Tanya Wright was born in New York, but although she moved to Los Angeles a decade ago to pursue a career in acting, she still doesn’t consider herself a Californian girl.
“When I am in California and I start talking I always get “New York right?” So, yes I am a New Yorker”, Tanya tells me when I interviewed her via Skype last week.
From a young age Tanya Wright has dreamt of becoming a writer, she never gave up on that dream and earlier this month her debut novel Butterfly Rising was published. The book is based on the screenplay she wrote and the movie Butterfly Rising is currently in post-production and will be released some time next year.
Tanya is a passionate woman, she speaks with great enthusiasm and excitement about her work on True Blood and the Butterfly Rising project that is so close to her heart.
A native of the Bronx, Tanya grew up with her mother who was 15 years of age when she gave birth to the first of four children. She and her younger sister received scholarships to the George School in Pennsylvania, a Quaker boarding school; Tanya then completed an independent/writing major at Vassar College.
Her first job, fresh out of college, was for nine months at the New York Times as a news clerk. So how did the girl who wanted to be a writer become a successful Hollywood actress who never had to work odd jobs and has always been able to support herself through acting?
“I like to always say that it happened by a happy accident. I met the guy who played Theo on the Cosby Show many years ago, Malcolm Jamal Warner. He said that they were looking for someone to play his girlfriend on the show, I was very young and in high school. I wasn’t much interested in acting, I always wanted to be a writer, but I auditioned and I got the part. The acting just happened, it sort of took off for me and that’s how I’ve made my living all of my life really.”
We often hear that Hollywood is brutal and that out-of-work actors move from one audition to another, barely making a living. Tanya doesn’t believe that she was just lucky. “I am a true believer in people creating their own luck. I am a very hard worker. I am very disciplined and I am very focused. And I don’t usually stop until I get what it is that I want. Even more than talent, and I won’t be the first to say this, determination and persistence is really key to anything being successful. You just don’t stop.”
When True Blood was half way into shooting season 1, Tanya received a call from her agent about an audition for a new show created by Alan Ball based on the books by Charlaine Harris, with which she was already familiar.
When she received the script she thought about the little things that she could do to make it interesting and different and fun. She auditioned before Alan Ball and writer Nancy Oliver and during her performance they laughed in places that she didn’t expect them to. “But hey, I am an actor and I take the laughs where I can get it”, she says with a big smile, although she did ask herself whether they were laughing at her or with her. Obviously it worked out well. “I was really excited about getting the part. It is HBO and it is Alan Ball and we know they both do great work. I didn’t know how many episodes I was going to do, but I knew it would be an exciting ride.”
With her co-stars William Sanderson (Bud Dearborn) and Chris Bauer (Andy Bellefleur) she forms the “country chorus of Bon Temps” as she calls it. “We are so different in so many ways and that makes for a really good threesome.”
We don’t know if Bud Dearnborn will come back to Bon Temps or if he will pursue a career in square dancing, but it was one of his speeches that are Tanya’s all time favorite on the show. When he spoke about the gaps in his brain and the polyps in his ass, Tanya had difficulty keeping a straight face with every take of that scene. “You read it in the script, but when you hear somebody actually say these words you think: “You gotta be kidding me! I love it!”
“True Blood has become a cultural phenomenon!” Tanya responds when I ask her about the success of the show. “Everybody who works on the show has been really great, from the crew to the writers and producers to the actors.”
The table reads are especially fun because that is the time that everybody sits down with the script for the first time. Because of all the intersecting storylines they don’t get to see each other all the time.
“It’s the first time you hear these words and these characters come to life. I often sit at those table reads and I say to myself “Man, these people are good!” I am jazzed and happy to be part of this group because they bring it every time when they come to play. This world, this heightened reality, is such a gold mine for an actor: vampires, people shapeshifting, its great!”
When reading a script does she ever think, “How are we going to do this? This is crazy!”
Pretty much all the time! [laughs] How are we going to do this? Or “we are actually going to say that?!” It’s so exciting! Where else on network television do you get to say some of the things that we get to say? It is so much fun!
As so many of the True Blood actors Tanya does visit the fan sites from time to time. “The fan sites are like crack. Once you start reading the fan sites, you go to another and another and as an actor it is not always a good thing to know what people are saying about you because people can be mean, but they can be really nice as well [laughs]. I think it’s a good idea to know generally what is being said and what is going on in the world.”
Deputy Sheriff Kenya Jones doesn’t let herself get carried away by the supernatural and it’s very unlikely that she will fall for a vamp or were any time soon. “Kenya doesn’t get excited about anything”, Tanya explains about her character. “ I would describe her as an aggressive non-believer and I would love to see this woman thrown into a situation where she would literally see somebody shapeshifting right before her eyes. How would she handle that truth? Her truth is so different from what is going on in the town; it is so completely opposite, I think it would be hilarious!
If she could write a scene for Kenya she would like Ryan Kwanten to be her scene partner. “Ryan is terrific. He comes up with something new every take of every scene that is fresh, interesting and funny. It would also be really interesting for Kenya and Lafayette to do something together, that would be a lot of fun.
Tanya does see a little bit of herself in Kenya. “A general overall quirkiness [laughs] and I think that I approach my life in a very real way. I am a very grounded person and I don’t do a lot of bullshit, it is what it is and maybe that is the New Yorker in me. I am pretty straight forward and I think Kenya is too, maybe she is a little too straight, she could be a little more flexible with people. I would love to see her in situations where she is forced to change her mind about things.
Unlike many of the other cast members Tanya doesn’t spend a lot of time in wardrobe with Audrey Fisher. Kenya has one outfit and that is her police uniform, so it was a welcome change for Tanya to wear a dress and have her hair down in season 3.
“One time and I was very excited about that”, she tells about her scene in Merlotte’s. Would she like to wear fabulous outfits like Pam? “I would love it! Just give me a month to work it off! [laughs]”
As Deputy Jones she is very convincing, but it doesn’t help her much with the real police. “I was pulled over by a cop about a week ago and playing a cop on television doesn’t help anything! He was not interested! ! [laughs] But he didn’t give me a ticket, just a warning, which was great.”
Tanya is an independent woman who knows what she wants. Her dream project Butterfly Rising is now in it’s final stage. The book came out early August and the movie will be released in 2011.
“Butterfly Rising is the story about two women”, Tanya explains. “Two very unlikely women who become fast friends. Lilah Belle is a grief-stricken singer who is outlandish and dances in the streets. She is known as an oddball in this small town of Lucasville. Rose Johnson has a torrid reputation for her relationships with other women’s husbands. These two women have to make a hasty retreat out of town, they steal a vintage pick-up truck and they set out on the open road to a place called New Hope to meet a mythical medicine man named Lazarus of the Butterflies. They have an encounter with this man and their lives change forever.”
Renaissance woman Wright wrote the screenplay after the death of her brother in 2005, she directed and produced the movie in which she also stars in the role of Rose.
“The movie focuses on the road trip, while the book expands on the life long friendship of these women and goes deep into the characters to explain why they do the things they do and their past and history. And some other aspects of their lives that I couldn’t explore on film”.
In the story the brother of Lilah dies, but Tanya choose not to play that part, but the part of Rose. “I am dual aspects of both of these women, just like writing and acting are both sides of my brain in a way Rose and Lilah are too. I could have played either of these characters and at the time I was in a really deep grief state because of my brother’s death and I wanted to leave that be. As an actor I was more interested in exploring the character of Rose.”
Actress, writer, director, Tanya is all three, she needs each one of them, one feeds the other. Being an a writer helps her as an actor, being an actor helps her as a writer, the director is the compass and she wouldn’t be satisfied just doing one of them.
A lot of time was invested in the preparation of the movie, so by the time she got on set to shoot the scenes it was actually quite easy. Also directing herself wasn’t as difficult as it sounds. “It was my first time as an actor where I wasn’t interested in pleasing anybody. It was one of those rare extraordinary times in my life as an actor where I allowed myself to be directed with the idea that I already had the architecture and the house down for this movie. It was really an extraordinary experience: you make a movie but you get made in the process, you see what you are made of too. The experience and the film have exceeded my expectations in every way.”
Butterfly Rising was Tanya’s dream and she hopes that the story will inspire other people to live their dream and dream big. That’s what Tanya does, she is already working on her next dream, a television project set in the South called Biloxi.
True Blood is getting cleaned up for syndication. Truebies have expressed their concern. Will it be possible to preserve the essence of the show?
Yes, I think so. There are lines on the show we say for HBO and there are lines we say for syndicated reason that are a lot more sanitized. It’s still saucy but it doesn’t have as much bite as “ass” and all the wonderful things we say on the show. It may give the show an even bigger audience. This show is so incredibly unique and I don’t know if there is anything you could do to make it not as unique as it is.
True Blood is pushing the envelope. Some say it goes too far. Tanya is not sure what too far would be. “I am an artist so of course my inclination is to go as far to the left as you can take it, my inclination is not to censor or slow anything down. I think people will let us know how far is too far.
Deputy Jones doesn’t care much for vampires, but Tanya wouldn’t mind if vampires really excited and would come out of the coffin. “I would be like.. ok… cool. I live a very simple life, but what goes on in my mind is so strange that it would not be out of the ordinary for me to even consider entertaining that reality. I wouldn’t at all be like Kenya, not at all.
Do you believe in the supernatural? “Yes I do. There are some elements in Butterfly Rising that I explore that are a little bit provocative in that way, but yes, very much.
“The fans of True Blood are great and we love you. It is such an enthusiastic supportive group and it lets us know that what we are doing as actors, writers and creators is being enjoyed. We appreciate that, we appreciate you guys and the work that you put into the fan sites. We really appreciate it.”
“I have done a few big shows, I was on the first season of “24”, NYPD, the Cosby Show, but this show is very different. It is not an understatement to call it a cultural phenomenon. There are so many provocative themes on the show; it has touched the consciousness of humanity in some way. The show deals with being an outsider, being different, love and sexual themes, political statements and religion. What other television show does all that in a really interesting, entertaining and unique way.”
As the fans say: In Alan Ball we trust.
“In Alan Ball we trust. I trust too!”
Meet Tanya at the following upcoming events:
August 27th 6:00PMReading/Signing
Moravian Book Shop
428 Main Street, Bethlehem PA
Tom Joyner Family Reunion Event – Author Panel and Book Signing
Expo – Gaylord Palms Resort
6000 West Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee FL
Sunday, September 12th
Brooklyn Book Festival – Debut Author’s Panel
Location: Brooklyn Borough Hall, Brooklyn NY
September 28th 7-9:30PM
Fourth Wall Arts Salon Reading/Signing
The Arts Garage,
1533 Ridge Avenue
Philadelphia PA 19130
Saturday, October 30th
WBLS Circle of Sisters – “Brand New You” Career Panel and Book Signing
Jacob Javits Center
655 34th Street, New York NY