Betty Dravis: Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Marissa. Chase Von, my co-author of Dream Reachers Vol. One, saw you on NextCat and sent you my way. After viewing your videos, reading your resume and seeing your outstanding pictorial portfolio, I’m astonished at all you have done. You not only sing, dance, model and play several instruments, but you’ve also been in movies and on TV. It blows my mind to know you do all that while attending college on a scholarship. Since you’re only nineteen years old, I’m curious to know what age you were when you started performing? Can you tell us a little about your childhood and why your mom named you Autumn?
Marissa Autumn: I started at age three doing a dance commercial for the preschool I attended. I also sang in church at that age; I was an angel. At the age of nine, I did a commercial for the clean waters of Canada and was given free camping tickets for their parks…and clothes saying Canada on them. The principal of my middle school told me I was a great performer and had me perform in every event that took place at the school. That sparked my interest and it was so much fun, I just kept on. By the age of thirteen, I was singing at fairs and performing in plays throughout the state of Michigan. At the age of fourteen, I won a ten-thousand-dollar scholarship for performing a concert at the local fair. It was not a contest; someone in the crowd took an interest and chose me. I was sent to Pittsburgh to train with a famous choreographer from California so I could be in an MTV video with J. Lo (Jennifer Lopez).
It was a hurry-up affair: They called my mother and said they had a scholarship for me, but I had to take it by Wednesday. It was in March and my school was having soccer tryouts. I love soccer, but I chose the scholarship and went to Pittsburgh. It was so exciting. One performance led to another and at sixteen, I did the Super Bowl XL in Detroit and was starting to perform Country/Rock/ Pop concerts in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and Iowa.
My modeling career also took off at age fifteen. I started modeling for Nordstroms with the girls from the movie Mean Girls and went on to be the “Gap Girl.” I made arrangements to do a concert for Hurricane Katrina victims, raising $ 20,000 the first hour. I don’t know what the final total was, but was told a lot of money was donated. It was an awesome feeling to know I was helping others.
All the time I was doing this, I also played on a traveling soccer team; performed in the high school band (I play the flute, piano and saxophone); served as varsity cheerleader; and was on the school dance team. I was in the school band for nine years, starting in fourth grade. I was also an honor student, but truthfully, I could not have done any of it without my family’s encouragement and my mom driving me all over the place.
On the domestic front, I also was trained by my mother to make floral arrangements. That is something she does, so she was pleased when I won all kinds of blue ribbons at the local and state fairs and from Women’s National Farm and Garden shows for on-the-spot floral arrangements. But I can NOT make brownies to save me…or cookies. LOL…
My mom said she kept me very busy so I would not have a lot of time to think about the fact that I was adopted. It worked! I was adopted at the age of five weeks and when my adopted mother saw me all she could see was my hair. It had so many different colors of gold, yellow, brown and red that she said she had to put Autumn in my name because my hair looked like autumn leaves piled on top of my tiny head.
Betty Dravis: I see what she meant, Marissa, your hair is gorgeous. But my mouth is hanging open… I read about some of your accomplishments, but never knew the full extent. Thanks for telling us more. You are amazing! Would you share a little about your college life and how you manage to do so much. What is a typical day like for you?
Marissa Autumn: Well, Betty, today is one of the days I am working in Red Dawn. Filming starts at seven-thirty p.m. I got up early, ate breakfast and hurried to get to college by eight; came home for lunch at one; went to work at one-thirty (internship with veterinarian starts at two). Then I went home at five, ate a very quick dinner, dashed to change clothes, put curlers in my hair. By five-fifteen, I was putting makeup on in the car, while mom raced me to the film location. I also studied in the car. I’ll spend all night there making the movie, studying between takes. Then Mom will pick me up at seven in the morning and drive through Wendy’s for breakfast, then race to get me to college which is about an hour away from where the movie is being filmed. Then another day will start all over again.
Betty Dravis: Yikes, Marissa, it makes me tired just hearing about it. It’s a good thing they don’t film every day or you would never get any rest. With your busy schedule, this may seem like a silly question, but you’re a vibrant, active young woman and at your age you must date some. Do you have a steady boyfriend, if they still call it that in the new millennium? If so, how does he feel about you keeping so busy?
Marissa Autumn: I did date a young man for five years, but decided I wanted to date other guys to make sure what I really want, so I broke up with Kyle. Plus, I wanted to do my own thing. I am too young to settle for one person at this time of my life. Kyle still comes to all my performances and some of my rehearsals. We are good friends, but I am now dating a few different guys. (See photo of Marissa and Kyle.)
Betty Dravis: That seems sensible at this time, Marissa, and I’m glad you and Kyle are still friends. Now since you do so much, can you narrow it down to three things in your life that you couldn’t live without? And since you sing, what song do you find yourself singing most often in the shower?
Marissa Autumn: The three things I want most in life are: To meet my real parents someday, a very good education (seven to eight years of college) and to have the lead role in a big-screen movie that would feature all my talents: acting, singing, dancing, etc. When I am doing anything—acting, singing or playing a sport–I am performing and I want to be the best at it! If that means more training, then I am ready to do it. There is one other thing I love doing and that is helping others. From the time that I can remember, I have been helping other children in need by doing concerts to help raise money for them. One of my favorites is the Festival of Trees for Children’s Hospital. I started very young in helping them…and the USA soldiers is another group I perform for.
I don’t sing a lot in the shower… LOL. But on-stage I love doing pop music, but the crowds enjoy it a lot when I do country too. Gerald Dodson, who is a USA security officer in Washington D.C. from the White House, and Rick Young, a music teacher who owns Talent Live Studio in Michigan, are the ones who wrote my original songs: The Girl, Take Me, (pop) and Whirlwind (country). The Girl is my favorite and I’m hoping someday they may want to use it in a movie. Gerry and Rick have another song, Making Love in the Rain, for me to record in the future.
Betty Dravis: You certainly have a lot of people encouraging you in your career, Marissa. You are very lucky! From your website, I see that modeling is also a big part of your life. You are a stunning beauty, so I can see why. You have done runway and print modeling for so many big names that I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Among them are: Katerina Bocci’s Bridal Show and her private showings, Dior Cosmetics, St. Pucci, Macys, Saks, Nordstroms, Gap, MGM, Hour Magazine and you were chosen to model at Renu Magazine’s launch party. It must have been fun to combine your talent for singing in some of the larger shows. Since everyone thinks of models as being perfect, can you bring that “down to earth” for us by relating a runway mishap or a funny incident that happened during any of your modeling assignments?
Marissa Autumn: There are two times that come to mind. One was when I modeled the fabulous $40,000 red gown by Katerina Bocci (see photo): Just as I was ready to step onto the runway someone hit my shoulder causing me to fall. The other embarrassing time was when I modeled and sang at MGM for the grand opening of Renu Magazine. You had to be twenty-one to walk through the casino to get to the event room where I was to perform and model. I had to use my sister’s ID to get in the place. Since she is blonde, a little older and larger than me, I told the security guard that I lost weight, had plastic surgery and dyed my hair. I don’t know if he believed me, but he let me in. But some mean-spirited person called, saying there was an eighteen-year-old modeling, so before the show started they did another security check. I hid in the bathroom, but they asked everyone to come out and show ID again. Fortunately, the same security guard was there; he looked at me and said, “She’s okay! She’s over twenty-one. She just had a lot of plastic surgery!” I was so relieved to be able to perform that night! I got a laugh from that because that nice guard had no idea how ironic his remark was: The grand opening was put on by a well-known plastic surgeon, Michael Gray.
Betty Dravis: That’s a funny story, Marissa. I notice on your resume it states that you are open to roles from fifteen to thirty. I was taken aback when I first saw the thirty limit; I couldn’t imagine you looking thirty. But now that I’ve seen the sophisticated shot of you in that red gown with the extremely chic, more grown-up hairdo, I believe it. But getting back to your acting, I’m intrigued by the photo of you with the famous singer/actor Billy Ray Cyrus. How did you meet him and where was that picture taken?
Marissa Autumn: I met him about two years ago…just before we did a concert in Canton, Michigan. He is a very nice man and compared me to his daughter at the time. I was happy to perform the last song with him; he was a lot of fun to work with.
Betty Dravis: Speaking of actors, there’s another photo of you with comic actor Rob Schneider who got his start on Saturday Night Live. I’ve been a fan since his 1999 movie Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and its 2005 sequel Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. He’s a riot! It was cool to see him on Jay Leno’s show recently. You told me that you played the part of a college student in one of his films, American Virgin; I’m wondering if you played a friend of the main female lead Priscilla, played by actress Jenna Dewan? What was it like working with Dewan and Schneider? Is he as funny off-screen as he is on?
Marissa Autumn: Yes, I played a friend of hers at the pretend college which was filmed in Greek Town, Detroit. We attended a lot of the same parties throughout the movie and we were doing what most college kids do: partying, drinking, dancing…and some were having pretend sex in the movie. Not me, though! Dewan was very quiet on and off the set, but Rob is a lot of fun. In one part of the movie he is just about all naked. This movie was a lot of fun to be in. While waiting for the set to get ready, Rob and I would sometimes sing together.
Betty Dravis: An interesting bit of trivia I learned during research for this interview is that American Virgin started shooting in New Orleans with the title of Virgin on Bourbon Street, later changing to American Virgin when they decided to shoot it in Michigan.
I understand you have been in two big-screen movies, two HBO films, had a part in a Jennifer Lopez MTV video, and performed a concert at Detroit’s Super Bowl XL party at Somerset Collection. How do you handle such early success? And since you share some of the attributes of Jennifer Lopez, is she one of your role models? Did you learn anything from her while working on the MTV? If so, I’m sure our readers would enjoy hearing all about it.
Marissa Autumn: I am so busy I don’t have time to think about that stuff. I am usually studying or going from place to place. Yes, J. Lo was very interesting…and really pretty. At that age (fifteen), I was very impressed with everything she did. I remember her telling me to get used to learning a whole new dance in one day or even overnight. While in Pittsburgh, I had to practice dancing from seven a.m. until eleven at night. It was a long day… I was taught by a choreographer in Pittsburgh that had been flown in from California just for this video. J. Lo was right; I had to learn some new dance moves…and learn them fast!
Betty Dravis: Most of your parts have been small parts so far––from college students to aggressive shoppers––but you said above one of your goals is to have a lead role that showcases all your talents. Please share your life’s ambition and some advice for those who wish to be in the entertainment industry.
Marissa Autumn: Yes, I want the LEAD role in the movies, but I still want to do my singing and dancing too. I think that an entertainer should be able to do all three and do them well if trained the right way. I have watched many movies where the actor is acting, singing and dancing. I am going to college year around hoping to get my degree in a shorter time so I can spend more time acting. By the age of twenty-one, I will have completed my four years of college with honors. By that time I hope to have been in a number of different movies, also.
Betty Dravis: I admire your determination and ambition, Marissa. That’s great advice and smart thinking. It’s always good to have a back-up plan. Being a veterinarian, to me, would be an exciting, rewarding career choice too. Perhaps someday you can combine the two. Do you have a current mentor? If so, tell us about him or her and about others who have influenced your life…your career.
Marissa Autumn: I love acting, but want to make sure I have a good backup. Just in case the acting doesn’t make it all the way, I could be a veterinarian…but now I’m doing both and having a lot of fun. My mentor in my life was my principal in middle school Mrs. Jo Kwasny. She saw me perform at the school talent show and told me I have to be an actor. She said that when I performed her eyes were always on me, like the other kids were not on the stage, even though they were. She encouraged me to act, sing and to get good grades. I can’t thank her enough…
Betty Dravis: Regarding your music, you have a lovely, natural voice and the best way to describe your vibrant stage presence is to say you have tremendous sex appeal and you “glow.” I’ve seen some of your videos and you are just as appealing singing pop as you are doing country and rock. I read that you’ve been compared to LeAnn Rimes, Carrie Underwood and even Shakira. That takes me back to when I interviewed country/western superstar Tanya Tucker when she was only fourteen. At the time she was being compared to Brenda Lee who also got a young start. I hope your being compared to these big names is a good omen for your bright future, also.
Your versatility is awesome and you certainly get your audience revved up and wanting more. During each performance you appear to be having the time of your life. Is it as much fun as it appears? And how does it feel being compared to those famous entertainers?
Marissa Autumn: Yes, it is a lot of fun. And it feels great! At first it was a little scary because some people were chasing me, taking pictures and shouting my name and all I wanted to do was make it to the bathroom before I had to do my concert. It really feels good when the whole crowd shouts my name when I walk on stage to do a concert. I love it! And to be compared to some of the performers who have won so many awards is awesome… To win the same awards as those top entertainers is something I dream of.
Betty Dravis: Since this interview will come out around Christmas, I’m accompanying this story with a photo or two from your Christmas concert last year when you entertained some of our U.S. soldiers. You told me earlier that show “was a story in itself.” What did you mean by that? Also, where was this performance and do you have one lined up for this Christmas?
Marissa Autumn: Yes, I am working on doing a holiday concert for the soldiers this year in Michigan. I make the concerts as much fun as possible by having the soldiers put their names on pieces of paper and put the papers in a basket. I have a number of different business donations–CDs, video games, phones, games, gift cards–and other items for them. After my concert, I pull from the basket and give every soldier a present. At one of the concerts last year, I had them video one of the soldiers and me for YouTube. After the video was out for about two months, I got an email asking me to remove the video from YouTube because I was way too sexy to be with the old man in the video. Here is a picture of the “old man” and me. He’s far from being old; a nice-looking young soldier… Aren’t people funny? LOL
Betty Dravis: That is odd, Marissa, but they were probably being overly protective of you because you’re so young. But you are so fascinating, I got carried away. I’m supposed to ask twelve questions, but I’m making it the generous “baker’s dozen” and asking thirteen. I’m sure the Dames won’t mind…and I’m sure our readers are as charmed by you as I am.
We mentioned two of your big screen movies above, but I understand you are also in one that was just released in November: What’s wrong with Virginia? It stars Ed Harris, who happens to be one of my favorite actors, and Jennifer Connelly. Please tell us about your role in this movie and whether you had any personal interaction with Harris or Connelly. Now, here’s my thirteenth question: Can you tell us a little about your on-set interactions with Ed and Jennifer?
Marissa Autumn: It was a very exciting movie to be in, Betty, because it has a lot of twists and turns. I played a young lady in the town. The place where the film was being shot was two-and-a-half hours from my house so that time I had to stay in the city. Because of that I was there when we were finished for the day of filming and was able to have dinner with them at times. That was fun. Ed and Jennifer were both very nice to me, and Jennifer said she liked the different colors in my hair. I get that a lot…
Betty Dravis: Well, that ties up the interview, Marissa. You certainly have an exciting life, and I’ve enjoyed our time together. I doubt if you’ll end up as a veterinarian with such a great start in the entertainment industry, but like I said above: both choices are ideal careers and you are smart to have a back-up. Thanks for sharing yourself with the Dames of Dialogue and our readers. You are just the kind of all-American girl that we love to see succeed. Keep us posted on your career, and before you leave, I hope you don’t mind if I share links to your website and a few of your YouTube videos:
Marissa’s Main Websites:
In closing, I’d like to remind our readers to catch you in What’s wrong with Virginia? I’m also impressed that you were in the Disney presentation of the Wannabes on December 11th. It was great seeing you perform with that fun group of young people… You will also be entertaining the US soldiers again with a Christmas concert. Don’t forget to send us some new photos to share on our various websites.
It’s been a lovely, inspiring visit, Marissa. We hope to see you on the big screen in that lead role before too long. Keep in touch. I wish you and all the Dames’ readers a
and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!