Actress, singer, director and producer Tamela D’Amico sat down with Courageous Nerd to discuss her role in Rupam Sarmah’s new film One Little Finger, now available on Amazon.
Tamela also discussed other topics, including how she first found her creative passion, tying acting and singing together and how she approaches a new character.
Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Tamela D’Amico (TD): Thank you for having me!
From a career standpoint, how have you been finding life in the pandemic?
TD: The pandemic has been a challenge, obviously because the Entertainment business is pretty much shut down. Now, it’s opened a little bit. The whole year was a shutdown, projects I have on deck have been stalled until next year, 2021. Supposedly, you know? I have my own production company, so there’s a lot of stuff I have in pre-production that’s kept me pretty busy. On the creative note, my fiancé and I made a little movie in the house, a little short. It was based off of a nightmare I had, about the whole pandemic.
Just keeping busy was a challenge. As far as, being creatively fulfilled. I’m always busy, but being creatively fulfilled – we came up with things to do in addition to everything else I’m prepping for. Not knowing what the virus was at the beginning, people’s fears escalating things, having everything shut down, going in quarantine – it’s been tough. I think that now we’re minimally open to do some productions, it comes with a lot of deeper care. COVID testing, sometimes 12 times a week. It’s a lot.
When did you realise you wanted to pursue a creative profession?
TD: It was sort of always in my blood. I’m a bit of an old soul, so I like older Hollywood movies and was raised on them. I’m the youngest of 5 kids and my mom kept me home, I didn’t go to pre-school, which is the normal track for kids. Being the youngest of 5 with older siblings, what I watched was not the norm for kids – they watched Sesame Street or a lot of PBS. I watched something that was called New York Nostalgia Network, which would be akin to Turner Classic Movies now, where they play a lot of old shows/Hollywood movies. I schooled myself, unknowingly, on Old Hollywood and just thought that in order to be an actor or performer, you had to do everything, be good at everything.
So, I have all these different tracks in my career as a [uses quotation marks] “multi faceted talent” or whatever. It wasn’t because I was trying to conquer the world, it was because I thought that’s what a performer does. You have to be all knowing and all trained. It came from there and then my parents were really good at supporting my endeavours.
As you are also a singer, how often are you able to tie acting and singing together?
TD: Not enough, but it’s a goal in the next coming years. It’s not because the opportunities haven’t really been there… I just haven’t created those opportunities enough for myself. That’s where my frustration comes from, because I’m like: “I could be doing this myself.” I finally have a project now that will help me collaborate my singing, acting, directing – all in one film. Now, we just have to work on the financing part of it. I have something finally in that regard, where I can just use all of my talents.
It hasn’t happened to my satisfaction yet. I’ve had some branding deals for commercials, where things like that are rolling into one but not in the feature film way yet.
One of your new projects is One Little Finger, released on Amazon. What can you tell us about the film?
TD: One Little Finger, I play a character named Raina – an American neurologist who uproots her life to research music therapy in India. While there, [she] finds herself teaching children and adults, while having this great realisation that there is this ability, like the research was delving into. Basically, I use music to inspire them to challenge themselves. Let them see that they can, these dreams and goals that everyone else has, it’s applicable to them, they can do it.
My character has set up a musical performance at the end of the film, which is the whole thing we’re trying to get to as we move through the stories of these kids. They succeed and the character basically goes through a “Eat Pray Love” – just as I did, travelling as an actor to India. It was not a small thing and I was there over two years back and forth, doing the film. I took it on because the Entertainment business loves to talk about inclusion and diversity, but not a lot of people but their money where their mouth is. This film has over 80 people with disabilities in it.
Had you worked with Rupam Sarmah or any of the cast prior to One Little Finger?
TD: No, it’s sort of an interesting story. I’ll try to give you the bullet point. Basically, people say India is magic and it is, in a lot of ways. It’s a very unique land with unique people. Cultures with a lot of faith – if you have faith in India, they believe you have everything. This film came to me in such an odd way. I’d been offered two other Indian films prior that I did not take because my representation was fearful for me. They’re like: “We don’t know the infrastructure there, we’ve never had someone shoot in India, where these films would be. We don’t want you to go.” So, they sort of built up a fear in me of shooting in another country. One of those films ended up going to Cannes. I was totally bummed because I was like: “See! They were totally safe, it was fine.”
What ended up happening with this was, the director Rupam Sarmah had known of me from the Grammy Foundation, the music side. I didn’t know him. He ended up contacting me on Facebook out of frustration like: “Tamela! I’ve offered you this movie to your representative and they turned it down. I just have a strong feeling that you didn’t know about it.” I was like: “I don’t know about it! A) that’s completely not cool that it was done that way and B) thank you for your perseverance, because I would not have known. If I had not been so invested in my own social media, I probably would not have gotten that message. I really don’t know why he chose me, it’s something you’d have to ask him. He moves a lot from faith and gut instinct – he thought that I would be right for this part. When I read the script, I was like: “It’s such a beautiful film. How can I not do this movie?”
I talked to my reps and my lawyer – they were like: “Let’s vet people who know him and the company.” He gave me 20 people to verify his credentials and whatnot, we did and all tracked out. I think we must have put the fear of God into them, because when I got to India, I had so much security. I was a little bit in actor jail – besides have a very demanding filming schedule, there wasn’t much time for me to be a tourist.
If I did want to go outside, it would be a lot of hoopla to get out of my room. Everyone was being so protective of me, which I completely appreciated, not having been there before. Some of the parts where we were shooting were very rural areas. Even before I went to India – with the Government and trying to get my work visa, they were like: “Why do you want to shoot in this place? What is this about?” It bordered Pakistan, so it was very… they didn’t understand why we were shooting there. My passport was not cleared until the night before, just moments before I was to go on a plane.
You’re also known for your role on Disney Channel’s Best Friends Whenever. How was your experience working on a Disney project?
TD: Working with Disney was fantastic. It’s wonderful to be part of the Disney family, and also to play a Disney villain. I played the younger version of Nora Dunn, who was known from Saturday Night Live and I was a huge fan. I went in to the audition knowing who she was and how to emulate her. It’s a time travel show, about two friends. Very cute, it’s something I wish would have had in my youth. I would have loved to have seen that show as a kid because it’s so girl-forward. It’s very positive for girls and all kids really. Playing a Disney villain had afforded me a loyal fanbase of kids. They really amped up my social media, which then enabled me by default to become a social influencer. Once Disney got on board, it just opened up a whole other world out there. It was a fantastic experience, I really liked working with them.
When you’re cast as a new character, what do you think about first? Personality, backstory, mannerisms?
TD: Yeah, the general points that you just mentioned, all that you just mentioned. Definitely, their backstory, where they’re coming from, where they’ve been before this moment. Their physicality, their wants, their desires. Ultimately, the key in acting is finding something within the character that is similar to you. Sometimes, you play characters like that villain… I’m not a villain, I would never walk around with a crowbar, chasing kids. What is it about that character that is similar to me? I think when it comes to Best Friends Whenever because we used that example, she was so driven to get what she wanted. I’m a very driven person, so when she wanted to figure something out with regard to her time travel and all of her data, I work similarly. I love research, I’m a forever student. I love learning about things.
When it comes to One Little Finger, Raina’s a neurologist. I’m not a doctor, my brother’s a doctor. For me, researching neurology, the question I had was: “What would make a doctor want to step out of General Medicine, and look for alternative therapies?” There has to be a reason for that. So, I talked to a lot of neurologists and some were exceptionally by the book, which was interesting. Others were like: “Yes, music therapy is a very real thing. If you ever see on YouTube, there’s a lot of dementia patients who are completely catatonic. If you play music, something from their youth, they come to life and start remembering things. Once the music is shut off, that’s it, they’re back to the way they were.” It does trigger different parts of the brain and we know so little about the brain – it has so much to teach us and we’re still learning about it in 2020.
Going to India, like I said, just as an actor – everything my character experienced, I was experiencing as well. It was her first time as well. A bit of a method move there.
Another aspect of your career has been producing several projects. How different is the creative fulfilment from producing compared to acting?
TD: Sure. Wearing many hats, it seems daunting to a lot of people. It’s my natural ability, I don’t know the right word for it. It’s my natural drive to wear a lot of hats and be a problem solver. I think the question that you’re trying to ask is which I prefer more? A lot of people ask me, and there’s no preference. I’m a very creative person and I consider myself to be a storyteller, no matter what the medium is. At the end of the day, if you’re asking about the preference of what’s easier… definitely for me, being a performer, going on stage, singing my song and leaving.
Or, being an actor in someone else’s project – going in, doing my part, saying good night and going home is a much easier endeavour. As a producer and director, you’re always the first one there and the last one to leave. You’re staying with a project for a year until it’s completed. Being an actor is such a joy, you put your little piece into the puzzle. Then, go home and move onto the next thing. That is so lovely, not to detract from the other things. I love them all sort of equally, but acting is the easiest, in a lot of ways.
If people want to find more information about you or your projects, where can they look?
TD: Definitely my website is a great resource which is: www.tameladamico.com and all of my social media is @tameladamico. I try to keep my website up to date. If not, any of my socials is basically telling you what I’m up to.
Lastly, what are you most looking forward to in 2021?
TD: I’m most looking forward to get back to work in a very real way. Seeing and engaging friends and family. It sounds so silly, but just hugging people. Just really getting back to humanity.
Follow Courageous Nerd on social media:
Follow writer/Editor-in-Chief, Conor O’Brien on social media: