Diaspora

New series 'Vampire Academy' is a huge launching pad for actor … – Andscape

Andscape
It’s a journey that started in her grandma’s backyard in Louisiana and ended on the small screen
Actress and singer Jonetta Kaiser stars in the inaugural 10-episode series adaptation of Vampire Academy streaming now on Peacock. The fantasy horror TV series, based on the bestselling novel Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, brings a story of romance, friendship, and danger into the exciting world of royal vampires and half-human dhampirs.
Kaiser portrays Sonya Karp, a quiet, odd character who navigates the story’s society without a royal bloodline.
The Louisiana native started pursuing acting after being diagnosed with scoliosis at age 14. She took a gap year after graduating from Hammond High School in 2013, before following her passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and coding to attend Southeastern Louisiana University and major in biochemistry.
During her junior year, her acting aspirations called her to Los Angeles full time.
Kaiser sent her resume to casting directors with headshots her sister had taken in her backyard. She received a response that required her presence in Los Angeles for a meeting, rented a car and set out for the 27-hour drive from her hometown.
She met with another agent that trip, who told her they would sign her if she moved to the area.
She did.
Kaiser worked as a barista and bartender while searching for acting gigs and landed roles that took her back home to Louisiana for shooting and Hong Kong right before the coronavirus pandemic.
She returned to an immediate shutdown. When things reopened, she booked her role in Vampire Academy.
Kaiser spoke with Andscape about her life, career progression, and what we can expect from her after Vampire Academy before the series premiere.
What inspired you at 14 to start acting and to actually take that initiative to take your own headshot and just full throttle start pursuing acting?
Oh, my God. So I’ve always been just … I love reading. I love words. So I think it started with that. I mean, the amount of Nancy Drew books, I think I’ve read every single Nancy Drew book. I would just, instead of going outside to play, I would read books and then just imagine myself in the worlds that I was reading. I think that that’s really where it began because I was like, ‘Wait, how can I keep doing this? This is what I love.’ And so then I discovered like, ‘Oh, I could actually …’ I think I was watching an Angelina Jolie film or watching Honey or something, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, maybe I could do that.’
It was like, realistically, oh, I could actually do this because people do it. And then having my sister go into my grandma’s backyard and take my pictures and I still have my headshot. It’s so embarrassing. That’s where I just Googled, searching everything. There were a lot of scams being in Southeast Louisiana where they were filming stuff there, but people were coming from LA and Atlanta to film in Louisiana. So I think I ran into a lot of roadblocks and then eventually found my way back by just being like, ‘Oh, let me just make the jump and move to LA.’ And then obviously, it’s there. It’s everywhere. So I’m going to figure it out somehow. I think it worked out.
What TV series and films did you grow up watching and how do you feel they contributed to your acting career today or even just your inspiration behind pursuing acting?
Oh, my gosh. That’s So Raven. Raven-Symoné. I was able to actually work with Kyle Massey, which was fun. He’s a great guy. But I think I’ve always been able to just see myself as those characters and I take on the essence that they’re putting out. And so I would just walk around and be like, ‘I’m getting a vision.’ So weird. Thank God I had no friends because I probably did a lot of weird stuff. I think that that was one of the main ones. Gosh, what else? There was Zoey 101. Just those good millennial shows that you grew up on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. That’s all I watched.
I read about your experience and advocacy with scoliosis. What do you feel like people should know about scoliosis?
I think the thing with scoliosis is that people don’t really realize. Yes, I have a curvature in my back, but a lot of it, I’m in pain often and there’s certain things … Standing up all day really does a number on me. By the end of a 12-hour shoot, sometimes my legs are numb. I remember when I first started waiting tables, I worked a 12-hour shift and when I went over to tie my shoe, I fell on the ground. My back gave out and I was only, I think, 18 when that happened. So I think a lot of people underestimate how excruciating the pain can be, but also how many people don’t want to put themselves through the surgery to correct it. It is horrifying. I do not wish that on my worst enemy. And then I know people that have gotten the surgery who have lost flexibility because they have a rod in their back. And then also on the mental side, it creates this body dysmorphia for me, personally. I see myself a lot differently than what I actually am. And a lot of people will tell me, ‘I don’t even see your scoliosis,’ and I’m like, ‘How can you not see? It’s so clearly there.’ My scoliosis, by no means, is as bad as others. And then seeing other people who don’t have it, it’s like, ‘Well, why did I get this and they don’t have it? What caused me to have it?’ Because mine is also, I think, it’s pronounced idiopathic, so there’s no known calls as to why I have it. So no one else in my family does. So, it’s like, whew, I drew that short straw and got the lucky pick.
What advice would you give your younger self, or any other young ladies that are going through body dysmorphia?
Well, first of all, for any deformity or anything medical, get a second opinion. I have always struggled with my thyroid, so having hyperthyroidism. And the doctor immediately wanted me to just take my thyroids out. But I was like, what? And then be on medication the rest of my life. There are certain things that were maybe triggering my hyperthyroidism, foods that I was eating. So I just started cutting out things out of my diet and I was able to heal my thyroids. So always get a second opinion. Don’t just let the scare tactics immediately go make you go get a surgery because they make money from that and they make money from you getting a steel rod put into your spine and you have to live with that the rest of your life, which it’s not … And then move.
I speak from this for myself. It’s so hard sometimes to just go on a walk, stretch, go join a class. Find something that it motivates you to just exercise. And I say this, I have not worked out in at least a week, but because it’s just the motivation to get there and knowing like, oh, well … In my mind, it’s like, ‘Oh, well, I’m not going to see any actual progress because I can’t take the scoliosis away, so what’s the point of working out? What’s the point of strengthening my core, which is essential to my future health?’ It’s an internal struggle always, but I think just trying to just overcome and maybe go to therapy if that is something that’s really a huge conflict to yourself, which I’m doing.
What did you enjoy most about the Vampire Academy and your role?
I’m a fan of the books. So, Sonya, my character, is kind of a loner, so I didn’t have a lot of filming days with a lot of people. I had some with my family. Mia Karp and Victor were like our little family, so we had quite a bit of filming and then I have a love interest, Mikhail. There’s so many scenes that I just don’t know, so I’m excited for everyone to watch it and just see what the show is.
What was it like growing up in Southeast Louisiana?
Oh, it’s interesting. Well, one obvious thing, LA’s so much bigger. I think growing up in the South, just the pace is a lot slower. You have the thing of where everyone around you, especially my hometown, a lot of the people that were born there, will live there and also die there. There’s not a lot of outside-the-box thinking, and that’s nothing to put down on people from my hometown, because they really are some of the kindest people. Two of my best friends are there and I adore them and they have families now and I adore them and I’m so happy for them. They are happy. It’s not for everyone, traveling and things like that is not for everyone.
One of the things that I loved when I moved to LA is that I saw so much diversity everywhere and that’s just not a thing in my hometown. It’s amazing to see Black, successful men owning businesses and women and Asians owning things. It’s something that it really opened my eyes up and it’s like, oh, wow. Anyone, if they put their minds to it, can be successful. There’s nothing stopping you. The only thing stopping you is maybe your circumstance, but you’ll find a way out of it and then the mental blocks holding you back.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your singing experience and dabbling into music?
I dabble while I was singing in the shower. For whatever reason, I was always … The music industry is harder to break into than any other industry, I think. So my logic is that I sing and hopefully, I’ll get to do it with acting someday, but I’m not pursuing a musical career.
I do love to sing and it makes me happy. If I’m ever feeling stressed out, that’s one of my main, therapeutic ways of just bringing calm and peace, and joy back to myself, because it does. I don’t know. There has to be some scientific study about that, but it definitely relaxes me and, yeah, I just enjoy it.
What can we expect from you in the future? 
I did a movie, a thriller. I filmed that in New Jersey. That was my first time on the East Coast. It was a lot of fun. I don’t know the … I can’t say the name yet, because it hasn’t been announced and they also might just change the name, but it’s a thriller. It was a lot of fun. So you can look for that. I hope it’s good. I don’t know. I’ve never done a thriller before.
Zoey Hodge is a junior journalism major from Charlotte, North Carolina. She works on the social media team for Hampton University men’s basketball. When she isn’t out on the courts documenting the team, she also manages the content creation organization Hampton Quarterly, which focuses on fashion and HBCU culture.
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