The year of the bucket list.” One of my bucket list items was to run a marathon. Next, that was move to New York City. I can say that I’ve crossed both of those off now.
GS How did modelling fit?
LJ Modelling, for me, was a gateway out of Boise and into acting. As I said, I had never sought to be an actor. I was at a career fair, when I was sixteen-years-old, and someone scouted me for modelling.
I had maroon hair, at the time. I was going through my rebellious phase. I laughed when I discovered someone thought I’d make a good model; I did not see myself as a model or an actor, for that matter.
I graduated high school early. I took a modelling contract in Tokyo, Japan. At the time, I looked at it as my ticket out of Idaho.
Idaho was a great place to grow up. It’s a place where you can spend your life, without noticing it. You need to get out and decide if Idaho is where you want to spend a life.
I wanted to see the world. I wanted to leave the confines of the North-west. Modelling was the most available highway.
I went to Japan. I was seventeen-years-old, in Tokyo. I rode a subway for the first time in my life.
I had my eighteenth birthday in Osaka. I missed my senior prom. I did go back to Idaho, for a short time, after that, but it was different. I soon left for Los Angeles.
I drove my 1998 Toyota Corolla from Boise, Idaho to LA, with the clothes on my back. That as all I had to my name. My first month, in LA, I lived in my car, driving from place to place, meeting to meeting.
In LA, someone broke into my car, when I was at a meeting. The thief took my Thomas guide. I would use my Thomas guide to navigate through the city, to find out how to get to an audition or modelling job.
When I discovered the theft, I started crying. I was alone, in a huge city, and now trapped without a Thomas guide. I thought, “What a cruel place is LA. Who steals a Thomas guide?”
In New York City, I use my GPS for everything. I don’t know how New Yorkers did it before GPS.
That’s how my career fell into place. Modelling, for me, yes, I guess from the outside eye, it does seem shallow. For me, it’s a performance, as well, a silent performance.
In modelling, I learned to assume a persona in front of the camera. The lens terrified me, when I started modelling; I did not think I could do it. I didn’t think I was beautiful enough. I didn’t think I was interesting enough.
GS Your modelling work projects, “Interesting,” that’s your persona.
LJ Modelling taught me self-confidence. Every time I got in front of the camera, I took on this persona. I never thought of myself as sexy or beautiful. Once I got in front of the lens, I could be whomever I wanted.
I embraced what opportunity modelling offered. It opened many doors for me. I think that’s why I’m at a point in my life now.
GS What modelling were you doing in Japan.
LJ Mostly, I did catalogues. I wore dresses a lot. I did more wedding catalogues and bridal catalogues than I can count. I wore big dresses that made me appear as figurine atop a wedding cake. I did magazines, catalogues, music videos and different editorial pieces.
I wish I could say that I walked away from Japan eighteen years old, cultured and speaking fluent Japanese. We had translators everywhere we went. The only phrase I remember how to say in Japanese is, “Where is the toilet?”
I look at my photo albums, today. Most of the photographs were inside karaoke bars and nightclubs. There I was, at the most beautiful temples in the world, but a photo shows me singing in front of a television screen. I learned little about Japan, it was all work.
GS You were a kid.
LJ Yes. What else can I say? I hope to go back and experience it as an adult.
GS What pressures did clients or photographers put on you, in Japan?
LJ As an American model in Japan, I had to be thin, underweight all the time. This sounds ridiculous, but one client weighed and measured us every single day. I wouldn’t even want to drink water in the morning.
My parents worried I was too thin. Looking back, at photographs, I was a skeleton. Yet, I was living the dream.
I would never put myself through that again. Health concerns took a back-seat when I modelled in Japan. It was not a good influence for a seventeen-year-old.
GS After a year modelling in Japan, you moved to LA.
LJ After Japan, offers came from Los Angeles, which I took. In LA, I started doing yoga and fitting modelling. Those clients didn’t want me a size zero or a size two.
The average size for fitting model is eight. I’m on the smaller end for that modelling. The fitting model is more of a healthy standard.
For me, the most important goal was to keep a consistent measurement. I found yoga helped. Yoga is great because I’m able to keep a healthier body; I’m not constantly dieting. I value my body a lot more now than when I modelled in Japan.
Today, I keep my body and mind healthy. I give my body proper nutrition and take care of it. I think yoga opened many doors for me; it helped me learn about my body.
GS Still, modelling was your doorway to acting and a fuller life.
LJ In my twenties, I discovered my femininity. I learned to embrace it since then. Deep down, though, I’m always going to be an Idaho tomboy.
I started with modelling. I still do it occasionally. My modelling success is interesting.
I’m here in New York City, exploring opportunities; I want to try more than modelling or television and film acting. I think that’s why I also became involved with a non-profit group. I worked with a tech company for a while; I’m always looking to widen my horizons.
I’m a tomboy at heart. I grew up with two brothers in Idaho. Many people thought it unnatural for me to be a tomboy.
When I was ten-years-old, my mother forced me to put on a swimsuit. To that point, I wore boy trunks for swimming. I acclimated to the high heels and high fashion, eventually.
GS Maybe both are good. When you have kids, it may help you a lot.
LJ That’s true. I loved being an LA girl. I loved having two brothers. My little brother gave me my first bloody nose and my first scar. Brothers toughened me up.
Still, during my brief time, back in Boise, I realised I needed to see more of the world. Modelling gave me opportunities. While modelling, someone approached me about acting.
GS Los Angeles has a reputation as the land of rejection.
LJ That’s always going to be the way in LA. In entertainment, you become an accepting rejectee. You grow a thick skin, which I didn’t for a while.
I was always too fat or too thin. I was always too anything the director or client didn’t want. After a while, I stopped trying to make other happy, by being thinner or fatter, and focused on making me happy.
Every actor or model has lost jobs because of matters that are out of his or her control. Everyone has gone on crash diet or over-exercised to appear gaunt or buff enough for a part. Eventually, sometimes too late, everyone comes to the realisation she or he must live for personal happiness, not the needs of a casting director.
The entertainment industry wore me down. I tired of trying to make everyone else happy. I learned to find my most genuine self and then nurture it.
My formative years were in LA. It’s where I came to find myself and like what I found. There were many difficulties, but I figured it out.
I went to a dark place. I struggled with the feeling. Was I good enough? Was I talented enough? Was I good-looking enough to succeed? I met the most talented and beautiful people that thought the same ways as did I.
Eventually, I realised insecurities infested even the most confident people, in Hollywood. For me, I found ideas that brought me fulfilment, outside work, ideas that made me a well-rounded person, on my own. Removing acting or modelling considerations, at least as my primary concern, was the healthiest route for me.
I took yoga. I became involved with the “No Kidding, Me Too.” I began salsa dancing, as a hobby. For me, that’s when I feel my work, my acting or modelling, became better.
I earned a strong, accurate sense of me. I felt as if I could bring more colours to characters I portrayed. I got more satisfaction from my work.
GS Hitchcock called actors, “Cattle.”
LJ I bought that idea for a long time. I was trying to break away from that attitude. I’m not saying that I’ve always been great at it, but I strived.
I think part of my venture to New York is another way of exploring my own sensibilities. I'm trying not to let the “cattle attitude” control my life. If I need to take some time off or if I need to go to Turkey for a while to do some soul searching, I’m going to do that and put myself first. In the end, we’re dust in the ground somewhere, so we must make the best of the time we have.
No matter what I eventual do. No matter where I find myself, I’m always going to look back at my time in LA and Hollywood as interesting. LA brought me so many unique opportunities.
I can look back and while modelling and LA weren’t mainstream paths to take, I had many adventures. I think LA, acting, helped me discover whom I am.
I have moments where I wish I took a more traditional route. I always pictured that when I was 32-years-old, I would have a white picket fence with two dogs and three kids. Here, I am in a little brownstone in Brooklyn.
GS Your first acting job was on “Buffy.”
LJ My first television job, ever, was an accident. I booked for a small part on an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” during its last season. I got my Screen Actors Guild (SAG) card for that role.
At the time, I knew “Buffy” was a cult favourite. I didn’t realise the affect it had on American culture, even all these years after it ended. I get fan mail to this day from that little role on one episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
I was new to LA. I had a hideous red hairdo. I didn’t know what I was doing. I interviewed with an agent, but we had no agreement.
GS How did your accidental casting on “Buffy” happen?
LJ To promote myself, I sent little postcards to casting directors. One card resulted in an audition Then, I was “called back.”
At the “call in,” I needed to name my agent. I gave the name of the agent that interviewed me. When I got the job, he said, “I guess I’m your agent now.”
That’s how I got my first agent. For my SAG card, the production company had to Taft-Hartley me.
GS What is Taft-Hartley?
LJ It’s the best way to get an SAG card. Working actors are members of SAG. Sometimes, if a production company wants to hire a non-union actor, it will pay a fee so the actor can do the production. Then the actor is eligible to pay fees and join the union if they elect to do so.
GS SAG is an enigma.
LJ Taft-Hartley is the name of the Labor Management Act of 1947 that limits the intrusiveness of unions. Television production might slow to a crawl if producers had to wait for SAG to take its time to admit a new actor. Taft-Hartley lets producers quickly get a new actor or non-actor into SAG, so she or he can work on a show, tomorrow. I got lucky with my first booking and got my SAG card.
GS What do you remember of your first day on the set of “Buffy”?
LJ I remember the set. I worked with Sara Michelle Geller and James Marsters; he was lovely. I was so nervous I thought I was going to vomit before the first take.
This is what I wanted, but the scale of the shoot blew my mind. I had never seen anything like it. I think my first scene used more than three hundred extras. It was a night shoot, with cranes everywhere. Petrified was the best word to describe my response.
It was the first high-end set I had worked. I felt as if I was in a dream; now, it’s an interesting and great memory. There are viewers, who will see that, whether it is on a rerun or anywhere else and know the full story, now.
GS Do you still receive residuals for that one episode?
LJ I think my residuals are down to one penny, on each cheque, for that episode. This amuses me, a great deal. When you get the penny residual, knowing someone spent much more money on the envelope, the stamp and printing the check.
There is a bar in LA called, “Residuals.” I think anybody that receives a residuals cheque for one dollar or less, gets a free drink. I need to find somewhere like that in New York City.
GS You did a “CSI: New York.”
LJ Yes, I was a bank robber. The story line was about a team of three beautiful bank robbers who dressed like Audrey Hepburn. We would rob jewelry stores throughout New York City. Toward the end of the episode, someone kidnaps me.
GS Presumably, the show does not shoot in New York City.
LG Right. Much of my acting career, I portrayed a hostage or some form of victim or a stripper. My head shot must scream “Hostage,” “Victim” or “Slut.” I don’t know why.
GS You worked with Charlie Sheen.
LJ Yes, I did an episode on “Two and a Half Men.” Ironically, maybe, I portrayed a call girl for Charlie Sheen. I wanted to call everyone I knew to say, "I finally made it in Hollywood because I spent the morning in bed with Charlie Sheen.” That’s when you know you made in Hollywood, you spend time in bed with Charlie Sheen and there's a crew of one hundred or more watching.
I played a hooker, hired by Sheen, on that episode of "Two and a Half Men." The episode was called, "Pie Hole, Herb": Charlie kicked Alan out the house, again; Alan wanted the $38 Charlie owned him back. The hooker role was comedy relief.
GS What was Sheen like?
LJ This was before he went on his tirade and rants about the show. Sheen was the loveliest man; so soft spoken. He even came across as a little shy to me. Sheen kept asking if I was good, if I needed anything. He was so attentive.
A year later, I laughed when all the nightmares happened with him. It was amusing to watch. It was weird, too.
GS Do you get residuals for “CSI: New York” and “Two and a Half Men”?
LJ I get residuals for any acting I do that airs on television. For roughly eighteen months, I had a recurring role on “Days of Our Lives,” the afternoon soap opera that NBC airs. Six years later, I still get the occasional residuals cheque.
GS You worked for a high-tech company.
LJ Yes, I was a spokesperson for a tech company based in LA, which is in the online advertising field. I was on their marketing and sales teams. I travelled with them to all of their events around the world.
I wore a microphone when I spoke to an audience. I last did it in London in May. From the podium, I explained the product to people and answered questions. I introduced the sales team. This was another way to help me explore something different.
I wanted to speak publicly, again, after I went to Iraq. I wanted to do anything to get up in front of people and speak. My work for the ad tech company wasn’t speaking in front of soldiers in the desert, which was reassuring and informative. For the ad tech company, the audience was current or potential customers and thus I had to be more persuasive. I enjoyed it.
I liked going to tech conferences. Sometimes, I think I'd like to have a job that’s more normal. I enjoyed being part of that crowd, exploring that side of myself.
GS Corporate appearances pay well, I hear.
LJ I’m exploring the possibilities, with other companies. More to the point, I’m exploring ways to grow, as a person. I’m not one of those people that must be the next Meryl Streep. At the end of my life, I want to look back and be able to say that I came to know myself.
GS More men and women should chase that admirable goal.
LJ I’m not risking everything on one effort; not putting all my eggs in one basket. In the entertainment business, I’m doing various jobs. I’m acting or modelling a bit. I have also been a spokesperson and so forth, work that is around entertainment.
Eventually, I’ll have a bunch of baskets to select from or, maybe, one big basket from which to pick this job or that. No matter, I’ll have choices. I’ll get more out of life, if I avoid the abuse of objectification, which often comes from focusing too intensely on one goal, with a diversion, such as training for a marathon.
GS The entertainment industry has a strong reputation for objectifying.
LJ Yes. I feel that during my entire life I have juggled multiple pressures. I had my hands in many baskets; I’m glad, don’t get me wrong. I feel I’ve been able to flush out many facets of myself. At the same time, now that I’m here in New York, I’m creating a little bit more normalcy, I hope.
GS Could you tolerate a 9-to-5 job?
LJ Sometimes, I want to wake up and go to a 9-to-5 job, which I never had. I tell women and men that have 9-to-5 jobs how I’d like to have one, too. They tell me I’m crazy.
GS The grass is always greener.
LJ Yes, I think that’s why I’m living here and New York City. I’m looking at different opportunities. Acting or some form of entertainment will always be there for me. I can keep the door open for acting work, such as the “Lost Planet” series.
Still, nothing falls into my lap. I have to work at it, hard. You hear the stories of people who got their first audition and became famous, but that’s a huge exception to the rule.
GS Easy success has many pitfalls.
LJ Yes, there are a small percentage of SAG actors working, at one time. Acting is a hard job. It’s demanding, what with auditioning, shooting a movie or television show for eighteen hours a day, doing the follow up promotion and so forth. There’s a point, sometimes, where I want to feel as if I am on more solid ground than I am today.
GS You have a lead role in “Lost Planet Three.”
LJ Yes, The game is a prequel to” Lost Planet: Extreme Condition,” aka “Lost Planet One,” and “Lost Planet Two.” Spark Unlimited, a California-based developer, is responsible for instalment three, of the “Lost Planet” series; Capcom, a Japanese company, developed the first two instalments. Spark is most widely known for known for “Call of Duty: Finest Hour” and the “Medal of Honor” franchise.
Sparks put together a new team for “Three.” Player responses, from “One” and “Two” were important to the new team working on “Three.” Spark hired Matt Sophos, the current superstar creative in the game industry; he delivered, one hundred per cent, when it came to the story.
Sophos was on set with us, almost all the time. He was in the voiceover booth. He was on the motion capture set. He was there with us, the actors, every step of the way.
Sophos knew how to work with actors, how to evoke the best performances from us. “Lost Planet Three” would not have happened without him. He was the architect behind this entire game. Sophos brought it together. I know this was his baby.
My first audition for “Lost Plant Three” was about my voice, not my face. I read for several different characters; the producers had me do several voice tests. After I passed those, I did several camera tests.
In “Lost Planet Three,” I use my voice, face and body, its motion-capture and voiceover. It’s all of me. Only a good voice, body or acting ability wasn’t enough for “Lost Planet Three,” which demanded a great combination of the three.
I auditioned for several different characters until Sophos decided I fit best as Diana and they cast for the part. Diana was a hotly sought after role. It was an exceptional role, for me. I know the producers had been looking for a while to fill her shoes.
I felt honoured. When I finally stepped into the role of Diana, “Lost Planet Three” had been when in production for a while. I came in toward during the latter half of production.
I entered a well-oiled machine. The people involved blew me away; the technology is a marvel. When I saw technology behind “Lost Planet Three,” it floored me. I will never forget the first moment I saw the digitised me.
The technology is invigorating and frightening, at the same time. It’s the weirdest feeling to see your avatar. It’s you, but it’s not you: the avatar is what the software thinks you look like.
GS Other than face scans and such, was there any special preparation for the video game role.
LJ This was my first video game. The writing and the character development is superb. Thus, it was no different from preparing for a film
GS How did they create an avatar for you?
LJ I had a full scan of my face. I stood on a special platform, which turned me 360-degrees, as a machine scanned my face. There were sixty facial expressions needed; thus, much time went into scanning my face.
I had to sit with my chin on a little resting piece, with the camera staring straight at my face, from all angles. Someone called out facial expressions for me to make, such as “Right cheek puff” or “Flair your right nostril.” I couldn’t make some of the needed facial expressions.
Someone said, “I’ve been doing this for decades and I’ve only seen one person who can do every single expression, Jim Carrey.” That doesn’t surprise me. The man is like a rubber band.
I wondered about some of the facial expressions. I asked why I had to open my jaw, part way, for example. The answer was that it might be part of a sneeze.
GS Can you tell me about your character, Diana.
LJ The protagonist of the film is Jim Peyton, portrayed by Bill Waterson; he’s a great fellow. I play the granddaughter, Diana, of Jim Peyton. Early on in “Lost Planet Three,” you see how that connection forms.
GS Is Diana in instalments one and two.
LJ No, “Lost Planet Three” is a prequel to “Lost Planet One” and “Lost Planet Two.” “Three” tells the backstory of EDN III and Nevic, which is the antagonist of the Neo Vena construction company where Jim Patten works.
The storyline plays with time. I’m the granddaughter of Jim Peyton, in the future. My character helps the story unfold over time. There are many surprises; you must play “Lost Planet Three” to find out.
I was lucky because Matt Sophos, the writer, producer and director of “Lost Planet Three,” devised a beautiful and compelling story. It was a dream, as an artist, to work with him; his dialogue was realistic. He was as an architect in the way he created the layers for all the characters. Nothing, in “Lost Planet Three,” felt arbitrary; every character intentionally flushed out, even the smaller ones.
GS That’s impressive.
LJ When players meet Diana, she is in her formative years, raised on a planet, EDN III, which is in each episode of the “Lost Planet” series. When earth had gone into dystopian turmoil, humans went to EDN III for supplies to bring back to earth.
Diana lived on EDN III her entire life. She wants to see what’s beyond her planet. She sees people coming from earth and wants to know why she can’t be a part of earth world, too.
It’s interesting, as an Idaho girl, I identified with Diana, a great deal. Growing up in Idaho, I always wanted to be a part of something bigger. I envied everyone else that came from somewhere else.
GS For you, EDN III is New York City.
LJ Yes, I guess so. New York City has tumultuous weather, as does EDN III, which is an ice world. I think I went soft in Los Angeles.
GS Is one or another of the “Lost Planet” games on its way to the movie screen.
LJ I’m interested to see “Lost Planet Three,” as a movie; how a movie audience reacts to it. “Three” has great buzz. The response from E3 and Comic Con is strong. The “Lost Planet” series has a great fan following.
Many loyal fans are anxious to see what instalment three brings. “Lost Planet Three” is much different from the other two. The story is much more centralised and flushed-out, as are the characters. This makes the game much more engaging and interesting to play.
I think Spark Unlimited is going to attract new players to the game. There are many great surprises, with the downloadable content available for “Lost Planet Three.” Surprised and happy, I think, sums up the response. I feel fortunate to have been a part of it.
My character has an interesting growth throughout “Lost Planet Three.” I like to think players will see her become a woman in “Lost Planet Three.” I feel there are many possibilities if we do “Lost Planet Four.” There are many directions for the story to go. I’m excited to see what the future brings for Lost Planet.
GS You mentioned you did voiceover work.
LJ Voiceover is something I never thought I would do. Many people told me I should try. Now, I have several commercials running.
GS What commercial might we know that you voiced?
LJ I’m the voice for Woodridge Winery. In “Lost Planet Three,” I voiced and portrayed Diana, as well as several other characters. I voiced all the computers in “Lost Planet Three,” which fulfilled a childhood dream, of a sort.
When I was growing up, with my brothers, I did an obnoxious artificial intelligence voice. The sound was so annoying. As an adult, I did that voice and someone paid me to do it.
I called my brothers and said, “Remember my robot voice? Someone paid me to do it, today, so there.” I fulfilled a childhood dream, which excited me.
I think my favourite part of “Lost Planet Three,” apart from the motion-capture days, were the days I got make all the various sounds you hear throughout the game. A director would say, from the booth, “Lisa, you’re getting shot at. A bullet hit you; you’re dying.”
All the little noises we make, every day; well, some of those little noises we make. I felt ridiculous doing those sounds, in the voiceover booth. When I was making my dying noise, he said, “Lisa, it sounds like your defecating; don’t do that.”
GS You’re not supposed to have such energy, at death.
LJ You go to work and you can’t believe a company pays you to do voiceovers because it’s like receiving a pay cheque for pretending.
GS Playing an elaborate game of pretend.
LJ Yes, but the motion capture set was different. I had to wear an uncomfortable, hot and sweaty suit as well as a heavy battery pack on my head. The air conditioning was off, when taping, as it makes noise. I couldn’t drink too much water; else, I’d had to go to the bathroom.
After I got past these inconveniences, motion capture was great. Most of my scenes were with Jonathan Roumie, who portrayed LaRoach, and Bill Waterson, who portrayed Jim Patten. It was great how we could engage; act, without worrying about holding still for cameras or getting in someone else’s light. It was a playground.
I had to put my imagination to work, on “Lost Planet Three.” I had to imagine everything. Each of us had little balls all over our bodies and a giant helmet.
We were all in it together. We look ridiculous. As an actor, it was the most fun and interesting experience, I have had. There’s nothing like seeing the finished game. I’ve only seen bits of “Lost Planet Three” and bits of Diana. I went into the studio to check it out and it blew me away. I’ll say it’s interesting, seeing me like that.
GS Thanks, Lisa; I asked for an hour of your time and we’re almost at three hours.
LJ Thank you, too.
Click here to watch the Lisa Jay demo reel.
Click here for a list of all Grub Street Interviews
Interview edited and reduced for publication.
SAG and the American Confederation of Television and Radio Actors merged 2010.
dr george pollard is a Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth" as well as the Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment.
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