Claire Collins - Actress
SymplyEbony: Claire, your Instagram Bio says, “Actor. Poet. Died once.” Are you comfortable sharing what that means?
ClaireCollins: Well, I put that there to be mysterious… I’m kidding. I think it is really important to be authentic and share our truths. This is a truth I’ve had a hard time sharing because it is traumatic and until recently was hard to talk about. I survived a violent crime nearly two years ago. Working through this trauma has been a process of understanding how I am different because of the trauma and slowly integrating this experience into the story of who I am. I feel like I am living my new life, the life I literally fought for. I guess it’s my way of saying, “And I’m still here!” I’m sure I’ll share more in the future, but I’m being gentle with myself in the healing process.
SymplyEbony: You modeled as a child and continue to model in adulthood. How do you feel modeling has impacted your life and what life lessons have you learned from the experience?
ClaireCollins: Modeling gave me such a self awareness and self confidence from a young age. I learned how to carry myself, how to command a room without using my voice, and that has informed alot of my work in acting and poetry. When I was a gawky twelve year old, who had to yet to grow into her legs, modeling helped me transition through that stage somewhat gracefully. There were also the negative effects of being scrutinized and criticized at such a young age. I often felt like a human hanger. Having your measurements taken and being praised for being skinny definitely took its toll. As I got older I realized I was focusing too much on modeling and not on poetry or acting. It was also around the time that Anorexia reared her ugly head. I had struggled with Anorexia for a long time but wasn’t diagnosed until I was seventeen. I’m grateful to be in full remission for three years now. I haven’t modeled in over a year but what really encourages me is seeing all of this body positivity. We are embracing curvy, healthy bodies and that gives me hope because I believe everyone is beautiful.
SymplyEbony: I met you through poetry. I used to stare at you and wonder, “How does all of this power reside in such a small package?” How have you used poetry to give the voiceless courage to speak?
ClaireCollins: Feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s my mantra. Most of the things I do, I do them scared. I always wanted to show people that you should never underestimate your own power, your own ability to be a force for good in the world.
In 2013, I found out that Oklahoma incarcerates more people than anywhere in the world and I figured I should do something. So, like the saying goes, ‘I did what I could, with what I had.’ I co-founded Poetic Justice, a program that works within the prison system in Oklahoma to teach literacy and poetry to incarcerated women. It sounds crazy, but I just did it. Ellen Stackable, a high school English teacher and I, did it guerilla style. When they told us they didn’t have a classroom to accommodate us, we said “Fine, we’ll go into the pod, we’ll be locked up with these women!” And it was scary, and sacred and beautiful and I cried every time I left. I felt a sense of gratitude and responsibility for my freedom. I used my skill set in a way that could benefit others, everyone can. Before I knew it I had five other women facilitating classes, and it grew from there. I moved from Oklahoma to Atlanta and this thing that was once a mere idea, is now something that operates without me, with people who have the same passion I do. Poetic Justice is now a 501(c)(3) organization with over thirty volunteers and classes in at least 6 different prisons.
SymplyEbony: You’ve been doing a lot of work in television and film lately. For some it may look like it happened overnight but those in the industry would say nothing happens overnight. How has your journey been and when will you know you’ve accomplished your ultimate goal? Have you already accomplished it?
ClaireCollins: I’ve been acting for 20 years! I’ve been in the industry since I was nine years old. When I was nine I told myself I would be a movie star. I grew up on stage at the Spotlight Theatre, I was in over 25 plays by the time I was 15. My first kiss was a stage kiss! The discipline of the theatre is what made me good. In my early teens I was ready to break into film but I had to learn the difference between acting on stage and acting for the camera. It took a lot of patience to scale back and play the subtleties. When I was 15 I discovered Slam Poetry, and I remember thinking, “Well, I can just like write myself a monologue, and then perform it as. . . myself!” I fell in love immediately. I still had the rush of the live audience, but complete control over the content of the performance. Acting always informed my poetry, my modeling. When I was seventeen, I worked three jobs and saved up to moved to L.A.. It was a bust, I wasn’t even there six months, my agent couldn’t find me any work and I wasn’t sure it was gonna happen for me. I was lost for a few years, trying to establish myself as an adult with these ‘lofty’ dreams. When I was 21 I started working ‘behind the scenes’. I was casting TV commercials, writing copy, running teleprompters. Learning how things worked on the other side was invaluable. I did that for about three years, then made a mad dash to L.A. again. And again, it didn’t work out. At this point, I was back in Oklahoma, starting my work with Louder Than A Bomb. I was teaching poetry to high school students. I was doing something I wished I had access to when I was being bullied in highschool. It was like everything came full circle. I felt like I had a purpose, so I stayed in Oklahoma and kind of left my dreams of acting on the shelf.
But I believe that if you have a destiny, a calling, it will find you, no matter how far you stray. It’s like when you take a wrong turn and the GPS says, ‘rerouting’, you might have to take a different route, it might take longer than if you’d stayed the course but, trust me you will get there. I say this because, my destiny found me! In 2015 I was in Oklahoma, teaching, and answered a casting call for some film in OKC. I went to the audition and when I walked out, the whole waiting room was applauding me. I got the lead role in a feature film directed by a famous Australian director. It was so surreal, here I am, almost having given up on that dream, and it found me in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma! In the film I play a barely fictionalized version of myself, my shadow self. The whole process was intense, it was beyond exorcising my demons, it was bringing them out and dissecting them. My dream was always to be a movie star, and here I am living my dream. I’ve survived so much to be here and that level of success is surreal. The film is currently in post production and will premiere at either Cannes Film Festival or Venice International Film Festival. Those are two of the most prestigious film festivals in the world! It won’t feel real until I’m walking down the red carpet. In fact, my father always told me I’d walk the Red Carpet before I walked down the aisle and turns out he was right. I think I’ve accomplished one of my goals, yes I wanted to be a movie star and I am but I’d also like to win some awards. I’ll know I’ve accomplished my ultimate goal when I can pay my momma’s bills (to quote the lovely Cardi B.)
SymplyEbony: What is the one thing you want most…for yourself.
ClaireCollins: All I wanted when I was a little girl was to be a movie star and have an amazing love story. I’ve got both of those things and now I want to be able to continue to be a working actor. I think the motivation behind all ambition is to be able to live the life we want, to be comfortable at home. I think that’s what everyone wants at their core. I want a plot of land to call my own, I want my lover by my side and I want to live peacefully. I’ve had a rough life and I’ve survived some horrendous things and I work every day not to be a victim but to take these things and make them into art. I want to continue to tell stories and make movies that remind us of our humanity, our resilience and our ability to be a force for good in this world.
SymplyEbony: Claire, I’m so proud of you and I truly appreciate you SymplyConversating with me today!
ClaireCollins: Thank you Ebony! I’m so grateful and so blessed to know you. Dream big. Love & Rockets.