1. For the people who might not know you, could you introduce yourself?
My name is Brenna Otts and I’m an actress living and working in Los Angeles. I grew up in a tiny town in rural Colorado, and when I’m not acting I love writing, hiking, and finding dogs to pet.
2. What sparked your interest in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry and how did you get started?
When I was a little kid, I was painfully shy. I was so shy that if I had to order for myself at a restaurant, I would burst into tears. My mom wanted to break me of this and enrolled me in our church’s musical theatre troupe. Since I was one of the older kids, I was given a bigger part with a huge monologue. I thought I would be terrified, but on opening night when I stepped on stage in front of 100+ people, I felt at peace. I felt comfortable for the first time in my life. When I got older and started to get bullied, the theatre became a place I could express myself; I could show my pain, I could use my emotion to tell a story, and I could move people to empathize with a character. When I was acting, I felt complete. I also loved getting lost in movies (specifically Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, and Peter Pan) and desperately wanted to create similar art that people could lose themselves in. At age 12 I decided I was going to be an actress. My mom pushed for a “backup career” in high school and college, but I always knew in my heart that acting was going to be it for me. I went to college and majored in Theatre, and started doing commercials and films in Denver on the side. I graduated early and moved out to Los Angeles and have been here ever since.
3. What are some projects that you have worked on?
Most recently I played Angela on a show called “Strange Angel” on CBS All Access. It was a wonderful experience with some of the best cast and crew, and I learned and grew a lot. Before that I was in an episode of Freeform’s “Good Trouble”, CBS’s “S.W.A.T.”, HBO’s “Westworld”, as well as starred in some short films including “Dysconnected” which went to several film festivals.
4. Who would you love working with on a project and why?
There are SO many people I want to work with! Lately, I’ve been really impressed with Garrett Hedlund. I think he’s so skilled at subtly communicating his internal monologue and has so much going on behind his eyes that he would be an excellent scene partner. He and Jason Mitchell’s scenes in “Mudbound” were absolutely riveting. Other actors I’d love to work with are Jessica Chastain, Christoph Waltz, Jeff Bridges, and really anyone else who is kind, hard-working, and willing to let their guard down and be vulnerable in scenes.
5. What do you hope to achieve through your art?
I want to make people feel. Whether it’s joy, pain, fear, love, lust, whatever! If the character is going through something, I want audiences to feel it. If a film is meant to disturb, I want them to be disturbed. I want to affect. I want to move. If viewers are apathetic, I think I’ve failed a little bit.
6. Can you disclose anything about your upcoming projects?
Currently I’m getting everything together to pitch a TV show I wrote, and my boyfriend wrote a film that is being produced in the new year so I’m gearing up to help with that. That’s all I can say right now!
7. What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
Career-wise, my biggest accomplishments would probably be “Strange Angel” and “Westworld.” “Westworld” was my first speaking role on a network show, it was one of the biggest shows on TV, and it was my dad’s favorite show, so that was a pretty dang good start to my career. “Strange Angel” was my first recurring and happened unexpectedly; when I auditioned, I thought there was no chance I was going to book it! In my personal life, my biggest accomplishment is not ending my life when everything seemed hopeless. I’ve struggled with severe depression for a long time, and during my senior year of high school, I decided to commit suicide. I stopped myself that night, and several other nights over the years, and I’m so proud that, even though it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, I didn’t listen to the voice telling me to end it all. There is so much joy and love and life ahead if you make it through the valley. You just have to make it through.
8. Which artists influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking and career path?
Any artist who has succeeded and thrived despite their pain and suffering and hardships inspire me. The world is hard sometimes, and people can be cruel, and sometimes you want to give up. Seeing people who have felt that and come out stronger because of it gives me hope that I can do the same.
9. What is the best vs. the worst thing about the entertainment industry?
There are many great things about this industry and just as many terrible things. People can be manipulative and shallow and fake and judgmental. I’ve been told countless times that I’m too fat to be a lead actress (at 5’8” and a size 6), and I’ve been verbally abused and propositioned by powerful men. The horror stories you’ve heard are, unfortunately, often true. But I’ve also met some of the most empathetic, hard-working, generous people in this industry. The City of Angels is full of dreamers and believers and movers and shakers and people are finally starting to stand up and speak out against the injustices that have plagued our industry, and that’s incredibly exciting. That’s probably the best part of the industry right now, besides meeting like-minded artists and creating powerful art with them. When you’re lucky enough to have things click like that, it’s so special!
10. What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Oh man. I wish I could tell my younger self so many things. I would tell her to stay strong, it gets better. Trust actions, not words. Be nicer to your sister. It’s ok to be alone. Call your dad more. You don’t need to try so hard to make people like you. Don’t drink so much from ages 21-23. And don’t let ANYONE lay their hands on you; there’s no shame in standing up for yourself and being a powerful woman.
11. How do you deal with the stress of the entertainment industry?
This industry has a never-ending amount of stress. I wish I could say I’ve mastered the art of letting it all go, but alas I cannot. I’m better at de-stressing than I used to be, however, and things that have helped are exercise (especially yoga and long walks), writing (when I’m not booking anything, I create the types of characters I want to play), and relaxing hobbies (I’ve planted an herb garden and bake for my friends and neighbors). Music and nature are also great outlets. Basically, I find ways to chill out, reset, and remember what really matters; that this is what I love to do more than anything else and I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
12. What is one philosophy that you live by?
I truly believe that kindness and hard work will get you farther than cutting people down and stepping on others to get ahead.
13. Do you have any advice for people who want to get started in the industry?
Take an acting class. Also, film yourself. Write a short film and shoot it on your iPhone. Do a music video for a local artist. Record your live performance. Just get used to being on camera. Also never stop watching and learning. When you’re watching TV, pay attention to the actors and what they’re doing; they were cast because they brought something special to the role. When you’re doing background on set, listen to the actors, director, and crew. I don’t think we should ever be finished learning.
14. What are some causes that are dear to your heart and hope to bring awareness to in the future?
As I mentioned earlier, bullying has played a significant role in my life. I hope to one day go around to schools, share my story, and speak about bullying and suicide prevention. Also, in college, I got involved with a charity that raised awareness for sex-trafficking, so that’s a topic that’s close to my heart too. The amount of women and children forced into terrible, sickening situations is shocking, and it’s happening in our backyards.
Thank you so much to Brenna for the wonderful interview. You can find more about her and her work on: