By: Giovannie Espiritu
I originally started as a voice-over actress after a fluke call from a telemarketer who said that I had a really interesting voice and should get into “voice-overs.” At the time, I had no clue what a voice-over even was – I just knew that I had to find a job because I had a little one-year-old boy and my husband at the time quit his job. It was a really crazy situation at the time —I was in an abusive marriage and part of a Christian cult (although it took me a while to understand what I was going through was abusive… but more on that later)— which is why I was having random conversations with telemarketers since they were the only people from the “outside world” that I could talk to.
Long story short, I looked up what “voice-overs” were on the internet, cobbled together some remedial information, and sent a really unprofessional recording to the biggest agency I could find in San Francisco. They ended up calling me in for an interview with their agency and sent me on my first audition that very same day. I ended up booking the job and recording it on the same day. It was wild. I remember doing a horrible Australian accent and playing a young boy in some random video game.
Because it was so unexpected, my husband (at the time) and I took it as a “sign from God” that I was supposed to continue in this industry. I started taking acting classes, which I had to get permission from my then-husband to take. He agreed since I was the only one bringing in any income at the time.
We would drive four hours each way from Grizzly Flats to San Francisco for auditions and classes. During this acting class, I started becoming more exposed to people that weren’t in our church community and it was then that I started to get little inklings of that the world that I was living in was a little off. My fellow students started expressing their concern at the control that my then-husband was exhibiting and how scared I was of upsetting him. One of them slipped me a book called, “Free Yourself from Abusive Relationships,” which I had to hide, but I remember checking nearly all the boxes.
It was a process leaving that relationship, but it was one of the ways that I give credit to acting. Acting became my savior at the time. I had a place to process these feelings and a community that was supportive of what I was going through. I threw myself into class and work.
I booked one of my first roles in the feature film, “American Yearbook,” directed by Brian Ging which was about school shootings. The role was originally written for a Caucasian teenager, but I ended up playing the role of Amanda, the love interest and voice of reason to the main protagonist of the movie. I guess that when I booked the lead female role so early in my career, it gave me hope that I would have a place in the industry.
Soon after, I signed with my first Los Angeles agent, Kim Dorr at Defining Artists who started the careers of actresses I had admired like Jessica Alba and America Ferrera. I drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back every time they would send me on an audition.
The first role that I booked to get my SAG card seemed like a gift from the heavens as well. Casting director Sara Isaacson called me in from work that he had seen in a workshop in San Francisco, and I read for one of the new medical students on the long-running show ER. I auditioned on Tuesday, found out the I booked the role on a Wednesday, and was back in Los Angeles for a wardrobe fitting on Thursday. The director on my first union set was a woman, Leslie Linka Glatter. One of the most awesome things about this booking was that my patient was being played by another San Francisco actor, James Carraway, who was one of my friends. He grounded me in what could have been a nerve-wracking introduction into Hollywood. I ended up playing Med Student Ludlow on ER for four episodes and remember really enjoying the company of Mekhi Phifer, Sara Gilbert, and Maura Tierney who were regulars on the show and I was star struck by guest stars like Alexandria Billings and Cynthia Nixon.
Because I couldn’t move to Los Angeles at the time (since I had a child at home), my agent decided not to renew my contract. It was disappointing, but I focused my career on jobs in the Bay Area and starting a school for young actors. In 2008, I began the SF Actors Workshop, which is now the Hollywood Actors Workshop. Some of my notable alumni students include Emmy Nominee Willam Lipton (Cameron on General Hospital) and the Espina Sisters (Hosts of Dreamworks’ Life Hacks for Kids). I help kids, teens, and young adults get their start in the industry and help their parent navigate the sometimes confusing business part of it while avoiding all the scams.
As an actor, some of my favorite Bay Area jobs include:
Fiona’s Script, a drama about a shy bisexual woman who struggles with love, friendships, and her career. It was on this job I met Florencia Manovil, who has been a mentor to me and a really dear friend. I ended up getting nominated for Best Supporting Actress alongside Academy Award nominees Alfre Woodard and Amy Irving at Method Fest.
The Vagina Monologues – I directed benefit productions at the Herbst Theater for three years. It put me into contact with CORA, a domestic violence agency where I sat on the Board of Directors for two years. Being able to help other victims of domestic violence helped me in my own healing process. I also got to meet Kamala Harris, who is a badass role model as well.
Dyke Central – This series took a while to get off the ground. Florencia Manovil shot the pilot and tried to shop it around, but because the leads are masculine-of-center, much of the feedback we were getting at the time was that the leads were “unf*ckable.” No joke. Florencia decided to self fund the rest of the season herself and I was brought on board as an Associate Producer, as well as playing the lead role of Gin, a Filipina genderqueer lothario. It’s gotten a ton of accolades as a top LGBTQ series to watch from places like Buzzfeed, Curve Magazine, Bust Magazine, Autostraddle, and Bitch Magazine. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime right now. I’m really proud of this one because we did it FIVE YEARS ago when NO ONE was talking about gender fluidity. Now it’s starting to become trendy in Hollywood to have non-binary and trans actors. I actually hope that it is more than trendy and becomes the new normal.
Even though I booked my first job in Los Angeles in 2004, I actually didn’t move to Los Angeles until three years ago. I didn’t realize how different the industry is down here than in the Bay Area. It is more competitive than I ever imagined since you are auditioning with the best of the best talent. But with the rise of talent like Awkwafina and the success of Crazy Rich Asians, being an Asian American actress in Hollywood is definitely easier today than when I started my career 15 years ago. We still need more women writers and directors of color to originate the roles for Asian Americans in the first place, which is why I’m learning to write, produce and direct more.
These days, I am keeping busy with a full plate of projects in different stages of development. I have a short film called, “Ultra-Feminist,” screening in the upcoming Outfest film festival which is the oldest film festival in Los Angeles and the preeminent LGBTQ film festival in the world, in post-production on a short that she wrote and directed called, “Ally3000,” and I just signed androgynous supermodel and activist Rain Dove to a feature film I wrote called, “Dis-Graced,” about a church-loving good girl who finds redemption through an unlikely friendship. My schedule is also swamped with press and interviews for “D-Railed” a horror/thriller that I filmed last year that is winning awards left and right on on the festival circuit. I play the role of Jackie, lowly train employee, and sci-fi icon Lance Henriksen plays my boss.
I’ve been extremely lucky thus far in my career, but If I could give my younger self any advice, I would tell myself to start writing roles for myself earlier. We need to learn to create the jobs and career that we want instead of asking for permission to create a life that we love.
Actress and filmmaker Giovannie Espiritu was nominated alongside Academy Award Nominees Alfre Woodard and Amy Irving for Best Supporting Actress at Method Fest for the Mynah Films feature film Fiona’s Script. Her primetime credits include a recurring role on ER (NBC), Bones (FOX), Gilmore Girls (ABC), and Trauma (NBC). She can currently be seen as the lead in the Amazon series, “Dyke Central,” which was featured in After Ellen, BuzzFeed, Bust Magazine and Curve Magazine as a top LGBTQ series to watch. As a filmmaker, she was featured in Elizabeth Banks’ WhoHaHa Media for her parody song, “An Introvert’s World,” and her storytelling has been featured in Ms. Magazine. A two-time Outfest Fusion Filmmaker, her short film, “Ultra-Feminist,” was awarded Honorable Mention.
She coaches kids/teens online nationwide through HollywoodActorsWorkshop.com and was just named as one of the top 40 Audition Coaches in Los Angeles by the Hollywood Winners Circle founded by Wendy Alane Wright, a top talent manager. Her students are represented by the top agencies in the Bay Area and Los Angeles and notable student alumni include William Lipton (Daytime Emmy Nominee, Cameron on General Hospital) and the Espina Sisters (Hosts of Dreamworks’ “Life Hacks for Kids on the Road”). In her spare time, she rock climbs and advocates for Domestic Violence Awareness/Prevention and LGBTQ equality. She has served on the Board of Directors for C.O.R.A. (a Bay Area domestic violence hotline and agency) and been awarded a Certificate of Recognition from the Senate for her community service.
Instagram 1: @giospirit2
Instagram 2: @hollywoodactorsworkshop