1.6- Ciera Payton: Biracial Casting, Hollywood Diversity, Envisioning your Future

After Ciara's awesome appearance on the podcast this past week, I thought it would be a great time to re-post her previous article on the blog! And in the greatest way, there is actually way more story to tell in the article below!


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Up next at bat in our "actors who don't change diapers or shake an old fashioned for money" series (that was a test by the way, you never shake an old fashioned)... 

I bring you Ciera Payton. We also met through our coach Sara Mornell and she and I took class together for a few months. She has inspired me since the day I met her...this was before I knew she survived Hurricane Katrina and that that was the least of her obstacles. 

This girl is full of life stories, advice, and some game changing beauty ideas. 

I also wish I could play you the recording from our interview because her voice is straight velvety chocolate!

What would you want people to know about your life, how you got to here?

I got bit with the acting bug really early on, maybe 8-9 years old. It's hard to tell this story and not make it sound woe its me, but my childhood had its challenges. My father was a drug dealer and had his own battles, as a kid that had a huge impact on me. I was introverted and reserved. I think because of this, I gravitated towards writing my own stories and performing them for my grandmother. My walk-in closet was my place I used to play with my toys and wrote stories. I recorded children stories on a tape recorder and I would set up a stage in my living room and act out the book I recorded with my stuffed animals while the tape played. As a kid that was me creating an alternate reality. My dad saw that and he knew he had to put me in a creative school. The one I was in currently was not working  out, I was alway getting jumped.


Ok what does that mean, because I am from the middle of nowhere and no one got jumped. Like, ever.

They would hit me, pull my skirt up (we had school uniforms), and I would come home crying every day. So he got his boss to let us use his address (for the school dividing lines) and he used his apt in the French Quarter so I could switch to a better school. And the school I switched to had some amazing artists that came out of there. Anthony Mackie, Harry Conock Jr, etc. It’s a small school, a lot of kids from the projects; we had some really great teachers, and really great mentors. I gravitated towards Shakespeare and Greek mythology. And Maya Angelo also played a huge role for me in expressing myself. From there I ended up going to North Carolina School of the Arts, they had a senior year leap-year you could do, so I did my senior year of high school there and ended up going to college there too. I was like yea, I ‘m doing this, I’m taking the leap, and I’m getting into thousand of dollars of debt haha!


Why New York and not LA?

So then after I graduated I went to New York and started waiting tables. For some reason there was this notion of “don’t go to LA till LA calls you”.

I was a part of the Negro Theatre Ensemble, and it got me my first New York Times write up. And John Levy [from Warner Brothers] saw that, he was casting Shameless at the time. And they flew me out and I tested for it.

So your first LA audition was testing for a major pilot?!

Yea, it was bizarre. I was signing off on this big full frontal nudity role. My agent was like, are you comfortable with that? And I lied and I was like yea, yea I’ll do that…

The test was on a Friday, and I flew back to New York, and on the Monday morning I was a Joe Allen restaurant. I was walking in, putting on my apron, when I got the call that I didn’t get it. I was completely heart broken. And I was trying to serve meatloaf while holding back tears.

But as heart breaking as it was, and still it, I truly believe that that wasn’t the role for me. To be that young in this industry, to be fully naked, and having simulated sex on screen, I don’t know what that would have done to my psyche. I believe everything turns out how its supposed to.

From there LA kept calling, so I moved here for pilot season. Tested for another show, and then I just never left. I stayed here, and started from scratch with two suitcases. I had some friends ship me some stuff, what I could afford to be shipped, and I just stayed out here. That was 2010. It’s been a crazy journey.

How did you end up starting you own company? From two suitcases to a whole company?

I always had an entrepreneur drive. When the movie Clueless came out I made pens with feathers and stuff and sold them at recess. In 2011 I started my own catering company. Since I was 16 I worked in restaurants, but I always knew I wanted my own thing. So I started my own catering business. It worked well for a while but I got in over my head with that, and also I didn’t want to get sued with food laws!

One of the big things I kept ignoring was I am allergic to a whole bunch of stuff. And when I am fortunate enough to have my makeup done, on set or otherwise, I was always having allergic reactions to their products. And it’s the weirdest thing, you tell people you’re allergic to something and they don’t believe you. I think there needs to be some discussion around that!

So I decided next time I worked on something I would bring my own things. I probably spent over $1,000 on lipsticks. I would always start breaking out, having hives, there’s maybe two brands I can wear. So I thought, I’m going to start making this myself.

So I bought shea butter, beet powder, minerals, etc. I Googled, played around, read all the ingredients in lipsticks, and did allergy testing with a doctor. It was only for myself at first. Then I made them for my mom and my aunt and a few friends but that was pretty much it. I

I would just take old lipstick tubes and pour it in them.

The first ones I tried to mold looked like lopsided penises. For some reason the molds just never worked out…just freakin' penises.

That's a whole other business!

People were asking me about it so I started scouring for a manufacturer. I wanted it close by so I could go there and see it. I happened to find one in San Diego. It has been labor of love, a long time in the making. I’m learning I can’t do this on my own. I am seeking business partners now. I think I have something really great with this. I think it should be something that is in every women's hands.

So did you have to really "spend out"? As in spend your own money?

Oh I spent a lot. I mean a lot….within reason. I was able to do a crowd funding campaign and that made the biggest difference.

I am iffy about crowd funding I will tell you. I am super skeptical…for a girl who's never been jumped haha. And there's just so many. But I gave to yours because I knew you were someone doing something big for a reason.

Thank you!!

Of course! So how has this affected your acting? You can’t have your work covered when you get auditions, other peoples jobs are in the line, your customers are awaiting an order, etc.

It’s definitely challenging. Everything we do [as actors] is so emotional, mental, and physical. It has been a balancing act for me. I’m up late looking at budgets and then I get an 8 page audition. It's tough. I will say the beautiful thing about it is I get to wear my wear product. I am my own product placement. I have something healthy that I can wear that looks good on camera.

How do you deal with not being in control of acting vs being in control of your business?

It’s still a work in progress. It drives me insane. Lately I have been working on setting up a routine. One of the biggest things that is helping me get perspective on this is a class I took on money management and budgeting and letting that inform my time management as well.

If time is my commodity, and time is my currency right now, whats the next use of my time. 

  • I have 4 categories:Mental health and wellbeing
  • my career
  • income
  • wealth building.

(I LOVE this by the way!)

If something doesn't fit in those categories, I can’t do it.

It’s a new way of looking at it and processing but I am excited about it.

I want to be an A-list actress and I want to have multi-million dollar companies. It’s strategy, it's projecting, it's manifesting, it's being in a good mental space. By no means have I achieved that but it’s a fun place to be.

What’s your day like? Do you have an routines?

Getting up and meditating has been a big thing that has proven to be helpful to me. I have also just started a gratitude journal. Maybe 3 times a week? Not every week but I try. Then I’ll go take a walk or go to the gym, if I have an audition I’ll put all my energy into that. And if not, I’m working on a computer getting it together.

Do you use TV as background because I do and I love it!

I do, I love it! It’s like there’s life! Documentaries and reality TV are the best.

So where do you fit in your social life?

For a long time I didn’t. It was also a defense mechanism for me because I got out of an intense relationship and I kind of sheltered myself for a while. I was in Atlanta recently for a project and realized how much fun it is to go out and have fun and how good it was for my soul. And the cool thing is that by going out I got more customers! I was wearing my products. I'm getting out there and that is my networking.

Last question, if you could give yourself or actors advice, what do you have to give?

*You just cannot give up. I have had my moments. I have been down to $246 in my bank account. And I love my parents dearly, but they are not wealthy, I don’t have any life lines. I have had my back against the wall numerous times.

I did quite after Hurricane Katrina. I lost my home, lost my grandmother, it was crazy. To be studying acting didn’t seem to matter anymore.

I quit acting, I left school, and I was in New Orleans with my brother. I got a call from this agent that used to come to this restaurant I worked at and asked me to go to this audition, I said no. She called back an hour later and I went. I got the part.

Something spiritual with that happened. Every time I’m tired of all of it, something will happen or I’ll meet someone who inspires me. And LA is that place that really does test you, “You wanna do this? I wanna see how bad you wanna do this.”

*Listen to your gut. We have those guides in us. Most of time we choose to ignore them. Whether it's a neighborhood or a person that doesn’t feel right, listen to that. I have been bitten in the ass by this so hard. Listen! A lot of young people tend to complicate things, we overcompensate, over guess. And its like shhhh. Hey. No one's dying. Listen to your guts. The answer is always within.

I mean damn you guys.

This was 45 min of insight heaven.

But wait, it gets better. Ciera knows us struggling actors are broke AF so she has generously provided us with a discount code for her incredible products! What what!

My favorites are the Glamor and Merlot lip color. Get em before you have to pay more at Nordstrom's folks!

And follow Ciera and her products here:


Questions for myself or Ciera? Add em below! 

Actor-ishSam Valentine