Many people think you have to live in L.A. or New York City to make it as an actress. The truth is that one of Hollywood's brightest stars (Kirsten Dunst) grew up along the Jersey Shore, and if Jessi Rand has her wish she'll be shining along Kirsten someday soon.
Rand was born and raised in Long Branch and trained at Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts. She's an actress, model and a singer who is currently working on a dance record. But she wants to make one thing perfectly clear - acting is her passion and she'll do whatever it takes to make it. She says that this commitment to her future really started for her at Rutgers.
"I never truly was able to pursue what I had an interest in until I was starting to go away to college," she explained. "I knew that I wanted to be an actress and wanted to pursue theater. I always had an interest in the arts (piano, painting, poetry, writing, singing) and I've grown up in the arts, but it finally began to take shape when I started theater work at Rutgers."
The years of training are starting to pay off through a pair of roles with the New York based director Frank Calo. She's got a major role in the upcoming release Johnny Postal and will be starring in a second film with him next year. Rand describes working with Calo.
"As soon as I read the script I knew that I wanted to be part of this project," said Rand. "Frank Calo is not only a talented individual, but he has so much weight in the industry. And he's real. He's not cutthroat. He really respects a person as an individual. He'll push you but not in a hard way. He gets what he wants out of you by not putting you down. He doesn't say, 'you're doing it the wrong way' he'll say, 'maybe you should try it this way.'"
She describes Johnny Postal as a morbid comedy - almost a dark comedy. There's suspense and laughs throughout the film.
"My character's not the main character, but she ends up saving the day," adds Rand.
Judging from Calo's previous works, the film is sure to get noticed around the industry. Calo has previously worked with such names as Billy Zane (The Believer), Robert DeNire (Godsend), Demi Moore (Now and Then), and recently shot The Cookout (filmed entirely in New Jersey) with Queen Latifah and Danny Glover.
Rand says she thinks that major actors are choosing to work in independent films because indie films are hipper and have more stories to tell.
"When you see an actor take the time out of their schedule to either get less pay or no pay to do an indie film it's because they really love the script and want to do it just for the fun of it," she said. "And you know that's a good actor. I have more respect for actors to actually take that route. I think the indie way is a great way to go regardless of whether you're a big name actor or someone just starting out."
Rand has perserved over the years while roles were hard to come by. She doesn't believe that anyone really has it come to them easy. The idea of an overnight sensation is hard for her to believe because of what each actor has to go through. It's the daily struggles which she believes has made her stronger and will help her in the end.
"You have to deal with a lot of bull shit in this industry," said Rand. "If you can't deal with that then this is not the right pursuit for you. I dealt with a lot of rejection. I still do. But I know what I want to do and I'm not going to give up until I get there. It's about loving the art. It's not about becoming a celebrity. It's all about having an appreciation and a drive to do what you feel like you were put here to do."
Her resume has been dotted with appearances in indie films like Leon Twelve and television shows like Sex and the City, but the release of Johnny Postal may change all that. She works in the city as a make-up artist, a job that allows her to have a very flexible schedule. Acting roles and casting calls take precedence over everything else for her.
Rand doesn't think that living in New Jersey (or outside of New York City) hurts her career in any way. Using people like Kirsten Dunst as an example, she believes that it's not where a person lives or where they come from that's important - it's what type of drive is inside them.
"I think it's the same for people all around," said Rand. "Because whether I'm a local girl from New Jersey or I'm from L.A., regardless it has to do with the person themself. It has to do with their drive in the industry. Somebody like me could have less trouble than someone who has been living in L.A. and pursuing their career with all of the right connections. It really has to do with your motivation and your drive.
It has to do with how outgoing you are, and how well you are to deal with rejection. I think it's the same all the way around. I don't think anybody has more of an easier way than anybody else. It has to deal with how much you want it and how bad you want it."
When Rand talks about acting, you can tell that she wants it bad. She's been acting since she can remember. One time in third grade she was chosen to play Peter Pan out of 300 kids. She still remembers an article being written about her in the local paper. While she's not vain, it's easy to see that she enjoys the attention. She's truly at home on stage or in the spotlight.
Her career is definitely helped by an attitude to do whatever it takes to get to the next level. Rand is comfortable taking any role - however big or small, pay or no pay - to simply put her face in front of as many people as she can. She knows the cards are stacked against everyone with her dream, but there's always a chance. And she intends to make the most of every chance she gets.
"If I am given an opportunity to do something that I feel I can really portray myself as a strong actress regardless of where that film is going people will see me," said Rand. "I'm sure that somebody is going to be out there and will say 'wow, she's a really good performer' or 'I could really use her for this role'. I'm ready to go wherever it takes me. I'm not closed off to taking any kind of opportunity because I feel it's all steps and building blocks. You do one thing that could lead you to two or three or four things. It's a chain reaction. Wherever my craft takes me, it takes me. I'm willing to take the ride."
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.