Interview With Actress Chiara Zanni, “Harvest Love”

By Ruth on September 30, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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During Garage Sale Mystery Month this August, the first of the four films (The Beach Murder) featured an actress by the name of Chiara Zanni. Although I had seen her name before, until I did the research, I was unaware of the assortment of talents she possesses in both voice work and on-camera work. In fact, between the months of July through September of this year, Chiara will have been highlighted a total of three times on the Hallmark network in distinctive supporting roles opposite eminent and esteemed Hallmark leading ladies. Recently, Chiara cleared her schedule and agreed to chat with me about her career in show business with a special focus on these recent Hallmark films.

 

photo credit: Kyle Cassie

RH: So glad it worked out to chat with you today, Chiara.

CZ: Me too, Ruth. Thanks for reaching out.

I want to make sure I’m pronouncing your name correctly.

It’s “Kiara,” like the word tiara. It’s an Italian name, and people often mispronounce it. So I never make an issue of it.

So I was looking over your credits, and you’ve certainly done a lot of work over the years.

Well, I’m not doing big, important things like some actors I’ve worked with. Do you know who Matt Hill is?

Yes, I actually interviewed him. Very nice guy, but very busy.

He’s done so much work for global warming and has gotten awards for his efforts. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything big like that.

Well, maybe you haven’t done those kinds of things, but it doesn’t mean you’re not affecting people or impacting them. 

Oh, thank you. That’s so nice of you to say. I do a lot of things that I believe in personally. I just don’t post a lot of stuff on Twitter. I’m trying to get better at that. I do keep a lot of things internally, things I believe in and have faith in. I just don’t often advertise those.

I respect that fully and completely understand. You’d probably be amazed to know how many actors don’t post all their personal stuff on Twitter. I always think you have to find what works for you. It sometimes feels strange for me to promote my stuff too, though it does get easier the more you do it. 

I know I tend to keep to myself a bit more.

I think most actors are that way. I think we viewers sometimes get the misconception that because we see you up on stage or on film and TV that we think you love the limelight. I think most actors don’t crave the spotlight. 

I think you’re exactly right. I know I don’t.

Photo Credit: Kyle Cassie

So how did you get started in acting? 

I was always singing and dancing when I was growing up. I was full of energy. My mom didn’t know what to do with me. So we were walking through a mall, and she saw a sign that said, “Search For a Star.” I was seven years old at the time, and this agency was searching for the next child star. My mom thought it sounded like a good idea, and she signed me up. I had to go in front of the agency and do a song, dance, and monologue. I think you had to make up your own commercial. I remember it was a huge competition–like 3,000 kids–and I won. The prize was that I got to go to LA and meet “Punky Brewster.” At the time, Punky Brewster was my idol! She wore those suspenders and two different pairs of socks. I tried to be like her. So I got to meet her, and that was the highlight for me. I didn’t know about agents and all that. I didn’t even know what an agent was.

So  I ended up booking my very first audition, and it was for this cartoon, Little Golden Book Land. It was based off a book, and I played this little puppy, Poky Little Puppy. The director said I had a fantastic voice, but when you’re seven, you hardly know what cartoons are or how they’re made. But she liked me and continued to cast me in things. That’s really how I got started; I just fell into it. My parents had immigrated to Canada from Italy. They were really new to Canada, and they didn’t have much money. But my mom was taking me around to auditions on the bus even though she didn’t really know much about Canada or acting.

So I just kept working, but I didn’t get into on-camera work till I was about sixteen. I kind of went through an awkward time as I was growing up. You know what it’s like when girls are developing. It was tough. I got picked on. I developed really early. So I had to go through the growing pains of being a young lady, but then I finally decided it was time to try on-camera work. I started out slowly. I think it was because over the years, I had lacked self-confidence in the audition room. Rather than letting my light shine, I sort of dampened it. So I just internalized everything. So it was in my twenties that my on-camera work began to pick up. In fact, that work skyrocketed. There was a series where I was the lead, but unfortunately, we only went one season because of the writer’s strike. It was a fun show and appealed to teenagers, and in spite of everything, I had a blast. And finally, I was like, “This is it. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” And I’ve never stopped.

Photo Credit: Kyle Cassie

But I have gone through lots of growing pains. I’m thirty-nine now. I actually quit on-camera work five years ago. I literally shut the door. I called my agent one day and said, “I’m done.” And my agent was like, “What?” I was like, “I don’t believe in myself anymore and I’m having a hard time. ” As a woman, I was older and not feeling pretty enough and not young enough. You’re being constantly judged from the moment you walk into that audition room. I was listening to other voices instead of listening to my own voice that said, “You love this. It makes you happy. It’s a gift.” I wasn’t listening to that. Instead, I was listening to the voices that said, “You’re not good enough. You’re never gonna make it. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not thin enough. ” So I quit.

Then a year and a half ago, I said to my husband, “I miss it dearly.” And he said, “Do it! I believe in you.” And I was like, “Really?!” I was in tears. I wanted to able to get my voice back and go for on-camera work again, but I wasn’t sure. But he encouraged me to try. I think Someone up there is looking out for me and guiding me along the way. I believe in angels and in God. I feel like Someone is holding my hand and saying, “You can do this.” Since I made the decision to go back to on-camera work, I’ve been pretty busy.  I’ve had heartbreaks and let-downs and people saying “no.” Yes, that’s true. I still end up in tears sometimes when I don’t get the job. And it’s not because I don’t think I’m not good enough anymore. Instead, it’s more like, “I know I’m right for this role.” But for whatever reason, I don’t get it, and that’s tough.

During the time that I quit on-camera work, I was sad and totally lost. But now I believe in myself. And if there’s one thing I can say to people, while your journey may have nothing to do with acting, just know that you need to follow your light even when you’re struggling. If you don’t believe in yourself and you’re going through a dark period, I want to say that it’s okay. We all go through those difficult times. We all doubt ourselves. I just want to encourage you to not give up. Have faith. Whatever gives you that sort of power, whatever you believe in–whether God or an angel or something–hold faith. You’re gonna get through that dark time.

And you said you weren’t inspirational? What you said in your story was very inspirational. 

Oh, thank you, Ruth. You know, when I work with kids on set or if I meet some little kid on the street, I see little bits of me in them and I take to them. I know what it’s like to not believe in yourself. It sucks! Don’t let other people and other voices in your head beat you down. I quit because I was listening to the wrong people in my life and following what they told me to do. Looking back, it’s so stupid now. But we have to go through those times. These are the growing pains in life. You think as an adult that once you hit twenty-five, you’re on your way. But no, this is what I love about getting older. Every year, every decade has taught me something else. {laughs} I’ll probably break down when I hit forty! But I’m sure I’ll learn something else then.

Well, speaking as someone who is forty-three, I think my forties have been my best years so far. And speaking of dark periods, I can totally relate. We all have them. But like you said, even though the struggles don’t go away, you learn and you get stronger. And you have to learn to deal with those difficult people in your life. They don’t go away, unfortunately. 

Yes, but it’s up in your head where you decide whether you listen to them or not. You have to keep what’s true to you and what makes you happy. And that’s what I’m learning. You’re going to hear voices constantly, and you have to decide which ones you’re going to listen to.

Chiara Zanni Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Ryan Plummer

I would never have thought all these things you’ve told me about not having confidence in yourself or quitting on-screen work, especially after seeing you in Garage Sale Mystery {The Beach Murder} back in August. I thought you were really good in that one. 

Thank you. I’m very grateful for that role. It came at a point where I was just starting to get back into on-camera work. After I read the script, I was like, “Shoot! This is a bigger role than I thought.” I was just putting my toes back in this kind of work, and I wondered if I was ready. I was like, “Can I do this?” I had to take that voice in my head and go, “I can!” I wanted to have fun in the role, but it’s hard to have fun when you’re crying your eyes out. {laughs} But I feel very grateful for that role.

Well, I think a lot of fans will remember you from that role. But I think you also had a small role in Ms. Matched last year as well.

Chiara Zanni, Mike Vogel Photo Credit: Erik Heinila

Yes, a very small role. I played a crazy bride, and all the leads were younger. So I was thinking they would want someone younger. But the casting director, Jackie Lind, encouraged me to take the role, and she’s great. And when she says to do a role, I think you’d better do it. She knows her stuff.  So I did. But I was in another Hallmark one before that, In My Dreams. I have to say I’m amazed by the Hallmark fans and community. They are so supportive of me and my works. They have knocked me off my feet with their kindness and support. I have been pleasantly surprised at how wonderful they are. It’s been so great getting into these Hallmark movies and having their support. People send me these wonderful messages, and they have no idea how much those messages mean to me. When you quit and you don’t believe in yourself, and then you put yourself back in the game, it’s fans like these fans who have no idea how much their kind words have touched me or made me think about something in a different way. I am so blessed.

When I was looking at your more current voice works, my daughter recognized your character from My Little Pony. She said you have a great role on the show.

Oh, that’s sweet. Yes, I’m not a major character or a lead, but one of the lead characters has a major kind of obsession with my character. It’s an “Indiana Jones”-type character but also like J.K. Rowling. So I appear quite a bit when Rainbow Dash is dreaming these crazy stories about Daring Do, the name of my character. But I’ve had a lot of fun being a part of My Little Pony. Those fans are also some of the absolute best.

Jen Lilley; Chiara Zanni Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Ryan Plummer

You are also in the upcoming Hallmark film Harvest Love

Yes, it is a fantastic film, and the leads {Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevey} are top notch. I love Jen so much! She is just so fun and sweet.  You know, you’re always nervous when you first come into a project and you don’t really know anyone. I seem to be getting cast as the best friend of the leads a lot lately, and I’m always nervous in case I don’t have that sparkle you’re supposed to have with your best friend. But the minute I met Jen, I knew there was not going to be any issues with that. We hit it off right away. I hope everyone likes the film and my character.

Chiara Hanni,Lori Loughlin Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Ryan Plummer

I was thinking you also got to work with Lori Loughlin on Garage Sale Mystery

I did, and I was so nervous to meet her. Who didn’t watch Full House and love Aunt Becky and think she was so pretty? When I was a kid, I wanted to look like her when I grew up. And she still looks the same! She is gorgeous and has a body to die for! I was like, “You are magic.” She was wonderful to work with. And we did play not exactly best friends, but a kind of friends. But of course, I was sad all the time, so I wasn’t necessarily worried about the friendship or sparkle between us.  I felt like I had a lot of other things on my mind like delivering emotion. But it was very easy to act with Lori.

I was so glad your character wasn’t the murderer.

Did you think for a moment that I did it?

Well, I was worried. I was sitting there thinking, “Please, I don’t want her to be the murderer.” I didn’t necessarily think of you as a suspect, but…

Well, Mitch {Michael Teigen}played that character so well! If you remember there is this one scene where he bursts into the bathroom and kicks the door down–I am telling you, that was a real take! I screamed like a banshee. He played it so realistically and sounded just like his character should have. The director was like, “Yeah, that was awesome.” Well, I told him that wasn’t acting. That was real! {laughs} But I’m glad you suspected my character, even for a little bit. That makes me feel good.

My family even suspected you for a short time. 

It was certainly a different role than when I was in Home For Christmas Day.

Oh, that’s right, you were in that film too! 

I know they consider that one more of a drama, but it’s still somewhat lighthearted. I loved the boy who played my son. Well, all the actors are great in that one. The movie just had a really nice feel to it.

Chiara Zanini Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: David Dolsen

So you got to work with Catherine Bell in that one.

Yes, I have been very lucky with lead actresses. Catherine was just so sweet! I really liked her, but I feel like I didn’t get enough time with her.

So with Harvest Love, you play Jen Lilley’s best friend?

Sort of. Her character comes back into town to sort of disconnect from her busy life. She takes her son and decides to go away for a few days where she grew up. My character lives in the town, and we bump into each other in a scene. It’s a small town, and like you expect, my character is nice to her, and I take her in like family. My husband grew up in a small town, so he knows about it. And then I say, “Wait a minute, are you–“And I invite her to the Harvest Festival. So we bond, and our sons bond. I don’t want to give too much away. And Christie Will is the director. She has done a lot of things for Hallmark. It was great to get to work with such a wonderful female director.

Oh, yeah, and she’s one of the best female directors–or I could say she’s just one of the best directors out there–but it’s wonderful to be able to work with a female director. 

She’s just so on all the time. She doesn’t have any negative attitude. She’s really pleasant and knows what she wants from the cast and crew. And she keeps things light and fun on set.

I consistently hear good things about Christie from people who have worked with her. And it’s not just the females who like her. Everyone seems to enjoy her and speak highly of her. {pause} So is there anything else upcoming that you can mention?

Lots of voice work coming up; I won’t mention that all here. I always have recurring or ongoing voice commitments. Voice work was my first love, and I feel so blessed to go into a sound studio and talk like an animal or something fun like that. I continue to have on-camera auditions. I try to keep positive during the times I’m not working so that I don’t go to a dark place. I’m trying to keep out of stress mode or fear mode. I try to look at it like I’m auditioning and doing well in the room. If I can go in and have fun, I know I’ve already won the battle. I am hoping for more Hallmark work. I love doing these Hallmark movies.

Well, Hallmark is very loyal to its cast and crew members, so let’s hope that we’ll see you on their network again soon.

I am also headed to Equestria LA in Anaheim Nov 17-19. It is a fantastic My Little Pony Convention, and I hear this one is going to be big this year. Lots of great guests. It’s always a fun way for me to meet fans from this show.

Chiara, thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself with us today. You are a true inspiration to so many, and I know the fans are going to love seeing you in Harvest Love.

Ruth, you are so sweet. Thank you for reaching out. And I look forward to sharing this film with the fans.

I am constantly amazed at the members of the entertainment community that God brings into my life and the way they share in such a sincere and open fashion. Frequently, our views of this profession are skewed by the tabloids and even well-meaning promotional articles and show business news. We tend to think that all actors are egotistical, self-seeking exhibitionists that only make a show of reaching out to fans for the sake of gaining prestige and applause. Furthermore, this tends to color how we interact online with entertainment professionals, and we miss the opportunities for genuine connections with people who have merely chosen acting as a profession as opposed to “celebrity status seekers.”

In the case of Chiara, she is genuine, down-to-earth, and benevolent to the core. Humility courses through her veins as she is consistently met with the wonder of the profession to which she has attached herself for all these years. She does not endeavor to bring attention to herself; she merely perseveres in illuminating whatever project to which she has been cast and sharing her innate talent and abilities with every individual she can. She does not seek the limelight, and she does not take anything for granted. The very fact that she is able to revel in countless phenomenal experiences through the lens of her career in entertainment is enough to keep her enchanted and engaged with every aspect of it.

Moreover, Chiara has encountered moments of shadowy gloom and extreme uncertainty from time to time. Although it seems to be the accepted practice to conceal these bleak moments, Chiara has chosen the more authentic route of sharing her experiences as a way to inspire and encourage others. I find her outlook refreshing in a world where divulging our personal struggles is often discouraged, and although she feels that her words may not render aid to anyone, I beg to differ. There is nothing more frightening, but at the same time exciting and endearing, as a person making himself or herself vulnerable. While some may argue that she has caused herself to appear weak, again, I take exception. Those who are willing to share their emotional struggles with others actually appear much stronger than those who don’t. At least, in my opinion.

So please be sure to tune into the Hallmark Channel on September 30th to watch the premiere of Harvest Love and see Chiara (as well as Jenn and Ryan) in a role that will again entertain and electrify the millions of viewers around the world. Additionally, please consider visiting all of Chiara’s links below and consider following her if you are so inclined. While she may often be cast in a supporting role and not jockey to be preeminent like some of the tabloid actors and actresses may do, her inner strength is undeniable. Likewise, her light irradiates an entire profusion of people hungry for a champion like Chiara, who is willing to communicate with conviction a message intended to prompt her fellow human beings to never give up on their dreams and remind them that they will prevail through these toilsome moments. 

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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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