DANIELLE PINNOCK CHATS ‘YOUNG SHELDON’ & THE BODY POSITIVITY MOVEMENT 57

With The Big Bang Theory having proven to be a global hit since its very first episode, it should come as no surprise to learn that its spin-off, a look at the childhood and early years of Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper, aptly titled Young Sheldon, has also become a phenomenon. With the show about to air its debut season finale, and with season 2 already greenlit, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Danielle Pinnock, who plays Ms. Ingram in the show, to find out about her very first audition, her role as a body activist and how she feels about the reaction to and her being part of the smash-hit series that is Young Sheldon.

TITL: At what age did you first realize you wanted to pursue acting as a career? Was there one particular show/actor you watched that made you think ‘I’d like to do that’?

Danielle Pinnock: When I was 19 I was in a production at Temple University called In Conflict. It was a documentary play about war veterans returning home from serving overseas. The show was so incredible. We were even pulled out of school for a year to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Off-Broadway in New York.  All of the vets we portrayed were real people, based on interviews done by journalist Yvonne Latty. The veteran I played, Sgt. Lisa Haynes, was the only one we were unable to get a response from during run of the show. I heard that during her initial interview, her PTSD was so severe once returning home that she may have “fallen off the map.” I didn’t want to accept this, so I took it upon myself to find Sgt. Haynes. I called every VA hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she was from, and was able to locate her and her family. During the run of the show,  I flew down to Tulsa and met Sgt. Haynes and her family. When I returned back to New York, I was determined to have Sgt. Haynes see the final Off-Broadway performance. So in the final two weeks of the run I managed to raise $10,000 to get Sgt. Haynes and her family members up to New York to see In Conflict’s last show. It was THAT show that made me want to act for the rest of my life.

TITL: Can you recall your very first audition? 

DP: Yes! Ha! My very first audition was for the middle school production of Aladdin. I played Halima, Jafar’s evil sister. It was like pulling teeth to get me to audition for this role. I never wanted to be an actor growing up, and was super shy as a child. My audition song was “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill.

TITL: Which auditions, looking back on them, do you feel went really well or that you struggled with? 

DP: The reason I ended up in Los Angeles is because I auditioned for a production at the Geffen Playhouse called Barbecue by Robert O’Hara. At the time of the auditions, I was still living in Chicago and actually flew up to L.A. to be seen for the project. It was a risky decision and I would not recommend actors doing that, but I knew I had to be on point! I also knew if I was going to move to Los Angeles, I needed a job! Barbecue was one of my best auditions in L.A. Recently, I ran into Colman Domingo and he said: Danielle, you just walked in with your blue dress and commanded our attention. Working with Colman and the cast members was a dream realized. It was an honor to be included in that production.

My most memorable audition that I struggled with also happened in Los Angeles. I was going in for the role of a nurse on a sitcom. A lot of auditions in L.A. happen in “bungalows” which are really just trailers on the studio lots. I only bring this up, because the walls in most audition rooms are extremely thin so you can hear another actors’ entire audition. There was a young woman who went in before me, and her audition was so fantastic that the casting director actually booked her for the project IN THE ROOM! The entire waiting room, full of actors, heard the casting director call this woman’s agent to say the actor had booked it. However, in the waiting room, chaos ensued. People began to leave the audition and I had no clue what to do because I was NEXT! As soon as the actor left the audition room all I heard was: “Danielle Pinnock come on in.”  It was my worst audition to date. I forgot all of the lines and was just unmotivated to even give my all because I knew there was no chance of me getting booked on that project.

TITL: How did you hear about the role of Ms. Ingram for Young Sheldon? What was/is it about the character that made you want to audition for the role?

DP: Funny enough, this was a same-day audition. My manager called me on a Thursday morning and I had three-hours to prepare the sides for an Untitled project. I initially went in for the music-teacher and then Nikki Valko, the casting director, asked me to read for a brand new character they created that week “Ms. Ingram.” It was refreshing to see that casting was considering me, a plus-sized African American woman to play the mathematics teacher. Ms. Ingram is one of my favorite characters to play because she is so quirky, hilarious and extremely no-nonsense.

TITL: The show has proven to be a HUGE success in the US and is also popular here in the UK. Did you or your fellow cast members ever expect the show to get the response and reaction it has? 

DP: It’s surreal! This show is a hit internationally and I’ve never, in my entire career, been a part of such a phenomenon. Chuck Lorre is a genius and absolutely has the Midas touch when it comes to creating successful television! Working with the creators Chuck Lorre and Steve Molaro has been a dream come true. My mom and I were in the grocery store and someone stopped us and said “That’s Ms. Ingram, Oh My God!” In the pilot, my character Ms. Ingram talks about attending Oral Roberts University and the school sent me a gift! I went to graduate school at Birmingham School of Acting UK, now known as the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, so it’s really cool for my friends, family and professors to see it overseas as well!

Aside from it’s obvious TBBT connection, what do you think it is about Young Sheldon that has attracted so many people to watch, and keep watching, it?

DP: The show is hilarious and the main cast give masterful performances. Iain Armitage who plays Sheldon Cooper is a brilliant young performer and is such a joy to work alongside. His portrayal of Sheldon Cooper is honest and relatable.

TITL: You’ve also appeared in Scandal and This Is Us. How important to you is it that you’re able to take on a variety of roles that really put your abilities to the test, and with that in mind, what’s your dream role? Which show would you most like to appear in and why?

DP: Working on those two shows was incredible. I was able to work on Scandal with the genius Kerry Washington; the legendary Viola Davis was the cherry on an already delicious sundae! I’ve had the opportunity to play some fantastic roles both in theatre and on-screen. To be honest, I don’t know what my dream role would be. There are so many great shows out right now. My favorites at the moment: Good Girls, Atlanta, How To Get Away With Murder and SMILF. 

TITL: The entertainment industry is cut throat and competitive, so what advice would you give to anyone looking to make their mark on it? Is there any one piece of advice you were once given that you still look back on?

DP: A colleague of mine once said: “In this industry, you must learn to be plural.” In this industry, especially nowadays, you have to be multi-faceted. This is why there is an uprising of artists creating their own content now.

TITL: Away from TV, you’re an accomplished writer/playwright, and are passionate about creating productions that address life, living and the many issues that come with it. Does your work in that field ever cross over into your acting work and vice-versa?

DP: Absolutely. I’m actually developing an improvised Instagram series with my friend, LaNisa Frederick called Hashtag Booked. Hashtag Booked is a hilarious, raw, and shocking portrayal of what happens during the short period of time in the audition waiting room.  These “characters” are based on real-life experiences.

TITL: How are you finding your role as a vocal activist for body positivity impacting both yourself and those around you? How did you first get involved and would you like to see more individuals, especially those in the public eye, using their status to speak out about important matters as you are?

DP: The first play I ever wrote was a solo show called Body/Courage. Body/Courage was created from over 300 interviews I conducted worldwide, and it was an exploration on body acceptance. This project changed my life. The show is about my journey to find my own beauty through the voices of others. The cool thing about the show is that it introduced a constellation of characters grappling with diverse body issues including weight, illness, disability, skin color, aging, and gender transition. It was this show that got me involved in the body positivity movement. Body/Courage, allowed me to find a courage in myself that I didn’t know I possessed. The body positivity movement already has some fierce voices and it can always use more so I would encourage others to speak out.

TITL: Are there any other plans or projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?

DP: This summer, I’ll be releasing an interview-style podcast called SHOOK discussing true stories of mental health in the industry. I’ve also been asked to be a guest contributor for Shondaland, so check out my essay I’ll be writing for them in the next few weeks.

TITL: Finally then, given that the industry is ever changing, sometimes at a pace even fans can’t keep up with, where do you think the business will go and be 5-10 years from now? What would you like to see happen and do you think that such things will? 

DP: My hope for the industry in 5-10 years is that we can begin to bring more stories by women of color to the forefront. I want to see more women of color on set, I want to see more women of color in the writers room, I want to see more women of color as producers and directors. I want to see women of color win in this industry now and in the future.

Young Sheldon is currently airing on E4 in the UK on Wednesdays at 8.30PM. You can keep up to date with Danielle Pinnock via her Twitter. Header photo credit: Joe Mazza.

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TAMI STRONACH REFLECTS ON ‘THE NEVER ENDING STORY’ & TELLS ALL ABOUT HER NEW PROJECTS 46

Catapulted to fame in the 1980’s thanks to her role as the Childlike Empress in The Never Ending Story, Tami Stronach is a name few film fans of a certain era have ever, or will likely ever forget. Having recently launched several exciting new projects, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Tami to find out how the Childlike role impacted her life and career, which one venue she’d most like to perform in and what’s left to tick off her bucket list.

TITL: How does it feel to know that The Never Ending Story is still as well loved now as it was back upon its original release?

Tami Stronach: It’s incredible. Obviously I am surprised by the staying power, very pleasantly. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated it. I think the story, which was translated from Michael Ende’s book, has these really powerful messages. All the whimsey and magical characters add to it, but underneath all of it, there really is a depth to the story. For me the film is about valuing the child within us…In really dark times, it is really our ability to imagine our way forward that is going to save us. Historically, I think that is always true. The people who can vision a better future and vision a way forward manage to see doors and openings that the rest of us don’t.

TITL: What do you think it is about TNES that makes it so timelessly appealing?

TS: This notion that in each of us resides the power to imagine a better world, a kinder world that we can actually manifest if we believe in our vision enough. That is a powerful message and I think it is one we all need to hear so we don’t give in to apathy.

TITL: Do you have any favourite memories from your time on set/with the cast and crew?

TS: I spent a lot of time with the make-up artists and puppet designers in beer gardens when we were not working. They were really fun adults to hang out with – creative and warm. I learned how to flip coasters and do all kinds of tricks because obviously I wasn’t drinking beer.

TITL: How did landing the role of the Childlike Empress ultimately impact your career? Would it be fair to say that the role is and was your career defining moment?

TS: It definitely is what I am best known for since film has the capacity to reach such wide audience and its very fun to be part of something that means so much to so many people. I view The Never Ending Story as a wonderful defining doorway into what would become a lifelong commitment to a career in the arts. Any opportunity I get to be creative is something I will jump at and I’m happy to do that across a lot of different platforms, dance, choreography, theater, music, puppetry, audio recording–in a small theater or in a massive one–on camera or off.

TITL: You’ve never truly ‘left’ Hollywood having then gone on to do dance and theater work in NYC, but you’re back now, having launched the Paper Canoe Company, which specialises in family friendly work. Where did the concept for it come from and what’s the ultimate aim?

TS: Paper Canoe was something that I founded with my husband after my daughter was born. We wanted to come back to family entertainment because we saw first-hand how impactful stories were to shaping our daughter’s worldview. Also it was something we could do as a team–pool our collective experiences in the arts and make stories that would be meaningful to our daughter, her friends and beyond.

TITL: You’ve also got several other projects in the pipeline including a series of collaborations with indie folk/rock artists in Williamsburg, which marks your first ‘return’ to music since your ‘Faerie Queen’ album in the 80’s. How and why did you decide/feel that now was the right time to work on the music side of your career some more?

TS: After 20 years of being a choreographer in contemporary dance it feels slightly mad to just dive into all this new terrain – but having a kid is a great chance to relive some of your childhood. I’m actually going back to my roots with singing and it is really fun. This project is about how music can be a unique kind of storytelling. No one is making narrative albums any more. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to make singles because everyone is streaming and shuffling playlists etc. But I’ve never been so into following the rules of what you are ‘supposed’ to do. Greg and Jake and I dreamed this. And we’re doing it. Beanstalk Jack has won a couple of awards. We’re really proud of it.

TITL: With so many projects ongoing and in the pipeline, how to you find the time to prepare and be part of them all? Do you try and plan as much of each day as you can or are you more of a ‘let’s wake up and see where the day takes me’ kind of woman? 

TS: You have to prioritize what project you will focus on when. I tend to set a goal for a three month block of time and then evaluate where to go next. It’s a lot of juggling for sure but it keeps things interesting which I like.

TITL: What can you tell me about the live theatrical experience you’re hoping to unveil later this year? Are you excited about getting back on stage and performing the new material/production to audiences and how far and wide would you like the experience to go in terms of locations and venues?

TS: I love performing for live audiences and I’m looking forward to finding out how to build some visual support for the musical numbers for shows in the NY area. But to be honest, I’m actually focusing more on digital content right now…making a video, recording an audio book, turning Light into a podcast….maybe even creating a short film.

TITL: If you could perform in one venue anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

TS: It would be BAM Harvey. There is something so magical about that theater. Whenever I go there I feel overwhelmed with excitement even if the show I saw in the space wasn’t my cup of tea. Some spaces just make us feel awe – this is one of them. It’s both majestic and rustic…Sometimes architecture has a way of holding a group of people that just encourages everyone to feel connected. Theater at its best is aiming for that same connection.

TITL: Given that you were thrust into the spotlight at a time when social media and the digital entertainment era was still just a dream, how do you feel about social media and the impact it has on the entertainment industry as a whole? Is it something you use much of or are you more traditional in the ways you prefer to interact with people?

TS: Like everything powerful, there are two sides to the coin. I think that on the one hand, social media has allowed people to connect in unprecedented ways that I really value. I met my press agent Clint on twitter, and have made some other great friendships there. Now there really is an opportunity to have more of a direct exchange with people who you are really curious about following.

On the flip side, I think some issues are genuinely complex and can’t be thoughtfully or productively discussed in soundbites, and there is also a temptation to be more cruel in a format where you don’t have to deal with the repercussions of how your actions are affecting someone else were they right in front of you. I worry about a world where we are looking to oversimplify everything and the cost of that. If social media can be used as a tool to bring people together so that there is genuine engagement and face to face time as a by-product of that exchange then I think we are heading in the right direction.

TITL: What advice would you give to those actors/actresses and performers who are just starting out and hoping to emulate the careers of their idols? Is there one piece of advice you were once given that you still reflect on today?

TS: I think it’s important to pursue your passions but to allow space for your career to unfold in ways that you may not have anticipated. There is a balance between being determined and rigorous and being interested in and open to unexpected avenues.

TITL: Finally then, having already achieved so much, are there any other plans and ambitions you want to fulfil? What’s left to tick off on your personal and professional bucket lists?

TS: One of the values I inherited from my mother was to prioritize growing and learning. There is always a sense that if you were fulfilled and interested, that was the most important thing above how much money the project garnered or how many people liked it. Of course those external accolades matter and can be a useful benchmark in terms of making sure what you are making is relevant to other people. I do think it’s challenging to stick to your own sense of purpose and to live an authentic life if the things you value are less mainstream.

What excites me in the industry right now is how good TV is getting. Netflix shows, HBO shows, and all the streaming content coming down the pipe has transformed kinds of storytelling we can expect from those platforms. I’m also excited to see more women producers and writers and generally new voices cropping up in the industry which are escaping formula and offering us some really exciting shows. After having been out of the commercial acting game for so long, I’d love to do another big film or two at this stage of my life and tick that off my bucket list. But more importantly, I hope I’m lucky enough to keep being creative on a daily basis and inspiring and encouraging others to be creative as well.

You can find out more about the Paper Canoe Company by visiting the website and to keep up to date with Tami Stronach, you can follow her on Twitter.

PARKER MATTHEWS CHATS “HIT AND RUN” & HIS FAVOURITE ARTISTS 32

As an advocate of suicide prevention and anti-bullying campaigns, Parker Matthews is an artist determined to spread positivity to the masses via his music. His latest track “Hit and Run”, with its sleek production, a chorus that is hard to get out of your head and an impressive, smooth vocal is just one example of how he’s going about this, and with plans already in the pipeline regarding his next few singles, Parker spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about being influenced by Christina Aguilera, his thoughts on social media and the one stage he’d most like to perform on.

TITL: Please introduce yourself if you would.

Parker Matthews: What’s up everyone? I’m Parker Matthews and thank you for the interview!

TITL: What would you say is your unique selling point as an artist?

PM: I would say the tone of voice is a unique selling point for any artist. Sounding different, and being different, are two things that really make you stand out.

TITL: Has music always been your career plan and path or were their other avenues you looked into?

PM: Music has always been my dream, but it wasn’t always my career plan. I followed my parents’ wishes and earned a degree in business after high school, and began working in the corporate world, but was absolutely miserable. I really felt like I wasn’t doing what I was put on this earth to do, and one day, I up and quit my job, and packed my bags for LA. Since that point, I’ve never looked back because the only direction to go in is forward.

TITL: Which band or artist might you say you sound most similar to? Which acts have influenced and inspired the music you make?

PM: There are so many artists that I’m influenced by, but overall, I grew up listening to mostly female artists.  Christina Aguilera, who is from the same neighborhood as I am, was always an artist and a person I gravitated towards. I connect so much with her music, and love hitting those high notes, just as much as she does.

TITL: Tell me about your new single “Hit And Run.” What’s the story behind it?

PM: “Hit and Run” is about not being the person who only has one night stands. I, as a person, like to make connections on a deeper level, and want more than a ‘one-time thing’. So many of us are hurt from past relationships, or times we wore our heart on our sleeves and someone crushed it, but just because that has happened in the past, doesn’t mean it will happen again in the future. Every situation is different, and that’s the beauty of it.

TITL: You’ve also just released the video for the track. How did you come up with the concept?

PM: When I wrote “Hit and Run”, I always imagined being at a house party and rocking it out. When my team and I found the space, which was located in DTLA, I immediately fell in love and knew we had to shoot the video there.

TITL: How did you meet with the team, including director Nicholas Wendle, who helped you make the video?

PM: I’ve met and hand selected the team I work with through colleagues in the industry, and by pure fate.  Funny enough, I met my writing partner and producer, Darren, through a Tinder date. At the time, Darren was living with his best friend -who I was on a date with – and we ended up meeting up with Darren later that night, and the rest is history.

TITL: Are there any fun stories or moments from the shoot you can share with us?

PM: Haha, yes! When we were filming the pool table shots, I wasn’t paying attention how close I was to the edge during a take, and rolled off the pool table and hit the floor. It hurt, but was so funny.

TITL: Do you think you might move into directing music videos at some point in your career?

PM: Being a director for music videos isn’t my calling, but I do like to come up with my own video concepts.

TITL: Would you agree that some music videos can, and do, have a more powerful impact than a song itself, because of the visuals they display and the messages they get across?

PM: Oh absolutely. A video really brings a song to life in so many ways; through color, fashion, choreography, etc. a song can really shine for a music video.

TITL: As a victim of bullying, you’re now a proud supporter of anti-bullying campaigns and organisations and an advocate for suicide prevention via The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. How much of an impact are you finding putting your support behind such causes is having, and do you wish more individuals in the public eye would stand up and support great causes as you are doing?

PM: I find that if you can stand up and tell your story, it’s living proof that it does get better. My favorite memory of standing with these organizations was last year, when I was in Sydney for Mardi Gras. I met with a local non-profit the focused on LGBT youth and suicide prevention. I was able to talk to a group of kids, share some laughs, and hopefully brought some light into their lives. Giving back is so important. So many people in the entertainment industry have done a great job of making their voices heard, so I think people need to keep it up!

TITL: If you had to say one thing to those struggling with bullying and/or mental health issues, what would you say? 

PM: My favorite quote that is so important to remember is, ‘Why try to blend in, when you were born to stand out’. We are all unique people, with a different story to tell. In life, if you can always remember to dance like nobody’s watching, and have fun, then you can achieve it all. There will always be someone in the corner who might not like you, or better yet, put you down because they envy what you have, but you must remember to brush that negativity off and shine on.

TITL: Music wise, what’s next for you? Is there an EP or album in the works? Are there any performances in the pipeline?

PM: I have so much more material this year and I’ll be in the studio all summer. We have some great locations for some upcoming video shoots, and I am choosing to release the next several songs as singles. They are all so different from each other, and I truly want them to be stand-alone pieces of art.

TITL: If you could play one venue anywhere in the world with three other bands or artists who can be living or dead, who would they be and where would you perform?

PM: The Super Bowl, hands down. I’d gladly share that stage with Gaga, Christina, and Jessie J – all such amazing women with such talent.

TITL: How is and has social media impacting your career? Are you a frequent user of sites like Facebook and Twitter and do you think there are any downsides to the businesses’ apparent ‘reliance’ on it in terms of earning a band or artist more widespread attention?

PM: I am a frequent user of all mainstream social media. I think social media is great, because I’ve been able to connect with many fans around the world. Without social media, it would be a lot more difficult to do so and reach people around the globe.

TITL: Finally, then – music, unlike several other things and industries, has stood the test of time. Why do you think that is and personally, where do you see the industry going in future? What messages would you like to see the industry give out to the world, in terms of not just music, but more global inclusion and connectivity?

PM: Music, like all art, should be timeless. Sure, there are songs that follow trends, but then you have others that can truly stand the test of time. Music is all about emotion. We, as people, have different stories and pasts, but we all share the same feelings of emotion. That’s the beauty of music: reliability. Music can heal and inspire someone to change. It can and does instill confidence in a person, and bring out the passion they have stored within. I think in the future, music will continue to add sounds and ad libs that are borrowed from other cultures, and I think music will continue to be ‘real’ with the lyrics written and the delivery of the recordings. Thanks for the fun chat!

Check out the video for “Hit and Run” below and for more information on Parker Matthews, visit his website, give his page a like on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.