...Love Yourself For Who You Are…Not Who the Industry Says You Should Be. What is “hot” one year is not another. When I started you couldn’t be thin enough, now folks are getting implants to have bigger and bigger curves. It all is beautiful, so just embrace what God gave you and run at your strengths because the business will always find something wrong with you if you let it dictate your worth.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Brianna Brown Keen.
Minnesota native Brianna Brown Keen is an award-winning actress who has worked for over two decades in Hollywood with projects ranging from top grossing feature films, to Emmy-winning television shows, to indie projects she has produced. She is often recognized for her roles on Dynasty, Devious Maids, General Hospital and Homeland.
Brianna is the Founder and CEO of the 501c3 non-profit organization The New Hollywood which was established in 2006 that is dedicated to supporting socially conscious storytellers and changemakers thru goals, grants and mentorship.
Brianna is also the Chair Ambassador for the National Women’s History Museum, a public speaker on the topic, “Manifesting Your Mission”, offers in-person and online workshops as well as a 12 week Accountability Coaching program using the method within her guidebook Manifesting Your Mission.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Brianna ! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for featuring me! Where do I start? Well, I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis in a town called Apple Valley. I find it so interesting that I made it as a working actress considering the fact that I wasn’t the town “star”. I didn’t get the leads of all the plays, I wasn’t popular, I didn’t have any connections to Hollywood, and that was back before social media, YouTube or even the internet made it possible to be discovered remotely. I didn’t come from money, wasn’t fashion forward, I had massive stage fright and acne! But what I did have was grit, resilience, the willingness to learn and work hard. What I did have was the ability to think outside the box to create genuine authentic professional relationships, a willingness to learn the craft of acting and learned how to play the game.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I always loved storytelling because I believed it could create empathy and understanding for people in different circumstances. To help others realize that we are actually more similar than different. That we all go through hardships, heartache and triumphs. I think the best art reflects life and helps us elevate who we are to become better people.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting story since I began my career is a hard question! I’ve been doing this for over twenty years so there are many many stories. I think an interesting story is how people used to confuse who I am with the characters I played. I once was at a fashion show in New York City while I was playing the love to hate villain Lisa Niles on General Hospital. While at this fancy event this woman, dressed to the nines, came up to me, looked me in the eye and told me she hated me. I just stared back then responded with a smile and said, “Thank you.” She continued to stare at me then the light switch turned on in her brain and she must have realized that I was an actress not anything like crazy Lisa Niles. She slowly smiled back and said, “I like you, I like you!” It was such a bizarre correspondence but I took it as a compliment because it meant that the role I was playing was believable.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ooph! There were so many mistakes and I definitely try to learn from them. One funny mistake I made when performing a play was rushing to get to my mark during a musical number because my partner was running late for our cue. I was so dead set on catching up, instead of going with the flow and adjusting, that the topiary I was pushing when we finally did reach our mark ended up breaking in half, I fell onto my face where it was scraped with blood coming down, my period costume flipped up over my head as I fell and it was right in front of my secret crush who was in the audience. I was mortified. I then had to finish the number acting like nothing had happened, continuing to sing and having a little bit of blood dripping down the side of my face. What did I learn? Adjust to what is and go with flow versus rushing and pushing to make things happen. That, and also to not take myself so seriously.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had a lot of great representatives that helped get me opportunities over the years. But the person who really believed in me from the beginning was Sarah Jane Hill who worked for my first manager Nancy Kremer who brought me out to Los Angeles from Minnesota. She saw my headshot at a local Minnesota agency that I was submitting to, she called me in for an interview and was impressed that I was willing to come in on my day off of school when I was in high school. She really helped me learn the ropes of La La Land when I moved there at nineteen.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
I have sooo much advice to give. Be careful of who you get advice from and question why they are offering it. Have they personally walked the walk and talked the talk? If not, go to a legit expert. Train with the best then move on before two years so you don’t become a permanent student (which is a gerbil wheel pitfall for the majority of actors). Remember you are who you surround yourself with so be careful who you get close to and especially who you date. Why? Because, the majority do not make a living in the business because they end up getting caught up in the party scene, wanna be famous or feel entitled to be discovered. Which isn’t cute when you are in your thirties, broke, alone and never made a living in the biz and need to start your life over. Also, it is a business so be a business person. Take it seriously because you are a CEO not just an artist. You have to be both. Lastly, read and follow my guidebook, “Manifesting Your Mission” because it will teach you how to make things happen and learn things faster. Check out MYM.briannabrownkeen.com for more info.
What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
Right now I’m very interested in acting it and producing projects I feel add value. I’m currently producing a feature with my husband that is loosely based on my relationship with my mom and aunt. I’m excited to see this story on the big screen. What drives me is a couple things. 1) I love to perform and play complicated characters in both drama and comedy. 2) I love to tell stories that add value. Whether it is insightful, heart warming or entertaining for the sake of a fun escape from reality. 3) I think that artists have the opportunity to shed light on things that are important in the world and if used wisely can help elevate consciousness by leading by example.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
As a mom of a toddler I wanted to prioritize being there for my son while he was young and to keep our family together. That was the most important thing for me so I purposely chose work that was close to home instead of shooting a show on the other side of the country and never seeing him. I recently flew back to Atlanta to reprise my role on Dynasty for their 100th episode. I’m currently producing my second feature film entitled Crutches, I have my nonprofit The New Hollywood where we are working with formerly homeless moms and helping them using the tools I created to help them take their lives to the next level. I have a 12 week Accountability Coaching Program that fills me up and that I do quarterly and remotely, as well as private clients who want to take the technique I wrote in my guidebook Manifesting Your Mission to the next level. Ironically, most of the people I work with are entrepreneurs and not actors! I have a few but mainly they are CEO’s, coaches or in other parts of the entertainment industry! So it is really fun to add value in multiple ways and give back.
As you know, General Hospital is one of the most popular television shows of all time. In your opinion, what was it that really captured people’s attention about the show?
I think General Hospital is iconic because it has been on for over 50 years and people watch it with their loved ones while growing up! Soap fans are like sports fans…you watch it with loved ones! I was blessed to be named one of the top villains within People’s 50 year anniversary issue. That was such an honor because that show has had a lot of villains over 50 years!
What lessons do you think our society today can take from GH?
I don’t know if there are lessons that our society should take from any soap opera since soap operas are heightened reality and often dysfunctional behavior. But maybe it should be what not to do. Don’t have cat fights, don’t cheat on your loved ones, don’t be a narcissist and in my character’s case…don’t stare at people you are obsessed with, don’t throw your nemesis down a well or try to inject her husband with her HIV infected blood. Basically, don’t be crazy!
This is our signature question that we ask in nearly all of our interviews. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Always trust your instincts. It has saved me many times even from potentially life threatening situations.
- Work Smart, Not Hard. Learn from the best so you don’t have to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. There is always a shortcut or cliff notes version. Basically be willing to grow and learn quickly instead of needing to be right or a lone wolf.
- Love Yourself For Who You Are…Not Who the Industry Says You Should Be. What is “hot” one year is not another. When I started you couldn’t be thin enough, now folks are getting implants to have bigger and bigger curves. It all is beautiful, so just embrace what God gave you and run at your strengths because the business will always find something wrong with you if you let it dictate your worth.
- You can’t choose who you fall in love with but you can choose who you date. Why is this important? Because in a business that is 90% rejection you need a solid person in your life to have your back. And if you are wasting your time with people who bring you down, who are half in/half out or who you have to provide for and they aren’t your children…you won’t have the energy or resources to keep moving forward and rebound from the inevitable heartache and hurdles.
- Know Your Why. Why are you doing what you are doing? Is it to finally be loved, approved of or validated? Or is your “why” a bigger purpose to add value? If you know your why you will be more fulfilled and be able to navigate La La Land when you hit landmines, predators or people who lack integrity. It is a town that attracts and breeds dysfunction so it is really important to know who you are, what your values are and why you are doing it. Otherwise you may not only lose yourself, you may lose respect for yourself too.
Can you share with our readers any selfcare routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
I could write a novel about all that I do for self-care. I have literally been interviewed about holistic health within Los Angeles Times and in my guidebook I talk about how I healed my back when I was told I would never run again. I’m a huge believer in healing yourself from the inside out. Want a hot bod, your skin to look radiant and to be strong? Go to a functional medicine doctor, eat organic, workout consistently and learn how to cook healthy. If you don’t have a lot of energy you won’t make the right choices and those choices good or bad add up. I also believe that women need to properly nourish themselves before and after pregnancy so they don’t fall into the trap of just trying to lose weight and causing more long term health problems. Look up postpartum depletion if you are a mom and if you haven’t gotten your body or brain back post babies.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
It would be The New Hollywood, the nonprofit I started in 2006 that supports socially conscious storytellers and changemakers with goals, grants and mentorship. I would encourage everyone to be willing to take responsibility for their lives, to learn from their mistakes, to love more deeply, to have more integrity and give back. In a culture that amplifies those who are narcissists and highlights dysfunction over real heroes I think we have a lot of work to do. But if we all do our part to be the best versions of ourselves then we can make a profound change in all the broken parts of our world. Why? Because the only way to lead is to lead by example.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Oprah. I would love to spend time with Oprah and have a pow wow on the state of the world and how we can further make ripples of change to make it better. Why? Because she is a powerhouse, authentic and a badass changemaker.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Yes, I am on instagram. @briannabrownkeen
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!