Interview with Jennifer Cetrone

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Photo by Dana Patrick

Jennifer Cetrone was born and raised in New York. Her mother had been a professional dancer in NYC with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Twyla Tharp, so she had Jennifer practicing from a very young age. Additionally, Jennifer was quite precocious and basically came out of the womb acting out different characters and singing. Her very first community theatre production was at the tender age of 8 in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ at the Catskill Actors Theatre; which she believes is still in existence today. From that summer on, Jennifer was officially hooked and began her own research as an 8 year old on how she could go pro.

Hilary Barraford, Kara Michelotti, Justin Sorvillo and Cetrone at the New Media Film Festival

indieactivity: Did you study acting?
Jennifer: I’ve always been very candid about the fact that my upbringing was filled with a tremendous amount of adversity. I think it’s important to talk about, so that any kid who’s experiencing a turbulent home life understands just how important it is to remain focused on your studies and passions. My saving grace was staying out of the home as much as possible and work, work, working on my craft from a young age. Just prior to the 8th grade, we relocated from New York to Orlando, Florida. This was actually a blessing because no one was willing to shuttle me into the city for auditions when we were in New York. But, in Orlando at that time Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel were booming, and I had older friends who would drive me to auditions. So, this is where things started to take off and I began acting professionally at the age of 13 in TV and commercials.

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RILEY The Series Poster

indieactivity: What acting technique do you use?
Jennifer: Well, over the years I’ve studied the following techniques: Stanislavsky’s System, Lee Strasberg’s Method, Michael Chekhov + Uta Hagen. I think it’s helpful for actors to take the time to discover what works best for them, and allows them to cultivate the most real and compelling performance. For me personally, I’ve found that an amalgam of all of these usually serves me best. For instance, there are times when substitution has really aided my performance, and other times I’ve found it’s not conducive. Overall though, I think cultivating your emotional memory is extremely important, along with self / character analysis and relaxation techniques. I work best when I feel secure that I’ve got ample tools in my arsenal to pull from; sometimes I need them and sometimes I don’t. But, knowing I have access to them because I properly prepared is critical.

indieactivity: Do you take courses to improve your craft?
Jennifer: I have definitely taken many classes over the years to improve and stay sharp, and prior to a really important audition I may or may not coach privately depending upon the material. As I mentioned re: technique, I think classes can be very personal as well. I recommend taking time to find teacher(s) you really connect with and respect, who are also going to challenge you and not just let you play in your comfort / safe zone.

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Scott Speiser as ‘Henry’ and Cetrone as ‘Riley’ in RILEY The Series

indieactivity: What acting books do you read?
Jennifer: Here’s an abridged list of a few of my favorites: An Actor’s Handbook by Stanislavsky, Respect For Acting + A Challenge For The Actor both by Uta Hagen, True And False by David Mamet, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, The Lee Strasberg Notes by Lola Cohen and Martin Sheen, and Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told by Kenneth Turan and Joseph Papp.

indieactivity: How do you keep fit as an actor?
Jennifer: I really enjoy yoga, long beach walks, meditation, hiking and also workouts at the gym. This past week, my boyfriend and I alternated so many reps of squats and leg presses, along with the StairMaster that my legs are still sore 3 days later! The balance of all of these practices is important, not just for my physical health, but emotional hygiene as well. I’ve found it’s essential for me to monitor my own psychology on a daily basis. Some days I’m better at this than others, but the goal is to keep my emotions in a state of flow, eliminate the negative self-talk as much as possible and optimize productivity.

indieactivity: How do you prepare for a role when you get it?
Jennifer: I really take a deep dive into the script. I find when I know the in’s + outs of it really well, then ideas and nuances just start coming to me. I like to read it and then rehearse it out loud several times. As I’m saying the lines out loud and truly listening, the physicality and life story begin to manifest (often rather organically). I also embark on a plethora of research into understanding the life circumstances of someone living as my character does, and recall my own emotional memories that allow me to fully relate and inhabit this person.

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Hilary Barraford, Cetrone and Joe Forgione as Former Teen Pop Band ‘Triple Threat’ in RILEY The Series

indieactivity: How do you create a character from a script into a person?
Jennifer: Well, dovetailing off my last answer, I would say that you just can’t be afraid to go deep. Being disciplined and ensuring I’ve done the work and preparation required with the script, then allows me to be free and discover even more than I thought I knew about this person. The subconscious is pretty amazing, and you can let it run wild if you have the foundation of the tactical work to sustain you. I strive to be fully in the moment.

indieactivity: How do you stay fresh on a production set?
Jennifer: On set, my primary goal as an actor is to stay out of my own way. For better or worse, I’m an admitted perfectionist attempting self-reform! The plus side being that I never really find myself bored or complacent on set. I always welcome another shot to bring something fresh or different to life that will up the stakes. But, there is no place for that perfectionist mind when it comes to being fully engulfed in the moment, and committing to your director’s adjustments or add-ons. This must occur from a visceral space or you are left indicating, and no real truth can be found. I can be very cerebral, so through the years I’ve trained myself – no intellectualizing – just BE. I find solace and confidence in the fact that I’ve done my work, and now is the time to be free and have great fun.

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Photo by Jacob Jonas

indieactivity: Explain one creative choice you took on set?
Jennifer: Well, in the series I’m currently starring in, my character Riley is supposed to have a romantic daydream in the pilot episode. The director’s vision was to take this daydream over the top, and borderline absurdism. I had ridiculous makeup and enormous hair with a giant fan blowing through it, and could feel the entire crew staring at me hoping I could churn the ‘funny’ out rather quickly since it was the last shot of the morning on an overnight. And so, I just fully committed to magnifying my Riley in this abstract situation. This is Riley at her craziest; at her weirdest in this situation and moment. And fortunately, what manifested is quirky, out of the box humor that our audience has really enjoyed.

indieactivity: Describe a memorable character you played?
Jennifer: Well, one that’s quite memorable is Riley from ‘RILEY The Series’, which I previously mentioned. Our writer (the incredibly talented Tracey Maye) and I began developing the series in the summer of 2015, and the first 3 independently produced episodes premiered to critical acclaim in 2017. The next major milestone we’re working towards is acquisition by a leading streaming platform or network to produce the remainder of season 1 (currently written) and subsequent seasons. Riley is such an interesting character to explore since she’s a formerly huge teen pop star who’s endured a publicly humiliating downfall and nervous breakdown. As the dark comedy series opens, she’s now working at an online and telephone psychic hotline, and trying to come to terms with the fact that her life looks nothing like the one she had imagined for herself.

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Scott Speiser, Hilary Barraford, Nick Apostolides and Cetrone in RILEY The Series

indieactivity: What do you want most from a director?
Jennifer: Trust, above all else. I don’t want to be a co-dependent with my director, and attempt to do it ‘right’ or give them ‘exactly what they want’, so to speak. I’m at my most free with a collaborative director who understands the ‘dance’ each of these characters is embarking upon, and cares about helping me find the most truthful path to exploring this journey. I have come to set prepared and having done my work to fully inhabit this character. Now, what I want from my director is to help me discover even more truth and authenticity.

indieactivity: What actors do you long to work with?
Jennifer: I would love to work with John Goodman.

indieactivity: Why?
Jennifer: I have always been a huge fan of ‘Roseanne’. The work he did on that show and his impressive film roles since, are a testament to his genius. I think he’s insanely funny and truthful, and brings such depth to every performance.

indieactivity: What advice would you give to actors?
Jennifer: To keep fighting the good fight, and remember there are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Study your craft, and be prepared to work hard each and every day. Also, I believe it’s important to develop other skills such as business, marketing, PR, production, writing, social media, etc. These can help you to take charge of your own career and open doors to additional opportunities. Cultivating these skills or others can also help to generate a consistent income, which will sustain you during the lean times.

indieactivity: Briefly write about your career?
Jennifer: Born and raised in New York, Jennifer relocated to Orlando, Florida at the age of 13; where she began working professionally in television and commercials. At the age of 16, she garnered her first Actors’ Equity contract on the stage (which developed into a life-long love).

On her own since the age of 16, necessity propelled her to turn down a substantial scholarship to NYU’s performing arts program, and opt instead to tour the country working steadily in regional theatre for 5 years.

Upon moving to Los Angeles, Cetrone continued to book some television and film roles while also performing 2 leading Shakespearean roles in repertory with The East LA Classic Theatre. In 2007, she founded her own production company – From The Ground Up, Inc. With over a decade’s worth of productions under its belt, From The Ground Up is a unique amalgam; supplying world-class talent and resources to both the artistic and corporate domains. Both the Creative and Corporate Divisions of the company are devoted to producing purposeful and visionary collaborative works that foster growth, improved communications and understanding.

In the summer of 2015, Cetrone began co-creating RILEY The Series with writer Tracey Maye. Serving as Executive Producer, principal photography of the first 3 episodes of the series began the following summer in 2016. The pilot episode premiered to critical acclaim (with Tubefilter selecting the series for its INDIE SPOTLIGHT) in January ’17, starring Jennifer in the title role of Riley. She was nominated as Best Web Series Actress in June ’17 and the series continues to garner international acclaim.

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