By Linnda Durre’
If growing up in an emotional roller coaster gives an actor depth, experience, and the ability to switch into different roles, then Jessika McLaughlin has already won an Oscar!
Mature far beyond her years, Jessika has come to understand that if life gave her lemons, she had to make lemonade.
A Florida native, born and raised in the Sunshine State, she was brought up as an only child by her maternal grandparents and her maternal great grandmother because of her parents’ struggles with drug and alcohol addiction.
Her father had three children from a previous marriage.
“I had a few memorable visits with my half sisters growing up, but I wish I would have been around them more,” she regretted. “My father’s been sober for about 12 years now. He was once a very successful stockbroker in New York City. My mother was sober and now is still struggling, although was once a very good ESE teacher.”
Jessika wrote her very first school play in the fifth grade, and it was performed in the talent show for their class’s winter performance.
“I have overcome adversity and challenges, which I am putting into detail in a book titled, Life Goes On, True Story. This is a project I put a little of myself into on good days and bad ones to remember the best days and the worst, too,” she recounted. “I do have a passion for writing, and have completed a short screenplay that I hope to produce one day soon. I have never taken any classes for writing so the whole process is a huge discovery.”
Jessika may be a natural story teller because of all the experience she had as a child inventing stories and covering the truth of her real circumstances.
“As a middle schooler, it was difficult. I made up stories to fit in so kids wouldn’t know the truth about my home and parents,” she admitted. “My dad was not around, ever. Attending a private school was tough emotionally because everyone had families that supported them at their events and picked them up from school. A majority of the time I never knew where the next ride to school would come from. I remember taking a cab when I was 11 so I could make it to a game to cheer, but this is where the strength within me resides. I know where this came from.”
From all her hardships, she has learned to see things in a spiritual and responsible way and she has asked herself, “How has this made me stronger?” “What did I do to contribute to causing this?” and “What can I learn from this so it doesn’t happen again?”
“Drama and music classes in middle school helped me realize that pursuing a career in the arts was my dream. The following year I attended public school for the first time in my life and was cast as Fruma Sara in Fiddler on the Roof.”
As most children with trauma and difficult home lives will admit, Jessika shares their motivation. “Participating in drama class was the only time of the day I felt like I belonged for whatever reason,” she recollected.
Then tragedy struck again. “When I was 15, my home burned and we lost everything. I didn't understand then but see now how that enriched my life in so many ways. We sometimes get so caught up in having all of these ‘things’ when yes, it's nice and we deserve them, but in all actuality all we need is each other,” she observed maturely.
She was homeschooled and graduated high school a year early, played NSA softball, and was a cheerleader.
Jessika moved to Orlando to work at Disney and study at Zoe & Co. in Winter Park when she had a rather rude awakening.
“I realized reading my first Tennessee Williams play that I was a little behind at age 17 compared to some of my peers and I knew I had some catching up to do. I made a detour and won Miss Winter Park Teen USA and was in the top five at FL Teen USA. A few years later, I competed and won the title of Miss Orlando USA and made the top 15 at Miss Florida, which was the state competition for the Miss USA Pageant. These experiences helped me work on my confidence.”
A few years later while attending Valencia Community College, she began working as a show host at Sea World. Instead of staying in Orlando and studying to pursue a career in broadcast communications as a journalist, she made another different turn.
“A friend’s mother told me about a class in Tampa to help me work on my craft. It was Performers Studio Workshop, where I studied for four years, three to four nights a week, learning the Eric Morris process with Kathy Laughlin. In that time period, I also studied the same process under Eric Morris in Los Angeles and Anthony Vincent Bova in New York City. This really changed the way I viewed acting and life as well,” she elaborated.
“I moved to Miami one and a half years ago from Central Florida and I am back in the game from a hiatus,” she declared.
She has been studying with some luminaries in the South Florida area.
“The most astounding aspects of my actual career thus far have not been on set, but in the classroom studying with casting directors like Lori Wyman CSA and Richard Futch CSA. Lori’s book, The Organic Actor, is something I found very helpful in making the transition from theatre to film and television.”
Studying with well known actors and character actors has served her well.
“Learning from actors like Ray Forchion, Marc Macaulay, Armand Assante, and Ricky Wayne, who not only talk the talk but walk the walk as well has given me the tools I need to study from every perspective. The greatest part is that I have had the opportunity to study under some of the best actors and character actors of our time and see myself growing into a character actor as well.”
Her emotional challenges have continued. “This year my sister Doris Mae passed away from natural causes. Dealing with a loss is never easy, but it is hard to explain how you feel about losing someone you didn’t spend much time with but felt as though you knew so well. My closest friends have been so supportive and it’s nice to have people who understand how you feel without explaining yourself too extensively.”
“I'm different, and just like everyone else and I cannot wait to use these qualities and bring my unique life experiences into focus on the silver screen,” she said, looking ahead and seeing her glass as half full instead of half empty. It’s all about perspective and enlightenment.
Her resume of film, television, and theatre credits is impressive. In 2003, she traveled to Georgia to work on her first set in “The Fighting Temptations” with Beyonce and Cuba Gooding, Jr., directed by Jonathan Lynn.
In 2006, she booked a role as a reporter in, “The Unlikelys” of Nick Miller Productions, Orlando. The same year, she worked on a webisode as Detective Morris in “Kingdom Linking”, filmed by CS Productions.
In 2007, she was asked be a part of an international pilot called, “Made In America” for Network Italia.
She was ready to return to theatre in 2008 and starred in a host of celebrated plays. She played Reagan in “The Blind Spot, ” Julie in “Miss Julie,” Catherine in “Proof, ” Eleanor in “The Lion In Winter, ” Beatrice in “Beatrice Cenci, ” Sophie in “The Star Spangled Girl, ” Carol in “Oleanna,” Jill in “Butterflies are Free,” all with the New York Acting Ensemble directed by Ken Eulo.
In 2009, Jessika worked on an action packed book trailer playing Michaela Ramirez for the book, A False Dawn, written by Tom Lowe of Eagle Productions. Later, that year she auditioned for the lead in a full-length film as Sophie Johnson, directed by Harrison Sanborn and produced by Sanborn Studios in Sarasota. The 4th Wall Theatre Company in Tampa gave her the chance to work on the roles of Jessica in “This is Our Youth,” Marjorie in “Extremities,” Susan in “Loose Ends,” and Darlene in “Hurlyburly.”
She portrayed a trafficking victim in “Trafficking Truth” with Frank Mondaruli Productions for the 2010’s 48-Hour Film Festival.
In 2011, she was offered the role of Alexis in “Party Girl,” written and directed by Leslie Maine and produced by Vivian Alvarez of Lucky Duck Films.
Working on theatre pieces that year also, she was cast as Fran Walker, in “The Only Game in Town,” Judy in “Women of Manhattan,” Anna in “Burn This,” Dr. Madelyne in “Boston Academy,” and Harper in “Angels in America,” which is one of her favorite plays. These were all performed with The Ensemble Theatre Company in Tampa.
This year a fellow actress Aniela McGuiness told her about a film she thought she would enjoy auditioning for and Jessika booked the role of Sam, in “Sundays are the Worst,” directed by Melissa Gomez and produced by Veronica Ortero in Miami.
With all of her training and television, stage, and film experience, she faces her next roles with excitement and even more confidence. And her life experience only adds to her empathy, sensitivity, and sense memory. Jessika embodies the positive attributes of the saying, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” At this age, she must be very strong. Casting directors, take note!
©2015 Linnda Durre' , All Right Reserved