Canada’s Lisa Bell is a Winnipeg singer, actress and songwriter and already winning accolades as the “next Jennifer Hudson.” Lisa first came to prominence when she placed in the Top Twenty of Canadian Idol. She parlayed that exposure into a series of high stature opening slots with reggae stars Luciano and Sean Paul.
Lisa’s incredible stage presence won her repeated starring roles at Canada’s largest musical theatre company, Rainbow Stage, along with roles on some of Canada’s most prestigious musical theatre stages like Toronto’s Mirvish Productions (Hairspray) and Canstage (Crowns).
Lisa’s film and TV acting career took off with the TV series Falcon Beach. In Robert Adetuyi’s upcoming movie musical “Stand!” (her first feature film starring role), Lisa plays Emma Jones, the refugee from racial strife in Oklahoma c.1919. Lisa’s powerful rendition of the movie’s title track song was all director Robert Adetuyi (Stomp the Yard) needed to be convinced Lisa’s fit for the role.
We caught up with Lisa last week and got the inside scoop on the journey through her acting and musical path to her starring role in Stand!
FBI STYLE: So how did you get started in music and acting?
Lisa Bell (LB): I’ve been around music pretty much my whole life. My dad was a musician. And my mom was an aspiring actress. So I was always around it like 24/7.
At a young age, I did find music really soothing, and I discovered my love for it and for singing; I found it was just a great way to release. And it just fills my spirit in a way nothing else would. So it really stuck with me and I really worked at it and worked at my craft up until today. As far as acting; I was a little actress, from like jump I was a little actress.
FBI STYLE: Did you like to pretend like a lot of us when we were younger?
LB: Oh ya, I went beyond that. I would write plays I would gather my cousins, I would hold auditions, I would select their parts, I would sell tickets and we would all perform for my family, cause I have such a huge family. So they loved that and I loved doing it too and the kids loved it too. We all loved it.
So it’s really cool for the movie because it’s a movie musical, my first movie ever. And it’s awesome to just kind of marry the two art forms that I love so much.
FBI STYLE: And then going from, I guess when you were younger and as you’re getting older, how did the acting career evolve?
LB: So for acting, I started in theater in high school. I started doing a lot of musical theater in high school [and I was] like: “Oh I love this. This is awesome.” You know, and I kept doing it and then I stopped for a bit and I guess when I was 18 or 19 I auditioned for my first professional show, and I ended up getting the supporting lead role in Footloose.
So that was my first professional show and then it just steamrolled from there. Then I got Hairspray. Then I did Full Monte, Canadian Idol, Joseph, Mary Poppins, Little Shop of Horrors, Little Mermaid, like, I’ve done some good ones.
FBI STYLE: You’ve done all the good ones!
LB: I know! One that was actually very dear to my heart was called Crowns. I don’t know if you know who Jackie Richardson is, but she’s a very prominent actress singer coming out of Toronto but she was in the show with me but that was a great show because it was something different from what I usually do. It wasn’t “singy songy”. There was music to it, but it was more dramatic. Dramatic acting. So that was an awesome challenge. I succeeded and it was fun.
FBI STYLE: Okay. So give us a little background on the storyline of Stand!.
LB: Okay, So Stand!–not to give too much away–it has a Romeo and Juliette kind of element to it. However the big crux of it all is basically different groups of people coming together from all different backgrounds for one common cause. In a time of social upheaval. So everyone coming together is standing together to initiate things. That’s really the big picture of it. A general strike is involved right, so that’s pretty much where you know the city shuts down in protest.
FBI STYLE: What drew you to this role? Actually let me go back. What’s the role that you play? And then what drew you to the role?
LB: Okay. The role that I play, I play Emma. So she’s a 30-something, African-American, single mom from Oklahoma who immigrates to Canada for a better life.
I can’t even really say what attracted me to the role initially because it didn’t exist initially; until after I sang the theme song that I was asked to sing.
So I was called by the writer, Danny; he said, “Lisa,” cause he knows that I’m a singer. He’s like: “Lisa, can you sing the ending credits song for the movie, for Stand!?” And I knew the movie was happening it was going on or it was about to happen and I’m like: “oh, that would be great!”. So I went there and I sang and I then guess it impressed the director and the writer a lot and they ended up having me in mind for the role; so it was really surrounded around that. Because initially, Emma was an Irish woman, in the musical so he saw something completely different on a different path and it ended up working out really well.
FBI STYLE: Okay that’s awesome though. So that kind of answers my next question. I was going to ask about the path that brought you to the role but as you were going through rehearsing and stuff, were there any setbacks or any obstacles?
LB: Yeah. So I’ve had a long long path really to where I got to today or where I am today and I wouldn’t take it back for the world, but yes, I mean I ended up getting pregnant which is not an obstacle, it’s a blessing. I love my son so much. But at that time my career was getting really hot. I was just coming off Canadian Idol in the top 16. And I was getting a lot of calls, opportunities. I was working with Nelly Furtado’s producer and then bam!
Then I had to kind of take a break from it all to have my lovely pumpkin but as that progressed; you know I’m a single mom, I was working nine to five, I was finishing my degree, my mom passed away. So a lot of, you know, stuff that was happening that kind of set me back a bit but it was for the good because maybe I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much as I do today. It’s important. It’s important to talk about the path and the journey. You know because nothing comes easy.
FBI STYLE: And there will be things to try to distract you or throw you off your path but it’s great that you kept going, you kept pursuing.
LB: Absolutely. I have to. I have to. You know, music and theatre and acting, it’s like breath to me. If I’m not doing it, I don’t feel like myself, so I always tried to squeeze it in where I could anyway.
FBI STYLE: So what other roles or opportunities would you say were a career milestone?
LB: I think everything that I’ve done is a milestone. Like I always look back and I’m like: “how in the heck did I do that at that time?” But I guess the ones that stand out; one of them being, I guess, Canadian Idol cause it really exposed me nationally right. And I did get a lot of recognition from that. I really appreciated when I received the role of Joanne in Rent, because I auditioned for her when I was 18 and I ended up getting to play her ten years later, so that was awesome. And just hearing my song play on the radio. After Canadian Idol they started playing my song: Tell Me Why on rotation and I literally almost crashed my car when I heard it on the radio. I was so tripped out, I was like: “Oh my God!”
And the song Stand! that I sing, it’s playing on the radio right now so it’s just, yeah it’s just awesome. I’m just so happy right now.
FBI STYLE: It sounds like a really big time for you right now.
LB: Yeah! You know what, it’s funny because I have so much going on. I work at a large financial institution in the day and of course, my son and I sing with corporate event bands and I have so much going on, I feel like I’m not really soaking it in yet. Like, it’s hard to really just soak it in and really appreciate what’s going on right now because I have so much going on but hopefully in Toronto, it’ll come more into fruition and I can really just sit back and enjoy the unfolding of this movie experience.
FBI STYLE: What new horizons do you have your eye on?
LB: Well I would love to get back into writing music again. I love writing music. My dad is a born songwriter and I’ve taken that from him I guess and I find it very cathartic and very rewarding. I’d love to write music again and maybe do an album. And of course, I’d love to do more movies man! I loved the whole experience like I just felt like, for once I belong somewhere. I was so happy every day even though I had to wake up at five in the morning, I was smiling from ear to ear. You know when you’re up that early and you’re smiling, you’re doing what you should be doing.
So, really I’m just looking forward to that. Nothing specific, but right now I’m just going to focus on the release and Stand!
The track is already in radio rotation on LA radio stations and the film is nominated for Best Score (composer Danny Schur) at the Burbank International Film Festival. Stand! will be making its Toronto debut at the Royal Theater September 9-11.