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"Persistence and Passion"; An Interview With Zahra Bentham of Netflix's Self Made

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Actress and Musician, Zahra Bentham has positioned herself over the years, as an artist to watch for. Amassing a significant body of work since her start in the industry, she's starred in several film and television productions such as Rookie Blue, Cracked, Private Eyes, Ransom, Save Me, Queen of The Morning Calm and White Lie, proving that with strong determination and a passion for your craft, the possibilities are endless.

In this interview, we had the opportunity to sit down with rising star Zahra Bentham to discuss her journey within the industry, how she prepares for a big role, and what she has planned for the future.

Tell us a little bit about your journey? What was your experience growing up in Toronto and how has it affected your interest in acting?

Haaaaay! My name is Zahra Bentham, born and raised in Toronto, Canada - specifically Durham and Scarborough.

I grew up going to a private school called Wishing Well Montessori and then went to Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts where I studied Drama Focus, Music Theatre and was in Dance Intensive for four and a half years. I wasn’t always in the arts though. I started as an athlete playing AA/AAA basketball, travelling to the states every weekend if not every other weekend. I was also heavily involved in sports at Wexford. At the time I was juggling about 4-5 days a week in the gym while being in intensive rehearsals for both Drama Focus and our Music Theatre program per semester. By grade 10 I had to make a choice on what to put my full focus on, so I chose the arts. By the end of Grade 10, I got myself an agent in Toronto and the rest is history.

Photographed by Vita Cooper

You've been cast in a number of stellar shows such as, Self Made and Spinning Out. What would you attribute your success to today?

Consistency and persistence. Honestly, it's about never giving up. I’ve had many bad days and have had lots of tears, and people telling me I won’t amount to anything. One thing that has stayed with me is “Fall down seven get up eight”. I’m not one to give up. I definitely have fight in me and for anyone who wants it that badly, they need to have that fight. I started off like most, with non-speaking roles and worked my way up.

The audition process for Spinning Out, for example, was really quick. I had just gotten back from Los Angeles from doing a pilot season when I heard that a few of my friends had already auditioned for the show months prior. I was shocked when I got the audition because they still hadn’t found their girl. I put myself on tape, as I was rammed with self-tapes that week, and thankfully within three days I was pinned for the role. A day later I had booked the show and the following week I met the cast and was in a table read for the next episode.

Can you give us a brief synopsis of the show? And the character you're playing?

Spinning Out is like a Riverdale meets I, Tonya meets Black Swan but….. better. I mean, you’d have to watch it yourself to be the real judge though! (hahaha). Spinning Out follows the subjects of depression and mental illness but told honestly and compassionately. Specifically, we highlight Bipolar Disorder and the struggles of dealing with it and the everyday lives we choose. I play Alana who is an upperclassman in college who works at the Sun Valley Lodge. Raised by a single mom, she was taught to takes no L’s and no bullsh*t from people. Especially from love interest Marcus (who leads the Ski team) who has a love triangle going on with Kat Baker and Justin Davis. With Alana’s calculated mind she’s able to win over Marcus for showing him who he truly is.

What was your experience filming the show?

It was a blast. Although I came into the second half of the season, the days I did spend with the cast were a lot of fun! Everyone was super warm and welcoming, especially Kaya. Most days were spent with Mitchell and we cracked jokes and chilled. Filming for me was a breeze, nothing too technical whereas my castmates had a more challenging job!

Being in the very demanding entertainment industry, what are some struggles or challenges you've faced?

The biggest challenge I’m facing is constantly creating balance in my life. Keeping that balance between work and play can be challenging so I try and keep a schedule that incorporates activities outside my work that makes me happy and requires me to step out of my comfort zone. I find as an actress or actor, especially an aspiring one we can easily get into the mindset of the “hustle” and forget to just be and breathe. To enjoy the moments we’re experiencing and be grateful we’re alive and well. The most rewarding thing I’ve experienced thus far is seeing my hard work pay off and it also manifesting into other beautiful things. It's the best feeling!

"I find as an actress or actor, especially an aspiring one we can easily get into the mindset of the “hustle” and forget to just be and breathe."

What are your daily inspirations in life?

I grab inspiration from whatever I can. Having a love for fashion and studying it in college, helped me to be that much more aware of how important costumes are for an actor. With costuming, it can either challenge or help the character come to life. It gives it that extra layer. Most times when I get an audition, that’s one of the main things I start from to help build the character. I go full out, all the time. If I do have an in the room audition or a self-tape you can catch me in a costume that’s geared towards the character. I love the idea of dressing up and making the audition that much better by adding my own lil thing to it.

Music is another huge inspiration for me. I am also a singer/songwriter and to get into the groove of things music definitely helps me get into the right headspace of the character. It holds a huge part of my creative process. Depending on what kind of role I’m doing, dance and movement can also take a huge part in the process as well. Acting to me involves the mind, body, soul and spirit. So, pulling from different things is a big part of what inspires me to continue creating.

Photographed by Vita Cooper

You've obviously been in the entertainment industry for a while now. What is something that you would like to see a change in the Hollywood or film industry?

I want to see more of anything that is breaking the norm of what we see on our screens. I want to continue seeing black stories and also seeing stories that have been written for Caucasian actors for ethnics. I would love to see an Asian superhero, mainstream, marvel, BOOM. Would that not be amazing? (I hope I planted something there). I think times are changing but we still have a long way to go.

"I want to continue seeing black stories and also seeing stories that have been written for Caucasian actors for ethnics. I would love to see an Asian superhero, mainstream, marvel, BOOM. Would that not be amazing?"

So let's say you land a role. How would you go about preparing for an audition?

Once I receive an audition notice from my team, I’ll usually do some research. I'll figure out who’s casting, directing, producing, and who wrote it. Then I look at the notes for the role - if there are any. For example, some roles require an accent. If a script is available then I’ll usually read it. Then I’ll skim through the lines for the audition and figure out what’s happening in the scenes and who my character is. From there I start brainstorming how I can bring this character to life externally, things like hair, clothes, and makeup. From there I’ll start learning the lines, reciting them over and over. I'll try and run it with someone so I can get it fully into my body. The best is when I have at least two days to prep because the next day the lines are usually in my body and it’s something I don’t have to think about.

What are your thoughts on the apparent gap between the Canadian acting industry and the American industry?

It sucks! The unfortunate side to the Canadian industry is we really don’t have a star system. I think a lot of that has to do with funding. A lot of Canadian actors leave to go to America to really pursue a career. One thing I’ve realized is that Canada is never willing to take chances on anything or anyone new whereas Americans are. Americans pride themselves on being the first to have “found you” or “build your career”. They’re just prideful people. And I say that in the most respectful way. It’s actually a beautiful thing. There's more of a chance of me booking a pilot or series in LA then there is in Canada as a lead. That’s super sad to say but Canada really only gives credit when the Americans dub you as a “star”. Hopefully, that changes soon.

Any final words of advice you would like to give to aspiring actors?

Don’t wait for people (like your agent or manager) to get you work. Get up and create your own work. Create a life you want. Get your friends together and make some dope shit. I promise it’s super rewarding.

Feel free to join me on my journey -- @ZahraBentham

Don’t wait for people to get you work. Get up and create your own work. Create a life you want.

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