Always on the move, Helenna Santos-Levy is the epitome of "a Lifer" in the Entertainment business
Not everyone is blessed with versatility and talent. But, without a hard work ethic, neither of those things would matter, anyway.
Our Artist Spotlight this month is on Ms. Helenna Santos-Levy, who is both versatile and talented. She is also always on the grind, as proven by all the things on her job description. She is a singer, an actress, a producer, a writer/vlogger, and that's just scraping the surface. She is also a bubbly personality and awesomely full of life, and she speaks with us about life as a performing artist in Los Angeles, CA.
Hi Helenna! Thank you very much for speaking with us. You're actually the first Filipino actress we’ve ever interviewed for Wika. We'll be starting off with the basic James Lipton-esque stuff.
Many thanks for having me! I’m stoked! I’ve never been interviewed by a Filipino publication, so first times all round.
Where were you born?
I was born in Napa Valley, California.
I understand that you have spent your childhood between Singapore, the Philippines, Canada and the US. What was that experience like, being immersed in a lot of different cultures from such a young age?
I think I had the most amazing childhood. We moved to Singapore and then the Philippines and then to Canada all before I turned five. I don’t remember a lot about Singapore but my memories of the Philippines are quite vivid. In 2004 I went back to the house I grew up in on Santos St. in Los Baños and it was exactly how I remembered it… just a lot smaller.
My Dad was a Vice President with the Philippine National Bank at the time, which is why we traveled around so much. I got to play on some of the best beaches in the world and learn about so many different cultures. It’s a real blessing I think. My Dad then emigrated to Canada because my Mom is from British Columbia and that’s where we planted roots.
Can you tell us a bit about your family?
I have such a kick ass family…oh…can I say kick ass on your site? Well, they are.
My mother was a Home Economics Teacher (she’s now retired), and my Dad retired soon after we moved to Canada. He was basically a stay at home Dad. He drove me to choir practices and we got groceries together.
My Grandmother on my Mother’s side has always been like a third parent to me. She really helped raise me and I’d have sleepovers at her house. We actually built a house on the same land as her place and that land has been in my family since the early 1900s.
I have two half sisters and two half brothers on my Dad’s side and they are all much older than me, so I grew up basically as an only child, but my siblings all have children and some of them are the same age as me so I grew up with them kind of like they were my cousins.
You come from a background that includes being a Filipino. Sometimes, the subject of certain challenges coming with growing up Pinoy away from the motherland arises with people that we’ve spoken to. Is there anything from your own personal experience that come to mind in relation to this, particularly with your early travels around the world?
Because we moved to Canada when I was so young I lost my accent very quickly and I stopped speaking Tagalog, which I’m totally bummed about because I really can’t understand any of it now. I was immersed in Canadian culture so I don’t know that I had all that hard of a time adjusting because I was so young, although I guess I’d have to ask my parents about that one.
That being said, I grew up with pretty much only Caucasian kids around me. I never gave it much thought until my supposed “best friend” and I got in a fight in 6th
grade and she made a horrible comment towards me about my race. That was when I realized I looked different from everyone else and it was quite a blow. I cried for a long time and then I was like, whatever. I’m unique and different and that’s pretty freaking cool if you ask me. Heck, I even went to school dressed as Punky Brewster
at one point so I didn’t really care what other people thought of me.
I was reading your bio and I learned that you had been singing and performing since you were 5 years old. What would be some early memories you can share with us from your early performances?
Well… I played a seal in “Noah’s Arc."
One of my most vivid memories is actually from 6th
grade.I was part of this spelling group that got to come up with our own spelling words to study for the week and then present them to the class once the week was over. I thought that we should do words based on “Phantom of the Opera” and then do a mini production for everyone. It was like a tiny abridged version of the show and we put a whole bunch of desks together to stand on top of for our stage. When the whole class saw it, they all wanted to be involved, so we made it a production including everyone and had other classes come in and watch it.
And yes, I played Christine the female lead. Yeah, I was kind of a nauseatingly ambitious go-getter at 11 years old.
At what point in life did you realize that you wanted to become an actress?
I think I always knew on some level. My Mom says that when I was 4 years old I would start walking up to the choir in church and try to stand up there with them.
I auditioned to be a chorus member in “Les Miserables” when it came to town when I was seven, but didn’t even make it past the first cut. I cried all the way home…. it’s was 45 minute ride. Ah, the first sting of rejection.
In high school I’d actually have “Helenna movie nights” on the weekend where I’d just hang out by myself and watch 4-5 movies back to back. I just LOVE film and film making.
At that time I was heavily involved in music and ended up majoring in jazz vocal performance my first year of college. I really felt like something was missing though, so I transferred to a university and was encouraged - well, really, peer pressured by my BFF Rhoslyn to audition for the residence musical. I ended up booking the lead role and I was hooked.
Suddenly, an entire world opened up to me and I realized that being an actor meant that I could incorporate all of the things I loved. After that, I decided to major in acting and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia.
Who did you consider as early influences as a performer?
Well when we lived in the Philippines I watched Lea Salonga
all of the time. I absolutely loved her, still do.
Can you tell us about your first acting job?
My first paid acting gig out of school was on USA Network’s “The Dead Zone.”
It was such an awesome experience. I played a young mother from Mexico who was dying in a van in a lake with her baby. It was an intense scene to shoot. We were on a sound stage in Vancouver and they had built a huge fake lake inside of the building complete with a hillside. The van itself was on hydraulics and moved throughout the scene to look like it was being pulled under. I worked closely with a stunt coordinator and spent hours in that big tank. I had the time of my life screaming and crying and doing my best to speak Spanish.
You’re quite the multi-talent! Actress, singer, writer, producer, feature journalist with Ms. In the Biz, blogger/vlogger, among other things – is there anything that you want to add to that list?
Ah thank you! “Ms. In The Biz
” is something I’m really proud of. What I love about it is that it’s another thing that incorporates everything that I love about the industry. I just knew so many women with a ton to offer people starting out in the industry. When I came up with the idea at the beginning of this year I had no idea how much reach we could actually have, but it’s incredible that we are now read in over 140 countries by approximately 60,000 people and we’ve only been online for 5 months now. It blows my mind.
As far as something else to add to the list? Well, I started archery about 6 months ago and I’m totally hooked. My husband and I go every weekend and we’re getting better week by week. I now shoot from the 25 meter line and can actually hit a leaf, which I think is pretty cool. One of my dreams is to be in a post apocalyptic survival movie and I’d love to have to a shoot a bow and arrow in it. Kind of like Daryl on “The Walking Dead.”
And… I love zombie movies and the horror genre in general, so if there are undead creatures walking around that’s fine by me.
Would you consider doing a project in Manila?
Absolutely! I’d love to work in the Phiippines. I don’t speak Tagalog, but would definitely be down for a crash course, or perhaps I could play the American exchange student looking to learn about her heritage or something… Oh, and then the zombies come and I need to save the day!
I stumbled into an interview where you relayed your start with vlogging via Musecast. How much of this led to the birth of Ms. In the Biz, which has been a very awesome source of not just advice and information for women in the entertainment industry, but also a “home for growth, positivity and entrepreneurial spirit?”
My vlog was definitely the beginning of me venturing into the online world and started my love of all things social media. I’m not sure that it’s what lead to the birth of “Ms. In The Biz,” but it definitely helped me realize how much I love sharing my experiences with other people so that they can learn from my successes and set backs and come along on the ride with me, which is a big part of what the site is all about.
Your husband, Mr. Barry Levy is also an actor. How did you guys meet?
I was his waitress! I actually wrote a post about meeting him
for “Ms. In The Biz,” which got a lot of great feedback. His friend was managing at the restaurant I was working at that night and sat him in my section... and well, as they say, the rest is history.
How did you guys start “Mighty Pharaoh Films?”
“Mighty Pharaoh Films
” is a production company that Barry started in Canada before we met and we’ve now continued with his film making ventures in LA. We’re currently in development for a sexy scary horror film that we are pretty stoked about!
What is next for Ms. Helenna Santos-Levy?
More acting, more producing, more blogging, more archery… But specifically, I’m a producer and an actor on a project called Henchmen
. It’s a dark superhero story, and was a blast to shoot!
I’m also in development for Barry’s horror film, as well as a horror short that I’m producing with my friends Leah Cevoli and Barry Morgan, who we call Barry #2. I’m also auditioning on a regular basis for film and TV roles, so I’m sure there’ll be something coming up in that realm very soon. And I have a number of great things lined up for “Ms. In The Biz” but I can’t talk about them just yet.
To our readers who are looking to get into mainstream entertainment, or just want to make their dreams happen, what advice can you share with them?
Just “begin it.”
I decided to jump into following my dreams 100% after reading a Goethe quote that said:
“Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
I actually have a tattoo on my foot that says “begin it.” They are two very powerful words and I’m always reminding myself that when fear or doubt kick in, I just need to keep myself in action, in the “doing” of whatever it is that will get me further to my goal. If I wait for too long and think about it, self doubt can kick in, and so much in this industry is about trusting that when you jump off that ledge you’ll fly. Yes, sometimes you’ll go crashing to the ground, but I see that ground as being bouncy and flinging you right back up to try again. After all, what’s the point of life if you don’t strive for what you really want?
Personally, I always say that I don’t want to be eighty years old hanging out on my porch swing thinking about what might have been. I’d rather say I tried and had a hell of a lot of fun in the process. So yeah… "begin it," you ever know what the universe has in store.
Thank you, Helenna!
Photos by: Heidi Ryder Photography
For more on Helenna and her work, you can check her out at:
Also, you can check out Helenna's publication, Ms. In the Biz