Audiences across the world know the work of internationally acclaimed actress Lisa Jai. With an impressive career that has spanned more than two decades, viewers old and young have had a lot of opportunities to see Jai’s diverse talents on the screen in everything from the hit television shows Barbar, Rupert and The Magic School Bus, to the films Balance of Power, Creed and Lost Angels.
Jai recently finished filming Runaway Dream, a film about two Hollywood transplants who get a whole lot more than they bargained for when they make the move to tinsel town with stars in their eyes.
Directed by award-winning cinematographer Daniel Abreu, Runaway Dream stars Jai in the role of Linn, and Vivian Ahn (Sisters, Inside Carly, Trail Mix, Lost Angels, Henry Danger) as Jess.
Jai says, “It is a story of the length’s people could go to when in need of more money than they are earning and what happens to someone when they have lost sight of their dream.”
A sad tale with an unpredictable twist, Runaway Dream follows Jai’s character Linn, a down and out aspiring actress who works as a maid to make ends meet. When things don’t pan out as Linn hoped, desperation leads her to hatch a plan to rob the home of an ex-boss who she believes is out of town—a move that leaves her in circumstances that are far more dire than those she faced before.
The film is currently in post-production and is scheduled for release later this year. Originally from Sweden, director Daniel Abreu received the Best Cinematographer Award for his film James & Quinn from the Sherry Theater’s 120Hour film fest, a prestigious festival run by Scott Haze (Star of Child of God directed by James Franco) and Jim Parrick (True Blood).
“Lisa is a dream to work with, she’s captivating onscreen – a gifted talent,” says Abreu. “She’s improved me as a filmmaker, truly.”
It is not surprising that Abreu says Jai’s contributions to the film improved him as a filmmaker considering the actress’s longstanding position in the industry as both a performer and a producer.
When she first rose to fame as an actress she was barely 4-years-old– an age where it is difficult for a person to be unequivocally dedicated to one thing. For the following decade Jai continued to land starring roles in a long list of international television shows and blockbuster films, as well as innumerable commercials for brands including Hasbro, Ocean Spray, Hallmark cards, Charmin, Ivory soap, Tang, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds and more.
While many children dream of becoming stars on the screen, the spotlight wasn’t always an easy thing to handle.
Jai recalls, “I was being teased at school and bullied for being on television. I was accused of being a show off and also keeping up with schoolwork caused a lot of tension with teachers.”
Despite the difficulties, the foundation Jai laid for herself as a performer in the entertainment industry in her early childhood definitely helped make her the incredible actress she is today.
“I worked a lot for the Canadian Broadcast Company. I was a guest regular on the children show Mr. Dressup where I had to sing and worked alongside puppeteers,” explains Jai. “We would tape live so that truly taught me how to think on my feet as an actress; plus having dialogue with puppets and making that ‘relationship’ believable to the audience only bettered my craft — like, there I was, staring into a pair of man made paper-mache eyes having a conversation: can you imagine?”
Naturally, as Jai transitioned into adulthood, it took a few years for her to affirm her individuality as a person outside of the spotlight, and really discover what it was that she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
She says “Even after trying to quit and go to University so I could get a ‘real job,’ I missed acting so much, even at its roughest points… That’s how I know it’s my true passion and chosen profession. I love it too much.”
After returning to show biz a few years later, Jai realized that her love for performing extended beyond the film and television industry alone. She was immediately recognized for talents on stage going on to land starring role after starring role.
When it comes to acting in comedies in the theater, Jai says, “I love hearing peoples laughter; there’s a joy in bringing smiles to the faces of others.”
She adds, “On stage you’re not limited by being out of frame if you move too much…. as long as the true feeling is there, you can justify every move – use up the whole stage.”
Last year she gave a riveting performance in the leading roles of Birdie and Wang in the Pulitzer-Prize Nominated play “What of the Night?” written by Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes. The play, which was staged at the Vagrancy Theatre in Los Angeles and directed by Caitlin Hart, was just another opportunity for Jai to showcase her unparalleled talents on stage. The production was so well received that it garnered a prestigious Ovation Recommendation from LA Stage Alliance in 2014.
In addition to “What of the Night?,” the actress has also led several other productions to success with her unforgettable performances as Fiona in “99 Ways to F*ck a Swan,” Masha in Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” at the Irene Gilbert Theater, Ruth in Timothy McNeil’s “Dead Pussy,” Mrs. Banks in Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Titus in “Titus Andronicus,” Kate Keller in “All My Sons” and many more.
Out of all of the characters she has played on the stage, Jai notes her role as Isela Sanchez from Lynn Manning’s play “The Unrequited: A Tale Between Two Worlds,” which was directed by Shishir Kurup and staged at the Cornerstone Theater in 2011, as her favorite to date.
The production followed Jai’s character Isela, a young woman living in a wheelchair due to Polio during the 40’s in LA, as she prepares to marry a man she doesn’t love; and the mysterious events that arise to keep her from betraying the soul of the man to whom her heart is truly devoted.
Today Jai has established a a glowing reputation for her ability to touch audiences emotionally through her portrayal of characters across genres on both the screen and stage; and with several upcoming projects in the works, and the release of Runaway Dream slated for later this year, there is literally no stopping her.