Story and Interview by Katina Goulakos
Photography by Sergio Kurhajec
Strong, beautiful and intelligent, actress Ilfenesh falls in all three categories. The Harlem native is a woman with pride and her honest and open personality made it easy for us to get to know her better. From her family to social media to Baywatch, we covered all grounds.
Imagista: You are a New York native correct?
Ilfenesh: Yes I am. I grew up in Harlem and I am still here.
Do you think growing up in such an inspiring city like New York influenced you as an artist?
Ilfenesh: For sure, if nothing else acting is character study and there is no shortage of different characters in New York, people of all walks of life are here. That definitely helps; you are kind of people watching 24/7 here so you have kind of a rich foundation of people to draw inspiration from here.
My schools growing up had a wonderful arts program so I was always singing and dancing and painting. I then went to LaGuardia for high school so I was exposed to some more serious training. Just being around the arts helps my creativity.
Imagista: You are really close to your family correct? Have they always been supportive of your acting?
Ilfenesh: 100 percent. I am so lucky in that way. They have always been supportive across the board, with everything always. They gave me a lot of freedom as a kid; they wanted me to figure things out. They are in public service, they run a non-profit called African Services Committee in Harlem. They are serving twenty thousand people a year here as well as their clinics in Ethiopia and that is hard work.
Becoming an artist of course it is all about trial and tribulations, you go through periods where you are not working. However, my parents know what it is like to lose funding and have peoples lives on the line for it. That I did not want to follow in their footsteps I think made them very happy.
(Interview continues below…)
Facing left: Python bomber: Kalmanovich. Track pants: Nicholas K. Bra top: Agent Provocateur. Sunglasses: Retrosuperfuture. Shoes: Jean-Michel Cazabat. Earrings: RJ Graziano. Black bands: APM Monaco. Black pinky ring: Marlo Laz. Lace up gold ring (pointer finger): Joanna Laura Constantine
Facing Right: Feather coat: Victoria Hayes. Earrings: Bakari.
Imagista: You mentioned Ethiopia are you of Ethiopian descent?
Ilfenesh: Im half, my dad’s Ethiopian.
Imagista: Have you ever been?
Ilfenesh: Yeah I went for the first time in 1999 I was fourteen and it was over summer break. I had never been, I did not speak the language. Three weeks in Africa seemed like four years! I don’t think I appreciated it until I got back. Impossible to go to most countries in the world and not have your perspective shifted a little bit.
I went back a few years ago, my dad spends a lot of time there. It is an incredible country, it really is. I keep trying to get back and the second you book a plane ticket in this industry you get a job.
Your parents sound like pretty incredible people.
Ilfenesh: I am pretty lucky, I have big shoes to fill.
Coat, top and sequin pants: Amelia Brown.Shoes: Sigerson Morrison. Ring (left): Bakari. Ring (right): Marlo Laz. Earrings: Lizzie Fortunato.
Imagista: Bay Watch has such a huge brand around the name, what was it like being part of this new and revamped production
Ilfenesh: Honestly, you have to have confidence that things are going to happen for you and your career. You have to know that things are going to work, the way they are going to work when they are going to work. I kind of keep my nose down and I don’t let myself dream about how good things could get. I just wait patiently for them to get good. So when Baywatch happened, it was funny because I knew eventually this kind of thing would happen but it was like “oh my god, it’s happening now.” Then the wheels start turning and it’s the snowball affect.
The experience was incredible. It was my first studio film and the cast was so supportive and fun. We spent almost three months in Savannah Georgia which is as big as the Upper West side. We spent so much time together on and off and it was just such a learning experience. As far as exposure, it really put me out there. I accredit Baywatch for Deception, I think all these things are catalysts for each other. I am just really thankful for Baywatch.
Imagista: You are in a new show called Deception; can you tell me a little bit about that it is like playing Kay Daniels?
Ilfenesh: She’s funny. She is an FBI agent and she is pretty serious about her job obviously because lives are on the line, she takes it seriously. She is introduced to Cameron Black who is this master illusionist and master of deception and he becomes her partner. Her job is to predict the next move of criminals and with him she’s got to take this leap of faith because it is his job to deceive people and she needs to trust that he is on her team.
The thing that is funny about Kay, first let me say I always get cast as these strong women which is great, but Kay is serious and I am not very serious in my own life. She abides by the rules and is by the book so I need to tap into my more stern qualities as a woman when I am on set as her.
Imagista: It must be empowering to play someone like that?
Ilfenesh: It is really cool. I get to kick in doors and tackle people and put them in cuffs. I saw this GIF on the Internet of me kicking the door in and it’s honestly amazing.
Facing Left:Top, pants, blazer and leather belt: Thai Nguyen.Waist chain: Irini Design. Earrings: Joanna Laura Constantine. Black bands: APM Monaco. Diamond ring: Noir Jewelry.
Imagista: Besides acting, what are you passionate about?
Ilfenesh: The only real difference to me is in the time. You film a movie in three and a half months and you get the entire script ahead of time. However, with television, you get the script week to week and you are learning about the character every week a little more. For Deception there was a new director almost every episode. So you feel a sense of ownership to your character, so when someone who just steps in to the director spot tries to tell you about your character in a way that you don’t believe, it is hard to let go and trust them but they see the bigger picture. They are doing their jobs for a reason its because they are good at what they do and you are doing your job for the same reason and as an actor part of your job is to take direction.
Imagista: How many different directors did you have during the season?
Ilfenesh: Out of thirteen episodes we had ten directors.
Imagista: Besides acting what are you passionate about?
Ilfenesh: My parents non-profit. The goal is really kind of to use my platform as an actress to shed more light on ASC. It is so important, families being separated by deportations. This is dividing families and ruining lives. Immigrant rights are human rights, boarders are not real, we are one planet.
Imagista: What are your feelings towards the judgments made on social media and the impact it has on our generation?
Ilfenesh: I struggle with social media because in so many ways I am a private person. With all these righteous amazing causes and all these people who are making change and walking forward. It’s a weird world to navigate, because you look at someone’s social media and you think “this is who they are” or “this is what they find important” and there are some things that are just so clearly important to me I feel like it is just redundant to share your feelings on everything.
I kind of feel like “you have to now” and that to me is not real and the entire point of this stuff is to keep it real.
Imagista: What advice do you have for that waitress bussing tables right now thinking to herself “its just not going to happen for me?”
Ilfenesh: I say “whatever you do, do it well.” So if you are waiting tables, wait those tables like that was your life goal. Your guests deserve it, your work is your pride and also because you never know who you are going to meet in a restaurant right?
You need to be persistent, everybody knows you got to have tough skin. You also have to have faith that it will happen for you, I think that is number one. Without that quiet knowing I think it would have been impossible to carry on.
Imagista: Anything else you want our readers to know?
Ilfenesh: My favorite quote is “Look.. I choose peace but, say… Don’t walk up on me wrong.. This Tea and Incense can turn into Colt 45 and Newports if need be.. OK?”
Top, pants, blazer and leather belt: Thai Nguyen.Shoes: Sigerson Morrison. Waist chain: Irini Design. Earrings: Joanna Laura Constantine. Black bands: APM Monaco. Diamond ring: Noir Jewelry.
Fashion Social Media & Styling Credits
@kalmanovich @nicholaskstudio @agentprovocateur @super_sunglasses @jeanmichelcazabat_@rjgraziano @apmmonaco
@victoriahayescollection @sigersonmorrison @alexisbittar @apmmonaco @ameliabrown @lfjewels @thainguyenatelier @irinidesign @joannalauraconstantine @noirjewelry
Team Credits and Social Media Links
Ilfenesh on Instagram: @ilfenator
Styled by Christina Pacelli @christinajpacelli
Photography by Sergio Kurhajec @sergiokurhajec
Hair by Bradley Iron using Rene Furtere @BAReps-Style
Make up by Joanna Simkin @thewallgroup
Assistant Stylists: Nick Browne @nickb83, Khalila White @kwhitecollection
Digital Tech:Sara Lewis
Shot at Ten Ton Studio, Brooklyn.