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Juror in the Spotlight: Lisa Roumain

Lisa Roumain is a professional actress based in Los Angeles. After landing her first role on "Jersey Girl", Lisa went on to appear in independent films like "Go For It!" and in 2007, she began an incredible 2 year journey on a top secret, unnamed film project which became the experience of a lifetime; James Cameron's "Avatar". Lisa was part of the exclusive, Performance Capture Troupe, using her versatility to play multiple characters daily and becoming a part of movie making history on this ground-breaking film.

She recently appeared in "Dating Daisy", "Shadow of the Monarch", TV series "Split", as well as in tens of commercials for famous brands like Nissan, Disney & Mercedes-Benz.

In 2016, Lisa won Best Actress award at the Los Angeles Film Awards, for her role in "Hurricane", and later became a festival juror at LAFA, Festigious, Actors Awards and Top Shorts.

In the following interview, Lisa takes us behind the scenes of her recent projects, and shares exciting moments, challenges and what she would say to women in the film industry and to her younger self.

Lisa Roumain (Photo by Kate Romero)

You were born in Puerto Rico, with Italian, Haitian and Scottish roots. Pretty cool background! Was anyone in your family in the entertainment industry?

Yes, I've got quite a lot going on in my background, but most of us do at this point, which is the way it should be! As far as the entertainment industry goes, I believe I'm the first who went that route, but I think I've started something and I won't be the last!

With Reinaldo Zavarce in CARTEL (Photo by Rob Witt)

Did you always know you wanted to be an actress? Was your family supportive of this decision, or not?

I definitely remember being very young, probably about 7, and seeing a play at my mother's school, and being completely mesmerized by it. My favorite game as a child was to put on shows and re-enact scenes with my siblings. One time, my Dad had some friends over to watch a boxing match on TV, and my siblings and I stormed into the living room, turned off the TV, and broke into a scene from the musical "ANNIE." You can imagine how that went over. I also remember crying in my room after I saw E.T., I was distraught because I was so upset that I couldn't be in that movie. It was all so magical to me. So, yes, I always wanted to be an Actress, but I think that I believed it was an unattainable dream. I lived in Florida, I didn't know anyone in the arts, and I ended up graduating college with a Design degree. I'm sure that my family was quite distressed when I quit my Interior Design job after 2 years to pursue Acting. I certainly don't think that they liked the idea, at all, but they were kind. Maybe they thought I would eventually tire of the struggle, but I am stubborn and absolutely fell in love with the work as well as the journey. They saw that, and they have been incredibly supportive, proud parents. Recently, my Dad called me up, and he was elated because he had googled me and he said "I searched you on the computer, and I can't believe how many projects you've done! I had no idea!" It was hilarious, I said "Dad, what the hell do you think I've been doing all these years?"

As "Elisa Montoya" in RUSH HOUR

Tell us about the experience for the unnamed film project that you started a few years ago… AVATAR with director James Cameron. What were the auditions like? Did you have any idea what the audition was for? When did they reveal the movie's title?

Well, Avatar was definitely a stroke of incredible luck and an experience of incredible growth and beauty. A good friend of mine was on the Production team, and very early on they were looking for actors to come in and do prelim blocking for scenes, in the virtual Pandora. I knew that she was working on a top secret project, and that they were looking for tall actors that could move well. I will always be insanely grateful to her for getting me that appointment, even though I was terrified and tried to think of every excuse not to go to the audition. The reason being, that I had no idea what they would ask of me, I was told that I would wear a mocap suit and be given a sort of obstacle course, where I would need to move in a feline manner. That was it. That audition got me in the door, and weeks turned to months & I ended up becoming part of the main performance capture troupe. I was allowed to read the script about a month in, and my jaw just dropped. Sometimes you have to force yourself to just jump, to move through fear and insecurity to break through to incredible opportunities. Getting through the fear of the unknown at that first audition was key, because you have to be prepared to not know, ever. Even when you are given a script, you have to breathe, then throw yourself in fully to whatever comes.

Shooting AVATAR (Photo by Mark Fellman)

The role you landed was quite challenging- you were part of the exclusive Performance Capture Troupe- therefore you had to play multiple characters daily… very special and versatile. Was this the first time you changed roles on set like this? What was this experience like?

It was definitely a challenge. Firstly, I was on a James Cameron set, which immediately carried a "you better be on your A-game at all times" for everyone, and rightly so. This was the big time, and I truly struggled with the feeling of "I don't belong here, everyone else is incredibly talented and I just squeaked in somehow." It actually took me years to understand that no matter how I got there, that I had to earn my place every day, and that there was a reason that I was there. Now, every time that I am on set, if insecurity creeps in, I tell myself that I was meant to be there, for whatever reason, it was mine to experience.

Having to change characters and create this alien world, was such a gift, because our imagination had to be endless, and we had to adapt to everything. It was truly like children playing. This 2 x 4, is a breathtaking bio-luminescent tree with sprawling limbs. This tennis ball on a stick is the scariest f-ing creature you have ever seen and it's mouth is dripping with saliva. How amazing is that? Isn't that what actors sign up for? It was a dream!

As far as the shoot, it...moved...S L O W L Y. There were A LOT of moving parts & never before used technology. Each scene was created in layers, and so 1 scene could take days. It was a marvel to create Pandora in a gray warehouse, and there was so much camaraderie and love that happened there. It felt intimate, and spiritual many times, to become these alien beings, to understand what we were doing in the story.

With Jon Landau, Exec. Prod. of AVATAR

Avatar… certainly a high profile production… It must have been stressful. How do you deal with the pressure/stress of sets like that? What did you do to prepare?

It is definitely daunting to enter such a high profile project, you are keenly aware of the stakes for everyone. This was certainly the biggest profile project I had ever been on, and I was still pretty green at the time, so it was a huge learning experience, and i had a few moments that I cringe at. If you get the insane fortune & privilege of getting invited to be on Jim Cameron's set, firstly, be on your A+++ game. Secondly, if you don't understand something, ask questions, learn everything you can so that you can truly be a part of a team. Thirdly, be grateful, and enjoy the journey, every second. Also, no matter how big or small the set, it's mostly the people on cast and crew that get you through. I made some beautiful friendships on AVATAR, and I got to watch and learn from one of the greatest Directors of all time. As far as preparation, I'm not sure how I could have prepared for that particular project, it was an exercise in showing up every day with an open heart, a willingness to try everything, and trusting that what I had in me was enough.

Lisa Roumain - Dramatic Reel

Did you work with James Cameron directly? if so, what was it like? Any special moments you’d like to share with us?

Absolutely, every day. The motion capture portion of the film was done with a much smaller crew than the live action, so it was an intimate set. He is a marvel to watch and work with, as he is THE most brilliant man. The worst thing you can think of is to have your moment with him, and to not deliver, trust me, I had a couple of those and I still die inside. I also saw such kindness and humanity in him, and he loved to laugh. We had a few comediennes on our troupe cast, the amazing Julene Renee and Debra Wilson, who could bring him to his knees with laughter. He really loves Actors, & truly respects the work . There was great collaboration that I saw between him and Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, and the rest of the cast. Plus, he's been writing bad-ass female characters before anyone was told they better, so clearly, he just totally gets it. I hold him very dear to my heart, we all got to go on a profound journey with him on AVATAR. So did the world.

Still from King Eternal, with David Jay, Joseph Bottoms, Jeffrey Decker (Photo by Michael Helenek)

Are there any directors who you would particularly love to work with one day?

There is quite a list, but the first to come to mind are Guillermo Del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth is one of my favorite films, his imagination is a wonder. What Barry Jenkins did with MOONLIGHT practically made me stop breathing, it was so beautiful. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu...storytelling genius, every time. Karyn Kusama's work on INVITATION just obsessed me. Catherine Hardwicke's work crushes me entirely, and she seems like an amazing human. TV Directors Stephen Gyllenhaal & Nicole Kassell are at the top of my list as well, their work on shows like RECTIFY & THE KILLING is incredibly brilliant.