On "Spark," her new CD, Haviland Stillwell sings:
I was feeling frustrated.
But now I’m feeling free.
I was feeling frustrated.
I’m changing up the energy.
The lyrics of the track, appropriately titled "Frustrated," reveal Stillwell’s resilience and positive outlook when faced with a challenge. Like many performers working to establish a career in Hollywood, she’s experienced moments of uncertainty and discouragement about her elusive big break.
A versatile entertainer, Stillwell performs in TV, film and theater productions. She also writes, produces and does voiceover work for animated projects such as "Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse" and "Monster High." She does all of this as an openly gay performer, which she says has been more of a help than a hindrance to her work. Being open about her sexual orientation allows her to bring all aspects of her personality to a performance.
Stillwell’s television acting credits include "The Client List," "CSI: NY" and a recurring role in "Single Ladies." Her career highlight so far was opening in 2004 on Broadway in "Fiddler on the Roof." The cast included Alfred Molina, Rosie O’Donnell, Harvey Fierstein and Lea Michele. "That’s been one of the best nights of my life," she says.
Despite the occasional frustration she’s encountered, Stillwell continues to be encouraged about the career path she decided to pursue while growing up in Georgia. She recently revealed to Desert Outlook the unexpected lesson she’s learned along her journey and why she’s especially proud of her music.
To be a working entertainer today, how important is it to be able to bring multiple talents to the table, such as singing, acting and writing?
It’s definitely valuable and makes it easier to consistently be working. Having said that, I just happen to like doing a variety of things. It all has to do with being in entertainment. The more versatile, the better and the more interesting things are.
Are you doing what you dreamed of doing as a child growing up in Savannah and Atlanta?
Yes, I totally am. When I was a little girl, I saw Bette Midler in a movie. She was singing and she was acting. She was so sort of larger than life, and fabulous and beautiful, and I thought "I want to be just like her." I built a shrine to Bette Midler. I was like a young gay man. Though I’m a lesbian, I was a lot like a young gay man.
If I’m being honest, is it on the scale that I want to be doing it on? Not yet. But I understand about momentum and hard work, and that’s OK. I’m a firm believer in divine timing and that everything happens for a reason. I feel like things are moving as they should.
What’s one thing about your journey in the entertainment business that was totally unexpected?
What’s been extremely important for me to keep remembering is the importance of building a career rather than getting discovered and suddenly becoming a star. It really doesn’t work like that. For the most part, it’s about knowing that you’re a business person and building your career in a very deliberate, systematic way and treating people well.
Kids who want to be actors ask me such specific questions. There isn’t just one way to be successful; there isn’t just one formula. We’re artists. We’re not just trying to get a specific job. There are a million different ways to be an artist. That’s what is both exciting and can also be really frustrating. I expected the hard work, I expected the sacrifices and the sweat and tears and all of that stuff. I guess what has been extremely important for me to learn over and over is patience and fortitude.
I had a therapist and a psychic who both said to me, "There’s room at the table for everybody." Both said it in that way. Yes, I’m a very positive person and I really try to keep it light. Energy begets energy. I’ve gone through periods where it was harder to be positive, but I prefer to be happy and I prefer to be lighter.
You seem to be in demand as a voice-over performer for animated projects. How did that happen?
It wasn’t something that I necessarily thought of as a kid. I did always do voices and I imitated people. I always was a storyteller; that’s a sort of a Southern thing. I’ve always been fascinated with people’s dialects.
I was doing "Les Misérables" on Broadway, and Chip Zion, who is one of my musical theater heroes and has had quite a successful voice-over career, asked me if I ever thought about getting into it. I met with his agent and we started working together. One thing led to another and we started booking more jobs.
I love it. I love creating characters. It’s connected to what I do as an actor and a singer, but it’s its own genre.
Tell us about the new album, "Spark."
I’m really excited about it. I have released an album before, but this is my first pop album that’s all original music. To me, this is a very personal project. It’s probably the most personal work I’ve ever done, which causes me a little bit of anxiety.
Also, artistically, it’s very freeing. I really have had the freedom to make what I wanted to make. It’s just really fun pop music that has an inspiring message behind it. It’s very much about accepting yourself and treating each other well. It’s sort of a lofty outlook. I’m a very optimistic person. I like to think we all can be our best selves. I think you can do that in music.
What effect has being openly gay had on your career?
As far I know, it has not (had an effect). In my estimation, I understand why people are concerned about that. It definitely crossed my mind before I was very publicly out. Everyone who’s an artist just wants to work. As actors we have to be versatile. We want people to say, "OK, I can see her playing a bunch of different roles." You don’t want something to stigmatize you.
Having said that, I also feel as an artist it’s important to be free and not to live in fear. I made a decision early on that I just had to be true to myself and be out. It just meant I’m not going to lie about this part of myself. I don’t want to be ashamed because it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I’ve actually seen more of a positive benefit of being out than the other way around. We have the benefit now of so many people being out. It’s not like this weird subsection of society anymore. You turn on the TV and there’s Ellen (DeGeneres), there’s Neil Patrick Harris. We have to be role models, we all do. With social media now, you have to teach people by example.
What’s your dream role or job?
There are lots of things. Probably I would say right now I would love to have the opportunity to play a principal character in a television show – where I get to be with a character for a length of time, work with the writers, and let it grow. I like creating and I like collaborating.
What’s next for you?
Well I’m doing concerts in various cities. I’m also working on some new voice-over jobs in Los Angeles. And I’m writing a couple of projects that are in development. Lots of various and sundry TV and film projects in LA and in Georgia.
For our female readers, here’s an important question: are you single?
I’m very happily girlfriended. It’s been a few years. She’s really amazing. She’s a writer, and she’s the most creative person I know.
Haviland Stillwell’s new pop music, "Spark," is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and in CD form at havilandstillwell.com.Tags: actor, concert, film, movie, music, release, singer, television, tv