by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — Actress Camille Mana is best known for her recurring role as Lisa, an underachiever on the defunct UPN TV show One on One. In real life, however, Mana, is anything but.
“I’ve worked real hard with a strange level of focus most people would describe as insanity,” she said.
The 24-year-old thin loquacious actress with Filipino and Chinese looks is a certified hard-worker. She has a successful acting resume that spans more than seven years from commercials, television to films. She has an Economics degree from UC Berkeley, finishing in only six semesters.
Recently, she became an award-winning producer when her short film Equal Opportunity won Best Film in NBC/Universal’s First Annual Comedy Shortcuts Film Festival in 2006. The award led to a $25,000 development deal with NBC/Universal.
The short film shows a typical multi-racial workplace where co-workers take a break and talk to each other freely, unmasking the normal political correctness afforded in modern-day interaction.
This year, Mana will be seen showcasing her acting prowess next to legendary screen and TV actor Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker in the Miramax movie Smart People. She is also playing a female lead role in the Lionsgate teen movie comedy, College, set to debut at the same time as Smart People sometime in April.
Despite all her successes in such a short amount of time, she’s hoping her performances can give way to more chances for Asian and Filipino American actors into the mainstream.
“I’m so blessed to be where I am,” she said. “There are so few opportunities for us. It’s tough to be an Asian American actor. So many of us go to college, have a degree, yet here we are reading for one line as the Chinese delivery waiter, or the Asian prostitute. It can be so degrading to even get that audition. We are changing things…[but] there has to be more of us writing, producing and creating stories that integrate Asian characters to the mainstream.”
It’s the reason why she spends so much time dedicating herself to the involve more minorities in Hollywood.
“That’s why I’m producing now,” she added. “You have to have writers and producers creating opportunities for Asian American actors.”
Mana can’t quite put her finger where the acting bug in her vein started. Her father was a former “rocket scientist” during the Cold War (“He actually holds a patent for many of the technologies that came out during that time.”) while her mom was a “typical Filipina working as a nurse.”
Growing up in Orange County, Mana was the baby of the family with a lot of expectations. Her parents expected her to follow her brother’s footstep, who at the time was studying to be a doctor. Mana, however, became interested in show business at an early age.
When she was nine, her parents brought her to watch Phantom of the Opera.
“It was like being struck by lightning,” said Mana of the performance. “I was only nine years old and I remember being so moved and very emotional as a little girl.”
“I knew this is what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be a professional actress and that’s that,” she added.
At the age of 12, she said she would ride a bike to the local library and bookstore reading “anything and everything about acting.”
“I was reading about [Constantin] Stanislavski, and the method approach to acting,” she said. “Then I would read all the How-to-break-in-to-Hollywood books. I was just storing up the knowledge.”
However, her parent’s forbade her to pursue such a lofty endeavor. It took Mana a lot of conniving and convincing before her parents began to realize their daughter would give up her art.
“They thought it was just a whim,” she recalls. To Mana, it was her passion.
It wasn’t a success story from the beginning for Mana. Her first audition in high school was a let down. Her perseverance paid, however, when she got cast in a community theater production of Oklahoma.
“It was funny because here I was a small Filipino girl in Oklahoma,” she said. “From there, they [her parents] were stuck.”
Later, her young career earned Mana numerous acting awards. She later on drove to Los Angeles for more professional acting classes. “This was my side life,” she said. “My parent’s allowed me to do it as long as I maintained my 4.3 grade point average.”
No success in sight
Unbeknownst to her agent, Mana had been attending UC Berkeley. In spite of the distance, she went on auditioning for parts with little success.
“I was determined,” she said. “I would fly to Los Angeles on four hours notice. My agent never knew I was going to school. But I never missed an audition. I got down here paid for the flight with my own money even if I had finals the next day. It seemed like it was a losing battle. I would read one line and wouldn’t get a call back.”
From 2001 to 2005, she played bit parts in Hollywood. She shot one episode of Angel, The OC and a few other television series but never quite had a chance to fully showcase her talent.
Her big break came when UPN revamped the show, One on One.
“The moment before One on One, I was about to quit the business,” she said.
She credits her 22 recurring appearance on the now defunct television series as her training wheels.
“I was now one of the six leads,” she said. “Having come from only doing bit parts, it’s a whole new world. I learned so much being on the set everyday.”
Reflecting on her success, she realizes that her confidence had to go through a period of “personal doubt and big challenges” before making it.
She advises those trying to make it in the industry to never give up their dream.
“It’s all about how much you want it,” she said.
However, despite having achieved so much in so little time, Mana is not done calling it a career yet.
“I told you I was struck by lighting,” she said. “That fire in my belly has not gone out.”