Every day is a new adventure for Carla Renata, who set a record recently as the only actress to have recurring roles in three network television series at the same time – Hart of Dixie, Mr. Box Office and Shake It Up. She has also appeared in shows like Frasier, New Girl, Modern Family, Raising Hope and The Neighbors.
While Carla has more than excelled in her television career thus far, she also has a formidable background in theater, as she played alongside Matthew Broderick in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Avenue Q and other plays, as well as Queen’s We Will Rock You show in Vegas.
Additionally, the Howard University alumni has put her broadcast degree to work as the voice of Lisa Lynn in Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned, as well as Kinect’s Disneyland Adventures. She is also an active blogger and radio host, and has her hand in multiple new projects.
For the past four years, Carla Renata’s character Susie has dished out tips in a hair salon, but it’s really her own hair that takes the cake when it comes to maintaining under hot lights and long days. We found some time with this vivacious starlet to find out more about her philosophies in work, life and beauty.
You’re constantly moving around, taking on new characters with new looks. What are some of the way that you keep your own hair healthy?
Carla Renata: I condition my hair for like an hour, once a week. I make sure I get to my beautician to trim my hair and do whatever else she’s gonna do with it. About once a month I go in and have her do that. That’s about it. When I feel like my hair is a little damaged or less than stellar, I have a whole plethora of wigs that I choose from and use, because a wig never has a bad day. I kind of just roll with it and do that.
Tell us about some of the products that you use and feel strongly about.
CR: This is going to be a surprise probably, but I use Pantene products quite often. They’re accessible, and you can get them everywhere and when you’re traveling and doing what I do for a living, you can’t get too invested in very specialized brands because it’s hard to find them. Sometimes they ship them to the wrong place and it’s just problematic a lot of the time. So I try to use well known brands that you can get anywhere, no matter where you are in the world.
I use Pantene’s conditioner and shampoo. I like it mostly because you only have to use a little of it – a little goes a long way. A dime size portion in your hair lathers it up really nicely, and it doesn’t leave your hair dry. Having African American hair, our hair tends to be a little dry and brittle, so when you use shampoos and conditioners and hair products, you have to have something that has a little moisture in it and not a lot of alcohol content. I’m always looking at the bottles making sure that whatever I use doesn’t have alcohol in it.
I do a hot oil treatment too. So I condition my hair, and then I’ll do that old school [Alberto] VO5 hot oil treatment with a little heating cap. It gives your hair a really natural sheen and glow that you don’t get with just naturally washing, shampooing, and conditioning your hair. I give myself a day to do all that stuff to my hair so that I don’t have to rush. If I do have to go somewhere, I know how to do it in a jiffy where I get the same results.
When you are on set, have you ever had some hairstylists that just couldn’t make it work for you, where you just did it yourself?
CR: Early on in my career, all the time. It boggled my mind and I was quite amazed that they would have hair and makeup people that didn’t know how to deal with Black skin or Black hair, which kind of would annoy me to the enth degree.
I’ve had situations where they’ve burned my hair, or they had me looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost in the makeup department. I learned to bring my own makeup with me and I will wear a wig, because if they mess up my little $20 wig, it’s a $20 wig. It’s not my hair that will never grow back.
A lot of the time, especially in the winter, even if you are in a warmer climate like L.A., the air is very dry. What are some of the things you do with your skin to keep it moisturized so that you don’t have issues?
CR: I use a skin care system called Obagi skincare, and it’s a thick bottle regimen that you use. It comes with a nighttime conditioner and daytime conditioner for your skin. Basically what it does is it helps gives your skin an even glow and color.
A lot of people just have discolored skin. Their cheeks might be a different color, around their chin or their mouth might be another color, forehead another color or they have blotchy skin. The Obagi skincare system helps to even out your skin tone and make it all one skin tone. The nighttime moisturizer that they provide in that little skincare system really moisturizes your skin to the point where it feels nice and smooth and supple, just as much so when you got to sleep as when you wake up.
But, it’s a little on the pricey side. For people who can’t get the Obagi skincare system, the Neutrogena products are the ones that I use too. Those are very good as well and are really inexpensive and affordable.
Let’s talk about your TV work… You’ve been in a lot of shows! If you can name the top three jobs you’ve ever had, what would they be?
CR: The very first one I ever did on Frasier. Just because it was my first sitcom, it was with Kelsey Grammar, who I adore, and he was lovely. I was like a little co-star and had my two little lines, they were funny and he really liked me. When we got to tape day, he sent me a bouquet of flowers and said “Have a great show”. It was lovely because it kind of sets you up because if you’re not used to that, you kind of think that every time you show up to set the star of the show is gonna send you flowers. [laughs]He kind of spoiled me.
Second would be a show called The Neighbors on ABC. I wasn’t on it all the time. I had a huge guest star where I played the sister to the girl who played Jackie Joyner Kersee, her name is Toks Olagundoye. Toks and I tested for the Jackie Joyner Kersee part. It was her, myself, and Robin Givensm and they hired Toks. They brought me on to play hers sister and while we were in rehearsal to tape the episode, Toks and I discovered that we shared the same birthday. She’s one of my dearest friends to this day.
I love that guest star spot because I met Toks, we had an instant bond that’s still to this day. When I tested for that role and didn’t get it, it was communicated to me that if the show got picked up, they would bring me back to play her sister, and they kept their word. They didn’t make me audition for it, they brought me in to play her sister, and they treated me like a million bucks. It was great.
And then Hart of Dixie of course, because how could not have Hart of Dixie as your favorite show? I never laughed so hard as I did working on that show. I used to love going to work there. We laugh our buns of all the time to the point where tears are streaming down our faces. It was the best place to work. Leila Gerstein, the creator of the show, I love here because she treated everybody the same. No one was more or less important in her mind.
I remember one day in particular where I had done one episode and I had a lot of coverage, and I came back the next episode and I think I had one line. I was really salty about having this one line, lie I cannot begin to tell you. I cussed out everybody on my way to work that morning in my car to get it out my system, and by the time I got there I was good. I get on set and Leila walks up to me and says “Hey! Remember me?” I’m like “Yes Leila Gerstein, creator of Hart of Dixie I know who you are.” [laughs]
I’ll never forget this as long as I live. She looked at me and said “I know I don’t have a lot for you to do today, but I’m so grateful that you have decided to come in and work here. We just love you and I’m really grateful that we have a talent of your caliber on the show.” I looked at her and said “Well Miss Leila Gerstein, I’ll come thru here and say no lines if you want me to, just because you said that!”
So you’re the only actress to have recurring roles on three different network shows simultaneously. What was that like?
CR: It was fun! I don’t know anybody that would ever get the opportunity to experience that, but I did. It was amazing, fun, crazy, and it was the kind of life as a working actor that you dream of. Having your life so busy by being consumed by what you do that you don’t have time to think about anything else. You don’t have time to be negative; you don’t have time to think about who got this part over here or who got that part over here. You’re just concentrating on doing your best work and making sure that you bring it and have fun with the people that you are working with. As we know in this business, nothing lasts forever. You have to be in the moment and enjoy where you are.
You’ve done work with Grand Theft Auto – what was it like to be a part of such an iconic game series? Do you enjoy that kind of voiceover work?
CR: It was a lot of fun. It was fast and furious and to the point, which I kinda like. When I did it, I wasn’t aware of how huge Grand Theft Auto was until after I did it. That was another job I didn’t audition for. I was on Broadway at the time doing Avenue Q, and either the producers of the game or someone that had written that particular episode of the game came to see Avenue Q, and decided that they wanted me to do this part. I said “Cool. I’m down for that” and I went in and did it.
As far as that type of work it’s very difficult doing voiceovers for video games. There’s a lot of screaming, there’s a lot of yelling, and you’re doing it for hours at a time. Of all the voiceovers gigs that I do, that’s probably the most difficult, and you have to treat your sessions for that like an athlete would train for the Olympics. You have to prepare, and you really have to be disciplined about how you treat your body and your voice the night before those sessions or you could blow your voice out for a quite some time.
A lot of the times you don’t know until you’re in it. I didn’t know that video games was that kind of genre of voiceover where there was a lot of yelling and screaming and improving lines. It’s a lot, and you have to be really sharp and on top of your game, or they will replace you and use someone else. It’s no joke. They’ll send you through your paces of you doing it, but if you’re not giving them what they need, they’ll say “Thank you, that’s all we need for today.” And you’ll go home and they’ll bring somebody else in to redo what you did. Then they’ll play what you did to make sure that the person they hired to replace you doesn’t repeat the mistake that you did. I’ve been the person to replace somebody, so that’s how I know. [Laughs]
If you can go back in time any television show or movie or play, what would it be?
CR: I’m one of those people who’s always leery of remakes. Because some of the things that were originally done were done so well, and they’re so iconic that I feel that they should be left alone. It’s like why mess with history? I’m saying that because I know for a fact there’s been some talk in Hollywood about redoing very popular miniseries that’s iconic and them rebooting it and its one of those things where you can redo it and it can be even better than the original, but you could do it and it could be not so lovely.
I’ve seen a lot of projects that have been redone that were iconic that when they tried to redo it, it just wasn’t the same. So I think for those reasons I would just try to stay away from that. It’s different when you talk about plays. When you’re talking about film and television projects, there’s just some film and TV projects that are so iconic and well-loved and done so incredibly, impeccably fabulous the first time around, that you just don’t want to mess with it.
If there was play to do over, man there’s so many of them I can’t think of just one. I think if I could do any female role in an August Wilson play… I would love to do that just to be able to tackle the material. There’s prejudice between musical theater performers and performers who just do plays. They don’t like to hire musical theater performers for plays and vice versa, unless you’ve proven you have the chops to handle it. As a musical theater doll, I would love to have the opportunity to tackle some August Wilson pieces just because it would be a challenge, and I would be able to grow and learn from it in a way that I haven’t had the opportunity before.
What are your goals for the next year?
CR: Well my goal for this year is to book a pilot for television. In the next year I’m hoping that me and my writing partner are able to sell our own project that we’ve been writing together, and I’ll hopefully have a little more creative control. I have this movie review blog that I do that’s really sort of taking off and having a life of its own. I did some stuff at Sundance with that and I’ve done several film festivals with it, and the Oscars with it for a second year in a row. That’s turning out to be kinda cute.
I just take one day at time and do the work on myself so when the right opportunity comes my way, I’ll be prepared for it and I won’t be caught by surprise.