She Looked Like Art

She Looked Like Art: Shanti Lowry Interview

The first time I met up with Actress Shanti Lowry she had the swag of a ball player, the fluidity of a dancer, and a refreshing insight on Hollywood. Speaking with Shanti I realized she doesn’t need the limelight that comes with being in Hollywood. She does it out of the pure enjoyment of displaying her talents. I sensed she had a free spirit vibe and she isn’t restless in her place among the industry. I would dare say Hollywood needs Shanti and more like her; a multi-faceted star that can not only act but can dance, write, produce, and direct as she does. With a starring role on the long running TV Show The Game and director and production credits by her name Shanti has created an amazing career. It wasn’t a surprise when she told me she continues to dance, she’s a painter, and professionally sings. What can’t she do? Humble all the while she’s a living embodiment of art. It almost looks effortless until you see she’s work hard for this and continues to do so. If you ever want to see what art looks like study Shanti Lowry’s body of work. And you’ll see what I see an artist in its truest form.  

When did you discover your passion for acting?
I can remember, as long as I had a memory, loving creating characters and creating scenarios. I think the first time I realized there was a profession behind it, a technique or a label for what I was doing was when I was in middle school and entered drama class. At first it was just fun and an easy class to take. Then the teacher told us how you can do theater in Boulder, Colorado where I’m from, and look in the newspaper for auditions and go and do it. I think he intended for us to talk to our parents first. I remember clearly I was 12, because my mom was really mad at me for what I’m about to tell you, I looked in the paper and saw an audition for someone my age. I had a bus pass and I had learned my monologue, I cut out a picture of myself that wasn’t a real headshot or anything, and I took the bus over there and auditioned. I came home and didn’t know what to expect next. Then my mom got a phone call saying I had booked this play that had a ton of rehearsal about four days a week. She was like Wait, what? My daughter doesn’t act. I don’t know what you’re talking about. So I was lucky because my mom let me do that play and from there it was just instant love.

I didn’t know for sure what I always wanted in the end, but I always went after my goals but there wasn’t any fear. There was fear that came after and looking back and thinking oh my gosh you should have been scared, but at the time I was like I want to do that, let’s do that. LA? I’m going to move to LA, I was only 17. Do you know anyone? No, well that’s ok. Do you have any money? No, we’ll figure it out. And then you get here and you’re like oh my God, I’m terrified. My mom instilled in me this feeling you can do anything you want if you just work at it so just go for it.

How was that transition growing up in Boulder, Colorado to moving to LA?
After doing the play I realized this is what I definitely wanted to do. I was a dancer and a baseball player and at that point I had to choose what I wanted to do. Honestly, my heart was more into baseball, not softball but baseball, and I played on an all guys team. At twelve years old they start doing uniform and locker rooms and everything and they wouldn’t let a girl be on the team anymore because of the locker room situation. So I was recruited by some softball teams and there was some real money involved and a career path as well. I just didn’t like it, I wasn’t a softball player I was a baseball player. I just felt disheartened, well my mom said I can do anything and there’s these people saying that I can’t. And I was the best player on my team. I was either the pitcher or first baseman every game. I had a great batting average, I was as really good baseball player, and I was shocked they didn’t care about that. It didn’t matter; you’re a girl, move aside. So I just dropped baseball and softball because of that. I even have a hard time watching it now. I don’t follow baseball teams. It was really painful for me to remember that feeling. So I decided to go into dance and I thought even at a young age, it was a good avenue to get into the entertainment industry because in Boulder, Colorado there aren’t a lot of acting agents and acting jobs but there is a ton of dance. So I just threw myself into dance and sure enough, I graduated about two years early. My mom was just like you’re so young take six months and explore a little bit around and figure out what you want to do before you accept a scholarship to college. During that six month break, I danced in a competition and a big agent from LA saw me and offered me a position. I had also been accepted into some colleges and I had been accepted into big dance companies in New York, but when this woman came up to me it just clicked. I was determined and said that’s the one. My mom was like are you sure, there’s college and New York, but I was like no, I’m going to LA. I was super blessed because it was a really good agency and she was the top agent there. She was completely on my side and I book the Earth, Wind, and Fire tour as the role of singer/dancer almost immediately. So I had some sense of this is going to work out, look you’re in the right place. Although everything did not fall into place after that it made me feel like ‘Oh, I’m here, let’s do this. ‘And from there the acting came because my dance agent got me a job dancing on That 70’s show. There was an acting part that they had given to an actress and she didn’t make it to rehearsal one day. The director asked me to step in and read her lines so they could block things and then the next day they fired her, which I felt terrible about and had no idea. Then they said they wanted me to do it which made sense since it was a dance role and they were having a non-dancer act the lines. And they were going to use a body double, it was a mess, and they were like Shanti can do it. That 70’s Show was a huge show at the time and I was the lead guest star. It kind of opened a bunch of doors to just say to managers and agents I got a job, bring me on. I know I’m new but I’m working. Through there I ended up getting a great agent and manager. It’s been slow sometimes, but I’ve always moved forward.

In terms of  my career with combination of dancing and acting I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to dance a lot with my acting, which are so unfortunate because I am  truly a trained dancer and I can literally dance in any type of dance there is. And it’s very much part of the fabric of who I am. I would love to do a fantastic dance movie, but I haven’t had a lot of opportunities yet.

Which one do you see yourself drawn to more, acting or dancing? And how did you combine your love for both to benefit your career?
That’s really hard because when I first stopped dancing entirely was when I booked The Game. As my manager said, you really got to stop doing both. I was very successful as a dancer and I was constantly working. When you work as a dancer you’re very often gone or in rehearsals all day. You can’t audition and you can’t book theatrical jobs. My manager was saying, Shanti I can’t keep calling you and say you have an audition and you say you’re dancing with P. Diddy in New York. That doesn’t work. So when I booked The Game he said this is it, this is your big opportunity, and you got to stop dancing. I totally did and it didn’t really affect me I guess at first because dance jobs and being a dancer are very different. Dance jobs you very rarely use your skills. You’re either the backup girl or the booty popping girl. You’re using like a tenth of the technical ability that you have unless you’re doing company concert work. Not doing dance jobs any more actually felt nice because as an actor you get so much more respect. You walk on set you have a trailer, costume, wardrobe, hair, makeup, and all of that. As a dancer they kind of push you to the side. So for the first couple of years I was like yeah, I’m not a dancer and then I realized how much I missed it for me. So now I have a really great balance. Acting is my profession and for myself, my Zen time and exercise, I dance. I get to do amazing classes, really technical, really hard, and it’s just for me think dance is one of the most beautiful art forms and I do a lot of art. I sing, I paint, I dance, and I act and think honestly dance is the most expressive, most beautiful, and most difficult art form. 

"Louis" Trailer starring Jackie Earle Haley and Shanti Lowry

What was it like working on the unreleased film “Louis”? And how did you approach your performance knowing it was a silent film?
It was one of the most incredible times of my life. I had booked the job for a movie called Bolden. I went in to audition and it felt incredible, but I did not hear about anything for months. They were moving very slowly, which is rare, and all of a sudden I got a call to come to New York to test me. I was over the moon and I get there and I do the acting test. They said they had also noticed that I said I was a dancer and asked if I mind just coming in and dancing with the other girls. They honestly thought I was an actor dancer. That I knew first position and oh, I can look graceful. I didn’t realize that until I got there where there was a room full of actor dancers. The choreographer started teaching this combo that was so remedial, I teach it to my five years old when I teach dance. I thought did I just kill the acting audition and all I have to do is this ridiculously basic dance combination and I can get the part of my dreams? They asked me to stay for the full dance audition with the real dancers because they wanted to see how technical I was and that went good as well. The director pulled me aside and said he didn’t know I was really a dancer. Bolden was a regular featured film, but he had an idea to a full length silent movie to accompany it about the characters and how they’ve progressed later. He wanted it to be like dance and artsy and I was basically offered the job right there. On top of that I was going to be able to express myself in every way I trained. I read the script right then and there. It was stunning and amazing. So this journey started; I began to watch all these old movies and silent films. I was just sort of obsessing over the damsel in distress and how you would play that in the modern era. It was so much fun doing the research for it. Shooting it, we had free reign. It was wonderfully financed so the sets were incredible. I was working with Jackie Earle Haley, who is incredible, and Anthony Mackie, and all of these wonderful people. Still to this day it’s the thing that I’m most proud of in my whole career, it’s beautiful. I was really disappointed that the producers did not see that America was ready for a silent film. This was about two years before The Artist and they just didn’t want to release it in theaters because they thought it couldn’t stand alone. They did this beautiful tour with Wynton Marsalis and a live band. Everyone was so on top of their game and then you have the best musicians in the world doing something that they themselves say ‘I can’t believe I’m getting a chance to do this.’ Every night it was different and every night it sounded different, it was amazing, but the producers couldn’t see past that.

We had a workshop about silent films before the movie began shooting. It was new to everyone, from the director, to the writers no had ever done silent film. We had this rehearsal space and it felt like a rehearsal for a play. The women in those movies are always sort of soap opera-y, melodramatic, and there’s not comedy to what they do and they also kind of work on this very moody plane. As an actor you want to kind of avoid that mood of just being one feeling, but in those movies that’s what works. In these movies the women are truly just damsels in distress and they have no control over what’s happening to them. As much as I like playing strong women this was not one of them. In the end she does save herself, but throughout the whole thing it’s just her feeling helpless and needing to be rescued. I felt it was ok because I was paying homage to the actresses that did it. It wasn’t a statement of who I think I am or what women should be it was paying homage.

How was your experience been on TV Show The Game and what lessons have you learned?
I’ve only been on BET’S The Game most recently; I was on the CW’s The Game. So for three seasons, it was CW’s. My experience there was incredible. Learning, working, and watching Mara Akil find the success she has found, already been successful with Girlfriends, but creating another hit show that went straight to air, that gives somebody a little bit of power. Then watching her struggle because the CW really didn’t want the show. Their direction was we want to go young in drama. And here we are an urban black show and that’s not what they wanted. It was hard for us not to feel offended because they gave us no marketing, there wasn’t a single commercial saying that The Game was coming back. They kind of wanted to let it die so they could cut it, but it wouldn’t. It had just enough, strong enough ratings that it kept being the show that they had to bring back. So for three seasons, they gave us nothing and didn’t want us there. Mara had this newfound power, but at the same time they didn’t want her show so in the first season she did what they wanted. They tried to change it, but after that she did it her way. You can see the evolution of the show through that and I loved watching her do that.  It was a great seeing a strong, black, beautiful, charismatic and stylish woman be in charge and be fantastic. Also, seeing her work with Salim, who’s a great director, and seeing the way that they are this great power couple it’s very inspiring. Then when it got canceled I went off to do Bolden, which took a long time, so when BET picked up The Game I wasn’t around.  For Mara it wasn’t about making something black or white , it was about putting beautiful brown faces on screen and talking about things that matter more in that community or culture. It was never about race to Mara which is what I loved.

 Along with acting you’re a produce and a director. Tell us more about your short film By The Way?
I’m definitely the person who loves working behind the camera which I learned a little bit before By The Way but it really solidified that. When I got the chance to produce and direct By The Way I was in heaven because I got to meet all these people who were on top of their game. They were discussing why we do it this way and how we can come together to see how we can make it easier, faster, and better because we had a very low budget. We only had two days to film 42 pages, which is basically like half a movie and movies take a month. So we needed everyone to do their own job. It was fun to learn about all of that. By The Way, the reason that it came about a friend of mine and I talked a lot about race, religion, background, and sexuality all become so confused and if people just stop and realize there’s a lot of things you can argue about but those aren’t one of them. It’s just how people live their lives

What are your more intrigued by today, being an actress or being a director?
I’m not necessarily intrigued by one or the other as much as I am by projects. I feel that I’m a much more experienced actress, but I also loved directing. It’s just really hard, you’re there two hours before everyone and two hours after everyone. Even when you’re home, you’re going through your shot list making sure you got all the equipment that you need for the next day and your stressing because is that the best way to express that story. It’s just a lot more involved. If I found a project that I could do justice as a director and wanted to put that work in then that would be glorious. That experience would be so hard and so worth it in the end, but it’s hard for women to get those opportunities. It’s also hard to get funding so it feels a little more out of reach for me now to do a big project or even small projects. I just directed another short that I’m also very proud of. I have a lot more avenues as an actress to get jobs so I do that more. I honestly think I’m best at producing because I really love and appreciate what everyone does and I love to bring those people together. I love to see the big picture and see the pieces come together because that’s what a producer does.

You sing as well. Along with producing, directing, acting, and dancing. What allows you to pool all your talents and place it in your performances?
It’s interesting because I strongly believe people should understand a little bit about everything. I also do woodwork, I love making tables, I love gardening, and I love cooking. I don’t know If I’m great at all of those things, but what I appreciate is I can sit down and have a conversation with someone who’s talking about sports, and I truly know names and the stats not because I memorized them but because I’m interested in them. Understanding a little bit about a lot I think makes you a well-rounded person. It also comes back to you at the strangest times. Like my character on The Game, I’m playing a sports agent, guess what I love sports, I love athletes, I know how to do this part. I’ve also been around agents and now I’m using that. Oh I’m a dancer, all these tight dresses they put me in and these heels, I can walk in a room and command your attention the way Dionne needs to. That’s also using my dance background and my sports background. The more that you know, the more you experiences you can pile into a character. So that’s where I think it helped me. Being a dancer physically helps you express yourself, so that’s a given. As an actor you’re vocally expressing yourself, but you’re also physically expressing yourself all the time. Maybe I’m playing a character that is very sick and using my dancing awareness of my body and to be able to say what would be hurting specifically. What is actually going on, what muscles don’t feel right, and what is it that’s hard for me to do. Different times and different characters call for things. Your voice is probably your most powerful weapon as an actor. You learn either to project it or hold it back. For me, I have a high pitched voice at times and being aware of that and being able to control that because of my singing is helpful. You know, I was a river rafter growing up, I camped all the time, my mom is a hippie and all those experiences that I had they just made each character that much more interesting.   

What is the boldest thing you’ve done yet?
All of these things come to mind, but what was bold to me was when I played a prostitute, like a low class prostitute. Which is what they always cast black women as, so I stayed away from it entirely because we should be the sports agents, the presidents in movies and stuff like that we don’t always have to be the stereotypical roles. I took the part and it took a lot for me to do that because there was a part of me thought that I would be letting people down for taking this part. Then I thought it’s not fair either because this is such a beautiful movie. It’s not that we want to eliminate all black stereotypical roles it’s just that we want to open the doors to play all of types of characters. Being on set it was really hard for me because it was instantly going over my head thinking am I just doing this because of me, is this the right thing for my career, or is it the wrong thing for young girls to see. There were a lot of mixed emotions for me and it came back to I’m an artist and I just want to do things artistically that I want to do. I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, I’m never going to short change anyone, and hopefully they’ll forgive me for any mistakes.

The boldest thing I ever did was to say I want to do it and know that I could be an entertainer. I grew up really poor in Boulder, Colorado and there’s not a clear path to being an entertainer from there. That never scared me and that never deterred me. I don’t know if that’s more nature than nurture, I’m thankful for both. I’m really grateful that I was bold enough to say this little mixed race girl who doesn’t know anything about art and entertainment can move to LA and make it. I would say that I have, I don’t think I have to win an Academy Award or be on the hit number one show to feel like I made it. I live in LA, I own a home, and I did all of that through being an artist.

What is your dream role?
There are two: I would love to do a movie about a dancer in a company, a really phenomenally trained dancer and to do be able to show really great dance on screen but with a great dramatic arch. Not just Hip Hop or ballet, there are only Hip Hop and ballet movies. There’s no movie about a contemporary dancer who does salsa. In this movie I would also want to do great acting scenes and challenge myself in both arenas. I would love to produce that as well and I don’t think I would want to direct it. That would be a lot for me already.

Secondly, I wrote a script that I’m in love with and so proud that I wrote, it’s one of these things where I’m like wow, did I do that? I would love for it to be made, I would want to produce it, and possibly direct it. It’s called Mulher which is Portuguese for woman. It’s about the wars of independence in Bahia Salvador, Brazil in the very early. That is absolutely my dream to see a strong woman of color; I don’t care if she’s black or brown, being a bad ass hero in a film using her physicality. There are so many times in history where we can point to where, when women used their strength of mind and physicality to get themselves out of a situation so that would be my dream to make Mulher. I really think people would love it and it’s hard to get financing for a female led film. Certainly if that female is not white and certain caliber of the A-list. It’s been difficult but if anyone reading wants to give me money, I will make that movie.   

What are your future plans?
I would like to get the dance movie made because that’s a realistic goal. It feels like something that I can start working on. I have a great outline for a film; it doesn’t even necessarily have to be that. I just want  to see beautiful women on screen dancing and telling a beautiful story would be great to go along with that. I’ll try and focus on getting that made. I’m more about project to project in terms of long term plans.

Where can people reach you?
People can reach me in
Facebook: Shanti Lowry
Instagram/Twitter: @Shanti Lowry


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