2021 Fusion Film festival
Outfest Fusion’s Rising Stars Panel
If you don’t know them yet, you will soon. For the second year in a row, Outfest Fusion gathers some of the most exciting up-and-coming QTBIPOC acting talent for a probing discussion about the state of their industry, their individual pathways to success, and their advice to young hopefuls seeking to follow in their footsteps. Despite the hard road any aspiring actor faces on their way up, and despite the past year of uncertainty, these rising stars all continue to turn out inspiring work. Tune in to hear how they made it happen! Moderated by David Artavia, Editor in Chief of Out, panelists includeIan Alexander (Star Trek: Discovery), Sherry Cola (Good Trouble), Shalita Grant (Search Party; You), Harvey Guillén (What We Do in the Shadows), and Vico Ortiz (Vida).
David Artavia, Editor in Chief of Out – Moderator
Comedian, actress, writer and prodigious talent Sherry Cola has emerged over the last couple of years as a rising star in the entertainment industry. Named a “Fresh Face” at the world-renowned Laugh Factory, “One to Watch” in 2019 by People magazine and “11 Asian American Comics Who Need To Be On Your 2020 Radar” by Entertainment Weekly, Cola has shown creative expertise in diverse roles, from scripted drama and comedy to hilarious, original stand-up sets on stage.
Cola stars on Freeform’s critically acclaimed series “Good Trouble,” which is set to debut its third season on February 17, 2021. The series, a spin-off from the hit show “The Fosters,” follows Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) as they embark on the next phase of their young adult lives in Los Angeles. Cola shines as Alice, a queer first-generation Chinese-American who manages the apartment complex the ladies are living in and aspires to be a stand-up comedian. In film, Cola’s projects include Drake Doremus’s “Endings, Beginnings,” where she plays opposite Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan and Sebastian Stan. The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019, is set in present-day Los Angeles and follows Daphne (Woodley), a thirty-something woman navigating love and heartbreak over the course of a year. Cola also recently completed production on the feature comedy “Sick Girl,” opposite Nina Dobrev and Wendi McLendon-Covey, and is set to voice a main character in Paramount Animation’s upcoming feature “The Tiger’s Apprentice,” opposite Henry Golding and Sandra Oh.
Born in Shanghai, China, Cola and her family moved to the United States when she was four, and settled in the San Gabriel Valley. She attended California State University – Fullerton, where she majored in Entertainment and Tourism Studies and worked over three years on the campus radio station. Cola’s innate ability to make people laugh and bring stories to life was indisputable, and students tuned in daily to listen to her hilarious commentary on celebrity news, music picks and more. Upon graduation, Cola joined AMP Radio 97.1 FM, spearheading promotions, social media and board operations. She even hit the street with a microphone talking to listeners. Television host and radio personality Carson Daly took Cola under his wing at the station, helping her further hone her craft as she launched her own Sunday night show. Cola went on to interview top artists including: Noah Cyrus, Fifth Harmony and Khalid. Following her success in radio, Cola broadened her artistic career with stand-up comedy and improv at Upright Citizens Brigade, and began writing and creating characters. When two friends launched a Web series called “Luber,” a parody of Lift/Uber drivers, one of Cola’s most notable characters was born: Lil’ Tasty. The Lakers-loving, jersey-wearing, Timberland-rocking rapper was an instant phenomenon, receiving over 20 million views online.
Cola got her break in television in 2017, landing a seven-episode arc on Amazon’s “I Love Dick,” opposite Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn. Her charismatic performance as jewelry-maker Natalie, one of Dick’s (Bacon) students at the art institute in Marfa, garnered public attention. Cola went on to work with MTV on the unscripted comedy series “Safeword,” showcasing her wit alongside Kevin Hart, Ludacris and LaLa Anthony. In 2018, Cola booked a recurring role on TNT’s “Claws” opposite Niecy Nash, Carrie Preston and Judy Reyes. The series follows five diverse and treacherous manicurists, who are good women caught in bad places with even worse men. Cola instantly became a fan favorite as FBI Special Agent Lucy Chun.
Cola regularly produces new material as a stand-up comedian, recently opening for Arsenio Hall and Ronny Chieng. She performs regularly at Laugh Factory, The Ice House, Hollywood Improv and The Comedy Store and recently filmed an episode of “Funny Dance Show” for E! (2020) alongside Jackie Tohn, Solomon Georgio and London Brown. She is also developing multiple passion projects, including a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” inspired comedy based on her unique experience in radio.
Cola currently lives in the Los Angeles area.
Search Party; You
Nurturing an impressive body of work encompassing theatre and television, Shalita Grant’s career continues to evolve with diverse and challenging projects.
“Shalita Grant gives one of the best physical-comedy performances of the year as Dory’s lawyer.” – Entertainment Weekly is just one of the many accolades Shalita received for her portrayal of Cassidy, the lawyer defending “Dory” (Alia Shawkat) in season three of the critically acclaimed HBO Max series “Search Party.” Shalita is currently in production on the next season of the popular Netflix thriller series “You.” She joined the cast as a series regular and plays a locally famous “Momfluencer” who is warm and down to earth, but that’s just a put-upon act for her social media followers. The original “mean girl,” and only pretends to welcome newcomers into her wealthy and elitist social circle.
Shalita’s other television work including the hit CBS drama “NCIS: New Orleans” as Sonja Percy, a whip-smart ex-ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) agent who prefers working alone and struggles to adapt to working alongside the NCIS team. She also starred in the PBS Civil War drama series “Mercy Street,” about doctors, nurses, contraband laborers and Southern loyalists in Union-occupied Alexandria, Va., during the Civil War. “Shalita Grant, giving the show’s most memorable performance.” – The Washington Post is just one of many rave reviews for Shalita’s portrayal of freed slave Aurelia Johnson. Her other television credits include a recurring arc on “The Santa Clarita Diet,” “The Good Wife,” “Bones,” and “Melissa & Joey.”
Segueing effortlessly between television and theatre, Shalita garnered a Tony Nomination for her work in the Broadway show “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” The Los Angeles called Shalita a ‘stand-out,’ for her portrayal of Cassandra, a sassy voodoo practicing housekeeper. Shalita returned to the New York stage in the summer of 2017 starring in the Shakespeare in the Parks production of “A Mid-Summer Night Dream.”
A native of Virginia, Shalita was not interested in attending a typical high school so she auditioned for the Appomattox Region Governor’s School for the Arts & Technology. She went on to attend the Baltimore School of the Arts and the prestigious Juilliard School.
Since working in New Orleans, she became involved with the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). She recently hosted ‘An Intimate Evening with Shalita Grant,’ to benefit the CAC where she performed a ‘contemporary cabaret’ inspired and woven together by the poetry of Nayyirah Waheed and featured black and white photos by local Teens@CAC participants finding the beauty and meaning of the poetry in their NOLA scenes. She has also worked closely with The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation.
When not working, Shalita enjoys cooking, baking, fitness, gardening and philanthropy.
What We Do in the Shadows
GLAAD award-winning actor and producer Harvey Guillén’s inventive and creative approach to acting has won the hearts of fans across the globe in the Emmy nominated FX comedy series “What We Do In the Shadows.” Guillén’s role as “Guillermo De la Cruz” recently earned him a Critics Choice Awards nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Guillen made LGBTQ+ Latinx History by becoming the first queer Latinx actor to be nominated in this category.
Currently, Guillen is in production on season 3 of “What We Do In The Shadows.” In the series created by Jermaine Clement and based on the Taika Waititi film of the same name, Guillén stars alongside Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou and Mark Proksch as Guillermo, the ambitious human familiar and assistant to Nandor. Guillermo’s hope and dream has always been to one day become a vampire himself but 10 years of being a vampire familiar, his plan of becoming a vampire is seemingly derailed when he suddenly finds out he is descendent of Van Helsing. After learning of his relation to the famous vampire slayer, Guillermo tried to hide his true identity but can’t stop accidently killing vampires. “What We Do In The Shadows” premiered its second season on FX on April 15, 2020 and since has been included on over 50 “Best of 2020” lists including The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker.
In addition to “What We Do In The Shadows,” Guillén joined the cast of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” for Season 2 showcasing his musical side in a multi-episode arc. Guillén plays the character of a programmer, George, who is constantly seeking approval from Zoey (Jane Levy) and his colleagues.
Recently, Guillen finished production on the upcoming film “Werewolves Within” based on the Ubisoft game of the same name in Spring of 2020. Guillén acts opposite Michael Chernus, Michaela Watkins, Sam Richardson, Cheyenne Jackson and more. Similar to the video game, the horror comedy film directed by Josh Ruben, the movie revolves around the shenanigans that ensue when a massive blizzard isolates a small Vermont town, causing simmering resentments to boil over as the oddball townspeople are one by one picked off by a mysterious creature. The film will be released by Ubisoft Film & Television.
Guillén got his start in acting after watching “Annie” on TV as a child. Since then, Guillén has been seen in a wide arrange TV series and films including Syfy’s “The Magicians” created by Sera Gamble, John McNamara, Nickelodeon’s “The Thundermans.” Created by Jed Springarn, Apple TV’s “Little America” and MTV’s “Eye Candy” starring Victoria Justice. Harvey also portrayed Elijah in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Me What to Do episode of the series “Raising Hope,” and received a GLAAD Media Award for his role. In film, Guillén acted opposite Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in the Shawn Levy-directed comedy “The Internship” and in Netflix’s mystery thriller “Truth or Dare” directed by Nick Simon.
Vico Ortiz (They/Them) is a proud Latine/x non-binary/gender fluid actor/activist born and raised in Puerto Rico. They received their education at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. Their first breakthrough role was in the hit Amazon series Transparent which opened their career to the LGBTQ+ entertainment community and paved the way to recognized TV appearances in shows such as The Fosters, Lucifer, and Criminal Minds among others. More recently, Vico has had guest starring roles in American Horror Story: 1984, the Starz award winning series VIDA and a recurring role in the GLAAD nominated Freeform comedy Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, returning for its second season April 8, 2021. Vico also received a 2021 Queerties Award nomination for their series regular role in the award-winning digital series These Thems. In the next year (2021) Vico will voice a non-binary character in Nickelodeon’s second season of The Casagrandes, a breakthrough animated series that follows a multi-generational Mexican-American family. This makes them the first non-binary actor to voice a non-binary character on Nickelodeon. Vico will also star as a series regular in a new upcoming highly anticipated Amazon Prime Video original post-apocalyptic horror set for release in the fall of 2021.
Vico Ortiz is also a rising star in the world of drag performers creating the original and dynamic Drag King “Vico Suave,” a character that was created by mixing their Hispanic/Caribbean and American culture while exploring their own gender fluidity and sexuality. Their character of “Vico Suave” is most recognized for their performance in VIDA on Starz. They also made a commitment to use their character of “Vico Suave” as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the LGBTQ+ organizations they’re committed to supporting are The Dru Project and the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center to name a few. Vico’s mission is Visibility. To showcase diversity in the Latine/x culture on Stage, TV and Film. They want young queers and people around the globe to see characters on screen that are relatable no matter their background, their sexual orientation or gender identity. Their passion is to educate society on gender, inclusive language, and join the stream of voices within the entertainment industry that is constantly pushing and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and their positive portrayals in the media.
Star Trek: Discovery
Ian Alexander is a 19-year-old actor who uses they/them and he/him pronouns. He is best known for his role as Buck Vu on The OA (Netflix), Grey Tal on Star Trek Discovery (Paramount+), and Lev in The Last of Us Part II (Naughty Dog). He is the first out transgender Asian American person to act on television. He is also an advocate for transgender equality, racial justice, and mental health awareness for LGBTQ+ youth.