Fourth year entertainment and media studies and theatre double major Demi Lehman is creating her own path in the pursuit of her passions. Her involvement in UGA short films and theatre shows as well as her time with various internships and clubs have helped prepare her to follow her dream of becoming a professional actress.
What does “tenacity” mean to you?
Tenacity to me means strength, grit, and persistence especially when the odds seem stacked against you. It’s surpassing people’s expectations and proving them wrong with your work ethic when they say something is impossible or can’t be done.
Why did you choose your major?
Coming into UGA, I knew I wanted to major in Theatre to be able to take advanced acting classes open specifically to majors. However, my parents wanted me to major or minor in something additional to theatre to have a “backup plan” for acting after I graduate. To give them credit, I agreed with their logic. Initially, my plan was to double major in Business with a Management degree. I quickly discovered at orientation, though, that a Business degree was not for me. My mom revealed to me there was a major in Grady called Entertainment and Media Studies geared towards the film industry and film production. Since I’m interested specifically in acting for film and television, this was the perfect major to learn what working behind the camera was like and fill in the gaps about acting for film that my Theatre major didn’t cover.
What motivates you?
Storytelling. As cheesy as it sounds, I believe stories have the power to change the world and make it a better place. Stories can educate, enlighten, and entertain, and it’s my hope as an actor/storyteller that a viewer or audience member leaves a story a little different than they were before they experienced it.
Who is your favorite Grady professor and why?
It’s hard to pick a favorite professor I’ve had in Grady since all of them have been so insightful and successful in preparing me for the entertainment industry. I am especially appreciative of Professor Mattison who was my Directing for the Screen professor last semester. I first met Professor Mattison, not through a class, but because I was cast in a short film he was directing called American Triptych. I mentioned in my submission to the project that I was a UGA student, and he recognized me from acting in his former students’ films. He had me audition, and I ended up booking the role. By the time I had my directing class with him in Fall 2022, he already knew about my acting background. The way he teaches that class is great because he focuses specifically on what it’s like to give direction to actors. He makes the entire class perform monologues the first 2 weeks of class just so they can understand what it’s like to be in the actor’s shoes. Over Thanksgiving break, I found out I booked a supporting role in an upcoming Lifetime movie called A View To Kill For. I was ecstatic but worried how I’d finish out the rest of the semester and finals since the movie was filming the last three weeks of school. Professor Mattison was very supportive in me pursuing my acting career and graciously let me finish out the semester remotely from Atlanta where we were shooting. I’m still so thankful for that and for all he’s taught me to this day!
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about bringing more of the film industry to the Southeast and Atlanta. After living in LA this summer, I’ve grown fonder of Atlanta being the city I grew up right outside of, and I really think it can compete with Los Angeles as a hub for the entertainment industry. There’s already so much production done here that now I hope for pre-production and post-production work to start making its way here, as well. I have friends who want to be producers, writers, or editors and with the way the industry is currently structured, a lot of those jobs are still done out of LA. If we can build up Atlanta based production companies, writers’ rooms, and post-production houses in the Southeast, there’d be even more opportunity for people wanting to work in the industry here.
What is your most memorable Grady experience?
During the Summer of 2022, I had the opportunity to participate in the Grady LA program where students interested in working in the entertainment industry intern and take classes in Los Angeles for eight weeks. The program really pushed me out of my comfort zone since I’m an in-state student, and this was the longest time I’d been away from home without any family nearby. However, I’m so thankful to have been on the program because I got to meet so many amazing people, build my professional network and experience, and form close friendships with other students on the program. One of my favorite memories is that a large group of us students and our program leader, Dr. Bernabo, decided to go hiking in Malibu on what was supposed to be a 6 mile hike. However, after walking a mile straight up a mountain and reaching the top, we decided to turn back and eat at a well-known seafood shack across the street from the beach called Neptune’s Net. The food was deliciously greasy and satisfying after that hike, and I don’t think any of us had any regrets about turning around.
What has been your biggest accomplishment in the past year?
I was cast in my first ever professional feature film over Thanksgiving Break for a Lifetime movie called A View To Kill For. Getting that phone call from my agent was such a surreal experience, and even now I have to remind myself that it really happened. Working on set almost every day for three weeks confirmed for me that acting is what I want to do, and being in a large supporting role gave me proof that I have the capability to actually do it. I feel like I’ve already grown more as an actor since the shoot wrapped, so it will be interesting to watch the work I did then compared to how much more I know now. I don’t have many details I can share on when it’s coming out or what it’s about, but I’m excited to see the finished product.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to other Grady students?
If you’re having trouble finding a major or class that is specifically about what you want to do, create your own path. I knew coming into UGA that I wanted to be a working actress primarily in film and television. However, my Theatre major currently only offers a single Acting for the Camera class that rolls around once every two to three years, and my Entertainment and Media Studies major teaches you how to work in the industry in about every job except acting (writer, director, producer, editor.) So I double majored in both and took advantage of student films and campus organizations to fill in the gaps. By being a Theatre major, I’m able to keep my acting “instrument” fresh and also gain experience performing in professional level theatrical productions. By being an Entertainment and Media Studies major, I’m able to learn the lingo of the other side of the industry and what each job needs to be successful. Now that I know the specific things a director or editor is looking for when doing their job, I know what I need to do as an actor to make their jobs easier. This served me well when I was filming A View To Kill For because some of the crew members noticed I understood what they were doing for a shot and why. This gained me some respect and even let me form friendships and connections with the people working behind the scenes.
What are you planning to do after you graduate?
After graduation, I plan to move to Atlanta to continue working as an actress in the film industry. When I’m not acting, I would love to work behind the scenes as a casting assistant. I interned with a casting office called DK Casting when I did the Grady LA program, and I learned that it is another area of the industry I love. It lets me use my performance background to acknowledge good performances and helps me uplift other actors in the community. It also teaches me as an actor what makes a good audition and inspires me to continue working to be a better artist.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To just go for it. I’m graduating in May, so as you can expect, the post-grad jitters have been starting to get to me. I’m grateful for my family, friends, and professors who have been an incredible support system and the piece of advice I keep hearing from all of them is to just go for it. Wanting to work as an actor professionally can feel very daunting, especially when you’ve grown up in a society where people (who usually aren’t in the industry) tell you it’s a risky idea and constantly ask about the “backup plan.” However, my parents, close friends, and mentors (all people who would be brutally honest with me), haven’t told me to hold back. They’ve told me to go for what I am passionate about, and if it ends up not working out, they’ve got my back. I’d much rather give my all at trying and fail, than not try at all and always wonder, “What if?”