Tara-Nicole Azarian is one all-star 13 year old! Looking at what this inspiring young girl has already accomplished in her life and listening to her advice for girls really proves the saying, “Age is just a number”. Azarian first began her acting career at the age of four in “A Tale About Bootlegging.” She has appeared in Films, advertisements, videos and TV projects andas of January, 2011, she has more than three dozen films under her belt.
But it’s not just acting that Azarian’s holds a talent for: coming from a family of writers, she caught her family’s gene and began writing children’s books at a young age. She is a three-time winner of the prestigious Young Author’s contest. In 2011, Azarian wrote the screenplay entitled, “My Name Is…Anna”, in which she also starred in and directed. “My Name Is…Anna” tackles the topic of eating disorders and the devastating affect they have on teenage girls. The powerful short film premiered at the 2011 CFC film festival, making Azarian the youngest film maker in the festival. The film has been widely recognized and earned this North Carolina native nominations for Best Actress, Best Screenplay & Best Film. Azarian and I spoke about the focus of the film and why she felt it was important to make it as well as how at her young age she deals with the pressure to fit a certain image set by the media. A supporter of the Team True Beauty movement, Azarian, discussed her hopes for girls to realize their value at an early age, the advice that always helps her remain true to herself and how she defines true beauty!
Why did you feel it was important to make this film?
Tara- Eating disorders affect millions of girls, but like many women’s issues – the subject is not talked about. Taking the monster out of the closet and exposing it to sunlight is the first step in moving forward to deal with it. Since eating disorders primarily affect young girls my age, I figured that, it was important that a film such as “My Name Is Anna”, about eating disorders was made by a young girl. In fact the film was entirely made by Middle School students. Something I am very proud of.
The movie is about a very serious and sensitive topic, was it at all challenging or difficult for you to star in it and write it?
Tara- Yes and no. Writing it was almost organic. I am home-schooled & my mother had assigned an essay project to me about eating disorders. I spent hours and hours doing research on the topic and was so moved and tormented by the struggles of so many young women. I went to my mother & told her I wanted to write a screen-play instead of an essay. She kinda looked at me like a dog that has just heard a new sound, so I knew she thought I was bananas! But she said, “Go for it!” So, I sat down and wrote the screenplay to “My Name Is Anna” in just a few days.
Acting in it and directing it, was a different story. That was very hard for me. I do a lot of emotional roles & I cry on cue often, but in this film, I am telling the story of millions of girls. The realization that when I left the set, the role was over for me, but the girls who suffer from eating disorders would still be trapped in their illness was haunting.
There was also the complex issue from a directorial point of view, that I wanted to be as genuine to the character as I could be, but I also had to pull back and not make it as graphic as true life is, because then mass audiences would not watch it. The important goal of making the film was to have teen girls watch the film and think about their choices and hopefully choose a healthy path. If we made the film too graphic, many film festivals would not show it. As it is, we still have had that occur. We submitted the film to a festival geared toward middle school student (the audience we targeted) and were told the film was not appropriate for that age bracket. I disagree with that point of view but you can’t please everyone. Fortunately our film has gone to many film festivals and won several awards, including Best Student Film. So our message is getting out there.
Do you feel that pressure by the media, magazines, etc to ‘look a certain way’ or fit a certain image? If not, how do you not let it get to you?
Tara- I think I am the exception to the rule. I am very, very lucky. I have an amazing mom who has always, always, always made sure that I had my feet on the ground & head screwed on right. I caught the acting bug when I was just four years old and landed a small part in an independent film, quite by accident. Mom was less than thrilled at the idea that I might be exposed to “Hollywood” pressures at such a young age and she made me wait and do every other activity known to man before she finally let me go back into acting when I was about eight years old. There were rules to her giving me permission. The first rule was that I could never let anyone inside my head.
She sat me down and had a super long talk with me about casting and looks and the ratio of auditions to bookings. One thing she said to me really hit home and keeps me totally grounded. She said, “If you walked into an audition for the role of a 42 year old Chinese man and did not book that role, would you be upset?” I laughed & said, “No!” She asked me why and I said, “Well, because I totally don’t fit the role of a 42 year old Chinese man and there’s nothing I could do to change that.” She said, “Exactly. So when you audition for a role for your age and they want someone taller, blonder, thinner, whatever…the same rule applies…it’s not YOU. They want someone else and that has nothing to do with you and should never, ever mess with your head.” The whole conversation still makes me laugh at her analogy, but she was right and her visual worked for me.
Mom tells me daily that she thinks I am beautiful and that daily reinforcement makes a huge difference.
How do you define true beauty? What does true beauty mean to you?
Tara- This is going to sound wacky, but I find humor and work ethic exceptionally attractive qualities. I am not so concerned about how people look on the outside, simply because one day when you are 80 years old, none of those parts are going to be in the same place they were when you were younger, so you really need to look for people to be in your life that have attractive qualities that last.
What’s your advice to girls your age or younger struggling with confidence, and body image issues? What would you like to say to them?
Tara- We cannot choose to whom we are related, but we can choose the people we have relationships with. Toxic people contaminate us. I have seen it in my own extended family. My mom has set a great example for me and my brother. She has often told us that it’s okay and normal to love someone you do not like. It’s also okay and necessary to remove that person from your life if they are not good for you.
For minors, we cannot choose our parents or our living environments, but we can choose to reach out to people who can help keep us sane and grounded until we are old enough to remove ourselves from unhealthy relationships. The internet is a great resource tool to find outreach support groups…or talking with a teacher or Church official can also be helpful. But, the point is, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Girls have been brought up to feel like they have no power over their lives. Like they do not have a voice. I want girls to realize they have value. Their opinions matter, their safety matters…THEY matter.
You have to love yourself first and always. Do not look for a boy to fill that need. It’s not healthy and many times leads to abusive relationships.
Don’t compare yourself to other people. You are not other people, you are you. If you constantly measure yourself against other people you will go bananas. I know this first hand. Again, I am an actress and I audition every week. When I turned 10, the booby fairy came and overnight I went from looking like a tween to looking like a much older teen. That doesn’t really work in your favor as a young performer. For awhile auditions were hard for me. I went and did my best, but I knew I looked to old for the role. Roles I could play I was too “young” for so it is work to keep your brain wired right and keep grounded and secure in who you are. If I had compared myself to the girls who were my age but looked younger, I would have lost my mind. Thankfully, my mom would always be right there telling me that my curves were beautiful and I should be proud of them. Then she would say, “perfect girls aren’t real and real girls aren’t perfect…so love the body you have, you’ll be in it a very long time.”
And it’s true. I can’t help that my body developed early, but I could choose to work on skills that would make me more marketable. I began to write and direct my own independent films and so far have completed three short films. Two, “My Name Is Anna” and “Sibling Rivalry” have both been on the film festival circuit and both films have won numerous awards. My third film “Cardboard”, which is about homelessness in America has just begun the film festival submission process.
Girls need to be pro-active in their life choices. There is so much in this world we have no control over…don’t focus on that stuff…instead look for the few things you can control & that will help you be the best you that you can be.
If you are in a bad place…if you are in a relationship that is unhealthy or if you are harming yourself, not eating, drugs, whatever…it is OK to ask for help. The important thing is NOT how you got to this place in your life, it’s how you are going to get out. Other girls have lived what you are going through and there are people who care and want to help. So, again, I urge girls to seek help if they need it.
For a trailer on “My Name Is…Anna” : http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi852756761/
Facebook Fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/My-Name-Is-Anna/114863965239395?ref=ts