INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS
STORY BY KATINA GOULAKOS
From dancing to acting, it is clear that Haley Lu was born to entertain. This young actress is making a big splash in the industry and we at imagista got the chance to chat with her.
Imagista: How old were you when you first started acting? How did you get into it?
Haley: Well… that’s a long story. I kind of did something that a lot of people found stupid, I didn’t really do much acting before I moved here and I moved here when I was sixteen. I did community theater when I was really young in Arizona and even then, I couldn’t get the main roles in the plays. I played these random roles that no one cared about like an old woman that was pretty much an extra, that had one line in one play. So I did that when I was very young in Arizona, then I got into dancing. When I was eight or nine I started competitive dance, it was very different from acting obviously but it’s similar in that it’s entertaining and telling a story and emoting, it’s a form of art and performance. I did that until I was sixteen.
Imagista: What style of dance was it?
Haley: I did contemporary, jazz, lyrical. I trained in everything, I did tap and hip hop as well but I kind of sucked at those. I was part of a competitive company at the studio that I went to in Arizona and even though we were all kids, all the kids were expected to take it very seriously. I don’t know if you watch shows like Dance Moms or something, but it’s very similar to that, its super hardcore on the mind and the body. All the girls are so long but you are treated like a professional dancer because the stakes are so high. When you are passionate about something, there is no other option than to make it your life.
Imagista: That’s cool.
Haley: Yeah, then when I was fifteen or sixteen a lot of my friends in dance were realizing that it was something they did more for fun and they didn’t want to make a career out of it and I was always one of the girls in the dance company that took it more seriously than others. There are only a few routes that you can take in becoming a professional dancer, you can go around and be part of a classical ballet company, which I couldn’t do because I’m really short and don’t have the body for ballet. You can be in a contemporary ballet group, in a traveling modern company or you move to Los Angeles or New York where you can be on broadway or in music videos. So I was just picturing myself doing that and I honestly felt like I might get a little bored of it. Then when I first moved to L.A., I was getting back into the acting thing and that hadn’t really clicked yet, so I got back into dancing and got a dance agent to make money and get a chance to see what it was like to work in L.A. and be a performer. I was dancing in video games and in parades and really random things and I was realizing that it wasn’t fulfilling. Backup dancing is very different than dancing alone in a studio and doing something that really moves you, very rarely can you get an opportunity like that where you are doing something that is really fulfilling as a backup dancer.
Imagista: That makes sense, we have heard that from other dancers. So how did you manage to segue into acting?
Haley: [laughs] I don’t know, I honestly don’t!
Imagista: Did your agent send you on some random casting or something?
Haley: My passion for dance never went away, it’s just I couldn’t see myself doing it as a job. The thing that I loved the most about dancing was telling a story with the lyrics of the song and your body and of course the audience so yeah there are very similar things between acting and dance. Since I had acted in my childhood it was always something I kept with me. I’ve always been kind of really dramatic and that’s just me. So I think my path just switched a little into that and even if I didn’t know a lot about acting, and what this industry was like. I kind of came into this industry a little naive, I knew that’s what I wanted to do and I wanted to learn about it. I had a really small agent when I first moved to L.A. When you’re an actor and you’re young, you literally have done nothing, no one cares to meet you, no one cares to know your name or give you a chance. There are enough people that are trying and working hard.
Imagista: What was your first real acting role?
Haley: What I consider my first real acting role was the first movie I ever did. Which I actually submitted myself for. I was getting so stir crazy because I am someone who is always doing something with my mind or body. I was losing my mind with no one hiring me and me not doing anything that I tried submitting myself for this role online. To be honest, the website was a little bit sketchy, I was a little wary you know putting my information in there. My mom had to drive me because I wasn’t seventeen yet, and she dropped me off at the random place where she sent me in to meet with this group of men that we randomly met online. It is definitely a very odd situation to put your daughter in. The only reason I submitted myself was because the script was so good, so we thought that there was a chance that this was a real thing. Anyways, I went in, I did this audition, I loved all the producers and I guess they liked me, they called me back a few times. It ended up getting made into this little independent film called The Last Survivor and it ended up going to the L.A. Film Festival and a couple other festivals and now it’s on Netflix which is kind of cool.
Imagista: So you were the lead of this film?
Haley: Yeah. That’s the thing, is that it was such a cool role for a seventeen-year-old girl and selfishly such a cool role for a seventeen-year-old girl who hasn’t done anything. It was such a great first experience.
Imagista: Who is your biggest support in terms of your acting career?
Haley: My parents. My parents are forever because they have been with me forever and I am pretty sure they are the most supportive parents anyone could ever have. I’m an only child, which could be part of how they are so supportive. They’re smart and when I went to them when I was fifteen and told them “I really want to move to Los Angeles”, they thought of everything and they weren’t like “sure go for it”. I had to earn it, I had to come up with how it would work.
Imagista: They took you seriously in other words?
Haley: They have always taken me seriously and they have also always let me make my own decisions and have encouraged me to do that. My dad always says to me “make your own decisions, because when you make your own decisions you learn from the consequences of those decisions, you can’t blame someone else, you make your own decisions and you learn from how they have benefited you or you learn from the consequences”. My dad is full of wisdom.
Imagista: Do you have an acting coach?
Haley: I don’t! My boyfriend is also an actor and I have been dating him for a couple of years and we are both the same way. I think he has helped me a lot with the whole acting thing. I tried a couple of classes when I first moved to L.A. because I felt it was stupid not to, you can’t just move to L.A. and expect you are going to be a genius! So I hopped around in a couple of different acting classes with different coaches and you know, I think that helps for some people but for me overthinking and overanalyzing technical things that you do in a scene gets me in my head as opposed to getting me out of my head.
Imagista: It sounds like you approached dance the same way you approach acting.
Haley: It’s funny you say that, I do think it’s very similar. It’s very important for me to be in the moment wherever I am before I do something, especially a performance. I remember when I used to do dance competitions and before I would go on stage, I would be so worked up when I was all alone. I would stand there and close my eyes and I would feel the floor below me and I would picture what was happening some other place in the world, what someone was doing for those two minutes that I would be performing. Sometimes we take things so seriously that it takes us out of the world, it’s just about being in the moment and seeing what happens with each passing second. That’s something I kind of do before really emotional scenes that I’m really worried about. I just close my eyes and feel the floor and think about what’s happening somewhere else in the world. You would think it would bring you away from the moment but really it just kind of reminds you that stuff happens.
Imagista: You completed shooting the movie Split, whose plot hasn’t been released to the public. How was that process, did you know what it was about when you were shooting?
Haley: Yes I did, thankfully. I didn’t have the script or any information about it when I was auditioning. I had to sign my contract before the script was delivered to my set by the directors cousin, it was very top secret.