In Elisa We Trust
By Jodi Lipper & Cerina Vincent
The minute we saw Elisa Donovan starring in the new NBC web series In Gayle We Trust, we just had to sit down with this true Hot Chick* for an interview. You may remember this fiery red-head from 90210, Sabrina the Teenage Witch or her classic performance as Amber in Clueless, but we quickly found that Elisa is anything but clueless herself. She is smart, fun-loving, down to earth and has some very interesting thoughts on our favorite topics: food, body image, love and relationships.
J&C: You portray the character Gayle in In Gayle We Trust as a very charming, down to earth and incredibly sassy woman. What initially drew you to this role?
E: I absolutely LOVE Gayle! I was drawn to the whole project because the writing is terrific. Brent Forrester (the creator/writer/director) is a genius and a great person. I love Gayle because she's so genuine, positive and a real people lover. She thinks that everything is important, everyone matters...even if they're completely nuts and out of touch with reality! The humor in the show is subtle, and comes out of Gayle's relentless positivity, patience for and interest in her clients. She has a therapist-like relationship to all of them. It's rare that I get to play the sweet and well-intentioned woman...because that woman is usually not the funny character. I'm usually cast as the bitchy/privileged/funny-but-you-want-to-punch-her-in-the-face type characters, which are great fun to play; but Gayle is a nice person to bring home with me. People want to be around her, everyone loves her and her whole intention as a human is to help people...which makes me, Elisa, very happy!
J&C: It's rare for a series like this to have a strong female lead. Why do you think that still is?
E: Sadly, I have NO IDEA! Well, I think the whole industry is really in a state of flux, of redefining what it is and where it's going. The old constructs of men leading shows and men being the only ones to drive comedies, is changing I think. You have people like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and the women of Desperate Housewives, who are blazing new trails and showing the networks that women can be funny AND foxy, and carry a show. A revelation! My first sitcom job ever was on the show "Blossom" (I played Joey Laurence's dingbat girlfriend... "Whoa!"), and I always remember the director Gil Unger saying to me that I was comedic gold because I was "pretty and funny". I didn't understand that was a rarity. I think in some ways as a society we still struggle with the ancient belief system that women can't be funny, smart and foxy. Why the hell not? It's like the entertainment version of the Madonna/Whore complex!
J&C: You starred in many movies and TV shows; what made you decide to do a series for the web?
E: First and foremost, because of the material and the team behind it. Brent Forrester is an Emmy winning writer and current writer/producer of "The Office". He is not only uber-talented, but a genuinely nice person, a really good guy. He's the kind of person that you wish you could work with all the time. With him as the creator and having a network (NBC) behind it, I knew I'd be in good hands! This Internet business is still such uncharted territory in many ways, and there has been a lot of dissension about it and what it means for the entertainment industry. But I don't think we really know yet where it's going, and I'd rather be on the wave than left in its wake. And ultimately, doing the show was about wanting to work on good material with talented people. The structure of this show in particular was appealing to me, because it's almost like doing sketch comedy. There's an arc that happens in just a couple of pages, and it's really fun to do. And it's been very exciting to get an immediate response. To actually KNOW that people are watching it and hearing what they say. Going on Twitter or Facebook and having people say they love it, etc. This is a really fulfilling aspect to how connected we all are via the net. And being on the Internet, people have the freedom to watch whenever it suits them; they're not forced to Tivo it or watch it at some specific time, they can watch it at their desk whenever they want.
J&C: Your character Gayle works fulltime, is a wife and a mother who's bringing home the bacon and cooking it up while still trying to being nurturing, loving, hot and sexy. This is unfortunately what many women's lives are like nowadays, and studies have even shown that women are less happy now than they were thirty or fifty years ago. This is something we're tackling in our next book, How to Live Like a Hot Chick, but we'd love to hear your advice on how to balance all of your "hats" in life so you can live peacefully and happily?
E: My answer, in three words: Open Your Heart. Here's the deal: I think in our valiant quest to be equals and powerful and achievers--we might have forgotten about our femininity, and that that is what makes us powerful and beautiful. And enjoying the whole fullness of our lives is really the point. If we forget that joy is a pivotal part of being alive, we've missed the boat entirely. It is challenging to wear many hats, but I think the key for me is being grounded and true to myself. Not to sound too hairy-fairy but, if whatever I'm doing I'm doing from an authentic, pure and honest place--- if I'm acting from the essence of who I am---everything falls into place and there is a divine flow. It's also about knowing what I need and what I'm capable of, as well as what my limitations are. Although I'm a social person that inherently loves people, and I genuinely want to be supportive and care what happens to them; I'm also very independent and need my own solo time. Both of my parents taught me to be a generous person, and I really believe in being that way in all facets of my life. But I think sometimes as women we think this means we're supposed to be infallible and can handle anything and everything--all at once. This isn't realistic and it compromises the strengths of who we are. In other words, sometimes saying "No"--even when you want to say yes, and even when you believe you can fit it all in--sometimes No is the right answer. Whether it's to your partner, your husband, your agent or to an invitation to a party; if I'm totally taxed, I have to say no. This isn't easy for me, but when I don't do it, it bites me in the ass.
And the one literal thing that keeps me balanced, happy and peaceful?--yoga. Period. I make time for that no matter what. Even if some days I can only practice for 10 minutes in my trailer at the crack of dawn, it grounds me and opens up my heart and my creativity.
J&C: Because of the images that reality shows and tabloids magazines show, people around the world have a certain idea of what it's like to be a successful actress in Hollywood. Can you share your views of what it's really like for you?
E: HA...yup. What it's really like? On any given day, I can be asked for my autograph in a coffee shop one minute, and then turn around and be told by my manager I can't even get in to audition for a particular part because I'm not important enough. I get up for work at 4:30am, shoot for fourteen hours, drive home, work on the scenes for the next day, go to bed, and then get up and do it all over again. I cry over jobs I get close to and don't get. There are days when I'm off and I sit on the couch all day watching Tivo, and wondering if I'll ever work again. I laugh my ass off when I'm over tired from working too many 15 hour days in a row--this I actually LOVE...there's nothing like the lunacy of that second wind you get when something kicks in and absolutely everything is hilarious. I'm the Queen of that, watch out if I get the giggles on set--it can be lethal! Basically I'd say--being an actress is not a stable or consistent, or easy life; but it's an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable one. Yes, there are some nice perks, fun parties and sometimes you get cool free gear from one event or another; --but mostly, when we're working that's what we're doing--working. If you don't love the process, and if you can't accept rejection, I'd say it's not the field to get in to. I think there is a MASSIVE misconception about what actors actually DO. How hard it is, how much prep we do, how much time we give to the characters we play, how much goes in to making any movie or TV show you see. I think sometimes people outside of the industry just think we wake up at noon, and go to parties all the time.
J&C: In our books, we try to send the message that no matter what you look like or what you do for a living, most women have all the exact same insecurities when it comes to food, body image, love and relationships. Would you say that this is true, and have you had any first hand experience with these types of insecurities from life in Hollywood... or just life as a woman?
E: Oh absolutely. We are all the same in that regard. Being an actress certainly doesn't exempt you from insecurities! In fact, I've seen more beautiful, talented, skinny and yet terribly insecure women IN Hollywood than outside of it! I had what I consider to be the good fortune of having been anorexic many years ago. I say "good" fortune because it taught me so much about what's important and who I am. My struggles with and through it ultimately shaped my spiritual life and gave me the foundation for my life today. I went into recovery very early on in my career, and I'm grateful. I learned I had a choice: that I could either have my eating disorder, or have everything else in life. There was simply no way to have both. I learned that being the skinniest person in the room wasn't going to bring me the love and success and happiness that I craved. I saw that my life had become so small, that my eating disorder had become my voice--that I had sacrificed my whole self, my spirit and everything that made up who I am. I became this shell of a person. I decided that what I wanted to be recognized for my talents and my spirit, rather than the size of my waist. Getting to this place was by no means an easy or short road--it was brutal and one of the most painful things I've ever had to battle. But I understand so intrinsically now what it means to me to be beautiful and healthy and successful; and it has very little to do with the externals. I had to see how brittle, shut down, unfeminine and miserable I had become starving myself, in order to get myself in to recovery. And the industry rewarded me at times for my skinniness, but there were also several occasions when I didn't get jobs because I was so thin. BUT I also reached the height of my anorexia at a time in the business before it was hip to be emaciated. Now actresses are generally applauded for being deathly thin, which makes me sad. So I feel for women--in and out of the entertainment industry-- who battle with body image and negotiate with themselves and their livelihood in order to fit into size 2 jeans. It's painful. And I don't mean to suggest that I'm a Superhuman with perfect self esteem and think I look gorgeous all the time--because I don't. But I DO know that my physical body is a direct manifestation of how I am feeling inside. And that when I am happy and vibrant and creating, I am less focused on what I look like...and inevitably, my body looks at its best, too. It's an uncanny thing--but I have found rather unequivocally, the less I focus on and worry about my body, and the more I just think about being active and healthy, engaging in my life fully--including eating yummy food!-- the more fit I am. Laughter and smiling are great for the skin and the thighs! I don't believe in diets, because they are about restriction and they don't work. Diets don't deal with the root of the problem of weight issues. They just create a bad/good, pass/fail, shame/reward dynamic that should never be associated with feeding yourself. But I also eat organically as much as possible. About the only thing I say no to are processed foods and dairy! They're the devil! :-)
J&C: We define a Hot Chick as a confident, empowered, passionate woman who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to get it, doesn't compete with other women and doesn't let insecurities rule her life. What are your own personal secrets to feeling like the Hot Chick that you are?
E: Salsa dancing for one. Truly, it's a vital part of my existence! Music and dance are a huge part of my life, and there is nothing hotter than getting spun around in a short skirt to Cuban music.
I have terrific girlfriends, Goddesses. We have weekly dinners at one friends house where we hike first then cook, drink wine and just get to the heart of what's going on in each other's lives. We are one another's support systems and inspiration.
I like to have dinner parties and I cook a lot... but I also like my boyfriend to take me out.
I spend time helping girls who are struggling with eating disorders. I consider it my duty, because I know the people that can most help them, are those of us who have been there.
I practice yoga as many times a week as I can.
I paint, write and read a lot.. I see theatre and art as much as possible. I'm furiously curious about people, and ideas. I spend a lot of time listening and paying attention to what people say. I keep myself connected.
I tell the people in my life that I love them. A lot, and often.
J&C: What's next for you? And where can people see your new adorable series?
E: I just finished a movie with Andrea Roth, Nicolas Brendon and Bruce Davison called "The Holiday House". I've got a TV movie premiering on ABC Family this November called "The Dog Who Saved Christmas", with Gary Valentine, Dean Cain and Mindy Sterling. It's a really sweet and funny comedy. And I'm in the middle of writing a book based on a one-woman show that I did at The Geffen last year, about losing my father to cancer in 2004.
Please check out my webseries "In Gayle We Trust"!! You can watch it on a bunch of different sites, but here are the easiest places to find it:
And you can follow me on Twitter @RedDonovan.
Thanks so much, this was really fun. You Chicks are Hot! And I love you! xoxo
*Hot Chick = a confident, empowered, passionate woman who knows what she wants, isn't afraid to get it, doesn't compete with other women, and doesn't let insecurities rule her life.