‘THE NUTRACKER’ actor Alexander Loxton on acting, dancing and staying humble

Birmingham native Alexander Loxton is a rare breed: accomplished not only as an actor, the heartthrob is also a revered dancer, having originally trained at the Royal Ballet School where was school mates with the renowned Sergei Polunin and actress Sonoya Mizuno. This heritage laid a solid foundation for his current status as a British export taking Hollywood by storm, having recently been cast in a US feature film and currently appearing in cinemas around the world in Disney’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.”

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Acting and dancing British sensation Alexander Loxton at the BAFTA awards in Los Angeles.  

Alexander’s thoughts about his role in the movie reveal a modesty often displayed by performers working at the top of their field, demonstrative of the important notion that successful entertainers need only to prioritise craft and skill above fame and work will come.

“Being a dance movie it was central to the production to have the highest calibre dancers in the world to represent “The Nutcracker” suitably and working alongside artists such as Misty Copeland displays that.”

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Alexander spent meaningful time on the same set as Oscar-nominee, Keira Knightley, in ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’.

In the movie, Alexander shares the silver screen with Oscar-nominated A-lister Keira Knightly, and in doing so cements his status as one of the leading young British actors working today, having carved out a phenomenal niche for himself as a dashing Brit who often plays a charming foil to American or narcissistic characters. In College Humor series “The Britishes,” for instance, Alexander was credited as Lord Harry, while he also is listed as a series regular in hilarious comedy “Bro-Dum” where he played the suitably-British role of ‘Rupert.’

“I’m very lucky I get to use my national heritage in all of my performances, as it’s an important part of my identity that I want to share with the world. And that’s why I’m a performer.”

“Outside of dance lessons I was a typical young lad from the midlands, I was in fights at school, in detention and was more comfortable in a tracksuit than anything else. My parents were not at all artistic.”

Despite the reservations Alexander had to dancing as a child, which was the pathway that eventually lead to acting, he found himself drawn to the discipline and craftsmanship that dancing afforded him.

“I started training at a local school from the age of 8 as a tap dancer and then was persuaded into trying classical ballet and started to reluctantly find myself enjoying it. I would later train at a run down sportshall and whilst groups of men would bustle into the changing room to play football I was pulling up my tights ready to dance.”

This keen awareness of his surroundings, and the humility with which he treated his artistic pursuits, clearly forms a core part of his intuition as a performer. Such a unique curiosity about life and perspective on people is a crucial tenet of Alexander’s one-of-a-kind talents as an artist.

“I can’t help but feel pulled towards the arts – I think now more than ever we have a responsibility to keep people filled with joy, and the easiest way to do that is through moving forms of entertainment.”

When asked about Alexander’s talents, co-star Jayden Fowora-Knight sung the Brit’s praises. “Alexander is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent – he’s so charming but he’s always willing to be vulnerable, and that’s crucial for a performer. Whether he’s acting on screen, or performing on stage – he draws you in because he’s so intently focused on the present.”

Alex had to remain tight-lipped about his upcoming project. “All I can say is that I’m really excited – that I’ve been given the opportunity to work as an actor in an American feature film is the culmination of many years of hard work. I can’t wait to start!”

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Alexander mid-dance from one of his many highly regarded performances. 
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Actor Tennille Read Shines on “Workin’ Moms”

Award-winning actor Tennille Read’s versatility and drive have propelled her through a remarkable career, one where she gracefully slides from stage to film and television with chameleonic quicksilver grace. The charming, Toronto-based Read’s mixture of talent, training and intriguing good looks qualify her as a commanding presence, one that’s equal parts reserved dignity and combustible whimsy, an irresistible combination which serves as an ideal foundation for characterizations in any genre—comedy, drama, adventure or fantasy.

Read, who took the Best Actor award for her lead performance in the stylish drama “I Lost My Mind” at 2018’s Hollywood North Film Festival, is experiencing a burst of creative and career momentum. She recently landed her first recurring role on a television series, another significant step forward in the ambitious player’s roster of professional achievement, and one that she found particularly rewarding.

“The show is called ‘Workin’ Moms,’ on CBC in Canada,” Read said. “It’s a funny and poignant half  hour show about the struggles women face when balancing a career with motherhood, and unabashedly shows the messy challenges of parenting. I really enjoyed doing this project because the people I work with are incredibly nice and I was familiar with some of the crew from past projects. We became an ensemble, similar to being the cast of a theatre production, which really makes a difference—I like that immensely. “

For Read, this represents an upshift which signals both peer appreciation and an affirmation of her formidable capabilities—even though she can’t reveal too much about the project.

photos by Hamish Birt

“The show starts its third season in January,” Read said. “But because it hasn’t aired yet, I’m not allowed to spill any details about my character or the season’s story arc. I can’t even talk about it with friends or family. After all, if you knew what happened in advance, you probably wouldn’t want to watch it and we want all our viewers to be on the same page and see the show unfold as planned.”

Created by American sitcom veteran Catherine Reitman (“Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Black-ish”), who also stars, produces and writes the popular, International Emmy-nominated series, is an ideal platform for Read.

“Developing my character for ‘Workin’ Moms’ was fun, but it was also driven by many questions,” Read said. “I wasn’t given much information about my character in the beginning, only got scripts for the first few episodes so I had to really mine them for details about characterization. I think the writers were still figuring her out themselves, but that meant I got to bring a lot of my own interpretation to set and the character got crafted along the way very organically as a result.”

While she isn’t free to share any details in depth, viewers can clearly expect some emotional fireworks from the talented actor.

“My character’s story arc was very satisfying to explore,” Read said. “I can’t say much specifically, but I can say that the challenges she faced are very relevant to many women in their child-bearing years. While I haven’t personally had the experience she had, some of my friends have gone through it and I have nothing but empathy for them. My character makes some pretty bold choices from episode to episode as the season unfolds that shed more light on her inner workings.”

Read’s reputation as coolly reliable pro was tested, memorably, on what turned out to be a particularly challenging location shoot.

“On the final day of shooting it seemed like every possible obstacle came out of the woodwork,” Read said. “We were on a street in downtown Toronto on the Friday leading up to the Labor Day long weekend. There was an airshow scheduled for the weekend, but on that specific Friday, the planes were practicing their routines, right above us. So, our dialogue was already competing with aircrafts roaring by, when a random car ran out of gas on the streetcar tracks beside us. It wasn’t long before we had a bunch of streetcars piling in. Then, someone thought they smelled gas and called 911 so we had a whole fire brigade siren in. They stopped traffic in both directions while they investigated the stalled car and the “gas leak.” Trying to keep focused and to stay in the scene was no easy feat. But all the crew and actors rose to the occasion and got it done. In fact, it became ridiculously funny—we kept asking ourselves ‘what’s next?’”

Read’s poise, versatility and patience are matched only by her deep well of dramatic skill, creativity and in-the-moment flexibility. It’s a winning formula which has consistently elevated her standing in film, theater and television and is certain to continue her ascent as an in-demand actor.

“TV shoots very fast, which is what I love about it,” Read said. “It demands that I be ready, able and present from the very first rehearsal until they call wrapped. Being relaxed and open to the other actors in the scene and my own impulses is key. It’s not always easy to do when there’s so much activity swirling around me on set—but I think that’s the enjoyable challenge.”

From Ukraine to Hollywood: Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko

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Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko

Now an in-demand global costume designer, Ukraine-born Viktoriia Vlasenko first discovered her love and innate talent for her craft when she was just 8 years old. Vlasenko used her spare time to make party clothes for herself, her mother and her dolls, she even designed to suit her younger brother wore to his graduation.

Keen to continue her love of costume design, Vlasenko completed a Bachelor’s degree in fashion design at the Milan Institute of Design IED (Istituto Europeo di Design) which is among the top 7 universities in the world which specialize in fashion design.

After she graduated from the prestigious university, Vlasenko went full speed ahead and participated in a number of fashion shows and causes. She showed a collection at the Fashion Show 2015 New Talents Vogue Milan for young designers, and even participated in the No War project. The No War project was something very close to her heart, as it allowed her to protest against the war in Ukraine. Her impressive creative contributions to the project were also published in the “No War” book, which sold over 100,000 copies.

Viktoriia Vlasenko is a global sensation, as her work goes a lot further than simply Milan and her home country of Ukraine. Some of her work includes creating costumes for high-profile theatre productions, philharmonic societies, music videos and more. Among her many highlights as a costume designer is creating the breathtaking wardrobe for the cast of the production of “Alice in Wonderland” directed by Dmitriy Obednokov, which was held at the Ukraine Philharmonic with musical support from the chamber choir.

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Actors from “Alice in Wonderland” in costumes designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

She has dressed stars such as Latin-Grammy-nominated singer and actress Natalia Oreiro for the red carpet, and has designed for SaM (Samvel Arzumanov) and his Freedom International label.

Vlasenko also designed dazzling costumes that singer Olga Pechko, the winner of the All-Ukrainian competition, wore during her performances earlier this year while on tour across Ukraine. Pechko discovered Vlasenko’s unique style after stumbling upon one of the designer’s doll collections, an area of design that she has become increasingly well known for over the years.

“She saw my Forged Iron Dummies collection and envisioned them as garments for her show and then asked me to design her costumes,” recalls Vlasenko.

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Forged Iron Dummy by Viktoriia Vlasenko

In addition to designing countless theatrical productions and costumes for the stars, Vlasenko has been tapped as the costume designer on an impressive list of films including multi-award winning director Catharine Lin’s (“Twenty Years After”) romantic film “Mr. Heart” starring Greyson Todd (“Mind, Body and Bullshit,” “Let Me Go”) and Ivan Sharudo (“The Lincoln”). As every project is unique in itself and requires something completely different to take it the next level, Vlasenko’s creative process understandably varies from project to project.

When it comes to designing costumes for the cast of a film production, like that of the upcoming Ukrainian film “Unworld,” Vlasenko says, “I read the scenario; then I learn the subject of costume and film epoch.. Then I think over the ideas, calculate the production and how much time it will take, then start to draw the design, select fabric and materials. After this – purchase of materials and the costume production itself after agreement of the design with the film director.”

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Costume for “Unworld” designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

As the costume designer on “Unworld,” an upcoming urban fantasy film directed by Mykhailo Andriiets, Vlasenko created a series of highly-technical costumes. While “Unworld” depicts a war between futuristic robots equipped with powerful digital technology and the mythical monsters of yore, the dystopian film has an underlying message of unity. In the midst of an all out war, the film’s seemingly disadvantaged human characters band together and use the robot’s digital technology in order to bring down the established order.

Bringing to mind images of films like “V for Vendetta” and “Blade Runner,” but placing her own unique spin on things, Vlasenko’s costumes for “Unworld” are incredibly stylized; and they’re a key in transporting the audience into such a far-out world. You can get a sneak peak into Vlasenko’s designs for the film from the clip below.

“Viktoriia created the concept images, designed the costumes, coordinated accessories and worked out the technical elements for the costumes to work for the actors performances, she pretty much did the work of a concept artist, costume designer, technologist, seamstress, and prop master,” says Ukrainian director Mykhailo Andriiets.

“Working with Viktoriia is inspiring… you can not see where the boundaries of her talent and optimism ends. She is a great professional because of her boundless imagination and diligence… She believes in success and does everything possible to achieve it.”

Though Vlasenko has made a strong name for herself in Ukraine, her unique skill as a costume designer has also attracted the attention of filmmakers in the US, such as Avi Agarwal (“Pieces”) who tapped Vlasenko as the costume designer on his 2016 dramatic comedy film “Loose Ends” starring Justine An from the film “A World of Contradictions.” Awarded at the 2016 Hollywood Boulevard film Festival, “Loose Ends”  depicts a young collegiate partier who’s potential futures flash before his eyes during different encounters over the course of the film, with the most rattling outcome being one of total vagrancy.

In stark contrast to her work on “Unworld,” Vlasenko’s task as the costume designer on “Loose Ends” required her to err on the side of minimalism to create a more realistic wardrobe in support of the story.

Vlasenko says, “I watched the vagrants and homeless people around Los Angeles, taking note of how they behaved and what they wore, as well as that of  prisoners. This project was actually very simple for me, but this is exactly what the film director wanted, it was his vision of the project.”

Always working in support of the story– that is the true role of the costume designer, as well as for anyone else working on a film crew, something Vlasenko knows all about. While her wildly outrageous designs for films like “Unworld” reveal her capacity as a creative, her ability to let the story guide the way is tantamount to the success of the films she works on.

“I can work with various materials, which some other costume designers tend to be afraid to work with,” Vlasenko says. “I can invent, implement and realize my designs, using my own hands to bring them life, I can make a more cost-effective costume design budget when I have to.”

“Small Town Hackers” star Caris Eves on her thriving career

“Small Town Hackers” actor Caris Eves has had an interesting journey as an actor, globe-trotting between the US, UK and Australia on various projects. For now, the blonde-beauty is firmly rooted at the top of the Australian entertainment industry with her recent starring turn in an award-winning comedy series from acclaimed production company, Mad Kids. “Small Town Hackers” was most recently nominated for Best Online Series at Australia’s answer to the Emmys and Oscars, the AACTAs. It’s an achievement befitting of one of the busiest actresses in Australia.

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Caris Eves in a shot by Chris Huzzard.

“Working on ‘Small Town Hackers’ was the most fun I could ever imagine having on a film set!” she enthusiastically exclaims.

Caris elaborates on the significance of her character to the plot of the series.

“My character Lucy Boddington as an homage to Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks. The comedy series is set in a small country town of Durran and revolves around the death of Lucy.”

The fun has continued, it seems, as the doe-eyed thespian recently joined the cast of new ABC-show The Heights in an important recurring role.

Jumping between projects like this might cause any actor a bit of stress, but Caris takes it all in her stride.

“It’s what I love to do,” she thoughtfully adds.

“Mad Kids production were an amazing team to work for and are incredibly supportive and generous so I was very thankful to be part of it.”

Caris’ unique talents as an actor is incredibly rare to find in a statuesque and elegant package like hers: the comic timing and vulnerability required of her role in Small Town Hackers demanded an emotional agility that is only seen by actresses working in the top echelon of the industry.

Caris delivered a compelling performance that has commanded viewers’ attention since the series’ debut. It confirms her reputation as a performer who is not soon forgotten by viewers, as her fierceness and sensitivity as an actor allows her an ability to be relatable, while also domineering on screen. It is this combination that makes Caris the epitome of a leading actor.

In one moment, Caris had to deliver a look to another character that was captured by CCTV footage, letting the other characters in on an important clue to the mystery to her character’s disappearance.

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Caris in a still from ‘Small Town Hackers’, a series revolving around the disappearance of her character that industry insiders have labelled a comedic homage to ‘Twin Peaks’. Many of Caris’ key scenes took the form of a flashback.

Caris also tells us about other experiences she’s had as an actor which have motivated her to continue to challenge herself as an artist.

“One of the most powerful acting experiences I have had links back to one of the first film productions I was ever In. It was an awareness campaign for people struggling with mental health Issues and at that time my best friend had taken her life. I didn’t tell anyone on set that only days prior my friend had taken her life, as I didn’t want to be treated any differently. I wanted to represent something that was honest and raw, and captured the feelings and thoughts going through the minds of the people in these emotional states. It was challenging because I so deeply understood her decisions and at the same time was confronted by the choice she made and wondered if I could have done anything to change the outcome. I’ve grown a lot as a person and as an actor as a result of It. You don’t always have to feel comfortable to achieve the right take.  I never had an experience that I felt so personally connected to or could relate to.”

Like most great actors, Caris’ skills and care for her craft such as what was proven on that early filming experience, were actually honed on stage in the beginning stages of her her career. Caris performed a leading role in a production of Red Cross by Sam Shephard, written while the acclaimed playwright was dating Patti Smith. It was experiences like these that grounded Caris in a deeply committed appreciation of her craft, as she developed a sophisticated understanding of her voice, talent and emotional range in order to service characters across a wide range of genres.

Aside from working with a distinguished company like Mad Kids, “Small Town Hackers” enjoyed an awards success when it won for best directing of an online comedy project at the recent Director’s Guild of Australia awards – one of the nation’s highest honours for screen content. Adding to the list of the series’ accomplishments is its international online distribution with Saturday Night Live online multi-channel network, Above Average.

“It’s attracted over 400k viewers since the release late last year!” Caris proudly adds, also pointing to how she shared screen time with “OtherLife” and “Parallax” actor, Luke Hewitt.

“Luke was great to work with!”

Aside from her critical roles across TV and online projects, the profile of Caris’ acting career has led to her endorsing some impressive companies for national commercials. In a recent road-safety campaign for RAC, Caris worked on a set that had a budget of $5 million, and flew its director in from the UK. She explains the challenge of acting on a fast-paced commercial set, one that was very different from her earlier experiences as an acclaimed stage actor.

“The director worked in a high intensity environment and was focused on achieving the perfect shot. He had me changing my emotional states very quickly in order to achieve the desired results, which saw me crying one moment to laughing hysterically the next. It was an exciting project to be part because of the pace, expectation and importance of the campaign.”

Adding to the experience of filming itself, the campaign’s success and millions of views it has received online since its release confirm Caris as being at the centre of a powerful social campaign.

Up next for the accomplished actress? “I’m excited to be joining the cast of some really cool projects – unfortunately I can’t quite say what they are yet, but my agents and manager and I are all very excited!”

Challenging perspectives with esteemed screenwriter Varunn Pandya

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Varunn Pandya, photo by Chaaritha Dheerasinghe

Christopher Reeves once said, “so many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” For esteemed writer and screenwriter, Varunn Pandya, this mentality is all of the inspiration he needs to remind himself that with the right amount of hard work and dedication, he is able to achieve everything he sets his heart to. Growing up, the talented creative found himself inspired by Reeves’ interpretation of one of society’s token superheroes and credits his ability to play Superman as being one of the characters that initially sparked his interest in film. From there, he immersed himself into every avenue that the industry has to offer and found a love for the profession he now calls his own. As for his desire to create, it is stronger than ever before, and he has a knack for finding unique ways to showcase that will to the world.

“As a writer and screenwriter, I develop stories that I aim to show or display to the world in a way they’ve not necessarily experienced before. As I also like to direct, I try to write stories that I can bring a unique perspective to. Because I was born in India, I like to think that I bring some unique ideas to the United States and that I help to break some of the stereotypes associated with living on the Eastern side of the world,” told Pandya.

As he continues to navigate his way through the arts and entertainment industry, Pandya often finds himself taken aback by the breadth of opportunities and the amount of creative freedom he is allowed to use in order to imagine without limits and tell truly compelling stories. He has a reputation for finding areas of film that touch his audiences and he manages to do so in a way that keeps content fresh and engaging. In addition, he takes great pride in knowing that through his words and the stories that he brings to life, he has a grand platform to challenge the minds of his viewers and allow them to open their eyes to societal issues that they may or may not even be aware of. For instance, in his script XYZ where Pandya, alongside Badar AlShuaib, cast an important light on the unconscious, and sometimes conscious, bias that human beings exhibit toward their own race. In another of his scripts, The House, Pandya attempted to step outside of himself and allow his audiences to see the world from a perspective other than their own.

The House tells the story of Carl, a homeless man living in Los Angeles struggling to find a human connection amidst the repercussions of a rough upbringing. The storyline follows Carl’s daily routine as he collects metal scraps from the areas surrounding him and food from the trash in order to sustain himself. One fateful day, however, Carl comes across a family in his neighborhood and he grows a fascination for them. As the story progresses, viewers are taken on a journey through Carl and the family’s interactions. The story reminds us that regardless of our life circumstances, our skin color, our nationality, or whatever other features we use to distinguish ourselves from others, we are not all that different on the inside. We share similar emotions and at the end of the day, we are all human. Sometimes it just takes a little reminding from people like Pandya.

For The House, Pandya managed to develop a script in just four days. Writing it felt natural and he did everything in his power to keep the content as raw and powerful as possible. Wherever he could make the script seem realistic, he did just that and attempted to ensure that the script demanded empathy from its audience. He also made a particular effort to cast Carl in a different light than most homeless individuals are seen in. He wanted to show the world that not all homeless individuals intend to be, nor does their living situation make them any less human than the rest of us.

Up until The House, Pandya had only really ever worked with thrillers. What he loved most, therefore, about this project was the fact that it allowed him to step into unchartered territory and to explore an area of society he hadn’t otherwise given much thought into. He takes great pride in knowing that his script has the power to change the minds of many as they engage with the script and consider their actions from there forward. In the end, Pandya was not the only one who found a love for the script. In fact, The House went on to win a number of prestigious awards, such as Best Short Screenplay at the Five Continents International Cult Film Festival in June 2018 and at the Calcutta International Film Festival in September 2018.

“It feels great to know that the script has been widely appreciated by people all over the world. This script will always remain one of the most memorableprojects I’ve written as I think it’s the most personal story I have written despite it being based on a character that is very different from me,” he concluded.

The Sky’s the Limit for High Flying Actor Jolie Chi

Actor Jolie Chi’s infectious mixture of enthusiasm and playfulness may give the impression that she is all about laughs and frivolity but, in reality, Chi is a dedicated artist with a zealous commitment to refining and perfecting her craft. While still at the dawn of her career, the diminutive, charming Chi is quickly building impressive professional momentum and a burgeoning roster of credits.

Chi, a native of Taiwan who studied at the prestigious New York Film Academy, is globally known for her acting roles.  2018 was a phenomenal year for internationally celebrated actor; this year alone she received several accolades for her leading role in the award-winning film “My Lunatic Lucy”, including “Best Actress in a Comedy” at the Actor Awards, “Best Actress” at the LA Short Awards, and “Best Actress” at the Top Shorts Film Festival.  Additionally, she received the award of “Best Actress” at the Independent Short Awards; her selection for this title was determined by a panel of experts from both the film industry and academia against a high standard of merit—her performance was deemed outstanding based on the complexity of her role, impressive acting abilities, and the energy that she brought to the screen.

As a rising actor of international acclaim Ms. Chi has recently secured roles on anticipated feature length films and appeared in motion picture “Destined to Ride” released by Sony Pictures, opposite big-name actors Denise Richards and Joey Lawrence.   Outside of film, Ms. Chi’s latest works as an actor have included a performance on Justin Timberlake’s 2018 hit music video “Filthy”, and a role on the television series “Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks”, as the character of Ming Ling.

Chi’s effortless ability to succeed as actor reflects a comprehensive, impressively holistic approach to performing. Equally at home in a stage or competition setting (beating out thousands of international talents to place in IMTA’s Top 10 Female Young Actors of 2015) as she is working in film, video, and commercials, Chi has been a dynamic force since her arrival the United States when she was just 16.

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“I grew up in Taiwan and China but I never really fit in, because I was always too outgoing for the culture,” Chi said. “I decided that I wanted to be an exchange student in America, so I went to Indiana—it felt like home. I realized how much I love America because I finally felt like I was accepted and loved. I decided to stay and finish my education.”

The teenager’s choice to pursue acting came about with a particularly poignant twist. “My parents had divorced when I was six,” Chi said. “Even though my mom always pretended to smile in front of me, I knew she was unhappy. Once when I was mimicking a character we’d seen on TV, she laughed—genuinely—for the first time in years. That’s when I realized how powerful acting was.”

From that bittersweet launch—the classic pathos/comedy paradox—Chi aggressively pursued success in film and television and was soon working in TV commercials, short films, and movies. Some are currently in post-productions.

Chi’s dedication to improving her artistry is a constant, innate pursuit and she is not one to squander any opportunity to do just that.

With her steadily ascending professional profile and reputation as a respected, formidable artist, Chi is a talent from whom the film industry will definitely be hearing a lot in the months and years ahead, a destiny which her positive attitude practically guarantees.

“My career aspiration is to make as many people laugh as possible,” Chi said. “I want to be able to make a difference in this world through my acting, to inspire the audience to smile, to reduce stress. Many people relax by watching films and I hope to help relieve their pain and make them happier.”