8 Questions with……..actress Isra Elsalihie

Its 5:49 pm
dark/snowy

Welcome to 8 Questions with…..

     You ever watch one of those big movies that take the viewer to several exotic locales?
“From London to Toronto to Detroit (okay,maybe not Murder City),to Toyko,etc…..” as the film goes from place to another. 
  In meeting the lovely Isra Elsalihie,I felt like I was watching a real life movie. Growing up in Sweden to Iraqi parents to going to university in England to finding her voice in New York City,you need a passport and a GPS device just to keep up with Isra!
 Equally as comfortable on stage as in front of a camera,Isra is also quite a talented voice over actor and of course you (well,some of you anyways) know I like a good VO actor. The more I looked at Isra,the more convinced there may be nothing that she can’t do.
  I am really quite honored to have been able to slow Isra down long enough to ask her “8 Questions”. I gotta hurry,her next journey is leaving and I want to see where Isra is going next…..

Please introduce yourself and tell us what you are currently working on.

   I’m Isra Elsalihie and I am Iraqi-Swedish actor based in NYC. I’m about to shoot a new short directed by Shu Hirayama and written by Ana Ribero. Arresting God, a feature film which co-starred alongside Agam Darshi just became a part of Sundance Development Lab and will be going on to greater things I can’t mention just yet!

Isra Elsalihie - Commercial Headshot

What was it like growing up in Sweden? What was life in your home like? Can you share some of your fondest memories growing up?

   Growing up in Sweden was interesting! I grew up with very loving and supportive family, I truly did have a great home environment, and my hometown of Gothenburg, is a beautiful place to grow up, having said that, Gothenburg was and is really segregated in terms of their communities. Something I fought against by working with many different youth groups as a teenager, such as A Shared Future.

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When you did catch the acting bug? Did you attend school to get your training? What are some of your favorite experiences when you first started out?

   I caught the acting bug pretty early on! I think I must have been around 11-12? I was very inspired by the magic of theatre and film, and just knew that one way or another I needed to be a part of that world. I finished my two year acting conservatory at Lee Strasberg theatre and film institute. I’ve gone on to take classes with RSC and at other institutions such as ESPA primary stages.

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When did you move to New York City? How did you adjust to the cultural change?

   I moved to NYC in the winter of 2015. I think it was one of the coldest winters in NYC in over 20 years, so that first night in NYC was interesting. I remember getting a ride with the worst cab driver I’ve ever met at JFK, and arriving at a Air bnb with no heat, 1.5 h away from school. That first night I was really questioning my choices haha! But I stuck it out and now NYC feels like home. NYC to me, is truly one of the greatest cities in the world, and I’m very lucky to have ended up here.

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Can you tell us about winning a place in the 24 Hour Plays National Company? What did you have to do to win a spot? What the experience like?

   Oh wow, 24 Hour Plays Nationals was an incredible experience. The competition for a spot was pretty fierce, I remember all of us getting our acceptance letter pretty late, and we were told that was because our year, 2017, had more applicants than ever before, which was pretty crazy. I won’t bore you with the details, but involved a lot of self-tapes, essays and in person auditions. What we did with 24 Hour Plays Nationals and what I later got to do with LAByrinth, is what I want to do every day as an actor. You’re put in a room with the best and brightest of emerging theatre creatives and told you’re free to create whatever you like with your peers over the course of 24 Hours! It’s definitely one of my favorite experiences.

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 What three things do you like and dislike about live theater?

    I love the fact that with live theatre you’re able to take in your audience directly, you’re truly able to have a shared experience with your audience. When I’m not on stage, I’m usually in the back listening to the audience and taking them in before entering. With live theatre you’re able to live through the entire arch of your character in chronological order, vs. TV & Film that’s usually shot out of order. I love that there are no retakes with theatre, there are no do-overs during the show, no cutting to retake that scene, so it forces you to really be present and listening to your fellow actors. I don’t know if I have any real dislikes with theatre. There are certain things that can be challenging at times, but I embrace the challenge. The challenge of theatre is that you’re doing multiple shows a week, most likely eight shows a week and even though each night is going to be different, you still have to sustain your character throughout the run and keep your character fairly consistent.

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In terms of material,do you perfer acting in revivals with known works or doing a fresh original play and putting your own stamp on a new character?

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   I don’t really have a strong preference, whether it’s a revival or not, I always believe you should put your own stamp on things and bring something new to the character.

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Which has more challenges for you,live theater or a filmed production?

   Well, they’re both very different mediums and I enjoy them equally. Live theatre gives you the opportunity to live through a character from beginning to end without chronological jumps, and it also gives you the chance to interact with your audience directly. TV & Film, doesn’t offer that, but it does give you the opportunity to reach a larger audience, beyond the boundaries of the US.

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What has been your favorite role to play to date and what has made it special?

   Maryam, in the Old Globe’s production of Noura. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had as an actor. Noura, is written by Heather Raffo, and incredible Iraqi-American playwright, who’s work I’ve admired for a very long time.
   I actually did a monologue from Heather’s play 9 Parts of Desire, for my conservatory show and that’s how I first learned about her work. I met her a few months after my graduation at a reading of Noura and professed my love of her work to her, haha! She gave me her contact info and insisted we have coffee. We since stayed friends over the years, but in August I got a call from the Old Globe and Guthrie saying they wanted me to come in and audition for Maryam in Noura.
   Heather had apparently given my name to all these theatres so I auditioned and I ended up booking the Old Globe which was the West coast Premiere of Noura and was directed by the amazing Johanna McKeon.

As an Swedish-Iraqi actress, have you experienced being cast in stereotypical roles and do you have an opinion on how to stop that kind of narrowminded casting?

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   I have certainly been asked to audition for stereotypical roles in the past. As an actor I don’t really have power over who gets called in for a project or not, but what I can do is create my own work and be open and inclusive with the casting of that. I also believe that actors always have the power of saying no. If I’m asked to audition for a part I find stereotypical, then I decline that audition.

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What do you like to do in your downtime? Do you have causes,activities or hobbies you like to do?

   I really value my time with my friends and family, so whenever I have a spare moment, I try to spending it with them. I love to explore the city, I go to a lot of museums and exhibitions and when I can and I like to paint. That’s a very new passion of mine that’s been fun to explore.

  The cheetah and I are flying over to watch you perform in your next live theater production but we are a day early and now you are playing tour guide,what are we doing?

   Oh wow! So many places to go, I love a good stroll in central park, followed by a visit to the MoMa or Met. The Highline is absolutely beautiful as well and you have the Chelsea market right underneath it, where you can get a wonderful dinner or lunch. If you’re looking for an evening activity I’d visit the older cinemas in NYC, like Angelica film center or Metrograph.

I like to thank Isra for sharing her story with us. The cheetah and I are definitely going to be asking to look at “The Invaders” which looks very good.  I am sure Isra is going to leave her positive mark on this planet as joyfully as she can.
   There are many ways to keep up with this very on-the-move young artist and we as always,are happy to share them with you all.

First you can find and follow Isra on her InstaGram page
Next you can see which projects Isra has upcoming at her IMDb page.
Isra also has her own personal website which you can find here.

If you have missed any of the over 80 “8 Questions with…..” interviews we have done,you can catch up by clicking here.

Thank you for all of your support and readership! Please drop a comment or two as well!

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