Over the past few years, Jena Sim’s hard work and determination have established her as a young actress on the rise in Hollywood. An incredibly expressive young actress, she pours her heart and soul into each and every role, leaving her poised become a breakout star in the year to come. As her career gains momentum, she continues to showcase her talents with higher profile projects. Recently, she held her own alongside seasoned veterans, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro and Kevin Kline in the box office hit ‘Last Vegas.’ She is perhaps best known for her breakout role in the summer hit “Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader.” She was personally selected by producer Roger Corman to play the lead in his most recent production (and surprisingly, first 3D picture) which premiered at Comic Con last summer. Jena has also appeared in a wide variety of hit television shows including on ‘Entourage,’ ‘Dexter,’ ‘Vampire Diaries,’ ‘CSI,’ ‘One Tree Hill,’ and ‘Leverage.’
Her latest role teams her with an all-star cast which includes Jeremy Renner, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in the highly anticipated crime drama ‘Kill The Messenger.’ The film revolves around Gary Webb (Renner) who becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign that drives him to the point of suicide after he exposes the CIA’s role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California. The film will hit theaters on October 10th!
In addition to an impressive resume, this beauty loves to spend her time giving back to the community. Jena’s experience as Miss Georgia Teen USA inspired her to become the founder and president of HBBQs (Has Been Beauty Queens), Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to celebrate children currently facing serious illnesses and challenges. The HBBQs, Inc. team travels to cities across the country and abroad to organize a noncompetitive event, called Pageant of Hope™, that aims to raise the self-esteem of children facing cancer and other serious challenges.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Jena Sims to discuss her blossoming career, upcoming role in ‘Kill The Messenger,’ her evolution as an actor, her charity work and much more!
They say a career in the entertainment industry isn’t the easiest road to take. How did you start on your journey and what made you want to pursue acting as a career?
It has been something I have always wanted to do ever since I was a little girl. Even back then, I never said “I want to grow up and be a teacher!” [laughs] It was always, “I want to be in the movies and on TV.” I started modeling when I was old enough. My mom wasn’t one of those crazy pageant moms or anything like that! [laughs] I started doing pageants and got into modeling from there. One thing led to another and, when I got to college, I started auditioning for music videos because I went to college in Nashville. I did music videos and local TV commercials there and one day I moved to Los Angeles. Now here I am! [laughs]
Who had a big impact on you early in your career?
Honestly, it was the women in soap operas! Susan Lucci was a big one, along with Cameron Mathison. I remember watching the soap opera with my mom when I was really, really young. I always thought they were so pretty and I wanted to be just like them when I grew up! [laughs]
What kept you inspired through the years as you made your way through the industry?
I do a lot of charity work, so that keeps me really humble and grounded. I have always been super driven and believed in myself. It is such a thrill when I get to be on set. It’s funny because when the projects starting coming to an end, I never want it to finish!
You have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment, which is very exciting. One of the big ones is your role in “Kill The Messenger.” How did you get involved with the project and what can you tell us about the experience?
That project shot in Atlanta and I am actually from Georgia. They were looking for local hires and I still audition as a local hire for the Southeast, so I think that was to my benefit. I auditioned in Atlanta where I met with the director. Initially, the role was supposed to be a really sexy, topless character in a scene. We shot it like that but once the final product was done, they had taken all of that out. It was exciting because I am trying to limit my topless roles! [laughs] I wasn’t dreading it per se but now that I have seen it, it is completely different from the breakdown of the role for which I auditioned. I am kind of a sidekick. I am billed as the girlfriend of one of the supporting characters. I am in a drug house with Robert Patrick, who plays my boyfriend. The character that Jeremy Renner plays, Gary Webb, is coming to interview my boyfriend. The cops bust in and I get kidnapped! It is really high energy and a thrilling scene!
What was the vibe like on set for the film? I am sure you can learn a lot from watching these guys work.
It was so much fun. We shot in July, so it was so hot outside! There was a pool at the house where we were filming and the first time you see me is in the pool while Jeremy and Robert are doing a walk and talk as part of their interview. I am swimming and I get out of the pool. It is really neat. I envisioned it as being a slo-mo walk out of the pool but no! [laughs] I just get out of the pool normally! [laughs] Jeremy was so kind. He was the person I met first when I showed up. I met him in the makeup trailer and he was so sweet. He sat down and talked to me about my character and fleshed it all out. He helped me figure out what was the moment before and why my character was here. All the things they teach you in acting class came to fruition! He gave me the best acting lesson I could imagine! It was really nice to watch him work. We had to shoot the cop scene over and over. We spent probably five hours on it. The energy he brought to the scene each time was like he was doing it for the first time every single take!
You have been a part of many high profile projects at this point in your career. What do you consider the biggest challenge of your career so far?
I would say the biggest challenge was my very first film, “Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader.” I was the lead and it was my first leading role. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into! [laughs] I had to play a 50 foot cheerleader, a giant! Obviously, that isn’t real life, so trying to make that believable was pretty challenging!
That seems like it was a great project. How did you land the role for the film?
I actually didn’t know who Roger Corman was when I got the audition from my agent in LA. They said, “You don’t understand! This is Roger Corman! He started so many legendary careers from Sandra Bullock to William Shatner to James Cameron!” I was like, “This sounds so silly! It’s a 50 foot cheerleader!” [laughs] I went on the last day of auditions and was one of the last people they auditioned for the role. They liked my read, so I met the director that day. I had some cheerleading experience, so I think I did a little cheer or something in the room. They pretty much hired me on the spot! It was a lot of fun!
What types of roles are you anxious to tackle in the future?
I want to do more comedy. I would love to do a big, Will Ferrell kind of comedy. I would love to work with Tina Fey. They are two of my idols, so doing something like that is definitely on my bucket list!
You are still fairly new to the industry but how have you evolved as an actress?
I am more fearless now! I used to be really intimidated by the audition process. I always believed in myself but it took booking these roles to really believe in myself and say, “I really can do this!” Once I proved to myself that I could, things have really picked up and it has been a cumulative effect. I definitely am more fearless in the audition room. I take on every audition now, even heavy drama. I used to pass on those but now I take on every single audition and go in there with confidence!
Obviously, you are focused on establishing yourself as an actor at the moment but do you desire to explore the world behind the camera?
Maybe down the road it will be something I will explore. The idea of writing a script is very intimidating to me. There are so many elements at play and it can be very, very tricky. I could definitely see myself possibly directing or producing somewhere down the road but it’s not on my current radar.
What is on your radar? Where should we look for you to pop up next?
I have two horror/thriller films coming up. One is called “Downed Angel” and the other is called “The Forest.” I am supposed to be shooting those toward the end of October and throughout November. I am also supposed to shoot a fun little zombie short film at the beginning of the new year.
That is terrific! Are you a fan of the horror genre?
I am! It is so much fun. I was just at Comic Con this past weekend and had a blast. I love the worlds of horror and graphic novels. Those genres are both so interesting to me and they have amazing fan bases!
Another big part of your life, as you mentioned, is charity work. What can you tell us about The Has Been Beauty Queens?
I have been doing my non-profit for 10 years. I started the Has Been Beauty Queens and we hold an event called the Pageant of Hope. It is a pageant for kids who face challenges, be it cancer, physical or mental disabilities, basically any kid who wouldn’t normally be able to compete in a pageant, soccer or a dance recital. We do their hair and makeup, we teach them a pageant walk and how to interview. At the end of the day, we crown every participant. It is about building self-esteem and self-confidence, which these kids need. I have been all over the world with it from Africa, Cuba and Australia. I just recently returned from Jamaica and we will be going back again in December! You can learn all about it and make donations at our website, www.pageantofhope.org.
You are a great person to look to for inspiration. What is the best lesson that can be learned from your life and times so far?
That is a good question. Definitely never give up and believe in yourself. I am a firm believer in you can achieve any goal if you believe in it. You have to be confident in yourself. I have seen so many people who aren’t and they never make it in the industry. They want to be an actor but they aren’t confident in themselves. I think that is the most important part, going into these audition rooms with your head held high and exuding confidence because that is what works! In addition, I definitely think charity work teaches the lesson of being thankful for what you have and that it is important to give back.
When you aren’t focused on acting or charity, how do you spend your free time?
I love to go to the beach! I have a cute little beach cruiser bike that I ride around! [laughs] I am pretty social and I like going out to places and watching sports with friends. I am so happy it is football season right now because I do Fantasy Football. I go to spin class and I have a graphic novel collection as well! I love comic books! That is how I spend my time!
Where are the best places to catch up with you online?
Terrific! I appreciate your time today, Jena! I am sure we will be talking again soon!
Thank you, Jason!