Interview With Actress Tonya Kay

By Ruth on January 31, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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Thanks to the lovely people over at The Imperfect Podcast, I have been able to connect with some amazing independent filmmakers, actors, directors, and more. In the case of Tonya Kay, I asked her for an interview the moment I saw that they were interviewing her. Thankfully, Tonya had some time recently to chat with me about the evolution of her career as well as her perspective on life and the pursuit of one’s dreams, including her prospects for the future.

RH: Why did you choose entertainment as a career?

TK: Well, I got arrested when I was a teenager, and I decided that the way I was living my life was not really working out. Me fitting into the “nine to five,” traditional, small-town world made me kind of a loser, but when I’m in the arts, I’m a winner. {laughs} So I’m not a loser; I’m just an artist.

I got into performing after watching Star Search when I was a little kid. I had a crush on Shirley Temple ’cause she was a little kid who danced. When I was about three years old, I was watching Star Search, and I saw “Dan the Man” on the show, and he was a tap dancer. My mom caught me just shakin’ it in front of the TV, and she asked me if I wanted to take tap dance classes. I didn’t know what that was, but she was a good mom. She saw that I liked something, and she gave me the opportunity to try it.

I did community theater with my parents. I started that at like six years old.  And it was a family affair, so it couldn’t have been more fun. You know, we sing, we dance, we act, we practice together. And then we go perform together. So as a child growing up, I had really good feelings toward all of the performing arts. It was pretty obvious what my interests were.

I graduated valedictorian. And then I got arrested, and it was a very clarifying moment when I realized I needed to put my focus into what I’m passionate about instead of what society says you should do. {laughs}

I think you’re the first person I’ve interviewed who said, “I got arrested.” But you know what? I like the fact that you decided to do what you were passionate about rather than what everybody told you to do. And even the thing about being arrested–you know, we all make mistakes. There are probably a lot of us who should have been arrested for something and weren’t. We all have those little secrets, and it just so happened you got caught. But as a result, you decided you were going to turn things around. And you’ve been able to, and I think that’s great. In your case, you’re not ashamed of it. It sounds like it was a defining moment for you.

Exactly. My life is great now. I didn’t go downhill after that experience. I went the other way.

I applaud you for that. It actually makes me have more respect for you. {pause} So after making this choice to get involved in the arts, what was your next step? Did you have any formal training?

I had been training in dance, acting, stage time, singing, and all that since I was a kid ’cause that’s what we did. It was fun and I enjoyed it, thank goodness. I was dabbling in the arts even before I got arrested. It was really just the push that I needed to say, “Come on! Give your all to this!” I moved to Chicago and did my community service there. I started auditioning, and I had great luck. I was very fortunate. The first audition I went on, I booked. And I’ve never looked back since. I’ve never had to work a job. Since I moved to Chicago back then, I have just played make-believe professionally for a living. Is it hard work? Yes, it’s hard work. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

And you’re really versatile. You’re not just an actress, stunt person, or dancer. You get calls for all sorts of things, right?

Yeah, that’s really helped. I mean, you can look at it both ways. You can be a Jack or Jill of all trades and do everything at a pretty high level, and that helps to make money in this career. But also, I look at other people that have more focus and do one thing, and when you put your all into just one thing, there’s benefits that come from that too. In fact, I’ve just recently decided to focus on one of my disciplines more, and that’s acting. I will be giving it more energy than I ever have in the past. I suffered a major injury last year, and I couldn’t dance for five months. And there’s a time in your professional life when you’re like, “That’s too scary.” I want to continue with whatever will take me through my elder years. You can be an actress and be eighty years old. You’re better the older you are. In fact, more life experience just means you’re a better actress! I’m looking forward to that day.

I think that’s awesome! As I get older–I’m now in my forties–even though I’m healthy, things don’t work quite the same for me sometimes, so I understand. {pause} Just the other day, I noticed one of your Lifetime films from last year–The Other Wife–and I saw your name, and that movie is now sitting on my DVR to watch.

That’s a good one. Speaking of Lifetime, I am in a current project with that network. There is a series called My Crazy Sex. Not My Crazy Ex. They air back to back. In My Crazy Sex, there is a segment in there where I play the lead or star of that segment. It airs on Wednesday nights–check local listings for times. They don’t tell us what day our episode is going to be on, so I can’t tell you to watch on a certain day, but the show is airing, and I will be on a segment.

The Other Wife on Lifetime Movie Network.

With The Other Wife, how did you get involved with this one since it was your first Lifetime film?

It was because of the casting directors, Scotty Mullen and Bryan Dietzman–we’re good friends now. Bryan had been my fan, he told me, for years. He had actually called me in on projects, but I hadn’t booked any of them yet. And he called me in, and he was like, “I’m gonna get this girl a role.” I owe so much to Bryan and Scotty. They are wonderful people, and I have auditioned for them a lot. That was a great audition. I didn’t even have make-up on. Sometimes you spend all this time getting ready for an audition. You have the right clothes, and you have all your sides memorized. You know you’ve got this. You hair is coiffed, and it looks great. You walk in, and it’s five minutes in the room, and then you go back to your normal life. But this time, I was running late. I think I was on a road trip, and I was actually coming from San Francisco to get to the audition. I went in there–I kinda had the sides memorized. I’m pretty good like that. My memory is excellent. But this time, I only kinda had them memorized. I went in there, and I relied on my gut and added in what I could bring to it. Bryan loved it. Apparently, the producers loved it. They cast me, and ever since, I’ve been a big fan of that office. They cast a lot. They cast like Z NationSharknado, and a lot of great stuff like that.

See, when they do the next Sharknado, they should put you in that.

I think so too!

Who would have ever thought that Shaknado would be such a big deal, right? I will admit I’ve never sat down and watched any, but if you were in the next one, I would definitely watch it. 

With Sharknado, now I haven’t been in it, but I would assume it started as a low-budget, geeky thing that sounded like a kind of campy, interesting idea, and it exploded! And that is every indie filmmaker’s dream. Just to be doing this low-budget film and then have it take off. I think the story of that film and its franchise is great.

Have you done a lot of sci-fi stuff?

A couple things. Dark Space did well. It went to the SyFy Network, and it’s also on NetFlix and other digital platforms. Dark Space was filmed quite a while ago. I had my long dreadlocks back in the day, so there’s a piece of history there. You can even see the dreadlocks on camera.

Earthtastrophe #scifi film

Recently, I did a film called Earthtastrophe, and it’s one of those titles that sounds like Sharknado. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s not. The film is not campy or ridiculous, but it’s definitely a science fiction film. It’s played on the SyFy Network in Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, but it hasn’t yet premiered in the U.S. So I’m guessing it might premiere on a certain channel, but I don’t know yet.

That’s something to watch for then.

It’s coming.

While you are definitely multi-talented, I could see you stepping right into a sci-fi series. You have the look and the attitude for it. One of the things I like about the sci-fi shows is that they often feature so many strong women. So yes, Tonya, you need your own show on SyFy Network.

Hear that, universe?!

PuppetMaster #AxisTermination on El Rey Network

Now what other works do you have upcoming?

I have Puppet Master: Axis Termination coming out. That’s going to come out on the El Rey Network first. That should be in February or March when it comes out. And then it will release as a full-length film on Full Moon Streaming and then on Hulu.

Soska Sisters #WomenInHorror #BloodDrivePSA

Recently, I filmed a short film that’s part of the Soska Sisters annual Women in Horror Month Blood Drive PSA. That will release on February 1st, and we’re very excited about that. I play a very different character than you’ve ever seen me play before. The Soska Sisters are pillars in the horror community. People look to them. They have a wide following, and they’re celebrated. {If you’re interested in seeing the PSA, click here.}

The Lifetime Movie The Other Wife is also reairing off and on. You never know when it may come around again.

That’s one nice feature with Lifetime movies. If you miss it the first time around, they’ll often reair it at some point. 

People will tweet me a screen capture of me on TV in that film when it’s on–I love that. So cool to see that!

While it seems you’ve basically done it all in this business, have you done any writing?

Yeah, actually. I was a staff writer for a couple of online blogs both health and fitness based because I’m a vegan. I’m a fitness freak, and I’m doing it plant-based, and there’s a big audience for that. People want to hear about that. I’m also an environmentalist, so I wrote for Eco-Hearth and Pyrograph, and I also do freelance. I love to just write an article and put it out there. So there’s a bunch of stuff in the world that I’ve written. {My recommendation if you want to read what she has written just google “online writings by Tonya Kay”–the sites she mentioned seem to have changed or are having issues.}

That’s just great! You’re living a healthy, natural lifestyle and not just talking about it, but putting it into practice. It’s a popular topic.

I’m an expert in the field. {laughs}

Do you think one day in the future that you’ll end up writing something that makes it onto the screen?

Yeah, just the other night I was writing out my ideas. I have ideas all the time for short films, or you put them together and they’re a long film. I did create and produce a live show called Pinup Pole Show. That’s such a great outlet for me creatively as well as business-wise because it puts me in the producer’s position, not just the performer. I also do perform in the show. But people come to me and ask what they should do, and I just make it up on the spot ’cause that’s my job. And then they do it, and it’s amazing. I have these talented women that I work with who are great performers. I have great crews, who are generous with their time and are very talented themselves. I have great locations for putting on these shows. So lately I’ve thought that maybe I want to make short films with the people from my live show ’cause it’s all right there for me. It can happen. So that’s why I’ve been writing down ideas. I’ve got scene after scene. This is what this girl’s character is and so on. I think before the end of the year, you’re going to see some shorts at least. Maybe I’ll save them up and put them into a feature. I could make a short film this month! {laughs}

I’ve also been thinking that you save your money when you’re doing well as an actor, and when you’re not doing well, you use that money. I’ve saved up some money and I thought, “Do I want a house?” No, not really. I’ve never really wanted a house. And I’m not gonna do it just because society says that’s what you want when you get some money. I do like my classic cars. I’m always making upgrades. But I want to fund a film. And maybe it’s my own film. I want to put my money into myself. I want to invest in myself first. So that’s where I am.

You could probably make a film of the story of your life, or at least part of your life. I’m thinking that even just your journey of how you got involved in entertainment and what you have encountered would make a great film. I personally find you very inspirational. 

Thank you. I think you might be right. There are some good elements in my life. Pick this piece or that piece.

Those kinds of films really seem to do well. I think because the filmmaker has a connection with the film, and other people then connect with it too. Nothing against the blockbusters where you’re drawn into a fantasy world, but a film like I’m mentioning is so real. It’s real life. It makes you think about the fact that you don’t have to do everything that society tells you to. 

It’s important to not do what everyone tells you to do. You will never make everybody happy. But more importantly, you have to ask yourself, “Am I happy?” If I follow all the rules of society, and even if I do something great by doing that, am I happy doing that? It depends on the person. I’m obviously not. {laughs}

And even someone like me who is fairly conservative, I wasn’t happy doing everything that everybody told me I had to do. People were surprised to find out that I wasn’t happy doing this or that. I played the game and did what I was supposed to do, but I wasn’t happy. But you come across as truly enjoying what you do in your life. That speaks volumes because so many people are not doing what they want to do. Your story shows that while we all have struggles, it is possible to keep going towards your dream. You didn’t give up. I would call you successful.

Thank you. I think so too. I never had to work another job. I think for personalities like mine, the most dangerous thing in the arts is a Plan B.  A lot of people will go to college and major in Plan B and minor in their passion. And that’s a metaphor for life. I work really hard towards Plan A. And I’m very happy when Plan A works. There’s really nothing in life that doesn’t return to you the effort you put into it. When you put that energy and focus into something–Plan A–it really does return. There’s no way it can’t. Because that’s your world. That’s your reality. Honestly I don’t even know how to work another job at this point in my life. I don’t think I’d be any good at it.  I know how to do this really well.

While some people would gawk at Tonya and judge her based on her appearance, I have learned in my life just how deceiving appearances can be. Purple hair, pole dancing, and even tattoos do not automatically point to someone who is irrevocably wrecking his/her life. I wish that society would quit judging people based on outward and professional impressions. Moreover, I am thoroughly opposed to conformity centered on society’s boxes that they love to encapsulate everyone within. My spirit was almost smothered to death as I permitted everyone else to dictate to me how I should live. And in this area, I have found a kindred spirit in Tonya. In fact, I would venture to say that Tonya enjoys shocking people who already have their miniscule minds made up about her, and I am absolutely the same way. When I told Tonya I find her inspirational, I meant that sincerely from my heart. Tonya was headed down a potentially destructive path, but she had common sense, temerity of character, and determination to alter her life, and that is exactly what she did. In a way, her complete one-eighty turnaround is a metaphor for what I would call repentance–an unpopular concept in this day and age, but one that I tend to believe everyone should experience at least once in his/her life. Tonya’s entire life is living proof that if someone is desirous of making a positive change in one’s life, it is entirely possible if one wants it badly enough, one doesn’t permit oneself to be sidetracked, and one is willing to bunk the notion that everyone is compelled to fit into a preconceived notion the powers that be have created for each person in the world. While I am new to Tonya’s talent and career, I connected with her in a way in which I don’t always relate to others, and I already find myself going through my daily life thinking, “I do not have to do what everybody tells me I have to do.” I have learned that pushing the boundaries is sometimes scary, but it’s something to face fearlessly and unabashedly like Tonya did and continues to do every day of her life. So please be sure that you check Tonya out at all the links below (don’t forget to watch her PSA that has just gone live). Furthermore, let’s truly support and embrace this woman who is a fantastic example that dreams can come true if you are willing to put in the hard work. And as she devotes more time to her acting, I predict that even greater things are on the horizon for this woman who is the very definition of “thinking outside of the box.”

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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