Rising Star Keana Marie Talks Diversity & Mental Health in Hollywood

We’re barely a minute into our Zoom meeting and Keana Marie already has me swept up talking about Rotten Tomatoes – Dash and Lily has hit 100% and the Miami native is “very, very grateful.”

Marie plays the definitely-cooler-than-you, Sofia in Netflix’s hit series set in New York at Christmas time, when the city flexes its storied whimsy unlike anywhere else in the world. The show serves as the festive panacea to a less-than-storybook year; it’ll make you grin, laugh, cry a bit, binge-watch, delete Bumble in pursuit of love in a notebook and it’ll definitely make you want to get to know rising-star, Keana Marie.

Born in France and fluent in four languages (yes, I said four), the twenty-five-year-old Latina is every bit as cosmopolitan-chic as her onscreen counterpart and she’s undoubtedly passionate about making films – acting in, writing, directing and watching them all the same. 

I spoke to Keana Marie about Dash and Lilys success and celebration of diversity, nixing the “fear of failure” and mental health in Hollywood, and her directorial debut in As the Tide Comes In.

Dash and Lily hit number 2 in the States, it’s been in the top 10 in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Ireland. How do feel about the success? Did you expect it? 

I mean, yes and no. First, I feel like you never know until it comes out. I mean, there was anxiety up until it was actually out, and it’s funny how once it was released, I was calm. You’d think it’s the other way around but genuinely, I was [freaking out] and then it came out and I was like ‘okay.’

I’m sure you’d have a lot of unanswered questions about what it looks like, what you look like, whether or not it translates from your mind to what’s released on Netflix.

Honestly, Dash and Lily exceeded my expectations. Being a filmmaker myself, I really saw what the entire team did with not just, you know – the story and the acting, but the set décor, story writing and costumes. Everything they did from getting these amazing New York City locations and staying true to the city and the geography of New York was really awesome. So, I’m really excited, I’m not surprised because having 21 Laps [Entertainment], Stranger Things and the Jonas Brothers attached to it can’t be too bad. But I think it’s necessary right now, everyone’s been going through a really tough time globally…

It almost intentionally makes you smile all the way through. It’s fun to watch

It was cheesy but it’s so warm-feeling. It’s like drinking from a hot apple cider.

Yes, that’s so true! Cheesy is good as long as there’s quirk. Quirk is great. You can make anything work as long as its quirky and Dash and Lily has that in spades. 

It’s stylistic too, I mean the way the shots are set up, the colours. It’s so visually pleasing to the eye. And I think the characters are so unexpected in the sense that they’re not your typical characters. Sofia’s not your typical ex-girlfriend, Dash is not your typical leading man, Lily is not your typical leading woman and I think it’s beautiful to shine a light and show that life doesn’t have to be what you typically see in the movies. You don’t have to be enemies with your exes, you can find love in a notebook, just accept yourself. I think the show is a love story but it’s really a coming-of-age, self-discovery for every character. Sofia, Dash, Lily, they’re all trying to figure themselves out with the help of one another.

Keana Marie from Dash and Lily on Netflix.

Source: @keanamarie_ [Instagram]. Photo Credit: Samantha Hunter @samhunter

One of the things that I love about Dash and Lily is that the cast and characters are so wonderfully diverse in terms of ethnicity and sexual orientation. You know, shows like Euphoria, Sex Education, Never Have I Ever and now Dash and Lily are all great examples of shows that represent a variety of backgrounds in an authentic, very modern way. And people love it – they love seeing themselves represented on screen. Was that something that drew you to working on the show?

Oh, 100%. What is this, are we in the stone ages? Why is this only just starting to happen? I’m so blessed being an actor in a world where more people are starting to have more roles and job opportunities…If you think about it – film and television, they really shape us. Especially these YA (Young Adult) projects, they’re really shaping and teaching the youth. What are we wanting to teach them? What do we want to show them? What do we want them to learn? I think Dash and Lily does a great thing by representing all different communities.

Source: @keanamarie_ [Instagram]. Credit: Samantha Hunter @samhhunter [Instagram]

I was watching one of your previous interviews and in it you said “I don’t have a fear of failure.” That struck me as something that would be indispensable in your line of work. You know, you always hear successful actors and actresses talk about their experiences with rejection in Hollywood and how being resilient has led them to their success. Have you had those experiences and how do you navigate them mentally, physically, emotionally?

Yeah, that’s literally the entire job right there. You need to know how to handle rejection. Rejection becomes your best friend, so get close to it. For me, for years it’s been this game of it’s me or the other girl. [For example] I once booked this job – huge, life-changing project, super exciting and I was a hostess at a restaurant so I quit. Then they called me two weeks later and said: “Hey, so, unfortunately, we’re going to go with someone else”…And then five days later they call me again and they’re like: “Hey, so actually are you still available? We’d love to rehire you?” And I’m like, “let me check my schedule – yeah, I just quit my job, yes I’m free.” Then they called me a week after and they’re like: “so sorry, we’re actually going to go with someone else.” 

How do you deal with that? What do you do? Where do you go from there?

It’s hard, I mean I definitely cried…I’ve been working my whole life towards this and I’ve been blessed to know what I want to do for so long. So it’s not like: if it’s not going to work out I’m going to go do this other thing – this is the thing. It’s a huge umbrella and there’s a lot of things under the umbrella but overall, I’m not going to not do this. 

Keana Marie from Dash and Lilly on Netflix.

Source: @keanamarie_ [Instagram]. Credit: Samantha Hunter @samhhunter [Instagram]

Do you feel like since becoming a public figure, you’ve had to reshape your mental health routine – particularly in terms of your interactions with social media or traditional media because it can sometimes be an influx of negativity? Do you feel like you’ve had to manage that differently to what you have in the past?

It’s been a push and pull honestly – because my nature is to be off social media. I go on these social detox retreats where I don’t have my phone for a weekend, and I’m an avid supporter of being in the moment. So, I try to be off my phone as much as possible, I don’t think I have that ‘addiction’. But naturally, when you have a phone often enough, you end up scrolling through Instagram and you’re like “Why am I on Instagram? I just opened my phone –”

 Yes! It’s become robotic, you do it when you have nothing else to do.

Keana Marie from Dash and Lilly on Netflix.

Source @samhhunter  [Instagram]. Credit: Samantha Hunter

We spoke about the fact that you’re a filmmaker as well. Do you have anyone you aspire to work with in front of or behind the camera?

Yeah, definitely. Both Andersons – Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson, they’re some of my favourite directors. Greta Gerwig, Florence Pugh, I’d love to work with Timothée Chalamet – I’ve never said that in an interview before. I’m a manifester, so hopefully in saying this and putting it out into the universe it’s going to come back and I can be like: ‘I said that in an interview once, [sarcastically spells out] LOL”…

I’m sure you’ll get an opportunity to work with them in the future. Are there any projects we should be looking out for?

I just made my film called As the Tide Comes In, it’s a short film of eight minutes and it’s silent. It’s very important to me – my first little baby, I’m genuinely very proud of it…it’s not your typical silent film, it’s not black and white. I’m a very auteur director in that every single thing you see is there on purpose, from shot, to colour, to objects, to everything… 

It’s a silent film that explores the in-betweens: moving from a toxic relationship to a healthy one and all of the resistance that comes with that like unfathomable, shameful cravings, lack of understanding, just having to rewire love. I had to make it a silent film because I didn’t really have the words to explain what I was feeling, it was very emotive. And I wanted people who are enduring, without even consciously knowing it – or who have endured in the past to know that they’re not alone in feeling this feeling that they can’t pinpoint…

Catch Dash and Lily on Netflix and watch out for Keana’s directorial debut in As the Tide Comes In. 

Find Keana Marie on Instagram @keanamarie_

Photography: Samantha Hunter @samhhunter

Interview by Sophie Bishop

Sophie Bishop

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